Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Did’ja hear the latest about Carnival? … probably not

A little over a week ago, I was sitting at the bar on Deck 5 of the Carnival Valor, listening to a story about what had caused that ship to be late in its arrival at St. Maarten a couple of days earlier. It was an interesting piece of information, and I thought it would certainly prove newsworthy … unfortunately my nose-for-news is no match for the prominent proboscises one finds in America’s major news organizations.

Carnival File Photo
According to this report on the Wall Street Journal’s website (with a PRNewswire byline), “the Carnival Valor rescued five mariners from a pleasure craft that was sinking in inclement weather. Following the rescue, the five adults were brought on board Carnival Valor and evaluated by the ship’s medical staff, and provided with food and water. Two of Carnival Valor’s deck officers sustained minor contusions during the rescue effort.”

I cite the WSJ report because there really aren’t all that many reports to cite … at least from what one might consider major news media … WSJ, and USA Today. Oh, sure, there are the reports from PRNewswire, Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor and some cruise industry newsletters … but there readership is not as broad or (at least in some respects) as far-reaching as a CNN, an NBC News or even a Fox Noise.

True, a story about something going right does not have the same interest for news producers as something that goes wrong … the February 2013 Carnival Triumph cruise, for example. Want to know more about that? No problem … just Google “Carnival cruise from Hell” and you’ll find a TON of reports … including some that document that the cruise was not nearly as bad as was reported by the media and some selective sources.

If it bleeds, it leads … I first heard that forty-some years ago, during one of first forays into a newsroom as a writer/producer, and it still seems to hold true today (though there seems to be as much preference for stories that bleed the mind and the spirit as much as the body). But when you think of something like the Carnival Valor responding to a distress call on a stormy night in the high seas – honoring an old tradition of seafaring – and then saving five lives? C’mon … couldn’t we have trimmed a minute from the latest Miley shenanigans, or still another detailed analysis of what Washington ISN’T doing?

More than once, people have asked me something to the effect of, ‘could you ever sail Carnival again?’ Well, yes, because of stories like this. I’m glad I was on hand to hear first-hand reports, and that my family had a chance to meet the captain and bridge crew who participated in that rescue.

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share the news with you.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Prayer and Praise for Firefighters

It’s been more than thirty years since I took the field as a substitute forest firefighter … but that brief service left me with a deep appreciation for the profession, and for those who embrace it. There remains to this day a place in my heart and my prayers for firefighters, which hasn’t diminished one bit over the decades … in fact, it grew some on ‘9/11’ … and it grew once again with this week’s tragic news from Arizona.

In the summer of 1980, I was working a seasonal job as an archaeologist with the National Forest Service in Sequoia National Forest, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, California. Our team was posted to the Greenhorn District, and we shared accommodations with NFS Engine Company 5-2. There wasn’t much to do in our off-work hours, so Chuck and I – both college students from the University of New Mexico – studied with the crew chief, familiarized ourselves with procedures and equipment, tested, and were eventually ‘red-carded.’ We were sub’s, available to fill-out the crew when they were short-handed, and each of us ended up rolling on a few fires.

In the course of my service, I came to know some ‘hot shots’ and to watch them at work. There was about them a swagger, an attitude that they were rough and tough and scared of nothin’. Some might have called it arrogance … I know that I did, at first. But over the course of my own service – watching them go into a fire on direct-attack, knocking it down and watching them come out – I came to the conclusion that their attitude was merited … even after one unfortunate incident when a hot shot expressed his contempt for ‘engine slugs’ and almost started a fight between our crews.

Like I said, that summer – watching REAL firefighters at work, my brief service with them, and my own close call with wildfire on one occasion – left me with an indelible impression.

In his book, Report from Engine Co. 82, New York firefighter Dennis Smith suggested that there was good reason for the use of fire in images of Hell … as anyone who has been burned could tell you. I remember my training during that summer in California, and learning to prepare the ground around me and deploying my personal, emergency fire shelter in the event that the blaze shifted and trapped us … and I remember hoping that I never found myself in that kind of situation. Those who do find themselves in such a situation, on more than one occasion, and keep coming back? Let’s face it … it’s natural for people to rush out of a burning building - or a collapsing World Trade Center - in a mindless panic … but then there are those who mindfully, purposefully rush IN.

