Archive for the ‘family’ Category


RDU’s Terminal 1: Gateway to a Life Unimaginable

April 11, 2014

This weekend, my home airport, Raleigh-Durham International, referred to throughout the Triangle simply as RDU, is shutting down its original terminal, now called Terminal 1, and opening its renovated grandchild. I am delighted this is happening–it’s the final chapter in the years-long massive redesign of RDU. The airport’s evolution demonstrates not only how much the region has developed, but also optimistically states that there is room for more growth, deeper personal and commercial connections with the world. There will be empty gates waiting.

My first trip to RDU was on Christmas Day 1989. Vicki and I had been married for all of four months. We were still living in California, and both of our families were back East. Rather than pick one family to share the holiday with, we decided to fly on Christmas Day so we could be with both sides for part of the day. We had done this the previous couple of years, and it worked well. Logan Airport in Boston was a little less crazy on the holiday than on the days preceding and following, and traffic on I-93 from Concord was lighter, too. Flying into modestly-sized Wilmington, NC, airport was easy, too, and Vicki’s parents had a short drive from their home to fetch us.

But in 1989 there was a glitch: a once-in-a-decade snowfall. In fact, the 13 inches on the ground in Wilmington remains a record for the holiday. So poor little ILM was shut down. But RDU was open, and so we got rebooked. Vicki’s incredibly patient and dedicated parents made the trek to fetch us. Today that trip takes about two hours each way, but the snow and the lack of interstate (I-40 would not reach Wilmington until the next summer) made it a four-and-a-half hour drive … each way. Yup, Don and Barbara spent nine hours of their Christmas Day driving on small, snowy roads, so we could be with them on Christmas. I’ve not forgotten their gift of time and patience that day. They didn’t even stop at the airport to rest; they just fetched us and turned around.

I remember three other things about that day: first, ballplayer and manager Billy Martin died in a truck accident; second, I saw NC State basketball player Brian D’Amico waiting for someone near the baggage claim; and third, I remember looking around the terminal and thinking, “Is this going to become my home airport?”

Vicki and I had married right before her last year of graduate school, and we were trying to figure out our next steps in our life together. Would she pursue a tenure-track job, which could lead us anywhere, or would we pick a place we wanted to live, and just look for jobs there? I had it easy. I was a high school history teacher, so I had lots of flexibility in choosing a place to live. It was tougher for Vicki. We were considering the Triangle as a possible landing spot because it had the things we liked about the Bay Area–universities, access to arts, a sense of moving forward–along with affordable housing prices. It would put us back on the East Coast, nearer our families, and looked like a good area to start a family. Vicki, whose selflessness I will cherish forever, opted for place over career. Six months after that Christmas Day at RDU, we were living in Raleigh. Six weeks after that, I had a teaching job at a middle school in Chapel Hill. A month after that, Vicki had her first job at Duke. Two years, Bobby was born, with Val arriving a bit more than two years after that.

There is no way my 1989 self could dream of the life we would have, just a few miles away from what was then called Terminal A. RDU now has two new terminals and a huge parking deck. I commute from the new Terminal 2–heading in and out of the airport for almost ten years now. We have welcomed Bobby home from college in Atlanta, and sent Valerie off on a school trip to Costa Rica. Vicki’s current Duke job (which is for a scholarship program including UNC) has her in and out of RDU all summer. To celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary we flew from RDU to Paris. We have made a life for ourselves that surpasses all I could want.

And here’s a final piece of this story I could not have imagined in 1989: I am writing this post on a laptop, on a plane, heading home. Gotta click that Publish button before we get to 10,000 feet.


Christmas, Travel, and Rest

December 8, 2013

It is so very hard to fight through the commercialization and the sentimentality to find something I can call Christmas spirit. This year, as I near 175,000 miles of travel, pass 90 nights in hotels, and for the first time welcome back both kids from college, I’m drawn to the role of travel and rest in the Christmas story. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the pilgrimage of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the witness of the shepherds … that’s a lot of travel. Yet all these paths lead to peace: an infant son arrives, glad tidings abound, the world slows down and the sun finally reverses its southern trek in the sky. In the stillness of a cold winter’s night, the darkness is overcome.

