Fourteen things I wrote in 2015
When I started 2015, my family and I lived in a 50-year-old house in a big leafy neighborhood in Charlotte. I was a utility infielder at WCNC-TV. I’d worked there for ten years, and had done practically every job in the newsroom outside of anchor. When a new company came in and bought the station, a lot of my co-workers started to leave. Some people had a choice. Some didn’t. I figured it was about time for me to find something new.
Now, at the end of 2015, I’m a senior writer and editor at Our State magazine, and my family and I live in a newish house in a newish neighborhood in the hills outside of Greensboro. It’s been a good year, but one full of change. A new city. A new job. A wife that’s put up with long hours of writing and thousands of miles of reporting trips. A toddler that’s learning and saying more every day. A dog who now barks at groundhogs instead of mailmen.
I’ve written a lot of words in 2015 — a novel’s worth, by my estimation (28,000 of them in one big project). But these stories were the ones that stood out for me in a hectic year:
Charlotte Magazine — January 2015
The mere fact that 485 exists made Ballantyne and other fringe development possible, which means all sorts of people built houses out there, which means they all need this road to get to work, which means traffic constantly sucks. Interstate 485 is the Anakin Skywalker of highways: It seemed good and full of potential at first before going down the path to the Dark Side. You could take the noble Jedi route and carpool or take an express bus, but most people take the predictably easy way out and hop in their cars by themselves. And then they get to the on-ramp, hoping against hope that the force fields will be down so they can easily penetrate the defenses of Charlotte’s Outerbelt Death Star. Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive.
Always Wash Your Hands
NBC Charlotte — February 2015
“The invisible hand of the free market isn’t automatically a clean one.”
NBC Charlotte — February 2015
SB Nation — March 2015
Back on the road after breakfast, Junior sees some flashing blue lights up ahead. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have some people pulled over and they’re blocking the right lane, which he’s in. The traffic picks up, and nobody will let Junior Johnson over. Finally, Johnson veers his Mercedes swiftly into as much of the left lane as he can get, finding a narrow gap in between the police cruiser and the car in front and the one in back to get around. He does not use a turn signal. A half-mile up the road, he needs to turn left, and a car is running alongside him at the same speed, two-wide on Park Road. He puts the pedal down and the Mercedes purrs and roars past the poor guy, the latest in a long line of people to get passed by Junior Johnson. The guy honks as the Mercedes pulls in front of him.
Junior, who became suddenly quiet as he weaved in and out of traffic, finally speaks. “Lucky I didn’t wreck you, buddy,” he says, laughing quietly.
Charlotte magazine — April 2015
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post for this magazine’s website entitled “Yo Mama’s So Ugly, She’s Greensboro.”
Well, joke’s on me. I’m moving there.
Our State magazine — August 2015
At 7:50 a.m., the starter calls Tiger’s name. He hits last. The air is cool, but already humid. The sky is gray. Tiger Woods takes two practice swings. This moment, a Thursday at 10 a.m., is the best time to be a Tiger fan, because he has not done anything yet. He is merely the Tiger of Potential. The Tiger who could still win. Lately, he has not been the Tiger who actually wins. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship last week. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He missed the cut at the British Open. At this point, he would have to win the Wyndham to qualify for the FedExCup playoffs that start next weekend. Hence, Tiger Woods is in Greensboro at a tournament he has skipped every year since he turned pro in 1996. It’s nothing personal. Plenty of golfers take this week off, since it falls right after golf’s last major of the year. If you’re here, there’s a good chance you need to win. Tiger needs to win.
His first shot hits a cart path and a tree and lands in the rough on the left-hand side.
Sports on Earth — August 2015
I first heard the legend when I was a student at Ohio University in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, Bobcat athletics were lukewarm at best. The basketball team was only good enough to win a game or two at the MAC Tournament. The football team had one first-team All-American during that time: Dave Zastudil. The punter.
That’s probably why I got sucked into a story about a home run hit by Mike Schmidt — pre-Hall of Fame, pre-Phillie, pre-mustache Mike Schmidt. It was a scrap of information from a mostly un-Googleable era: a herculean feat of strength from the greatest Ohio University athlete of all time. Over time, the scrap became legend, and the feat became folklore, even though it didn’t seem to be backed by any actual evidence. It persisted because it couldn’t easily be proven wrong. When Schmidt told me it didn’t happen, I believed him. At first.
