The Couple


The couple walks along the bluff trail, warmed by the sun, cooled by the barely-there marine layer. Tides are changing, from low on the northbound leg to rising on the way back.

The paths are busy, with a mix of couples and small groups accompanied by dogs of all nationalities. Today’s strollers are older, closer to the end than the beginning of the trip through the universe. Still, none lack vigor. How could anyone surrounded by such beauty be anything but optimistic?

A rugged inlet carved by the relentless Pacific falls away from the bluff. A local artist captures it in brushstrokes and tints, a painting she wants on her wall. He sees the vision but fears the meaning.

The couple has enjoyed many chapters in their life together. Now, living in paradise, they see the world one beat at a time. Even paradise has some rough spots, but these bumps are just bumps.

Their transition from flesh and bone to ash and air will happen someday; no sense wondering when or where. She, a practical and organized person, has a plan for that time. She will scatter to the wind, the sea, and the earth from this bluff, floating uncaptured by the artist’s brush. The soundtrack of her goodbye sits cataloged amidst the list of to-dos for whoever remains to send her off. Should he be left with the task, he will falter and crumble.

For him, his resting place won’t matter. In the past, he would choose a lookout deep in the mountains of a favorite retreat, where they walked and wondered how much beauty could fit into shared memory. But now, the bother is too much, and the memory is full enough. The music has played, the words spoken, and nothing more needs to be done. His attachment is not to a place but a spirit. If left to send him on, she, a practical and organized person, will think of the others sharing the moment.

But these are not for today. The raging searing beauty of the ocean kissing the graceful peace of the green grass under blue sky calls for reflection of what is before them right now. Everything else, well, is everything else, set aside for another day.

The Bass


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An ad from a well-known music shop in New York popped onto my Facebook feed, and the image of a Fender Precision bass from the 1970s stopped my heart for a beat. Certainly not one of the highly desirable “vintage” basses for sure, but an excellent instrument.

I read the product description and felt my pulse quicken with each line.

“Here’s a really nice Fender P-Bass from 1974 in a natural finish. It has had a refret with new electronics, including a replaced DiMarzio pickup. The pickguard, bridge are replaced. Comes with a nice non-original case. A great price for any player looking for a nice vintage P-Bass with a nice neck and feel!”

So why the heart attack?

I had a 1970s P bass, just like this one. I installed a DiMarzio pickup and replaced the original bridge with a brass Badass. The original pickguard was white, and the replacement one, as noted in the description, is black. The kicker, though, was the featured picture and the description of the neck. I stared at the picture and dug out a photo of me with my P bass. 

I know, just like I know my children, my family, my now aged face. Guitar players know. Violinists know. We know our special instruments as well as we know our art.

Accidental Treasure 

In the late 1970s I had a gig in Jupiter, Florida, home to the legendary Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater. I carelessly leaned my a beautiful cherry Gibson EB-3 against my amp and gasped in disbelief as it fell over, hit the hard tile floor, and split the headstock and part of the neck—a disaster for a musician who was dependent on his instrument for his living.

That Gibson had played a whole lot of sets in a whole lot of places, including a USO tour of Germany, Greece, and Turkey. And then it was gone. 

I found a music store down the road in Stuart. I was hoping to find another EB-3 but instead landed a beautiful Fender Precision. Gibsons and Fenders are different beasts, with distinctly different sounds and feel. This Fender, though, had something special.

It had a beautifully figured natural finish body, a maple fretboard, and a tapered neck profile more like a Jazz bass than a Precision. It fit my hands like it was custom carved. It toured the country, took a horrific trip to Greenland, and later served me well when I returned to New York for the next chapter of my musical career.


A few years passed. After a long day of rehearsal and recording, I parked on 56th street near 5th Avenue for a few minutes while I ran into a local club that hosted songwriters’ workshops. When I came out, I immediately saw the smashed window. I knew my bass was gone.

It began to rain. It rained all the way home, the long drive up the Taconic Parkway made more brutal by the wind-driven water stinging my face with each gust, the plastic garbage bag taped to the broken window rendered ineffective as it tore and flapped. The loss of my instrument, made worse by the mocking weather.

Over the following days, I visited the music stores and pawn shops around midtown Manhattan, particularly the legendary strip on West 48th street. I hoped that the thief would try to sell the bass to one of these shops, and I would recover my instrument. No luck.

Moving On

Life went on. I got a new bass, a beauty, from Leo Fender’s new company, G&L. I still have that instrument. It is worn, beaten up, poorly refinished, and mostly unplayed now. It is a worthy axe, but my aging hands struggle with the wider neck, and my old body struggles under its heft. I have tried to find a bass with the same magic neck of the purloined Precision over the years, with no luck. Every state and country I have been lucky enough to visit has included a stop at the local music shop: part white whale hunt, part habit.


As I sort through the impact of this sudden appearance, I realize that it is not just about the bass; it is all the memories that surround it. A bandmate who went with me to the music store became my true and forever soulmate. That story has its share of love and loss and so much music. More than any bass could produce. 

I could repurchase the bass, but that seems somehow wrong. It would perhaps have me playing again, but more likely, it would have me remembering things better left behind.

My only real wish is that wherever it goes next, it will pull some joy from the hands and heart of the person playing that oh-so-perfect neck.




Time flies, maturity takes the bus.

There are a lot of older people around here. According to my driver’s license, I am one of them. The arrival of forty-six hundred pieces of mail informing me of my Medicare eligibility confirms what I have denied to myself. Sixty-five. That magic number is here, and there ain’t nothing I can do about it.

I do old guy stuff now. My current obsession is making sure to set the coffee pot for the morning. This routine task is familiar to those with automatic coffee makers and is essential for a few reasons.

First, there is nothing better than getting out of bed and having a fresh pot of coffee ready to kick off the day.

Second, there is little more annoying than the sound of beans being ground early in the morning. It may have been Einstein who discovered the theory that the earlier the hour, the louder the grinder. Please don’t quote me on that. It could have been my wife who said that. See – more old guy stuff – making up facts and blaming the spouse.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, setting the coffee pot. A perfectly normal routine. Except now I find myself doing it in the late afternoon. Like, twelve hours ahead of time. Who does that? Old guys, or more specifically, this old guy. Who sometimes forgets to hit the timer button. Which is fine. It gives me more time to try and remember if I took my fiber and vitamins. I am not ready to add Ginko Biloba to my routine, but I’m thinking about it.

