Monday, February 5, 2024

Ugh! COVID Strikes!


Damn. The dreaded pink T-line. We had both tested positive, after several days of thinking it was just a bad cold. I mean, we’ve been SO careful to avoid COVID for nearly four years: triple-vaxxed, triple-boosted; masks when necessary; untold numbers of Lysol spray cans and bottles of hand sanitizer used over the years. Avoiding crowds.

By the time I finally broke out the COVID home test kits, after several days of denial, we were outside the window for Paxlovid, so we decided to just tough it out. Since the cold symptoms started, we hadn’t gone anywhere or seen anyone, so we were spared the embarrassment of calling people and telling them we’d tested positive.

As near as we can figure, Toni brought it home from a physical therapy session in a gym-like setting. It was the only time in the three or four days prior to the onset of symptoms that either of us had been away from our apartment.

We both figure that our triple-vaxxed, triple-boosted status is what kept us out of the hospital. As far as we’re concerned, the vaccinations did their job. From what I’ve seen, a lot of folks don’t understand that the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting COVID. It helps mitigate the worst effects of the virus, which we’re convinced is exactly what it did for us.

My guess is that my case was mild, and Toni’s was moderate. While she pounded Tylenol, I was overdosing myself with DayQuil. I think I consumed a hundred or more orange liquid-gel Day-Quil capsules over the course of my bout. We both had nasty, nasty coughs, stuffy heads, runny noses, chills, and muscle aches. Toni lost her sense of taste. It wasn’t stay-in-bed-sick; it was just annoyingly miserable. We quarantined ourselves in our apartment and binge-watched TV.

One afternoon when Toni and I were both dozing, my friend and former on-air partner Sly called to share a funny story. We started recounting some of our outrageous on-air adventures, which resulted in a laughing spell that turned into a coughing spell. I said to Sly (who had a bout of COVID a few months ago) between fits of coughing, “I have to hang up! You’re killing me with these stories!!”

Since Toni and I have both had serious cases of pneumonia requiring hospitalization in the past, we were concerned that if the COVID started to affect our oxygen saturation, we’d head to the ER immediately. I also have asthma, controlled by daily medication, so I’ve used a home pulse/ox meter for years. We monitored our oxygen sats every few hours, and at no point did either of us dip below the mid-90’s.

I started to feel better after a week or so, but Toni’s case hung on.

On the tenth day after the symptoms started, I finally tested negative. Toni was still positive, but three days later, she took another home test and it was negative. We were finally out of the woods. We both still coughed intermittently, and weren’t back to full strength, but the worst of it was finally behind us.

Now, a couple weeks later, we’re back to normal. And you can bet that if the CDC says it’s time for another booster, we’ll be among the first in line to get it.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

I Am Radioactive (And I Can Prove It)


Yesterday I spent much of my time waiting around and doing nothing, in a bleak room labeled “Nuclear Medicine Patient Lounge” or some such. As my 75th year is almost upon me, and because of an abundance of crappy hearts among most of my siblings, my docs decided it would be a good time to really get to know my heart.

A blip on a routine annual EKG at my primary care doctor’s office a month ago piqued the interest of some algorithm, earning me a referral to a cardiac doc. One of the battery of tests I was then subjected to was yesterday’s Nuclear Cardiac Stress Test, which involves a lot of steps, including the injection of some radioactive fluid into the blood stream. The little nukes apparently know their job is to migrate to the left ventricle of the heart, and once there, some huge machine into which you’re stuffed takes pictures of your heart for the docs to interpret.

Prior to the test, I was warned that I should avoid getting too close to children under the age of 12 for a period of three days after the test. There’d still be some radioactivity coursing through my veins, enough to warrant keeping a safe distance from the grandkids.

However, I had no idea how serious this nuclear medicine stuff is until my four-and-a-half-hour odyssey was nearly complete. There were four of us old guys in the morning session, and we took turns getting injected with the isotopes, spending our time in the giant machine that takes the pictures, drinking lots of fluids, and sitting in the dreary patient lounge in between.

It was pretty much 45 minutes of boredom followed by 15 minutes of intense medical stuff, hour after hour. But then, just before the final hour, the genial guy who was our Nuclear Medicine guide came into the lounge with a serious look. He handed each of us a sheet to take with us and said it was imperative that we take the sheet with us any time we left our home in the next three days.

He told us if we should happen to be pulled over by a cop, we’d trip their radiation monitor and would need to show the card explaining that we’re not terrorists carrying nuclear material, just “nuclear medicine patients.” He further explained that Homeland Security has radiation monitors at undisclosed locations around every city of any size, and that if we happened to pass near one, we’d trip the monitor and would likely be tracked down and questioned within an hour. All we’d have to do is show the card to explain why we tripped the monitor.

As it turns out, one of our fearsome foursome was a man who’d just retired from one of those three-letter acronym outfits that’s part of the U.S. Government. I won’t name it, because HIPPA and all that. We’d all introduced ourselves at the beginning, and knowing who this gentleman had worked for meant we all looked at him after our genial guide handed out the cards and gave his little spiel.

