A little over a year ago, my family conceived a plan to enjoy the fruits of American imperialism. We began to save and otherwise make arrangements for a trip to the Hawaiian islands that began on June 2 and ended on June 15.

High School graduation at the "Snake Pit"

High School graduation at the “Snake Pit”

The first order of business, however, was a brief detour for my niece’s graduation at a high school in the Dallas, Texas area which took place at the University of North Texas “Snake Pit” – a very cool facility. The proceedings were very Texas. Members of a cub scout troop or, probably, boy scout troop were called upon to “present colors.” The jarring contrast between the pretense of military solemnity and gravitas on one hand and the reality of a couple of kids carrying a flag – in light of my stereotyped notions about Texas – almost gave me the giggles. Then there were the frequent nods to the importance of Christianity – at least two official prayers plus a couple of students bearing witness to the power of Christ aiding them in getting their high school diplomas. If I were a non-Christian student, I would have felt very much like a second class citizen at this public school. Certainly there were more references to God in that ceremony than there were to education. (Perhaps aware of my less than Texan religious patriotism, my bag didn’t make it onto our plane from Chicago to Dallas, despite being checked at the same time as my wife’s bag which did make it. When it arrived at our hotel in Dallas late that night, it had an “Inspected by TSA” tag.)

But, that was Texas. On to Hawaii!

Harper and Kanani waiting happily for their Budget Rental Car in Kailua-Kona.

Harper and Kanani waiting happily for their Budget Rental Car in Kailua-Kona.

The flight is a long one. After a brief jump from Dallas to Phoenix, the flight over the Pacific took 5-6 hours from Phoenix. We flew into Kailua-Kona on the west side of the Big Island on June 2. I had been warned not to judge Hawaii by the Kona airport. It’s on a lava field and is a bit like landing on the moon. That, at least, did not catch me by surprise. What did strike me a bit was the small, open-air nature of the airport. I’d never seen an outdoor baggage claim before. No worries – the weather was nice. The weather is just about *always* pleasant in Kailua-Kona. The big mountains (Mauna Lea and Mauna Kea) to the east squeeze out most of the moisture from the prevailing winds coming out of the east over the Pacific. From the airport, a shuttle driver took us to get our rental car. The shuttle driver was a nice guy who was, no doubt, hamming up his Hawaiian schtick for the tourists to whom he was catering. His patter about Hawaii wasn’t a sham, necessarily, but he knew his clientele. The folks at Budget, where we got our rental, who weren’t working for a tip, were much more leisurely about moving the line. But, no worries, we’re in Hawaii with a long vacation ahead of us. Pictured is Harper who brought her American Girl doll, Kanani. Kanani did not fit in Harper’s already full backpack, so Harper had to expend a great deal of effort carrying the doll separately through all of the airports and whatnot. But, according to Harper, Kanani was Hawaiian, so she needed to go to Hawaii! Fair enough.

We vacationed with some friends of ours from West Lafayette, a family of six. The ten of us:



So, we rented a house that could accommodate the 10 of us. And we found a great one. (“We” — who am I kidding? My role in the planning was minimal. I had more of a role in the financial support end of things. The wives in the two families did the heavy lifting.)

Harper, Cole, and Madda  on the lanai.

Harper, Cole, and Madda on the lanai.

The house was nice, comfortable, and well-furnished generally, but the in my mind, the best part was the lanai. It faced the Pacific and had a great view. It had a comfortable set of couches with a coffee table on one end and a big dinner table that sat our whole crew on the other. The temperature was pleasant at all hours out there. I was occasionally struck by the difference in temperature between the court yard with the pool versus the lanai. The former could be hot and a little stifling while the latter never was. The breeze, which is pretty dependable, really makes a difference.

The families at dinner

The families at dinner

The dinner table was no small selling point. Having a table that accommodates 10 people is good. Having one that lets you see the sun set over the Pacific every night is terrific! And, not for nothing, eating at “home” was a bonus. We weren’t trying to be stingy and do enjoy eating out, but the logistics and expense of feeding 10 people at Hawaiian restaurants can get a little daunting. So, about half the nights, we stocked up on groceries (I became partial to the KTA), and I put my mastery of poolside grills to work.

Other things that became staples of our visit:

Fresh fruit – My friend Jason, in particular, was diligent in making sure we had a never ending supply of pineapple, mango, and papaya cut up and ready to go. He got a good bit of that fruit from the local farmer’s market.

Hawaiian Radio – Both families, without discussing the matter, defaulted to radio stations featuring Hawaiian music. In particular, I liked Native FM, and have apparently become a fan of the Mauna Kea protest song genre. (See, e.g., Sudden Rush “We are (Mauna Kea)” and “Rise Up” by Ryan Hiraoka featuring Keala Kawaauhau). There was also a pretty great Hawaiian-style remake of David Lindley’s “She Took Off My Romeos” by Ho’aikane.

Local microbrews – While we were on the Kona side of the island, the Kona Brewing Company supplied our beer. (Of note to my fellow Hoosiers – I was able to buy cold beer at a gas station on Sunday. Paradise!) I became partial to the Fire Rock Pale Ale. While the beer was good, I have to say that our dinner at the Kona Brewing Co. was probably the most disappointing meal on the island. The server was impatient, and the menu had a TGI Chotchkies feel to it.

