Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mistakes--From Both Sides

We all make them. Some are no big deal. Others change our lives for better or worse. Some amusing. Some shameful. Nobody's perfect. Here are a few that I found memorable over the last little while. Let's start off with the amusing.

--Mike Shannon has become one of those broadcasters known as much for malaprops as his exciting accounts of Cardinals baseball. Mike's mistake came while chatting on KMOX with partner Wayne Hagin about his enjoyment of day baseball. The "Moon Man" was explaining how the attendance at day games was booming, and said he would prefer to see more games played in the sunshine. Then he proclaimed that he knew why there were so many night games. It went something like this--

"Y'know I'll tell ya why there isn't more day baseball. It's television. Yeah...the television guys dictate the schedule. Heh...heh. And they want all the games played at night for higher ratings. If it wasn't for that...there'd be a lot more day games. Ol' Einstein didn't know what effect it would have on baseball when he invented television...did he?"

Einstein? Television? hmmm..could he have meant Edison? Even Edison doesn't get credit for TV. Maybe its not quite at the level of "I wish you people back in St. Louis could see this full moon", but a pretty good one.

Now, to the serious.

--Is it a mistake to allow teenagers to ride in cars together unsupervised? I'm beginning to think so. After the tragic accident that killed another of our area young people last week, I'm proposing that all parents seriously consider not permitting teens to ride with another teen as driver. Of course, this will be nearly impossible to enforce. But it sure seems worth a try. I know at least one fellow parent who had that policy for his teens while they were living at home. Sure, they took a lot of ribbing from friends. But, guess what? The teens became adults.

We all know that kids have the "invulnerable and indestructible" complex when driving. The car becomes an extension of freedom...a symbol of rebellion... and a tool for expression of teenage excitement. The hormones and adrenaline flow freely through young bodies and overpower most good judgment...especially, and particularly, while in groups. Result: showing off, inattention, speed, accidents and death.

Do we need a law to restrict teens from driving/riding together unsupervised? Nope. We just need to look at what's happening when kids do. Then ask ourselves how we would feel if our child died in an accident with another teen driving. Realize that the "teens gone wild behind the wheel" syndrome could deliver tragedy to our own doorstep just as easily as the people we read about in the paper. Our kid can't control the actions of a friend. We can't be there when that friend is driving 100mph and all our child can do is beg to slow down. Fobidding them to be in that potential situation is the only way I can think of to ensure the poor judgment of someone else doesn't become fatal. Take control of our own children's lives, at least until they're not children anymore.

I'll bet there are some local parents who now think it was a mistake to not have such a policy.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Carrie Wins!

--A few days ago, I wrote here that I couldn't see Bo Bice not winning American Idol. I still haven't seen him not winning....because I was working at a Grizzlies game when Carrie Underwood was announced as the winner. But, I do have some thoughts on why things went Carrie's way.

While I still think...and I would suspect many who voted for Carrie would agree...that Bo is the more consistently professional singer, he wasn't the most generally accepted of the two.

I should have kept in mind, before I made my prediction, something that I've written before. The Idol competition is not really a talent contest. It is more of a talent-based popularity contest. And Carrie's popularity, and more generic appeal, carried the day.

What worked against Bo besides Carrie's homespun charm and great country-girl looks?

Bo is a rocker. And there will always be an element of American society that feels threatened by the rock culture. These people wouldn't vote for the greatest singer ever to utter a note if that person came with long hair, jeans, sunglasses and a hard rock song. Even though Bo was as nice and polite as could possibly be, he was obviously more comfortable singing rock. And the "squeaky clean" crowd likely sensed that, and mistrusted his Idol personna.

The coin toss might have also been a major factor. In case you missed it, Ryan Seacrest conducted a coin toss prior to the final performances that determined who would sing first or second. Carrie won and chose to go last. Good call! The last three notes of Carrie's final song on Tuesday might have done the trick. She was able to leave the last impression with the audience. And, her voice quivered with emotion, while her eyes moistened, as she sang the last few lyrics of a touching tune about angels bringing her to where she was. You could almost hear her millions of supporters mass-dialing telephones at the end of that one.