I have an old guy approach to my wardrobe now. There are “around the house” pants,  “around town” pants, and “going someplace nice” pants. And shirts? Tattered collars and cuffs are fine with me, and nobody sees them, so what’s the big deal? When I am out and about town, I zip my sweatshirt up. Blue shirts aren’t cheap, so I wear them until the League of Decency intervenes. Uh oh, another old guy reference.

Those commercials about people turning into their parents? I side with the turners. I am the guy who seeks out the manager at Albertsons to tell him what a great job Angela in produce does. I have said, out loud, “I am not paying that much for a box of instant oatmeal!” Yes, I eat oatmeal, and yes, I use instant because who knows how much time I have left? I am an old guy!

I watch Blue Bloods on Friday nights at 10 PM and try to figure out what they are having for Sunday dinner. I understand all of Anthony Abademarco’s double negatives because I grew up in New York. I looked at the cops with a bit of distrust back in the old days, and now I root for Jamie and Eddie to get through a shift safely.

And who knew The Big Bang Theory was so funny? I love the cleverness of the humor, though I find Howard to be annoying. And I admire how much Penny has grown over the years. Ok, I occasionally admire her other attributes; I am old, not dead.

I watch Saturday Night Live, and, as an old guy bonus, it comes on at 8:30 PM here in California. I understand that not every sketch or musical guest will be great. When I get nostalgic, I’ll find old episodes from my younger days and wait for the magic I remembered from those years. And realize that Saturday Night Live has always been hit – or – miss, even with the legends that came before today’s cast and writers. I still get a bit of a thrill when a musical guest that I don’t know blows me away. Thanks, Halsey!

I fight back against time, mostly with music. My ears are frequently ringing after a few hours of serious headphone time. The right ear goes first, an artifact of standing next to drummers back when I could play a whole gig without Aleve and Icy Hot. The thought of strapping on a bass guitar for four hours makes me want to lie on the couch and find episodes of Blue Bloods. But I can sit and listen to rock, punk, R&B until the headphones need recharging. I don’t get upset when I hear an f-bomb in my son’s songs. I think, “great use of the word to make a point.”  I expect to do this until the end, which could be anytime. Until then I’ll try not to exclaim, “What the hell happened to Joe Namath!!!” when he appears on TV to sell me something old-guy-related.

4 PM. Time to set the coffee pot.

The Gathering Place

The transfiguration of wine and wafer into the body and blood of the savior is a mystery accepted by all good Catholics. In my Bronx neighborhood of the 1970s, less ethereal transformations took place. They were as dear and vital to many as the soul-saving sacrament that occurred mid-mass every day and a hundred times on Sunday. Dim the lights and drop the needle. Dull turns exciting, empty turns edgy, and everyone is beautiful for a while.

Night and Day

Gin mill. Pub. Tavern. Bar and Grill. Call it what you will.

These places, often the center of social lives within neighborhoods, shared many characteristics, even though they catered to different clienteles. One particular place occupied a part of my life that seems, in glazed memory, to have lasted forever. In reality, it was a brief segment that set the direction for many lost years.

The Place

The shotgun-style establishment somehow fit a very long bar, a center room divider, and a row of booths into an area no wider than a few supermarket aisles. A wall separated the front from the rear section. The square-shaped back room held a pool table, an occasional makeshift stage, and on particularly wild nights, a motorcycle or two.

This place, not unlike other spots in other memories, morphed from one reality to another as the sun rose and set. Patrons rarely crossed time zones, or if they did, soon moved on to an equally familiar spot at the family dinner table.

A hearty few were able to blend with the crowd, whether day or night. They staked out a strategic spot at the scarred wooden bar, body hunched forward, arms protectively surrounding the dual chalices of a short shot and a tall beer. Fading eyes stole looks around the room and peered into the mirrors that ran the length of the wall behind the stick.


The room growled with acoustic excitement. Inside lighting dimmed as the outside skies gradually darkened. Thirteen souls turned into thirty, and thirty into heat-building, oxygen stealing full capacity. Conversations grew in energy and volume—animating gestures and bursts of laughter or angry exclamations. A blaring jukebox pumped artificial stimulation across even the last refuge of quiet corners and secluded nooks. The jukebox signaled who was in the room at any given time. We Just Disagree, Dancing Queen, Disco Inferno, Good Hearted Woman, Go Your Own Way, and the occasional Danny Boy floated above the haze of tomorrow’s lung disease. A hundred different perfumes melded with an occasional cologne. Hormones, pheromones, and testosterone, unseen as the Holy Ghost, intoxicated as much as the grains and hops in every hand.

“The Drink” lowered inhibitions and raised emotions. Caution left as “what the hell” entered. As hours blurred, hands began to fly. Lust and hate felt very similar in that crush of sweaty chemistry. Out of this simmer grew friendships, marriages, and lifetime feuds built on nothing more than “I just don’t like that guy.”

It was a world where any square yard held a dozen stories that could fill a hundred novels and a thousand songs.


In the daylight, the space was sadly worn and dismaying. The smell of perfume gave way to stale beer, whiskey-soaked wood, and nicotine-covered fixtures. The worn linoleum floors had the color washed away by a million footsteps and a thousand scrubbings that never quite resulted in clean. Wood-themed paneling covered the walls and showed every warp, gap, scratch, and gash earned over countless days and nights of hard use.

Daytime patrons, some closer to corpses, replaced the mass of nighttime bodies. But still, there was something comfortable there, in the unflinching light of day and the noisome smell of bleach and unfiltered cigarettes.  

These patrons were not the characters assigned them by the arrogant young, the cruel bully, or the disdainfully righteous. They were friends, foes, and everyday people who enjoyed the comfort of a familiar gathering spot.

The lives they lived colored every inch of them. Some suffered disease and addiction. They were not losers, just lost. They were young once and danced, sang, argued, and fought. Perhaps, in the patchy and slightly distorted mirror, they still were.


Were they us? What might we be under our facades? After facing the same triumphs and failures, experiencing the pain and loss of love, health, mind, and hope, who might we become?

We are old, and we are young. It depends on which mirror we choose.

Here’s to all of us.

Been away, haven’t seen you in a while.

How’ve you been? Have you changed your style?

And do you think that we’ve grown up differently?

Don’t seem the same. Seems you’ve lost your feel for me.

