A sequel to an old story, or the beginning of a new one?

January 22, 2012

For some who loves writing as much as I do, I realize that I don’t do it enough. Hopefully, this project will get me going on it again.

It has been an interesting month for the Holmes family. On Dec. 6, my wife, Angie, was laid off of her job as food writer for The Cedar Rapids Gazette after nearly eight years with the company. A week later, I suffered a concussion at work, and I’m still dealing with the after effects of that. Along with a couple of things, the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 have been interesting to say the least.

But the rotten cherry on top of this spoiled sundae came on the evening of Jan. 4. We have been living in a very nice rental house for the last two-plus years, and at one points had thoughts of buying it. But an uncertain future for us, coupled with the owner’s desire to get the place sold has had us living under the possibility of suddenly needing to move. We had hoped to get through the winter without having to worry about moving, but on the 4th, our luck ran out. The owner called and said the house had sold, and we needed to be out by Feb. 13.


So, suddenly, we were scrambling to find a place to live. But while there are a lot of houses for sale in Vinton, nobody seemed to willing to rent. For the better part of a week, our relator friends in town were looking high and low for us, without much success. As if our life wasn’t complicated enough, we were potentially facing homelessness.


Then, about 10 days ago, I was driving down C Avenue in Vinton, and my gaze went — as it always does — to 809 C Ave. It is an address I know well; I should, after all I lived there for almost 12 years!

My parents bought that very house in January of 1964 when I was in first grade. They sold it September of 1975, a month after I started college at the University of Northern Iowa. And the day we moved the last of our family’s possessions out of there was the last day I was in it — until last Saturday.

After driving by the house that day, something dawned on me. The house had been empty for a while. At least since shortly after the July storm, if not longer. I knew that someone in Cedar Rapids owned the house, I knew that some damage to the house after the storm had been repaired and I knew that no one was living there.


So the old journalist in me started doing some digging. I made some phone calls, did some research online and found the owner’s name. I even contacted a neighbor who lived next door to us when we moved in back in ’64 and is still there today. Finally, that evening, I got in touch with the owner. I told her of our interest in the house, of my history and and she indicated she was interested in doing something with it. We agreed to meet to see the house last Saturday, the 14th.

James Earl Jones has this great quote in (the greatest movie ever made) “Field of Dreams” when he’s talking about baseball and he says, “The memories will be so thick (people) will have to brush them away from their faces.”

That’s how I felt as Angie, Sage and I pulled into the driveway Saturday morning. It was almost a sensory overload for me. All at once I was six, then 11, then 14, then 18, then back to what I am now (feel free to do the math on your own, LOL).

We went into the house; there was a new front door, the coat closet had moved, and there was fresh paint and carpet, but once we went through the door I again stepped back in time. Every wallpaper seam was the same. There were all new energy efficient windows throughout the house, but the view through each of those windows was the same as it had been nearly five decades ago.

Throughout the house there were changes — a new kitchen countertop, fresh paint over the 1960s wood paneling, and a remodeled bathroom that even has a NEW claw-foot bathtub — but for the most part it was the same house I grew up in; almost as if it had been frozen in time. Right down to the utility room off the kitchen with the washer and dryer and the basement, with the eight-inch pipe in the floor that goes seemingly nowhere.

It was a pretty simple decision. We’re starting the move on Feb. 1 and hope to be watching the Super Bowl there on the 5th. For now, this is a six-month move, but it could be longer, up to a year and a half.

I know a lot of people whose parents have lived in the same house for 50 years or more. For them, they come “home” every time they come to visit. My parents moved out of my house in 1975, and even though Mom still lives in the house they bought just three years after selling my house, home to me in Vinton will always have the address of 809 C Ave. attached to it.

So now, seven-and-a-half years after moving back to Vinton, and 36 1/2 years after moving out of my house, we’re headed back. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be filing weekly updates here on “Watching The Wheels” about the journey home. About Sage living in my room and about looking out the front door at Jolly’s and thinking about Lynch’s Grocery Store. About figuring out how to use a shower conversion in a claw-foot bathtub and about flashing back to the neighborhood football and baseball games in Stephens’ back lot.

It’s going to be an interesting trip. Thanks for riding along!