May God bless them and keep them, comfort their families and their friends, protect them and uplift them in their life, and welcome them in their passing. Amen

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seeking a 'field of dreams' in Colorado

The young men who comprise the Midland College Chaparral baseball team truly are the 'boys of summer' this year. At a time when most students are pursuing ventures off-campus - recreation, work, whatever - the team has remained on campus and at work, getting ready for what lies ahead. It's been two weeks since commencement exercises brought an end to the 2012/2013 academic year at our community college in Western Texas, and it will be another week before we kick-off the summer semester. It's a quiet time around campus ... unless you're a baseball player. They returned to Midland just a few days ago with a regional championship trophy in hand - the first ever for MC Chaparral baseball. And now they're in Grand Junction, Colorado for the JUCO World Series, the National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship tournament.

JUCO World Series-bound Midland College Chaparrals, 2013 NJCAA Region 5 Champions
This will be their first-ever trip to the national tournament. And while they have reached unprecedented levels of success, a difficult path still lies ahead of them, with the best junior college baseball programs in the nation standing between them and a national. But, you know what? I think they could do it ... I really do. They are a fine bunch of young men, good athletes, and we have a first-rate staff of coaches and trainers. They really could do it this year.

 And, no, I don't have the stats, the percentages or the research to back that up. Honestly, I'm not the baseball fan I was forty years ago ... and even then, I was out-of-sync with most of my friends and neighbors. The pro sports franchises that warmed their hears were mostly in Philly, just a two-hour drive south of my home near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. But my heart was warmed by franchises at the west end of the Keystone State, on the banks of the Monongahela where Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, Manny SanguillĂ©n and the rest of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates pursued America's pastime.

But even after all these years, and even after I've embraced 'the dark side' and begun following soccer more, I still enjoy a ballgame. Sometimes, I think I've been fortunate to have spent most of the past 35 years in areas where minor league ball is played ... in Albuquerque, NM with the Dukes, and in Midland, TX with the Rockhounds ... the venues are more intimate, the seats are affordable, there's an unusually high percentage of friends and acquaintances in the stands with you, and the players seem to be more concerned with playing than posturing as they work their way up to the majors.

In the time that has passed since the creation of "englische Base-ball" (or whatever), it still remains a favorite pastime ... and for all its appeal in other parts of the world, still a popular American pastime ...

It's like that line from "Field of Dreams" (one of the better speeches ever committed to film), adapted from Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" (a great book on baseball, its magic and its appeal) ...

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again."

... it reminds me of the fun I've had in the stands, which I later shared with my boys. And how the wife and I would whoop-it-up from the sidelines when their rec teams took the field. I hope they'll share it with their kids someday ... if not, Grandpa will be standing by!

In the meantime, I regret that we will not be able to make the drive up to Colorado this weekend, to watch my 'Chaps' play ... a Memorial Day break in the hills and mountains of Colorado, watching aspiring young players take their best shot at the title ... I can think of worse ways to spend a weekend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coming Back

It's been cooler - even cold! - these last few months ... and it's been grayer, too, from clouds that block the sun, yet deliver no rain ... and at times it's been way too windy for me. Eh, winter!

But today, Spring is coming back. Today, I went out to the side yard of this place where we were staying, and was greeted not just with the head of the house's septic tank system, and the assurance that all was well with said system ... but by a bluebonnet, as well ... my first bluebonnet of the new year!

Today, spring is coming back.

I've lived in West Texas long enough to appreciate that we seem to have only two seasons in our part of the Lone Star State ... SUMMER, and NOT-QUITE-SUMMER.

But not today ... for today, at least, SPRING is coming back ... and I'm thinking that maybe there are ways I should be coming back, too. More on that later ... but, for now, enjoy my bluebonnet.