Teach in London this summer? Yes!

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Looking forward to exploring London this summer with these six students: Clockwise from left: Rainshine Heffner, Ella Fredericks, Anna Nelson, Yohana Lewis. Rachel Jones, Samantha Thomas.

It’s really happening. Next month, I’m heading to the United Kingdom to spend two weeks teaching a communications class in London, England.

I’ll be leading a group of six students from the Portland area to one of the world’s most influential cities to study Media Literacy, using London as our classroom.

On Friday, July 13th (no superstitions for me), I’ll fly nonstop from Portland to Heathrow Airport. Arriving mid-morning Saturday, I’ll take the Tube to the furnished apartment waiting for me in the Kensington district and await the arrival of my students over the next couple days.

We’ll start off with a walking tour of the immediate neighborhood walking tour, a formal orientation at our classroom, a doubledecker bus tour of key sights and sites, and a traditional British afternoon tea.

From there, we’ll launch into a jam-packed schedule of guest speakers, site visits to advertising and public relations agencies, an online-only newspaper office, a local television station and (fingers crossed) a nonprofit agency that trains low-income minority youth for jobs in the TV and movie industries. We’ll also take the train one day to tour the BBC studios in Birmingham, west of the city.

We’ll visit the Houses of Parliament, tour the Museum of Brands, meet with a group of U.S. journalism students who are also studying in London this summer, and take to the streets to document our learning experiences through photography. We’ll also make time for group dinners, some sightseeing, and whatever else comes our way through serendipitous cultural experiences.

I will do all this while getting paid as if I were teaching a summer session class on campus. Sounds too good to be true, right?

And to think that this trip has its roots in a popular Midwest game known as cornhole.

***

I wrote about the possibility of teaching internationally late last year, after I’d put together a syllabus and daily schedule at the invitation of Portland State University’s Education Abroad office and then gained the necessary approval of the Department of Communication.

Read “Media Literacy in London” here.

I had expected that recruiting 12-15 students would require a lot of time and energy and follow-up, but I never imagined the process would have so many ups and downs and discouraging moments.

Initially, dozens of students expressed interest and asked for more information, and a handful of them immediately opened a formal application. As the months went by, the number of serious applicants rose and fell as students backed out, some out of concern over the program cost and others because they landed a summer job or internship.

It was touch-and-go, but ultimately Portland State and a partner organization called CAPA, a Boston-based company that works with universities on international programs, gave the go-ahead with 6 students in late May.

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The students — four women, two men — met each other for the first time at an orientation session last week and we have another meeting planned in early July. I can see now that having a smaller group than originally planned is going to be just fine. Even with just six, there are enough challenges coordinating schedules and communicating among ourselves.

Five of the students are from Portland State; one is from Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach. Though some have previously traveled to Canada, India, Peru, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, it’s the first time in London for all of them — just like me.  We’ll be there July 16th to July 30th.

***

I’m still tweaking the syllabus and daily schedule of activities, but the overall purpose is clear. This will be an immersive experience for both students and professor as we roam the city, meet with experts in all communications fields — journalism, PR, advertising, entertainment — and compare what we know of U.S. media to what we don’t yet know about the U.K. media.

None of this would be possible without the people in PSU’s Education Abroad office who provided encouragement, support and guidance at every step along the way.

Hannah Fischer is the Faculty-Led Program Coordinator and the one I’ve worked with most closely on matters ranging from recruitment to program budget and travel.

Adrienne Bocci is the program’s Graduate Assistant. (Well, actually she’s just finished her masters in Educational Leadership & Policy and is moving on.) She sat in on some student interviews and information sessions with me. and was a big help to students as they filled out their applications.

Jen Hamlow is the director of the Education Abroad program. And this is where the cornhole connection comes in.

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Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow of Portland State’s Education Abroad office, provided encouragement and support for my London teaching proposal.

Four years ago, a mutual friend, Leroy Metcalf, recruited both of us and another woman to join his four-person coed team during a six-week season played at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Northeast Portland.

Cornhole is basically an indoor version of horseshoes. Instead of pitching metal shoes at an upright post, players toss beanbags, filled with raw corn kernels, at a small, sloping target made of wood and set on the floor. Just as you earn points in horseshoes for a “ringer” or a “leaner,” you get points in cornhole if your beanbag drops into a hole cut into the wood or blocks your opponents from doing so.

We all had fun and went our separate ways. But then last year, when I was preparing to begin a new job as internship coordinator in the PSU Communication Department, I heard from Jen. We met for coffee and she explained how her office helps students obtain international internships — and then she went on to ask if I’d ever considered teaching internationally.

“Huh? Me? How? When? Where?”

