“i heard it on my radio…” happy birthday, brian may.

Yesterday was Brian May’s birthday. He turned 70. How does a stately, freshly-minted septuagenarian British astrophysicist celebrate this milestone birthday? In the middle of a North American tour with Queen + Adam Lambert, of course. May’s birthday fell on an off day between gigs. He just played Toronto, now on his way to Detroit.

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Brian May at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

I saw Queen + AL about three years ago when they rolled through Las Vegas. They crammed their monstrous arena show rig—well, a portion of it, at least—into the 3,000-seat Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. My buddy Brit and I went to their second of two shows at The Joint.

You’ve heard me talk about this show more times than you care to remember, I’m sure. But it was a pretty big deal for me. I’ve been listening to Queen for as long as I can remember. No, really.

“…and everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio…”
One of my earliest memories of listening to Queen was sometime in the mid-70s. I was five years old or so. I think my parents were having a party or something. Since Shawn and I were little, we had to go to bed fairly early so the grown-ups could keep the party going. Mom and Dad let me sleep in their room with a radio on.

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This is a pretty close version of the clock-radio my parents had when I was a kid.

I distinctly remember Dad asking me if I wanted the radio on. It was a vintage “digital” clock-radio. You know the kind—white, molded plastic with the analog-style digits that would flip over like a Rolodex. With the lights turned off, the clock numbers glowed a hazy, green hue. I was little and afraid of the dark, so Dad left the bedroom light on. I was also a night owl from a very young age. Sleep has never come easily for me at bedtime. So I remember vividly lying awake in bed—wide awake, staring at those numbers on the clock tumble over—trying to focus on the radio to drown out the faint noise of people downstairs. I don’t remember any songs that played that night, but for one. It was a song I’d heard before in bits and pieces. It always caught my attention and I thought I might like it, but I’d never had a chance to really listen to it. Until now. The opening was already familiar to me…

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy…”

In that instant, in that moment, I became a Queen fan. Bohemian Rhapsody is the first song I could identify as a Queen song. What was it that I liked so much about it? Was it the lyrics? Was it the harmonies? The guitars? What was it? Who cares?! No, nothing about that song made a lick of sense to me. None of it. But gimme a break. I was five years old. What did I know about Bismillah and Beelzebub? I didn’t care. I just knew I liked the song, and maybe that’s the real point about music appreciation. You don’t have to quantify it. If you like it, that’s all that matters. And I knew I really liked Bohemian Rhapsody!

“…when I’m holding your wheel, all I hear is your gear…”
Not too long after that, I began going through my dad’s record collection, plundering for Queen albums to play. He had A Night at the Opera and Jazz. I played those records endlessly. He also had a couple songs from Queen I dubbed onto a cassette or 8-track that I’d dig out and play on occasion. I always liked the drum parts on Liar and Keep Yourself Alive (still do). One song Dad played quite a bit back then was I’m In Love With My Car, a Roger Taylor cut from A Night at the Opera. Of all the Queen songs I listened to in my youth, I tend to associate that one with Dad more than any other. Was he a car nut? Yes and no. I think he just liked the song a lot.

Mom has her favorite Queen song, too, I should mention: Don’t Stop Me Now. She’s always said it’s a great driving song. She’s right, but be forewarned: playing Don’t Stop Me Now while driving may lead to a lead foot and a speeding ticket (you’ve been warned).

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Dad’s stereo in the 70s looked an awful lot like this. We got a lot of mileage out of that thing, too.

If you’re wondering why in the hell our dad would let Shawn and I monkey around with his precious stereo system, it’s a good question. Truth is, we had to work our way up to it. We got our own record player when we were six or seven years old. And we were taught very early on that albums are to be treated delicately; especially Dad’s albums! Many times, he’d cue up the records. Over time, he eased us into using his system. And whenever Dad upgraded his hi-fi, he bequeathed the old system to us. If you knew our dad, then it doesn’t shock you at all that Shawn and I are audiophiles. Anyway…

“…that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit, travelin’ at the speed of light…”
The next Queen record I got was Live Killers (it was for my brother Shawn and I, actually). Our parents bought it for us at a family outing to the mall (Hampton Mall, I’m pretty sure; not Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw). I remember coming home from the mall and we put the record on the turntable and gave it a listen as a family. I don’t really think Mom and Dad originally intended on sitting there and listening with us, but they did anyway. I was maybe nine or ten years old at the time and this was my first experience with a live album.

Another year or two later, my parents bought me A Day at the Races for my birthday. They went to Detroit for the night and I think they bought it during a mall excursion down there. I think it was Christmas 1980 when Dave Wade (a family friend) got me The Game. At the time, this was a very popular album; probably the height of Queen’s popularity in the States while Freddie was still with us.

“…he spends his evenings alone, in his hotel room…”
Throughout 80s, I rounded out my Queen collection with my paper route money. I remember, to this day, buying News of the World, taking it home and playing it for the first time. My ritual with new album purchases was pretty much the same. I’d drop the needle, sit on the floor in our spare room (that’s what we called our “play” room) and listen with the album sleeve in my lap. I can still feel that semi-shaggy white carpeting and see the dark brown woodwork all along the baseboards in that room.

587abcd3c795f89809a0361d8ff22662.1000x1000x1Over the next three decades, I swapped my Queen vinyl for Queen CDs. Lately, I’ve been buying Queen on vinyl again. Go figure. I guess I’ve gone full circle.

Somewhere in the middle of all that on a Sunday night in early/mid 1992, my buddy Mike and I go to movies to see Wayne’s World. And what greets us in one of the opening scenes?

“Mama…just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he’s dead.”

“…I’ve been with you such a long time…”
Hearing Bohemian Rhapsody while Wayne, Garth & crew were riding in Garth’s Pacer was like an unexpected visit from an old friend…and a pure joy to watch. Freddie had already died by the time the movie was released so he never got to see it, but Brian always said Freddie would’ve loved Mike Myers’ and Dana Carvey’s tribute.

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Anyway, Brian May’s birthday this week got me to reflecting on that earliest of Queen memories (and a few others). If you ever wondered—and I’m sure you didn’t—my lifelong love of Queen started with an old clock-radio in my parents’ bedroom, thanks to Mom and Dad having a party.

Happy Birthday, Brian May. May you live forever.