Breaking Through Wrestling’s Glass Ceiling

February 13, 2011

Today is the first day of State Week. For those of you not of the “faith” the words State Week are capitalized because they are not just mere words; in the state of Iowa and to the wrestling community, it as an event, a holiday. It is the Iowa State High School Wrestling tournament.
From today through Wednesday morning, fans and discussion forums will burn up with talk about the upcoming, four-day extravaganza at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Beginning Wednesday afternoon, 672 wrestlers and thousands of fans will descend on the state capitol and join in the battle for the 336 medals and nine team trophies to be handed out. It is the greatest show on Earth.
But this year, at least up until the 3A schools begin competition Thursday morning, a lot of the talk will be about two wrestlers. Not unbeaten or top-ranked wrestlers or whether or not any Class 1A school can unseat Don Bosco after five straight State championships.
No, the discussion will be about a pair of 112-pounders in Class 3A. Cassy Herkelman of Cedar Falls and Megan Black of Ottumwa have become the first two girls ever to qualify for the Iowa State Wrestling tournament. It’s no Egyptian Revolution, but in Iowa high school wrestling, it’s pretty close.
Prior to moving to Kansas in 1997, I had seen handful of female wrestlers in high school meets over the years. Usually, these young ladies had success at the kids and middle school levels, but the speed and power of the Iowa high school level was too much for them. Usually by their sophomore year, they were done.
But that view changed in 1999, my first year as a head coach in Kansas. We were in a huge two-day tournament in St. Marys. The top-seeded wrestler at 103 pounds was a freshman from Santa Fe Trail High School, who was 18-0 with 15 falls. The wrestler’s name was Brooke Bogren.
OK, I had sat through the seeding meeting, heard the name and saw the numbers. I hadn’t even given it any thought; I had heard of boys named Brooke in my life.
But on Friday afternoon, as the teams were on the mat warming up before the first round, I glanced over at the Santa Fe Trail team. They were in our league and one of the 4A powers in the state, but we hadn’t faced them yet during the year. But as I looked, something looked odd to me. One of the smallest Trail wrestlers had blonde hair wrapped into tight braids. In baggy warm-ups it was hard to tell, and I had seen boys with long hair braid their hair when they wrestled.
Finally, I asked my assistant – a veteran of area wrestling – a question. “Is the one in the braids Bogren?”
He smiled at me. “Yes, and she’s a girl, too.”
I consider myself progressive, liberal, and totally open-minded. But I was also stunned. A girl was 18-0 with 15 pins?
I spent the weekend watching her wrestle; she was smooth, strong and well-trained. She dominated four opponents, with three pins and a major decision. She went on to qualify for the state meet in Kansas that year and two others (she missed her junior year due to a knee injury suffered in volleyball). She went on win women’s national championships in college, just missed making the Olympic team and now coaches women’s college wrestling.
And I did see other girls reach the State meet in Kansas over my seven years there, but – with all due respect to my Sunflower State friends – Kansas wrestling isn’t Iowa wrestling. It is simply not. I never imagined that a girl would ever break that glass ceiling into Wells Fargo Arena in the meat-grinder that is Iowa high school wrestling.
Wrong again, times two. Yesterday, Cassy Herkelman became the first, as the Cedar Falls freshman defeated Scott Morehouse of Marion 6-2 in the wrestleback at the District meet at Waverly. As the clocked ticked to zero, the crowd – realizing the moment of history – rose and gave her a standing ovation. There isn’t a lot that hasn’t happened in high school wrestling in Iowa; history merely builds upon itself. But this was a whole new thing. About an hour later, 150 miles away in Mount Pleasant, Black accomplished the same thing. The history was made.
Generally, the reaction on the chat boards has been good and supportive. A few have chimed in that having girls wrestling boys is morally wrong. One even said that girls had an unfair advantage because most 14 or 15-year old boys would be pretty flustered by being this close in contact with a girl for the first time in their life. Not even going to touch that one.
When I coached, I had several girls who asked me about wrestling – both in Kansas and in Iowa. Several tried a few days or a week of practice, but only one ever made it on to the mat – Valerie Bahr in 2005 for Vinton-Shellsburg. She won a match in a tournament because a boy defaulted out of fear of losing to her. But I always told girls the same thing when they asked it about it.
I told them that in the wrestling room, on the mat, I won’t see gender. You will be a wrestler, you will have the same expectations as any other wrestler in the room and that’s it. Other than the obvious things like hair covers and weigh-ins, they would literally be treated as “one of the guys.”
Today, if they weren’t before, Cassy Herkelman and Megan Black are two of the guys. And this no fluke; qualifying for the Iowa State Wrestling tournament in no small feat. There are a lot of wrestlers out there with 120-plus wins that never made it to Des Moines.
But this coming Thursday morning, every eye in Wells Fargo Arena will be on the mats that Herkelman and Clark step onto. And whether they win or lose, place or go out 0-2 the first day, it won’t matter. History will be made and another glass ceiling will have been broken.
And in a state that lately has seemed to be bent on curtailing the rights and opportunities of portions of its citizens based on issues related to gender, it is beautifully ironic indeed that this week, in the shadow of the Golden Dome of the Iowa capitol building, two girls will break through a wall most us thought unbreakable. Bravo.