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but the more popularly accepted performer is once again the American Idol. It will always be that way as long as the winner is picked the way it is.

Congratulations to Carrie! (I guess her drive up I-44 from Oklahoma to St. Louis for the audition last summer seems worth it now.) No reason to feel badly for Bo. He'll be fine. And they'll both be rich.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Back to Work

I've taken a few days off from blogging for the sake of being able to concentrate on some business dealings. So, today, let me catch up a little.

--As predicted...(I think everyone who watches American Idol was probably with me on this one)...Vonzell is eliminated, leaving Bo and Carrie in the final showdown next week. I can't see Bo losing. Carrie has a strong career ahead of her in country. But, Bo has been amazing the last few weeks and will have the career he wants after being crowned. However, his choice of diretion will be interesting and determine just how much we hear from him down the road. We haven't heard or seen much of Ruben Studdard because his talents don't translate to the mainstream very well. This could be a problem for Bo as well. His a capella performance of "In a Dream" Tuesday was awesome.

--The Cardinals continue to play well. But when will closer Jason Isringhausen ever record a 1-2-3 inning?

--The Grizzlies open their home schedule next Wednesday night. Looking forward to another summer of fun at GMC Stadium.

--Mark Sauer, the president and CEO of the Blues, made a promise on the air that we will have hockey on schedule this fall. He didn't say who would be playing.

--Another multiple-murder in Belleville. I think we've had an unfortunate concentration of passion crimes this year in a city where things like this rarely happen. Don't get the idea that Belleville is the crime capital of the metro area...that just isn't born out by the statistics.

--As I suspected last week, Scott Air Force Base will not only stay open, but will gain importance in the overall Pentagon scheme with new missions coming in. Jerry Costello, who has solidified himself with each year in office, thus is officially now the new Mel Price. Costello is a Democrat, but doesn't play the party line or seem too involved with political tomfoolery. He votes his conscience. He keeps the home folks in mind with every thing he does. Costello is what all of our elected representatives should be.

--Another teriffic job by Patty Gregory, Dede Fahrquar, and the rest of the Art on the Square team. These people have shed more positive light on the city of Belleville than could possibly be paid for. I know Mayor Mark Eckert put in a lot of extra hours making sure the city covered it's end of the deal too.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


--Idol Update. Last week I wrote: Anthony and Scott were the bottom two. That figures. Anthony has been up and down throughout the competition too. But, as I said in earlier posts, he gets the very essential--"he's cute and appealling to teenie-boppers"--votes. (And maybe more than a few gay votes??) Clay Aiken's career booms now after garnering that "high school boy" contingent of cell phone users during his Idol days.So, we have Bo, Carrie, Vonzell and Anthony as the Final Four. Next to leave...Anthony. His clean-and-cute votes won't carry him another week. Unless he has a monster performance and Vonzell flops. Next week...Vonzell leaves. She's very good. But not as good as Bo or Carrie. Count on it.

--Cardinals Update. Something about the Cardinals just doesn't seem right to me. They are definitely playing well enough to win their suddenly weak Central division...at least now. The pitching has been very good. Hitting spotty. Defense OK. I worry about the Rolen shoulder injury and the middle relief. If the starters hit a stretch where they need some real, middle inning help, it might not be pretty. I like how LaRussa is taking it easy with his aging outfield so they don't burn out too early. But, is it me? Or is Albert Pujols playing...and talking after games...with a little more swagger and recklessness than in the past? You gotta love Albert...but, you would hope that the big money and fame doesn't change his personality too much.

--Grizzlies Update. One of the great things about summer in this area is Grizzlies baseball at GMC stadium. If you haven't been to a game yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Everyone...and I mean everyone...that I've ever spoken to that has been to a Grizzlies game has said great things about how much they enjoyed it, and the value of entertainment. Kids can run around the stadium. There's always some kind of on-field, or off-field, amusement going on. The refreshments and food are great and cheap...especially compared to Busch stadium. And, Danny Cox usually has a darn good team to put on the field. Come to a Grizzlies game. The home season starts May 25th at GMC stadium in Sauget.