“We Just Disagree” Written by Jim Krueger, performed by Dave Mason

Skate Part II – Facts and Feelings

As the November 20th special Board meeting nears, it would be helpful for all the interested parties to think about what they want and how they can express the desired outcomes with specific, understandable goals.

I’ve offered my thoughts and support for the project to the Board, with encouragement to think creatively in finding approaches to achieving the objective. 


Frequent public comments from advocates call for the CCSD Board of Directors to support the skate park project.  But I have not heard a clear explanation of what SUPPORT means. What is missing that keeps the community asking?

I am assuming the request is for a financial commitment, but what is that in real terms? How much money? How many resources? How much risk? 

The Board adopted resolutions in support of the project and the Main Street location. The District invests time, money, and resources to shape the detail and identify the steps needed to proceed.

The property on Main Street has some financial value. Staff resources, including Project Management, administrative support, permit applications, and associated fees, carry expenses and additional workload. Can all that be calculated in a way that lets everyone understand what the total commitment will be?


There is a strong push for the Board to commit the proceeds from a yet-to-be submitted grant to the skate park project. The grant money, if secured, would provide a good chunk of change towards meeting project costs. It seems like a logical strategy, so why is this so difficult?

The Grant application has specific requirements. The applicant/Board does not have enough data to meet the required response, nor is there a clear path to getting that information before the filing deadline. “Whatever it takes” is a great rallying cry but certainly not a sensible or acceptable commitment to make.

So, faced with this reality, what are the options?

  • Make a blanket commitment to providing the funding needed to complete the project.
  • Apply for the grant to fund the proposed restroom project on the East Ranch. The project, a required step in building out the community park envisioned in the acquisition of the Fiscalini Ranch, has an estimated cost of $352,000.00. The Board would face the exact grant requirements, funding the approximately $175,000.00 difference to build the restrooms. From where would that money come?
  • Forgo the grant.


Information the Board might communicate to the public includes :

  • A clear and specific list of unmet requirements.
  • Actions taken or planned to meet those requirements.
  • Identification of who is responsible for those requirements.
  • Steps outside the grant process taken or considered to keep the project moving forward.

Facts and Feelings

Keep the passion, keep the focus, but give the Board more than emotion. They are responsible for making decisions based on community wants, needs, and available resources. Bring facts that support the feelings. Other parts of the community don’t have the same passion for the project and need more convincing to get behind the cause. The Board represents those folks too.

 Some examples that come to mind are;

  • How many users will the park serve? “xxx youth live in the community, attend the schools, participate in other sports or activities.”
  • Skate park users also include…groups.
  • Having this facility in this location will drive xxx to local businesses/increase library usage/improve the overall section of town.
  • Having an accessible youth-oriented facility reduces negative behaviors by… and encourages positive engagement by …
  • Directing District resources to the skate park over other funding needs makes sense because…

Partners, Not Adversaries

 This project will require a lot of funding and will take a lot of time to complete. The best way forward is a balance of aggressive advocacy and collaborative problem-solving. This formula will succeed with a complete understanding of all the moving parts and a team approach.

Some models have proven successful here in Cambria. Two that come immediately to mind are the Cambria Pickleball facility and the revitalized Cambria Center For The Arts. Both examples have been successful through collaborative private/public organizations working towards common goals. What can we learn from these successes?

Skate Cambria does a great job of advocacy without division. What an excellent example for the kids and the adults in the community. As challenging as this project is, having the values that Skate Cambria demonstrates should guide us all.

Meet the Smith family – parents, two kids, and a pet dog Lassie.

Timmy wants a car. Sally wants to study at Yale. Lassie wants that dangerous well Timmy keeps falling into filled and sealed.

The parents want to deliver for the three requestors but there is only so much money coming into the household, and it needs to cover all the expenses the family generates. Shelter, clothing, food, insurance, vet bills, car payments, braces, maintenance, more braces (those tumbles into the well can be rough on orthodontics); it all adds up.

The family negotiates, prioritizes, defers, and pursues alternatives.

Timmy gets a scooter instead of a car. Sally goes to Cuesta for a year while the tuition fund builds. Lassie hangs around the Infrastructure and Resources committee, who realize “oh yeah, we need to do something about that well!”

They also find ways to generate additional income.

With his new braces, Timmy makes a great model for his Orthodontist’s website and mailer campaign.

Sally is a perfect spokesperson for an online university, playing a struggling but ambitious student who finds her dream fulfilled in as little as two years.

Lassie reboots her classic television series, rebrands as “Lassie’s Marvelous Universe”, adds some cats, and sells it to Netflix. Donates a few bones to the skate park project.

Building A Skate Park


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Beautiful Cambria never lacks a passion project. The current drive to build a Skate Park on Main Street to replace the one removed due to its deteriorating condition is an excellent example of the challenges of such endeavors.

What might seem like a simple, straightforward project is much more complicated than perhaps people realize. Over the recent weeks, I had multiple conversations with representatives from all parts of the puzzle, including leadership from Skate Cambria, CCSD Board members, and staff. My goal is to present a reasonably clear view of the moving pieces that make up this effort. There are levels of complexity beneath each topic, so I have added links to available details so readers can examine the same data. Here’s a simplified takeaway from those discussions.

The Simple

The goal of the project’s advocates is to build a safe, accessible skate park on Cambria Services District property on Main Street, next to the Cambria Library and across the street from the Vet’s Hall. The previous community-built facility occupied the site before being dismantled due to deteriorating and unsafe conditions.

Proposed Site on Main Street

The Players

A community organization, Skate Cambria, is deeply involved in driving the project forward. Skate Cambria has done an admirable job of gaining community support, as well as skateboard-related industry interest. The group’s fundraising efforts, managed through a local non-profit, have reportedly amassed approximately $175,000.00.

The Cambria Community Services District is involved in the project for two main reasons. First, the property belongs to the District, and by extension, Cambria’s taxpayers. As a community asset under the CCSD’s jurisdiction, there is a responsibility to manage the parcel appropriately.

Second, Cambria’s PROS (Parks, Recreation, and Open Space) Commission serves as an advisory body to the CCSD Board of Directors. PROS has a limited budget and no legal authority to take action without the CCSD Board of Directors’ approval.

The Challenges

As always, the biggest issue the project faces is funding. The preferred location brings a host of challenges that drive costs, and therefore injects financial risks associated with uncertainty.