A Mouse On The Bed

February 5, 2011

Many years ago, when I was in college, I awoke in my Cedar Rapids apartment one morning to find my dear, departed cat Ginger sitting on the end of my bed. She had one of those proud, self-satisfied looks on her face. Through the covers I could feel a little movement near my foot.

I sat up further and saw where the movement came from. Ginger had captured a small gray mouse, and was, as animals do, presenting me with a gift. How sweet.

Needless to say I humanely disposed of the mouse (I opened my ground-floor window and set it outside), and Ginger looked shocked at me, but we moved on.

This past week, the Iowa House of Representatives presented Iowa with similar gift. Voting 62-37, the House voted for a measure that would create a ballot measure for a Constitutional Amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state. This comes just months after the reactionary vote led by Bob VanderPlaats and Steve King and their ilk that ousted three of our Supreme Court justices – including Vinton native, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus. The Court had ruled in 2008 that the Iowa Constitution did not ban same-sex marriage, therefore it was legal in the state.

We are not going really debate the issue of same-sex marriage, other than to say that no matter how reactionaries try to color it, trying to ban same-sex marriage is a manifestation of homophobia and bigotry. Period. It’s not about “protecting marriage” or not for the Bible (which says a lot more about forgiveness, love and acceptance than it does about homosexuality). We destroy that which we don’t understand, and no one is better at that than reactionaries. It is bigotry, and sadly, there is no other word for it.

No, what I want to debate today is the colossal waste of time of this entire exercise. OK, it did land us on the national news and made a viral-video hero out of Zach Wahls, 19-year old University of Iowa student who bravely and eloquently spoke of his family, with two mothers. The Eagle Scout, Dean’s List student pretty much shot down the reactionary idea that same-sex couples shouldn’t marry and can’t be good parents.

OK, the GOP-led House passed the measure. But the punchline to the joke is that the Iowa Senate won’t. The Democratic-controlled Senate won’t even bring the measure to a vote. So, there will be no ballot measure anytime in the near future.

What is really funny about all of this is that the House of Representatives KNEW this before they ever held a public hearing. They KNEW it before they voted. They wasted taxpayer time and money on an exercise in futility. They did, in effect, catch a mouse, give it to Iowa, and Iowa threw it out the window.

Is this really what we elected our representatives to do? Did we really create an exercise in futility? Did we really send 89 representatives to Des Moines to hold a meaningless vote? Are the reactionaries of this state so keen on impressing their leadership that they went to all of this trouble?

On the national scene, we have become a national joke. Like Kansas and Fred Phelps and Arizona and hunting down immigrants, we have gone from being a state of minds to a state of bigots. We are creating a state sanction for the violation of human rights. I know I’m proud.
We have major educational-funding issues, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our economy is a wreck. And on top of that, the best we could come up with for Governor was a Re-Run.

But we still took the time to hold a public hearing and House vote on a issue that will not go anywhere.

I have a friend who is a Vinton native, who now lives out of state, and is as aghast at these proceedings as I am. She asked me whatever happened to the progressive Iowa she remembered, the one she was proud to say she was from? I pointed out that now, the operative word in the statement was no longer PROUD; it was FROM.

Enjoy your mouse, Iowans.

