CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA: An Epilogue During The Long Journey Home

The skies are foreboding over the Potomac River approaching Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon.

The skies are foreboding over the Potomac River approaching Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by John Nash)

It was Monday night and I was laying flat on my back, watching the Florida sky whisk by until it became Georgia sky.

The moon, a beautiful three-quarter shiner, would play hide and seek behind the occasional clouds, or it would disappear from view for a while until reappearing as my destination turned back toward true north.

I was reminded, actually, of being a child again, of laying in the back seat of my family’s car as it drove through a Maine night.

It was the same view from above, flying by. The sky at night. The moon. The trees as they stood high over my chosen path of travel, zooming by at such high rates of speed they were nothing but a blur.

It gave me a good feeling, laying there; a brief reminder of what life was like as a child, when the world was innocent and future was full of hope.

That’s how I fell asleep inside my Amtrak sleeper car on Monday night, feeling good about my “Christmas in Florida” excursion.

I made a grown woman cry with a Christmas Day tribute to her lost son. I made a little girl smile by handing her a teddy bear she never expected.

I watched two movies — “Spotlight” and “Concussion” — that both made me think.

I got to spend time watching a college bowl game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

And on the day I started my journey home I fell asleep thinking about that little boy that was once me, laying in the car and looking up at a world full of wonder.

I fell asleep smiling, I’m sure.

Tuesday came and with it came daylight.

From my window, I looked out onto the world once again.

Only now I was able to see everything again.

Small towns rolled by too quickly to savoir. I saw backyards of houses, rear sides of businesses, and those trees. Those damn trees, blocking my views.

They had lost their romance from the night before. They were just trees, parts of the forests that you look into and get lost in.

Outside Raleigh, N.C., I saw homeless encampments — enough so that I spent the rest of my journey looking for more.

They say travel by train and see America, so that’s what I’m doing.

We let people live like that. Under bridges. In tents. Unprotected.

What a country.

I’m heading back to Connecticut — back to the real world — and my ETA as I type this is approximately eight or nine hours.

My ride for the 24-hour journey home arrives in Tampa on Monday afternoon. (Photo by John Nash)

My ride for the 24-hour journey home arrives in Tampa on Monday afternoon. (Photo by John Nash)

The North Carolina countryside is flying by at a speed too fast to enjoy.

Last night’s peaceful easy feeling, if I can borrow a term from the Eagles, is — if I can borrow another term from the band — already gone.

I’m going back to a newspaper business that is drowning, refusing to spend money to make money. It’s now a place where people wear the look of wonder, asking themselves if it’s going to appear above the surface again and will we all be able to tread water until we retire.

I’m going back to a place where traffic jams are the daily routine; a place where some people are too rich for their own good while others are trapped by the society we have created.

While I was in St Petersburg, two teenagers were shot in a drive-by shooting. One of them died.

Back home in Connecticut, a 14-year-old boy was killed in Bridgeport, an innocent bystander, from what I hear.

I guess it doesn’t matter where I’m hanging my hat. Kids die.

America.

It’s flying by outside my window right now, but for some people it’s over before it even started.

If this trip has cemented a self-discovery about myself it’s the fact that I don’t really like people anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I like individual people — I downright love and adore some people — but persons as a people just annoy me.

I also fear that I’m not a true fan of sports anymore — not in a sense that I don’t love the games and the story lines they bring forth.

Those are a part of me.

But as I sat in Section 306, Row T, Seat 23 at Raymond James Stadium, I felt like I’d rather be at home (in this case my hotel) watching on television.

I loved seeing the stadium. I loved walking around and soaking in the atmosphere.

But when I missed three out of the first four plays of the game because people were too lazy to get to their seats in time, I find that annoying.

Football has a shitload of media timeouts and I’d have no problem if somebody decided it was time to go get another beer, or take a leak, when the teams are standing around doing nothing.

But when it’s third-and-12 in the closing minutes of the first half, that’s when you decided to stand up and make our whole row stand up so you can waddle out to the concession area to do your business?

Seriously?

Fans show no consideration for other fans and that’s just wrong. It’s annoying and I don’t have to put up with it anymore.

And, when I saw a 10-, maybe 11-year-old boy holding up a sign that said, “Say No To Rape” — a slam at Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and the accusations that haunted his days in college — I literally asked myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

How does a boy that age even enter into the conversation about something like that?

