Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .

One Way Or Another

1. I posted a few weeks back about my annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pool, which I usually lose in embarrassing fashion, in large part because I over-think things, and make insider-knowledge, micro-aggressive picks that have little to no basis in the macro reality of the sport and its players. This year, though, I actually won my little group’s bracket pool (!), solely because I was the only person to pick Kansas to win the national championship. For perspective, in most standard pick ’em pools, the maximum number of points possible is 224 (32 points per round, over seven rounds). I won my group with but 95 points (42% of the possible best), probably demonstrating less my adeptness at picking outcomes than the general weirdness of this year’s tournament. Had North Carolina held on to defeat Kansas in the championship game, my sister would have won our group. I duly chastised her for picking the detested North Carolina Shitheels, since we’re from a long and devoted North Carolina State Wolfpack family (our grandfather, our father, and her husband were/are alumni there). Snarking ensued. It would have looked like this, had we been together to do it in person:

2. I also recently posted my picks for this year’s Academy Awards, as I also do on a (nearly) annual basis. I didn’t expect CODA to win Best Picture, but I was happy that it did. It is a glorious, wonderful film. There might have been tears involved when I watched it. But I am sure it was just allergies, ahem. I was also happy to see Jane Campion finally win an Oscar for directing The Power of the Dog. She’s great. Even before the now-infamous awards show slap, I was actively opposed to seeing Will Smith win the Best Actor award for King Richard, just as I was actively opposed to his nomination for playing one my deepest personal heroes in Ali. I don’t dislike Will Smith, particularly, but I also can’t get myself interested in the biographical roles that he plays. I was also “meh” on Jessica Chastain winning Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, though I expected it. The role seemed more like a triumph of hair styling and make-up design than it did a triumph of acting. That said, I do recognize that I’m probably among a relatively small number of diligent contemporary film buffs who was also regularly exposed to the real Bakkers and PTL Club, having been raised in a deeply devout, television-watching family. Film elite voters are always impressed when film elite actors play mildly-laughable country cracker types, but as a one-time mildly-laughable country cracker myself, I tend to find that urban sophisticate “Oh, these rural folks are so quaint and charming and funny and simple and wise, despite themselves” vibe to be often condescending and offensive. Oh well. At least they didn’t give Lady Gaga an acting Oscar. That really would have rubbed me the wrong way, had they done that.

3. Still on the Oscars, I was utterly appalled by the nominees and the winners of the Best Song and Best Score Awards, given that the masterfully musical Annette by Sparks and Leos Carax was completely ignored on the award-giving front. There’s no question in my mind that the finest song to appear in a film in 2021 was “So May We Start,” from Annette, which actually featured in the film, meaningfully, and also featured cast members singing, unlike most of the utterly dreadful nominated songs, which were mainly just shitty fluff tacked on to soundtrack the credits, opening or closing. (The nominated Van Morrison song from Belfast was an exception to that rule, but I loathe Van Morrison with a passion, so that point was somewhat moot in my own mind). Annette‘s score was also sublime, as opposed to the bloat-by-numbers bullshit that the tiresome Hans Zimmer loaded up upon the already intolerable and soul-lacking Dune, which won the Oscar. Bleh.

4. I generally feel just as foul when it comes to the Grammy Awards, where one would think that the voters would actually know and understand music, since that’s what the awards are for, for God’s sake, unlike the Oscars, where the music is a minor side-light. But their choices, too, are often inexplicably awful, in years where there is inexplicably great, even popular, music being completely ignored. That said, I was mildly surprised and pleased that Silk Sonic won the Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy awards last week for “Leave the Door Open,” from the group’s debut album, which featured on my Best Albums of 2021 list. It’s a funny and sweet piece of post-Philly Soul, organic and “real” in ways that so many popular recent examples of assembly-line pop-by-numbers can never begin to replicate. If you don’t know it, it’s worth a quick spin, as is the rest of the album that spawned it:

5. The 1950 American Census data was released on April 1 this year for free search and discovery. You can dig into it here. I found both of my parents (then children) in the data, among other family members. Here’s my Dad’s family (the only Smiths on the page), and here’s my Mom (her surname was Waters). Nothing show-stopping in either of those reports, but still interesting to see what their respective neighborhoods looked like at the time, and how my grandparents described their work and educational experiences.