Jen told me that it was pretty much up to me. Along with regular professors, adjunct instructors like myself can submit a so-called faculty-led proposal for whatever and anywhere they want to teach, including course title, location and duration. And just like that, the seed was planted. Now it’s borne fruit and I’m preparing for a two-week adventure like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Thank you, Leroy, for inviting me to play cornhole. Never would have met Jen otherwise. Never would have had this opportunity.

 

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Celebrating Som Subedi. Celebrating immigrants.

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Som Subedi: Refugee, community activist, ‘force of nature’

Ten years ago this week, Som Subedi arrived in America with $10 and change in his pockets and a big plastic bag for his belongings. He was a refugee from the Kingdom of Bhutan and had spent years in a camp in Nepal with his parents and three siblings.

On Tuesday, June 19, this brown-skinned man with a huge heart and energy to burn, celebrated his 10-year anniversary of living in the United States.

And how did he do that? By giving back.

Som hosted a community dinner for 100 guests at a Cambodian restaurant in Northeast Portland. I was honored to be among them.

While the food and drinks were appreciated, and we all joined in celebrating Som’s many accomplishments and contributions to the community, there was something bigger to the event. In truth, Som’s gift to all was providing a venue for Portlanders of all races and ethnicities to celebrate the presence of immigrants in our community.

The event could not have come at a better time.

During a week when President Trump was shamed into signing an executive order to stop separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Tuesday’s dinner was a grand opportunity to recognize the contributions that immigrants make to the political, social and cultural fabric of our city, state and country.

In Som’s case, it’s an amazing list.

But, first, let me set the scene at Mekong Bistro:

In this spacious restaurant just off 82nd Avenue, you had community elders, families, educators, political activists, college students and friends coming together as if it were a mini United Nations.

I met people from Togo and Russia and Thailand while drinking beer produced in Cambodia and Laos. People from all over Southeast Asia and Africa mingled with North Americans and Central Americans. We listened to music performed by individuals from Nepal and Vietnam.

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Poster boards displayed photographs of Som with Gov. Kate Brown, both of Oregon’s U.S. senators, and several local politicians, as well as from protests, rallies, soccer tournaments and other community events that Som has had a hand in organizing.

Senator Jeff Merkley appeared on video from Washington, D.C., saying, “It’s important to celebrate the important work that immigrants do when they come to this country.”

A representative of Senator Ron Wyden shared her personal tribute and then presented Som with a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Two Portland city commissioners, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly, were among those who took a turn at the mic. as did some of Som’s co-workers and mentors. Called upon unexpectedly by the moderator, I did too.

A mutual friend, Ronault LS “Polo” Catalani, whom I’ve known since we played basketball at the Salem YMCA three decades earlier, had also moved to Portland. Polo, a Spanish-speaking lawyer and activist from Malaysia, invited me to a lunch with a handful of community leaders in the S.E. Asian community at a time when I was The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion editor and looking to tap into new voices and new perspectives.

Of the group, only Som stayed in touch. He wound up writing a couple of poignant op-ed pieces that we published, starting with this one in December 2010: Bhutanese refugees: American dream tantalizes, deceives

He also wrote this in November 2011:  America’s proud tradition of generosity to immigrants.

In time, Som would also be published or written about in The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and Oregon Public Broadcasting, plus many more times in The Oregonian and OregonLive.

I commended Som on his record as a community ambassador and wished him well in his next 10 years.

***

As for the man of the hour, he’s accomplished — and given back — more in just a short few years than most people do in a lifetime.

Arriving in 2008 with a limited grasp of English, he met a volunteer ESL tutor with a nonprofit organization that helps newly arrived refugees find work and a level of self-sufficiency with everyday tasks like shopping, banking and using public transit.

Within seven years, Som had not only found work but also bought a home and a new car. He and his wife are raising a young daughter and twin boys.

Som’s first job meant working the night shift at a Popeye’s. He later became a case manager for a social services agency assisting refugees. More recently, he’s worked for the city’s Parks for New Portlanders program, part of the Bureau of Parks & Recreation. Last year, Som was honored as Park Champion of the Year by the National Recreation and Park Association, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award.

A fellow employee at Parks & Rec described Som as “a force of nature” in terms of what he brings to work — uncommon enthusiasm, a legendary work ethic, and a constantly growing network of politicians and community contacts who can help refugees and immigrants adjust to life in their new country.

His ideas aren’t too bad, either. In 2010, Som organized the first Portland World Cup, a soccer tournament conceived as a way to bring together young immigrants as an alternative to the allure of gangs. It’s grown to include two dozen teams and players speaking at least 23 languages.