He told us more and more law enforcement agencies are being equipped with radiation monitors, and that Homeland Security has radiation monitors in secret locations all over the place, just as our guide had mentioned. After he confirmed and amplified what our guide had said, he emphasized how important it was to keep the card on our person and be ready to show it to a law enforcement officer immediately upon request.

“Unless, of course, you want to spend about two or three intense hours being ruthlessly interrogated by some people who are deadly serious about their profession,” he added. The other three of us sat in stunned silence for a moment afterward.

Message received.

We live in interesting times.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Nobody Gets Flat Tires Any More... Do They?

 The view from atop a flatbed tow-truck

Twenty years ago, I would have yelled out a string of lusty cuss-words, got out the lug wrench and jack, and changed the tire. As the song says, “But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.”


This past Friday was a challenging day for many reasons. My bride had to endure a common but bothersome medical procedure, the kind for which you must do “bowel prep.” Which means starting late Thursday afternoon she had to start drinking a gallon of that horrible concoction and couldn't stray more than a few steps from the bathroom for the next 16 hours.


This meant a night of very little and highly disturbed sleep for both of us. Such is life.


With bleary eyes we left our apartment at oh-dark-thirty Friday morning to the Endoscopy Center of Fairfield, just a quick jaunt down the coast. Everything was fine, and by mid-morning we were headed back home. I suggested to my tired wife that she just crawl back into bed and take a nice, long nap. I hung out in the living room and caught up on some of the streaming shows I like.


Early afternoon arrived and I heard Toni stirring. She came out to the living room with a worried look. When she woke up, her right eye hurt and she had a blind spot in the center of her vision. Not good. She called her eye doctor, down the coast in the tony hamlet of Westport, home to scores of hedge fund billionaires and all manner of famous people. “We can’t get you in. Our first appointment is next Friday.” “But it’s an emergency!” “Our next open appointment is next Friday.”


That was the end of that conversation.


I suggested she call my eye doctor’s office in downtown Bridgeport. They gave her some sort of insurance runaround. Some mindless BS about “not recognizing her policy.” For the love of Pete, it’s the tiny company called MEDICARE!!!!


I called them back and bullied my way to the office manager, reminded her that I’d been a client for the past three years, described my wife’s medical emergency, and she said, “Oh my, that doesn’t sound good. Let’s get her in right away.” Now, that’s customer service. I gave her Toni’s Medicare number. She said, “I see you live in Black Rock – I can slot Toni in at 3 o’clock as an emergency so that gives you plenty of time to get here.”


Sidebar: the government says we live in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city, but the neighborhood in which we reside, along the coast of Long Island Sound, is called Black Rock because of, among other things, Black Rock Harbor, a coastal haven for ships of all sizes. Black Rock was a separate city (or “town,” as they call the municipalities around here) until Bridgeport gobbled it up in the 1960’s. Locals still call it Black Rock, best known now not for the huge harbor and marina, but for the scores of really good restaurants and entertainment venues.


Back to the tale of the flat tire.


I’d barely ended the conversation with Millie at my eye doctor’s office when she called back and said they had a cancellation at 2:45 – did we think we could make that appointment on short notice? Sure.


We piled into our trusty new road warrior, a Chevy Equinox, and headed to downtown Bridgeport. We were tired and scared, but grateful that my eye doctor was accommodating and understanding. I made the turn off North Avenue onto Main Street. As I turned into the eye doctor’s parking lot, I managed to miss the entrance by a few feet and rammed perforce into the curb. The right front tire took a massive hit.


Toni was startled and I said a few things which I won’t report here, hoping all would be OK.


It wasn’t. As she got out of the car to go into the office, she looked down at the right front tire and reported that it was going down rapidly. In the next breath, she said, “It’s flat.” More expletives issued from my mouth. I told her to go in and deal with her eye, and I’d deal with the mess I’d created.


Just then, the information center on the dashboard issued a warning about the right front tire (you can see it in the photo at the top of the post) followed shortly by a message from OnStar: “Low air pressure has been detected in one or more tires on your Chevrolet Equinox - Passenger Side Front (1PSI).” One PSI. Probably because the tire pressure monitor system doesn’t report ZERO PSI.


I got out of the car to inspect. Why, I don’t know. I knew what had happened. I smashed it into the curb so hard that no tire could have survived the impact. After still more profanities, I called my guys at the Firestone Tire Store; they recommended Mid-Town towing and said they’d deal with the flat as soon as we got there.  Meantime, I called our daughter and after filling her in about what was going on, asked her if she might be available for some taxi service, since the situation was still sort of fluid. Of course, she would.