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…you weren’t here long enough.

19905403_10154873073733251_8429214582927218739_nSadly, our Bay City Central Class of 1988 has lost another of our classmates too soon. After nearly eight months of battling a brain tumor, Rehana Khan-Brown is now at peace. She died Sunday night, July 9, at her home in Bay City—just a few days shy of her 47th birthday—surrounded by family and loved ones.

I was casually friendly with Rehana in high school. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to re-connect and, over the years, shared common interests and commented on one another’s threads. Occasionally, we’d exchange messages back and forth; usually dealing with something politics-related we read and wanted to talk about it. One time she even said I should run for president. I’m reasonably certain she was joking, but the sentiment wasn’t lost on me.

The thing I’ve learned the past few days is just how many people’s lives Rehana touched. The outpouring of sentiment as she received on Facebook has been incredible to see.

I don’t pretend to be a close friend to Rehana. We were acquaintances, at best; certainly friendly with one another, but I’m way down at the end of the bench on this depth chart That being said, I’m glad I was on her team. We were a part of a larger collective that holds together pretty tightly to this day. My heart is with those who knew her best; her closest friends and family.

One thing I always appreciated about Rehana is she co-organized our one and only official class reunion. It took place in 1998. It is my sincere hope that someone—or a group of someones—can come together to plan a 30-year reunion.

Maybe that’s trivial (and certainly the least of our worries today), but I think Rehana would like that. After all, what better way to honor her than with a celebration?

Years ago, Rehana posted to my FB wall, “You’re my hero!” We joked about it at the time. I don’t recall the context of that statement at all. I’m guessing it had something to do with the upcoming general election. Anyway, it made me laugh; including her insistence I “just take the compliment.”

Truth is, she’s the heroic one. Faced with the battle of a lifetime, she gave cancer everything she had for eight months. She fought for her life. She fought for her family. To this day, I marvel at her strength and courage to stare into that diagnosis and choose to never give up. To put yourself through that sort of fight requires strength, love and courage that I can’t even begin to imagine.

If you’re looking for a hero, THAT is a hero.

Anyway…I’m very sad that we lost Rehana this weekend. My sincerest condolences go to her family; especially her kids. This isn’t about me, but I know what it’s like to lose a parent too soon. So…yeah. I feel for them the most.

You weren’t here long enough, Rehana, but you packed an awful lot of love and living into your nearly 47 years. We all should live a life as full as yours.

Peace be with you on your journey.

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breakfast with dad at 4 a.m. in las vegas.

Mom-&-Dad-1994

Mom & Dad, circa 1994. I think this was at the ARCOM prom that year.

I’ve told this story about my dad a few times to folks, but I don’t think I ever wrote it down. Back in April 2000, my parents and I went to Las Vegas for a quick, four-day vacation. It was our second trip to Vegas. We stayed at the Imperial Palace (now the Linq) and got into town early in the day.

Back in 2000, Dad and I were dealers Blue Chip Casino. It seems kinda silly in hindsight, but back then, it felt like Vegas dealers were the major leagues of dealers. We both fancied ourselves decent dealers and decent blackjack players, so it was a chance to watch Vegas dealers to see where we stacked up. We weren’t jerks about it, though.

On that first afternoon in town, we sat down at a 21 table at Harrah’s while Mom was off playing a slot machine. We were the only players at this table. I don’t recall what our hands were, but I do remember the dealer was showing a six and flipped over an ace and proceeded to take a hit. Both Dad and I yelled, “whoa!” The dealer looked at us like we were idiots because, in Las Vegas, the dealers hit a soft 17. It’s written right on the tables.

Once Dad and I realized we were idiots, we both put out dealer bets on our next hand as a mutual act of contrition. It was our way of saying, “you aren’t an idiot, sir. We are the idiots.” The dealer laughed about it.

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Family Christmas, 1990-something. Not sure why Major looks like we’re choking him. But the worst tragedy in this photo is my Cosby sweater…and my hair.

We made our way down to the Venetian, which was still being built during our first trip in 1999. It was an out-of-this-world experience walking through the casino. Dad and I sat down at a Caribbean Stud table (good luck finding one of those in Vegas anymore). It was hard to not be mesmerized by the sheer opulence of the place. The marble floors, the paintings on the ceiling, cocktail drinks in actual glasses…it was something. “It’s like playing cards at the Vatican,” I said to Dad while we were losing at the worst card game in the world.

Dad-1968

Dad, circa 1968, before Shawn & I were born. I have no idea where he is in this photo.

Later that night after dinner, we knocked around the Imperial Palace gaming floor. I was playing double-deck pitch blackjack—which was relatively rare on the Strip in 2000. Dad walked up and jumped into the game. He’d never played before and seemed to need constant reminder on a few simple rules: hold the cards with one hand only, scratch the table for a hit, tuck the cards under your bet to hold. He kept wanting to hold his cards with both hands, much to the chagrin of every dealer we had. He eventually got the hang of it.

I don’t remember what time we sat down at the table to play, but pretty soon it was about 4 or 5 a.m. and we both ended up getting our asses kicked. “Let’s go get breakfast,” Dad said to me as we were walking away from the table. “Should we go get Mom?” I asked. “Nah,” Dad replied. Now, this led to a bit of a tense situation later on. I tried to warn him. I swear, I tried to warn him. Anyway…

On the escalator ride up to the restaurant, Dad and I were quietly reflecting on the ass kicking we just took at the blackjack table. Looking over the ledge of the escalator as we were near the top, I turned to Dad and said, “You want to throw yourself off first or should I go?”

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One of my all-time favorite photos. This was July 2, 1990. We were on our way back from Chicago after seeing the Tigers vs. the White Sox at old Comiskey Park. Just east of Gary, the engine blew a rod, bringing us to a grinding halt on the highway. As you can see, Dad was pretty stressed by the whole thing.

After breakfast, we made our way to the room. The sun was already rising, lighting up the morning sky. Dad and I were (mostly) sobered up, but our noise ended up waking up Mom. I think she brewed herself a cup of coffee as she listened to Dad and I replay the carnage at our blackjack table. “So,” Mom said after the story. “Should we go get breakfast?”

I wasted no time throwing Dad under the bus. “I told you,” I said. “I told you we should’ve gotten her.” I know, I know. Not cool, dude. I get it. I panicked, I admit it.

