Month: September 2016

Joining SigEp was the Best Decision I Ever Made

Close-up of SigEp Sign on our House

Last year at around this time, I bought a new camera for my photography class.  Apparently, the one my mom bought me for Christmas was “not the right kind.”  Annoying, but whatever.  So I dropped a cool $300 on a Sony Alpha DSLR.  I unpacked it in the parking lot of Walmart and put in a spare memory card I had laying around my glove compartment.  When I got home, this was the first picture I took.  It’s the letters on the house I lived at for three years.

Applying for college was more nerve-wracking than applying for jobs.  Most of my high school friends applied and had been accepted to either the University of Utah or Westminster.  I, on the other hand, decided to go to the University of Wyoming.  While I wanted to spread my wings and try out a different city, a different state, the logical choice was UW because of the Hathaway Scholarship and because of low tuition rates.  I packed up two cars full of my belongings and set sail for Laramie.  I don’t think I said a word the entire trip there.  There was no turning back.

I moved into Orr Hall with a roommate I had never met.  Luckily, there were two guys from a fraternity right across the street that volunteered to help me move everything in – something I am still grateful for to this day.  I took way more than I needed to.  After I got settled in, I wondered if UW was really the right choice for me.  I admittedly missed home, but I was also ready for a new experience.

That second week of my freshman year was Greek life’s recruitment week.  Without telling my parents, I decided to sign up for recruitment week.  Each night, I got to explore different houses, meet different people, and figure out this whole “Greek life” thing.  To me, it was a lot like test-driving a car; each one rides differently, and the goal is to find the perfect fit for yourself.  At the end of night three, my recruitment group walked up to a table with a banner that said “Sigma Phi Epsilon.”  And wouldn’t you know it?  Those two guys who helped me move everything into my dorm were the first two people to greet me.

They showed me around the house and gave me virtually the entire history of the house.  There were guys with so many different backgrounds, so many different experiences, so many stories.  I didn’t feel as lost in my collegiate journey as I had been.  I listed SigEp as my top preference, and got to come back a second night.  I don’t remember what activity we did that night, or for that matter, any of the activities I participated in that entire week.  But I do remember something that sticks out to me to this day – everybody in this house meshed together like one big family.

I received four different bids on bid day, the maximum allowable.  Over the next 48 hours, I had to do some soul-searching.  Which organization best matched my value set?  Where would I be most comfortable?  By Sunday, I realized that the decision was obvious.  Virtue, Diligence, Brotherly Love.  Sound mind, sound body.  A truly balanced man.  SigEp was my home, and my newfound brothers were my family.

My parents didn’t find out about the fraternity until it was time for my first due payment.  When I called them up on the phone, my decision was met with much resistance.  If I were a parent and their kid asked for money for something they knew nothing about, chances are I’d probably be angry too.  I spent a good hour on the phone with them, trying to coax them and win their support.  I succeeded.

That first year was one where I grew in many ways – mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I had a younger sister growing up.  No brothers.  I was the eldest child.  When I joined SigEp, I got 35 new brothers, and I was the youngest.  While my sister challenged my patience, my brothers challenged my mindset.  I opened my heart and my mind, and I learned what it truly meant to be a SigEp.

There’s a hierarchy of families, as is custom with any fraternity.  I remember having to choose my big brother.  There were so many choices, but I know I made the right choice.  He was the one who helped me move into my dorm that first day.  And who was my big brother’s big brother?  The other one who helped me move in.  I belonged to a great family.

“Live every day like you’re wearing your letters.”  I’m sure I heard that at least 100 times during my collegiate career.  Certainly, there were very vivid memories of demonstrating each principle SigEp stands for.