On the plane ride to Florida (Jet Blue — Love ya!) I had people all around me and I was uncomfortable, but it was tolerable.

On the train ride home to Connecticut (Amtrak – Like ya!) I’m alone in my little cubby of a “sleeper car” and I’m content, happy even, no matter how disgruntled I am about what I’m going back to.

Amazing how far I’ve come in 49 years.

Soul mates have come and gone, and I’m certain in my heart I’ve missed my window on that opportunity.

Friendships have come and gone, as well, and are now usually relished through each other’s posts on Facebook. I have 269 “friends” on Facebook, but that doesn’t make me rich. I know that.

To the contrary, I’m alone in this train car watching part of America scream by me for a reason.

Florida is sadly in my rear view mirror.

So too are the best days of my life.

 

CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA: The Gift of Paying It Forward

Little Addison, right, got a surprise gift from me at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Sunday.

Little Addison, right, got a surprise gift from me at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Sunday.

Addison got a little surprise today, something she never expected.

To be honest, it kind of surprised me that I did it. But this is my “Christmas in Florida” and it’s coming to a close, so why not?

There I was inside a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team store, buying a hat and a t-shirt, when I saw this cute little teddy bear wearing a Bucs shirt.

How cool would it have been if I had a little one in my life to give it to, a total out-of-the blue surprise?

Well, I don’t have a little one back home. Truth be told, I don’t have anybody.

But somebody does.

I bought the bear and started walking around the stadium looking for somebody to give it to.

Why would I pick some random kid and give them a brand, spanking new little teddy bear that supports a team I couldn’t give two hoots about it.

Well, it is the season of giving.

But there is another reason, too.

Earlier in 2015 — quite earlier, to be honest — a guy I know from my local deli bought my breakfast sandwich and coffee — that’ll be $5.38, sir, thank you very much — and told me to pay it forward.

I promised him I would.

Now and then I looked for opportunities, but never pulled the trigger and paid it forward.

One time, while in line at Wendy’s there was an attractive woman in the car behind me and thought she’d appreciate this moment. It was time for me to pay if forward.

Then, when I found out her total was $23 and change, I promised myself, “Next time.” After all, I only had a $20 on me and I still had to eat.

Well, “next time” finally arrived today when I saw that little teddy bear.

I walked around the entire third level — up in the cheap seats, if you can call NFL tickets as such — looking for just the right-aged kid.

Too young and she might bite the bears’ eyes off.  Too old and it would seem too weird.

Then there she was, little Addison, standing next to her mom, waiting for her dad to either come back from food or bathroom before heading back into the stadium’s seating area.

I approached the mom and asked if the little girl was hers. She said she was, so I explained my dilemma.

I was from Connecticut, having made the trip south for the St. Petersburg Bowl (her husband just happened to attend the game, I found out) and I owed somebody a “pay it forward.” I told her how I saw the little Buccaneer bear and thought how cool it would be to give it to a little kid, a surprise holiday gift coming out of the blue at a football game.

The mother said something about it being sweet, so I knew I was in. I asked if it was OK if I gave it to her daughter.

She said, “Yes” and when I pulled it out Addison’s eyes got big — that look of “It’s for me?”

She took it and hugged it right away. She was shy and ran right to mom’s legs, but she did give me obligatory thank you.

I asked the mom if she would take a picture of Addison and me, knowing I’d put it here as a reminder to everybody to randomly to do something nice for somebody and just ask them to pay it forward.

Plus, I wanted it so I’ll always remember Addison and remember the day I made that little lady smile with an out-of-the-blue surprise.

I hope Addison never forgets the man who gave her the bear at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in December of 2015.

For a couple of reasons now, I know I’ll never forget this trip.

CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA: The Mom, The Movie and The Man

There is 90 minutes left on this Christmas Day and I’m thinking a lot about fate.

Yesterday, as some of you may have read, I found myself behind the car of a family who had lost their son to cancer five years ago. (If you didn’t read it, you can click here to read it before continuing).

As fate would I have it, I have a colleague I worked with in Connecticut for a short time who just happened to move to Florida to write for the Navarre Press, the hometown paper of Ian Cole Lockwood, the young man I wrote about in yesterday’s blog post.

She asked permission to pass along the blog item to the boy’s mom. The mom in turn asked permission to reach out to me to personally thank me for writing such a tribute to her son.