Mom was NOT happy with our decisions. While we slept, she went downstairs and gambled.

That trip was 17 years ago. Dad died a few months later, unexpectedly. I was a couple months shy of my 30th birthday when he died. It was a gut punch that never goes away. But I have a lifetime of good memories about Dad that I carry with me. That late-night /early-morning breakfast we shared to lick our wounds is one of my favorite grown-up memories. I’m sorry it came at my mother’s expense, but I’m not sorry that we had our own father-son bonding over eggs and bacon, replaying our mutual ass kicking and how we’ll do better the next night. I couldn’t tell you a single thing we talked about; probably about dealing, which hands really killed us and what we’ll do differently after a few hours of sleep.

Over the years, I’ve met lots of people who didn’t have a good relationship with their fathers; or some soured into adulthood to the point where they no longer speak to them. I feel bad for them. Even though I will always feel cheated out of 20 or 30 good years with my dad, I’ll never live with regret over our relationship. But I’m sure I speak for the both of us that we both might regret not walking away from that blackjack table about an hour or two earlier. It might’ve saved us from two ass kickings that night and early morning.

Lest you think Father’s Day is a sad day for me, it’s not. Even though I only had him for 29 years and some change, I realize I had it better than most. So, no, Father’s Day is still a good day for me because I’m thankful and happy for what Dad gave me while he was here.

So, Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You left us too soon, but you were the best while you were here.

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survivor: game changers season wrap-up.

Logo_MainPage_SliderAll’s well that ends well. That was my initial reaction to the outcome of Survivor: Game Changers. A great player beat another great player for the title of Soul Survivor. Having it come down to a Final Three usually guarantees that some of the best players will remain in the game. Sure, many great ones get knocked out early (Malcolm, Ozzy, Cirie), but we still have Sarah vs. Culpepper vs. Troyzan. That’s a pretty strong final three.

S34_Sarah_Cast_Photo1Sarah Deserved to Win
Absolutely. Unequivocally. Sarah played a smart, patient social game. Her takedown of Sierra might be the most legendary, in my mind, because she first convinced Sierra to will her the Legacy Advantage and then stuck a knife in her back. That is EPIC Survivor game play, if you ask me!

Is she the best winner ever? Who cares?!?! But the answer is ‘no’. She did what she had to do to win this season of Survivor. That required building strategic alliances, but it also meant Sarah had to gamble a bit on her choices at Tribal Council. With the exception of Hali and Cirie, Sarah was on the right side of every vote for the remaining jury members. In some cases, she took them down. In other cases, she played along. Taking out Sierra, Andrea and Michaela were probably her best moves because they were strategic threats all along.

brad2However…
Culpepper deserved to win, too. One of the unfortunate realities of Survivor is physically dominant players get very little respect from the jury. Culpepper joins a fairly distinguished group of players who were challenge beasts when it counted but couldn’t take home the title of Sole Survivor.

Here’s what I mean:
Colby Donaldson. Dude was unstoppable the first time he played in the Australian Outback season, setting the bar at five consecutive immunity challenge wins…and lost to Tina Wesson, 4-3.

terry-deitz-7-1_thumbTerry Deitz. He was a brusk dude at times during the Panama season, but got hosed when he lost the final immunity challenge with three players in the game. He was the most dominant player that season and didn’t even have a seat at the table. Aras Baskauskas backed his way to what I consider the least deserved Survivor victory in the history of the show. I’m of a mind that Terry’s loss is the reason we now have three-person Final Tribal Councils.

Ozzy Lusth. In fairness, Ozzy did lose to a smart, athletic and strategic player in Yul, but still…dude won FIVE OUT OF SIX IMMUNITY CHALLENGES! That’s got to count for something! Ozzy lost by one vote and, sadly, he’s never gotten that close to winning ever again. He’s been in the game for more days than any other player, but he always gets bounced early because of his physical prowess.

441256dd0c7930ea857d205e02937fefThe Fatal Flaw
Outside of being challenge beasts, Culpepper and Colby share the distinction of making a fatal flaw right at the end of the game: voting out the wrong player. In orchestrating a vote to knock out Tai, Culpepper let his heart rule his head. There was no way Troyzan could beat him. None. I think he knew that. But a smart guy like Culpepper should’ve recognized Sarah as the greater threat than Tai and taken her out.

Colby made the very same mistake in the Australian Outback. Tina Wesson—another undeserving champion, in my eyes—sidled up to Colby all season long and used him as a human shield. She couched it as a team mentality, but she was playing him and he didn’t recognize it. By virtue of wearing the Immunity Necklace, Colby lulled himself into believing he didn’t have to think as hard about the jury. It cost him dearly when he wrote down Keith’s name in the penultimate Tribal Council. Had he taken out Tina, he would’ve won.

If Terry had a flaw, it was personality. He locked horns with players that season (Cirie and Aras, mostly). But he didn’t even get the chance to take it to a jury.

the-best-moments-froAs for Ozzy, his fatal flaw is he never adapted after his first season playing Survivor. He continued to be a physical threat and one of the best providers at camp. But he never learned to strategize and work alliances better. He simply relied on his physical prowess to get through the day. While I certainly believe physically dominant players get the short shrift at times, they also have to recognize this and work the social aspect of Survivor to compensate.

To that end, Culpepper adapted and made it through most of the 39 days before he kinda went psycho. His treatment of Tai was both creepy and disturbing. In fairness to Culpepper, he recognized it, owned it and apologized for it at the reunion show. I’m sure a big part of that was his competitive nature as well as genuine frustration with Tai. I’m not sure what it is about Tai, but he must make his fellow Survivor players insane, because he left people feeling the same way during his previous season, Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn.

The only one for whom I feel any level of disappointment, it’s Ozzy. This was likely his last time playing Survivor and he went out getting blindsided. It’s a pity, but he joins a long line of great players who never won.

survivor25_malcolm_652Best Player Who Didn’t Make the Merge
Even though Sandra seems like the obvious choice here, I’m going with Malcolm. He’s got a better all-around game than Sandra, in my mind, because he can win challenges and build alliances at camp. Believe me, I take nothing away from Sandra, but the reality is she’s a one-trick pony in Survivor. To her credit, she is an expert at the social game. But I think a champion should have more than one club in his or her bag.