Virtue.  Do the right thing.  During Homecoming Week my sophomore year, we participated in the Big Event, a day of service in the community.  I was still on crutches from a surgery back in July, and had been assigned to go to this basement rental near campus.  The woman who lived there needed help cleaning up the place because of health issues.  When I got there, the place was cold, the windows were cracked, the heat didn’t work.  A family of five was living in a two-bedroom apartment.  As I was cleaning the walls, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her situation.  She and I struck up a conversation over the course of the three hours or so that I was there.  I got to know her.  She was thankful for everything she had.  She was thankful for her kids.  She was thankful for the help.  Before I left, she pulled me aside and hugged me.  I learned the value of appreciation.  This isn’t a flagrant search for gratitude.  Rather, it is a lesson in the internal reward you receive for putting others before yourself.  Doing good makes you feel good.

Diligence.  Perseverance at its finest.  I had surgery July 5, 2013.  I was told that it would take at least six months for me to be able to walk without support and eight months for me to be able to run.  I was frustrated because I really enjoyed running, and losing something you love for that amount of time takes a toll.  There were many trials and tribulations within the first three months.  My mom even considered having me take a semester off so I could focus on recovery, but I wanted to go back to school.  I remember the second week of school.  I was still on crutches and still in slight pain.  I just wanted to be able to walk again.  So, I left my crutches at the house and attempted to walk to class in the Ag building.  It took ten minutes for me to walk halfway there.  I was sweaty, out of breath, but damn it, I wanted to walk again.  I did this every day for two months.  Soon, my gait was smoother and the pain went away.  I worked my hardest to be able to run two months earlier than expected.  During Christmas break, I ran my first mile, albeit slower than normal.  By March, I had run a 5K at Copper Mountain.  This is not a pity party.  Pain is temporary, and the experience wasn’t that bad.  But persevering and setting goals made it all worth while, and made me a stronger person.

Brotherly love.  Let the love flow.  I opened up more to my big, Dylan, than I think I’ve opened up to any other person.  There’s a lot of trust, and you come to realize how strong that trust is through experience.  We unfortunately lost one of our members in 2015.  It took a toll on many of us.  A lot of guys lost their close friend and confidante.  I lost my little.  The brothers of SigEp banded together.  In the house, we kept our doors open more frequently.  We engaged in conversation, in reminiscence, in true heartfelt camaraderie.  I’m not ashamed to say that I hugged more.  These were more than brothers, these were my best friends.  This act of brotherly love, this act of friendship stands the test of time.

Graduating was the most difficult part for me.  Leaving something I had grown accustomed to, a house full of my best friends and an organization that taught me so much, wasn’t easy.  To this day, post-graduate Jordan wishes he could have stayed in school and got a second degree, just to be there a little while longer.  At the same time, I wouldn’t trade any decision for the world.  I am a better person because of the fraternity.  The years may pass, but the memories stay.  I think everyone should experience Greek life, regardless of which house you choose.  I may be a bit biased, but out of any decision I’ve made in life so far, joining SigEp was the by far the best.

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WFAN is the Homewrecker of New York Radio

WFAN logo

If you haven’t heard, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are divorcing.  And of course, there’s a lot of speculation going on.  Nothing can be proven as of yet, but there are allegations of womanizing on Brad Pitt’s part.  Homewrecking dissolves inseparable bonds, and the pain of the initial incident hurts for years.

YouTube has an uncanny ability to identify videos that I may be interested in.  One of those videos that popped up today was an old aircheck from WNBC-AM New York.  It was the station’s final broadcast before it flipped to a sports talk station, WFAN.  Alan Colmes of the Fox News show Hannity and Colmes, before it became solely known as Hannity, was the host of the final broadcast.  WNBC had been located at 660 on the AM dial for 66 years before it went off the air.  In 1988, General Electric/NBC decided to get out of the radio business.  Stations WNBC in New York and KYUU in San Francisco (among others) were sold to other organizations.  Emmis Communications, owner of WFAN 1050 AM, decided to move the call letters and format to 660, moving WNBC to the history books.

It is a tad bit ironic that “66 WNNNNNNBC” was on the air for 66 years before folding.  Many listeners in New York were saddened by the loss of a once-dominant superstation.  WNBC had long broadcast a top-40 format in direct competition to cross-town WABC-AM.  WABC transitioned to a talk radio format in 1982, leaving WNBC as one of the last music stations on the AM band.  In the 1980s, FM became the primary choice for music listeners because of its superiority in signal.  Most of the dominant stations on the AM side either switched to FM or disbanded altogether.  WNBC had been on the decline for several years; the station was no longer profitable.

Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, a former WNBC DJ and current SiriusXM personality, commented that it was the end of an era.  Indeed, many loyal listeners were dismayed when they tuned into their favorite station and found it broadcasting not music, but sports.  But folks in the New York City radio market shouldn’t have been that surprised.  Just a year earlier, WFAN “homewrecked” another longtime favorite in the metropolitan area:  WHN.

WHN broadcast at 1050 on the AM dial.  It had long been a top-40 station in New York City.  The AM band was diluted with options for this format:  1010 WINS, 570 WMCA, 770 WABC, and 660 WNBC.  After years of stiff competition, the station flipped to a country music format.  New York City had not had a strong country music powerhouse until WHN flipped.  By the late 70s, it was the most popular country music station in the country.  Emmis Communications decided it was time for a change in 1987, and after 65 years, WHN became WFAN – a sports talk station.

Just in the span of two years, two longtime radio legends went off the air.  The consequences were great:  660 AM is a clear-channel station.  At its peak in the overnight hours, the station can be heard throughout continental North America.  Listeners would no longer hear that top-40 station at 660 AM, but rather a sports talk station.

WFAN has been a homewrecker of sorts since its inception.  WHN and WNBC are nothing more than mere callsigns in the annals of history.  These longtime powerhouses made way for a fledgling format that has succeeded more since its been introduced on the FM band than during its entire history on the 660 frequency.  This proves that its never okay to interfere with longtime relationships, because the after-effects will be dismal.

We Only Hear What We Want to Hear, and It’s Ruining Us as a Society

Blackout Button

“Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody had a Blackout button?”

Deep in the corner of game show obscurity lies Blackout, starring Bob Goen.  Ever heard of the Pyramid franchise?  This game show replaced The $25,000 Pyramid on the CBS daytime schedule back in 1988.  It was supposed to be the network’s next big hit, but it fizzled out after 13 weeks.  Two teams, each composed of one celebrity and one civilian, competed in this word game.  The object of the game was simple:  you spoke for 20 seconds about a person, place, or thing without actually revealing what you’re talking about.  The opposing team is armed with a “Blackout button” that allows them to censor up to seven seconds of the description in an effort to make identifying the clue as difficult as possible.

At the beginning of the show, announcer Johnny Gilbert would ask the home audience if it would be nice if everybody were equipped with a Blackout button.  In 1988, this was but a fantasy.  In today’s world, this is an actuality.  How so?  Two words:  social media.

We are all consumers of information, be it through television, print media, or even social media.  Up until the mid-2000s, the cycle of news consumption was, well, cyclical.  You would receive a recap of yesterday’s news while reading the paper, get up-to-date information while watching network or cable news, then receive a recap of that day’s events on the evening news.  That cycle would restart the next day.

Then social media happened.  People could post about events instantaneous to their occurrence.  A journalist no longer had to be the first person to report them.

But something else happened.  Individuals could now be more selective of when and where they got their news.  This particularly applies to the arena of politics.  If you’re a conservative, chances are great that you get your news from Fox News, Breitbart, or even the Drudge Report.  If you’re liberal, you may be more inclined to watch MSNBC or get information from a Facebook page such as “Occupy Democrats.”

Why do we do that?  Simply put, we like to hear what we want to hear.  When we want information, we are going to go to a news source that we agree with and get information instantaneously through social media or, to a lesser extent, television.

It justifies our stances on issues and demonizes others for their views.  This certainly hasn’t helped an already toxic political atmosphere in which either side believes their stance is the only correct one.  The electorate has become more polarized in the process, adding fuel to an already raging fire.  Can you solely blame social media for this?  Not particularly, but there is evidence that social media has contributed to this polarization problem.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody had a Blackout button?”  We are living in a world where we can “blackout” what we don’t want to hear, and when we hear something we don’t want to hear, we can use our “block-out” button to remove them from online existence.  No wonder we are a society so divided.  Maybe if we did a little more listening and were less blissfully ignorant, then perhaps we could actually be better people.