I’d put Mid-Town towing on alert, explaining that we couldn’t do anything until my wife completed her eye doctor appointment. They told me to give them a holler when we were ready to go. Shortly thereafter, Toni came out, with news that after a battery of tests and looking into blinding lights on some fancy machine, the doctor said she’d somehow scratched her eyeball. She’d given Toni a couple vials of medical eyedrops and said the situation should resolve itself in a couple days; nothing to worry about; call me if you don’t note improvement tomorrow.


Spoiler alert: her vision was back to normal the next morning and the pain was gone.


Much relieved, I called Mid-Town Towing, and ten minutes later they were there with a big flatbed tow-truck. “Call dispatch and give them your credit card info, and if everything’s OK, I’ll have you drive up onto here and we’ll have you over to Firestone on King’s Highway in Fairfield in short order.” Everything was OK with dispatch, so we drove up onto the flatbed, the driver strapped the car down, and we were on our way.


The Firestone guys swung into action immediately after we arrived. Usually on an All-Wheel Drive vehicle like ours, you can’t just replace one tire. You have to put four new tires on, lest the AWD computer be confused, or some such. But the tech said because the tires were new – less than four thousand miles on them – we could get by with just replacing the right front tire with an exact size match, and all would be well with the AWD computer. (Dr. Google agreed, as I found out, later.)


Four o’clock on a busy Friday afternoon and those guys had us on our way home in a little less than an hour. We ate a quick dinner and were in bed at 8 o’clock, too tired to do anything else.


At granddaughter Lola’s 5th birthday party, the next day, my friend Amy from our son-in-law’s side of the family sidled up to me and said, “Run into any good curbs lately?” She’d seen my post on Facebook about the incident and gave me some good-natured ribbing about it. “Sounds like a blog post should be done,” said someone else.


All’s well that ends well

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Road Trip!

A few days ago, I made one of the most terrifying road trips of my life. When I was finally home, safe, I reflected on some of the other harrowing experiences I’ve had behind the wheel in the past quarter-century.

This, of course, leaves out the countless times I’ve put myself in peril behind the wheel prior to 1997, particularly when I owned cars with abundant horsepower, fueled by premium gas, copious amounts of testosterone, and a lack of good judgment. Those stories are for another time, if at all.

The photo at the top of the post is Rosie, our family-friendly 1994 Colt Vista. Toni named her Rosie because of the color of the car and the license plate, MRR-548. Toni always said the letters stood for “My Rosie Rosebud.”

It was Christmas, 1997. We lived in Madison and were headed up to the Fox Cities to spend the first part of the Christmas celebration with my family, at my brother Mike’s house in the countryside west of Neenah. The forecast said one to three inches of snow. Rather than take my big, black Cadillac Eldorado, we elected to take Rosie, which was a far better performer in the snow with her thinner, high-profile tires and her tiny 4-cylinder engine.

Early in the afternoon we made it to Mike’s house without incident, braving only light snow and flurries via eminently passable Highway 151 and Highway 41. Knowing I had to drive home, I limited myself to one beer as we partied and exchanged gifts with my family. By late afternoon, the snow had picked up considerably, and sister-in-law Beth served dinner early so we could “beat the worst of it” back to Madison.

It was snowing pretty hard when we backed out of Mike’s driveway and headed south. Highway 41 was snow-covered and slippery, so I took it easy and drove at a fairly steady 45 MPH. When we got off 41 to take Highway 26, road conditions were sketchy at best. I did about 35 MPH, constantly steering out of little skids, until we hit Speed Trap Central, also known as Rosendale. From Rosendale to Highway 151, it was miserable. I kept hoping that 151 would be in better shape than Highway 26.

But no.

It was snow-covered ice with deep ruts which kept tossing little Rosie from side-to-side, white-knuckle all the way, constant steering/correcting, all the way from Waupun to Sun Prairie. It was quiet in the car without much talking. I think Toni and the kids were acutely aware of how dangerous this trip had become. When we finally got to the I-90/94 interchange on 151, the road got better. The plows must have been working pretty hard on the interstate to keep it passable.

We finally got on the Beltline, took our exit, drove on unplowed city streets until I finally pulled into the garage at home. We were safe. After a few deep breaths, I helped unload Rosie, took a long hot shower, and hit the hay.

Above: My Trusty Rendezvous Road Warrior

The next harrowing journey came again at Christmas time, in 2008. The whole family – wife Toni, son Dru and our newly-acquired daughter-in-law, Dru’s wife Ashly, daughter Mal, and our young collie, Shadow – piled into my trusty road warrior Rendezvous and headed to Toni’s sister’s house in Hammond, IN, a Chicago suburb, to be with them for Christmas. The trip down was uneventful, the family Christmas was a blast, and just as the party was breaking up, it started to snow. In Hammond, at the foot of Lake Michigan, they tend to get tons of lake effect snow when the northerly wind howls across the lake and picks up tons of moisture. We knew the forecast was for snow, and before we went to bed that night, we watched the Chicagoland weather.