Here I was just driving up a road when I noticed something, followed my inner sixth sense, looked into it, wrote about it and now I’ve made a mother’s Christmas because I wrote about her son; a young man I never met, yet whose short life touched me in some way.

I also learned why they were in Clearwater, rather than up north at home.

They had been sky-diving in the Florida Keys, during which they spread some of Ian’s ashes to fulfill a bucket list of his wishes that he never got to complete. After that they were traveling to Clearwater to visit Ian’s 93-year-old great-grandmother for the holiday.

Her words were the greatest Christmas present I could have received.

That alone has made this trip to Christmas in Florida entirely worth it for me on a personal level.

I will never forget Ian, or the Lockwood family, and this little connection fate has given us on such a special Christmas Day.

• • •

With the bowl game in a down-mode on Christmas Day and no media access to the teams, I decided to hit the movies and went and saw “Spotlight.”

In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about journalism. Yeah, that’s me. When I’m on vacation I go to sporting events and when I want a couple of hours down time I pick a movie about journalism instead of “Creed”, or “Sisters” or “Stars Wars – The Next Generation” or whatever it’s called.

The movie was definitely a two-thumbs up movie, but what struck me as amazing was to see real journalism in the final days of its hey-day. Reporters did research, sure, but they also had a team of people who helped them.

There is a scene in the movie where a reporter needs something and goes into the newspaper’s morgue (which is basically the library of past clips and information) and asks for it.

Then it all gets delivered to him.

Point being, it freed him up from hours and hours of research to continue digging for the story through the people and not the clips.

Many times in this space I’ve wrote about the woes of journalism and this movie certainly brought up a lot of those feelings.

But it was great to see reporters going house to house, knocking on doors, barging into offices to get the story and get it right.

• • •

After the movie I hit up a local CVS to buy a comb. That turned into a few other things that the TSA wouldn’t allow me to take on a flight, as well.

As I was walking into the store, a man was sitting outside the store, using one of the columns in front of the store to hide from the sun and the heat.

He was rather unkempt — hair too long, beard too long, both too scraggly.

I expected him to say something as I walked in, but he didn’t.

He was wise to the game.

On the way out, he got me.

“Spare some change?” he asked.

I had paid with an ATM card, but reached into pocket and pulled out $22 in cash.

No, I didn’t give him the whole thing. But I did slip him the $2, which he truly appreciated, and even shook my hand blessed me.

Sure, maybe it went for a bottle of beer. Or maybe it was the final two bucks he needed to get his fix as he walked off behind the store, to head to his next destination.

Or, maybe, just maybe, he had gotten enough to buy a sandwich, or put something solid in his belly.

It’s Christmas night. There’s one hour left.

That’s the story I’m going with in my head.

Merry Christmas, loved ones.

Twelve hours to kick-off.

CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA: Ian Lockwood reminds us what is important

I am here — a thousand miles from home, alone for the holiday — for a football game. UConn vs. Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl, the day after Christmas.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Ian Cole Lockwood might be appreciate that. He was, after all, a football player and a football fan.

I also have a feeling, though, that Ian would appreciate a lot more about this holiday weekend. In short, he would love to be with his family again. He would love to be able to see his friends again. And they would, without a doubt, give anything in this world to have their son and friend back.

This morning I was driving on some non-distinctive Florida road between St. Petersburg and Clearwater when I found myself behind an SUV, sitting at a red light, which seem to last an eternity here in the Sunshine State.

Through the back window I could see Christmas presents piled up high.

No surprise there. Tis the season, after all.

On the left side of the rear window, I saw a sticker.

“Livestrong 10”

On top and bottom were the words, “We lost a son … but we gained an angel.”

The son’s name was included. Ian Cole Lockwood.

Ian was born on December 21, 1992. He should have turned 23 years old on Monday.

Unfortunately, he died after a battle with cancer on Jan. 28, 2011.

His family and friends will be remembering the fifth anniversary of his passing next month.

I don’t know why I jotted Ian’s name down on a notebook in my car. I don’t know why I wanted to know what happened to him.

It was a family that appeared to be making a holiday trip, ready to spread some cheer, yet in that rear window was a reminder of the devastation they had once felt from what they had lost.

A son.

He was 18 years old when he died.

Ian Cole Lockwood lived in Naverre, Fla., which is 484 miles from where I write this. It’s up on the Florida panhandle, far away from the hotel suite I’m calling home for these six days and five nights.