It’s also worth noting the only reason Malcolm got voted out when he got voted out this season is because J.T. was a complete screw-up at Tribal Council and tipped his hand to Culpepper, leading to Tai playing his Immunity Idol for Sierra.

Unfortunately for Malcolm, he aligned with some ridiculously bad players this season. If he gets another shot at Survivor, it’ll only be tougher for him to build alliances. People know he’s a threat.

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(Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)

Speaking of Dumb Players…
J.T. is fast moving up my list of Dumbest Players in Survivor History. I swear, he’s doing everything he can to prove his Survivor: Tocantins victory was a complete fluke. He played a solid game that season, but I still question his unanimous victory over Stephen Fishbach, who was a very smart and crafty player.

After Tocantins, J.T. has done everything he can to deconstruct his own championship. Remember Heroes vs. Villains? When J.T. had the great idea of giving his Immunity Idol to Russell Hantz—who was on the opposing tribe!—as a means of building an alliance later in the game? Yeah, how’d that work out for you, J.T.? And then, when he had a chance to redeem himself this season, he openly betrayed his alliance by trying to curry favor with Culpepper. AT TRIBAL COUNCIL IN FRONT OF EVERYONE! Dude, what were you thinking?!?!

J.T.’s sin is one committed by many players. He was thinking too far ahead of the game and ignoring the most immediate fire that needed extinguishing. He crossed the wrong player (Sandra) and it cost him.

2017-03-30T00-29-23.466Z--1280x720_711x400_910084675878Craftiest Move of the Game
Speaking of Sandra, she proved her bona fides by exposing a growing rift between Michaela and J.T. and using it to her advantage. Remember the sugar incident? To this day, I don’t know how Sandra ate all that sugar without puking her guts out, but it exemplified her ability to seize upon an advantage in the game. She knew J.T. already had a personal beef with Michaela over the sugar. By misleading J.T. to believe Michaela ate all the sugar, it fed J.T.’s obsession to vote out Michaela and take his eye off the ball.

One might argue Sandra didn’t need to go to such lengths to get rid of J.T., but the point is she saw an opportunity to take advantage and tilt the game in her favor where no one else did. That is the mark of a smart player.

Debbie-1Worst Player Ever
This season’s Worst Player Ever Award (first time we’re doing this) goes to none other than Debbie. She rivals #CluelessKass as the most obnoxious, most unnecessarily arrogant, most self-UNaware, most self-absorbed load on two feet to ever play this game. With the exception of getting Ozzy out of the game, Debbie’s time on the island must’ve been an absolute nightmare for her fellow players. Strategically speaking, nothing she said or did made sense. Remember when she “acted drunk” at the merge? …the hell was THAT?!?! How on earth does that advance your lot in the game, you wackadoodle? Or, prior to that, when she went apeshit bonkers on Culpepper? And then insisted it was all an act? Mmm-hmm. Sure it was, Debbie. Sure it was.

Yes, orchestrating the vote to blindside Ozzy out was a smart move, but she screwed the pooch by overplaying her hand and burning her second-vote advantage.

That was dumb for two reasons:
1) You already had the numbers to get him out. Even if the plan backfires, you can lay low and use the advantage later when you need it.

2) Win or lose, you’ve shown everyone your hand—Ozzy included—and now he knows you were out to get him the whole time. That’s just bad jury management, man!

How do I know I was right? Debbie got bounced out the very next Tribal Council. In this game, Debbie with an advantage or power of any sort is like giving a monkey a blow torch: he’s gonna burn shit down and probably hurt himself in the process. That’s exactly how Debbie plays Survivor. Unpredictability only works when you have a strategy no one else can see and can’t predict. Debbie is just a nutbar. Even SHE doesn’t know where she’s going!

taiclimbIn Defense of Tai
Tai is a player I can’t help but like. He seems like a goodhearted guy. In the game of Survivor, he’s a decent competitor; better than people want to admit. Unlike Sarah, he did win individual immunity. His ability to sniff out hidden Immunity Idols is positively Russell Hantzian. To me, those are some pretty strong credentials for his gameplay. Where Tai blows it is his inability to articulate a strategy. He freestyles a bit too much and is therefore an unreliable ally. I’m sure that’s what frustrated Culpepper.

I also think he screwed up his own game by sharing information about his two idols. Sure, he saved Aubry and led to Cirie’s ouster, but he should’ve kept those both to himself.

SURVIVOR game changers aubry eyerollMy Favorite Player
Aubry is easily in my Top Three Survivor Players list. I think she’s one of the smartest, most mentally dialed-in players we’ve had in the game. But, for whatever reason, she just couldn’t get any traction this year and she knew it. Being on the wrong side of so many votes had to be frustrating, but she hung in there right to the bitter end; even winning immunity once! I hope she comes back and has a bit more luck next time.

lfsfu0hrA Word About Michaela
Michaela could very easily become one of my favorite players. She’s very close to it right now for the simple fact that she understands Survivor the same way I understand Survivor. She called out her fellow jurors for displaying any hurt feelings about getting voted out or getting blindsided or getting backstabbed. It’s part of the game! And the only reason those people bitch is because they got backstabbed first. Michaela’s like me when people bloviate about “integrity” in Survivor: I roll my eyes at that nonsense.

Approach to Survivor aside, Michaela is a smart, strategic player, but I think she got swept up into Cirie’s aura this season; which is easy to let happen. She’s certainly not the first. But playing from under Cirie’s wing didn’t allow Michaela to stretch out and show everyone just how strategic a threat she is to go with her athletic ability in challenges.

To Michaela’s credit, she knows her flaws. She allows her emotions to get the better of her and it ends up costing her. If you listened to her during the reunion show, she even talked about how she learned the game is more than just challenges and votes. If she gets a third chance to play—and I hope she does—I think she could win the whole thing.

Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
All right, Survivor. You’re trying too hard now. I think we’re going to see some interesting players next season, but let’s cut the cutesy nonsense, eh?

See you in the fall with more Survivor chatter, kids.

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survivor finale prediction: someone will win, but who?

Game-Changers-e1486573854660Yep, it’s already the end. Seems like we just got re-acquainted with these 20 former players; some we missed, some we wish would never come back.