--Belleville Update. Keep your eyes open for news about an effort to promote and spruce up Belleville's west end neighborhoods and business climate. I've been working with some community leaders on this project. And we should go public with our plans and expectations very soon. You will be impressed.

--Prediction: Not only will Scott Air Force Base NOT be scheduled to close when the BRAC closing list is announced tomorow, my feeling is it will get an increased mission. Congressman Jerry Costello is too good at what he does to not pull all the right strings on this one. He and fellow congressman John Shimkus have a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning at MidAmerica Airport to discuss the announcement that will be made by Donald Rumsfeld in Washington. You can bet they haven't called the press together without knowing it will be good news. They just can't say anything under fear of punishment that's been threatened if pre-official announcement leaks are identified.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I see that the argument for a uniform dress code at Belleville East and West continues. Apparently, a newly elected school board member is against the idea.

I'm convinced that uniforms are a good idea. But, I'm not sure the policy the school board is trying to implement is.

I'm a guy who went through Army basic training in the early 70's. This was the same time that many wild and wacky things were going on in American society and the world, including the not-yet-concluded Viet Nam war. When the 160 guys who made up Company C of the 5th Battalion showed up at Fort Polk, Louisiana in February of 1973, you couldn't have gathered a more diverse bunch of characters.

There were college graduates and high school dropouts. There were Caucasians, African-Americans, native Americans, Hispanics, Orientals, and many combinations of ethnicity. There were country boys and city slickers. There were guys from every part of the country and some we weren’t so sure of because they could barely speak English. There were huge men, frail boys, fat guys, and fit guys. There were high-character people and some really bad actors who would have been in prison if it weren't for a judge that gave them the option of joining the Army instead. You name it... we had it.

The first thing that happens when you set foot on military soil is to meet your new best friend….the drill sergeant. You don’t believe it then…but you do before very long. Then this guy marches you to the barber shop to get your hair...and many of us had a lot of it back then...shaved to the scalp. Then it’s over to the quartermaster to get your army uniform and basic gear such as boots, headgear, socks, underwear and more. Then it’s off to your new home…the barracks.

Early the next morning it’s out to formation to begin eight weeks of intensive physical and mental drills. Somehow this rag-tag bunch of human beings looks like an army unit. They all look the same. They all ARE the same…because they are going through hell together. The instances of misbehavior are few. The mission of becoming a member of our country’s armed forces, and striving to prove you are worthy, becomes paramount. Competition among the troops is keen. Achievement of the group objective of becoming a sound military unit is the focus.

This is why I like the idea of school uniforms. I believe the individual should be surpressed in a school setting in order to build that individual for the sake of the collective good. The mission is to create a stronger and smarter individual and, through his eventual contribution, a better community, region and nation.

In District 201, however, they are giving the student the option of choosing from an array of acceptable clothing combinations. It seems to me this is asking for problems. Enforcement will become arbitrary. Students and teachers will regularly have to deal with ambiguity and confusion. Why not just have a school uniform? One for boys. One for girls. This would alleviate all the confusion. Everyone would know what is expected. Easy is good.

An argument has been put forth that forcing young people to wear uniforms in school steals their ability to express individuality. That may be so, when it comes to clothing. But, there are plenty of other ways to express individuality that aren’t disruptive to the general security and atmosphere of quality education. One can express individuality with a perfect math test score, by writing a great book review, or through any number of positive classroom actions. Outside the classroom, there is still plenty of individual satisfaction in a great song at a concert, scoring a touchdown in football, perfectly delivering a line in “Our Town”, or pitching a no-hitter at the diamond. Providing opportunities for personal expression can’t be the overriding mission of a high school. Individualism is divisive and counter-productive to the success of any mission involving more than one person.

Bottom line for me. The District 201 board is heading in the right direction. But, it needs to finish the deal and institute a single uniform policy. Teachers, and their students, will be able to focus on education, and not have to constantly be concerned about the right combination of clothes. Bring the students together for the sake of achievement, by helping them to believe they are all the same in the eyes of school administrators and society. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community, will be better off, and thankful for the discipline in the long run.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Every time it happens, we put ourselves in the shoes of the grieving parents, and are terrified. Yesterday, it happened again.