Is a Vote for a Third-Party Candidate a Vote Wasted? No.

Getty Image of Four Presidential Candidates“A vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Hillary Clinton.”

“A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.”

It’s a template used every election by hard-line partisans to coerce voters into voting for their candidate.  “A vote for (insert third-party candidate) is a vote for (insert major party candidate).”  But, should we be threatened by this nonsense?

To answer this question, one must look at the political construct of this nation.  Common knowledge indicates that our Founding Fathers never intended for this nation to be absorbed in the party system.  George Washington noted in his presidential farewell address that the spoils of political parties do nothing but discriminate upon the electorate.  In a series of scandals and controversies, legislators began to take sides, and thus was the creation of political parties.  Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and eventually, the Democratic-Republicans.  After Andrew Jackson became president, a deep political divide separated the electorate further.  Since then, we’ve dealt with the ramification of a two-party system.

Democrats and Whigs.  Democrats and Know-Nothings.  Democrats and Republicans.  Certainly, other political parties have existed over the years.  But none of them have been comparable to the support Democrats and Republicans have.  A recent Gallup poll shows that when asked how they identify politically, 27 percent of respondents said they were Republican and 31 percent said they were Democrat.  Of the remaining respondents, a record 38 percent respondent that they were “independent,” or felt they did not belong to either political party.

What’s more is that two-party identification is at its lowest point since polling on the subject began.  In 1988, 36 percent of respondents said they were Democrat, 31 percent said they were Republican, and 33 percent said they were “independent.”

Why such dismal numbers?  We are gridlocked in a system that makes us choose for the more desirable of two less-than-desirable options.  Congressional productivity since 2011 is at its lowest point in the history of Congress because of the deep political divide.  See, before 1995, members of Congress worked across the aisles to get things accomplished.  Indeed, history shows that there was a large overlap between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican.  Essentially, people in the middle who felt that they did not belong to a political party could choose someone of a political party that was not exactly partisan and be satisfied.

Then things changed.  Party whips ensured adherence to party-line voting.  Members who were not deemed conservative or liberal enough were primaried and replaced on the ticket with more extreme candidates.  Slowly over time, that aforementioned overlap began to diminish.  The result has become one of the most divisive, destructive party systems in the world.  It’s this vicious cycle that has resulted in a record number of people waxing independent, a cause without a party.

Every four years, people take their frustrations to the ballot box, at least on a presidential level.  In a normal election cycle, these independents must choose between two candidates with which they may have severe or bitter disagreements.  That’s why there is so much focus on the independent vote.  Each party tries to capture the middle:  a middle increasingly growing with dissatisfied former partisans.  The sheer focus of the election moves away from issues and towards “what lie can I tell you to garner your vote?”

This pinch on electoral freedom has come to a head this election, and voters are angry.  There is no common ground between the Democratic and Republican nominee.  However, the talk of third-party campaigns has risen.  Believe it or not, there are other options.

Gary Johnson has made a big push in trying to gather the support of dissatisfied partisans by taking stances on issues that put him in the ideological center.  Polls show him garnering the most support of any Libertarian candidate in history.

So why do we feel the need to vote for one of two less-than-desirable options.  That answer lies in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College harbors the environment where the two-party system thrives.  Electoral votes are divvied up among all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to population.  California gets 55 electoral votes for being the largest state and Wyoming gets a measly three votes for being the smallest.  Electors then cast their vote for whomever won their respective state, save for Nebraska and Maine, in which all but two of their votes may be cast for the candidate who won their respective congressional district.

The Electoral College does not account accurate representation.  With Wyoming’s three electoral votes, we are garnered more federal representation than any other state solely because of our small population.  The bigger problem lies when Wyoming is compared to other states with the same allocated number of electoral votes.  Montana has a population of just over 1 million people; Wyoming has a population just over half that size.  One electoral vote in Wyoming represents approximately 195,000 residents, while one electoral vote in Montana represents approximately 333,000 residents.  Same electoral allocation, two different populations, two drastically different appropriations.