In his remarks, Som displayed both a sense of humor and a continued commitment to serve. Laughing, he recalled his confusion over going to Papa Murphy’s and buying a to-go pizza that was unbaked. He said he’s figured out the difference between “hippie” and “hipster” and “realized that ‘Portlandia’ is an exaggeration.”

In the next 10 years, he vowed to sleep more, take care of his health, write a movie script (“I feel strongly I have a story to tell”) and, of course, give back to the community. He called attention to the PDX World Refugee Day celebration this Saturday and, in closing, urged us all: “Vote this November and make a difference.”

In sum, Tuesday was an occasion to celebrate a remarkable man and his personal milestone. I felt privileged to be invited and left with a sense of gratitude to celebrate not just Som but all immigrants who make our community a better place.

 

Gliding to graduation

PSU Comm programJune is a month for graduations — from kindergarten and fifth grade to middle school, high school and, of course, college.

On Friday, June 15, it was my pleasure to be in the room for a Communication Graduation Celebration sponsored by the Department of Communication at Portland State University.

Faculty, parents and friends turned out to show their support for more than 200 students — 180 undergraduate majors, 30 minors and 15 master’s degree candidates — at a Student Recognition Ceremony honoring them and a select group of scholarship winners.

Commencement exercises for most PSU students are scheduled for this Sunday, Father’s Day, but some schools and departments are holding their own, smaller ceremonies in advance of the big event. Such was the case with the Communication Department.

On a campus teeming with 27,000 students, the Comm Department has about 550 majors. Perusing the Class of 2018 list, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I knew almost half of the new majors and minors either from teaching them in class or supervising their internship during the past fall, winter or spring quarter.

There were plenty of star students to celebrate, including:

  • A graduate student who went back to school at age 47 and completed her masters this year at age 55. She is set to teach three classes next fall as an adjunct instructor at a local community college.
  • Another master’s student who inspired her grandfather to return to school this term and take a 2-credit class so he could obtain the bachelor’s degree he’d fallen short of decades earlier.
  • A scholarship winner with an interest in journalism who’s already just completed his junior year at age 19.
  • A home-schooled student who graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and is set to marry her fiancé this summer.
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Jeff Robinson, chair of the PSU Communication Department, announces a scholarship winner during Friday’s graduation celebration.

In addition, I was delighted to see a student who labored to get a C- in the first class I taught two years ago as she took on both full-time school and full-time work while struggling with depression. She came to me in near tears when she lost her textbook (they can be expensive, you know) so I loaned her mine to get through the rest of the term. She gave me a handwritten thank-you note back then, and on Friday she recalled the loan of the book. Degree in hand, she has lined up a summer internship and a job at a local construction company. I’m so happy she prrsevered

***

Friday’s program was the first of its kind I had attended since joining the faculty two years ago. As the last day of the spring quarter, Friday also marked the end of my second academic year at Portland State. As milestones go, I suppose that’s pretty modest. But, coupled with a similar two-year milestone at Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach, it feels pretty damn good to be at this point. And as I look ahead to what comes next, I can’t help but feel excited.

But let’s not get ahead of things. Indulge me with a quick look back at the past year.

Fall 2017:

At PSU, I taught my bread-and-butter class, Media Literacy, while also taking on a new role as internship coordinator in the Comm Department.

People often ask me what I mean by media literacy. It’s not the study of journalism, per se, though it certainly involves the goal of better understanding the historic role of the U.S. press; the enduring news values that fuel the mainstream media; and the changing technology that has ravaged newsrooms and revolutionized the way content — yes, content (text, photos, videos, audios, graphics) — is delivered.

 

Where media literacy once meant being able to read the written word, it now means being computer literate: specifically, being able to access, analyze, create and distribute a message.

It means being able to follow a narrative and character development on TV or in a movie or podcast. It means being able to grasp the meaning of logos, symbols, emojis and hashtags. It means creating your own media — a Facebook post, an Instagram photo, a YouTube video, a tweet, a meme — and sharing it with others. And, lastly, it means being able to discern who is sending which message for what purpose — not such an easy task in a world where manipulation lives side-by-side with the pursuit of the truth.

My class of 50-plus draws a mix of students, mostly Comm majors who take it for credit toward their bachelor’s degree, but also a fair number of others who take it as an elective. Having those extra perspectives — from folks who are studying film, business, criminal justice, advertising, etc. — is what makes for richer discussions and fascinating assigned essays.

Winter 2018:

Along with another section of Media Literacy at PSU, I taught Sports and the Media at WSU Vancouver, a dual load that meant I spent two mornings a week on each campus.

As someone who broke into journalism as a high school sports writer, and someone who follows sports of many kinds, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching Sports and the Media. Again, it’s not a journalism course that’s meant to turn students into novice reporters, photographers or broadcasters.