Yesterday slowly filled me with the Christmas spirit. Not because of shopping or wrapping or music, though there was a bit of each. It’s because I got to spend the day with people I love. My in-laws spent Friday night with us after visiting with one of their sons and his family in Durham. We spent the morning chatting over coffee. Then I read and relaxed for a while before Vicki and I headed to see our dear friends Mark and Betsy, who have been mentors to us both. Their home was filled with Christmas, and it filled us–not just the treats and wassail, but also their kindness and curiosity. Vicki worked with Betsy for years at Duke, and it was from Betsy that Vicki’s commitment to service learning took root. Mark saved my Christian faith, introducing me to Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Rohr, Robin Meyers, et al. When I met Mark I had essentially stopped thinking of myself as a Christian. Now I think of myself as a progressive, contemplative Christian. Thus the appreciation I felt in their home was just a reflection of the thankfulness I feel every time I see Mark.

After a bit of shopping for a wedding shower gift, it was a very special date night with the person who is most special of all to me. Vicki and I celebrated (the day, the season, our friends, our marriage, our family, our many blessings? sure, all of those) at one of our favorite restaurants, Provence. We’ve had a couple of anniversary dinners there, and this time, thanks to the gift of yet another dear friend, Maria, we were finally celebrating our empty nest–a week before the kids return to fill it for a few weeks! We topped the evening with latest installment of one of our favorite movie series, Before Midnight. Yes, Vicki and I love movies filled with a couple’s dialog. And there’s something precious about checking in with Jesse and Celine every nine years–how are they doing? How are we doing? Damn, we are doing absolutely great.

A full day, but not a stressful one. A day of rest from the road, from work, from the to-do lists of the holidays. A day to find peace in the darkness.


Gifts from Strangers

October 18, 2012

Valerie spent last weekend at a YoungLife camp. Sunday morning the YL director for our area asked her to share her testimonial, which she’d done once in front of about 250 adults (including Vicki and me) in February. This week she had two field hockey games, and at each game a girl on the opposing team recognized her and told her what a great job she’d done giving her talk.

Bobby spent last weekend visiting his girlfriend at the University of Michigan–it was fall break for both of them. After he cleared security at the Detroit airport on his way back to Atlanta on Tuesday, the cab company he’d used for the ride from Ann Arbor called him to say his credit card had been declined. For the next 24 hours we tried to figure out what the source of the problem was (this card has given him similar problems before), until I called the company last night and gave them another card to use. I expected some anger and frustration from the woman I spoke to, but instead she told me how conscientious Bobby had been throughout the process. “Most of the time when this happens, we never hear back from the person and we eat the cost of the fare,” she told me, and added, “Please tell your son he can call us any time he needs a ride. Tell him he is a good man.”

Three brief encounters. Two terrific kids. One proud father.


Confronting the Idea of Getting Old

May 12, 2012

When Vicki and I started dating she was not happy about her birthday. She liked being young and resisted the idea of getting older. I was more accepting–I’m a Taurus and thus boringly practical, and resisting growing older was like resisting the tides. My view has been to ride the waves, wherever they take you. Be as happy as you can at your current age.

I’ve never really concerned myself with growing old until now. Two Sundays ago I turned 49. It was another wonderful birthday, spent with Vicki and Val and a visit to my parents. Plenty of phone calls and lots of Facebook posts too. I’ll never forget this birthday because it was the same weekend that I went to Fenway for its 100th anniversary (you can see my pictures and reminiscing here).

But I have to confess that I’ve hit my first bit of resistance about aging. Now that I’m just a year away from it, I’m realizing that 50 sounds really really old. For me it’s the wall separating feeling young with feeling like time is running out. For the first time I am realizing that the odds are good that more of my life is behind me than ahead of me. This birthday has forced me to address some dusty, stuck thinking in my head. I am discovering that over the years I’ve formed a couple of shallow ideas about my aging process. They have sat unexpressed in my unconscious, but hitting 49 has brought them to the surface.