Is the Electoral College really representative of the popular vote?  Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily won reelection in 1936, beating Kansans Governor Alf Landon.  The Electoral College vote was 523 to 8 – one of the most lopsided elections in history.  The popular vote, however, tells a different tale.  FDR managed to win 60 percent of the popular vote compared to Landon’s 37 percent.  A win is a win, yes.  However, a 98.4 percent win in the Electoral College does not mirror a 60 percent win of the popular vote.

Let’s take a look at one of the more controversial examples: the election of 1876.  Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio battled Democratic Governor Samuel Tilden of New York for the seat vacated by Ulysses S. Grant.  When election day rolled around, the national popular vote put Tilden in the lead not by a plurality, but by a solid majority.  When tallied, Tilden captured 51 percent of the popular vote compared to Hayes’ 48 percent.  However, because of the allocation of electoral votes and the necessity of the Electoral College, Hayes won the presidency by one electoral vote.  He did not receive a mandate of the people.  This would not be the last time this would occur, either.

George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 because of 537 votes in the state of Florida – a long-time battleground state.  Both campaigns focused their efforts to capture this state that would prove decisive for a presidential victory.  It should be noted that independent candidate Ralph Nader likely ate away at Al Gore’s lead in the state, allowing Bush to win.

The Electoral College and the idea of battleground states have both turned the quest for the presidency from a national campaign to a 10-state campaign.  Democrats nor Republicans would consider stepping foot in Wyoming because it is so deeply considered a “red state.”  They don’t get to hear voter frustration, nor the tales of party successes or failures within the state.

Is a vote for a third-party candidate a vote wasted?  No.  People crave change.  In an electorate so indecisive because of hyperpartisanship among two major parties, they’re mad as hell.  They shouldn’t be threatened to vote for a candidate they don’t agree with.  It may be risky in parts of the country not safeguarded by the Electoral College.  And, indeed, we’ve seen how third-party candidates have winnowed away at leads in key states.  However, third-party candidacies can break that stranglehold we’ve been living in for almost 250 years.  Simply put, if you don’t agree with a political party or their candidate, don’t vote for them, because a vote for that candidate is a vote against your freedom to exercise your Constitutionally-mandated right.

Virginia Dale: The Woman Behind the Ghost Town

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Nearly halfway between Laramie and Fort Collins lies the remnants of a stagecoach with a troubled and rich history.  The abandoned Virginia Dale Cafe serves as a welcoming sight for travelers anxious to get to their next major destination.  Nestled in the foothills of the Front Range, the tattered exterior of the cafe sets the scene for the ghost town’s rugged past.

Picture it:  Northern Colorado, 1863.  In a location colloquially known as Robbers Roost, outlaw Jack Slade spotted a stagecoach gaining momentum towards the station.  On board was approximately $60,000 in Army payroll; not in money, but in pure gold coins.  Slade’s cohorts seized the payroll from the stage and took off with it, only to bury it for safekeeping.  However, before the bandits could spend their new fortune, they were captured and killed by U.S. cavalrymen.  They only one to escape death by cop?  Jack Slade.

Legend has it that Jack Slade was in charge of this specific outlaw group.  He avoided execution as law enforcement officials and local vigilantes did not have enough evidence to place blame solely upon himself.  Slade played the ignorance card as well; he claimed not to have knowledge about the robbery by his gang because he was the superintendent of the Robbers Roost station along the Central Overland line.  Management of the Overland Trail stage line had their doubts, so they fired Slade.

Slade subsequently moved to Virginia City, Montana, and couldn’t escape his troubled past.  A heavy drinker with an unadulterated temper, he found himself being whisked away to the gallows shortly after his arrival.  The charge that sent him there was not that of stagecoach robbery, but of destruction of property.  He might have gotten away with simple jail time had he not ripped up the arrest warrant nor cursed the judge.  No amount of cajolery could convince the judge of a more lenient sentence.  March 10, 1864 marked Jack Slade’s final day.