So, who’s going to be crowned Ultimate Survivor tonight? Good question. The remaining six players are cagey veterans of the game; three of whom have made it all the way to Final Tribal Council in previous seasons. But when it comes to crowning a winner, it’s almost more important to analyze the jury than the players.

Jeff-snuffing-torchThe Jury
In order, it’s: Hali, Ozzy, Debbie, Zeke, Sieerra, Andrea and Michaela. Three more to come tonight for a total of 10. In a Final Tribal of three players, it takes at least four votes to win Survivor. Does anyone have four votes out of these seven? Honestly, it’s too difficult to know. But I’ll take a stab at guessing for whom (of the remaining six) these seven would vote.

Hali—She’s been on the jury awhile now. I could see her going with Culpepper, even though he did vote her out.

Ozzy—Tough one. Cirie, maybe? The person who orchestrated his ouster is on the jury, so he may go with whom he thinks is the next best player. But if Ozzy thinks athleticism matters more, he might go with Sarah or Culpepper…even Tai could get a vote here (but I doubt it).

Debbie—Culpepper or Sarah, leaning toward Sarah; just because she may have an axe to grind with Culpepper.

Zeke—Sarah. Even though she had a hand in voting him out.

Sierra—Culpepper. She was in his back pocket all along.

Andrea—Tough one, here. Maybe Cirie.

Michaela—Cirie. She worked hard to pull Michaela in. I don’t see Michaela betraying that.

Survivor-Game-Changers-Finale-PRThe Final Six
Who’s odds-on favorite to win? No idea, I’ll rank them in order of how I think things go tonight.

Tai—Though I hope I’m wrong, I have a sinking feeling Tai’s going to do something classically stupid to get himself bounced before the Final Four.

Aubry—I think she’s got a great shot at being at the Final Tribal again, because she’s yet to make a really big move. Her next target has got to be Cirie.

Troyzan—He’s been floating along this entire game on borrowed time. He’s got his idol to play, which could hurt one of the big players. Can he win? Well, if he goes on a run at the end, he could.

Cirie—The sneakiest player left in the game. She has almost no shot at winning immunity in any challenge (unless it’s a quiz or something). The rest of the players should bounce her immediately before she has a chance to talk her way out of last week’s Tribal Council fiasco. If they don’t vote her out when they get the chance, she’s going to win.

Culpepper—His back has been to the wall for quite a bit of this game, but he’s avoided the chopping block. So far. After Cirie, I think everyone’s most afraid of Culpepper going to the end. He’ll get votes. Can he win? Yes. But he’s got the biggest target on his back.

Survivor-Game-Changers-2017-Spoilers-Week-10-Sneak-Peek-17-550x310Officer Sarah—For my money, the best player this season, so far. If she makes it to the end, I think she could beat anyone; including Culpepper and Cirie. But if she’s smart, she bounces them and takes Tai and Aubry so they can be runners up again.

My Final Three Prediction
Sarah, Culpepper and Troyzan.

aubry-bracco-survivor-kaoh-rong-winner-620x360What Aubry Needs to do to Win
Because she’s my favorite player, I’ve given this some thought. She needs to win a couple more immunity challenges, just to beef up her résumé. Then she needs to vote out Cirie, Sarah and Culpepper. She’d be sitting at the end with Tai and Troyzan. That’s her best shot at winning.

Who Will Win
I’m betting on Culpepper or Sarah. But who knows? Tune in tonight!

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survivor recap: go fish???

Logo_MainPage_SliderRemember last week, when I said we were heading toward all holy hell breaking out at an upcoming Tribal Council? Welp, we got it! With so many advantages, immunity idols and sneaky players floating around, it was only a matter of time before something broke and turned into a Jerry Springer episode. But before we get to that, let’s first mourn the loss of one of the players who truly had a shot at winning: Andrea.

She fought off Jeff Probst’s torch snuffer (that’s not a euphemism) twice in the past and maneuvered her way into a power position in the game. She was calling the shots and building a reputation as a gamer. But, if being a fan of Survivor has taught me anything, it’s that an alliance of five is held together with Scotch tape and hope. They are always much easier to break apart than hold together.

Vo_andrea_gcFor all of Andrea’s strengths in the game, she (and the other players) seem completely oblivious to the fact that Cirie is running circles around the rest of the players…and it cost Andrea dearly. But it wasn’t just Cirie who fragged Andrea. Sarah made a strong-yet-predictable move in pushing Andrea out of the game, too. Sarah’s been in a power position for a few tribals now. She rightfully recognized Andrea as a threat.

Though I have to admit I found it slightly shocking that the alliance of five—Andrea, Aubry, Cirie, Michaela and Sarah—broke up during this vote. It would’ve made more sense to give Culpepper the boot. He’s a perceived threat and did not have the immunity necklace around his neck. That belonged to the incomparable Aubry (full disclosure: my favorite player). The stars were perfectly aligned for the five to stick together for at least one more vote.

lfsfu0hr.pngWhat the Hell was That, Michaela?
Before going too far, I want to throw something out there: what the hell was Michaela’s plan in telling Culpepper to “go fish?” Seriously, what was that supposed to accomplish? For someone whom I thought was a smart player, Michaela’s done a lot of things this season that don’t make a lot of sense.

The fact that she’s made it this far in the game isn’t testimony to her game play. It actually speaks to her poor attitude. If I’m on that island, I want to be sitting next to her at the Final Tribal Council because I’d be certain she wouldn’t get any votes. Being an arrogant, mouthy, selfish ball hog doesn’t make you a champion. It makes you an insurance policy for other players. Cirie recognized that right away and seduced Michaela the first chance she got. And Michaela bought it hook, line and sinker.

Jury Strategery
Even though I love the drama of watching an alliance collapse upon itself, it didn’t make much strategic sense. Perhaps it’s about positioning for the jury or something, but even then, did it have to be right now? Looking at the current jury, Culpepper has probably only one vote in his favor (Sierra). He’s written Andrea’s name down three times. I doubt she’s going to reward that; especially since he didn’t orchestrate her ouster.

It’s pointless to speculate on the jury right now, though. Who knows what they’ll decide in the final Tribal Council? My only hope is they’re not big babies about solid game play. If a jury member holds a grudge over being blindsided, that jury member doesn’t belong there. Blindsides are a big part of winning strategy.

