Monday, August 26, 2013

Really? Three years in N.C. already?

It's been three years since Robbie and I moved from Chicago to Charlotte. Here are the questions we get asked most often:

Do you like it there?

Mostly. The weather generally is better. The cost of living, especially real estate, is very good. The people are nice, but most folks we ran across in Chicago also were nice. It's been mostly good being homeowners again, and we never could have afforded a place like this in Chicago. I enjoy playing 12-inch softball again and really like the guys on the team. We have made some good friends. The traffic is a gazillion times better here -- and folks here think it's bad. I'll show 'em bad!

It sounds like there's a "but" there ...

Yeah, and even I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe "but we're so far away from our kids and our long-time friends." Or "but we miss the vitality and urgency of Chicago." Or "but the food here, in general, pales in comparison to that of Chicago." I mean, it's pretty common to miss things about a place where one lived for 16 years, right?

Any "buts" that have nothing to do with Chicago?

Politics. When we decided to live here, North Carolina was considered the centerpiece of the "New South." It was a so-called "purple state," with almost an even split between parties. The big cities leaned left, the outlying areas leaned right and there was a lot of moderation in between. Sadly for this registered Independent, it has become far-right politically. Republicans won huge here in the 2010 midterm election. And even though more people voted for Democrats than Republicans in 2012, Republicans won more statehouse seats because of gerrymandered districts from the 2010 elections. The new governor ran on a ticket of moderation, but he mostly has followed the tea-partiers and other hard-liners.

N.C. has been "featured" -- how's that for a nice word for "ripped" and "ridiculed"? -- by national publications and pundits for the incredible, 180-degree turn.

Bills were bullied through in the last hour of legislative sessions. Anti-abortion legislation was inserted into a motorcycle-safety bill and then signed by a "moderate" governor who had campaigned on the promise of never signing such legislation. A voter ID bill was a smokescreen for over-reaching, obviously anti-Democrat legislation that severely restricts voting (fewer days for polling, no same-day registration, etc.); it's supposed to fight voter fraud but doesn't address absentee balloting, where voter fraud actually takes place. Our elected officials enacted a mean-spirited law that deprives long-term unemployed people federal benefits; it's the worst such piece of legislation in the entire country. Teachers AGAIN received no raises, and assistant teachers were canned even as bureaucrats and friends of the governor are getting 35% pay hikes. "Tax reform" was enacted that gives well-to-do folks large tax cuts while making a family of four earning median wages pay more. While GOP governors in many states reluctantly accepted federal funds for Obamacare, ours has chosen to let hundreds of thousands go without healthcare. Why not? After all, he and his family have it. All that campaigning on jobs to get elected? Precious little has been done in that regard and, in fact, the latest numbers saw unemployment actually climbing.

But at least it's now legal to bring loaded guns into bars, so we have that going for us!

Yes, it's been good stuff for Colbert and Stewart ... but it's real-life stuff that hurts real people. Even moderate Republican friends of ours are embarrassed by what's taken place here in just the last few months.

How are the jobs going?

Robbie is working far too hard and far too many hours. When she was hired for the outpatient clinic at the children's hospital, she was, of course, the newby. Within a year, she was the last one standing. She has seen so many colleagues come and go, and each time she has to take up the slack and then train the newcomers. I feel really badly for her. The doctors truly appreciate her, as do the administrators there; in her most recent review, she received the highest grades possible. But it's still no fun to work from dawn to dusk and be dead-tired at the end of every day. We're hoping it improves.

My part-time job at the country club is going fine. I get to play free golf at a great course during the week and my co-workers are fun to be around. Sometimes it's tough to have to work every weekend, because that's the only time Rob is off. We actually like each other and want to spend time together -- imagine that after 30 years of marriage! I also have enjoyed the coaching, officiating, volunteering and other stuff I have done. I do miss having the opportunity to write about major league baseball on a freelance basis, as I did in Chicago. In addition to missing out on the money, I'd at least like the choice of continuing that part of my career.

What's been the best part of living there?

Well, after we got a house we then got our dog, Simmie. She's an absolute joy and we love her so much.

Do you think you'll live there as long as you lived in Chicago -- or at least as long as you lived in Minneapolis (9+ years)?

Difficult question. Right now, I'd have to say that's doubtful. Between Rob's job situation and the politics here and being so far away from Katie and Ben, those are three pretty big factors.

Having said that ...

Rob's job situation certainly could improve. She has had some very good stretches when it's been fully staffed.

And politics change. It had been a century since there was a Republican governor and a GOP statehouse. If these clowns don't stop pushing the public around, they'll get voted out of office just like the Dems did.

And who knows where the kids will be 2, 5, 10 years from now? One or both of 'em might even move down here.

OK, fat chance of that last thing happening. The point is, things change.

Where would you go?

I have no idea, though we might not be opposed to someday trading "y'all," for "aloha"!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Today's High 5: Clutch hitting, NL MVP talk, N.C. political hypocrisy

5. It was a big Tuesday night for the Sons of Pitches softballers, proving even old men still have fire in their bellies and a few tricks up their sleeves.