A bright, talented, and very popular, high school senior at Belleville East died in a one-vehicle accident on his way to class. According to news reports, 18-year-old Chad Wood was one of those young people who lit up the lives of everyone around him. Chad was a talented athlete, starring in both football and baseball for the Lancers. He was well liked by adults as well as people of his own age group. He had everything going for him. His friends say he was simply a great person.

My sons are 24 and 20 respectively. But because they are a bit older, it doesn't stop me from worrying about their safety, and praying for it, every day. As is often said, no parent should have to outlive a child. It just doesn't seem right in the grand scheme. Young people bring such joy and energy to our lives. And, they should be able to fulfill their promise. But the reality of life and death sometimes hits us like a cold bucket of water. Because of their youth, and occasional carelessness, our kids are often taken from us. And so we parents worry. We preach to them to be careful, probably to the point that they don't really hear. Why do we preach? We can identify with the feeling of invincibility that we also had at their age. That's why stories such as Chad's send chills of fear up our spine. Being young makes them more vulnerable than we'd like to believe.

Parents all ask the same questions. Why are young people with such potential taken from us? Why did this happen to him? Why at this time? Is this meant as some sort of lesson? What possible good could come from this cruel twist of fate? Why such a good person? Couldn't God take a ne'er-do-well so that we wouldn't miss them, and hurt so much? What would he have accomplished had he lived? How can we cope?

Of course, I don't have the answers. All I know is that I never really confronted death until a high school classmate, about Chad's age, died in an auto accident in 1969. Neal Hettenhausen was a guy who was a lot like Chad. He was highly popular, good looking and musically gifted. He sang with a rock group. Many of us thought he would become a star. He was beginning to make a name for himself with his enormous singing talent. His friends, both girls and guys, just enjoyed being around him. The world seemed to be his oyster. He was the guy we all wanted to be.

But, one Spring night, while driving home to Millstadt from a play rehearsal in Belleville, Neal's car was hit head-on by another manned by a drunk driver. Our friend didn't have a chance. I still remember, to this day, the photo of the crumpled mass of wreckage that appeared on the front page of the News-Democrat. All of us who knew him were devastated. I sang with the Belleville Area College concert choir, of which Neal was a member, at his funeral. The tears were flood-like. The pain seemed like it would last forever. In a way, it has.

That crash, that took our highly-valued friend Neal, has indelibly etched a most valuable lesson into my consciousness. Death is a real possibility to anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car. I have driven, every day since, with a much greater respect for life, and a clear understanding of my responsibility. My experience gives me hope that Chad's friends and acquaintances might now really understand that its a life-and-death matter when they drive too. I would expect that Chad's unfortunate and tragic death might, over time, save some of them from a similar fate. I doubt, though, that this possibility is bringing comfort to Chad's poor parents today. I hope, if they should read this, that my lesson learned might, after all these years, bring a measure of consolation to Neal's family.

Monday, May 09, 2005

"That Toddlin' Town"

I have a son who attends DePaul University in Chicago. Occasionally, Barb and I go up to see him and also use that as an excuse to spend the weekend in the "Windy City". This was one of those weekends. We have grown to love spending time in Chicago. That's something I never thought I would say, let alone write.

Back in the 70's and early 80's, when working for WIBV radio, I took a number of trips to Chicago to cover high school and college sports. It seemed on each visit there would be some reason to come away with a bad taste in my mouth. Mostly, it was foul weather. A few times I had a less-than-happy experience with members of the Chicago media. Another time or two, I experienced some sort of transportation trouble. And, it seemed that I would always encounter someone from Chicago that had an air of superiority that grated on me. (I've come to learn that being a member of the visiting team's media contingent, its normal to not be made "totally comfortable". This phenomenon has nothing to do with Chicago people. It has more to do with how media people protect their turf, and local team.)

