My second act

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Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor.

Who would have imagined at this point in my career that I would undergo not one but two orientations as a new employee?

Few people, I’m sure. But, then, sometimes things just fall into place better than one can imagine.

Yes, I’m back at work again. Nine months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive as part of a buyout offer extended to senior employees, I’ve been hired to teach in a college classroom and work for a educational nonprofit. The two jobs allow me to draw on my journalism experiences in pursuit of twin interests in education and career development.

I’ve enjoyed the time off I’ve had since Jan. 1 to relax and recharge, to sample the early-retiree lifestyle of regular exercise, lots of reading and writing, and a steady diet of coffees, breakfasts and happy hours with assorted friends. There’s even been some travel to new places.

But all the while I’ve kept open the possibility of returning to work if the right opportunities were to come along. I’m happy — no, delighted — to say that’s the case.

Last week, I started a part-time job as communications coordinator at Portland Workforce Alliance, a small but influential organization that works with employers, teachers and students to expand career and technical education opportunities for high school students.

pwa_logo_home2Along with a board of directors and hundreds of volunteers, the staff helps to arrange career days, job site visits, mock interviews, internships and more, all with an aim of exposing students to the world of work and what it takes to break in and sustain a career, whether it’s in the trades or as a professional as an architect, graphic designer or software engineer.

I love that the organization makes an extra effort to reach kids at public schools where diversity and poverty rates are higher, where students are most likely to be first in their family to attend college.

I’m working with three other full-time employees, led by executive director Kevin Jeans Gail, a former neighbor and all-around good guy who was instrumental in founding the nonprofit in 2005. I’m also working again with Susan Nielsen, a marvelously talented former colleague who was an editorial writer at The Oregonian when I was the Sunday Opinion Editor.

portland-state-university_416x416This week I also started as an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Portland State University. I’m teaching Media Ethics this fall and Media Literacy next winter. Both are lecture/discussion courses looking at the spectrum of mass media — journalism, public relations and advertising — rather than hands-on journalism.

Yesterday was my first class and it went very well. I’ve got a diverse group of about 30 communications majors, nearly all of them juniors or seniors. Many are in their mid-20s and many are working and/or raising a family. I’m confident we’re going to learn a lot together.

(Click on images to view captions.)

I’ve previously worked with young adults in the classroom. Twice before I’ve taught weekend courses at Portland State. Years earlier, I was a guest faculty member at summer training programs at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona that helped prepare people of color for entry-level journalism jobs. Along the way, I also worked as as an editor on student newspaper projects at national conventions of minority journalists.

Some people might think I’m crazy to give up the leisurely schedule I’ve enjoyed these last few months. But I’m excited and invigorated by the twin opportunities that have come my way. (A big shout-out here to Professor Cynthia-Lou Coleman, who hired initially me to teach at PSU and encouraged me to apply again as an adjunct.)

My hours vary during the week, but my Fridays  are free — and I’m already looking forward to an additional teaching gig during the spring semester at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

Am I a lucky man? Damn right.

 

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This thing called retirement

VOA ELee

Elizabeth Lee: Making the transition from work to retirement.

By Elizabeth Lee

So what’s this thing called retirement all about?  I am 68 and I retired almost a year ago from my position as a grantwriter for the largest social service agency in Santa Barbara County.  Before that, I was a community mediator and director of an alternative dispute resolution program in a rural northern California county, and before that the director of a Head Start delegate agency in San Diego. I had my first summer job when I was 16. Lots of shorter jobs and volunteering in between 16 and 68 – whew! I was soooo ready to go! If I had had to write another grant proposal, I would have dissolved into a (rather resentful) puddle of green slime.

The day came! I was feted and congratulated! I basked in mornings without having to pry myself out of bed and rush to work. I still appreciate not having to rush everywhere (forget those screaming drives to the YMCA at noontime, and screaming drives back to the office!).

Then I came face to face with Medicare.  It was going to cost me $435 per month for one of the medications I was taking!  So I foolishly decided to take myself off it without letting my doctor know.  Whammo – I dropped almost overnight into the abyss of depression.  With treatment, therapy and a new source of the medicine at an affordable price, I am back on my feet again.

ELee abstract landscape

“Abstract Landscape” by Elizabeth Lee.

But still, how do I define myself now that my working identity is gone?  I’m not quite ready for giant steps, but I have been taking art classes.  First I took abstract painting.  It was fun and freeing.  Okay, I did produce some works that I was happy to paint over – like one that looked for all the world like a depiction of Pepto Bismol in the digestive system.  And I had to teach my dear husband not to look quizzical or scratch his head when I brought my pictures home from “school.”  I told him, “Just say wow.” He obeyed.  And I began doing things I actually liked!

Now I am taking collage/mixed media.  It requires much more thinking, and I spend quite a bit of time sleuthing for materials.  I creep around the house opening drawers and explore the far reaches of our overstuffed garage.  The one thing I have refused to do is go out and buy something to use – I rely on found materials, including those from nature.  So our most recent assignment was to create an assemblage centering on the theme of birds. Pretty, pretty birdies.  I found myself rebelling like an adolescent.  And one day I walked into the bathroom, where I spied upon the windowsill my little rubber duckies (in a row, of course).  Feeling mischievous, I decided to hang the duckies from the top of the cigar box with which we had been provided, each from a tiny noose.  Voila! The title of the art piece is “Dead Ducks.”  I hope its viewers are rewarded with a chuckle.

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“Dead Ducks” by Elizabeth Lee.

The art classes are definitely helping me to find my new identity, but there is a lot more exploration to be done.  So far, retirement has been a hell of a zig zag path.  It’s a big transition, after all, and one full of opportunity – but I am still learning how and what to make of it.