They were forecasting about six inches of snow for Chicagoland, with heavier amounts north and west of the city. I wasn’t worried about our trip back to Madison in the morning. The trip would be Interstate highways all the way; and the venerable road warrior Rendezvous was all-wheel-drive and equipped with four Dunlop SJ-6 winter tires, the ones Tom Holmes said would be up for whatever Mother Nature could throw at us.

When we got up and let the dog out to do her business, and had our first cup of coffee, we turned on the TV news. We knew we had about a half-foot of snow in Hammond, but the TV folks were saying the storm had gotten very brutal overnight just north and west of Chicago, with plummeting temperatures, copious snow, and howling wind.

Then, they reported that Interstate 90 – our path back to Madison – was closed from just west of Elgin all the way to Beloit. Plows couldn’t keep up with the blowing snow. Toni looked at me and said, “Are we going to be able to get home?” I mustered as much fake confidence as I could and said, “Sure. We’ll just take the Tri-State to I-94 and then up to Milwaukee, take the I-894 bypass around the city, and then back onto I-94 to Madison.”

Two sides of a right triangle, but it would get us there.

We had breakfast, said our thank-you’s and good-bye’s, and piled into the road warrior.

Shadow, curled up amidst the luggage, in the back end of the Rendezvous

I was the driver; Toni sat next to me; in the back seat were Dru, Ashly, and Mal; and in the back end with the suitcases and boxes of presents was our young collie, Shadow, who promptly laid down and went to sleep before we were out of the city limits.

The city streets in Hammond were crappy. No surprise. We picked up I-294, the Tri-State Tollway, a few blocks from Toni’s sister’s house. It’s not in as good a shape as I’d hoped. Plowed, but still some snow on the road surface and lots of icy stretches. Before we’d gone more than a few miles, we saw the first wreck. Then another. I’m doing about 40 MPH and keeping up with traffic. Seeing the wrecks must have tempered the usual speed-demon Chicagoland drivers.

We’re listening to WBBM-AM to get the latest traffic info. Well, Toni and I are. The kids have headphones clamped on, no doubt listening to rap or hip-hop or whatever they called it in ’08. And I’m acutely aware that we’re on another one of these Christmas odysseys, risking life and limb, at the mercy of some ignorant ass who thinks his Jeep Grand Cherokee can easily handle 70 MPH on icy roads.

I remember worrying about getting rear-ended, the back hatch springing open from the impact, and Shadow getting out and into traffic. Or getting into one of those infamous multi-car pileups where the road warrior Rendezvous becomes a projectile in a demolition derby, with me and my family becoming innocent victims and on our way to a hospital.

The Tri-State Tollway ends and we’re on I-94 headed to Milwaukee. Every couple of miles there’s an abandoned car in the ditch. I’m white-knuckling it again, trying to stay in the right (“slow”) lane, keeping up with traffic, constantly checking the mirrors, again keenly aware that the people I love are tacitly counting on me to get us home safely.

We take the I-894 bypass around Milwaukee and the road gets a lot better. The howling wind out of the west means north-south roads will get the most drifting, and although we’re driving into a strong headwind, the plows are able to keep the road in fairly decent shape because of minimal drifting. I can maintain about 55 MPH safely but am occasionally passed by some guy in a four-wheel-drive truck who is confident in his immunity to black ice.

It’s early afternoon when we finally pick up the Beltline, and 10 minutes later we’re home, safe. Another harrowing journey has come to an end.

The Brute: Toni's Hemi Magnum

Fast forward to Thanksgiving, 2016. Our son and his wife have invited us for Thanksgiving dinner in their newly-acquired home in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. They’ve promised to do all the cooking while we relax. We’ll be there with bells on! Toni and I had been accustomed to hosting a big family Thanksgiving dinner, but that was before the kids scattered and began their adult, professional lives.

The invite is for cocktails at 2, dinner around 3 or 4, pie and coffee to follow. Plenty of time for us to enjoy a leisurely dinner and be back home in time for the big Packers game that night. They’re retiring Brett Favre’s jersey number at half-time, and it’s the Bears, to boot. We’ll pull up anchor around 6 and should be home in time for the kickoff.

We’ll take Toni’s car, a Dodge Magnum with the 340-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi engine, to give it some road miles. The Hemi, as we called it, made two six-mile trips every weekday taking Toni to work and back, so when the opportunity to give it some road miles presented itself, we took the Hemi and let it stretch its legs a bit. That car could haul ass!

The forecast was for light rain, but nothing to worry about. We had a lovely mid-afternoon dinner of turkey and all the trimmings and sipped our coffee and enjoyed delicious pumpkin pie. It was sort of drizzly and grey when we arrived, but when we headed back, it was dark and raining a little harder. We drove west on city streets and picked up I-94 at the Holt Avenue interchange. By the time we got to the infamous Marquette Interchange, it was pouring buckets – so hard the windshield wipers could barely keep up – and I had to slow to a very dangerous 20 MPH to try and see the road signs to make sure I stayed on I-94.