Dad and Cole at the Farmer's Market

Dad and Cole at the Farmer’s Market

One of the few itinerary items I imposed on the group was to go see the Captain Cook monument on the north shore of Kealakekua Bay where Cook first encountered the Hawaiians and was later killed by them. The original plan was to hike there. The monument is not accessible by road, and the hike involves getting to the bottom of (then climbing back up) a 1,500 foot cliff that descends to the bay. Given that our group included some younger kids, we abandoned that plan and, instead, signed up for a kayak/snorkeling tour. This was a great decision. We ended up arranging kayaking through the Aloha Kayak Co. on short notice, mainly because they were set up for on-line booking. The owner and central office are a little disorganized and sketchy, but the guide and experience were outstanding. When we showed up, the guy who was there seemed a little unsure of himself. The owner showed up a little later. He wasn’t unsure of himself but was one of these hyperactive, keyed up, over confident, ADHD and/or meth-addled types. Prior to the tour, he gave us a history lesson about Cook and Hawaii that was, in a few instances, historically accurate. But, mainly the lesson took every opportunity to use scraps of history and pseudo-history in ways that minimized or demonized Cook. (For example, the kayak company owner had the Spanish regularly visiting Hawaii for centuries prior to Cook’s arrival as part of the Spanish route between the Philippines and Central America – there is, at best, speculation that the Spanish may have stumbled across the islands at some point.)

Once we got underway, however, and met our tour guide, John, the expedition was outstanding. Kealekekua Bay is simply one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We probably saw a dozen spinner dolphins up close and personal as we kayaked the mile or so across the bay. We stopped and looked briefly at the Cook memorial, but the monument itself is pretty obviously a disfavored place among the locals — at least those we encountered. The kids and I had fun joking about how we were also going to Great Britain, since the chained off parts of the memorial were apparently deeded to Great Britain in 1877. The main feature became the snorkeling. It was my first time snorkeling, and it was incredible. My daughter, Harper, was the first one in, popped her head in the water for about five seconds, then popped up, proclaiming, “This is awesome!” The rest of us hurried to get in there with her. And it was, in fact, awesome. The amount and variety of the sea life under there was pretty incredible. Before that, I had heard friends rave about snorkeling but didn’t really understand the point of the gear. Just stick your face in the water. Now I get it. The ability to see and float – aided by being flat on your face – is magnified to a great extent with the gear, and in places like that Bay, there is a tremendous amount to see.

Approving Jason approves of Tacos 2 Day

Approving Jason approves of Tacos 2 Day

Getting out of the landing spot near the monument and into the Bay was tricky due to the weather conditions. The tide made it necessary to time the waves a little bit in order to clear the rocks safely. It seemed a little dicey to us, but chatting with our guide, John, it sounds like the weather conditions had changed enough to where we were glad to be ignorant about the difficulties John had to consider when getting us out of there. We left our phones behind on the advice of the tour company to avoid damaging them in the water. So, I don’t really have any pictures of that expedition. However, pictured to the left is Tacos 2 Day which was absolutely the best thing for our crew, ravenous after a day on the water.

Tacos 2 Day is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and is basically a grill under a roof with some card tables for those who want to dine there. I’m told it is operated as a fundraiser for a local church. In any event, Jason and I went and fetched piles of tacos (chicken, asada, and chorizo) which the family annihilated in short order. They were good, and the family was hungry. Thumbs up! Another good, no frills dining option we enjoyed was Ultimate Burger.  Some members of our group wanted very good burgers or decent burgers. No dice. Ultimate Burger is *not* messing around. Those grass fed, ultimate burgers were pricey but delicious.

Jason and I did make one expedition without the family and kids. We drove down to South Point (Ka Lae) and then hiked over to Papakolea Beach which is one of four beaches on the planet with green sand.

At the Southern Edge of the U.S.

At the Southern Edge of the U.S.

The drive from Kailua-Kona to South Point is interesting. You drive from the relatively affluent city through a couple of less prosperous towns that amount to suburbs, then into the country, then to what feels like the edge of the earth. Turning off Highway 11 just after making a turn at its southwestern corner, and driving down the one-lane South Point Road starts to feel like one of those dreams where you are running in place. Something about the perspective of the wide open territory descending to the coast makes it look like you are constantly almost there. But, finally, you get to the end of the road and it feels very isolated. Set up at the cliffs above the ocean just off the edge of the road are some four wheel drive vehicles, trucks and whatnot, anchoring tarp-shelters used by locals fishing off the edge. We were there early on a Saturday morning – whether this was a weekend thing or a day-to-day occupation, I couldn’t say. We snapped our pictures and tried not to disturb them.

On the road to Papakolea

On the road to Papakolea

Back up the road just a little bit, there is a fork that takes you east about a quarter mile to the parking lot and trail head for Papakolea Beach. Because we got there so early, the parking lot did not have any activity. There were more trucks parked next to tarp-awnings at one side of the lot and then a big open space for more parking, but because there were no cars, it wasn’t entirely clear if there were “rules” about where you should park. I just picked a likely spot and parked the car. When we got back, the lot had started to fill in and the trucks turned out to be those of impromptu vendors who set up to sell drinks and four wheel rides to tourists such as myself. The “trail” wasn’t so much a trail as a sprawling network of ruts formed as vehicles cut into the extremely soft ground then had to work out new routes to the beach as the old ones became impossible to navigate.

Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Beach

The hike to the beach was a relatively easy 2.5 – 3 miles through and on these ruts. However, as it turned out, we were lucky because the wind was relatively light. When we returned, the wind (on the south edge of the island, keep in mind) was it’s normal strength out of the east, which would have made the hike somewhat more challenging. At the end, the beach is set in a sort of crescent cut out of the surrounding cliff face. It involved a bit of a scramble down the west wall of the beach, but only because we had not seen that, on the north east side of the beach, a ladder has been hooked into the cliff face running down to an easier descent. On the way down, there was a particular 4 foot drop that seemed like it was going to be tricky to get back up. I’m afraid that the color does not show up very well in the picture to the left, but the sand really is green. It’s sort of an olive color and comes from the olivine in the soil. There are apparently three other green sand beaches – one in Guam, one in the Galapagos, and one in Norway. When we got there, there were two other pairs of travelers. One was a fast-moving younger couple who overtook us at the cliffs, were not much for chit-chat, and practically flew down to the beach. I was, for some reason, gratified when they were thwarted by the cliffs going back the way we came and only discovered the ladder route after we had navigated it. The other was a friendly older couple who navigated the cliffs more slowly but seemed to be having a blast when they got there.  After about 20 minutes on the beach, we started our return trip, and there was quite a bit of traffic heading the other way. We fielded a lot of questions about “how much longer” and “is it worth the hike?” (Answers: “not too much further” and “yes it’s worth it.”) There was another group where what looked to be a son asked if what looked to be his father would be able to get to the beach. We gave equivocal answers on that because the cliff takes a bit of doing  and, frankly, the real answer was that you never know what an individual can do and, from outward appearances,  the son would have more trouble than the father. But it would have been impolitic to volunteer that observation, so we didn’t.