Information and presentations from the CCSD Special Meeting on October 30th, 2021

Based on detailed presentations from the design and engineering firm Spohn Ranch and the Project Management lead from CCSD, the current projected cost sits at Six Hundred and Sixty-One thousand dollars. This number, provided by Spohn Ranch, carries several caveats, including potential areas of cost reductions.

The Project Management presentation details the requirements from SLO County’s permitting authorities. Concerns include the need for a restroom and accessible parking for the facility. Both of these requirements have the potential to add significantly to the final project costs. There are potential approaches that could reduce or eliminate the need to build out both items. Final project requirements will be defined through Value Engineering/redesign activities and negotiations with the permitting agencies.

Funding Sources

Skate Cambria’s Fundraising Report

Skate Cambria indicates they have raised approximately $175,000.00 in donations. They continue their fundraising activities and lobbying for additional financial support from the community and other interested parties.

A potential funding source under review is a PROP 68 grant for $177,000.00. As part of the application, the District must identify the project’s cost and all funding committed to the project.

Gaining a more accurate and realistic total project cost requires significant interaction with the permitting organizations, complex project re-engineering, and aggressive negotiations among all parties to get to a final project plan. The filing deadline for the grant is December 31st, so it is a steep climb to gather all the data, crunch all the numbers, identify all the funding sources, and go through the process of budgeting and allocation of District funds.

Based on just the “known” estimated costs outlined by Mr. Spohn, the quick math is:

Estimated Project Cost –  $661,000.00.

Assume the $177,000.00 grant is secured. Add the Skate Cambria funds of $175,000.00.

The difference that the CCSD would need to commit to contributing to meet the grant criteria is $309,000.00.

Remember, these figures are based on estimated costs and do not include any additional expense to meet required permit conditions. Nor do they contain any cost reductions gained through redesign and Value Engineering.

Regardless of how the project is ultimately defined, any District money must come from the general fund. That is the same pool of money that pays for the Fire Department and The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, among other things.

Next Steps

The Board has scheduled a special meeting for Saturday, November 20th, to discuss this project. The meeting will be available through Zoom, and the public is encouraged to share thoughts and suggestions on how to move forward. It is always better to participate in the process and make your judgments rather than rely on other people’s perspectives.

Check the CCSD Calendar for ZOOM links and meeting agenda. 

This project is a positive example of how citizens work together to meet goals that affect the larger Cambria community. Skate Cambria demonstrates the passion and commitment to the Skate Park project and the equally important job of being great role models for the community, young and old.

The CCSD Board and staff continue to do the difficult work of evaluating all the information, balancing the community’s needs, and making the hard decisions about spending limited resources most responsibly.

Beautiful Cambria in action!

Boy Meets Girl


Romance in the Time of Covid

The late afternoon sun pokes through the front-facing windows of 927 Brewery, casting elongated shadows as it bounces off tabletops and shines through the amber hues of partially emptied glasses.

A thirty-something man enjoys a flight of craft beer and gazes at the concert posters and photos that cover the walls of the well-worn taproom. Behind the short bar, a bearded man wipes his eyeglasses with a towel, turns, and glides through a set of curtains. He soon returns, accompanied by the clinking of clean beer mugs. He places them within reach of the taps and nods his graying head in satisfaction. He notices that the man has caught the eye of a fellow patron, a pleasant woman dressed casually in a sundress, sandals, and a cute little short-sleeved sweater. The awkwardness of the eye contact soon fades as both patrons recognize the mutual interest.

So begins another page in the never-ending story – Boy Meets Girl in the Time of Covid.

They remain seated apart for a while, sharing rueful smiles as they dance the sadly familiar “moving of the mask.” On, off, sip, savor, repeat. Their eyes connect between each taste, checking to see if they were doing it correctly. It seems both silly and serious, as flirting sometimes does. After a while, she decides some real conversation might be pleasant. She casually asks, “Would you like to go outside? We can chat and enjoy the fading sunlight and the sweet-salty taste of the ocean air.” He smiles agreeably, grabs his mask and cap, and politely waits as she makes her way to the door.

They continue a cautious conversation on the outside patio.

“This is a cool little place,” she offers. “Is this your first time here?”

He shakes his head slightly. “No, actually, I stopped in here one afternoon, before all the craziness of Covid. It was quite busy. The guy behind the bar was hustling to keep glasses full and conversations going. He wore comfortable shorts and sandals, as I recall. I wonder where he is these days.”  

“Across the street,” a fellow patron answered, pointing to a winetasting room filling the curving intersection on the opposite side of the narrow block. “Still wears the shorts!”

“Good for him!” she declares. “All the bartenders where I live wear camo and cowboy boots: a different world, a different everything. I love the variety of people in Cambria. You can talk to ten strangers, and odds are they will be from ten different places.”

He nods in agreement and asks, “So, where is home for you?”

“A small place called Wilseyville, up near Sandy Gulch. Beautiful country, lots of trees, horses, and cows. I grew up there, and even though I travel a lot, I still call it home. It was a safe place to ride out this terrible pandemic, but frustrating to be stuck where nothing much has changed over the years. Overall, though, it is home.” After a thoughtful pause, she continues her story.

“I heard about Cambria from a neighbor. She mentioned that a local girl had landed a great job and moved down this way with her husband. I only knew the girl to wave to, so we probably wouldn’t recognize each other if we passed at the Farmer’s Market. I do remember her love of camo-themed clothes, which she can wear ‘cause she is such a pretty girl. Anyway, I looked up Cambria on the internet, and it seemed like a great destination for one of my freelance writer road trips. So this visit is a bit of a working vacation.”

 She watches him take a sip, then asks him about his journey to the Pines by the Sea.

He gazes up at the surrounding hills, and answers. “I used to come up here with my parents during summer vacation. We would use Cambria as our home base and take great overnight trips to the campgrounds up through Big Sur. It seemed like a place from another time, and I guess it is. I’ve come back on my own a few times to recharge and connect with the environment. Right now I’m in town on business.”

“Ha, something in common!” She smiles. “Working and enjoying this great little town. What kind of work do you do here?”

He starts to reply, then quickly stops as he sees a Q-tipped colored head peering over the steering wheel of a slowly passing car. The driver’s eyes narrow when she spies the couple. She grabs a notebook and pen and furiously scribbles something with her left hand as her right simultaneously raises a small camera and clicks off a few shots. She takes a hard turn onto Main street and disappears behind the frozen yogurt store.