***

Elizabeth Lee is embarking upon retirement after a lifetime of working in the nonprofit sector with children, adults in conflict, family violence issues, and raising money for programs for youth and the elderly.  After almost 40 years in California, she still identifies with her roots on the East Coast, in New Jersey, upstate New York and New England.  She is married to frequent VOA contributor Al Rodriguez.

Editor’s note: It takes a special woman to put up with the shenanigans of my best friend, Al Rodriguez. With her sass and multitude of charms, Elizabeth is that very special woman. So happy to visit them in Santa Barbara from time to time and to welcome her as a first-time VOA contributor.

Tomorrow: Gosia Wozniacka, The memory keeper

The Queen City

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A Portland visitor on the Cincinnati riverfront.

First impressions can validate a gut feeling or they can be wildly misleading. In the case of Cincinnati, if my visit last week had been a first date, I’d be very open to a second one.

As with Cleveland the day before, I spent less than 24 hours in Cincinnati, barely enough time to form snap judgments. But since that’s all I’ve got to go on, my quick take amounts to this: Cincinnati is, on the surface, an appealing place with lots of hills and trees, a dynamic riverfront, a mix of gleaming and tattered structures, gourmet restaurants, and a historical legacy centered on its location directly across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave-holding state.

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The Cincinnati skyline, viewed from the southern shore of the Ohio River.

Dubbed The Queen City because of spectacular growth in the years after its founding in the late 18th century, Cincinnati later became a major center for the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing to the north. Yet, race relations, racial profiling and police brutality have been an issue, as they have in most U.S. cities, and I saw distressed areas north of downtown where large numbers of African Americans live in substandard housing amid few thriving businesses.

The city was wracked by a four-day riot in 2001, the largest in the U.S. since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and last year drew national attention when a white campus police officer shot an unarmed black man after a routine traffic stop. (Of course, so did Cleveland, when a cop fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old holding a pellet gun.)

In short, Cincinnati is an intriguing place I’d like to see more of.

***

I rolled into town just before 1 p.m. Friday, following a 250-mile drive that cut diagonally across Ohio, from the industrial Northeast to the more rural Southwest and passed through Columbus, the state capital.

It was Day Four of my five-day baseball road trip that took me to three major league stadiums in Pennsylvania and Ohio. I’d never been anywhere near Cincinnati but I had plans to reconnect with a friend who’d worked with me at The Oregonian and to meet a fellow blogger I’d only known through online correspondence.

Had he been in town, I most certainly would have spent time with Peter Bhatia, my former boss at The Oregonian and now editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Unfortunately, work required him to be in Chicago.

And so the visit began at Arnold’s Bar and Grill, the city’s oldest tavern, established in 1861.

I met Rachel Lippolis for lunch, finally coming face to face with someone who’d first come to my attention when I was first exploring the blogosphere. I came across her blog and was impressed with her intelligent writing and choice of topics, ranging from literature to politics to baseball.

She’s a librarian, quiet by nature, married and newly pregnant, and a native of Cincinnati. She’s been a contributor to my Voices of August guest blogging project from the start, and I anticipate she will write something for our online community once again this year. Nice to put a face to a name.

On Rachel’s recommendation, I headed to the riverfront and was dazzled by what I saw. From my vantage point facing south, I could see on my right the football stadium where the Bengals play and, to my left, the Great American Ball Park that is the home of the Reds.

Directly in front of me, the majestic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, connecting Ohio and Kentucky. Below, a grassy park and asphalt path for joggers and bicyclists. Behind me, a 3D art sculpture proclaiming “Sing The Queen City” and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Oh, how I wish I had more time at the museum. Even a 30-minute visit was educational, though. I learned more about Cincinnati’s conflicted past. Though the city served as a center for abolitionists and safe harbor for fugitive slaves able to cross the Ohio River at its narrowest points, many white Ohioans moved south during the Civil War to fight for the Confederacy, according to Ohio History Central.

There in the museum, viewing an actual slave pen (chains bolted to the floor to prevent escape) and reading of the barbaric slave trade that thrived across the river, I felt an overwhelming sadness, along with contempt for all those who participated in an economic and social structure built on the backs of men, women and children who were treated as subhuman chattel. Shame on America.

CVG.brooke-george

Brooke and George.

Wandering the riverfront, I was experimenting with different locations and angles for a selfie when a young woman approached and offered to take my picture. Sure, I said. She took several photos, all of which turned out nicely.

Turns out she was a professional photographer from Georgia who regularly offers to shoot pictures for tourists. Indeed, I saw her make the same pitch to a woman who was photographing her two girls. She introduced herself as Brooke and shot a quick selfie of us. A nice, random moment.

***

Checked into my airbnb room and briefly met my host, Ian, a high school physics teacher who lives with his dog and two cats near the University of Cincinnati. He struck me as a nice guy, but circumstances were such that we only had time for a quick hello and no sit-down conversation.

I headed to the ballpark to meet with Anne Saker, a talented reporter I helped recruit to The Oregonian and a bonafide baseball fan. Anne was born in Columbus, went to school at Ohio University, and is now back at The Cincinnati Enquirer, where she once worked as a college intern.

It was great to hang out with Anne, who is one of the most gracious and outgoing people on the planet. She knows her home state, her city and her hometown baseball team all very well, and it was a pleasure to talk with her about all that while swapping newsroom war stories. We traded thoughts about the past, present and future of journalism, shared baseball anecdotes, and reminisced about our shared history in Portland. Sure hope she makes it back to Oregon again.

As for the ballpark, what can I say?