In the summer of 2009, Ian was diagnosed with brain cancer. I can’t imagine what went through the young man’s mind, or how his family handled it all.

I make a living covering high school athletes just Ian — healthy and strong and representing their families and schools and towns with such heart and pride.

From everything I’ve read online, Ian’s school and town rallied around him, too.

According to a story in the Pensacola News Journal, Lockwood went through treatment and some surgeries and by 2010 had been cancer-free.

But in the same vain that Ian never quit, neither did the cancer.

2e1920f615133bbd6d3f86d5a3e0d6d1It came back and this time took his life.

As I researched more about Ian, I learned that one of his biggest supporters was Urban Meyer.

In college football circles, Meyers name is as big as they come.

He coached at Florida — which is where he met Ian — before moving on to Ohio State, where he coaches today.

Coach Meyer struck up a friendship with Ian during his battle with cancer.

“About a year and a half ago, I met Ian, a young man whose love and passion for football is second to none,” Meyer said after Florida won the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch. I asked these guys to do whatever we could possibly do to get a game ball to Ian Lockwood. That meant you had to go four quarters as hard as you possibly can and find a way to bring that ball to brighten someone’s day.”

Meyer presented the game ball to Ian, who died 27 days later.

But there was another side of Ian, away from football, one I discovered by reading a blog called, “Falcon Food” and written by a blogger named, “julianne5” who was enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy and used the blog as an English project.

Her little sister was good friends with Ian and gave me insight into the kind of person he was, as well. (You can read her entire blog post about Ian by clicking here).

“He always made me make him a peanut butter sandwich, white bread, no crust, cut into little pieces. My neighbor Ian, my little sister’s best friend since we had moved to Florida when she was 4, he was a pretty special kid,” julianne5 wrote. “We would go to the beach after practice because Ian loved to see the sun go down and because I secretly enjoyed their company more than my own friends.  I left for college and was really surprised when leaving his family was as hard as saying goodbye to my own.”

The blog went on to explain how Ian had gone into his senior cancer free and he made it back to the football field.

Then, Julianne5 explained, “He played his last football game on October 8th 2010, and then headed to Gainesville to get a second surgery to remove the tumor. They couldn’t get it all and it had spread to other parts of his brain, they gave him just 6 months to live. He was so strong the entire time, keeping everyone around him at ease.

“He would laugh reading this right now,” julianne5 continued, “tell me how dumb I am for remembering a stupid sandwich instead of his touchdowns or super hot girlfriends, but I don’t know if I’ll ever look at peanut butter the same, I might even make myself one, white bread, no crust, cut into little pieces….”

I write about touchdowns all the time. About baskets scored. Baseballs that are hit. I have written about athletes for 31 years and when I read about this once, strapping standout on the gridiron being summed up by a peanut butter sandwich, I wanted to cry.

OK, fine, I teared up.

But it proved to me once again that these athletes that I’m blessed to cover are such great kids with such great stories about all of them and we really can’t take any of them for granted.

I never had the honor to write about Ian Cole Lockwood until today, and only because I happened to be behind a car that had a sticker honoring his memory.

I can’t do him justice, not in the way Julianne5 could, or those who knew him best could, or those who got to hug him on a daily basis from the day he was born until the day he died.

But during this Christmas season, it’s just another reminder to love everybody who is close to you and never take them for granted.

CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA: The Journey To Wheels Up

  

The plane, which has the New York Jets logo plastered on the side, is here to take me to Florida.

A Metro North train slices through the Connecticut morning fog, the clickity clack of its wheels rumbling underneath my feet.

I am starting a six-day journey that I’ve dubbed “Christmas in Florida” simply because I’ll be spending Christmas Day — not to mention two days before and three days after — in the Sunshine State, alone, on my own.

Part business, part pleasure; the cost incurred solely by me because, well, that’s the way it is in the newspaper business these days.

train

The train ride from the 203 to NYC, and Grand Central Terminal.

I will admit there is a huge tax write-off that is a nice addendum to the journey, but that joy won’t be felt until April .. and with my on-going battle with the IRS, if at all.

I could have stayed home for Christmas — a holiday I haven’t really celebrated in almost 10 years.

But I figured, why not give myself a Christmas present for a change — something other than a pair of jeans, or socks, or a book, or a new car.

So here I am. On a train, heading to New York City, where I’ll hop in a taxi and make my way to John F. Kennedy Airport and fly south.