Follow the black a’a trail.

Our guys-only morning trip to the south side aside, most of the trip was family time. One of the excursions we made with the whole crew was a trip to Keawaiki Beach with its black sand and a lonely palm tree that (if you’re looking for it) you can spot from Highway 19, a few miles north of the Kona Airport. The hike did not begin auspiciously. There is a spot to pull off the highway with a rutted edge that you have to hit at the correct angle to avoid bottoming out your car. Our friends’ three year old got out of the van and managed to fall and cut himself on a shattered beer bottle within the first 90 seconds. Being cut on a beer bottle is remarkable mostly because there is a vastly better opportunity to cut yourself on the a’a rock that covered most of the hike. (A’a is a type of rock formed from lava flow that turns into porous and extremely jagged individual chunks of rock.) The trail starts as a lava road and then takes a turn into a path over the a’a once at the point where some private property owners threw up a barbed wire fence. (This is probably property belonging to the family of former legislator and champion golfer, Francis Brown.) I was somewhat surprised to find that my kids had never, apparently, encountered barbed wire in person before. (Seems like my childhood featured a good bit of barbed wire while I was running around farms or woods). They had it mixed up with electric fences. I am pleased to say that the kids held up very well in the heat of midday as we trudged over the shadeless lava rock. (All things told, this hike was probably about 4 miles round trip.) When we got to the beach, we threw our gear under the Lone Palm Tree and the kids got a bunch of black sand in their swim suits as they played in the surf – periodically scaring us to death as we probably worried overly much about the undertow and rocks on this wild coast.

The Great Trek

The Great Trek

From there, we hiked north along the crest of the black sand dune and eventually cut back east on a trail to the Golden Ponds of Ke-awa-iki. I’m afraid I neglected to take my own picture of the Golden Ponds, so you can see another person’s pictures here and here. The ponds are fresh water and are a little amazing inasmuch as they are an oasis of life in the middle of the lifeless a’a. The gold color comes from gold color algae that grows on the rocks underwater. After refreshing ourselves there for a little while, we finished the loop heading back to the cars. I regret that we didn’t get a chance to hike a section of the King’s Trail that crossed our path. It is an amazing looking trail cut through the rock heading north and south for what looked to be  miles. The original trail was built between 1836 and 1855 and went around most of the island.

Hang loose boogie boarders

Hang loose boogie boarders

Several of our days were spent just hanging out at the beach. My favorite was Hapuna Beach where the boogie boarding for an amateur such as myself was fantastic. Surfing is beyond me, but from this coastline boogie boarding, I got a sense of the fun involved with waiting for just the right wave, then timing it so you get a great ride. A couple of times, I misjudged it and went into the washing machine under the water. One of those involved getting thrown to the sand at an angle which – had it been an inch or two shallower – would have put my neck in a challenging position.

During the beach visits, our families burned through the sunscreen at a furious rate because it was pretty obvious what the tropical sun was going to do to the skin of pale northerners such as ourselves if we were not diligent. There were a couple of burn spots here and there, but by and large, we did a pretty good job of avoiding that misery. In addition to Hapuna, we went to a beach at Manini’owali in Kua Bay. This was a sandy, friendly beach we found on our first full day after an abortive attempt at a rocky death trap which is apparently not far from a good beach we simply could not reach without a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance. Another day was spent at Kahaluu Beach Park in Kailua-Kona. The snorkeling wasn’t as good as Kealakakua Bay but there was an awful lot to see, and it was right in town with snorkel gear to rent from a truck on-site. I forget the name of the rental organization, but it seemed to be an educational outfit of some sort using the rentals to raise money for their efforts – so the people were friendly and the prices were reasonable.

Another fun outing we had was to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park just down the road from Kaleakakua Bay. The Hawaiian kapu system could be pretty harsh. You could be put to death for eating the wrong thing. But the system had a safety valve, the puuhonua. If you could reach one of these sanctuaries, your sins would be forgiven. The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau was attached to royal grounds on a cove offering yet another spectacular view of the sunset. As it turns out, the Big Island is full of these spectacular views.

Amy in her luau gear

Amy in her luau gear

Before leaving Kona, we attended a luau. It is clearly tourist-bait – ours was at the Sheraton –  but fun and well done nonetheless. It was the Haleo Luau put on by Island Breeze Productions. The M.C., going by the name of Auntie Tutu was fantastic. The warmth and charisma she was able to project was remarkable. More so when you consider that she has to do it repeatedly for audience after audience. But maybe that’s just the mai tais talking. They handed those out before dinner while you had the opportunity to play some island games, get some stamp “tattoos” from the performers, and get some rudimentary instruction in hula. The food was good, featuring some  traditional foods like poi, lomi lomi, and ahi poke. The poke was good, but I’m afraid I over did it and the texture of the stuff got to me after awhile. After the dinner, the show started – featuring dancers and music along with narration by Auntie Tutu about Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history. The highlight of the show was a fire dance featuring a big Hawaiian guy named Tomassi. (My buddy says, “not with all the steroids in Tippecanoe County could I look like that.”) By the end of the routine, he’s twirling a pair of batons with flaming ends. I think Purdue should ditch the Golden Girls and try to recruit him.

Masson Family is ready for the luau.