A matter of perspective

November 28, 2010

I always find a great deal of humor when a group of people get so worked up about an issue that they actually lose all sense of adult reality about it.
It happens a lot in politics, religion and family. But mostly, it happens in sports.
Both my wife and I attended the University of Northern Iowa (she graduated from there and I did from Mount Mercy), but when it comes to “big time” college sports, most Iowans are expected to come down on one side or the other of the decades long debate: Iowa vs. Iowa State.
While I will admit that I did get caught up in all of the 1980s hoopla about the re-birth of Iowa football, deep-down, my loyalties in this whole discusssion have always faced west (as in Ames).
I was a Cyclone fan first in wrestling in the late 1960s in the era of Dan Gable. When Iowa State began its run of five bowl games in the 1970s, I was in the middle of it all. I actually applied at both UNI and ISU when I was making my college choices (and ended up choosing UNI based on the fact that more of my buddies were going there which was dumb reason, but that’s a column for another time) and was accepted by both. Never even considered Iowa.
But now it’s almost 40 years later. The Iowa-Iowa State debate goes on, and obviously, the Hawkeyes dominate the headlines. And, frankly, they should.
Iowa has the bigger stadium, more of the press wrapped around its little finger and better financial support. Through the Big Ten Network, they have made a fortune.
Yet, this year, the Black and Gold has stumbled. A team that was lauded as the Big Ten champs, a BCS team and even a possible National Championship contender has shown itself unable to finish games, confused and at times even out of shape. The senior class what was supposed to lead the Hawks to greatness is likely leading them to a New Year’s Day date in the Gator Bowl against Florida — basically a home game for the Gators. That’s a long way from the Rose Bowl.
The Cyclones, on the other hand, probably overachieved this year. Four years removed from a questionable firing of Dan McCarney and two years removed from Gene Chizek’s gutless quitting on the program, ISU has had back-to-back near-.500 seasons. Coach Paul Rhoads has taken the team to bowl an within a couple of plays of another. And that has been mostly with players two other guys recruited. This year, the Cyclones played what was ranked in the pre-season as the toughest schedule in BCS football. Yet they went 5-7, and were pretty much two plays from being 7-5.
Frankly, Rhoads is a great coach; he’s not afraid to take chances, he wears his loyalties on his sleeve and says the words that all coaches should say to his players every day, no matter what happens: “I am proud to be your coach!”
And don’t get wrong, I’m not including all Hawkeye fans in this discussion by any means. The majority of Iowa fans are fair. But what I am talking about are the self-entitled, arrogant, and frankly childish segment of fans. I’m talking about the ones who refuse to give Iowa State credit for anything. I’m talking about the childish ones.
I’ll be honest; I love to poke fun at the Iowa fans who are childish. They thunder their loyalty and blame losses on everything but the fact that their team just might not be as good as they thought they’d be in August. You know, back when they expected the “stars to align?”
And oh Lord, do they hold the wins over Iowa State over everyone’s head. It’s like they conquered the Roman Legions as opposed to being a Top 10-ranked team beating a team in a major rebuilding process. Iowa should have won that game, should have won by a lot and did. But it was a huge deal and was treated as such. As a wise man once told me when it comes to winning games you should win, “Act like you’ve been there.”
So anyway, that’s my rant. To the Hawk fans who aren’t childish, I do hope they do well in the bowl game. To the others, instead of acting entitled, you might want to act grateful you’re even going. Like I said, “act like you’ve been there.”

Changing times brings a change at Times

March 24, 2010

Today, the other shoe that I had been waiting to drop for over a dozen years, dropped in Vinton.

The Cedar Valley Daily Times announced today that the “daily” part of the equation was now gone. Beginning April 9, the Times will become a Friday only publication, while the publication that I am forever proud to say my wife and I founded five years ago, The Vinton Eagle will publish on Tuesdays. This new combination of my journalism model will give Vinton and the surrounding area a great twin-weekly news summary delivery source.

And, it will end a model that had long ago lost its luster.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved the CVDT, in its day. I grew up reading it, started my journalism career there in 1982 and had the honor of being the sports editor there for six and a half years. Ah, those were the days!

From 1989 through 1997, we were quite a team. I did sports, Dan Adix did great news coverage and incredible pictures, while Doug Lindner served as associate publisher, wrote, reported and steered the ship. For most of those years, the late Dick Hogan was our publisher and Faith Brown was our editor. And the true leader of our little family, Becky Cottrell, kept us all in line. We were quite a team.

Five days a week, we would hit office by 7:30 in the morning. Bob Lutz would have already been there for an hour and the coffee was already made. Dan would develop film and print photos all morning, while we would write and write and write. In the back, Mary Robinson, Susan Meyer and several others would crank out ads Mert Alpers sold, while Gene Deterding, Mike Bruce and press crew would get the presses rolling.

By 1:00 we’d be on the presses and by the time most of Vinton and surrounding area had arrived home from work, there was a CVDT on the front step with that day’s news in it.

We didn’t use wire copy and sometimes had to stretch to fill space, but we did it. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of stress, but it was also an incredible experience and one I look back at with both pleasure and pride.

But even then we could see it coming. As a business model, a local daily newspaper in a market this size was becoming more and more difficult to justify. Faith moved on in 1994 and we lost Dick in 1995. Then, in January of 1997, the head of Mid-American publishing, David Archie, passed away. By the time Angie and I moved to Kansas in March of that year, we had already heard rumblings of a sale.

When Community Media Group bought the CVDT in the summer 1997, cut staff and removed the presses, we assumed then it would become a weekly. But it didn’t. Wire copy came back and local news – the news we used to have on the street on the day it happened – wasn’t showing up for a couple days. The subscriber based dwindled and by the time we moved back in 2004, there was nearly a news vacuum.

It was because of that that Angie and I created The Eagle. We wanted to fill the vacuum with a weekly product that would combine the local angle that I learned so well in the glory days of the CVDT with a weekly model that people wanted to read.