Like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Cincinnati is an amazing place to see a ballgame. Great American Ball Park, GABP for short, opened in 2003 on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s equipped with a state-of-the-art jumbo scoreboard, a wide concourse featuring an actual market with chilled beverages and fresh fruit as well as the usual fare of grilled sausages, pizza and cheese coneys, a local favorite featuring the city’s signature Cincinnati Chili, onions and shredded cheese on a steamed bun and hotdog.

Our tickets were on the first-base side several rows up behind the Reds’ dugout. We sat in the shade on a warm night, a welcome contrast to Cleveland, where the night before the game-time temperature started at 54 and fell to 51. It was not only Fireworks Friday but Star Wars Night, so the whole Midwest vibe took on an extra layer of Disneyesque wholesomeness.

The game featured the two weakest teams in the National League’s Central Division and yet another one-sided outcome. The Reds won easily, 5-1, and fans enjoyed a post-game fireworks celebration.

***

On Saturday morning, I got up early, ran through the University of Cincinnati campus, checked out of my room and headed downtown for a final meal — a delicious croissant omelette with fresh fruit at the small and cozy French Cafe.

I crossed the Roebling Bridge into Covington, Kentucky, and admired the Cincinnati skyline, all the while aware I was looking across a body of water that separated North from South, freedom from slavery.

En route to the airport, which lies about 20 miles away in Northern Kentucky, I marveled at the physical beauty of the area — green, rolling hills — and soaked up the last few moments of my trip to the Midwest.

I packed a lot of activities and as many people as I could into my five-day, four-night adventure. Though the purpose of the trip was to see professional baseball in three cities separated by just a few hundred miles, I came home with new experiences, new and rekindled friendships, and a better sense of this region to add to my bank of memories.

I’d love to do it again. Next time, though, I may have to take Charlotte with me.

charlotte

Missed my little terrier mix, Charlotte. Toward the end of the trip, my wife texted: “I think she misses you.”

 

 

The city by the lake

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Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland features the most impressive graphic quality I’ve seen in a jumbo scoreboard.

Poor Cleveland.

Among U.S. cities, few have a national reputation as bad as Ohio’s second-largest city, located on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Chalk it up to high crime, bad sports teams, a faltering economy, white flight, and the infamous 1969 oil slick that caught fire on the Cuyahoga River, making the city a symbol of environmental degradation.

No wonder that an unwelcome nickname like The Mistake on the Lake persists.

I spent less than 24 hours in Cleveland during my baseball road trip last week. That wasn’t nearly enough time to make my own judgment. But what I did see — and what I’ve read since — is enough to make me think and hope that better times lie ahead for this beleaguered metropolis.

CLE.tower

A huge water tower on the Shoreway attests to Cleveland’s age, established in 1796.

Signs of blight are hard to miss. Arriving on a Thursday afternoon, I passed a number of shuttered storefronts, vacant homes and weedy lots en route to my airbnb rental on the city’s inner west side.

At the same time, I saw glimpses of improvement. Clearly, people are striving to make things better through new businesses and new or renovated housing.

According to a recent article in curbed.com: “…Cleveland has begun to embody another trend: The nationwide phenomenon of Americans, especially millennials, wanting to live a hipper, less-car dependent lifestyle in the urban core.

“Cleveland is among a group of mid-sized Midwest cities, including Cincinnati, Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Detroit, experiencing a downtown Renaissance.”

Read more: Millennial Influx Helps Cleveland Shake Rust Belt Reputation

The downtown population is rebounding, workers are racing to add 900 hotel rooms in advance of the Republican National Convention, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, hope to deliver an NBA championship this summer.

CLE.quicken

Quicken Loans Arena, located nearby Progressive Field, is the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the site of this summer’s Republican National Convention.

With sincerity, I say good luck with all of that. Cleveland does have the Rock and Hall Hall of Fame and Museum, but residents deserve more as they strive to create a better future.

***

The 135-mile drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland took a little over 2 hours, not counting rest stops, and had me on five interstate highways. I crossed the Ohio state line the day after Gov. John Kasich withdrew from the GOP presidential race.

Arriving around 2 pm, I had a choice: late lunch or a neighborhood run. I chose the latter.

My airbnb room was located in the historic Ohio City neighborhood, not far from the Shoreway that follows the shore of Lake Erie, connecting east and west Cleveland.

CLE.ohiocity

My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

During a cool but sunny run, I saw a crazy quilt pattern of housing — older homes, some cared for better than others; newer apartments; and sad, boarded-up structures. Turning onto Detroit Avenue, I came upon the Gordon Square Arts District, where a $30 million capital campaign has helped beautify and revitalize the neighborhood with a focus on arts and culture.

(Portlanders: Think of the Alberta Arts District’s restaurants, galleries and tattoo shops, and throw in three major theaters.)

The biggest surprise? Coming upon the two-lane track where the Cleveland Area Soap Box Derby will host the 2016 National Derby Rallies Championship in August. On second thought, it does makes sense that such an event would take place here, given Ohio’s role in producing cars, tires and other parts for the auto industry. Cleveland is one of three cities with soap box derby races dating back to 1934.

Toward the end of the run, I passed a boarded-up elementary school — a sure sign, I thought, of strained school finances or dwindling enrollment. I was wrong. Turns out the school is one of two in the area that closed last year so students at both can be moved into a new building in 2017.

I returned to the arts district for a pregame meal at Rincon Criollo, a Puerto Rican restaurant that served up a tasty platter of roasted chicken, rice and beans.

I never did meet my airbnb host and her Boston Terrier, but the accommodations were great (a clean, compact bedroom with access to a bathroom of my own) and the location was convenient (a 10-minute drive to the ballpark).

***

With the Detroit Tigers in town to play the hometown Indians, I was prepared to catch some razzing as a visiting fan. Didn’t happen.