Hilo says hello

Hilo says hello

After a week in Kailua Kona, we moved east across the island to Hilo. Despite greeting us with rainbows, I’m afraid to say that Hilo didn’t really compare as a tourist’s paradise. Hilo has rain and more of a working class vibe than a tourist destination. Also contributing was that the selection of rental places suitable for a party of 10 is limited. The place we got seemed to offer what we wanted, but not mentioned in the rental information was the fact that the downstairs with a lot of beds where we anticipated putting all the kids did not have inside access to the two bedroom upstairs where we anticipated putting the adults. Instead, it was more of a separate apartment. Some of the kids were pretty young and so the idea of going outside at night, navigating the stairs and coming back inside if they needed mom or dad was pretty intimidating. As it happened, both adult couples featured one “troubled” sleeper and one person who traditionally fell asleep fast and under any circumstance. So, the good sleepers among the adults took turns shacking up with the room full of kids. It worked out, but that contributed to a feeling that Hilo was less comfortable than Kona.

Gramma's Kitchen in Honokaa.

Gramma’s Kitchen in Honokaa.

However, on the way to Kona, I had some great meals. I have, perhaps, had individual meals that were better than lunch and dinner that day, but I’ve never had back-to-back meals that compared. Lunch was in the little town of Honoka’a on the northern coast of the Big Island. The down town features historical information about the plantations that formed the backbone of its economy, its status as a destination for soldiers and sailors stationed on the island, and the devastating tsunami of 1946. I had not known that one of the waves of immigrant workers recruited to work the sugar fields had come from Portugal. Gramma’s Kitchen was opened on the site of the Paradise Restaurant on the “Long Soup Corner” by people with Portuguese roots. We did not particularly take advantage of any Portuguese offerings, but I had the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had. Corned beef hash is one of those meals that can run the spectrum in terms of quality. When this one came out, it looked like it might be over done and dry. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. I don’t know what they did, but every bite was outstanding. This was topped off with generous amounts of egg, hash browns, toast, and Kona coffee. Amy and Jason had enormous, cake-like servings of french toast. Everybody was terribly happy with this meal.

In between meals, we went zip lining at Umaumau Falls.  The people here did a good job with the zip lining. Even those members of our crew with a fear of heights got through it with a minimum of anxiety. The views are terrific, and the staff was very friendly. My only critique is that they hit you up for a tip at the end. I don’t mind compensating people for good service, and our guides certainly did good work. But this was already kind of pricey. When you go to a restaurant, you know it’s expected and it’s fine. Not having been zip-lining before, I was caught off guard. Having already paid $200 per head, I figured the financial end of things was concluded and that if they needed more to pay their staff, they wouldn’t be shy about baking that into the price. But, overall that’s a small concern. By the end, I was hanging upside down with my arms, having a blast.

The last meal of the day was suggested by a web development client of Amy’s who lives on the Big Island and met up with us. It was in Hilo at the Hawaiian Style Cafe. Having just read about the Long Soup Corner’s tradition of serving saimin – a dish I hadn’t heard of – I went with the saimin on the menu.

Inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, saimin was improved during Hawaii’s plantation era. It is a soup dish of soft wheat egg noodles served in hot dashi garnished with green onions. Kamaboko, char siu, sliced Spam, linguiça, and nori may be added, among other additions.

I have very little idea what variation the Hawaiian Style Cafe served up. All I know is that it was delicious. At that meal, I was also introduced to the Mahana Brewing Company with its Volcano Red Ale. Having switched sides of the island, I also switched from Kona to Mahana for my beers.

The first full day in Kona was basically a rest day. In the morning, we went down to the small beach across the street and played in the water. The beach was small and there were a lot of rocks, so we weren’t terribly active. But, by this time, the kids were exhausted and, while they were having fun, the emotional outbursts were coming a little more often; so we thought a little rest was in order.

Don`t do what Donny Don`t does.

Don`t do what Donny Don`t does.

The second full day in Kona we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which was a primary reason (along with the zip lining) for making the transition from Kona to Hilo. Back when they were little, they developed mixed feelings about Hawaii – volcanoes = bad; beaches = good. At the time, they asked if they could go to “beach Hawaii” and not go to “volcano Hawaii.” I’m happy to say that their attitude had changed and they both wanted to go to volcano Hawaii. Once again, the place is remarkable. Just the idea of seeing land that is younger than I am is a little disorienting. The park abounds with messages about just how dangerous the area is. In fact, we’re all probably idiots for even going to the park. The graphics featuring the horrific consequences of ignoring the park warnings on the sign to the left was my favorite.

Sam and Frodo just before dropping off the ring.

Sam and Frodo just before dropping off the ring.

I used to have this vague, likely cartoon-inspired idea that the caldera of a volcano was the hole that was formed when the volcano blew its lava out. But, what really happens is that the volcano erupts somewhere along its flanks and the caldera is more like a sink hole that drops down to fill the space evacuated by the contents of the eruption. We did not get to see any flowing lava on our trip (missed it by a week or so), but the summit caldera at Kiluea is still pretty impressive.


End of the road, end of the trip.

End of the road, end of the trip.

The last thing we saw at Hawaii Volcanoes NP was the sea arch. It is just kind of a cool formation where the ocean has worn away an arch into a lava outcropping. One day that arch is going to collapse, and I expect it will be spectacular to see. A sign in that area explained how the geological hot spot that formed the Hawaiian islands was off the coast about 25 miles, forming land that`s still about 3,000 feet below sea level. The graphic did a good job of showing how the Hawaiian archipelago was formed as the Pacific plate slid over the hot spot.

Cole finally finds a hat.

Cole finally finds a hat.