“Well, that was weird,” whispers the woman.

“Not for Cambria,” he replies.

He perks up a bit and smiles. “To answer your question, I am a (stage whispers) consultant, doing some analysis for the local Services District. I’ve learned saying you’re a consultant here is like saying NIAGARA FALLS to the Three Stooges. SLOWLY I TURN, STEP BY STEP, INCH BY INCH AND I….” He notices her puzzled look and adds, “The Susquehanna Hat Company to Abbott and Costello, maybe?”

She looks at him and says, “Three Stooges? Abbott and Costello? I’m sorry, I don’t follow politics.” She waits for a beat, then whoops out a “NyukNyukNuk,” followed by a loud “Hey ABBOTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!”

Oh my god, she’s perfect for me!”

Oh my god, I’m perfect for him!”

Any reservations about continuing the evening fade away. A different type of energy takes over.

“So, where are you staying?” he asks, mentally calculating the distance to any of the local hotels.

“The Bluebird Inn, on Main Street,” she answers, checking her guest key to be sure. “It’s in a good location and more affordable than the places on Moonstone Beach.”

“Wow, what a happy coincidence! I’ve been staying there for a week now. I’m finally getting used to the sound of the streets rolling up around 9:30.”

“Speaking of things shutting down early, I could go for some food. You’re practically a local; where do you suggest?” She then corrects herself with, “Oh, I’m sorry, I should have asked if you would like to join me for a bite.”

“That sounds fantastic,” he quickly responds. “Let’s start walking. We’ll decide along the way.” She reaches out and lightly places her hand on his arm, and says, “Sounds like a plan!”

The man behind the bar is fussing with a playlist, skipping through songs until he stops on a rollicking, aggro-country Americana folk tune. Neither one of them could identify the music, so the barman explained. “It’s called “Buddies and Barbs” by a local singer-songwriter team. It tells the tale of the ongoing dialog that passes between Cambria’s tribes. It is sung and played in two different keys at the same time.

“Sounds kind of painful,” she says in a puzzled voice.

“You have no idea,” the barman replies, glancing at a faded green flyer that bore his image, and the washed-out words “vote for …” then a smudged something.

Armed with this bit of local lore, they say goodbye and head out to continue their adventure. He suddenly stops, asks her to wait by the door for a quick minute, and dashes across the street. He returns carrying a bottle of Pinot Noir. He gallantly proffers the wine. “To a great evening, and yes, he still wears shorts.”

They walk towards the East Village. The two now-cozy visitors decide to get something from Indigo Moon to enjoy back at the Inn. While they wait for their order they savor a relaxing evening cocktail. By the time they reach the Bluebird, they are familiar as old friends.

With food and wine in hand, they silently question, “Your place or mine?” She points to her room, unlocks the door, and waves him in with an exaggerated bow. He places the food and wine on the dresser. She brushes against him and reaches into the bag, forgetful of what they had ordered but not caring.

The assorted cheese plate calls out for an accomplice. Two tumblers of Pinot oblige. They each take a slow sip of the wine and begin to nibble on the cheese. A candle burns, a curtain closes, and a duvet finds itself tossed carelessly to the floor. Soon, the cheese is finished, but not the nibbling. Each looks to the other for a signal. The room heats up. Clothes start to fall away.

“Wait,” she says suddenly. “I am totally into what we are doing and definitely want to continue. But I have to be certain that we take all the right precautions. Do you have…”

He smiles confidently and reaches for his wallet, enjoying the building excitement. He opens it slowly, reaches in, and gently extracts the very thing needed at this moment. He notes the slight outline it has left on the soft leather. He places it on the nightstand, gently smooths the creases, and shows just how prepared he is with a slightly trembling hand.

She takes it from him, studies it for a moment, and quietly sighs, “Moderna. Two doses. Oh, yes!”

Things begin to accelerate when another thought creeps in. Not wanting to break the mood again, she slips her hand into her nightstand and says seductively, “I brought something special with me, just in case a night like this might happen. I… I’ve never used one of these before with another person, so I’m a bit nervous. Maybe you could help me with it?”

Now delirious with fantasy, he agrees faster than Meatloaf by the dashboard light. She brings her hand up and slowly reveals what she has in mind. She looks him deeply in the eyes, places it in his eager hand, and says, “This is for you. Swab me. Swab me good.”

“Are you sure about this?” he asks.

“What an odd question,” she answers. “This is a time when you absolutely do not want me to be positive. Now enjoy the best fifteen-minute wait you will ever have.”

“Hey Abbott indeed,” he thinks as he unwraps the rapid test kit.

In the blur of passion, neither notices the growing tendrils of smoke beginning to fill the room. The insistent beeping of a close-by alarm breaks through the fog, causing them to jump up in confusion. Confusion quickly turns to alarm. Small fingers of flame dance atop the dresser, consuming the carelessly discarded swab packaging.

She grabs a half-empty tumbler of Pinot and pours it over the spreading flame and watches, fascinated, as the remnants of the assorted cheese platter melt into a weird little fondue.

He grabs a towel from the bathroom and wets it in the sink; a painful, slow process. Water dribbles through the regulator installed on the faucet. With little time to waste, he gives up and drops the slightly damp cloth atop the smoldering mess, creating a Picasso-like bas relief of a picnic gone horribly wrong.

Under heavy pounding the door yields, and the room fills with first responders, led by a small but forceful Fire Captain. Her ice-blue eyes take in the scene, and she quickly gives an order to her crew. “FOAM IT ALL DOWN!” They do so with great enthusiasm.

Mission accomplished, the Captain offers a smart salute to the cooled-down couple and orders her team out. As they leave, a newly-minted reserve firefighter, shaken by her first encounter with live danger, receives some brotherly advice from a red-headed engineer who ends his pep talk with “…and this is why we always keep a supply of rice cakes handy.”

Wrapped in  rumpled sheets and wearing flimsy paper slippers, the couple watch the firefighters depart. They are grateful, albeit a bit embarrassed by the whole messy event. As the truck rumbles past, the captain gives him a slight smile and a wink. He remembers that he is scheduled to meet with the Fire Chief and his team the next day.

“Well, this is a story that won’t be featured in my next travelogue,” she says with a chuckle.