Rather, it’s a course that I teach from a sociological perspective, with sports as a reflection of society at large. There is no aspect of modern culture that doesn’t touch sports and that’s what it makes the course so compelling. Think of it as sports and the intersection of (fill in the blank) civil rights, feminism, athlete activism, sexual and racial discrimination, crime, technology, economics, politics, Title IX. The list is endless.

In this class, we spend far less time discussing wins and losses and statistics and far more drawing connections from past to present. Examples: The Black Power salutes on the medals stand at 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the take-a-knee movement that spread from the NFL to backlash from the White House. Pioneering athletes like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Colin Kaepernick. Old-school print media coverage of athletes as heroes versus 24/7 coverage in the age of Twitter, where athletes speak for themselves, break their own news and exercise their rights as free agents.

 

WSUV operates on the semester system, so I had a 16-week term versus 11 weeks at PSU. The extra weeks meant I could invite seven guest speakers to educate my 30 students on what it’s like to work in journalism, media relations, broadcasting or for a professional team. Short version: You need to have curiosity, passion, self-initiative, a multimedia skills set, excellent writing and interviewing chops, a tremendous work ethic, and a very thick skin. Students were shocked, though they shouldn’t have been, by the meanness and sheer volume of vulgar insults hurled at women journalists by irate fans and online commenters.

I owe a big thanks to this semester’s all-star lineup: Lindsay Schnell, USA Today; Jamie Goldberg and Tyson Alger, The Oregonian/OregonLive; Tom Goldman, NPR; Chris Metz, Portland Timbers and Thorns; Rich Burk, Hillsboro Hops and NBC Sports; Casey Holdahl, Portland Trail Blazers.

Spring 2018:

I didn’t teach this quarter at PSU, so once classes ended at WSUV in late April, I was able to take my foot off the gas for the past six weeks. Compared to peak busyness in the winter, it felt like a gentle glide to the end of the term. Still, there was plenty to occupy me as the Comm Department internship coordinator.

During the school year, I had a total of 40 students who registered in the internship-for-credit class. The number rose from 8 in the fall to 14 in the winter and 18 in the spring. Supervising these students was a pleasure because I could see how they were applying lessons learned in the classroom to the workplace. At the same time, I could see their personal, as well as professional, growth develop as they gained insights into their own personalities and working styles, as well as their ability to adapt to supervisors’ expectations and widely differing office cultures.

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From left, 2018 winter quarter interns: Laurel Zarcilla, Joryn Harris, Mabinty Olson, Samantha Garcia and Emilee Caldwell. All except Sam are graduating this year. Joryn won the Communication Department’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

The options that are available with a Communications degree were pretty evident as students fanned out across the city to work in public relations, marketing, event planning, social media, video editing, web site design and more. PSU has no journalism major, but that’s fine so long as students leave with a solid foundation of writing, research and communication theory.

Fun facts about the interns: Of the 40, 31 were women (78 percent) and 18 were students of color (45 percent). For the summer term, at least 7 are signed up and there may be two or three more before classes start again June 25.

None of the work I did with the interns this year would have possible without the support and guidance of my Canadian-Ukrainian colleague, Tanya Raomaniuk. She is the Comm Department’s academic and career advisor, and during the previous school year kept the internship program going until it could be handed off to me.

In turn, I am handing off the program for now to Marisa Miller, a well-regarded and newly minted master’s degree candidate with an outgoing personality. Marisa will be supervising the interns during the summer quarter because I will be away from campus.

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Marisa Miller knits unicorns for family and friends when she’s not working on her thesis.

And where will I be? Across the pond, teaching Media Literacy in London for two weeks beginning in mid-July.

More on that in an upcoming post.

Thanks, Dream Team

PWA Dream Team Expo

The PWA Dream Team (sans our leader, Kevin Jeans Gail) raises a glass following the NW Youth Careers Expo in March 2018. Clockwise from left: Kristen Kohashi, George Rede, Sherri Nee, Susan Nielsen and Kari Smith Haight.

If it’s true that all good things must come to an end, then today is as good as any to face that bittersweet fact.

After two years of working alongside some of the smartest, most creative and dedicated people around, I’m getting ready to close the books on my time at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

I started there in the fall of 2016, just nine months after I had taken a buyout from The Oregonian/OregonLive, intending to transition into semi-retirement. Instead, I wound up getting an adjunct teaching gig at two local universities and falling into a wonderful part-time opportunity at PWA, where I worked in service to a great organization with a great cause: helping local high school students prepare for college and career.