And then, it was time to go home.  The Hilo airport is slightly more sophisticated looking than the Kona airport, but the check in process was a little scattered. With a mix of Hawaiian Air, U.S. Air, and American Air flights ahead of us, it seemed pretty doubtful that our bags would make it to Chicago at the same time we did. There were a number of relatively minor missteps that started to wear on us as the journey went on. Google Maps took us to an industrial park behind the airport instead of to the rental return which, as it turned out, was just across the street from the terminal. Hawaiian Air inexplicably had us booked on a flight two hours later than the flight we had reserved. After consulting with the person on the counter and deciding that our nine year old did not, in fact, want to sit next to a stranger on the plane, we split the difference and took the one an hour later. Fortunately, our layover in Honolulu was originally three hours, so an hour didn’t make much of a difference. However, because we were switching airlines, we had to check in again to get seats, and had trouble finding a place to check in until a person finally showed up at the terminal gate desk. The Honolulu airport was an eye opener for a non-international traveler such as myself. You just get a sense that it’s a hub for getting to anywhere around the Pacific, and the world seems much smaller and more accessible when you’re there. Also, Cole finally found a Hawaii hat. Also, I found out that sushi out of an airport refrigerator can be surprisingly tasty.

Settling in for a long flight.

Settling in for a long flight.

Once out of Honolulu, the airtime got long and the check came due for those time zones we had picked up on the way out. We left Honolulu at 2 p.m. local and got to Phoenix at about 11 p.m. local. We left Phoenix at about midnight and got to Chicago at about 5:30 a.m. After waiting around uselessly at the baggage carousel and filing our lost luggage claim, we caught the shuttle to our car. The four wheel ruts on the way to Papakolea Beach apparently having nothing on the road between O`Hare and the Marriott. That was an insanely rough ride and made Harper car sick. We`re no strangers to her car sickness, but the lack of sleep was making everyone a lot chippier. Difficulties finding the parking documents and getting the gate to work to let us out of the parking lot did not help anything. But, finally, we made it out of Chicago and got back to Indiana at 10:30 local. From door-to-door, it took about 20 hours of travel time and 26 hours of clock time. I ended up sleeping for 11 hours, the airline delivered the bags to our house last night, and hopefully I`ll be rested and ready to return to work in the morning.

RHS Class of ’89 Reunion

This weekend, I had my 25 year high school class reunion. As we were taking a tour of the high school, one of my friends mentioned that it didn’t even feel like he went to school in that building. It was at such a remove, that it felt more like someone he knew went there and kind of told him about it. It struck me that one of the things I like about the reunion is not just seeing old classmates. In a way, it’s a little like getting to visit yourself as a kid. Partly it’s fun to see the people you used to know and catch up with them. But, partly it’s fun to see people from your childhood because they remember you when you were young, and they trigger your own memories of yourself at that age.

And if we are revisiting our younger selves, one of the conversations we seemed to be having was about how all that social anxiety was misplaced. That seemed to come up a lot. It was a very “Breakfast Club” kind of reunion for me I guess – the nerds, the jocks, the burnouts, the loners, and the beautiful people – we all had our issues. Everyone was trying to figure it out. People who seemed to have it all put together didn’t. Your own failings, which loomed so large in your own head, by and large were often times simply ignored by your peers as they were worrying desperately about their own self-perceived failings. And, on top of that, a number of us ditched the tour and started wandering around the empty high school unattended.

Time and age are perhaps taking their toll on our bodies. (Although, if anyone in high school was banking on the idea that the beautiful people they were jealous of would get old, fat, and ugly any time now; I regret to inform you that a lot of the beautiful people are still beautiful and, what’s more, seem to be healthy, happy, and just generally delightful individuals.) But time and age also seem to have a mellowing effect where I noticed that most of my old classmates are comfortable in their own skins and have mostly learned to embrace themselves unapologetically. Among other things, this made the conversations more interesting. There was the usual “what do you do, where do you live, how many kids, move on to the next person” conversations. That’s pretty much inevitable when you have that many people getting together for the first time in five years. However, I also had a fair number of talks that gave me some insight into people who had a part in shaping who I became as a young kid but who I maybe never knew that well. The kind of talks that deepened (or in some cases) created the respect I have for who they have become. For whatever reason, I wasn’t having these kinds of interactions with these people at the past reunions. And there were more than a couple of classmates I barely knew at all that I wish I had gotten to known much better. I was struck by a sense of missed opportunity.

I was intrigued when the conversations turned to the anxieties and social awkwardness that everyone seemed to struggle through. And, ultimately, finding out how needless and almost entirely self-inflicted most of those struggles turned out to be. I’d like to be able to save my kids those struggles by simply talking to them about how I found out that I didn’t really need to be half as worried as I recall being in high school. Maybe talking to them about it is worth a shot. But, I suspect the anxiety of one’s teen years is simply something that has to be lived through.

There was also a level of kindness at the reunion that really impressed me. From all around. From my good friends, of course. But also from people I saw as antagonists at the time, from people I wanted to know but was too shy to approach, and from people who I simply missed in the crowd. In some sense, it felt like we were veterans of the same war, had gone into the tunnel together, and made it out the other side.

Not that the whole weekend was treacly sentiment and deep introspective conversations. There was also a fair bit of hanging with my buddies, drinking too much, eating greasy food, and generally having a blast.



See! That picture was at 3 or 4 a.m. in the Holiday Inn lobby, and we couldn’t be happier. All-in-all, a great experience.

Vacation Over

My lack of posting the past 10 days or so has been due to our family Spring Break vacation. This year we went down to Cocoa Beach for a couple of days then got on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas for a four day cruise from Port Canaveral to Nassau and back. At Nassau we went to the Atlantis resort. On the way, we were supposed to stop off at Royal Caribbean’s island, Cocoa Cay, but the winds were too heavy to permit a tender from the ship to the island and back. We got back to port on Friday and surprised the kids with a trip to EPCOT.