Back to my previous Chicago experiences. Once, Barb went along with me to cover a McKendree College basketball game and we ran into the worst fog storm....yes, fog storm...you could ever imagine. This wasn't just fog. This was fog that was blowing sideways....I guess off the lake. I not only couldn't see the road while driving, I couldn't see the hood of the car. After the basketball game, I was supposed to follow the team bus back to the hotel. Well, as soon as the bus pulled out of the parking lot, it disappeared into the darkness and blowing pea soup. We spent the next two hours driving by feel-of-the-tires-on-the-road and trying to guess what exit from the tollway (I hate those too) would get us to the hotel. Somehow we managed to do so without having an accident. But, we must have barely avoided at least 10 accidents in the process. I was a grown man. But, I don't mind admitting I was crying out of frustration with the situation.

Such experiences dominated my impression of Chicago because the visits were brief, and the impressions were so strong. Having made several extended stays in the last 3 years, I have done a total about face. I have come to experience the city in a more complete fashion. And, frankly, I wish that St. Louis had as much to offer. I'm not knocking St. Louis. I still love the Gateway City, and the overall quality of life here. But, you just can't argue the fact that Chicago has so much more to offer in the way of just about everything. Except good baseball teams.

In the downtown area around Michigan Avenue, State and Rush streets, and on the North Side, it is nearly impossible to turn around without finding a wonderful restaurant, a fascinating retail store, or some other form of high-quality entertainment. The shopping...well, Michigan Avenue is legendary world wide. Our St. Louis downtown, unfortunately, hasn't gotten anywhere close to providing such a safe, friendly, fun, and complete entertainment experience. At least, not yet. Hopefully, it will soon.

In the north side neighborhood, where my son's off-campus apartment is located, you feel totally safe at all hours of the day or night. You can hail a cab to take you anywhere at a reasonable price. If that's not an option, you can ride the "El" train to about anywhere for a buck and a quarter. A car is not necessary. Again, there are great things to see and do all around. What a lucky kid he is.

This weekend, even though we spent just one night, was packed with fun, great food and drink, and entertainment. You just can't help it in Chicago. Come on St. Louis, you've got some catching up to do. If it weren't for the bragging rights that go with being a Cardinals fan, it would be a one-sided competition.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


I, like many men, suffer from a peculiar mental affliction that causes the phrase "I Love You" to stall out somewhere between the thought process and the mouth. I guess it has something to do with the notion that if a man says...er....uh...well...(averted eye contact)...you know...that phrase...it indicates you have a "softer side". Or that you need that person. Or that you're capable of emotions that are unbecoming of someone so "verile, impervious to pain, and manly". Or that you're not strong enough on your own. Or some other similar rubbish.

Guys have been taught this behavior by our fathers, and their fathers before them, and so on through the generations. They didn't mean to...they just did. We have been shown since we were little boys how to behave as men. Or so our fathers thought. And, so we thought, and therefore immitated. I presume it has something to do with the hormones with which we are "blessed" too.

I hope before "The spirit of Christmas future" visits I might manage to cure myself of this plague, and maybe provide a different example to my sons. I have earnestly tried to rid myself of this paralysis. I'd very much like to muster the ability to... when I have it in my mind to tell someone......that they are really, really, really, really, important or... (Oh crap!)... that I love them... that I will be able to move the words to my lips and actually spit them out. But it all seems so awkward.

Now, to the real purpose of this writing. I wish to make it known to the Mothers (intentionally capitalized) in my life, that "I Love You". I know. You say..."What a coward's way out. He can't tell them himself. He has to write something on a blog and then try to get them to read it". Well, yeah...I can understand that line of thinking. And, in part, it's absolutely valid. I wish I wasn't a victim of the "unable-to-say-it" thing. But, even though I'm a "mass-communicator" in the electronic media by trade, some of my better attempts at personal communication have come in written form. I've found that what you're attempting to convey can be much more effective when you have the time...and aren't overwhelmed by all the emotion...to put in print exactly what's on your mind. But, I still make this promise. I will tell (audibly) all of the female members of my family listed below "I Love You" this Mothers Day. Please read on.

To my mother, Doris, who just underwent a week of pain and physical trauma because of major surgery.... "I Love You".

Your total support and understanding has been amazing. From boyhood, to manhood, you have always provided a loving smile, words of support, and a total commitment to anything, and everything, I've ever really needed. I have often thought about how lucky I am to have been born into a family with a mother (and father, Dad passed away in '81) so committed to a son's happiness. I wish every guy could have a mother like you. The world would be a much better place. I hope if I've learned anything, that it was to pass such love along to the next generation.