No flak necessary because Cleveland jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and cruised to an 8-4 victory, thanks to two home runs and three outstanding fielding plays that kept the Tigers from scoring more runs.

I exchanged high-fives with a nearby Tigers fan after a home run that briefly narrowed the deficit to 4-3, but that was the only highlight.

CLE.george

A solitary Tigers fan under the lights at Progressive Field. 

I bought my ticket on the street just as the game was starting. Paid $8 for a $36 ticket in the upper deck behind home plate, but didn’t sit there. Unlike other ballparks, the ushers didn’t seem to much care where you sit, so I found myself a seat at field level on the third-base side. Later, I wandered the stadium and plunked myself down behind home plate and the right-field line just to get different vantage points of the field.

Progressive Field is impressive, I have to say. The scoreboard graphics are the best I’ve seen, the field is spectacular, and the whole place is fan-friendly. Many seats were removed, I was told, so that several concession stands are closer to the action. Fans evidently like to stand while they watch the game, so there are a lot of bistro tables throughout the stadium.

CLE.progressive fiel

Progressive Field was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

There were some colloquial touches during the evening: A group of young ladies known as the Cleveland Strikers performing dance moves in the center field bleachers. A handful of team mascots depicting sausages (on this evening, dressed up in ludicrous sombreros in recognition of Cinco de Mayo). A rendition of the state song, “Hang On, Sloopy,” complete with YMCA-type hand gestures spelling out “O-H-I-O..” And a Chick-fil-A sponsored contest where one fan was selected to use a camera to try to find the company’s cow mascot somewhere in the midst of screaming spectators. (Actually, the same Spot-the-Cow contest also happened in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.)

I spoke separately to two ushers between innings and they epitomized Midwest-friendly. One of them, John, said he’s a lifelong fan of the team who retired last year. He got himself a job as an usher and now gets to attend the games for free while making a little money on the side. Sounds ideal, I told him. Wish I could do the same but the Mariners are too far away in Seattle.

***

Friday morning I arose early, knowing I had a four-hour plus drive to Cincinnati.

Found a place for breakfast that would rival any in Portland. It was called Jack Flaps and, according to my friendly waitress, has received national acclaim. I can see why.

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What a way to begin the day: My favorite magazine, Esquire, and a bodacious breakfast at Jack Flaps.

I ordered the Benedicto Mexicano — a variation on Eggs Benedict that’s made of masa corn cakes, housemade chorizo with ranchero sauce, two eggs and herb crema sauce. It was divine.

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Along with fabulous food, Jack Flaps provided excellent service. Shannon exemplified Midwest friendliness.

Note: The Tigers’ loss that I witnessed was their sixth in a row to Cleveland this season and part of a seven-game losing streak that finally ended last night with a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals. The way the Tigers looked, I won’t be surprised if they fall short of the playoffs for a second straight year.

Tomorrow: The Queen City

The Steel City

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Despite a 7-1 loss to the Cubs, I still had a smile as I paused on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. (Photo by Lauren Pusateri.)

I’ve got a soft spot for Pittsburgh.

The feeling took root in the summer of 2010, when I drove cross country with my daughter to help her get set up for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. It grew stronger during two visits my wife and I made, culminating with graduation ceremonies and a baseball game at PNC Park on a clear, summer-like evening. Since then, I’ve been rooting for the Pirates.

When the opportunity came to make The Steel City the starting point for my 2016 baseball road trip, I jumped. Good call.

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Downtown Pittsburgh viewed from the Station Square light rail station.

During a two-day visit last week, I made the most of my time, visiting new and familiar places, hanging with friends and, of course, watching the Bucs play a couple of games.

My anchors were Lauren Pusateri and Kyle Nilson, a recently engaged couple who met in Portland and moved back to Pittsburgh (Lauren’s hometown) last year. I met Lauren through a mutual friend who was organizing a coed team to play cornhole — a popular game across the Midwest that’s similar to horseshoes. Soon enough, I met Kyle, who’s originally from Seattle.

As partial season ticket holders, they offered to have Lauren go with me to one game and Kyle to another. Couldn’t have worked out better.

Here’s how everything played out:

Tuesday: Drove from the airport to Smallman Street Deli, the same Jewish deli in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Simone and I had our first father-daughter meal all those years ago.

Fueled by breakfast, I checked into the airbnb room I was renting from a young married couple, both medical students, then went for a run along the Allegheny River in the Lawrenceville neighborhood where Simone and Kyndall used to live.

Met Lauren, for a pregame meal at Fiori’s, one of the city’s top pizzarias. Sausage and pepperoni on hand-tossed dough never tasted so good.

Watched the Chicago Cubs — longtime patsies turned juggernaut — thoroughly dominate the Pirates in a 7-1 win behind Jake Arrieta, the best pitcher in baseball.

Wednesday: Met Kyle for breakfast at Pamela’s Diner in The Strip district, a place that’s popular with politicians, notably Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Gotta say, the Pittsburgh Hash is pretty wonderful — kielbasa with sauerkraut, mixed with potatoes, topped with Swiss cheese and served with two eggs.

Went to the nearby Heinz History Center, which was featuring a new exhibit on Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Talk about memories. There was everything from Gumby, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Cootie and Barbie to Tonka trucks, Star Wars, and Schwinn bikes with banana seats.

Upstairs was the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which took up three floors with impressive displays of photos, uniforms, equipment and more, ranging from professional sports to all sorts of high school and amateur activities.

Naturally, there was a big focus on the Steelers (six-time Super Bowl champions, folks) and the region’s football history, as well as the Pirates and the Penguins, the hockey team. Proper homage was paid to Roberto Clemente, the first Latin ballplayer elected to the Hall of Fame who died at 38 in a plane crash as he was delivering humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. But there was also lots of space given to Pittsburgh’s Negro League baseball teams and a slew of athletic clubs founded by the city’s European immigrant communities.