Down 10-5 going into the top of the 7th (and last) inning, we rallied with 5 to tie. I had been 0-for-4 and looking quite awful up to that point, but I delivered a bases-loaded single during the rally. After holding our opponents scoreless in the bottom of the 7th, the game went into extra innings ... and we promptly plated 5 in the top of the 8th. (Yours truly drew a walk.) We retired them without any damage in the bottom of the 8th, sealing a very, very satisfying 15-10 victory.

We've lost a game or two like that, so it felt great to pull one out. Everybody contributed. Even the guys who had really rough times at the plate made plays in the field. And several of us who struggled for 4, 5, 6 innings came through in the clutch.

Let me tell you, after the game -- our third straight win after an 0-2 start to the fall season -- the beer was wetter and the wings were wingier!

Coincidentally (or not?), our tying rally started just as my wife walked up to the field. Robbie had worked OT, so she didn't get there in time to see the bad stuff. I mean, she actually thinks we're good!

Maybe we should make her our official team mascot.

4. MLB suspended Ryan Dempster 5 games for intentionally hitting A-Rod in the elbow with a pitch.

That's ridiculous.

Dempster should have been suspended 10 games for missing A-Rod's head.

3. While the AL MVP race is a two-man event -- I'm thinking Miguel Cabrera has a slight edge over Chris Davis right now, with Mike Trout having little chance because his team has been lousy from Day 1 -- the NL MVP race is most intriguing.

At midseason, I liked Yadier Molina, but he's been hurt and his Cardinals have been struggling. Andrew McCutchen is probably the deserving favorite right now because he does everything for the upstart Pirates, and Clayton Kershaw is getting a lot of attention for being the most dominant pitcher in baseball. BBWAA award voters have enough trouble giving the Cy Young to a guy without a lot of wins, however, so it's not going to be easy for Kershaw to sway MVP voters despite his microscopic ERA. Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt also are getting some mention.

In a year without an obvious frontrunner, here are two interesting candidates: Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig.

Kimbrel has converted 39 of 42 save attempts and could end up with 50+ saves. He has allowed 6 runs all season, and his WHIP and BAA are incredible. As important as closers have become in baseball, and given Atlanta's fantastic season despite lacking any oh-my-god! hitters or starting pitchers, it's hard to argue that many NL players have been more valuable to a playoff-bound team than Kimbrel.

Puig's stats have come down to earth some, and he actually was held out of the lineup after arriving late for pregame drills Tuesday, but it's impossible to deny the impact he has had on the Dodgers. After losing at Colorado on June 2, the Dodgers were 23-32 and in the NL West cellar, 8 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona. Puig made his debut with two hits on June 3, and since then, the Dodgers are 50-20. They now lead the division, 7 1/2 games ahead of Arizona. Puig is batting .352 with 12 HR, 28 RBI and 48 runs, and his energy has sparked the team while ushering Puig-Mania into L.A. Oh, and even in the game he was benched, he ended up delivering the winning HR in the 8th.

If ever there was a season to vote for a part-year player, this could be it.

2. The Cubs and White Sox are both in last place, a combined 42 1/2 games back.

It's nice to know that, three years after I left Chicago, so little has changed!

1. We can't find money in North Carolina to give our teachers raises, to keep teaching assistants employed or to avoid increasing class sizes. Nevertheless, our Republican governor, Pat McCrory, was able to locate tens of thousands of dollars to give two inexperienced bureaucrats 35+ percent raises -- lifting their salaries to $87,500 and $85,000.

What qualified those young men to work in McCrory's administration for the Department of Health and Human Services? Well, as members of his campaign staff, they helped him get elected.

I guess even 24-year-olds can benefit from the old boy's network.

And I guess it's only important for Republicans to keep government small when dealing with silly "liberal" issues ... such as education.

For the record, this registered Independent voted last November for the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Barbara Howe.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nobody is easier to hate than A-Roid

First Down

Alex Rodriguez says the last year has been a "nightmare." Poor, poor, pitiful him. I mean, could there be a less-sympathetic figure in sports than A-Roid?

Barry Bonds and Pete Rose look freakin' noble compared to this guy.

I'd rather root for Mike Tyson or Bill Belichick.

Why should anybody believe A-Rod didn't juice when he was a young player in Seattle? Because he says so? That's a good one! If he handed me a quarter, I'd assume it was counterfeit.

Second Down

I am seriously pissed at Time Warner Cable for denying me Showtime -- and the last few episodes of Dexter.

We'll all have the last laugh when cable companies are completely unnecessary, a time that is coming sooner than TWC and its brethren think.

Third Down

In his most recent "Real Time," Bill Maher used his main "New Rule" to rip the North Carolina GOP for its unapologetic, mean-spirited return of the state to the 1950s -- when blacks, Latinos and women knew their place (and knew it wasn't North Carolina).

And to think, I hated Chicago politics.

Fourth Down

Went into my local Costco the other day and they had a table with large, framed, autographed photos of NFL stars. The guy featured most prominently:

Tim Tebow.

In a Jets uniform.

No punchline. None necessary.