His girlfriend, Virginia Dale, waited at the Robbers Roost station for her lover’s body to arrive.  One of Jack’s closest friends traveled by stagecoach to retrieve his body, by now pale, limp, and cold.  Still grief-stricken, Virginia took his corpse home and stowed him in a metal casket.  In a time before formaldehyde was the preservatory norm, she filled the casket with alcohol.  Virginia stowed Jack Slade’s body underneath her bed for nearly four months, wanting to be as close as she could to her one true love.  After the reality of what happened set in, she gave Jack a proper burial in Salt Lake City.

The stagecoach station and village were both named in honor of the former station superintendent’s girlfriend – a woman who endured the cycle of human emotion in such a short time.  Her name weaves a story of a wild, outlaw past with an unbound loyalty and commitment, regardless of circumstance.  The stagecoach and school still stand not far off of Highway 287.  The shackled remains of the town’s post office and cafe remind the public of a place in time riddled in ruggedness, love, and dejection.

Election Selection: Why Constituent Outreach is Important

State Legislators

I had the honor of taking some pictures for the Wyoming Democratic Party’s photobank this last legislative session.  During “Love of Reading Week,” a group of state legislators sported hats similar to Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.  On the left, you have John Freeman (D-Green River).  Mr. Freeman was a teacher of mine back in high school.  I remember when he was elected to his first term.  Wonderful man and an excellent educator and legislator.  Next to him is JoAnn Dayton (D-Rock Springs).  She was just one of 11 women in a House of 60, but the way she crafted arguments either for or against specific bills was certainly to be admired.  In the green hat is Stan Blake (D-Green River).  His infectious laugh can light up a whole room and his demeanor is very down-to-earth.  Finally, on the right is James Byrd (D-Cheyenne).  The few times I interacted with him, he was very genial and results-oriented.

It’s a rather long preface, but I promise, this story is going somewhere.  Three of the four legislators in the picture are local elected officials – my elected officials.

The first time I went to the Capitol this last session was in February.  A group of ASUW senators, executives, and justices went to Cheyenne to lobby on behalf of House Bill 13.  ASUW President Brian Schueler, Vice President Emily Kath, and Director of Governmental Affairs Grant Rogers invested a lot of time during their tenure into student email privacy.  With help from state legislators, a bill (House Bill 13) was drafted to protect the privacy of student-to-student communication through college-sponsored emails.  To help garner support, we traveled to Cheyenne to ensure that everyone was on board.

Being a native son of Sweetwater County, I was tasked with contacting legislators from the county:  Blake, Dayton, Freeman, Sen. Bernadine Craft (D-Rock Springs), and Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs).  Before the trip, I was able to contact the first four via email correspondence.  Within a matter of hours, I heard back from Freeman and Blake.  They were both strong supporters of the bill and gave me a well-thought explanation of their reasoning.  A day later, JoAnn Dayton emailed me, again in support of the bill.  Not only did she give her reasoning behind her stance, but she also kept me updated with the progression of the bill through the House.

When we arrived at the Capitol, I asked to meet with all five of them.  Stan Blake, JoAnn Dayton, and John Freeman came out of the House chamber to meet with me in the lobby.  We had a nice conversation about the importance of the bill and whether or not it would be met with any resistance.  Granted, it was a quick meeting because the legislative agenda is always changing and always busy.  Still though, that face-to-face constituent interaction is important.  I met with Bernadine Craft as well, who offered her support for the bill.  Sadly, the one no-show for a meeting was Mark Baker.

Legislators are busy people.  Contrary to how it’s portrayed at a national level, state legislatures and its legislators are quite productive.

However, it is nice to know that the people you elect to office are doing something.  Interaction with their constituencies are key to their re-election.  When residents of their districts have questions, they would like an answer.  I was extremely happy with the constituent services I received from at least four out of five of my legislators.  I was happy with the fifth legislator when he voted in favor of House Bill 13.  Though I did not have that face-to-face meeting with him, I would like to thank Mark Baker for his vote on an issue I felt strongly in favor for.