From there, we headed to the ballgame for a 12:30 pm game. Same result: Cubs throttled the Pirates again, 6-1.

Said goodbye to Kyle, had dinner at an Asian restaurant down the street from my rented room, then finally got a chance to talk with my hosts, Cecilia and Gil. Had an enjoyable conversation, learning how they met, what they are studying, and probing their thoughts on religion and the afterlife.

(For the uninitiated, airbnb enables travelers to rent rooms in private residences, typically for less cost than a motel room. Depending on circumstances, you may or may not meet the person(s) you’re renting from. And you may share the living space with pets, as I did.)

Thursday: Met for breakfast with Jacob Quinn Sanders, a journalist friend I’ve known for about 15 years since I was a recruiter and he was a college student. Though we never worked together, we’ve kept in touch through the years and his many moves, and he’s been a regular contributor to my annual guest blogger project Voices of August.

We reconnected at Nadine’s, a Southside bar and restaurant that’s been featured on “Diners, Dives and Drive-ins.” As promised, it was a “full Yinzer” kind of place, catering to blue-collar, native Pittsburghers in sports-themed T-shirts and caps. Among a handful of retirees seated at the counter that morning was a younger guy with a man-bun and Penguins garb, sipping on a beer at 8 a.m., no doubt having just finished the graveyard shift.

Jacob left the newspaper industry not long ago to follow his own path as a freelance journalist and web developer. As such, he represents the best of today’s ever-evolving journalists, a writer of content and code and totally at ease in the world of social media.

As I hit the road for Cleveland, it dawned on me that the social aspect of this trip was essentially like hanging out with my own adult kids. My fellow baseball fans, my airbnb hosts, my journalist friend — all are in the late 20s to early and mid-30s, just like my two sons and daughter.

Though it may seem odd or least curious that I’d hang out with people young enough to be my children, I felt totally at ease. I’d like to think they felt the same.

Tomorrow: The city by the lake

Midwest baseball road trip

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The Pittsburgh skyline looms above the right field fence at PNC Park.

Five days. Four nights. Three baseball games in three cities. Two states. One rental car. One baseball fan. One generous wife.

Add them all up and you get one jam-packed, solo trip to see six baseball teams in three stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

road trip map

As part of the deal, you get to hang out with new and older friends, stay in the homes of three strangers, feast on tasty foods, visit a couple of museums, and be alone with your thoughts as you drive hundreds of miles on interstate highways where Northeast meets Midwest and the Rust Belt transitions into America’s Heartland.

Self indulgent?

Yes.

Enjoyable?

Totally.

Call it the Great Midwest Baseball Road Trip of 2016.*

* (I understand western Pennsylvania is part of the Northeast, but five of the six teams I saw are from landlocked states so I’m keeping it simple and going with “Midwest.”)

***

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Progressive Field in Cleveland — one of three impressive baseball stadiums I visited within a four-day span.

As a youth baseball player and lifelong fan, I’ve always fantasized about seeing a game in every Major League Baseball park. Living on the West Coast, it was easy to get to the first six. Reaching those in other regions of the country has been challenging at times but after this trip I’ve now been to 25 stadiums, leaving just 5 to go.

Several years ago I’d done something like this on a smaller scale when I drove my dad from his home in rural New Mexico to Arizona so we could see 3 games in 3 days at 3 ballparks during spring training. That preseason fling was a piece of cake because we stayed in one place and the parks were relatively close to each other in the Phoenix metro area.

In contrast, this trip required not just more time but more planning. And I got a big assist with the logistics from my mother, a devoted fan of the Oakland A’s right up until the day she died. (More on that below.)

I flew from Portland to Pittsburgh late Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning. I saw games there Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. I drove to Cleveland the next day and saw a game that Thursday night. I drove to Cincinnati the next day and saw a game that Friday night. I flew home the next day and arrived Saturday evening, just ahead of Mother’s Day.

Some might wonder why I did this alone. Why not ask a friend to come along?

Well, a trip like this isn’t out of the ordinary for me. When I traveled the country as The Oregonian’s newsroom recruiter, I was typically on my own, flying to cities I often hadn’t been to before, getting a rental car and staying in a blur of hotels.

Frankly, that’s how I managed to see ballgames in so many different places. If my work  hadn’t taken me to places like Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, I most likely would have gone there on my own.

Having retired at the end of last year, time wasn’t the issue in planning this excursion. Rather, it was a matter of finding game dates in nearby cities within a few days that wouldn’t cause havoc for Lori, knowing she had to maintain her work schedule, manage our three pets and respond to any household issues that came up in my absence.

Bless her. She agreed.

***

Mom&George

Visiting Mom at her residential group home in July 2013.

My late mom had a role in this too. .

When she died in the fall of 2013, I had to cancel a work-related trip to Iowa. The airline wouldn’t refund the full cost of my ticket but I did get a voucher for partial credit. It was enough for a one-way ticket I could use at a later date.

Well, that opportunity presented itself when I made my travel arrangements. The flight from Cincinnati to Portland was essentially free. I’d like to think Mom would be happy knowing she contributed to my Midwest adventure.

For the record,  my two favorite teams went without a win in my presence.

In Pittsburgh, the Pirates lost twice to the Cubs. In Cleveland, the visiting Tigers fell to the Indians.

In Cincinnati, I had no vested interest in either team so I didn’t mind at all cheering the Reds to victory over the visiting Brewers.

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Wearing a Cuban National Baseball Team jersey at the Cincinnati riverfront.

Though baseball was the main attraction, I’ve got to say the overall adventure was mighty fine. The combination of new and familiar experiences, hanging with friends, and seeing more of this landlocked part of the country made for a great trip.