As I explained a year ago on this blog:

“With literally a handful of employees, [PWA] builds relationships with local employers and educators to serve up a steady diet of career-related learning experiences that introduce area high school students to jobs and careers that might have eluded them otherwise. The school year calendar is loaded with career days, field trips, job shadows, internships, mock interviews, classroom visits — and the NW Youth Careers Expo, a signature event that brings 150-plus employers and 6,000 students together for a day of career exploration at the Oregon Convention Center.”

The two years have passed quickly and I’ve been enriched, professionally and personally, by my time with PWA.

Today marks the final meeting of the board of directors during the 2017-18 calendar year. The board will elect new officers, say hello and goodbye to new and departing board members, and welcome a slew of guests to a year-end gathering at a downtown architectural firm.

I’ll wrap up my work in the following days, clean out my desk, return my laptop, and turn my attention to other things, including a busy summer calendar and several loose ends related to my college classes.

But first, a look back at some of the work and all of the people at PWA — our self-described “Dream Team.”

My September 2016 blog post:  “My other job”

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***

I was hired as the communications coordinator, the only part-timer in an office with three other employees: Kevin Jeans Gail, the founding executive director; Susan Nielsen, the program and communications director; and Kristen Kohashi, the program manager.

While Kevin and Susan worked constantly to create and nurture partnerships in the education and business communities, Kristen focused on graphic design (both print and web) and served as a one-woman IT department in addition to managing an after-school mentoring program.

I played a supporting role in the areas of grant writing, social media, database management, and writing for our blog and newsletter. Occasionally, I’d get to represent PWA at local schools and colleges, and other times I’d recruit friends and former co-workers to attend and/or help out at the NW Youth Careers Expo and other events.

Last fall, we were thrown for a loop when Kevin had to take an extended medical leave from work. Susan stepped up as interim executive director and essentially did two jobs  (her own and Kevin’s) for the next several months.

Sherri Nee, a former journalist who helped start two nonprofit projects in Portland, had just joined our team in September, primarily helping with Career Days and recruiting employers to participate at the Expo and a related breakfast event. Shortly after, Kari Smith Haight came aboard as program coordinator, assisting with grant writing and helping Kristen manage the after-school mentoring program.

Sometime during my first year with PWA, we dubbed ourselves the Dream Team. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the nickname really did embrace two things — the fact that we accomplished so much with so few people and resources; and the happy reality that our personalities meshed so harmoniously.

As a group, we tend to be extroverted introverts (except for Kevin, whose outgoing personality and passion for kids makes him among the most well-connected individuals in the city). More importantly, we work efficiently, without ego and in total support of each other and our target audience — the kids.

That dynamic continued with the hiring of Sherri and Kari, who fit in seamlessly with their self-deprecating humor and outstanding work ethic. My personal bonus? Being the only guy in a room with four other women and hearing so many stories about husbands, children, pets, food, fashion and personal foibles, real or imagined.

As for the work, my favorite memories include:

  • Seeing the diverse faces of Portland teenagers light up on a field trip to the PCC Swan Island Trades Center, where they worked in teams to wire a simple electrical circuit, and at Oregon Health & Science University, where they learned about potential careers in radiology, speech therapy and other areas other than medicine and nursing.
  • Speaking to a journalism class at Parkrose High School with Molly Harbarger, a former newsroom colleague who’s half my age and still working as a reporter at The Oregonian/OregonLive.
  • Recruiting caring adults of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in various capacities, including as writing mentors, classroom speakers, mock interviewers or Expo exhibitors. Some friends came to show their support simply by attending the PWA Expo Breakfast and then making generous financial contributions afterwards.

For all of the above, I am thankful. I’ve had the privilege of working with great people, of  meeting a lot of great community leaders who serve on the PWA Board, and of hanging out with energetic high school kids and their teachers and principals.

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George and Susan during a Career Day visit to The Oregonian/OregonLive, where we worked together for several years in the Editorial Department.

I’ll miss driving out to the PWA office in Southeast Portland three afternoons a week. But I know I’ll also welcome the opportunity to claim that time for myself. With another year of teaching ahead of me at Portland State and WSU Vancouver, it will do me good to let go of one thing in order to focus on another.

Thanks, Dream Team!

 

Dazzling day in Tracktown USA

Former prep athletes George and Eric enjoy the action at Historic Hayward Field.

So there we were, sitting side by side in the West Grandstand at Historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.

On my left, Eric Wilcox, a former school record holder in the javelin at The Dalles High School in Oregon. And myself, a former All-League cross country runner at Washington High School in northern California.

We’d come down from Portland for the afternoon to take in Day One of the NCAA Track & Field Championships, a four-day competition featuring the most accomplished athletes in Division I.