“Amen to that” he mutters. “I guess we should get some rest. My room is undamaged. We can sleep there.”

She nods and adds, “Plus, we are already swabbed, so…”

They join hands and disappear into the Bluebird, as a car slowly rolls by. A nearby streetlamp briefly illuminates a Q-tip colored head. With the seething sound of an outraged “consultant indeed!!!” and the click of one final picture, all becomes silent in Beautiful Cambria.

A Reunion of Saints


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Three hundred Saints, and One Guy With a Grudge

According to historical records recently uncovered during a secular Google search, there are three hundred and thirty-one calendared Catholic Saints. A number of them are relatively famous both inside and outside the Church. Many more fall into the “vaguely aware of” category, with the rest serving as good answers in a spirited game of Holy Jeopardy. For comparison, other institutions that elevate the best of the best include Major League Baseball, whose Hall of Fame has three hundred and thirty-three memorialized, and Rock and Roll, with three hundred and fifty-one honorees enshrined in Cleveland. Statistically speaking, The Church has the lowest inductee-per-year number of the three organizations, illustrating the high bar for canonization. Given the gift of perpetual life, many of the Saints choose to live a quiet, anonymous existence here, among us mortals.

What is not well known to the souls that roam 6,000-year-old planet earth, or the billions who populate regular Earth, is that before 1969 there were many more official Saints. In a frenzy of calendar clearing, Pope Paul VI and his team deemed over 90 of them no longer worthy of the title. While still considered exceptional, they lost that extra “something” that elevates the pretty good to a top-shelf icon.

Even though these former All-Stars are still included in the fables and lore that blanket the faith, their halos shine a bit less.

Perhaps the most famous and saddest example of this descent is Christopher, of the wildly popular medal and statuette dynasty. How is he coping with his change of fortune?

Catholic Saints Reunion

Saturday, November the First

Garden of Eden Room

At The Ethereal

Pearly Gates Resort and Spa

All Millenia, All Welcome!

Inside an elegant banquet hall, over three hundred saints and near-saints gather to reconnect with old friends and fellow legends to reminisce about their journeys through the centuries. Men, women, and an occasional child float from table to table. Momentary looks of confusion turn to smiles when familiar faces become recognized. Every known language fills the space, yet no one struggles to understand or be understood. 

Over in a corner, away from the center of the hall, sits a solitary figure. He nurses a mead and casts baleful glances at the revelers. With his left hand, he absently flips a small silvery object – a medal that bears his likeness surrounded by the simple words “Protect Us.” As the party rolls on, the lonely man’s grip tightens, and he begins to spin the talisman atop the table as if it were a baptized dreidel.  

A woman’s voice interrupts his silent stew. Traces of a German accent reveal her as an old friend from a different time when he was one of the most celebrated icons.

“CHRISTOPHER??? CHRISTOPHER!!! It IS you!!!!!!! Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe you came! “

“Hello, Ursula,” Christopher replies softly, “I guess I could say the same about you.” 

Ursula doesn’t miss a beat. She rushes past the subtle jab within Christopher’s response and follows up her greeting with, “So, how have you been, I mean, since the terrible day in 1969 when we were….” 

“Demoted? Disgraced? Disrespected? Knocked down a cloud or two?” Christopher snaps, his voice tightens, and his focus turns from his visitor back to the happy group filling the hall. 

Ursula senses his pain. “Oh, dear Christopher, I feel your heartache clear across this table. I can only imagine how hard it has been for you these past decades. Yes, I suffered the same dismaying demotion, but I was not at your level of celebrity amongst the faithful. I may have been a big deal back in Cologne, and yes, there is still a High School in the Bronx that carries my name. But you, dear Christopher, had it all. The medal. The figurines on every Catholic family’s dashboard. Ford, Chevy, even the Ramblers. You were the real deal. And the paintings! You in your handsome robes, with your staff, carrying the weight of all the world on your shoulder. I am getting chills just picturing it!”

“Well yeah, I have to say that was an awesome picture,” he grudgingly agrees. “I was in great shape back then, before all…this.” He picks up his commemorative reunion mug and takes a long drink before continuing. “So here we are, you and me. Have you seen anyone else from our unfortunate class of ’69? How about George the Dragon Killer? I bet he took it like a true stoic. You’d think slaying a dragon would be enough to keep you in the top tier, but nope. Have you heard from him lately?” 

“No, not directly,” Ursula answered. “I read he was doing something with Brexit; I might be wrong about that. But you know who came out just fine from that whole “dropped from the Ecumenical Calendar” episode? Nicholas, that’s who. What does he care? He has the whole month of December, what with that Santa Claus enterprise. Not exactly in keeping with the birth of the savior thing. But hey, it moves the merch and fills the kettles, so whatever. Do you think he’ll show up tonight?” she asked absently. 

“I doubt it,” sneers Thomas, who has silently sidled up to the table during the exchange. “I don’t believe he’s all that and a bag of candy canes. If I see him, I will poke him in the belly and say, “Show me some proof, you big bowl of jelly!” 

“Thomas,” Christopher sighs, “I see not much has changed. You are proof of the adage of stick with what got you here.” 

“Why change?” Thomas sniffs. “I’m doing just fine. After all, I am one of the original twelve.”

It was clear why some lesser saints call him Thomas the Weisenheimer behind his back. 

Christopher starts to take the bait but quickly adjusts his upraised finger into the sign of the Trinity. “I might not be a superstar anymore,” the former medalist thinks, “but I still have my dignity.” 

Sensing the growing tension, Ursula chirps, “Hey guys, why don’t we take a stroll over by the bar? It looks like Saint Mark is powering up his blender, and the band sounds like they are tuning up for their first set. At least, I HOPE they’re tuning up, or this night could feel like an eternity.”

“Oh joy. I hope it’s a decent band,” Thomas the Snide opines. “Last time they had that Gabriel fellow and his ratty-ass trumpet. I was praying for the walls to come down, anything to get him to stop.”

The band kicks off the evening’s musical celebration with a gospel-tinged rendition of “Hey Jude,” drawing appreciative smiles and a bashful wave from a luminary seated at table six.

“Hey, these guys are not bad. What’s their name?” Christopher asks. 

 “I can’t believe you don’t recognize them,” Thomas gushes excitedly. “It’s my old running buddies Peter and The Paracletes. Their music is light, but man, the lyrics – deep!” You might remember the original group, Apostle’s Creed. I played bass with them for a while before heading off to India for a more evolved musical experience.” 