I was driving in the dark, in pouring rain, in a car which I seldom drove. Recipe for trouble.

By the time we got to the Zoo interchange, I was barely managing to keep up with traffic at around 35 to 40 MPH. There was no sign of the storm letting up. Toni pulled up the weather radar on her cell phone and said it looked bad: we were driving into the worst of it, yet to pass. A few more scary miles down the road, around Pewaukee, Toni suggested that rather than try and brave the rest of the journey, maybe we should get off the road and get a room at a motel around Delafield somewhere.

I thought about our two collies at home, and how they would react to being cooped up inside the house all that time. They’re good girls, but they can’t hold their bladders forever. And I thought about how good it would be to get off the road. And how much I hated driving at night in a rainstorm. Curled up in a motel room, watching the Pack. Hmmm.

As I was considering the option of getting off the Interstate and letting the storm rage on without trying to navigate through it, the rain let up. Just a tiny bit. Enough that the windshield wipers were now actually clearing the rain off the glass. Visibility improved, just marginally, but manageably. I said, “let’s give it a few more minutes.”

As tempting as the option of spending a night in a motel somewhere in lake country was, there was still the strong appeal of making it home. I asked Toni to check the weather radar again. She said it looked like we were almost through the yellow zone. The red zone was now east of us, and she said it looked like the green zone was somewhere around Johnson Creek – and moving east: toward us.

We decided to brave it. Her radar interpretation was accurate. The rain continually diminished as we motored west, and by the time we were at Johnson Creek it had diminished to the point that I could actually set the wipers on intermittent and maintain 60 MPH easily. A half-hour later, we were home, the dogs had been let out, and we’d only missed the first quarter of the Packers game.

Eight years hence, I’ve realized that my brain has blotted out much of the scary early part of the trip when we were in the Milwaukee metro on I-94. I know there were times when I almost drove off the road because my night vision sucks, and it’s even worse when it’s raining. But there’s enough memory left of that night to remind me that I was lucky not to have hurt us or some unsuspecting motorist that night.

Oh, and the Bears beat the Pack in that game.

Our new family truckster: Chevy Equinox

The most recent trip through hazardous weather came a few days ago, taking Toni to catch a flight at Westchester County Airport in our new Chevy Equinox. Tiny 4-cylinder engine, but All Wheel Drive, all-season tires with only a couple thousand miles on them, and lots of creature comforts. The trip for her to visit our son and his family in Milwaukee was planned for months and was one she eagerly anticipated. (For those who don’t know, my traveling days are over; my mobility issues make airline travel all but impossible.)

We knew several days in advance that there was a good likelihood of heavy rain around the time we’d be traveling but were hoping there’d be enough leeway in the forecast that maybe we could get the trip in before the worst of it.


A veteran traveler, Toni likes to fly early in the morning, when flight delays are least likely. She wanted to be at the airport around 4:15 AM, which meant we planned to leave our apartment around 3:15 AM. When we went to bed, the forecast was grim. A giant rainstorm was in Pennsylvania, bearing down on the New York City metro, and they said it would hit around 3 or 4 AM. Great. The worst possible timing for us. Toni asked me how I felt about the impending trip, and I said, “terrified.”

When the alarm went off at 2 AM, the first thing we did was check the weather radar. It was still west of us, but we had some time. Not much, but some. Around 2:45 AM, Toni checked the radar again and said, “I think we should go as soon as we can.” I agreed and went back to watching the overnight news on TV in the living room. Just before 3 AM, Toni came down the hallway and said, “All I have to do is brush my teeth and then we’re outta here.” OK with me.

As we left our apartment, we looked out the window. It wasn’t raining. But we knew it was imminent. When we got off the elevator in the lobby of our building – it had just started to rain. Missed it by that much! I said, “let me go first and bring the car around front so you don’t have to go through the parking lot.” I don’t mind getting a little wet. So what. I’ll dry off.

In the few minutes it took for me to load my rollator into the back end of our SUV and drive to the front entrance of our building, the rain had picked up quite a bit. Toni came out, pulling her suitcase, tossed it into the back seat, and by the time she actually got into the car, she was drenched! “My hair!” she said, looking at in in the mirror under the passenger’s side visor. “It’s flat as a pancake now!”

Without a free hand to hold an umbrella, she was at the mercy of the elements – for about 20 feet. But that’s all it took. “Maybe we can still beat the worst of it,” she said, as we headed out of our neighborhood on the Black Rock Turnpike. The Westchester County Airport is about 37 miles from us, via the historic Merritt Parkway. For reasons perhaps best understood only by those whose families have lived in Connecticut for generations, the Merritt Parkway is a four-lane thoroughfare through the countryside, which has, over the years, become a heavily-travelled road. But it’s not lit at night, like Interstate 95, a few miles south of the Merritt. It’s dark, it’s blacktop, it’s winding and hilly, and when it’s raining, because of the dips in the road, you encounter standing water frequently.