Eric is an architect and works for a Portland firm that is working with the university on a massive project to turn Hayward Field into a world-class track and field stadium by 2020. Check out the project here.

Eric snagged the tickets, which put us in a prime viewing spot for the 12 running events held on the first day of the meet. Except for the finals of the 10,000 meter run, all of the events were preliminaries, so we saw multiple heats of each event stretching out from about 4:30 pm to 10 pm.

We also saw preliminary and final competitions for each of the five field events, including Eric’s specialty. All the events featured men. Tonight’s preliminaries feature the women. Finals will be held Friday and Saturday and the size  of the crowd will grow quite a bit for those two days.

To say I was excited for this event is a huge understatement. Aside from attending the first two games of the 1990 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants (yes, the one disrupted by the earthquake), this was the most prestigious athletic competition I’d ever attended.

And because it involved student-athletes rather than veteran professionals in a sport I’d actually competed in myself, it was all the more satisfying.

 

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Quick aside: On the drive down, Eric told me he broke the school record in the javelin as a senior, only to have the very next competitor at the same meet throw the stick even farther. Turns out he held the school record for about five minutes!

As for me, I’d run a 4:38 mile as a junior (a decent time, but not good enough to land me on the varsity) but discovered I did even better at longer distance. As a senior at the league championship meet, I covered the 3-mile cross country course in 15:22, averaging 5:07 per mile, and finished ninth. The top 10 finishers were deemed All-League and our school won the league title.

***

We arrived in Tracktown USA (aka Eugene, Oregon) on a spectacular Wednesday afternoon — warm, dry, blue skies and a faint breeze — and walked into a scene that took me back to the days of regional high school competitions and weekend invitationals.

Only this time I was mingling with college athletes, coaches, family members and other supporters from across the United States. Wherever we went — whether to find our seats, grab a snack or just stroll the grounds — we found ourselves in a sea of Cougars, Trojans, Badgers, Spartans, Hawkeyes, Aggies and more.

T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, school flags and other logo-branded items made clear the diversity of institutions: Nebraska, Houston, Cornell, Columbia, Grand Canyon University, BYU, Stanford, Baylor, Coppin State, etc.

The competition itself was amazing — in fact, inspiring. We had great seats near the finish line with a clear view of what Eric described as a three-ring circus: a running event taking place in front of us at the same time that athletes were scattered across the field — long jumpers on near side, pole vaulters on the far side, and shot-putters and javelin thrower in between.

I’ll save some of the details for the photo captions, but let me just say the two biggest highlights were these:

  • Watching Ben Flanagan, a University of Michigan senior, sprint like hell on the last straightaway to catch and pass a Kenyan-born Alabama runner in the 10,000 meter run.
  • Seeing the sheer delight of Denzel Comententia, a University of Georgia junior, after he’d accomplished a rarity — winning two weights events (not just one) in the hammer throw and shot put. The big man bounded joyfully across the field as if he were a Little League player who’d just hit a winning home run.

 

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The dedication and skill of these athletes is something to behold. Whether sprinting, hurdling, running a relay race or competing in the jumps or weights, each of them has found time to be a genuine scholar-athlete on their campus. How rewarding to come to the Northwest and test themselves against their peers, many of whom no doubt will be future Olympians.

I would love to come back to attend the Finals come day. Or maybe the Olympic Trials. Or maybe an international event, once that new stadium is built in 2020.

James Taylor in Portland

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James Taylor delighted fans by playing more than two dozen songs during a two-hour show in Portland on June 5.

For my generation, there is perhaps no singer-songwriter with a more recognizable voice and style of guitar playing than James Taylor.

From the time he released his self-titled debut album in 1968 to the present, Taylor has cranked out an amazing body of work, including 17 studio albums, 6 compilation albums and 5 live albums. In the early ’70s, his music was like a soundtrack to my life with four stellar albums released during my college years alone.

JT turned 70 earlier this year and he’s still touring. Lucky for me.

I was among the thousands who filled the Moda Center Tuesday night for a two-hour show by Taylor and his All-Star Band. Believe me, it was great. His voice still sounds smooth after all these years, and he hasn’t lost a thing in producing beautiful melodies from his acoustic guitar.

With a songbook full of hits spanning six decades, Taylor had no shortage of material — and he chose wisely.

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Sprinkled among his greatest hits, James Taylor provided little surprises, like his version of  Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour.”

He opened the concert with “Carolina On My Mind” (one of my favorites) and “Country Road” and then weaved all over, selecting lesser-known songs of his own about a dog and a pig (“Sunny Skies” and “Mona”) and familiar covers of songs made popular in the ’50s and ’60s (“(I’m A) Road Runner,” “Up On The Roof,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Handy Man”).