To the mother of my sons, and "my honey", Barb. "I Love You".

Where do I start? I can't begin to think about what my life would be without you. To think that it wasn't "love at first sight" still terrifies me. The fact that we worked together for a number of months before it hit me that you were my soul-mate speaks to the kind of emotional stupidity that I'm writing about. I can't believe that we've been married 27-plus years. I hope we are able to be together another 57...at least. Not likely. But, let's try. If that doesn't work out, at least we'll have eternity together whenever we go to that "big, sunny beach with the swim-up bar in the sky". You are my heart.

To my sister Bonnie, and the mother of my teriffic nieces and a great nephew, "I Love You".

You have put up with way too much crap from your brother over the years, especially those early years. I cringe when I think of some of the stuff that I did to you when we were kids. I don't know why I did them. Something about power over someone else, I guess. But, don't ever think I didn't love you all the while. I've watched, with admiration, as you've grown into a sister any man would be proud of. I admire everything about you, and your family. And I'm glad we've grown to be friends, as well as sister and brother. And, I promise not to laugh the next time you get a fishhook lodged in your scalp.

There are many other mothers in my life...both living, and heavenly...that should be mentioned.

The best mother-in-law in the world-- Julia (Julie). "I Love You"
My mom's mom...The late Laura..I called her "Honey". "I Love You"
My very special, late aunt "Teeny"--real name Christine. (Who never was able to be a mother...but was like one to Bonnie and me.) "I Love You"
To all the mothers who have touched my life in so many positive ways... "I Love You".

Happy Mother's Day!

See, I couldn't have gotten through that in person.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Are Schools Teaching This?

Back in my school days, we weren't taught about what values it takes to develop personal character. I think it was assumed that, through parental lessons at home and church, most kids got all the character education they needed before heading for school. And that was probably the case.

Well, times have changed. Today's economics dictate that there are few stay-at-home moms to provide after-school, "do the right thing" knowledge. As for dads, you know the story. Some are so caught up in making a buck that they have little time for youth involvement. Others are fathers, but far from what most would call a "dad". If it weren't for Big Brothers-Big Sisters, a lot of kids wouldn't have a fatherly, or motherly, influence in their lives at all. And, then there are the parents who would have a difficult time spelling character...let alone teach it. Church-going is down. So, character teachings at home are unavailable, or at least less avialable, to many young people.

Here are the character lifeskills I'm talking about--

Respect-Showing regard for self, others, property and those in authority.
Responsibility-Willingness to be accountable for your own actions without blaming others.
Peace-Working and living in harmony with each other.
Empathy-Identifying and understanding others' feelings in order to get along better with people.
Integrity-Doing what is right even if it is difficult.
Honesty- Truthfulness in words and actions.
Perseverance-Staying with a task; not giving up.
Cooperation-Working together in a peaceful way.
Self-Discipline-Thinking about your words and actions and then making choices that are right for you and others.
Trustworthiness-Being honest, reliable, and doing what you say you'll do.
Fairness-Playing by the rules, being open-minded, listening to others, and not taking advantage of others.
Caring-Being compassionate and showing others you care.
Citizenship-Doing your share to make your school and community better, getting involved, staying informed and being a good neighbor.

The good news is that the answer to the headline to this piece is YES. Many schools are making serious efforts to teach and foster character in our schools. In fact, the above list came to me in a small brochure packaged with my West Pointe bank statement this month. Terry Schaefer at the bank received it from Belleville's public grade school district 118. The brochure says the district, and many others locally, have been attempting to bridge the "character gap" at their schools for several years. Perhaps you knew this. I didn't.

My hope is that when today's youth grow to adulthood they will do the right thing by re-kindling the tradition of character education at home and in religious settings. Then we could allow our school teachers to focus on "the three Rs".