“Always with the boasting, that Thomas.” Ursula thought.

As the evening wears on, Thomas, buzzed from the mystery potion served up by Mark, is getting a bit loud. “Look at Francis, still with that haircut. Big shot – I knew him when all he had were two small lambs and a gimpy hen.” Loudly – “HEY ASSISI – how’s that chicken doing?”

To his eternal credit, Francis does not strike back at Thomas’s taunts but instead flips him one of the souvenir birds he keeps under his robe.

Christopher, clearly irritated, whispers, “Thomas, you’re being a putz. What do you have against Francis?”

Thomas spins around, furiously rubbing his palms with his fingers. “What do I have against Francis? WHAT DO I HAVE AGAINST FRANCIS, you ask? How about his alleged “stigmata” thing. I mean, come on; I didn’t buy it the first time around, and I sure as heck am not buying it now!!!”

Christopher and Ursula share the same silent thought, “This guy needs therapy, or at least 40 days on a mountain top somewhere to examine his choices. How is he still a Saint?”

The timely announcement of the 50-50 raffle breaks some of the tension and gives Christopher and Ursula the chance to slip away from Thomas, who is pestering the band to let him sit in on a tune. They make their way to a quiet alcove near an open set of French doors, grateful for the evening breeze and the drop in volume from the festivities within.

“So,” Christopher asks, “was that Theresa running the raffle? She was always good at things like that. I only got to know her a little bit before…” his voice trails off.

“Indeed, she is something!” Ursula responds, adding an extra touch of enthusiasm to her words, hoping to keep Christopher from falling back into a dark place. “So much energy, so much spirit. I really admire her.”

“Like you used to admire me, Ursula? With the robe, the staff, the statuettes?” Christopher’s words, surprisingly, carry no anger or bitterness. Just resignation.

Ursula, wisely, does not respond, fearing she might sound condescending or flip. Or worse, patronizing. There are enough Patronizing Saints already. Instead, she stretches her shoulders and says, “I’m a bit parched. How about we grab something to slake our thirst?”

“Ha! Slake! I haven’t heard that word used in decades. Sure, let’s go slake.” Christopher lightly takes her hand and guides them towards the small service bar next to a pair of marble columns. He is not unaware of Ursula’s efforts to keep him upbeat and is grateful for her sensitivity and kindness.

What can I get you two?” the barman asked the couple.

Ursula pauses and then says, “I think I’ll have some water. Christopher?”

“Sure, sounds good. Two Lourdes, good sir. No ice for me.” He retrieves the stylish glass bottles with the light blue and white lettering framing a beautifully etched rendition of a small grotto and a trickling stream.

The two old friends relax and enjoy their waters, feeling a strange wash of peace and health with each sip. No words needed, just the company of a kindred spirit. These two faded icons, scarred by the same sad turn of events, find their spirits lifting in harmony.

After a while, drinks finished, Ursula says, “That water was exceptional. Now I need to visit the ladies’ room.” Christopher concurs, knowing he too needs a pit stop.

“Meet you back here in a few,” Ursula lightly sings. With a small wave, she turns right just past the marble columns and disappears. Christopher follows, turning left toward the gents.

As he stands relieving himself, he begins to think about the evening. Seeing Ursula after all these years kindled a bit of a spark, a fundamental spiritual and physical connection. He smiles, allowing himself to think ahead, seeing all sorts of possible endings to the evening. Christopher, who has been sad for so long, senses the beginnings of hope. He finishes his business and strides towards the row of sinks, eager to wash his hands and meet back up with Ursula.

Everything stops. Christopher grabs the towel dispenser to steady himself. His eyes lock on the face of the man who just walked into the room. The joy of the evening has opened small cracks in his armor, leaving him vulnerable to the cruel crush of despair.

No! Not him. Not here, not now. The cause of his misery, his humiliation, his downfall. Him.

Staring back, with a dawning recognition of the individual clutching the towel dispenser, stands Saint Pope Paul VI. The Great Decider. The Holy Presider over the worst day of Christopher’s life.

They face each other, separated by a few terrazzo tiles. One, now a Saint. The other one, no longer.

Saint Pope Paul VI speaks first – softly, matter-of-factly. “I had to do it. It was nothing personal, just a decision made on the facts.” His soft Italian accent makes his words sound both threatening and romantic at the same time. “Your case, well, it was one of the hardest to decide. The statues, the medals, and that robe painting all weighed heavily in your favor. Sadly, though, we – I –could not find enough hard evidence to back your tale of forging a raging river carrying The Child. It had to be done.”

He bows his head, makes the sign of the cross, chants something in Latin, and breathes deeply, ready to deflect the angry words he is sure will come.

But Christopher has no answer. He is struck silent by a feeling of freedom, a spiritual transfiguration of sorts. A miracle? Perhaps it was the Lourdes, perhaps not.

All the hurt, the rage, and shame evaporate. The darkness has gone, replaced with a lightness he’s not felt since before his rise and fall.

Christopher slowly smiles, then begins to laugh softly. His laughter grows louder, his smile wider. Thomas and Francis come through the door, somehow friends, after a rough start to the evening. They take in the scene before them, notice the smile, and hear the laughter. Thomas, true to form, waves dismissively and says to Francis, “Let’s find another bathroom. Who needs all this drama!”

Christopher walks past his former nemesis and offers a lilting “Bless your heart” as he lightly touches Saint Pope Paul VI’s sleeve.

A small crowd gathers in the vestibule, drawn by what will forever be known as the Draining By The Sink. Christopher barely notices them. He only has eyes for one face in the crowd.

Ursula comes to his side, leans in, and softly asks, “You good?”

“I am,” Christopher answers, filled with more happiness than he’s ever felt before. “I am.”

“Good,” Ursula sighs. “How about we head out and see where the night might take us. After a slight pause, she impishly asks, “Do you still have that robe?”

“Hmmm,” Christopher murmurs slyly. “What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, I have an idea or two. After all, it’s not like we’re Saints.”


In her dream, she was falling.

Crazy tumbling images spun by. Her logical scientific mind frantically grabbed but failed to hold onto the connective tissue that floated just out of consciousness. Her intuitive, primal spirit found a thread and pulled, gently braking the whirling carousel. The random images, sounds, and emotions connected; not in any logical order or sequence, but started to make sense.