Our immediate success in readership and popularity in the community told us we were doing it right. And now, with CMG’s recent purchase of The Eagle, our model has come full circle.

Angie and I are obviously pleased to see that our pride and joy, The Eagle, will go on, and equally pleased that the Times will as well, just under that weekly model. I will always look back with great pride at what we did in those days of glory. But I also look at those as days gone by.

It’s like looking back at high school; we will always take pride in what we did and fondly remember what we did in those days. But times change, and change is what life is all about. I will miss the Cedar Valley Daily Times, but the one I will miss the most is the one I grew up with and worked at.

Times change; now the Times has changed. And it is time. It was an honor to be a part of that, just as it is an honor to have founded The Eagle. And we look forward to the future of both.

A statement from the real founder of The Vinton Eagle

March 3, 2010

Vinton’s local rumor mill was going full speed Tuesday when the news broke throughout the community that The Vinton Eagle – the newspaper that my wife and I created from scratch in 2005 – had been sold to its archrival, the Community Media Group, better known locally as the Cedar Valley Daily Times and Vinton Livewire.

Three or four years ago, this news would have been personally devastating to us. After all, we brought the Eagle into existence five years ago because so much of the community was dissatisfied with the local coverage the Times was offering.

But now, literally two years to the day since Angie and I (and my mother, who had worked for us three years for free) were summarily removed from our positions at the Eagle, this news was welcomed. After two years of watching the Eagle go increasingly off-course, it will survive.

I was never a businessman; I acknowledge that fully. I was journalist. But over time, I brought in partners who came in with the idea that they would handle the business end of things while leaving the journalism decisions to Angie and me and our staff.

But somewhere along the way, things changed. While between us, Angie and I had nearly 40 years of journalism experience, that became secondary to our partners who had more years of experience – as readers, we were told. Soon, every decision we made was open for discussion.

I endorsed a candidate for president in my column who my partners didn’t support for various reasons. I recognized the importance of sports to our readership, despite the fact that my partners’ friends didn’t like sports. I refused to write fluff pieces for certain businesses with the hope that they might advertise with us. At one point, our morals and ethics were questioned because of our religious and political beliefs and the way we were raised. My free time also came under fire as I coached our high school’s struggling swimming programs.

And while all of this was going on, I was beginning to see the handwriting on the wall for the newspaper business. The declining economy was especially tough on small businesses. And when things get tight financially for small businesses, one of the first things to get cut is advertising. Advertising is what drives the newspaper industry, and local advertisers were afraid to change what they had been doing.

So I began actively searching for either investors with deep pockets or outright buyers for the Eagle who would allow us to continue to operate in the way our readers wanted us to. While there was interest, the faltering U.S. economy going into 2008 also affected these potential investors. A couple said “get back to us in a year…,” but that is as close as it came. At one point, I even approached CMG about it, but they were not interested.

In early 2008, we were thrown another curve. Marengo Publishing, the printing plant we had used since our inception, had to change its printing schedule. Suddenly, we were faced with the possibility that we would have to move the Eagle’s publication from Wednesday to Friday. So, I began a search for another printing plant. I spent the better part of two weeks researching the situation, looking at costs, production times and delivery and prepared a report I presented the morning of Tuesday, March 4, 2008.

But the meeting turned out vastly different. Instead of discussing printing options, I was presented with a letter from my partners that, in effect fired me as publisher, while I retained my 40 percent ownership in the company. Among the reasons cited, it informed me that my compensation for being the founder, publisher and editor of the Eagle was too high – even though part of it was for my wife, who worked 20 hours a week designing pages on top of her full-time job.

Within 24 hours of our dismissal, our personal desks were cleaned out and the contents thrown into boxes. And the locks to building were changed.

I tried to convince my partners that we still needed to look into a sale, before our losses got any bigger, but they did not want to listen. They were still convinced that removing me as publisher would have investors and advertisers lined up at the front door; it was just a matter of time.

In the meantime, Angie and I moved on. I began graduate school. For some time, we looked very strongly at moving back to Kansas and just forgetting the whole thing. And, after six months of watching the Eagle we built go off in another direction, we signed over our shares in the Eagle in September 2008.

Over the last year and a half, it was apparent the Eagle was not growing as anticipated. There were fewer and fewer ads. The supposedly crippling cost of my compensation suddenly went by the boards as three more people were hired to do the jobs Angie, my mother and I did for a lot less money.

When I heard the news about the sale to the Times, I was at once relieved, but not at all surprised. I was sorry to see that some of the people who had started with us at the Eagle in 2005 had lost their jobs and had been pretty much blindsided with the news. But, as I was once told, it was nothing personal, it was just business.

