Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hotel Picnic

It was a beautiful day along Chicago’s south shore today. It was a great day to not work … unless you are a photographer. Hence I became the official James Hotel photographer by default.

We had an outdoor picnic. The managers grilled chicken and burgers and hotdogs while the employees played volleyball, bag toss, and touch football. Many of my co-workers brought their young daughters and sons who had fun grabbing candy from a piñata. I joined in the activities but couldn’t resist taking photos on such a pleasant, sunny day. Since living in Bogotá, I have a much better appreciation for the sun. (While living in Colombia I began self-teaching myself photography despite the daily afternoon rain showers.)

As I left the picnic I thought about how the bosses were playing and having fun with the employees and how good everyone felt. I had a friend who attended the picnic who works for valet parking for our hotel. Valet parking has its own company and bosses. He told me how each year his bosses always schedule a party when all the employees have to work, yet have the nerve to ask if the workers are attending it. Then I thought about our picnic. I had to be thankful it wasn’t just the weather that made it such a wonderful day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mom and Russ

It has been a long time coming. No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama’s running mate decision for Senator Joe Biden that he made official this morning. No, I’m not talking about Brett Favre’s recent decision to make a comeback and sign with the New York Jets.

I’m talking about my mom and Russ.

Today they got married. She had been single for more than a decade before she met Russ. Yet my mom has an amazing way of making the most out of life. Maybe it is her strong religious beliefs and knowledge of the bible. Maybe it is her constant positive nature. (It has been no exaggeration when I call my mom a "walking Prozac," only she is the last person I know who would use drugs.) I see it as both of these and more. My mom is not just a positive person, she is a giving person. Every person she meets, she gives something to them, from a warm, genuine smile to an open mind. My mom is living proof for the old saying what goes around, comes around. I can’t say I always believed in this law of give and return. My mom seemed to always give all she had and yet many men in her life did not return the favor, me being among those on that list. Still she kept giving … to her church, to her high school students, to her family and friends. Now it is finally returning. She lives in a home that would make Bob Vila jealous, she retired from teaching history this past June, and she can enjoy life with someone who can keep up with her … Russ.

They went white-water rafting in Alaska last summer and skiing down diamond trails in Canada last winter. My mom recently confessed, "After you left Colorado, I thought I’d never ski again."

And so there she was this morning in the same church she had prayed in every Sunday for many years … alone. Now she was wearing a wedding dress. It was obvious how happy she was and I thought to myself, no one more deserves it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Meeting Michael Jordan

Having worked at one of the most luxurious hotels in both Aspen and Chicago, I have seen my share of celebrities and rich men. Some of the most interesting have included writer Hunter S. Thompson, astronaut John Glenn, actor Bill Murray, and baseball player Ernie Banks. I could write a good short story about my interactions with these men. Seeing celebrities now seems commonplace.

With Michael Jordan it was different.

I have been working on a story on a 40 and over league that he sponsors in Chicago. It is the second year of this league’s existence and I am the only journalist who has written about it. The league is primarily composed of former college and professional players who grew up in the city’s west and south sides. The league’s organizer, Tony McCoy, grew up playing basketball on the Southside. McCoy and Jordan were both in college playing in a Chicago pro summer league when they met. They have remained friends, which was why McCoy told me Jordan would probably arrive for the championship game. Just before the game began today at noon, Jordan walked in with a big, bright smile as if he knew everyone was looking at him. He shook hands with many players and guys his age sitting in the bleachers. He looked in basketball shape and despite all the bald heads in the gym, his was the only recognizable one.

The whole feeling inside the gym changed when Jordan entered. Maybe this was why he was so good at basketball; he changed the game simply with his presence. The players hustled after loose balls that I had seen them ignore in previous games. The players and referees listened to Jordan’s words as definite truths as his voice grew hoarse from hollering instructions. About the only one who didn’t listen to Jordan was his two-year-old godson Kendall. At halftime I asked Jordan for a photo with Kendall. So Jordan picked him up and despite Jordan’s insistence, Kendall refused to change his confused expression. I then told Jordan I had gone to UNC. He asked me when I had returned last and we agreed things had changed a lot in Chapel Hill.

The second half began before I could carry on our conversation. Jordan was on his feet almost the entire half telling his former Bulls teammate Jeff Sanders to stay in the low post and critiquing the refs’ calls. Even in jeans and tennis shoes Jordan could control the game. Sanders’s foul shot with a few seconds left was the difference in the game, though it seemed inconsequential to Jordan’s arrival. Everyone was wearing Jordan apparel, even NBA player Juwan Howard. A mass seemed to follow Jordan after the game and I never saw him again. There were no television cameras or screaming fans. He seemed happy being one of the guys watching a sport he loves.