Our State magazine — September 2015
People talk among themselves, but within earshot, and the interpreter, a tall brunette named Jennifer Johnson, will point or flick her eyes in their direction, and then start converting their words into sign language. Sometimes, Jane will want to listen to something specific, and she’ll point to the people she wants to hear. If the room is too loud to pick out words, Jennifer will hold her hands about a foot apart in front of her chest — palms open and facing each other — and shake them. It means, simply, “chitchat.”
This can be awkward. A private conversation in a public place can be eavesdropped upon, sure, but usually there’s no overt signal that anyone is listening in. Sometimes people don’t notice Jennifer. Sometimes they do. Jane doesn’t apologize. “Hearing just happens to you,” she’ll tell a hearing person. “It’s not a decision.” For her, it is.
Jane is the president of Guilford College.
She is deaf.
Our State magazine — October 2015
“Good luck, Godspeed, and wear stretchy pants.”
Our State magazine — November 2015
It takes planning to eat at Chef & the Farmer now. Reservations book up weeks in advance. As the sisters finish dessert, empty tables fill up again. Plates of Cornish game hens, tomato pies, pork belly skewers, and wood-roasted halibut fly out of the kitchen. Waiters hustle. Before the TV show, people would walk in, and you could see a certain look on their faces. One that said, I drove a long way to be here. This had better be as good as everyone says it is. Now, expectations are even higher. It has to be good, because they put it on television, right? Chef & the Farmer is more than a restaurant now. It’s a voyage. People don’t wander in and discover the menu anymore. Most of them already know the whole backstory. They want to see if real life matches up with what they watch on TV
CBSsports.com — November 2015
Everything was for sale. Sections of wooden seats. Browns and Indians signs and flags. Ticket boxes. Urinals.
An amusement park bought 32 turnstiles for $350 apiece. A hot dog vendor bid on his old aluminum case. Gary Bauer, who owned The Basement nightclub in The Flats, plunked down $2,000 for Bernie Kosar’s locker. He also bought the toilet. It came from the Modell’s owner’s box. It was brown.
Bauer told a newspaper reporter that he planned to hang it from the ceiling of his club. The $2,700 price tag was worth it, he said, because this was no ordinary toilet. “I wanted to see where Art Modell made all his bad business decisions,” he said.
Our State magazine — December 2015
There were already 31 Appalachian State Mountaineer fans on board when the bus pulled into a Lowe’s Home Improvement parking lot in Belmont to pick up 23 more. Once everyone was in their seats, a guy up front led a prayer. “God is an App State fan,” he said. “You can tell because the sky’s going to be black.”
The party had started about an hour before, when a few seats from the back, a man took a smartphone picture, lovingly, of a can of Bud Select. Then he cracked it open. At 6:41 a.m.
Medium — December 2015
How do you do, fellow kids? Have you heard of the dab? Well, a few weeks ago, Carolina Panthers quarterback and gleeful Kryptonian Cam Newton did the dab after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans, but apparently he lingered in the end zone just a bit too long. Some people took offense to that, mainly the kind of people wh0 constantly ask “Has this gone too far?” Those people tend to exist only on screens and comment sections and not in real life, but it’s fun to imagine what they’d be like to meet. Think of them in the cereal aisle at Harris Teeter, picking up a box of Dulce de Leche Cheerios, loudly exclaiming: HAS GENERAL MILLS GONE TOO FAR? They’d turn to people trying to squeeze by with their carts, and go on to extol the virtues of, you know, good ole Honey Nut.
CBSsports.com — December 2015
A few months after Jim Tressel was named president of Youngstown State University, he and a close friend, Paul McFadden, went on a fundraising trip. McFadden is the president of the Youngstown State University Foundation, an independent non-profit that raises money for scholarships, construction projects and academic programs. He had been working on one potential donor for years. This donor, an elderly man in Florida, had been reluctant, and McFadden had only been able to have short conversations with him on the phone. One day last year, McFadden called the donor. I’m flying down from Ohio, he said. I’m going to have our new president with me.
The donor perked up. “I want to meet Jim Tressel,” he told McFadden. After that meeting, the man put a $2 million donation to the foundation in his will.