But I was also relieved to know that The Vinton Eagle will have the support and the resources to go forward.

For Angie and me there is a touch of irony in what has transpired, but at the same time we are pleased to see that the paper we poured so much of our lives into will have a chance to survive.

How dumb is Tiger Woods?

December 3, 2009

You have to wonder, don’t you?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a totallydifferent planet, you have heard (whether you wanted to or not) that golfer Tiger Woods was injured in a car accident outside of his multi-million dollar home in Florida last week. According to witnesses, police reports, etc., the accident occured at 2 a.m., as Woods pulled out of his driveway and hit a fire hydrant and light pole.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but are you catching the red flags right off the bat? First, if you’re driving out of your driveway at 2 a.m., you’re either under the influence of something, or there is some sort of emergancy (or both, I suppose). Both Woods and law enforcement officials have stated that the golfer was not under the influence, so that brings us to emergancy. We’ll get back to that.

The next red flag is the part about pulling out of the driveway and hitting not one, but two permanent, stationary objects directly adjacent to his property. Now, I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but even I’m smart enough to know that there is a tree on either side of my driveway, plus a power pole, and I’ve only lived in this house for a month. Are you telling me that Tiger Woods didn’t realize those objects were there? And that is not to mention the fact that he was driving an Escalade, which probably has an on-board guidence and object warning system. Judging by the amount of damage on the vehicle, he was moving pretty fast when he hit these objects, despite the objections of his vehicle.

Then, of course, we have the whole “indiscretion” thing. Last week The National Enquirer, one of the great bastions of journalism in the world, had a report about Tiger and the hostest at a bar in New York. Supposedly they were having an affair, and he even took her to Austrailia with him for a recent tournament. Now, it turns out, there’s another girl in New York, one in Las Vegas, and another in California.

Tiger Woods is married to a beautiful former fashion model from Sweden. They have a son. She, normally travels with him to tournaments around the world. My question is what does he need with waitresses? That’s just borderline insane.

But here’s the other thing, and it is probably the single most important part of this whole situation. Tiger Woods is, arguably, the richest and most recognized athlete in he world. He is good-looking, highly successful, and up until the last week, relatively controversy free. He has endorsements coming out of his ears.

When you are this visible and this well-known, your every move is noticed. Tiger Woods can’t go to Hy-Vee and buy groceries without causing a stir; he has to get “people” for that. When you are this well-known and this visible and have a certain “persona” that you have cultivated, you can’t afford to do things to screw it up. Tiger Woods screwed up.

Now there are reports that his wife confronted the New York girl friend in the hours before Tiger’s late night Escalade Escapade,  but that hasn’t been confirmed. And there are reports that Tiger’s injuries were actually not caused by the accident, but by something else (there are at least a couple of sets of golf clubs around the house, you know). Woods denies that his wife took a three-iron upside his head (although who could blame her), but you have to wonder.

Whatever the outcome, two things are sure. First, Tiger Woods’ image has changed forever. The squeaky clean role model now has some spots of tarnish on his image, and no matter what happens in his career, this will follow him. And second, this is a life lesson for everyone. The more your life is under a microscope, the better chance there is that someone is going to find something. Make sure if you live under there, you’re living clean.

A vacant Westdale hard to see

November 30, 2009

For about three years, back in the 1980s, I worked at store called Cutlery World at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. It used to sit in the elbow of the massive Osco Drug store on the JC Penney end of the mall.

These were the days when Westdale was at its zenith. Every store was full and the entire structure was packed with shoppers from open until close every day. From 1985 through 1987, I opened the store on the day after both Thanksgiving and Christmas and usually came home at the end of the day feeling like I’d just run a marathon. It seemingly was the center of the universe in Cedar Rapids.

But today, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as my wife and I drove by the mall, it was a bizarre sight. Other than near the entrance to Penney’s, the vast parking lot was deserted. It was the middle of a big empty. In the era I worked, every spot in the lot would be full.

And it all happened rather suddenly. Easter weekend of 2004, Angie and I had come up from Kansas so she could interview for a job at the Gazette. I dropped her off at the Gazette building on that Saturday afternoon, and with a couple of hours to kill, I thought I run out to Westdale and look around. There were few cars in the parking lot. I went up the escalator by Penney’s and was stunned to see that Eby’s Sporting Goods was closed. Walden Books was gone, Musicland, Diamond Dave’s and Spencer Gifts were too. Montgomery Wards was gone. And what was even worse was that most of the businesses that had left had left empty buildings behind. At least half of the storefronts were sealed up. It was a struck set; a ghost town.