My taxi driver and the taxi that took me from Grand Central to JFK

My taxi driver and the taxi that took me from Grand Central to JFK

Train journeys are nice. I’ll actually be taking a train home from Florida, a 24-hour trip which you’ll get to read about somewhere down the line if you are open to such punishment as reading my words on a regular basis.

But it can be annoying too. A woman sitting across the aisle from me is doing something with her phone and it is speaking to her. It’s not Siri. It’s something else, but the woman is older than me and undoubtedly new to technology.

The phone to speaks to her, but it’s also speaking to everybody within ear shot.

This woman needs headphones or ear buds, if anybody is looking to give a cheap Christmas gift to the elderly.

I got annoyed enough to pop in my own ear phones, so I have the Howard Stern show in my ear, even as I type this.

If I was chewing gum and rubbing my belly, I’d really be multi-tasking.

But I digress.

So why would I change my Christmas routine of spending the holiday alone at home and go on the road for the holiday … alone.

Well, for the past 10 years, I’ve worked each and every day Christmas Day. That, perhaps, was my gift to my employees — Christmas Day off so they could spend time with their family.

Once a decade, I can put myself first, right?

Part of this journey is to attend and cover the St. Petersburg Bowl, a college football game featuring the University of Connecticut and Marshall University.

Part of it is also to dip my toes into the Gulf of Mexico, something I’ve never done before.

Part of it is maybe to see the Chicago Bears face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFL game I would never see otherwise. It is also something I’ve never done before.

It’s also just to do something different; something my move to Connecticut nine-plus years ago has allowed me to do a lot of.

Six days away from the 203, six days away from the office, six days away from home.

The journey begins.

  • • •

There are three places in the world where the voyeur in me simply loves to be.

A subway. A hospital. An airport.

It is here, in these three locations, where so many different walks of live come together in one place and co-exist with the same common goal.

Also, each and every place also has role players whose job it is to make sure things go smoothly in each and every press.

But next time you’re in such a place, just look around. See the people. Picture their stories.

On the train ride to NYC I told you about the lady who didn’t know anything about speakers and her phone was, on occasion, talking to her.

Some ass-hat who sat in the seat directly in front of me turned around and rudely told her to shut off her speaker.

Two people from two walks off life coming together in a single moment in close proximity to me.

One, just a simple asshole; the other, an old lady, who I noticed as she got off the train used a cane to help her walk away, back to her own life.

Any taxi ride in NYC is bound to be an adventure and I was lucky enough to get an airport ride on my first request.

I had heard some taxi drivers hate the drive from midtown Manhattan to the airport and simply say no.

Usually, in the past, I go the cheap route and take one of those $16 buses that shuttle people back and forth, but all I wanted this time was convenience.

I got it, chilling in the back seat of a ride that barely had to struggle with traffic. My cabdriver? Pakistani, but a nice enough of fellow who got me from Point A to Point B safe and sound.

My taxi driver and the taxi that took me from Grand Central to JFK

My taxi driver and the taxi that took me from Grand Central to JFK

A $52 cab fair with a $10 cash tip.

God speed and safe travels, my dear driver.

The Jet Blue terminal on the JFK Airport campus is right across the street from the infamous TWA terminal that you can Google and learn about.

When I signed up as a Jet Blue member, I signed up for something above low level and I was whisked into a shorter important person line that got up to TSA screening quicker.

Once there, I had to wait for close to 20 minutes before emptying my pockets, taking my jacket, shoes and belt off, removing my laptop from my computer back and ferrying them through the best in modern technology in something as plain and simple as a bus bucket from a restaurant.

It’s the old and new coming together in the present.

Flying used to be easy and fun. Not anymore.

Nerves get frayed. Eyes roll. Heads hurt.

I was one of the lucky ones today.

I made it into the terminal where a whole new world awaited.

Gone was the frustration, and suddenly everybody was looking for their gates, getting prepped for the moment they would take off and find the sky.

I found my gate easy enough. Gate 1.

Then I found food.

Cream of broccoli soup and a chicken BLT from a place called “5ive Steak.” Oh, and a Stella Ale.

The soup was delicious, the sandwich was a piece of bacon above average, and Stella — well Stella is like that friends with benefits that you can always turn to to feel good.

With my belly fed, I went back to the terminal, checked out the sites, checked out the people and found a computer/iPhone/iPad cluster station to take a few minutes and sit down and write some more.