In today’s world, postpartisanship does not come easy to many people, especially when it’s so easy to be a party-line voter.  Regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, chances are you’ll be in favor of your party’s candidate.  Yes, there are important issues that our state currently faces, and you may favor the stance of your party’s candidate when compared to the contrary.  Yes, those are important things to keep in mind.  I’m going to challenge you.  Strip away your beliefs, your convictions, your party preference – just for a moment.  Is the person elected to your local, state, or federal office interacting with you?  Are they communicating what they’re doing and why in a satisfactory manner?  If the answer to either of those questions is no, you have the opportunity to create change in the ballot box.  Democracy is a powerful thing.  Use your vote to the fullest.

Wayback Wednesday: Reminiscing Rosewood Drive

Wayback Wednesday

I’ve bounced around from blog to blog in the intervening years since my last post.  It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog, but I think it’s time to make a return to it.  Writing and storytelling are both medicinal to me.  I can collect my thoughts and make sense of them through writing.  In the mess of job applications and cover letters I’ve filled out in the past few months, I’ve also found photography to be a nice escape.

They say pictures are worth 1000 words.  I still remember that toy mower.  As a four-year-old with a desire to help, I thought that I was contributing to the effort.  I wasn’t.  But like every little boy, they emulate their father.  They want to do everything he does.  They mimic his actions.  They aspire to be like him.

I remember the neighbors, John and Bev (and John).  John drove that white compact car.  Bev had a garden in her backyard.  Johnny Jump-ups lined the north and west sides of their fence.  I thought they were the most interesting flowers for some reason that I cannot fathom to this day.  If I had to guess, it’d probably be because the only things we had in our garden were petunias and marigolds.  Bev pulled a few out of her garden and gave them to me.  I took them to our backyard and attempted to plant them by the dining room window to see if they would grow; turns out that’s not exactly how it works.  My dad mowed them over later that day.

Our street was fun.  There were the Brandeckers.  And the Babels.  And the Ericksons.  And the Jerebs.  There were so many families with kids my age.  We had such a tight-knit neighborhood.  Back before the last boom, the neighborhood ended after Laramie Street.  There wasn’t anything behind the Brandecker’s house.  It was remote, yet the view of White Mountain was radiating.  Kevin and I had the idea of trying to make concrete behind his house using nothing but dirt and water.  Again, that’s not exactly how it works, but at the time, we thought it was cool.  He had this bright yellow bulldozer that you pedaled to move, complete with functioning plow.  He rode that thing behind Mrs. Carter’s house to get dirt to haul back to his front yard.  In this huge bucket (possibly an old toy bin), we combined the dirt with water from the kiddie pool in the front yard and mixed it up.  I recall not wanting to get dirty; alas, I was covered to my elbows in mud.  We pulled the bucket behind their house and made a little concrete pad.  Our contribution to the neighborhood.  Our hope was to build a playhouse out back from the extra two-by-fours that Gary had in his garage.  At six years old, neither of us were engineers or architects, but we were sure we could do it.  That dream never came to fruition.  The concrete pad is now someone’s backyard.  The Brandeckers moved away, as did the Babels.  Yet, we’ve been the constant on the street.

Neighbors have come and gone.  Houses have been erected on what used to be vacant dirt lots.  What was once a sprawling plot of bike jumps and sagebrush is now a new subdivision, complete with apartments, single-family homes, a senior center, and even a Kum & Go.  There’s a stoplight at Reagan and Foothill.  The recent talk of the neighborhood was the four-way stop sign at Reagan and Sweetwater: the same stop sign I’ve ran four times because I can’t get used to it being there.

It’s amazing how fast time goes by.  So much changes in this world.  You can’t appreciate that change unless you take a minute to reminisce about the past, about the good times you had, about how far you’ve come in struggle and in strife – both internally and externally.  Most of all, you can’t appreciate change until you realize how much you’ll continue to grow.