In it’s heyday, Westdale was like a small town of its own. The workers in the different stores all got to know each other. In our little corner near Penney’s, we had a burger shop across from us (name escapes me now), and the bank was nearby. Team Electronics was opposite us, and that was so handy. They would have a bank of TVs up in the front of the store, and I used to sneak over from time to time to watch the baseball playoffs or the odd Iowa football game.

In fact, during the classic 1985 Iowa/Michigan game a huge crowd had gathered outside of Team as the Hawks drove into field position. I was stuck in the store because the girl that was supposed to be working with me went home sick. When Rob Houghtlin kicked the winning field goal, I was listening on the radio. As Ron Gonder called it good, the crowd watching outside of Team exploded; it was like being at Kinnick Stadium.

But today, a day which used to be standing room only, the mall sat relatively empty. The vast parking lot, once a sea of cars and almost nightmarish traffic, was deserted.

What happened? Lindale Mall still lives. Is it all Walmart and Target? That can’t be it. I can’t believe that shopping needs have changed so much a place like Westdale can’t still be important. But here it was, less than a month before Christmas and the once-glorious Westdale Mall sat abandoned like a lost puppy. The memories are still there though, even if the stores and shoppers aren’t.

Hawkeyes bowling for dollars…

November 22, 2009

How bizarre is life sometimes? Twelve weeks ago everyone in the state of Iowa was shaking their collective heads at the Iowa Hawkeyes after they came within a fingernail of losing to Northern Iowa at home. There was wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and even predictions of them losing to Iowa State.

But now, 12 weeks later, the Hawks are 10-2. In fact, they are a sprained ankle and a couple of dropped passes away from being 12-0 and completely mucking-up the BCS/SEC sweepstakes. But, Ricky Stanzi got hurt, Iowa lost to Ohio State in overtime and now they’re playing the waiting game of seeing where they will go for a bowl game.

Let’s establish a couple of things right off the bat: First, WHATEVER happens, the Hawks are going to be playing in bowl game on New Year’s Day or after. Second they will be playing in one of three bowls and two of the three are BCS bowls.

It is a given that Iowa will play in either the Fiesta, Orange or Capital One bowls. It is probably likely that they will be in one of the first two. Bowl reps love Iowa. Send the Hawks to any bowl and at least 20,000 crazies in black and gold striped bib overalls will show up. Send them to a BCS bowl and 50,000 will go. Heck, I have a friend who planned on breaking out her Tiger Hawk bikini if they made to the Rose Bowl! That fact alone says a great deal.

During the Nebraska/ Kansas State game last night, a BCS analyst from ESPN (that’s actually a job title) was explaining the thing very simply. All the BCS is supposed to do pick the top two teams to play for the national championship. The other bowls are part of the BCS rotation and they pay out the most money and they are the most sought-after by all of the schools. And the rational about picking who plays in them is simple: MONEY!!!

There are guidelines, such as no more than two teams from one conference in any of those bowls, and you have to be in the top 14 of the BCS standings to qualify. But after that, it’s all about money.

The Rose Bowl went back to taking the champions of the Pac-10 and Big 10, while the Fiesta Bowl has an agreement with the Big 12, the Sugar Bowl has the SEC and the Oranage Bowl has the ACC. But, if any of these “automatic” berths are opened up by the teams in the BCS Championship game, anyone who qualifies for them can go.

If we are to say it is a given that Texas will win the Big 12 championship game, that opens up two slots at the Fiesta Bowl. Then there is a slot in the Sugar Bowl (because the loser of the SEC championship game will get one of them), and one in the Orange. Plus, whoever wins the Big East gets an at-large berth. This means that as of now, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, the Oregon/Oregon State winner, the Pittsburgh/Cincinnati winner and Georgia Tech/Clemson winner all have guarnateed spots.

So, out of 10 possible spots (the BCS championship game and four other BCS bowls), seven of them are already spoken for. That leaves three. And, there are probably five teams who can make a legitimate argument for one those slots. The Hawkeyes and Penn State are both 10-2 and both could make strong cases. Assumming they beat Oklahoma Friday, Oklahoma State can make a case. And, there ar the Cinderellas, TCU and Boise State. Their conferences (the WAC and Mountain West) are not guaranteed BCS spots, but if they are in the top 14, ONE of them is guaranteed a spot. Right now, TCU is ranked highest so they will get one slot. Boise State probably SHOULD have one, but they don’t have to get one.

So, in essence, there are four teams for two spots — probably one in the Fiesta (because TCU will get on of those) and one in the Orange (Cincinnati will probably go to the Sugar). From a poltically correct standpoint a 12-0 Boise State should get one of the spots.