But it sure has that rustic charm that Connecticuters apparently want.

We wound through Fairfield on the way to the Merritt Parkway. It was constant, moderate rain. I had the wipers on the second-highest setting and was seeing the road OK. I was starting to hope that we’d be able to make the entire trip with this moderate rainfall. We got off the Black Rock Turnpike and onto the Merritt Parkway. There was absolutely no traffic. I was able to maintain about 50 MPH but was concerned about hydroplaning.

Suddenly, the moderate rain became a deluge. Just east of Westport we’d run into the brunt of the storm. Lightning flashed, the wind battered our SUV, I had the windshield wipers on the highest setting, and was barely able to see the road. I’d slowed to about 20 MPH and was wondering if we’d make it to the airport on time. Toni had the weather radar up on her cell phone and said, “Looks like it’s going to be pretty bad until we get past Stamford.”

Conjuring up a mental road map, I realized it meant we had to get past Norwalk, then New Canaan before we hit Stamford. Just then, the rain let up a tiny bit. I felt I could manage about 35 MPH. I knew Toni was glancing at the big digital speedometer in the middle of the dash. I told her I was afraid to go any faster because of the danger of hydroplaning.

Some moron in a big Chevy Silverado pickup suddenly came up behind us and passed us in the left lane. He had to be doing the full 55 MPH speed limit. It was the first time we’d encountered any traffic since getting on the Merritt.

We got past Norwalk, where we’d lived in a hotel for a week or so, waiting for the moving van to bring our stuff when we first moved to Connecticut. It was at the height of the plague in April of 2020. People were wearing masks and gloves and avoiding each other. We had to prove we were travelers to even be allowed to stay at the hotel. Our Wisconsin driver licenses were deemed adequate evidence.

Then, just west of Norwalk, around one of the many blind curves on the Merritt, we saw half a dozen or so flares on the highway and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. Toni was afraid the road was going to be closed and she’d miss her flight. But as we got closer, we saw that the right lane was blocked but the left lane was open. Sure enough, it was a one-car wreck. There was a cop car and a flatbed wrecker blocking the right lane, and smashed up against a guidepost on the shoulder of the road was a white sedan.

“Hydroplaning, I’ll bet,” I said, as we crawled by the wreck. We resumed our 35 MPH pace in the rain. Past the exits for Stamford, suddenly the rain let up considerably. Toni pulled up the weather radar again and said we’d be in the green zone the rest of the way. I pushed it up to 45 MPH, and before long, we were at the New York state line and the exit for the Westchester County Airport.

As I pulled up in front of the terminal, a few minutes behind schedule at around 4:30 AM, Toni reached over and touched my hand and said, “Thanks. I know you’re terrified. But thanks for doing this.” We talked about a few things, knowing that soon the cop in the car across from us was going to tell us to move along. Security theater. We kissed goodbye, Toni grabbed her suitcase from the back seat, and as she entered the terminal, I made my way out of the airport and back on the road.

I hoped that the rain, which was more of a drizzle now, would stay at that level all the way back to Bridgeport. Toni had encouraged me to “turn and burn,” because another huge wave of the storm was approaching from the west. I was able to maintain 55 MPH on the Merritt on the way home, until just west of Fairfield. I caught up with the storm, which was moving east. Damn.

I got behind an old white pickup truck which was doing about 30 MPH. Cars were passing us in the left lane. Fine. I’m not blocking traffic. I’m operating at “a reasonable and prudent speed.” I allowed plenty of space between me and the old white truck and just followed him to Exit 44. I got back onto the Black Rock Turnpike, and suddenly the rain let up again. The storm had moved past me, to the east.

By the time I was back home, the rain was down to a few sprinkles here and there. I parked the car, took the elevator up to our floor, got into our apartment and collapsed into my big recliner. Thank God, the nightmare is over. Toni got to the airport in time, and I made it home safely.

I’m 74 now. My night vision is crap. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be. I’m OK to drive, I think, in daylight and on dry pavement. At night, only for short trips on roads I’m thoroughly familiar with.

For now, anyway.

I’m not sure if I’m up to another adventure like these. I hope I’ll never have to find out.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Great People Made Great Ratings


The photo atop this post is what’s left of a building which once housed a powerful and successful pair of radio stations in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. From 1977 to 1984 I worked there, both as Operations Manager and morning news anchor. I was also a partner/shareholder in the corporation which owned the stations. My friend Jim Backus, who was one of my colleagues there, posted the photo. Jim is a historian of all things Oshkosh, and he’s keeping tabs on the demise of the building where we once worked.

My office there was on the first floor, in the front right corner of the building. I see it’s now overgrown with brush and weeds. There’s an analogy there somewhere.

The stations have long since changed names and owners and have moved to a different part of town. But during the time I worked there, that building was home to some of the most talented people who ever graced the airwaves of the Fox River Valley.