SurvivorGameChangers_TribalCouncilTribal Council Chaos
More on the jury later. We haven’t even discussed the last Tribal Council, which turned into one of the most revealing councils of the season. Culpepper winning immunity on Day 35 was big, although I don’t think it was certain that he’d get voted off the island; not with players like Cirie and Sarah in the eye of the storm. But his immunity win did force an already fragmented alliance to either band together or fall apart.

True to form, it fell apart. And that’s not very surprising, when you consider how it all played out.

With Culpepper wearing the immunity necklace, Sarah’s game play suddenly comes into focus a bit more for everyone. People took note of her feigned shock over Sierra’s vote a couple Tribals prior. Is Sarah playing to the jury? To Sierra? What’s up with that? It didn’t take long for Cirie to sort out that Sarah was legit. So why is it taking so long for everyone else to catch on that Cirie is a major threat?

After that last Tribal Council, though, I can’t imagine anyone is going to trust Cirie too much. Prior to going into Tribal Council, Cirie and Sarah seemed to be colluding to vote out Tai. Or was it Aubry? Now, I can’t remember, but for whom they were planning to vote was less important than what Sarah did next: she gave Cirie her secret “steal a vote” advantage as a show of trust. In the moment—and even right now—that made no sense to me. I’ve always been of a mind that if you’re holding any sort of advantage, you never let it go. Ever. Because the moment you hand it over to an opponent, it will be used against you. Perhaps Sarah was merely testing Cirie’s trust or she was genuinely trying to gain Cirie’s loyalty. Either way, it turned out to be the launching point to yet another epic Tribal Council.

Cirie kept her promise to use Sarah’s advantage (against Sarah?) at Tribal Council. Only there was one problem: it is non-transferrable. DOH! Did Sarah know that? She seemed to know that, which leads me to believe she was testing Cirie. And Cirie FAILED! She was planning to hoist Sarah on her own petard and ended up exposing herself as the rat.

With Cirie’s master plan lying in tatters at her feet, Sarah snatched back her advantage. And that’s when all order went out the window. Long story short: the whispering began again, Michaela got mouthy, Tai was somehow in the middle of it all and Cirie was pleading her case that she was actually acting in Sarah’s best interest (uhhh…what?).

In the end, Sarah decided to steal Tai’s vote (dowhatnow?), seemingly putting the target on Tai. But, apparently, that was a ruse to throw Cirie and Michaela off the scent of her actual plan: vote out Michaela in a complete and total blindside. Shockingly, Tai did not play one of his hidden Immunity Idols, despite receiving votes from Michaela and Aubry. Cirie, weirdly, voted for Aubry. Culpepper and Troyzan joined Sarah in voting for Michaela, sending her packing.

It was a lot to process in five minutes of TV time, honestly. Initially, it seemed Sarah would target Cirie for her apparently betrayal and vote her out. Instead, she went after her in a much more gangster way: she took out Cirie’s unwitting No. 1, taking away her favorite pet. The move only makes sense if Cirie is next on Sarah’s chopping block. If she’s not, then you’ve done nothing more than guarantee one jury vote for Cirie. Sarah’s been a smart player and must recognize that.

In spite of all the nuttiness at Tribal Council, the most baffling moment for me was Tai’s decision to not play his idol. He has two! For my money, that’s a HUGE gamble to take at this stage of the game. He put all his trust in Sarah, it would appear. That just seems crazy to me.

SURVIVOR game changers aubry eyerollThe Wrong Side of the Vote
And, once again, Aubry is on the wrong side of a major decision. As one of the smarter players in Survivor, that will certainly continue to bother her. She knows she needs to beef up her résumé if she wants a shot at winning. No matter the season you play, you have to have big moves in your column to convince the jury you’re worthy of the million dollars.

For better or worse, blindsides and bold moves outweigh any sort of performance in challenges or your ability to socialize at camp. Does anyone care that Ozzy was a great provider? Hell no! They don’t even care if you’re a challenge beast (unless you’re an unlikely challenge beast, like Cochran). All this is running through Aubry’s over-active brain, which is leading to her frustration. She’s running out of runway to ramp up a game as a serious competitor. Still, she’s my favorite player.

Survivor-Game-Changers-2017-Spoilers-Week-10-Sneak-Peek-17-550x310Big Move of the Week
Normally, Culpepper winning a crucial Immunity Challenge would qualify as the biggest move. After all, he’d probably be on the jury next week without it. But I’m going with Officer Sarah’s decision to hand Cirie her hidden advantage. Whether it was calculated or accidental, it created the flashpoint to a lot of chaos at Tribal Council. Most of all, it exposed Cirie’s game to Sarah. We’ll see if Sarah uses this information to her advantage.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.31.24 AMSurvivor Employee of the Week
In an episode rife with big moves, important victories and shocking votes, I’m going with my favorite player: Aubry. No, it wasn’t the biggest win of the season. But she’s my favorite player, so there!

Breaking Down the Final Six
I’ll provide a deeper breakdown of the remaining players next week. In the meantime, here’s how I’d seed the finalists:

1. Officer Sarah. She’s sitting on a legacy advantage and is playing a sharp, strategic game. But she’s got a big decision coming up: who’s the greater threat? Culpepper or Cirie?

2. Culpepper. He’s won two Immunity Challenges—none bigger than on Day 35—and has been adept at keeping his head off the chopping block. He’ll need to win another Immunity, more than likely, if he wants to advance.

3. Cirie. She’s still dangerous, but exposed. If she survives the next Tribal Council, it’s because she played either Sarah against Culpepper or (more likely) the other way around.

4. Aubry. She needs to be on the right side of the next couple votes; otherwise, she’s an also-ran in this game.

5. Troyzan. Dude is just floating along, avoiding suspicion. He’s won Immunity, has an idol in his pocket and hasn’t had his name written down once this season. This guy is a dark horse.

6. Tai. I love Tai. I really do. But I can’t tell if he’s crazy or crazy like a fox. He’s cheated death a few times in this game (as well as won Immunity once), but is he cheating death because of his game play or in spite of it? Normally, a player with two hidden idols in his pocket at this stage in the game should be a Top 3 contender, but Tai’s so unpredictable that I have no faith in his ability to play them properly.

Predictions for Next Week
Someone’s going to win. Michaela will roll her eyes. And Debbie will say something self absorbed and stupid.