Been Away Too Long

1. My three weeks as a juror at the Yavapai County Superior Court came to an end last week. We, the jury, found the defendant guilty of Second Degree Murder and 20+ related charges of property theft, forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft. Here’s one of the many news articles I saw about the case once our deliberations concluded. I’d be lying if I said that the process was not onerous (especially given my 60+ mile drive one way to the Court House), but I will admit that it provided an interesting deep dig into a variety of subcultures resident here in Arizona. It also felt right and good to do my own small part as a contributing citizen in our State and Nation at a time when personal and institutional selfishness and anti-government sentiments and actions are running rampant, to our collective detriment. I’ve got a two-year “get out of jury duty free” pass now, and I certainly won’t be clamoring for my next jury stint when that time runs out. But if called, I will serve. Because that’s how I roll.

2. As soon as my jury service was done, Marcia and I headed over to Las Vegas to visit our daughter Katelin and son-in-law John in the new house they bought in January. It was a wonderful visit, including the celebration of Marcia and Katelin’s shared birthday on Tuesday. The house was spectacular, and the work that Katelin and John have done on it over their couple of months of ownership made it even more so. We brought some small decorative items with us in various storage baskets, which we left behind should Katelin and John need them. But then we soon realized that Katelin’s and John’s needs did not matter with regard to the baskets, because the proper owner of the baskets (Lily the Cat) had staked her claim, and would not yield same:

3. This was the first visit we’ve made since Katelin and John moved to Las Vegas where most of the stereotypical entertainment options of the Las Vegas Strip were open and available and (nominally) safe, due to the various COVID restrictions that have been (rightly, correctly) in place there for most of the past two years. So we took advantage of both the outdoor options (which we’ve always done when visiting) and the indoor options (which we’ve not experienced in quite some time) while we were there. Highlights included:

Simply walking the Strip and gawking at the usual nonsense there:

Eating at a variety of great restaurants, most especially our second visit to Sparrow + Wolf, where we had also done Katelin and John’s wedding dinner last year. I cannot speak highly enough about the quality of the dining experience there. Should you visit Las Vegas, it is well worth your while to leave the Strip to dine there. I recommend that you ask your server to curate a meal for your table, as we’ve done both times we were there. Plentiful food, arriving at a proper cadence, interesting varieties and tastes and flavors and aromas, all of the highest quality. It’s world class, at bottom line. We also had lunch on the Strip one day, at The Venetian, one of me and Marcia’s favorite Las Vegas casino areas to ramble and roam:

We then played the KISS Miniature Golf Course at the Rio Casino. It was big, dumb fun, just like the band:

For outdoors fun, we did an exceptional hike at Lovell Canyon, just to the west of Las Vegas in the Spring Mountains. Obviously the tacky Strip elements of Las Vegas are what draw the greatest percentage of tourism traffic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note just how amazing many of the natural regions around Sin City are, if you’re willing to strap on your boots and do a bit of mudding and scrambling and climbing and rambling:

And finally, we went to see the West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Championship game, pitting National #1 Gonzaga against National #19 St. Mary’s. The Zags won by 13 points, but for most of the game, before a final scoring explosion, it was much closer than that, and a good example of college hoops played at the highest level. Of course, because we can’t have nice things, we ended up with an absolute idiot sitting and screaming (and drinking and drinking) behind us on behalf of her Gonzaga team, when she wasn’t coughing up various organs due to the smoker’s hack that made her voice even more finger-nails-on-blackboard than it would have been otherwise. The meanness of her spew was really dismaying, especially when directed toward a group of college-aged kids (big kids, yeah, some of them soon to be rich, big kids, but still). I totally get the student bodies at college basketball games engaging in various ritual chants and activities, but I’m always somewhat surprised and mostly appalled when adults, in this case even older than me, feel compelled to yell in a nasty fashion at kids at sporting events in ways that would get them locked up or punched if they did it on the street. She was an awful human being, at bottom line, and she marred what would have been quite a nice evening otherwise. That annoyance aside, we did have good seats, and we got a great view of a great game, even if we all ended up rooting for (losing) St. Mary’s just to spite the human garbage sitting behind us:

4. After the game, we walked over to the adjacent casino (everything in Las Vegas has an adjacent casino) and put bets down on the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Last summer, we had placed pre-season bets on Houston and Michigan State to win the Men’s Basketball Championship. We added new bets for Gonzaga and Southern California. I also turned $35 into $240 on a poker machine. Not a bad night, compared to most of my other casino experiences.