Jim’s photo of the unkempt remains of the building brought to mind a lesson I learned a long time ago: in the broadcasting business, it’s not the building or transmitter or equipment that brings success. It’s the people. To say that our AM station (WYTL-AM, later WOSH-AM) and our FM station (WOSH-FM, later WMGV-FM) were successful is a huge understatement, at least from a ratings standpoint.

The AM station was a weak thousand-watt signal on the high end (1490) of the AM dial and the FM was an average 3,000-watt signal (at 103.9 FM) that generated just enough power to cover the Fox Valley market, from Appleton on the north to Fond du Lac on the south – the state’s second-largest media market.

I saved many radio ratings reports from those days, but one in particular demonstrates that success. The one above, from 1984, shows just how dominant those two stations were. It shows that at any given time, 32.6% of adults 18 years or older were listening to our FM station, WMGV-FM, and 26.5% were listening to our AM station, WOSH-AM. That means that at any given time, nearly 60% of adults listening to radio were listening to one of our two stations.

That kind of ratings dominance just doesn’t exist any more.

It wasn’t a pair of powerful 50-thousand-watt signals that supported those ratings. It was the people who created the programming carried on those two average-powered radio stations. It was a fun crew of young, talented broadcasters who loved what they did. We worked hard, we played hard.

I’m happy to say that via social media, I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the people I worked with back then. A few stayed in broadcasting; others had successful post-broadcasting careers as managers, entrepreneurs, sales executives, and other professional occupations.

I’ve listed all 32 of them below, from my Facebook Friends list – in no particular order except the way Facebook displays my friends list. If I’ve missed someone, my apologies. Every one of you had a hand in creating the most successful AM-FM combination the market ever knew. I’m privileged to have worked with you and honored to remain friends!

Jim Backus, Sheree Olson Rogers (Sommers), Lori Schmitz Goldapske, Rick McCoy Trautschold, Robert Snyder, David (Campbell) Kappeler, Tim Probst, Mark Lewis Salzwedel, Mark Ostendorf, Bill Kiefer, Steve (LeRoy Stevens) Buss, Judy Steffes Reising, Don Berrens, Gretchen Grandl Brown, John (Carlson) Volkman, Bill Vancil, Dick Record, Gayle Olson, Bill Hammer, Jerry Bader, Brad (Stevens) Fuhr, Jim Oskola, Pat Moody, Steven Ward Erbach, the late Bill (Bulldog) Denkert, the late Charlie (Hart) Hartwig, Dave Murphy, Melanie Scott Pape, Joe Nadeau, Chuck Mefford, Becky (Brenner) Brose, and Paula Gilbeck Westphal.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Those Were The Days


My friend Juan Jose Lopez passed away earlier this week. 64 years young. My friend and former on-air colleague Sly was the first to tell me, via a text, in Sly’s inimitable way: “I think The Lord is about to call our friend Juan home.”

When you’re the news anchor on Sly’s broadcast – which I was for more than a decade – you’re bound to be dragged into some uncomfortable conversations with Sly’s guests (read: targets). I had more than a few uncomfortable conversations on-air with Juan, during Juan’s years as a member of the Madison school board.

I recall one particularly heated on-air conversation where I said, “Juan, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” We were talking about Madison Memorial High School (Sly’s alma mater) football coach Wally Schoessow. Juan laughed at my barb, and the conversation moved on.  I still have a recording of it.

That was a couple of decades ago, and when I got the news that Juan had died, I recalled that conversation and some of the many others I’d had with Juan over the years, regarding the school board, Briarpatch, or any of the many other Latino causes that Juan championed.

Back then – which now seems like centuries ago – you could have a difference of opinion with someone, have a lively, pointed discussion without devolving into name-calling, and afterward, continue a cordial relationship with that person.

Not any more, it seems. No middle ground. No gray areas. Personal insults. Hateful social media posts.

Our paths crossed many times during my Madison years, and I ran into Juan at scores of public events. Every time we met, we’d shake hands firmly, inquire about each other’s well-being, talk about whatever high-profile cause Juan was involved with at the time, and even do some good-natured ribbing.

Juan would sometimes chide me with a comeback like, “And you say I’m the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?! Ha!” We’d laugh.

The last time I saw Juan was a few years ago, not too long before my wife and I moved to coastal Connecticut. Toni and I were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Park Street. As we were leaving, Juan was coming in. After the initial hello’s, Juan said, “It’s nice to see that you’re supporting one of our Latino businesses with some of those gringo dollars in your wallet. I hope you left a good tip!”

Rest in peace, Juan Jose Lopez. I hope they name a school and a bunch of other stuff in Madison after you. You sure earned that kind of recognition with your tireless advocacy.

Friday, May 6, 2022

...and THAT's How You Do A Wedding!

From the moment we walked into the chapel for the ceremony until we said our thank-you’s and good-byes late that night, every aspect of the wedding exuded class. The experience was unforgettable.