Debbie-1.jpg

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monday, 14 may 2007: the decision that changed everything.

000_0459Ten years ago today, I started working for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. At the time I took that job, I told myself it was going to be a major turning point in my career.

I said this because it fulfilled several goals for me:

  1. I wanted to work in a downtown office in a big building (Chamber’s offices were on the 19th floor of Chase Tower, Indiana’s tallest building)
  2. I wanted a job that connected me to the movers and shakers in Indy
  3. I wanted a job that expanded my role and responsibilities

With those three boxes checked, I immediately believed my career and life trajectory would take a drastic turn, thanks to the Chamber opening doors for me. I was only half right. Ten years ago today, my life’s trajectory took a drastic turn. But it never went to where I expected.

I had it all going for me. So why did I leave that job after one year and eight months? “Mid-life crisis,” is how I usually answer that question, jokingly, but it was more than that. So let’s take a look back in time, eh?

This is where the story begins.

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Chase Tower (now called Salesforce Tower). The tallest building in Indiana is smack-dab in the middle of Indianapolis. And I loved working there.

May 2007: Suite 1950
That was (and is) the Indy Chamber’s suite address at Chase Salesforce Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Truly an impressive structure, it is the tallest skyscraper in Indiana. Each day, I would be going to work in the heart of Indianapolis. While some folks hate the Urban Jungle, I love it. “Welcome, Kevin MacDonald” was written on a printed sign, greeting me as I pushed open the glass double doors on my first day. I walked down the hall, past a small cube farm—a cubicle “garden,” if you will—took a right at the Chamber president’s corner office and arrived at my office, about a third the way down the hall. There it was. My own office on the eastern side of 19th floor of the Tower. I felt important. I felt like a bigshot. I really did.

I’ll spare you the day-to-day details of my tenure there because, really, it’ll sound like the goings-on at any office in America.

The reality is my Chamber gig was great. But it was a volatile place. Not in the sense that people were screaming at each other and you’d have to duck a stapler being thrown at you. It was more subtle than that; more understated than that. Turnover there was high, that I recall. I did the math on it once and it was something like nearly 10 people had left over the course of a year or something.

It was a pressure-cooker job, but that didn’t bother me. I loved the Chamber and everything we were trying to accomplish while I worked there. In fact, I am still very loyal to that place. Sure, my frustration with certain elements of the job led me to bang my head against a wall to ease the pain, but isn’t that the same at any job? Truth is, I bought into the Chamber’s mission. It was an organization founded by Col. Eli Lilly to make Indianapolis a better place. That truly meant something to me.

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Riding the elevator to the 19th floor. Clearly, I was a serious man with a serious job.

My All-Time Favorite Chamber Experience
Working for the Chamber also availed be access to the major players in the business community as well as the political community. Even though I was a bit player at the Chamber, I was still privy to knowledge of big doins’ around town. My favorite story is of the city’s successful bid to land Super Bowl XLVI. It was May 2008 when Indy’s host committee presented before the NFL owners. Local businesswoman and past Chamber board chair Cathy Langham was on that committee.

Having met her and spoken with her at several Chamber events in the past, I asked her to call me with the results of the vote. I had a Post-It note with her cell phone number stuck to my computer monitor, in case I didn’t hear from her. She called me immediately following the vote to tell me we won the bid. This moment in my professional history is one of my all-time favorite moments because, for about 10 – 20 seconds, I knew something REALLY BIG before anyone else in Indianapolis knew.

About the time I hung up the phone, I could hear other phones ringing around the offices and cheers of “we got it!” Within minutes, it was breaking news on local television. But for about 10 seconds, thanks to my connection with Cathy, I knew before anyone else.

No, I can’t put that on a résumé, but it represents one of the more unique and interesting aspects of working for the Chamber.

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The road to this place…

About That “Mid-life Crisis”
Yeah, about that. Around the same time I was working at the Chamber, I had another goal, competing with my realized Chamber goals. For those who don’t know me, this particular life goal I’m referencing may seem like it’s out of nowhere. In some ways, it was, but it was what I wanted and in my head, I started to plot and plan for it right around New Year 2008.

What is this life goal? I wanted to be a dice dealer at a resort on the Las Vegas Strip. As a communications manager for the Indy Chamber, I couldn’t have been farther away from that goal. I hadn’t been a dealer since about May 2001. That’s a long hiatus for a job that requires some intense mathematical skill as well as the manual dexterity to not look like an idiot, fumbling cheques all over a dice table. But as the weeks and months went by, the desire to be a dealer again grew with every passing day.

blue-chip-casino-and

…would go through this place: Blue Chip floatin’ Casino! Michigan City, Indiana.

Was I burnt out on being a PR monkey? Maybe, but as my fire for communications seemed to be fading, I became more and more in love with the idea of being a Vegas dealer for a few, simple reasons: I could make decent money at a job that was stress-free (by comparison) and never required me to work extra hours from home. I could go to work, do my job, then go home and not think about it until my next shift. That seemed so desirable at the time. It really did.

Of course, that also meant bidding adieu to my favorite side hustle of all time: PA announcer for the IUPUI Jaguars athletics program. I had just wrapped up seven-ish seasons of working the mic for every men’s and women’s home basketball game (save one, when a flat tire sidelined me), a few softball games and most of the men’s and women’s soccer matches. At the time, I thought this was the end of my era. So did they. The good people of IUPUI even honored me at the final home game of the 2007 season with a plaque in recognition of my time there. It was humbling, but nice to be appreciated. Sure, at the time, we all thought that was the end of the road for me. But I pulled a Jordan (or a Magic, or a KISS) and came out of retirement when I got back to Indy in 2010, working another three years or so before officially retiring. No, they did not give me a plaque this time, but we parted on positive terms.

Welcome Back!
As for becoming a Vegas dice dealer, I knew I couldn’t simply pack my life into my Blazer and skip across country on a lark. For one, the casinos have gone corporate. They no longer will take an audition from someone in black-and-whites who wanders in, just because you asked. And two, I hadn’t dealt in seven years at that point. I had to “get my dealing hands back,” as I told people.