*By 50 experimenting is over; it’s too late to learn a language or adopt a new spiritual practice. At some point I stop taking in new things and start doing the things I have been learning all this time. For a guy who spends his professional life teaching people of all ages new ways to think about their work, this is quite an embarrassing discovery.

*By 50 personalities are hardened; it’s too late to develop more compassion, say, or patience. It’s as if potential exists for only half my life, and now I’m stuck. This is so antithetical to my actual belief, that I will grow until the day I die, that it was a shock to learn that I was carrying around this idea too.

In short, 49 is young and 50 is the beginning of the end. What an immature view!

I will admit that just writing down these ideas, exposing them to the smallest bit of light, has made them crumble like a vampire encountering the sunrise. They are ridiculous ideas. The experimenting continues–I would indeed like to learn a language. I would like to meditate more regularly, and for longer. I know I will continue to grow as a person, revealing aspects of myself I have not seen before. Bob Dylan got it right: “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.” I still feel like I am early in my journey, with many bends in the path ahead.

From the point of view of potential, that is true–it keeps growing in front of me, and I keep moving toward it. But for the first time I am fully realizing that my time is not perpetually renewable. Am I foolish that it took this long to give this obvious truth my full attention? Perhaps. But I’ve still got 50 weeks until I’m 50, and I hope that is enough time to allow me to embrace that birthday fully.


It was a bit of an odyssey …

March 17, 2012

Greetings from Athens, the birthplace of Western civilization. It is 9:00 pm here, and I am very tired. In the last 24 hours, Bobby and I:

*flew from Atlanta to Montreal (exit row seats, so plenty of room)
*enjoyed a 3.5-hour layover with a visit to the Air France lounge, followed by a simple dinner
*flew in the world’s largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380, from Montreal to Paris (Air France configures theirs to hold almost 540 people, so much less leg room), which left nearly an hour late

The huge plane that took us (sans Bobby's bag) from Montreal to Paris.

*ran through Charles de Gaulle airport for nearly 20 minutes in hopes of catching our flight to Athens
*once rebooked on the next Athens flight, rehydrated at a small eatery near our gate, where we were joined by Roger Daltrey
* had an uneventful flight to Athens, where we learned Bobby’s bag had not made the flight from Montreal (yup, 3.5 hours was not enough time for them to get his bag onto the right plane)
*took our first walk through Athens to buy clothes for Bobby to wear tomorrow, and
*had our first fantastic dinner in Greece (at Meatropoleos 3, near the parliament building), featuring pita bread and tzatziki, seasonal greens drenched in olive oil, and grilled pork (for Bobby) and veal (for me)

Bobby in front of the Greek parliament building. Hopefully there will not be demonstrations here this week. The government's next bond payment is due Tuesday.

In short, this was the kind of day that might have been a bit of a drag had I been traveling alone. But having Bobby with me on his first passport-required trip has already made this a memorable business trip for me. We’ve come to Athens so I can teach a workshop and certify some trainers to teach PQ+A, and so Bobby can fulfill a wish that started in his sixth grade mythology class–a wish to explore the classical world. He handled the 20 hours of travel really well, including getting some sleep on the red-eye despite the Sudoku game available on his video screen. He did not let the missed flight or lost luggage upset his day in the least. These reactions tell me he’s going to be an outstanding traveler, not just this week but anytime.

Oh yes, bumping into Roger Daltrey… . During our layover in Paris we were sipping on juices in a little bistro-type place, typing away on our laptops, when two guys sat down at the table right next to us. The place was cozy enough that the guy sitting next to Bobby was no more than two feet away from him. He was talking on his cell phone just loudly enough for me to notice his British accent and his asking the question, “Did you like the show? I wish you’d come back stage after.” So I glanced over at him and thought, “Damn, I am pretty sure that’s Roger Daltrey, but he’s so short.” I passed Bobby a note explaining my theory, and he wrote back that he too thought the guy looked familiar. Then Daltrey glanced at me and damned if those aren’t two of the most sparkly blue eyes on the planet. It was him for sure. Welcome to international travel, Bobby. Mind your own business in the Paris airport and a living legend may just drop by for a latte.