Our son-in-law’s sister got married last weekend, and my wife and I were fortunate enough to have been invited. Bride and Groom Lisa and Greg have come to be our friends over the past couple of years. We are blessed that our son-in-law’s big Italian family has included my wife and me in so many get-togethers. They have truly made us feel home in our new surroundings in coastal Connecticut.

The ceremony was held at the O’Byrne Chapel at Manhattanville College, just across the New York state line from us. The bride’s mother and father were married in this beautiful chapel not quite 49 years ago. My wife and I were among the first to enter the chapel, early enough to hear the musicians running through some of the music they’d be performing during the ceremony.

My first career was in music performance. For that reason, I observe a lot of things that other people may not pay attention to. One of the first things I noticed was that the trumpeter was playing a Schilke S-22 horn. An instrument like that will set you back around 8 grand, and it’s for serious players only. As the ensemble was rehearsing “Jesu, Joy”, I turned to my wife and said, “the trumpeter’s low B-flat is a bit sharp.”

She smiles and nods, having put up with this kind of stuff from me for decades. Then, I noticed that as soon as they finished rehearsing that piece, the trumpeter – Ken Tedeschi, a fabulous player and, as I later learned, principal trumpet with the New Haven Symphony – pulled his tuning slide out about a quarter-inch. “He caught it,” I said to my wife. “He’s a real pro,” I added.

Before long, it was time for the main event. Our daughter was one of the bridesmaids and our son-in-law and his brother were the groomsmen. Our darling grandchildren were also members of the wedding party: little Lola was the flower girl, and her brother Joey was the ring bearer. They performed flawlessly!

Here they are with the mother of the bride (aka grandma, or “mamma” to them) in this photo taken by their great-aunt Annemarie.

The ceremony was moving and inspirational; the music was fantastic; the bride and groom were glowing; it was a feast for the eyes and ears, classy, emotional, charming, delightful. Lisa and Gregory’s smiles lit up the chapel as they walked out, now husband and wife.

I must take another personal moment here. For the past couple years, neuropathy has increasingly robbed my sense of balance. I can’t stand without holding onto something. It can be terrifying. I walk easily with the aid of a rollator, but often the rollator impedes rather than assists my mobility. Going out of the chapel, there are three steps – but no railing for me to hang onto to make the descent. As I approached the exit, two of the bride’s cousins, Frank and Paul (Frankie and Paulie to family members) immediately approached me and asked if they could assist me down the stairs. These two “big, strapping young lads,” as my Irish grandpa would say, who were both ushers at the ceremony, came to my aid and helped me navigate the stairs. They are both wonderful young men, a credit to their parents and the extended family.

The reception was held a few miles away at the beautiful and historical Westchester Country Club. We began with cocktails and appetizers on the terrace, overlooking the championship golf course. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and warm, and soon the terrace was filled with the sounds of laughter and conversation. Everyone was having a wonderful time!

Meanwhile, the bridal party was finishing up the wedding photos. Here’s the beautiful bride and her father, with a vintage Rolls-Royce limousine, at the front portico of the Westchester Country Club. Talk about classy and elegant!

Soon it was time for dinner and dancing. We were led into the spacious ballroom, which looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. Fantastic floral arrangements adorning every table; tasteful decorative touches everywhere; a sensory overload of beauty.

And the music? Out of this world! The 11-piece band played a variety of genres, tempos, textures, and styles. And they were really good. The father of the bride, knowing that I’d have a keen ear for the music, came up to me and asked what I thought of the band. “Fabulous!” was one of the superlatives I used, along with others like “exceptional’ and “remarkable.” “How about those horns,” he said, enthusiastically. “You gotta have horns,” he added, smiling broadly. I told him he’d hit it out of the park with the ensemble at the chapel and the band at the reception.

And, of course, this was no chicken-and-mashed potatoes kind of meal. The first course, served hot and efficiently by the uniformed staff, was lobster with parsnip puree and fresh salad. The second course was filet mignon and shrimp fricassee. The presentation was five-star, and everything was delicious!

We were having a wonderful time. There was much merriment and frolicking, particularly by the folks on the dance floor. Granddaughter Lola danced song after song, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm! The bride and groom stopped by, on their tour of the assemblage. I told Lisa how beautiful and poised she was and thanked her for inviting us. Gregory, the groom, leaned down to my ear-level and said, “I swear I’m going to get your ass out on that dance floor” – an inside joke between the two of us.

What a fantastic day, memorable from start to finish. And even as our daughter walked us out of the ballroom to the valet parking stand, we passed by a huge display of fantastic cookies, each individually wrapped and labelled “From Our Favorite New York City Bakery, Lisa and Gregory.” Had to be Levain Bakery on the upper east side of Manhattan, purveyors of outstanding baked goods. We each took one. (Well, OK, at our daughter’s insistence, I took hers, too.)

Congratulations to the bride and groom, and to their parents for the wonderful, unforgettable event they staged. We had a ball!