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Good Riddance

Because of other commitments, I haven't been able to view one second of American Idol this week. But when I found out last night...after p.a. duties at GMC Stadium for SIU-SLU baseball...that the overconfident and undertalented Scott Savol had been voted off, I couldn't have been more satisfied. Not that the guy is untalented...just undertalented ...in comparison to the rest of the finalists. And that includes most of those already voted off who were in the top 12. He could only have been alive at this point because of the "I'm voting for the doofus for prom king" crowd. Shame on them for trying to ruin our favorite show!

From what I have read about this week's shows on the information super-highway, I understand that "Pudge"...(not Rodriguez who plays for Detroit) but Savol who represents working, and non-working, class Cleveland...was still cocky as ever before getting the axe. What could possibly make this slug think he's the next Elvis? Or even Vanilla Ice? Whatever talent he does have needs some serious grooming by someone who does those talent image makevoers. I hope he finds a good agent...because he will need one.

Anthony and Scott were the bottom two. That figures. Anthony has been up and down throughout the competition too. But, as I said in earlier posts, he gets the very essential--"he's cute and appealling to teenie-boppers"--votes. (And maybe more than a few gay votes??) Clay Aiken's career booms now after garnering that "high school boy" contingent of cell phone users during his Idol days.

So, we have Bo, Carrie, Vonzell and Anthony as the Final Four.

Next to leave...Anthony. His clean-and-cute votes won't carry him another week. Unless he has a monster performance and Vonzell flops.

I don't see how it won't come down to Bo and Carrie. And, my money is on Bo at this point. He just seems a perch above the rest in professionalism. His voice never falters. He presents himself in a highly professional manner...particularly in his rock comfort zone. (Although his attachment to the microphone stand gets to me sometimes). It's hard to believe the guy was in the bottom three a few weeks ago. But, I think he has recovered effectively from the "not as intense Bo" doldrums that put him there.

Carrie is a local favorite...having originally auditioned for the show in St. Louis. But, as physically attractive as she is, she hasn't hit very many musical home runs in this competition. She can definitely sing. But her wandering collection of song choices, and occasionally iffy interpretations, have me wondering just how talented she really is. She's young...much younger than Bo. And, I think it shows in their level of professional presentation. That will kill her chances to become the next American Idol.

I'm already wondering where Bo will go after claiming "The Title". What kind of professional career will he have? Will he have to front a rock band? Will he be a solo artist of any consequence? What kind of music will he be identified with? He'll turn 30 pretty soon and be a part of the "starting-to-age rocker" crowd. He'll be tied down by AI commitments for a while. Am I getting ahead of myself?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My Home Town

I don't know who reads the stuff I distribute here. But, for those who do, I'd like to point with pride to something that's going on in the place where I grew up.

Belleville, Illinois-- Many know it as the home of some pretty famous people.

The late Buddy Ebsen, former US senator Alan Dixon, tennis super-star Jimmy Connors, golf's Jay Haas, and his uncle Bob Goalby are just a few. There are many other notable, but perhaps less generally recognizable, natives that we are just as proud to call sons and daughters of the county seat of St. Clair County.

Now let me tell you something that you might not know. Belleville...always a jewel in the crown of southern Illinois... is making a strong and proud comeback from some difficult times. Between say, 1975 and 2000, Belleville had gone from a clean, friendly, well-manicured and proud city to one that some of us were not so anxious to recognize as our home town. Crime increased. Property values decreased. Businesses moved to other surrounding communities, or closed. Residents moved out of the nice, older homes in Belleville to nice new homes in the country, or elsewhere. The older homes became poorly-maintained rental properties or were bought by struggling, low-income families. Schools were hard-pressed to maintain their high standards. All of this made for a less than savory situation, especially in Belleville's older neighborhoods. The city was in danger of becoming one big, crime-infested slum. It was not a pretty sight.

The reasons for all of this are fodder for another article. But, over the last five years the city has made considerable progress toward social stabilization and economic advancement . The slumlords were put out of business. The police have made major headway in running the criminal element out of town. Businesses, large and small, have been courted and have found Belleville a more attractive place to set up shop. So they have done so. Restaurants, bars, small theatres and other establishments have begun to flourish in the downtown shopping and entertainment district. In short, the good people who care about Belleville took charge of a bad situation. And with some hard work, and determination, they have made it better.