Some thoughts in no particular order:

-Driving through the night is still my favorite way to travel long distances. My family mostly gets to sleep through the experience, we avoid almost all of the traffic, and I can indulge my obsessive compulsive driving habits which cause me to bristle at any delay for trivialities like food and boredom. This time, I started driving at about 4 pm and turned the wheel over to my wife at about 6 am (we stopped in Indy for dinner). I’m getting soft in my old age. Normally I would have held out for dawn and/or the Florida border, but I decided there was no need to be a hero. Podcasts have really revolutionized the driving process for me. I used to find an AM station with moderately interesting programming (Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM used to be a favorite) and then suffer through an endless series of news updates and Gold Bond advertisements. We arrived in Cocoa Beach at about noon. On the way back, we drove through the day — got on the road at about 8:30 a.m. and arrived home at 1:30 a.m. this morning. Despite it being a Saturday, we had to slog through Atlanta traffic. I’ve never been brave enough to tack on the additional mileage necessary to get from Indiana to Florida without suffering through Atlanta.

-I hate the Orlando area with a white hot passion. It’s a toxic stew of strip malls,  aggressive Christian signage, and an inscrutable patchwork of toll roads. First of all, I’m not a fan of the Disney properties or Orlando theme parks generally. This is a minor disgruntlement. Somehow I keep ending up there. Three years ago, we went to Disney because the kids were of an age where the pilgrimage seemed required. Then two years ago we went to Universal because we are Harry Potter junkies and they have Harry Potter themed stuff. Last year, we took a cruise excursion to Sea World when we docked at Port Canaveral (leaving out of Baltimore). This year, we couldn’t see leaving the warm Florida area a day early for the eternal Indiana winter. So we decided to leave a lot of extra cash with the Disney people instead. The experience is pleasant, but nowhere near worth the price. Kings Island and Cedar Point have much better rides. Aside from the theme parks, the driving is obnoxious. The development in the area seems like it was poorly planned or not planned at all, leading to an endless array of stoplights and strip malls. The toll roads, as I said, are inscrutable. The spacing of toll booths or the toll charged certainly does not seem to have anything but a nodding relationship to distance traveled. I assume there is a patchwork of competing jurisdictions, each delaying your travel and pawing at your pocketbook. If we’re letting Floridians travel our roads for free, perhaps we could charge them a hurricane relief fee to balance the scales? And, just as a cherry on top, I saw a fair amount of signage proclaiming my condemnation to hell, denouncing the baby murderers, and proclaiming that, if I’m honest, I know that God is real. Just the Christians though. I did not see any aggressive quotation of Koran or Torah passages.

-To the guy at EPCOT who couldn’t get a table for his family next to his brother at the German buffet, nicely done edging right up to Godwin’s Law without technically going over the edge. But, yelling at the server about anti-semitism as the reason for the seating snafu made you look ridiculous. Moreover, I can’t quite grasp the level of narcissism that leads you to conclude that your unhappiness with seating arrangements makes it appropriate to curse a blue streak in front of my family and dozens of others. Also, too, when tables full of strangers are jeering at you to sit down, it’s time to STFU.

-The Atlantis resort at Nassau is awfully cool. We went there for a day, but 2 or 3 days would have been better. There is just a lot to do there. The water slides are outstanding. The “Leap of Faith,” with its approximately 60 foot near vertical drop, is probably the big ticket slide, but some of the others – The Challenger, The Abyss, and the Surge – were very entertaining as well. . The place is just big and beautiful. In addition to slides and pools, “The Dig” is an impressive underground aquarium. We didn’t even make it to the beach that day.

-Cruises are a good place for kids to expand their palate. My kids continue to impress me with their sense of adventure when it comes to trying new food. They simply disdain the kids’ menu these days. In “real life” some of the fancy dining options would cost a fair amount of money to try, which is problematic if they hit something they just don’t care for. But on a cruise, with the meals prepaid, the dynamic is a little different. They can branch out with not a lot of risk if something doesn’t pan out. This particular cruise also had a rock climbing wall that the kids enjoyed quite  bit. And so did I! I’ve never done rock climbing walls before, but it was fun – and, I’m happy to say, I successfully reached the top on my first try. I can’t imagine doing that for real in a setting where the hand and foot holds aren’t bolted in.

-The International Palms Resort in Cocoa Beach is not very resort like. We stopped there for a couple of days on the beach and got a room with a cool little divided off area with bunk beds for the kids. The lobby and public areas were nice enough, but the rooms were just trashy. Exactly like the kind of thing we would pile into on Spring Break in college. It wasn’t a big problem for us or anything but if you’re looking for posh or “moderately clean” or “mirrors that aren’t horribly scratched up” then this place isn’t for you.

And, for those of you who have read this far, here is a picture of me and the kids enjoying the beach.

Kids and I at Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach

Happy New Year – a quick look back at 2013

Happy New Year everyone.

Looking back on 2013, it was a pretty good one personally and professionally. My wife and kids still seem to like me. So, personally, we’ll call that a win. Amy & I completed our 13th year of marriage. The family took a couple of cool trips – one cruise in the Bahamas and one trip out west to South Dakota and Colorado. On the sad side, I lost a couple of close members of my family – Gran and my Uncle Fritz. The sadness of those losses was tempered by the fact that both had lived full lives and both were in positions where their passing was a blessing to them.

My law firm struggled through some bumps associated with personnel changes – we lost a couple of long-time staff members and have new members learning the ropes. For most of August, we were almost entirely without Internet service due to issues with Frontier that the company refused to address. (Comcast is rarely the hero in any story; but they got us back online.)

Professionally, I had a couple of what I regard as major accomplishments for the year: I went to the 7th Circuit and successfully argued a case that resulted in a published decision on police immunity on an excessive force claim. I also went to a jury trial and successfully defended a personal trainer who was being sued for $1.3 million by a local dentist who claimed that the trainer’s negligence caused the dentist’s injury.

The golf outing I help organize for our county Legal Aid had its most successful fund raising year. And, I coached or helped coach both of my kids’ soccer teams. The boys’ teams had especially good years – I think they only lost one regular season game.