It was fun to be in Pittsburgh again. It was sobering to spend time in Cleveland. And it was an epiphany to visit Cincinnati for the first time.

Map: Zesco Inc.

Tomorrow: The Steel City

Downshifting on Orcas

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A walk around Eagle Lake is good for the soul.

Several years ago I was part of a Hood to Coast team that adopted a memorable slogan for the 198-mile relay race from mountain to the beach. It was so cool we put it on our T-shirts with an image of a snail: “Start out slow, then taper off.”

That thought came to mind during our recent vacation on Orcas, the gem of the San Juan Islands. If you’re already retired, how do you take it down a notch?

Lori is still working, so the question didn’t apply to her. But for yours truly, my “challenge” was to find a new level of relaxation during our weeklong stay at our log cabin in the woods.

Consider the challenge met.

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Mount Baker rises in the distance in this view from the Anacortes ferry parking lot.

From the time we board the ferry in Anacortes and find ourselves a table near a window, the process of decompressing begins. It’s a smooth, silent hour-long ride across the water to Orcas, meaning there’s ample time for a book, a snack or a nap.

Arriving at the ferry dock, we set off on a leisurely 45-minute drive to our place, traveling on two-lane roads that pass one pastoral scene after another. Our route takes us through the village of Eastsound and an expansive state park, along the shoreline of a lake and two bays, and then to the outer reaches of the island, where the locals sell farm fresh eggs, fresh-picked flowers and bundles of kindling.

(Fun fact: There is not a single traffic signal on Orcas.)

By the time we chug up the graveled road leading to our place at the top of a hill, we are tired from a day of travel, for sure, but also in a frame of mind to appreciate the slower pace of life in a place that oozes charm.

We hadn’t been up since July, so it felt great to reacquaint ourselves with everything we love about this place. Clean, crisp air. Confetti-like stars in the night skies. Greenery in every direction. And a blanket of silence. It’s quiet enough to hear a hummingbird’s beating wings, and the wind swooshing through tall treetops.

But enough of that. Here’s a fond look back at our favorite vacation place.

Every day started with a walk above our house, a much quieter experience than usual, when Charlotte and Otto are apt to see (and bark at) other dogs in the neighborhood.

 

We had a persistent visitor — an American Robin that kept flying toward our front-door window, wings flapping and claws extended. A quick internet search suggested the bird perceived us as a threat to a nest somewhere nearby. Felt sorry for him because he kept up this behavior the entire time we were there.

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This American Robin hung out on our porch the whole week.

We had no schedule and were content to mostly hang around the cabin, reading books, playing board games, watching a trio of movies on DVD, and preparing most of our meals. We made one exception: a lovely dinner at Doe Bay Cafe, which is part of the Doe Bay Resort, known for its hippie aesthetic.

We had our friends Carl and Julie over for dinner one night. A couple days later, I played golf with Carl and his buddy, Terry, and afterwards had dinner and played billiards  at the Lower Tavern.

While Lori knitted some days, I went on solitary runs in the Eagle Lake area. Together we went on a short hike at Obstruction Pass State Park, a favorite place of ours.

We also walked around the Eagle Lake area, admiring the many well-maintained homes and enjoying views of the lake and Georgia Strait, which separates the United States and Canada.

As if all this relaxation weren’t enough, I took it down a notch one afternoon. With the sun shining and no hint of a breeze, I headed toward the hammock down the hill from our cabin. Took a pillow and a book — John Updike’s “Rabbit Is Rich” — and read a few pages before nodding off.

I know. It sounds decadent. All this fresh air, R&R, good food and healthy living. So grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy it all. And so grateful to be able to spend the time with my wife.

Boys at the beach

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From left: Tom, George, Bob and Eric.

As if this retirement thing weren’t already going pretty smoothly, this weekend took it to another level.

Three friends and I converged on the beach home of a fourth friend and had ourselves a helluva relaxing time.

The crew: Our host, Tom, plus Bob, Eric and myself.

The location: A secluded spot somewhere in south Tillamook County.

The plan: Arrive Friday afternoon, spend all day Saturday, leave Sunday morning.

The agenda: Have a couple of dinners at home, play some poker, take a couple of hikes, spend some time in nearby Pacific City, play some more poker.

The menu: Grilled steaks, roasted vegetables and a green salad; bacon, eggs, potatoes and waffles; fish and chips; sausage and gravy over homemade biscuits, eggs and hash browns. Lots of coffee and, um, several adult beverages.

***

What can I say?

Though nothing tops time spent with my wife Lori, there’s an entirely different kind of pleasure that comes from hanging out with dudes — in this case, guys I’ve known for roughly 25, 35 and 40 years.

Tom and I go back to college days in San Jose. After graduation, each of us moved up to Oregon, got married (our wives were college roommates) and went on to raise three children.

Bob and I go back to when we lived in Salem. His son and our oldest boy were born two days apart and we became founding members of a babysitting coop.

Eric and I met when our families were living two blocks from each other in Portland’s Grant Park neighborhood. His daughter and our youngest son were born four days apart.

Each of these guys is a regular in the poker games I host at my place. And because they also attend the annual Voices of August meetup that follows each year’s month of guest blog posts, they already know each other to some extent.

After this weekend, it’s safe to say the bonds of friendship have grown stronger.

It wasn’t all calories and poker chips. There was plenty of conversation — about our spouses and kids; about politics, hobbies and travel; about our working and retired lives (Eric is the only one still on the job) — and plenty of exercise, too.

Friday evening we walked along the beach into a stiff, chilly wind. Saturday morning we tramped through unpaved neighborhood streets and took a longer hike in the sand to Nestucca Bay, where we glimpsed sea lions, seals, a bald eagle and a couple of blue herons.

We followed that up with a visit to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge  (no “patriots” in sight plotting a takeover of government land), where the hilltop observation deck provided ocean views in one direction and green, rolling landscapes in the other.

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Looking west toward the ocean from Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

After lunch and a couple games of billiards at the old-school Sportsman Pub and Grub, where country western alternated with Ted Nugent heavy metal on the jukebox, it was time for another hike.

Bathed in sunshine, we walked along a quiet trail in the Sand Lake Recreation Area, emerging onto a pristine beach.

After that, we headed to an art show at a private residence, an open studio featuring three local artists — two of whom knew Tom from their day/night jobs in Pacific City. We talked with all three, complimented their work, and noshed on snacks laid out on a billiards table. Pretty casual.

From there, it was one more pit stop at Twist, a wine and beer tasting bar where we chatted with Sean, a co-owner, and greeted the resident four-legged host, an aging Rhodesian Ridgeback-Lab mix named Sami.

After that, it was back to the beach home for more R&R (sort of like going from the slow lane to barely moving) topped off by a dinner of appetizers and a game of cards that lasted until 1 a.m.

Gotta say, it was a great weekend in all respects. Guy Time is all good when you’re hanging out with three friends who know you well and in a place where you can’t help but chill.

Already looking forward to the next time we can do this.

Seven years of blogging

bloggingThe scene: A recently retired journalist sits at the breakfast table near a tall window providing a view of snow-white tree blossoms and traffic of all types — pedestrian, bicyclists and motorists — on the residential street below. One sip of lukewarm coffee remains in the writer’s mug, a souvenir from a 2010 road trip. The writer is wearing freshly laundered pajama bottoms.

The occasion: Seven years ago this month, the writer launched a blog called Rough and Rede. He had been hired to teach a weekend college course titled “Opinion and the Blogosphere” and it seemed only logical that he should have a blog of his own — a place where he could tackle topics of his own choosing and point to it during class as an example of the power of web publishing, where anyone with a computer keyboard, an internet connection and blogging software could post text, photos and videos at will.

The upshot: That initial endeavor, powered by Blogger, was laid to rest at the end of 2013. In its place arose Rough and Rede II, enabled by WordPress, a publishing tool offering an updated design with a new font and larger photographs. Since January 2014, Rough and Rede II has published 385 posts, which as of this moment have garnered 37,614 views and 21,812 visitors — from 92 countries — plus 884 comments.

Technical issues with blogspot.com prevent a recap of similar statistics for the original R&R, but it’s safe to say it notched more than 800 posts and likely more than 1,000 comments from March 2009 to December 2013.

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An old school mug purchased during a father-daughter road trip in 2010.

So what?

Why put time and effort into a single-author blog that hops, skips and jumps across various subjects rather than provide a deep dive into a single-interest topic?

Why bother if it’s not meant to produce income?

Hell, does anyone even anyone blog anymore?

***

Seven years of doing any one activity provides perspective. Seven years of maintaining a personal blog — a web log of things I’ve seen, felt, heard, thought about and tried to figure out — provides a digital archive of things I’ve experienced and shared, not knowing who would come across them or what, if anything, would spark a connection or interest.

Before blogging became a thing, I filled several journals with musings long ago forgotten. Even if I were to go back and visit them, the scrawl would probably be unreadable, owing to my steadily deteriorating handwriting. But I suppose the takeaway there is that I’ve always enjoyed writing. For years, I put my thoughts down on paper. Now it’s easier with a keyboard and a computer screen.

But where my old journals were a solitary thing — who else but me would read them? — blogging has become a way to engage with family and friends, regular followers, occasional readers and one-off visitors. I enjoy that connection. I’ve exchanged comments and emails not just with people I know, but with fellow bloggers in different parts of the country.

I’ve also enjoyed stepping aside to invite other people to share their experiences and perspectives as guest bloggers. Some of these contributors are professional writers but most are everyday folks taking the opportunity to share an interest or an insight.

Five years running, these guest blog posts have been aggregated into the annual Voices of August, where they’ve been widely read and shared. Lately, they’ve been replayed too, thanks to the introduction of a Friday Flashback feature that allows me to dip into the VOA archive.

As I look back on my own posts, I am delighted by the range of topics and the permanence of the blog — and the realization that it captures the people, places and things that matter most to me.

I’ve written about my career — the challenges, rewards and many transitions that marked my final years at The Oregonian/OregonLive — and initial adjustment to early retirement.

I’ve written about travel — Italy and Slovenia, Santa Barbara, Silver City, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Oaxaca and, most of all, Orcas Island.

Lori in Tucson

My traveling companion: The lovely Lori at lunch in Tucson, Arizona.

I’ve written about entertainment in all its forms — books, movies, sporting events and concerts– as well as favorite authors, actors, athletes and musicians.

I’ve written about culture and politics — most memorably with the pride I felt the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the land.

I’ve written about our pets — Otto, Charlotte and Mabel, as well our beloved Max and Rudy, no longer with us.

I’ve written about death — about the important work of The Dougy Center, and the passing of my mother and the complicated relationship I had with her.

And I’ve written about family milestones — not just college graduations, marriages. anniversaries and the anticipation of our first grandchild, but also those four years that our youngest son served in the U.S. Army. We saw him graduate from basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia; worried about him as he moved from base to base; held our breath as he deployed to Afghanistan; and then celebrated as he returned safely to the Northwest.

Going back and re-reading any of these posts gives me great satisfaction in reliving those thoughts, feelings and images. Revisiting the content reminds me of moments I’ve treasured, friends I’ve made, insights I’ve gained, perspectives I’ve appreciated.

***

Before social media changed everything, Rough and Rede no doubt had a smaller audience.

These days, anyone who uses Facebook essentially is a blogger. The world’s most popular social media platform makes it easy, giving anyone the ability to hop on and post text and visuals. The result: a non-stop fire hose of information, where short posts and links to other content are the norm. A post of this length would never see the light of day on Facebook and that’s fine.

But linking to my blog’s URL from Facebook undoubtedly has made it easier to broaden its reach. Just as news organizations rely on Google and various social media sites, Facebook has become essential for sharing content. It’s gratifying to see people react on Facebook but the tradeoff has been a drop in comments left on individual blog posts. Can’t do much about that.

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Personal blogging continues even after my early retirement as a professional journalist.

As I lurch forward with another year of blogging, I take comfort in knowing I’ve persisted when so many others have not.

It’s hard to get a handle on the number of blogs worldwide. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 173 million in 2011 down to 152 million in 2013. Many of them are dormant, quickly abandoned after a few weeks or months. According to worldometers.com, roughly 2 million blog posts are written each day.

And who is it that blogs?

According to Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere report:

 

  • Two-thirds of bloggers are male.
  • 65% are age 18-44.
  • Bloggers are more affluent and educated than the general population:
    • 79% have college degrees / 43% have graduate degrees
    • 1/3 have a household income of $75K+
    • 1/4 have a household income of $100K+
  • 81% have been blogging more than 2 years.

 

Other fun facts: The highest concentration of U.S. bloggers are found in California (15%), New York (8%) and Texas (6%).

And, finally, a stereotype-busting factoid from The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, who painstakingly calculated that only 3.7 percent of bloggers might be living in their parents’ basements.

Let the record show that I might wear PJs when I blog, but at least I’ve above ground and most often composing my posts in natural light.

Word cloud: domain.me

VW photo: Krystina Wentz-Graff

 

PIFF 39

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Cinema 21 in Northwest Portland was one of three venues where I volunteered this year.

My first year as a Portland International Film Festival volunteer has come and gone, and it’s time to do the math.

6 movies + 3 theaters + 4 jobs = 1 positive experience.

As a new retiree, I wanted to do something new and fun this year, something that appealed to my interests and would fit easily into my “schedule.” Volunteering at PIFF struck me as an ideal situation, considering that movies rank high on my list of favorite activities. All the better that I could choose from among films produced in 48 countries, ranging from Albania to Kyrgystan to Venezuela.

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Each time you volunteer, you get a standby ticket to attend another movie.

In exchange for volunteering my services on days and nights that I chose, I would see a handful of films for free and maybe meet a few new people.

Well, that’s just how it turned out.

I saw six films at three venues — World Trade Center, Moreland Theater and Cinema 21 — in three parts of town.

I did four jobs: line control, seating, ticket-taking and tallying (tracking the number of people who entered with festival passes or smartphone tickets). All were completely manageable tasks and gave me a new window on the PIFF experience.

The festival, in its 39th year, offered 97 feature-length films and 62 short features during a 17-day run from Feb. 11-27.

Under the guidance of PIFF staff members who sold tickets and managed each screening, I worked alongside fellow Portlanders, some of whom were rookies like me and others who were veteran volunteers accustomed to making the most of free admission. One woman said she anticipated seeing at least 34 films this year.

I can’t say I made any new friends, but I can say I enjoyed two or three conversations with other volunteers, including one a couple nights ago with a fellow parent I met years ago when our kids were attending Grant High School. Like any group of people, you have some folks who are outgoing and others who are more private. No one made introductions at any of the venues, so it was up to you to engage or not.

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Two nights in a row, I worked with PIFF staffers (from left) Nevada, Rebecca and Zoe at Cinema 21.

Last night at Cinema 21, the experience seemed to capture Portland’s essence — a mid-sized city with a friendly vibe where odds are high you might run into someone you know.

Two quick anecdotes:

— A guy entered the lobby, approached the cashiers and said he had an extra ticket he wouldn’t be able to use. He wanted to leave it with them to give to someone else.

“That happens a lot,” said Rebecca, who was in charge of the PIFF crew that night. Once, a man took a free ticket but insisted on buying another so he could pay it forward.

— I was holding a clipboard and chatting with a woman from France named Gigi, who like me was awaiting the start of a Mexican film, when the audience began exiting from the earlier screening of a movie made in Italy. Sure enough, I spotted two of my neighbors, one of them German-born and accompanied by her daughter-in-law. It was a PIFF moment, for sure.

As for the movies I saw?

Four thumbs up. Two thumbs down.

My favorite: “The Thin Yellow Line” (Mexico), which won the Audience Award at the Guadalajara International Film Festival. It’s a lovely story about five misfits who are hired to paint the center stripe of a rural road connecting two villages.

Thrown together as strangers in the sweltering summer sun, they battle heat, isolation, each other and their own demons as they walk the entire 130-mile route. Along the way, they deal with issues of trust, respect, forgiveness and acceptance. In my book, this film by Celso Garcia was every bit as good as any of this year’s Oscar-nominated movies.

Also very good: Two documentaries, “Sonita” (Iran) and “Landfill Harmonic” (Paraguay), and a drama, “Fatima” (France).

“Sonita” is the story of a teenage Afghan refugee who uses rap to speak out against her country’s tradition of forced marriage. (See previous post.) “Landfill Harmonic” is the uplifting story of children who are given the gift of music, playing instruments made from recycled materials taken from the landfill near their home. “Fatima” offers a window in the struggles faced by a single mother, an Algerian immigrant living in France with her two daughters.

Not so good: “Nahid” (Iran) and “Schneider vs. Bax” (The Netherlands).

Looking ahead to PIFF 40, I anticipate I’ll be volunteering again.