The set list, consisting of about 26 songs, included ballads like “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight” and a version of the bluesy “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles,” a collaboration by Ray Charles and B.B. King.

Taylor closed his first set with the upbeat “Mexico,” then spent the entire 20-minute intermission just off the stage, signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. I got the feeling that he really does appreciate his fans, and that he’s probably a pretty chill dude when he’s not on the road.

JT began the second set with “Something In The Way She Moves” (such a lovely song) and went on to perform his biggest hits. “Sweet Baby James” (written for his brother’s newborn son) and “Fire and Rain” came back to back. “Shower The People” (another of my favorites) blew me away, with the fabulous background vocalist Arnold McCuller stepping up to own the last stanza (“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.”).

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James Taylor and His All-Star Band perform “Shower The People.”

His three-song encore was amazing: “Shed A Little Light” (with its inspiring reference to Martin Luther King), a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” and, what else, Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”

***

A handful of odds ‘n’ ends:

— This was the second time I’d seen James Taylor, but it sure seemed like the first because I have no recollection of the earlier one.

In the days leading up to this concert, Lori insisted that we’d seen Taylor way back in the days before we became parents. We’d seen him at the Oregon State Fairgrounds when we lived in Salem, she said,  adding that we even went with our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t remember seeing JT live, but last weekend Tom confirmed that it was true. So, yeah, I was wrong — and I still can’t explain the memory lapse.

— Tuesday’s concert originally was going to feature Bonnie Raitt, too, but she canceled plans to tour with Taylor because of an unspecified health issue. Early into the first set, Taylor asked the audience to stand for a “get well” photo that he promised would be texted to her. Would have loved to see Bonnie again.

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A view looking out toward the Moda Center crowd, with a photo (at left) of James Taylor with Bonnie Raitt.

— En route to the concert, I was struck by the sight of so many older people on the city sidewalks — graying, bald and many moving slowly — all headed in the same direction.  Looked like they were headed to an AARP convention. That’s when I realized I was looking at my generational peers and fellow JT fans. Yikes.

— Considering his catalog of material, it would have been easy for Taylor to just come out and play his hits with no variation from the original arrangements. But he kept things fresh and interesting by fully involving his 7-piece band — including saxophone, trumpet and congas — and 3 backup singers. I would think doing that is essential if you’re going to deliver night after night, year after year, in city after city. The current tour began May 8 in Florida and continues tonight in Seattle.

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A colorful background for the song “Mexico.”

— Like so many shows these days, this one featured multimedia images from beginning to end, with an array of video clips, photos, changing colors, snippets of lyrics and more complementing the music. I found it distracting at times, but I did appreciate JT’s recorded voice at the start of the show proclaiming, “I don’t animate a character. I don’t present a version of myself. I present myself.”

That he did.

Goodbye, Missouri. Hello, Oregon

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Jordan and Emalyn take a break in Denver on Day Two of their road trip from Missouri to Oregon. On Day One, It was a sizzling 108 degrees in Kansas City.

Almost exactly a year ago at this time, my youngest son and I pulled into the parking lot of a motel in Columbia, Missouri, physically and mentally exhausted from a four-day, 2,000-mile road trip.

We were hauling the contents of an entire house in our two vehicles — a U-Haul truck and a compact car — along with two big dogs and the family cat. The purpose of the trip? To help move Jordan and his young family into a townhouse in a college town where he’d spend the next year, possibly two, at a research lab at the University of Missouri.

Fast forward a year and the scene is altogether different. Jordan and wife Jamie packed up and moved out of that townhouse at the end of May, and hit the road with daughter Emalyn, now 22 months old, for an equally long trip in the same amount of time.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, the three of them, along with their cat and one surviving dog, are somewhere between Salt Lake City and southern Oregon, most likely speeding across northern Nevada in the family car.

After 12 months in Missouri, the kids are headed back to Oregon for the summer. They plan to spend June and July there living next to Jamie’s parents on the rural property where she and her sisters grew up outside Eagle Point, a few miles northeast of Medford.

eagle point to ithaca map

In early August, they’ll pack up again and drive nearly 2,800 miles to Ithaca, New York, where they will spend the next five or so years as Jordan pursues a Ph.D. at prestigious Cornell University. I don’t know precisely the focus of his studies but I do know it generally involves microbiology.

It’s the next step — and, boy, is it a big one — in a path that could lead to a career as a research scientist. It comes on the heels of the Professional Research Experience Program fellowship (PREP for short) at Missouri that’s designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.

The PREP fellowship enabled Jordan to build on his undergraduate studies at St. Martin’s University, a small, private school in Olympia, Washington, by offering him the chance to do research in a well-funded lab at a major public university. In essence, it’s served as a bridge from St. Martin’s to Cornell.