5. A few posts back, I enthused about a new EP from the brilliant Buggy Jive, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and musical artists. Buggy also makes incredibly brilliant videos, and I’m pleased to report that he’s recently added a new one to his catalog with this tune from I Don’t Understand How the World Works:

The Beginning of a Grand Adventure

Marcia and I are headed up to Flagstaff this afternoon for an orientation meeting in advance of a four-day hike/camp trip down into the Grand Canyon, starting early tomorrow morning. It should be a fantastic, though challenging, experience, made a bit more interesting than it might otherwise be by the weather forecast:

We’ve done cold-weather camping in the past, but it was a long time ago, so hopefully our bodies and bones are up for it still. On the flip-side, at least we don’t have to worry about keeping an infant warm, as we did when we lived in Idaho in the early ’90s and camped at high elevations fairly often, in frigid temperatures, with a little one tucked in between us in our frost-coated tent.

There’s not much of a global connectivity signal expected down in the Canyon, so we’ll likely be completely offline until Thursday night. Which is a good thing, every now and again. No complaints about that. I’ll do the usual obligatory photo post at some point after we get home, and I’m sure nobody is going to lose any sleep about us not live-streaming the experience as it happens. Being in the moment, yo. That’s where it’s at.

So until we’re back late next week . . . keep on keeping on, all. And wish us luck on the trek!

I’ve got an idea: Let’s go DOWN into this thing!

Bike Off, Iowa

My 2020 cycling season got off to a bum start when my beloved Felt Z100 bike was stolen from our apartment’s garage, where it had been locked and chained, but not beyond the capabilities of a good bolt cutter, apparently. USAA took good care of me, as they do, and I was able to acquire a new bike, Trusty Steed Mach V. He’s a Masi. Here’s what he looked like at his very first rest stop in April, 27 miles into our first ride together:

Yesterday, I did a 78 mile ride (my longest of the season), and on the day’s final pit stop, Trusty Steed looked like this:

My cycling computer tells me that I spent 75 hours and 18 minutes in the saddle over the course of 2020 to date, covering 1,018 miles. Not my heaviest mileage experience over a summer season, but not bad, all things considered, and under the weird circumstances in which we find ourselves in 2020. Normally I’d get a lot of road time in while Marcia was golfing or at yoga or otherwise engaged, but those seasons never reached a point where they felt COVID-safe for her, so we spent much more time walking together as a healthy, companionable approach instead. We’ve walked about 2,150 miles in 2020 thus far, and will probably do even more of that once we get to Arizona. No complaints there. It’s become a great part of our daily rituals.

Those cycling numbers, though, are actually going to hold up and go on the record books for the year as a whole, as I’ll be packing up Trusty Steed into his shipping box this week for storage while we house-hunt in Arizona. I doubt that I will have the bike back before the end of December, meaning that I’ve ridden my last ride of the year, and my last ride in Iowa, nearly nine years after my first one. I note that 405 of my 2020 riding miles (84 more than my original six-ride goal) were done as part of my Tour des Trees Rollin’ in Place fundraiser, which raised $2,365 for TREE Fund, my former employer. I reached my personal goal, but TREE Fund is still about $22,000 under its aggregate organizational goal for all of its volunteer fundraisers. The campaign runs through November 15, so you can still help out TREE Fund with a tax-deductible donation, even if my own physical contribution to the event is over. Click my final ride report summary image below if you’d like to do so:

I also have to note that I’m frankly not sorry to have ridden my last ride in Iowa. I’ve had a “pending post” for months titled “Iowa Cyclists: Can We Talk?” that I’ve never quite got around to finishing, but it seems apt to summarize the points I’d wanted to make there as I say farewell to corn field country.

At bottom line: Central Iowa has a terrible cycling culture. Not every rider is awful, mind, and off the cuff, I could cite half a dozen truly inspiring and great cyclists of my acquaintance, mostly from our time together on various Tours des Trees over the years. They are strong on their wheels, sure, but equally strong on safely embodying and living the rules of the road that should make riding a most healthy and enjoyable experience, but are so thinly understood and enacted hereabouts that I often feel safer and more comfortable riding on country roads in high speed automobile traffic than I do on the maze of regional trails with other people on their bikes.