If anyone is odd-man out of this discussion first, it’s the Nittany Lions. Their fan following isn’t any better than Iowa’s and the Hawks did beat them. And while TV ratings are important, a full loud stadium is more so.

So that takes it to three teams. The Fiesta Bowl could honor their Big 12 commitment, but they don’t have to. Boise State is out of this discussion because if the Broncos were chosen it wouldn’t be for a match-up with TCU. So unless the Horned Frogs ended up in the Orange Bowl, it’s between Iowa and OSU.

In the case of the Orange, the reps there LOVE Iowa. In 2003, Iowa had 40,000 fans in the seats and another 8,000 just there to hang out. And with an ACC team (probably Georgia Tech) in the mix, that almost guarantees a sellout. Penn State might be able to do that as well, but with Iowa is a guarantee. Boise State? Maybe, but that would be long haul.

Personally, I would love to see the Hawks in the Fiesta Bowl. Half the population of the Phoenix area is Iowa transplants, TCU would be an interesting match-up and Iowa has never been to that bowl.

But if it does end up being a BCS bowl, I’m betting on the Orange. The Miami crowd loves the Hawks, and Iowans have proven that they’ll travel well there — as trips to the Outback and Capital One bowls have proven. Then there’s that whole image of the Tiger Hawk bikini….

About the only variable left would be if Oklahoma was able to beat OSU. Then, the Hawks will probably end up in the Fiesta and Boise State in the Orange.

But that’s just my guess. Whatever happens the Hawks will go bowling, it will be in January and it will be fun!

Moving forward…

November 22, 2009

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I realized the other day that it had actually been over six months since I had updated this little outlet for my writing, and decided it was long past time I did so.

So, what’s new?

Well, swimming (both girls and boys) at Vinton-Shellsburg High School lives on. I’m working for free this year for the boys’ program and we’re trying to become more financially viable. It’s been a struggle, but as I’ve pointed out in the past, struggles make us stronger. I hope we survive the latest round of budget cuts; the administration and the V-S school board are wrestling with the latest budget cuts. I’m hopeful — along with all of our supporters — that we can go on from here.

A few weeks ago, my father went into the TLC Unit (Alzheimer’s) Lutheran Home in Vinton. It had finally reached a point in which — try as she might — Mom could no longer care for him. He’s getting more comfortable there, but constantly asks where he is, when he gets to go home and where his car is. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease; Dad is still healthy and happy, but so much of him — the real him — is gone now. He still knows Mom, Angie, Sage and me. He still recognizes his brother, Glenn, too. But the teacher, the scientist, the Hall-of-Fame wrestling referee is gone now. And as time goes on, it only gets worse. We have learned to cherish every day, because we know that it’s probably the best one we have left.

Sage is having a good year at school. While he still stuggles with some things, he spends the bulk of his school day in a mainstream classroom. He turned 7 last week and got his first big-boy bike. It still has training wheels, but so long as the weather holds, he’s out there riding up and down the driveway on it and acts like he conquered the world.

Oh, and we FINALLY moved!!! We lucked out and through the fine efforts of our realtor, Scott Schlarbaum, our banker, Tom Lindauer, and a buyer that really wanted the place, we were able to get out of the one-year transitional house that turned into a five-year albatross. We moved across town to a beautiful, spacious house, just a block from Mom with everything (space, basement, garage, fireplace, space and space) we were missing. It’s like heaven with a patio.

After months of wondering whether she would survive all of the cuts her company faced, Angie has become an Eastern Iowa celebrity as the food writer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Now, instead of working weekend late nights as an editor, she interviews interesting people about food, cooking and the like and gets to travel all over Eastern Iowa talking to them. Her favorite comment is “I get paid for this?”

As for me, I’m coaching, I’m substitute teaching, I’m trying to plug along on my way to my graduate degree and I’m trying to be a good husband and father. Like all of us, I haven’t gotten to where I want to be just yet in my life, but no matter what happens, I feel like I’m moving forward.

The day before our girls’ Regional swimming meet, I spoke at a pep assembly at the high school. I actually like speaking at those, love to brag about the atheltes that I love to work with. But on this day, I spoke about something else.

I talked about our family’s ongoing move to our new house. I talked about the packing and lifting and loading and lifting and unpacking and doing it all over again. And I compared it to what the swimmers had been doing as they improved all season. And what I said was (and I honestly made this up at that moment), was this: “Moving is tough, but throughout our lives we are always moving. But so long as you’re always moving forward, it’s worth it. When you move forward, you’re moving toward something better.”

So anyway, Watching Wheels is back. I’ll be updating regularly on whatever strikes my fancy and hope you will enjoy it. It’s good to be back!