My running slacked a bit from last year. I think I logged something like 260 miles this year compared to more like 320 last year; and I only ran a couple of 5ks and no half marathons. But, I still got out there and kept in decent shape, I think.

Less tangibly, thanks to my wife’s skill with our social calendar; I felt like we continued to put roots down in our community. (We’ve lived in Tippecanoe County for 7 years now and in West Lafayette for 3). We’ve grown closer to our friends in town, and I feel more attached to this place than ever.

Anyway, enough self-indulgent reflection. Thanks for continuing to read this blog (which will turn 10 years old late in 2014). I’ll get back to substantive commentary here shortly.

R.I.P. Gran

My grandmother died this morning. We’ll all miss her, of course, but it’s o.k. She was ready to go. Her name was Erma Guipe, but pretty much the whole world knew her as Gran. I believe she was 92 years old, and I know she was still sharp as a tack; however, her body was failing her. In some ways, her end was the exact opposite of my Uncle Fritz who we lost a little more than two months ago. He was a failing mind inside a healthy body; whereas Gran was a healthy mind inside a failing body. Growing old, as they say, is not for the faint of heart.

I was five or six when I 11142013Granmet her. She was my step-dad’s mother, and that was about the time our families merged. She always seemed tickled to recall that, when we first met, I greeted her by running up to her and giving her a hug. Kids all loved her. Everybody loved her. I don’t know that I ever heard a person speak a negative word; and if you didn’t like her, I suppose it would say more about you than about her. She wasn’t overbearingly nice or a pushover or anything. In fact she could be stern and tough as nails when the situation demanded it. The best I can describe her is that she was quick to understand a person and slow to judge.

I don’t know a great deal about her life before I ran into that front room of her house in Goshen, and gave her a hug; but my understanding is that she was about 20 or 21 when she and her husband, Hank, had my Dad. My Uncle Jack came not long after. Hank was off fighting World War II for a good bit of the early years for my Dad and Uncle Jack. Sometime over the next 10 years came three more uncles: Jim, Rick, and Tom. You can see where she developed some toughness; raising youngsters while her husband was away at war and having to corral five boys — who were, by all accounts, rambunctious sorts. Sometime in the late 60s, Hank died. Gran was a widow for about 45 years. But, she was by no means alone. At least two of her sons and, at times, three have lived in Goshen with many of the grandchildren living within several blocks of her. During the 70s and 80s, she ran a sort of a daycare. (We just called it babysitting.) I know many of those kids have kept in touch and also knew her as Gran. She never did learn how to drive. I always figured at least some part of her longevity came from the amount of walking she did. I know that, for some time, there was a Burger’s Dairy store a few blocks from her house, and she would frequently walk there and back for groceries. Of course, having sons and grandchildren nearby also facilitated this.

So, that first meeting wasn’t all hugs and happiness though. I mentioned the rambunctious uncles. The Guipe men kind of tend toward the big, gruff, and (if you don’t know them) intimidating — particularly to a sensitive, easily scared five or six year old such as myself. Gran was an island of comfort in the middle of this for me. That first visit featured one of the uncles tying my shoes together, much to my sadness and consternation. Gran kept me coming back. Along with her cooking. Year after year, she headed up Thanksgivings and Christmases, cooking for the masses. The five sons all had wives and children — if my count is right, Gran plus her sons, their wives, and their children amounts to 28 people. That’s before you get to the great grandchildren who I probably couldn’t count if I tried. But Gran could. Every year (in later years with some assistance) she has faithfully sent birthday cards to my kids. And all of the grand kids and great grand kids have had stockings that hang up at her house on Christmases. As to the food, it was all good, but I will be eternally in her debt for introducing me to ham loaf. That was on the menu with a mustard sauce every Christmas. My kids get vaguely disappointed when we’ve gone there for Thanksgiving because ham loaf isn’t on the Thanksgiving menu.

As I said, she was quick to understand a person but slow to judge. With that vast a family, she’d been through a lot. And our family members run the spectrum in terms of occupational success, run ins with the law, marital status, and just about anything else you can think of. I always got the sense that she took the measure of a person quickly and accurately. But, even so, I think she loved all of them for who they were. One year, during finals in law school, I grew a beard. It was a mangy mess of a thing, and I didn’t have any illusions about how it looked on me. After finals, I didn’t quite feel like shaving it off and was still sporting that look when I showed up at Christmas. Whereas pretty much everyone else in the family had given me varying levels of good natured crap about how I looked, Gran was rather cheerful and enthusiastic about it. I don’t think she actually thought it looked good; but she could see I was enjoying it, it wasn’t hurting anything, and so she was encouraging. (Side note: I still had the mange on my face when I met Amy a few weeks later. When I saw Amy a second time a few weeks after that, I had shaven. I figured it was the startling contrast that duped Amy into thinking I looked good; so, maybe I can thank Gran for helping me to land my wife! Amy bonded with her at my law school graduation. That they enjoyed each other’s company did not hurt my impression of Amy as a long term prospect.)

I don’t have any reason to think Gran treated me or thought of me any differently than her other grand kids. But I got the sense that she saw the good in me and was very proud of what she saw; and, at the same time, she probably recognized my negative qualities but they didn’t bother her. She’d undoubtedly seen worse. Such a person is easy to love; and that’s probably why we all did. We’ll miss you, Gran. But I’m glad you’re finally at peace.

Trial by Jury

I had a jury trial this week, and I’m happy to say that I won. I don’t really do very many of them. They are really an inefficient way to resolve disputes — except for maybe the alternatives are worse. When you think about it, the civil jury trial is our substitute for what, historically, was resolved through raids and blood feuds. People have a dispute. At least one side typically thinks he/she/it is entitled to something someone else has (usually money); and they simply cannot agree on a resolution.