My key beefs on this front would include:

  • The ridiculous ubiquity of bike boom-boxes. So incredibly annoying. And so unsafe, since being able to hear is a key part of riding safely and signalling to others to help them do the same. While not as obviously annoying, the number of folks cycling and walking with ear-buds in on trails is just as unsafe, as I’ve had numerous cases of calling out “coming up on your left” as I prepare to pass someone, only to have them not hear me and obliviously drift into my line.
  • Alcohol culture. Most of the trails around Des Moines have favorite cycling bars where casual cyclists can wobble outbound for 10 miles or less, get shit-faced and loud, and then really wobble back to town, putting anybody near them at risk, as they also put themselves in harm’s way. Day-time drinking is a thing here, and it doesn’t mix well with cycling, at all. But it’s standard practice for many of the people you find on two wheels hereabouts.
  • Monopolizing the trails. Yes, cycling can be a very companionable, social activity, but when a group of cyclists (often stoked up on beer and with their boomboxes blasting) feel like they need to ride three, four or five abreast so they can chit-chat more readily, the opportunities for disaster are high. And it’s incredibly irritating when a mob like that is coming your way and refusing to yield or shift, because they’re having fun and talking and you lonely person on your own clearly need to get out of their entitled way.
  • Trying to play Greg LeMond on the trails. For better or worse, all of the trails around here are mixed-use, so there are lots of walkers, strollers, dogs, geese, and God knows what else on them. Roaring along at 20+ miles per hour and expecting people and animals to quickly get out of your way is another recipe for disaster. If you want to be a serious hardcore road cyclist, get out on the roads. If you want to ride the trails, slow down, and share them respectfully.

I’ve been an active, engaged cyclist for my entire life, literally, and I was taught how to ride safely very early on, and I take that social contract seriously. So it’s an informed opinion that things in Central Iowa are inordinately, uniquely bad on the fronts mentioned above, among others. Why is this the case? I blame RAGBRAI, which is the annual rolling party that serves primarily to raise money for the State’s right-wing Gannett-owned newspaper, and to goose the Iowa tourism industry.

Seven days of riding, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. Thousands of participants every year, along a different route each time. Seemed like something I’d really want to do when I first moved here, but having witnessed a  Des Moines over-night stop in 2012, and how the riders were riding and behaving, I realized that, nuh uh, not my thing, nope. There are, of course, a lot of great, safe cyclists who participate in RAGBRAI. But there are likely many more local people who sign up for RAGBRAI as their first experience of long-distance and/or group cycling, where they learn to ride in big, wobbly, loud, drunken packs. Year after year. Which may (?) be fine during RAGBRAI itself, when “everyone is doing it,” but is most decidedly not fine for the rest of the cycling season.

And lest you just think I’m being an opinionated crank with an axe to grind here, Iowa at large and Des Moines in particular routinely place among the nation’s worst states and cities in terms of cycling safety. Here’s one of numerous articles on that front. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thankfully, I only had one significant cycling accident during my time here, caused by construction debris left in the road near our first house in Beaverdale. After I hit the pavement and was laying in the road bleeding, a guy at a patio bar on the adjacent corner shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” at me, then when I finally looked his way, he raised his beer toward me and told me it looked like I needed a drink, while his buddies laughed. Didn’t bother to ask if I was okay. Just equated cycling and drinking, because Iowa.

Good riddance on that front, though I’ll miss the friends here who ride right and respect the sport and the people who participate in it or use the trails that support it. Here’s hoping I find both a great cycling community in Arizona, and a culture that keeps us all reasonable safe and able to enjoy the sights and sounds and scenes without them being overwhelmed by some shitty Ted Nugent song cranking from the wobbly bike a quarter-mile up the road that you don’t want to get close enough to for a safe pass . . .

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (Update #2)

I rode 75.1 miles today, the fourth jaunt in my “Rollin’ in Place” Anno Virum version of the Tour des Trees. That puts me at about 84% of my mileage goal, which I should finish early next week. I had originally planned to complete the 321 miles in six rides, but I’ve been going hard enough that I will get it done in five instead. Zoom zoom!

On the fundraising side, I’m at 69% of my goal. I’m truly grateful to those who have supported me and TREE Fund already. (See this post for more information on how these funds will be used). I’d be even more grateful if other readers would consider making a gift to the good cause. If you do it this weekend, I may be able to complete the money part of my commitment around the same time that I complete the physical challenge. That would be most satisfying. You can click the image above to get to my fundraising page. Easy peasy!

It was chilly out there today, in the high 30s when I rolled out, frost still visible in the fields. Hoping for a little balmier air next time I take Trusty Steed out . . . but if I need to be bundled up to get the job done, so be it. Worse things happen at sea.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place

I retired from my role as President and CEO of Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) in November 2019. That was right around the time that we announced that the next installment of our premier community engagement event, the Tour des Trees, would be rolling through Colorado in September 2020. Having ridden in and fundraised for five prior Tours (click here for last year’s report), I had fully intended to ride that planned 2020 mountain route as well, but those plans changed last Spring when I was awarded the opportunity to visit Ideas Island in Sweden, creating an irreconcilable scheduling conflict.