My flight is still more than an hour away, so what a way to kill time.

To do the same thing I do at work every day.

Write.

There’s a woman sitting three rows over me. She’s cute. Mid-20s, brown and white ski cap on her head, a flannel shirt on.

ComputerCluster

Plugged in and ready to go.

Where is she going, I wonder? Denver? Alaska? Or since we’re sitting right outside the Raleigh-Durham flight leaving at 3:20 p.m., is she headed for Carlolina, where nothing could be finer.

We’ve caught eyes a couple of times, but not in that way.

I do wonder if she’s thinking the same thing about me.

Where is he headed What’s his story?

Mine is likely more boring than hers. At least, I’d like to think it is.

Maybe she’s flying to Las Vegas to meet a long lost lover and they’re going to elope much to the chagrin of their families.

Maybe she’s flying home for a Christmas that may be happy may be miserable.

Maybe she’s just going on an adventure like Iam.

No rhyme. No reason.

Everybody has a story in this airport right now. Everybody has a destination.

They sit, they walk, they think, they talk.

I sit and I watch them and think about their stories. Obviously, I just make them because I’m simply too chicken shit to go over and ask them what’s going on.

I’m one hour before wheels up now.

Maybe time to wander over to gate one and hang out for a bit before boarding.

There are more people to watch. More stories to make up.

God willing, I’ll see you in, Florida.

 

 

 

Three Year Laters: They Could Have Changed The World

 A woman kneels in front of a fence with the names of the 20 children killed a week ago at a memorial at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, 21 December 2012. On the darkest day of the year, communities across the United States paused Friday for a moment of silence at 9:30 am exactly one week after a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  EPA Photo by JUSTIN LANE

A woman kneels in front of a fence with the names of the 20 children killed a week ago at a memorial at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, 21 December 2012. On the darkest day of the year, communities across the United States paused Friday for a moment of silence at 9:30 am exactly one week after a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (EPA Photo by JUSTIN LANE)

It’s December 14th, which means its one of the saddest anniversaries of my life; one of the saddest dates in world history, if you really think about.

December 7th. November 22nd. September 11th. And December 14th.

Three years ago, a sick madman walked into an elementary school just 20 miles from where I sit, writing this, and started pulling the trigger on his gun — a Bushmaster XM-15-ES2 rifle that is meant to do nothing but kill and produce mass casualties.

Tragically, it did its job, taking away 20 children and six educators who walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School that morning thinking it was just another day.

It should have been a day that changed that world, but it didn’t work out that way. It rarely does.

Think about it: If those 20 children live, they would have had an opportunity to change the world.

Instead, they left it up to us and we have failed them.

We have failed them and we have failed the 142 other instances of gun violence on school campuses that have occurred in the past three years.

We have failed people in San Bernadino, Calif., in Roseburg, Ore., in Boulder, Colo.

And I do support the right for people to bear arms. I’m a native Mainer where guns are a way of life. Own your pistols. Own your shot guns. Protect yourself and protect your family. Go hunting and kill animals for sport or food.

You don’t need an assault rifle to do that. You don’t need an assault rifle to kill an intruder. One bullet can do that. You don’t need to tear apart a deer carcass by firing off 20 rounds into it. One well-placed shot gets you your meat.

And, for far-right-wing non-realists who say you need such guns to protect us from our own government, let me just say this: Buy a fucking tank and put it in your backyard because if the government is coming for us, we’re already toast with the weapons they have.

There’s a quote, penned by the writers of the television show “West Wing” where Sam Seaborn is speaking in the wake of a shooting against the President and his entourage.

“They bought guns. They loaded them. They drove from Wheeling to Rosslyn. And until they pulled the trigger, they had yet to commit a crime,” Seaborn said. “I am so off the charts tired of the gun lobby tossing around terms like ‘personal freedom’ and nobody calling them on it. It’s not about personal freedom. And it certainly has nothing to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.”

This is why I hate today.

What began as a tribute to 20 fallen angels and six educators, who could have changed the world, it turns political and the anger starts to boil inside me.

And that, I fear, is where we are failing them and our future.

I’m angry now and those people who just “like guns” are angry.

There is no middle ground and more people are going to die because of it.

And there is nothing we can do about it.

I think that saddens me even more than that date three years ago when we were all shocked by what happened in Sandy Hook.

They could have changed the world.