This "new Belleville" can only continue to improve under the leadership of recently-elected Mayor Mark Eckert. I have known Mark since we were both small boys growing up in the Henry Raab neighborhood. We were raised in the same church. He is a smart, hard-working, approachable and out-going fellow with his heart (and it's a big one) in the right place. He doesn't care who gets the credit... (imagine anyone saying that about a politician)... just as long as the job gets done. He meets people well. There's no pretense or arrogance. He presents himself professionally in almost any setting. And, he has energy to burn. Just about anywhere you might go in Belleville, you are likely to see Mark. And he will probably be on his way to somewhere trying to make things better in his home town. The city is in strong and caring hands with Mark Eckert.

I could go into some of the wonderful new plans and developments that I am privy to that are anticipated to materialize over the next 5-10 years. But instead let me say...keep your eyes on Belleville. Drive through the downtown area. Take a look at some of the new subdivisions, housing developments and businesses. Next weekend's "Art-on-the-Square" (recognized as one of the best art shows in the nation) would be a good time to make your examination. The city's one-time greatness is most definitely returning, if not already in place.

Once again...those of us born in Belleville are able to say..."That's my home town"... with heads held very high.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Now I'm Worried!

Jim Woodcock resigned Friday from his post as VP-Director of Marketing and Communications of the St. Louis Blues.

This is not a big story for the general sports public. But, I can't possibly overstate Woody's impact on the Blues, and their way of doing business, over the last 8 years. He has been the force behind most of the team's successful dealings with the outside world and its fan base. I can't imagine someone else coming in and doing the job half as well, at least not right away.

Woody would spend many of what should have been personal hours making sure all the bases were covered, all the possibilities were considered, and every opporunity to say, and do, the right thing was exercised. Not only that, but he constantly made it clear to those of us who worked under him that we were important to him, his superiors, and especially the fans. If you worked for Jim, you might not always agree with him, but you could never begin to question his ability as a communicator and passion for the Blues.

Many members of the media will also tell you that Woody showed a keen understanding of how a positive relationship with the press can translate into fans in the stands. Before his arrival... and I was there, so I remember... many media members seemingly couldn't wait to find something negative to say about the team. In large part, that was because Jim's predecessor did not have an appreciation for developing a working relationship with writers and broadcasters. The press lounge featured bad food and little atmosphere. The press box was a place to sit and work, nothing more. Woody changed that by making the press lounge a fun place with, what many will tell you is, gourment cuisine. He made sure the press box was visited frequently by members of management who would show their concern for the media and how they were being treated. Jim was often seen informally sitting and talking with beat writers and broadcasters in an effort to make someone from the team available and accessible. In short, the media became friendly to the team...because Jim's policies became friendly to them. I'm sure the less hostile attitude toward the Blues in the media could be directly related to increased ticket sales. I don't have proof. But, I'll bet it's true.

Jim is one of those leaders that commits himself 100% to not just getting the job done...but getting it done right. His ideas and opinions were formed in the context of a deep, working-class love for the team. Woody, like many of us, is a fan first. As a kid, he would happily take up a standing-room-only position in the last row of the upper-circle of the old Arena to catch a glimpse of "his team". His policies and internal guidelines were always reflective of that deep understanding of what a real Blues fan is all about. It is difficult to take that understanding, balance it with the internal budgetary and political problems of running a business, and still manage an effective external communications policy. But Woody displayed the talent to do it in award-winning fashion.

Jim's moving on, more than anything else so far, has me worried about the future of professional hockey in St. Louis, and North America. Exactly what could make Woody choose this time to leave? Does he see the labor situation as hopeless? Does ownership see it as being untenable, to the point that they told him to look elsewhere for employment? He says he doesn't know what he's going to do next. That tells me that he either quit because he was fed up, or was asked to resign in a budget-cutting maneuver. Either way, I view it as a sign that hockey, as we knew it, may be gone forever. Jim Woodcock is a "True Blue". How many of them can management find to do the job when they finally try to bring hockey back to life in St. Louis? That job wouldn't have been easy for Woody, It could be next to impossible for anyone else.

Wherever Woody lands, that concern will be much the better for it. Good luck Jim.