Then, of course, Anno Virum happened, and everything changed. I’m not posting from Sweden right now, and the Tour did not roll through the Rockies as expected. Bummers on both fronts. While losing the opportunity to work on a project at Ideas Island impacted only me, the loss of the 2020 Tour had far more consequential impacts on TREE Fund, significantly cutting into its ability to provide community engagement and fundraising to support crucial arboricultural research programs. The West Coast is burning as I write this post, demonstrating clearly and painfully how necessary and valuable scientifically-robust research findings and practices are to mitigating climate change, combating invasive species, and capitalizing on the myriad benefits provided by healthy urban and community forests. TREE Fund is a major player in that effort, especially as Federal funding for such work has evaporated or been redirected in recent years.

I was pleased, therefore, when TREE Fund announced plans for a “Rollin’ In Place” Tour designed to allow riders, runners, walkers, swimmers, hikers, whatevers support the organization safely from and in their own home communities. They’ve set a goal of $150,000, around the theme of “3-2-1 Go!,” explained thusly:

Traditionally, Tour des Trees riders would spend a week riding through a state or region, engaging with communities and raising funds for TREE Fund. Instead of riding 321 miles in the Rockies this year, we challenge you to take on 321 your own way! Ride 321 km a month the entire duration of the campaign, run 3.21 miles a day, do 321 pushups a week, walk your dog 321 miles, pogo-stick jump to a new record of 321 . . . you get the idea. 321 is the magic number!

I’m down to do my part on that front to help TREE Fund reach its event goals. I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’ve kicked things off by making my own contribution to the cause, and would greatly appreciate it if you would support TREE Fund via my “Rollin’ In Place” campaign. Here’s my fundraising page, where you can make your own gift to support the mission and goal. That page is linked to my cycling computer, so it will show progress updates as they occur, and I will also report them here, of course. Thanks in advance for whatever you can chip in to the effort. I am grateful, as will be the entire TREE Fund team.

Last year’s Tour team. We’re not together in person this year, but the communal spirit remains strong. (Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the very professional Ex-President/CEO throwing the metal horns. BRUTAL!!)

Setting That Solidest of Picks: Wes Unseld (1946-2020)

Basketball great Wes Unseld flew off to his great reward today at the age of 74, having endured several years of poor health before his passing. The NBA Hall of Famer was one of only two players (Wilt Chamberlain being the other) to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same season. He spent his entire playing career (1968-1981) with the Baltimore-Capital-Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), playing more games for the team than any other player, and capping his career with the franchise’s only NBA title in 1978. Unseld then spent his entire post-playing career as an executive and coach with the Bullets, making him, more than anybody else, the life-long face and soul of the franchise.

I started following Unseld avidly in 1973. We lived in the D.C. suburbs at the time, chasing my father’s Marine Corps career up and down the East Coast. The Bullets had just moved from Baltimore to Landover, Maryland, playing their first season as the Capital Bullets before adopting Washington as their home city in name, if not geography. Unseld and Elvin “The Big E” Hayes were the heart of the Bullets’ great 1970s teams, with Hayes racking up the points and Unseld owning the paint and dishing out lightning-strike assists like nobody’s business. He was solid and strong, routinely holding taller players at bay and regularly featuring at or near the top of the league’s rebounding leader board. Formidable, for sure.

I count the experience of watching the Bullets win the 1978 title in a thrilling seven-game series against the Seattle SuperSonics as one of the most memorable moments of my personal sports fan history. It’s right up there with watching Navy beat Notre Dame for the first time in my lifetime (I was in my 40s when it happened), the Kansas City Royals winning the 1985 World Series through a nearly-laughable series of fluke calls and games, and the Washington Capitols finally getting past their nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins and winning their first (and also only) Stanley Cup a few seasons back. I can still rattle off most of the roster of the 1977-1978 Bullets without checking references, so invested was I in their activities and successes that season. We were living at Mitchel Field on Long Island at the time, so I was the only one celebrating much in my neighborhood when they won, but it still felt wonderful, and I still have great affection for the players who delivered that moment, Unseld (who won Finals MVP honors) first and foremost among them.

So I lift a virtual toast to the memory of Wes Unseld this morning and hope you’ll join me in remembering one of the greatest players of his game, an epic sporting presence who made everybody around him better than they were in his absence. It would be a much more fitting tribute if I could go out and set a hard pick on somebody in the paint today, but, you know, social distancing and suchlike as COVID-19 owns the lane right now, alas.

Don’t mess with Wes. It’s his key, and your job is just to watch for the outlet pass.