We should have changed the world.

Yet none of us could.

RIP, sweet angels.

I’m so sorry we have failed you.

Her Name Is Still Rio And She Still Dances On The Sand

The present-day Duran Duran, almost the same as the 1984 version. (Photo courtesy of duranduran.com)

The present-day Duran Duran, almost the same as the 1984 version. (Photo courtesy of duranduran.com)

It’s not very often that an e-mail arrives in my phone and it makes me smile. But at precisely 4:13 p.m., on this day, I received one that made me do just that.

And, just like that, it instantly took me back to a time where I could dance with ghosts, back to a day before there was a thing called e-mail. In fact, nobody even carried cell phones back then, but that’s only because they didn’t go on sale until the following year and even then they cost $4,000. Plus, you couldn’t fit one into your pocket.

It was March 11, 1984, and I was riding in a car heading from Bangor to Portland to attend my first-ever concert at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

It is here, I fear, that I must pull over the Memory Machine to digress for a moment.

I have taken my Man Card from my wallet and temporarily locked it up because there is a chance this post might very well be ridiculed by some. Some might just blatantly laugh in my face. I’m ready for it because, if anything, The October Weekend is about honesty for me when I sit down and starting banging away at the keyboard.

Others — those who get me — might find it sweet and sentimental (That’s you, ladies) even while being on the less manly side of things.

So as I was saying ….

We were driving from Bangor to Portland; myself and a kid named Pat Ross, a year my senior, who had graduated just the year before.

He worked at a men’s store in the Bangor Mall and since this was 1980s there was little to do in Bangor, Maine, so running into Pat was common place.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but he brought up the fact he had tickets to this concert and somehow I ended up being his date for the night.

I was 17 and had never been to a concert that wasn’t put on a school band in an auditorium.

And now here I was going from the small city to the — ahem — big city to see my first one.

The band was Duran Duran.

(I am pausing here to let the laughter die down).

My affection for Duran Duran had actually began the year before when the video for “Rio” came out on MTV. That coupled with the fact that I learned one of my English cousins had gone to school with lead singer Simon LeBon helped that affection grow.

When My First Love bought me the album “Rio” for my 17th birthday the year before the concert, I was a full-fledged, albeit primarily closeted, fan of Duran Duran.

How closeted was I?

Duran Duran's "Rio" album cover.

Duran Duran’s “Rio” album cover.

Well, to poke fun at the band, during my senior year at Hampden Academy, my friend, Deane Shaw, and I told anybody who would listen that we were starting up a Duran Duran tribute band and we were going to call it Narud Narud. (Read it backwards, you’ll get the lame joke).

Yet later than spring, when I had a chance to to go see the band perform live, I talked my parents into letting me drive two hours from home for a concert.

Looking back on it now, I just realized it was a Sunday night — a school night — so my parents were being pretty cool for letting me go and I didn’t even realize. (A belated thanks to them, I suppose).

I remember the excitement of walking into the Civic Center, seeing the stage at the far end of the arena, an empty floor (general admission standing!!!) ringed by seats that would put the crowd at close to 8,000.

I remember the blackness right before the band came out and how the entire building hummed with electricity and anticipation. I remember the smell of marijuana, though I myself wouldn’t try the stuff for a couple more years.

I remember the explosion of lights that kicked off the night with the opening song called “Tiger, Tiger.” (I don’t remember that song at all, to be honest. I had to look up the set list).

But all my favorite Duran Duran songs were coming up, from “Hungry Like The Wolf” to “Union of the Snake” to “Save a Prayer.” And the night ended with “Rio” and “Girls on Film” and my ears ringing and hormones raging.

I met a girl named Valerie that night, who for the shortest of times became my girlfriend. She lived in Brunswick, just 20 minutes north of Portland, which put her about 90 minutes south of me.

I actually once hitch-hiked to her house to spend the weekend with her.

Her parents put me on a bus back to Bangor, if I remember right, and I never saw her again.

Ah, fun times.

From time to time as I’m pushing my Sirius XM buttons I’ll come across a Duran Duran song and I’ll listen for a while, maybe a sing along. More often than not, I’ll move on to something else.

Today, Howard Stern was on the radio when at 4:13 p.m. I received an e-mail from my contact at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The subject line read: “Duran Duran To Play Mohegan Sun Arena In April.”

I smiled because I know I’m going to go.

For old times sake. And for new times sake, as well.