To do that, I turned to an old friend: Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana. I worked there for about a year and a half in between my job at IU South Bend and IUPUI. Blue Chip welcomed me back with open arms, offering me full-time employment as a dice dealer on the graveyard shift. I took it. I still remember taking the phone call from John, the shift manager, when he offered me the job. “We want you to come back,” he said on the phone. It sounds corny, but that meant something to me, hearing that. It felt good to know I was appreciated (well, before I got on a live dice game again, at least).

Amidst several familiar faces and many more new ones, I made my return to the gaming floor over Fourth of July weekend 2008. My very first shift was all blackjack, highlighted by getting stuck on a table for the first 2-1/2 hours of my night, thanks to a shift manager who had forgotten about my table. “Welcome back!” he said, once alerted to the problem. That guy’s in prison now (for other reasons we don’t need to discuss).

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My Chamber office. One of the coolest offices I’ll ever have.

Meanwhile, Back at the Chamber
The good people at the Chamber allowed me to work part-time, remotely for a few months. Initially, the arrangement was…well, let’s be honest: it was a struggle for everyone. Working a graveyard shift meant I was trying to do Chamber work when I should’ve been sleeping. I ended up taking projects to the casino with me and writing news releases, newsletter articles and whatnot during my 20-minute breaks. It was hard for everyone involved; harder than they wanted to say (until it had to be said).

I made my way to Indianapolis about once a week or so to check in at the office. But by the time we reached October, it was clear this was no longer working. At the time, it was hard to admit that. But it was the simple truth. I couldn’t be in two places at once—mentally or physically—so I had to make a decision. By the time Halloween 2008 rolled around, I was no longer working at the Chamber.

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Employee #040776 at Wynn Resorts.

By November of the following year, I relocated to Las Vegas and was working as a dice dealer at the Wynn and Encore; the finest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

I walked away from one goal to pursue another goal. And got it within 18 months.

Mission accomplished and they all lived happily ever after, right? If only…

Oh Yeah…There’s More
What I didn’t tell you is, in the midst of all this mid-life crisis nonsense was, of course, a girrrrrl. I know, I know. Cliché, no?

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On a break in the EDR (employee dining room) during a shift at the Encore.

We met while I was working at the Chamber and started going out. It was going very well until you-know-who decided he had to run off and join the circus and that was more important. Yeah, tell me THAT goes over well with the ladies, am I right? “Sorry, honey. You’re great an all, but I wanna go to a place where I’ll be surrounded by degenerate gamblers, hookers, endless smoking and drinking and all manner of social addictions. Gottagobyeeeeee!” I’m a real charmer, I know.

Out of respect for her, I will not share the details of our conflicts beyond simply saying it didn’t work out. That’s all that needs to be said. I’ll simply say that decision of mine set off a three-year, off-and-on-and-off-and-on-and-off-and-living-together rollercoaster ride of a relationship that never settled into a good place for either of us.

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My first Las Vegas apartment, just as I was moving out. And yes, that’s about as furnished as it ever got.

Our relationship played heavily into my decision to move back to Indiana from Las Vegas in March 2010—not even five months after moving to Vegas. The other major reason was the economy. I was the low man on the totem pole at work and getting very few shifts. There was also a rising sense that I made the jump too soon. Sure, in my heart, I was ready to go to Vegas. But from a rational standpoint, I probably needed a little more time so I could establish myself. The struggle to stay afloat seemed too daunting and, given what the heart wanted at the time, it seemed best to pack up and move back to Indiana. Even though my employment prospects were pretty bleak in that moment, I knew I was coming home to the love and support of family, friends and The Girl.

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On the road back to Indiana, late-March 2009. Gassing up somewhere in America in the middle of the night. I was broke. My car was broke. It was nothing short of an adventure.

We all lived happily ever after, right? Well…fast forward 10 years later, Sunday, 14 May 2017 and here I am. Living in Las Vegas.

Again.

How did that happen? I’ll save the rest of the intervening years (2010 – present) for another day. It’s an interesting story by itself, but let’s stay focused on my 10-year anniversary of going to work for the Chamber. There’s good reason I want to do that.

The Fulcrum
Even though the jump from the Chamber to Blue Chip in 2008 feels like the turning point for everything that followed, it was really my decision to work for the Chamber in 2007 that served as the true fulcrum; the actual jumping-off point of every life decision I would make to follow. Without my move to the Chamber, none the dominoes that fell to put me where I am today—and where I’ve been over the past 10 years—would’ve have fallen the same way. Again, goes back to that “trajectory” thing. Moving to the Chamber set the course.

My stint with the Chamber has also cast a long shadow over the past 10 years of my life; mostly in a good way. Other times, not so much. Either way, I embrace it all. Sure, there were a few more bumps in the road than I would’ve preferred, but that’s life, man. There will always be bumps in the road. How you navigate over them and around is what matters.

There is no moral to this story; no fairytale ending or any of that crap. It’s a simple reflection on a moment in time in a series of moments in time that proved more pivotal than I ever anticipated. I thought I was just taking a new job that would advance my career. It turned out to be so much more than that.

As I sit here, less than a month away from embarking on a new professional journey, I can’t help but consider the parallels between then and now. Just as I did 10 years ago, I approach my unwritten future with excitement and happiness.

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Somehow, I ended up back in Vegas. Go figure.

How Did I Get Here?
There are mornings when I’m driving to work and I catch myself admiring the mountains in the distance that surround Las Vegas. I’ll turn off NPR and drive in silence, appreciating the Sheep Range mountains to the north, which loom over my morning commute, every Monday thru Friday.

I’ll look across the skyline to the east and trace the outline of iconic Las Vegas Strip resorts—the Stratosphere, standing tall like a needle in the desert; the Wynn, like a piece of shiny, curved glass, gleaming in the sun; the High Roller, slowly rotating like a giant bicycle wheel. As I approach downtown, I laugh at the fact that I’ve passed no less than five local casinos to get to work…and lament that I have to drive directly into a tangle of highways colloquially known by locals as “The Spaghetti Bowl.”

I allow myself to appreciate the scenery, the weather, the gigantic tourist attraction that pays my taxes (thank you, tourists!) and another day of drawing breath, and I ask myself, “how the hell did I get here?”

The answer: it all started on Monday, the 14th of May, 2007, when I went to work for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce…

Sure, the last four or five years have been every bit the roller coaster as that 2007 – 12 stretch, but we’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I will never stop appreciating everything—and the support of everyone—that led me to this moment.

Even the bumps along the way.

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