That brush with fame made the missed flight and ensuing jog worth it. Losing Bobby’s luggage got us out the door and exploring a new city within an hour of our arrival. That’s the mainstay of travel, isn’t it? Take what the universe gives you and make the best of it. That was a damned fine day. Tomorrow morning we’re up early and heading to Delphi.


Returning to Ireland

February 13, 2012

The timing is perfect. The day I leave for my fourth trip to Ireland, the NY Times Sunday magazine ran this wonderful piece by John Jeremiah Sullivan on his return to Ireland. Like Sullivan, I figured out not long after my arrival here that being an Irish-American isn’t worth much here. One way of looking at my ancestry is to conclude, “Your family took off while mine stuck it out here. Now you want me to be excited you’re here?” I read Sullivan’s story on my iPad in a restaurant in County Dublin tonight. The place was too nice to call a pub (and the bar was far too small), but it was not a fancy place either. The burgers are 100% Irish beef, and when combined with a pint of Guinness made for a fine meal. The PA played a string of Whitney Houston songs recorded in concert; red balloons painted with hearts were already in place to attract Valentine diners tomorrow. A couple of families were amongst the few patrons at the late hour (after 8:30 pm–a late lunch for my East Coast belly).

When I look at the Irish I see layers. On the surface is the great sense of humor and general decency. But just below that is a sense of caution. This is a people who’ve been invaded, enslaved, and discriminated against for centuries. They’re just coming off the spectacular bursting of their spectacular housing bubble, shattering the newfound confidence borne of the Celtic Tiger; they can be forgiven some caution, especially when an American trainer is selling them a better way to conduct business conversations. (The moxie it takes to tell the Irish how to improve conversation!) They’ve heard it before–and plenty recent enough to be fresh in their memories.

But below the caution is an authenticity I only occasionally encounter in my travels. So many of the people I have met here are so genuinely kind, willing to talk in ways that make American conversation look very very shallow, and almost humble to a fault. I have told new friends how much I love coming here, and they have been genuinely surprised–as if they could not think of a reason why someone not from here would enjoy their country. When the Icelandic volcano gave me an extra week here back in 2010, I decided that rather than continue to visit a couple of different pubs each night, I’d stick to one and see how long it took until the regulars would begin to chat with me. The answer: three visits. By the time I was heading home, it was handshakes and well wishes all around. As Sullivan writes, Ireland is a special place. But the specialness lies much deeper than sparkling green eyes and Clancy Brothers ditties. It is rooted in having felt the limitations and harshness of life and still finding belief and joy. You don’t have to use your ancestry to try to belong to Ireland. Just be yourself, take the time to get to know some people, and they’ll make you feel like you’ve always been here.


Blood Rush

April 3, 2011

When Bobby became a drummer in sixth grade, I gave him a handful of my Rush CD’s and said, “You should listen to these guys. The drummer’s pretty good.” He agreed. Tonight Bobby and I went to see Rush in Greensboro. It is the third time in four years that we’ve watched Rush together. I have now seen the band five times in five cities in four decades (1984, 1993, 2007, 2010, and now 2011). The current tour, which we’ve seen twice, is called “Time Machine,” and tonight I was reflecting on how difficult it would have been for the 21-year-old me, a college student in California, to imagine that I would one day see this band with my own child in North Carolina! The only other band that stretches that far from my past to my present is U2.

I hated Rush when I first heard them. They were too loud, and Geddy Lee’s voice was abrasively high. But my best friend and doubles partner in high school, Mark Smith, kept bringing a tape of Moving Pictures to tennis practice. Our incredible coach, Mark’s dad Harvey, would let us listen to music while we were doing our drills. Eventually “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer” won me over, and I started to listen to Rush more often.

On this tour, the band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Moving Pictures by playing the whole album during the show’s second half. This meant I got to hear two of my favorite tracks, “The Camera Eye” and “Vital Signs,” live for the first time. On the way to the show tonight I told a couple of friends how I introduced Bobby to Rush nearly six years ago. “That changed my life,” he added.

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