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Cornell University, a member of the Ivy League, is located in west-central New York, about four hours from New York City.

***

As I think back to a year ago, I still marvel at how much ground we covered under such trying circumstances — two blown tires on the fully loaded U-Haul truck in the first two days, and the replacement of three more worn tires on the third day as a precautionary measure. The hours-long delays in waiting for road service in remote parts of Idaho and Montana set us way back on our schedule and made for even longer days behind the wheel in order to get to Columbia on time.

When August comes, Lori and I will fly back east to join Jordan, Jamie & Emmy and help them move into their rental home outside Ithaca, a town of about 30,000 residents situated roughly four hours north and west of New York City.

We’ve seen the three of them just twice since surviving the Road Trip From Hell. First, in early December, when we flew back to Missouri for the holidays. Then, just last month, when they flew here to Portland to attend the wedding of our oldest son, Nathan.

It will be nice to have them back in Oregon for at least a couple of months. They will get to spend a lot of time with Jamie’s parents, Linda and Jeff, on several dozen acres with horses, chickens, dogs and cats, and also will be able to see Jamie’s two sisters, who both live in the area.

It’s too early to say if or when they’ll get a chance to come up to Portland. My primary thoughts are focused on their safety — their just getting here — and on the amazing resilience they’ve shown in their eight-plus years of marriage, moving from Texas to Washington to Missouri as they transitioned from the military to civilian life to a Midwest college town.

 

 

Jamie has been extraordinarily supportive as Jordan has pursued a passion for scientific research. I know she’s missed being around her family, so I hope this summer is all that she hopes for. Before you know it, it’ll be time to pack up again for the big drive to New York.

Cornell University photograph: Wikipedia.org

Turning up the volume on life

hearing aids

I guess you could say I’m No. 37,500,001.

According to federal estimates, approximately 37.5 million Americans aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. That’s about 15 percent of the adult population. Of those, only about one in six have ever used hearing aids.

You can now add me to the tally in both categories.

Last week, with Lori’s gentle urging, I went to have my hearing tested. The results confirmed what she suspected and what I resisted: mild-to-moderate hearing loss, primarily with lower tones and somewhat more acute in the right ear.

A few days later, I went back to pick up my newest fashion accessories: a pair of beige electronic aids designed to fit discreetly behind the ears. I’m going back next week to exchange them for some gray-colored ones, the better to blend in with my hair. No harm in being inconspicuous if I’ve already made the more important decision to get them in the first place.

As a male who’s growing older, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d need hearing aids at some point. After all, the research shows that:

(1) Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60-to-69 age group.

(2) Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69.

hearingaidrepairThe hearing aids are extremely lightweight and they’ve made an immediate difference. When the audiology technician crinkled an empty plastic water bottle at her desk,  I nearly jumped out of my chair.

But that’s the point, right? To turn up the volume on life itself.

In the few days I’ve been wearing my little helpers, I’m hearing things with a clarity I hadn’t noticed before, such as the sound of my slippers on wooden stairs or the clickety-clack of the keyboard I’m using to write this blog post.

I can’t say I’ve noticed a big difference yet in watching television or a movie. But I’m hearing conversations much better — and that’s the biggest improvement.

On Thursday, a professor friend and I had lunch at a popular restaurant. Normally, I would have leaned across the table and asked her to repeat herself several times. This time, I noticed, I heard at least 95% of what she said, even above the noise of background conversation.

On Friday, I forgot to wear the aids. As a result, I struggled to hear one soft-spoken student during a discussion I had with six Communications interns at Portland State. Even with the door closed in a small room, it was hard to pick up some of what she was saying.

Now that I’ve got them, I’ve got to establish the habit of wearing the hearing aids every day. Shouldn’t be a problem. In short order, I imagine they will be as indispensable to me as my glasses.

Admittedly, I balked at going in for the initial exam. I’d always associated hearing aids as a tangible, and unwanted, marker of growing older. You hit a certain age and you’re eligible for discounted bus fares and movie tickets. Another couple years and you find yourself eligible for Medicare and Social Security. What’s next? A cane or a walker?

I exaggerate, but the reality is I am growing older.

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The way I look at it — again, with Lori’s counsel — I’m investing in my health. Failing to treat hearing loss is really no different than ignoring dental health or overall physical health. Put off going to the dentist or the gym and you’ll pay for it.

Invest in hearing aids and the biggest benefit just may be a reduction in the frustration felt by your spouse, who no longer has to repeat herself as frequently to make herself heard or understood. I hear that’s good for the relationship. Pun intended.

More information:  Quick Statistics About Hearing from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders