Goin’ to Carolina in My Mind

Nothing can be finer,… than sitting in a jam-packed coffee shop near the UNC campus.

This time of new beginnings, of delving back into academic studies (I can reach my hand to the right or to the left on this giant bar and feel books, papers and laptops strewn everywhere) cause me to ache with nostalgia.

I’ve gotten into a comfortable habit of coming here at least a couple times per week, after a long day of mostly twiddling my thumbs on the day job, to be re-awakened. Many studies have proven that being in such creative environments can in fact be stimulating.

What I’m finding a little less stimulating though is that so many of my friends are leaving my fair state! It seems that California, with her promise of less humidity and perhaps greater employment, is re-claiming her former residents. I don’t know if living out there would be for me though, as the cost of living is pretty high and I’m not so sure about earthquakes. But then I guess we all have some sort of natural disasters to deal with.

I know that it’s pretty likely I’ll leave this state for whatever comes next, unless something unforeseen happens. But if I do, I’ll be happy that I got to experience life in three fairly different regions: Moore County and the Sand Hills, (country, country, country!) the Triangle, (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) basically the intellectual heart of NC, and the Charlotte area, which some derisively call the Great State of Mecklenburg.

Ah, my hometown of Charlotte. Right now, much of our national representation is due to the somewhat hapless Carolina Panthers (NFL). You know, I’m half tired of watching this team so often start the season in the same way. Facing the Seattle Seahawks, we managed to drop one late yesterday 12-7 when DeAngelo Williams, one of our star running backs lost the ball on the Seattle 7 yard line as we were going in to score. This happened, as do so many of our disasters, in the fourth quarter. But I should try and be a devoted fan and keep watching, hoping that maybe on the tenth anniversary of what will probably always be the best season in Panthers history, we’ll manage to recapture a bit of that magic somehow. Remember the infamous Super Bowl with Janet Jackson showing off a bit more than she should have? Yep, we were there!

And these are some of the things I’ve been pondering during my long hours at the table, thinking about all of the things that make our state unique. Wherever I end up going, I hope to settle back here once I’m fully in my career, and I hope that particularly our urban centers can become a bit more interesting so that we don’t keep bleeding off good, talented people. Until next time, from the Tar Heel State.

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From Trivial to Powerful, The Effects of Social Media

So this’ll probably be a short entry, assuming I manage to crank one out at all. And with class starting tomorrow, that day’s post will be a short one as well.
I wanted to quickly talk about a couple of ways that social media, (e.g.) Facebook and Twitter, have worked in my favor or allowed me to work in someone else’s.
Many point to these modes of communication and suggest that they are major time wasters on which little is actually accomplished. To a large extent, I wouldn’t disagree with this. However, some pretty cool things can happen as well.
The first of these is trivial, I’ll admit, but to a friend of mine and I it will make for a more enjoyable NFL football season if it actually happens and is accessible. I had called NFL Audio Pass Customer Service on Friday when I purchased this product, because I wanted to see if there was a way I could listen to games on my iPhone. I was assured by a rep that if I downloaded the NFL 13 app, I would have the sort of access I sought.
When Sunday’s preseason game kicked off, I launched the app to see if I could find that audio. Now I’m a bit concerned about usability with VoiceOver, because the screen seems to refresh every five seconds or so, taking me back to the beginning. Other apps refresh also, but they manage to leave me in the same place even as they do so.
Anyway, I saw only a way to upgrade to a premium subscription that would allow for viewing of four games per week along with other NFL network content. In response, I tweeted “Ugh very disappointed in the NFL Mobile app. I don’t even see a place to listen to audio only to subscribe to video feed. #GetItTogether!”
A few minutes later, an account for NFL Mobile’s Customer Service, that had only been created like a week prior, responded, talking a couple of us through what we should expect. At least they were aware enough to know that such issues might crop up, I guess.
In a nutshell, they said audio should be available by the time the regular season begins in a few weeks. It’s not a real big deal if it isn’t, as I can just listen to the games via the computer, but the convenience factor is that to which I am most looking forward.
The other way that social media has had a major effect on me is by what it allows me to do for another. I have for months, years really, tried to help quite often new parents of persons with Norrie Disease, the disorder that has caused my blindness and hearing loss. Google is a wonderful thing, and so people sometimes show up with questions and concerns. So I corresponded with someone via Facebook, not actually realizing that I was acting in my official capacity as a member of the board of directors in the Norrie Disease Association. I certainly do understand the overwhelmedness that can result when you find out that your child has a condition that might result in a varying set of disabilities from mild to moderate hearing loss to possible intellectual deficits. My take home message is always this: first, many of us go on to live normal, productive lives and do great things for ourselves, our families and friends. But no matter the situation, everyone’s quality of life is improved when he or she experiences a loving, vibrant environment that encourages the highest degree of functioning possible.
I know for a fact that my folks sometimes feel frustrated and/or sad watching me deal with hearing loss. But they try their best to understand, and never make me feel like I’m less of a person for it. For this, I feel extremely blessed to live in the era I do, as I’ve said earlier in reference to my attempts to gain more meaningful employment. Probably less than 50 years ago, many of us would have just been shoved away in an institution and darn near forgotten about by all. And I should say that I don’t think this was often the family’s choice, but they were in many cases railroaded to make such decisions by supposedly well-meaning but quite misinformed medical professionals.
So I feel good if or when I am able to help others to deal with all these challenges, and am always here to do so in whatever capacity I can. As I noted in the letter I wrote for potential board re-nomination coming up here at the end of this month, I stand in the legacy of the NDA’s founder, the late Mike Kosior, who left us far too soon. I hope he is happy with what I’m trying to do.

In Celebration of NFL, My Love for Sports

I used to be a bigger sports junkie than I am nowadays. But the funny thing is, it didn’t start out that way.
I can remember, way back in the ancient early 90’s, before iPhones, satellite radio, and really even the Internet as we know it, my cousin first picked up this habit of listening to games.
Oh I’d tried to on occasion with my biological male parent, but he never did much to explain what was going on to me. He’d just sit there tossing back first one then another beer, getting angry if I chose to intervene with silly questions about what was happening on the TV screen.
Later though, first my uncles and then my real dad devised imaginative ways for me to really envision what was going on. It wasn’t entirely uncommon for us to move the furniture out of the way, use socks and other soft things as props, and actually act out one of the most recent plays in a game we happened to be watching. My mom would sometimes get a bit nervous about this, but I think at heart she appreciated having someone around who would really take the time to nurture interest and bonding.
Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what got my cousin into sports. I would guess though that he had a desire to know something about them so that he could more effectively communicate with his friends. We all know how important that is to any kid in his or her early teens, don’t we?
So he’d turn on a college football game, thoroughly annoying me and meaning that I would have no one to talk to. I’d sulk and often just spend pretty much my entire Saturday afternoon sleeping.
It got worse as he suddenly started watching baseball too. Looking back at my interactions with him over sports at that time, I’m surprised he didn’t just decide he’d had enough of me.
“Why don’t you turn that off!” I’d ask, even going so far a couple of times as to seize the radio dial.
But one weekend, I opted to chill. I believe it was during a game between Boston College and the University of Notre Dame, one of the greatest rivalries in college football. I decided that just this once, I’d settle in and try to see what the fuss was all about. And, I was hooked.
This happened as 1993 rolled over into 1994. In the middle of that next school year, I left the city of Charlotte behind for a small town called Southern Pines, North Carolina. One of the most difficult things for me about this move was that I no longer had easy access to a local station carrying the Charlotte Hornets (and thank you New Orleans for at least giving us our name back!)
Did this stop me from listening? Of course not. I pretty much got whiplash from continuing to fling the Walkman about as the game played out, but I’d somehow manage to piece together enough of the action through the static to know whether or not we had won. And if we hadn’t, well don’t talk to me!
By the time I was able to move back into an area where I could again get the games, some of my passion had already began to abate. Oh I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the Hornets, Carolina Panthers (NFL) and all of the major college sports teams except for the Duke Blue Devils (BAH!), but I no longer cared to invest myself emotionally in quite the same way as I’d done previously. Moreso in the pros than in college, and seemingly to a higher degree these days than even in the 90’s, most players don’t much care about anything but the big bucks anyway.
I do still like the civic pride that a team’s success can bring, causing even many who don’t care a lick for sports to get excited when their city’s franchise makes a serious runat a title.
The best experience we in the Carolinas have had with this, on a professional level of course as many college teams have won, was in the 2003-04 season for the Panthers. Man, that year they just refused to be denied. In the first game, they were down 17-0 at half before changing quarterbacks and rallying for a 24-23 win on a last-second touchdown. In the second game, they had all but lost as all the Tampa Bay kicker needed to do was boot the extra point through as time expired to give them a 1-point win. And yet somehow the Cats managed to block it, sending the game into overtime and allowing us to take it back on a field goal. That magic carried us all the way to the brink of a Super Bowl victory against the then mighty New England Patriots.
So we stand on the edge of another NFL season. I’m excited, because I will enjoy listening to all of the games this year with my NFL Audio Pass. I’m kind of sad though, as it signifies that the cold will soon return.
The question all of us Panthers fans are asking as we get ready for action is: can we avoid a 1-7 start? I guess we shall see. Our first preseason game is this Friday at 8, and the schedule is tough. We have to play the entire AFC East and NFC West, as well as the NFC East’s New York Giants and the NFC North’s Minnesota Vikings. Hopefully our much vaunted quarterback Cam Newton can finally have his breakout year. Let’s see how long they can hold my interest.

Bugs Are Back?

NBA? Oh no ya don’t. Y’all can’t do this to me! My heart break is only now starting to heal.
I’m old enough to remember when the Queen City was first granted its own pro basketball team. Actually because I’m no historian, I’m not sure if it was the first pro team Charlotte had ever had. I know there was a team called the Carolina Cougars, but I think they played in Greensboro.
Anyway, the excitement was palpable. Charlotte, on the national map!
We had, have, and always will love our fine tradition of college basketball in the great state of North Carolina.
But somehow this was different. It confirmed our up-and-coming status as a real urban center and made us feel more competitive with our archrival Atlanta.
In those blissful early days, we didn’t really care if our team went 27-55. The building, the 23,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, was filled to capacity and jumping every night. That building’s natural nickname was the hive, and it sure sounded like swarms had taken over.
Remember short Mugsy, full of heart? The flamboyant Larry Johnson (LJ!) and Alonzo Morning?
I happened to be in the building where Morning is said to have made his Charlotte debut, the Milton Road Boys and Girls Club. The soda man had just stocked that machine inside of the chock full gym, and within 5 minutes we all had still warm drinks in our hands as we listened to ‘Zo speak.
As my cousin and I fully embraced sports, we’d initially listen to entire Hornets radio broadcasts starting perhaps an hour before the game and going till an hour or so after it.
If they happened to lose, we’d mope around for the rest of the evening. People would say “Snap out of it!” to which we’d reply “you just don’t understand”. And how could they?
The early 90s passed on by, and as we entered the middle of that decade some of the shine began to fade. Not that we in the city of Charlotte weren’t still big fans, but by this time we’d began to want a winner. It’s funny how quickly a playoff trip can spoil a fan base, isn’t it?
I moved on to a small town called Southern Pines North Carolina, and in an era before smartphones and ubiquitous Internet, I was forced to take in my beloved Hornets on an intermittent AM signal while attempting to avoid smashing myself repeatedly in the head with the Walkman I waved around. I still faithfully listened to every game, though.
Then came college and its myriad responsibilities. We joined the on-campus choir, and I was always a little sad when rehearsal occurred during a Hornets game. Never fear, that’s what the trusty recorder was for. If I could somehow avoid the score long enough, I’d just run back to my dorm room, hit rewind, and chill while the game replayed. The nice part about that was I could easily just skip the commercials.
And finally there was 2001. The once near-knighted George Shin and his chum Ray Woolridge, (probably not how his name is spelled but I don’t care) announced their intentions to relocate our team (OUR TEAM!) from the Queen City due to sagging interest. I’m sure it had more to do with them wanting to pad their bottom line, but then where is that not true in this world I suppose?
Players on that team stated that they fervently hoped they would not in fact leave Charlotte, and they played hard in order to try and make that happen. We advanced farther into the playoffs than any time before, sweeping the Miami Heat out of the first round and taking the Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the edge before going down in 7.
Oh man, that game six still makes me sad. We had a 10-point lead with like 5 minutes to go, and all we could do was watch helplessly as it slipped through our fingers. I remember ESPN Sport Center showing a kid in the lower rows crying his eyes out.
And that, in many ways, was the end of the Hornets’ tenure in our fine city. I think Charlotte was as eager to shirk the team as the team was to leave, as the city staged a vote to build a new arena that they knew would not pass. Then as soon as the team departed, they announced that they were building the arena anyway, and thus the league quickly granted us another team.
I went to that Bobcats season opener in 2004, with two of my cousins on a paratransit bus. It was kind of fun, as they opted to sit us down on the floor rather than in the way high up seats we had actually purchased. We ordered a pizza, placed the box down beside ourselves, took big cups of soda, and had fun making little old ladies nervous about our safety as we pranced around near the railings.
Unfortunately, the Cats have definitely not been able to capture that magic. I don’t really blame them though. Naturally, they’re dealing with an apathetic fan base and a lack of any really good players. Ok I kind of blame the ownership for that second issue, but, well.
Today, we at least put in a request to rename our team the Hornets, as New Orleans has abandoned it for the Pelicans (Pelicans?) It seems that if we are allowed the name change, it would not take effect until the 14-15 season.
Can a name really make a difference? I suppose not in and of itself it won’t. We’ll have to make a real go at building a team. But an example to which I have referred a lot is the Tampa Bay baseball team. They changed their name from the Devil Rays to just the Rays, and seemingly vaulted from being the butt of all jokes into the World Series overnight. So hey, who knows?