In this dreamy vignette, young girls filled the small gym at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine grammar school. A whirl of motion, navy jumpers over absurd blue bloomers, six to a side, as the rules of the day dictated. Basketball, boys or girls, ruled the neighborhood. From grade one through high school, the thud thud thud of ball against the ground was as much a part of the atmosphere as car horns, cooing pigeons, and soft Irish accents of mothers and grandfathers.

The tone of the rhythmic thump changed from leather on wood to the metallic ping of ball meeting concrete. Gone was the swish of the net, replaced by the clang and rattle of the garbage can used for target practice outside the oval that centered Devoe Park. The oval was the neighborhood coliseum for serious players, usually male. Plenty of local girls could compete against the best boys, and handily beat the average ones. But in her dream, she was not one of those girls.

She was still falling. Her vision melted into a kaleidoscope of maroon and white. Words and letters appeared above and beside her, then turned upside down as she descended. Familiar words. She carried them for four years and earned an F, the prized varsity letter that represented Fordham. Fordham University, the place where she found her niche among the best cheerleaders. The place where she achieved academic excellence. The place where once again the arrogance of men tried to keep her from playing on their court. Forgive me, Father, but I will not be known as Young Miss, but as Doctor.

The picture changed again. A boisterous crowd filled row after ascending row in the most famous of all arenas: Madison Square Garden, home of countless basketball confrontations, rock concerts, and the occasional mass wedding. A young college man, playing his heart out for his school, grew older with each dribble, his face and figure becoming the comforting man she woke up to that very morning. Alongside him ran two boys, who, like the man they resembled, grew into young teens, then mature young men. They were as clear and familiar as her own heart, the heart that pounded as she presented them to the world.

There was no rat-infested apartment building in this dream, no terrifying first lab class with dissected rodents under her shaking hand, no arrogant Jesuit blocking her access to a life in medicine.

There were only twenty-five thousand cheering fans, falling with her, helping feather the landing, and sharing the fear and joy of a tumultuous ride.

She slowly woke, the places of the past replaced by the contours of her office. Her eyes briefly rested on the wall of framed accomplishments. The sounds of distant cheering remained faintly in her ears, as grateful neighbors saluted the arriving colleagues that fight to keep other people’s dreams alive.

Her hand rose to her white coat, feeling for the Blue and Gold SNT, or the Maroon and White Letters she gained at Fordham. Instead, her fingers found the symbol of her calling. She gave a reverent squeeze to the simple tag that bore her name and the most honorable letters, M.D.

Fast Hands, Quiet Feet

The intersection of citizen advocacy and elected community leadership is more fluid than a hard, clean line. There are rules and processes designed to facilitate that dynamic, but it isn’t easy to maintain consistent compliance in practice.

Whether elected or volunteer, public service comes with the responsibility to sometimes loosen one’s grip on an absolute position and accept a reasonable compromise. It also requires occasional conformity to uncomfortable or alien practices to how one operates as an individual, a family, or a boss.

Many of the people who step forward to serve the Cambria community are eager to “crush the ball” and drive positive change. Some are natural leaders, with the right combination of skills and experience needed for a particular role. Others are situational leaders, either by subject matter expertise, intense personal connection to an issue, or passion for a cause. Many, if not most, are good collaborators who find a place to contribute to the overall success of the team, and therefore the community. There are a few who struggle to recognize when they are holding on too tightly to a single style, not putting the greater good above personal philosophy.

Little League Baseball

When my son was much younger, I helped support his Little League team. I was not an official coach, just a father who knew a fair amount about the game of baseball, had a flexible schedule, and enjoyed watching the kids learn all the essential things that come along with organized sports. The official coach, Steve Galluccio, kept a group of rambunctious young boys on a good path while allowing enough freedom to keep it fun. He also had the remarkable ability to handle the difficult kids who would sulk or act out when they weren’t chosen to start or play the position they wanted.

My skill was in observing the players as hitters.

You can observe a lot by just watching. Yogi Berra

Two of the kids had great raw tools but made repetitive mistakes that limited their success. One boy was an obvious athlete – tall for his age, great disposition, and a joy for playing that made it look easy. His approach reminded me of the great Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy. The Little League version held his arms high, with shoulders level with his chin. His eagerness to hit the ball as hard as possible led him to violate the prime rule of hitting – keep your eye on the ball. When he started his swing, he would raise his front shoulder, which blocked his view of the incoming pitch. On those occasions where he connected, the baseball rocketed over the head of the outfielder. More often, though, he would miss the pitch badly. We worked on this problem throughout the season, and his success rate improved with each game.

‘The second player had a different batting style, though his desire to crush the ball also led to some bad habits. To generate more power, he would pull his arms way back as the pitcher released the ball, knocking him off balance and elongating the time it took to get the bat into the hitting zone. We worked on his starting point, moving his arms away from his body and keeping his hands farther back, in a ready position. We also worked on getting his feet spaced and balanced. The time he gained gave him split seconds to adjust to the location of the pitch. The phrase we used as a reminder was “fast hands, quiet feet.”

Put Me In, Coach

Like people everywhere, we sometimes refuse to listen and adjust our stance, relying on self-confidence that might be a bit misplaced. Not everyone can be right all the time. We all need coaching, and we all need to constantly evaluate our approach and make adjustments to meet the day’s challenge.

One of the many reasons I see baseball as an analogy for life is the century-plus history of those who enjoyed long and successful careers by making adjustments. Many pitchers, gifted with a blistering fastball that made them unhittable, found themselves getting touched up as they lost a bit of zip. Twenty-year major league pitcher Frank Tanana adapted by adding new pitches, changing speeds, studying hitters more closely, and knowing when to turn the ball over to a teammate. Derek Jeter could hit home runs but took a situational approach to hitting, amassing statistics that underscore his intelligence, team focus, and the judgment to adjust to the game situation. Will he apply the same philosophy to his new career as an MLB team owner? We will see!

Self-realization is powerful. So is listening to coaches who see things from a different perspective. As my good friend and mentor Rick Jablonski says, “give me the athlete, and I’ll teach him the game.” Great advice, especially with those who have the willingness for continuous learning and growth.

Like baseball, there is always a crowd watching every move, every choice, and every decision in public service. The beauty of it all is there are way more fans rooting for success than detractors hoping for failure. So, grab a glove or a gavel, suit up and enjoy the game.