Now, most of these things don’t go to a jury trial – at least not for me. I am normally either able to get the case thrown out on a motion of some sort or help reach a settlement between my client and the other party. And, particularly if your motions are denied, the structural pressure to settle cases is really pretty significant. It’s surprisingly awkward to go to a court ordered mediation and offer nothing or next to nothing. You are made to feel rude and like you’re wasting everyone’s time. Very often mediation is a useful tool — but when you are determined to have your day in court, it’s an expensive hurdle to be cleared.

The jury trial itself is, for the lawyers anyway, a very labor intensive process. I have a lot of respect for those litigators who do that kind of work week-in and week-out. The hours of preparation and organization required for even simple cases is fairly significant. When I do have one, my wife and I end up commenting on what a problem it would be for our family life if I was doing these kinds of cases more frequently.

Typically, the structure of a civil jury trial process will begin with voir dire – the parties have been given a jury list a couple of days before of the panel of potential jurors. Different courts have different approaches, but for Indiana state courts, I think it’s fairly common for judges to briefly introduce the matter to the jurors and thank them for being part of the process. The judge asks some very preliminary questions about basic items that might disqualify a member of the panel from serving as a juror. Then, he gives the lawyers greater or lesser amounts of latitude to question the jurors.

Ostensibly the process is for lawyers to probe jurors for information that might reveal a juror who is unable to evaluate the case in an unbiased fashion. All the strategy books, however, pretty much tell you that, even now, you should be framing and arguing your case — softening up the jury to see things from your point of view. In my mind, the voir dire is in some ways the most awkward because it is the least structured. And first impressions are so important – there is a decent chance the jury will be fairly persuaded before you even get to the evidence.

During the voir dire process each side gets three peremptory challenge where they can dismiss a juror for pretty much any reason. Each side is trying to divine which jurors will be favorable to their case through inexact proxies — “people who do this kind of work have these kinds of tendencies” and so forth. (Incidentally, the juror questionnaires have a question about favorite TV shows – “The Big Bang Theory” is a runaway winner.) For civil cases, once you have six jurors and an alternate, the rest of the pool is dismissed and the jurors are sworn in. (The job of an alternate has to be so frustrating — you aren’t allowed to participate in deliberations. That would be torture for me; particularly if I felt like the rest of the jury was missing something important. I like to make my opinion known. Hence, this blog.)

After that, the jurors are given the preliminary instructions – a basic introduction to what the case is about and how the process works. Then the parties can give opening arguments — which is and isn’t a misnomer. Technically, I think you aren’t so much supposed to “argue” as simply explain to the jury what sorts of evidence they will see. But, of course, you are framing that evidence in a way that supports your case; so there is an argumentative element in there by nature. There isn’t a bright clear line where descriptions of the facts stop and impermissible argument begins.

Then the plaintiff opens his evidence. This is witness testimony and documents. Depending on the case, introducing evidence in this way, may not create the most comprehensible narrative for the jury. If there was a series of events, you won’t take the events one-by-one, getting the account of each witness for that event — rather, you will get what one witness knows about all the events before moving on to the next one. The jury might have to wait for a couple of days to hear what another witness recalls of a particular event.

Generally, if a party calls the witness, that party’s questions will have to be more open ended; relying on the witness to recall and supply details — occasionally straying into unanticipated territory. This is followed by cross-examination. On cross, you can ask leading questions – which leads to much more narrowly focused responses. The attorney doing the cross examination does most of the talking, with the witness often just confirming or denying what the attorney says.

Technology in the court room has improved. One thing I really appreciate in the Tippecanoe County court rooms is a sort of opaque projector that displays documents on a big screen to the jurors. I think that’s very helpful when you are asking a series of questions to a witness about a particular document.

After the plaintiff goes through his or her witnesses and documents, the plaintiff rests and then the defendant goes through his or her evidence in much the same fashion. After the defendant closes, the plaintiff may or may not put on some rebuttal witnesses. (There were none in the case I recently concluded.)

Once the evidence is concluded, the next step is to hammer out the details of the final jury instructions. This is done outside of the presence of the jury and seems like part of the process that has a lot of room for improvement. Ostensibly, I think, this is done at the last minute because the final instructions have to be based on the facts that were introduced during the presentation of evidence. So, the sides exchange the instructions, often at the 11th hour. They are based on model jury instructions. However, a party is also entitled to have non-pattern language included if it is a correct statement of the law, implicated by the facts of the case, and not otherwise covered by the rest of the court’s instructions. So, quite often, you are faced with language that is supported by case law you, as an opposing party, only have very limited time to review. And the clock is ticking because you have a jury waiting. Even if you send the jury home for the night, you are racing to craft and present arguments about what the law is and is not over the course of an evening and perhaps the next morning. The court, with the help of the attorneys, then has to merge at least three sets of instructions – the courts and each party’s. (More if there are multiple defendants). The court has to throw out the instructions that are duplicates, exclude the ones that aren’t permitted, and modify others if they partially misstate the law or partially duplicate others. It is quite an editing job done on the fly. However, I think that much of it could be done earlier in the process — this would require the court to make earlier (if potentially preliminary) declarations about what the law is and would reduce a certain amount of potential gamesmanship by the parties.

After the instructions are settled upon, the parties make their closing arguments. The plaintiff goes first, followed by the defendant, followed by rebuttal by the plaintiff. My client thought this was very unfair that the plaintiff got to go first and last. In most cases, you can’t help but feel like the jury has made up their mind. Probably, you’d be just as well saying something like, “thank you for your time, please treat us fairly.” But, I have never had the confidence to pull that one. I tend to walk them through an outline of why my opponent’s version doesn’t make sense and mine does. I tend not to have a flair for emotional appeals; but I think I’m fairly good at showing the jury the world from my client’s perspective.

Then, when each side has made their arguments, the judge reads the final instructions, and the case is handed to the jury. (See this post if you’re interested in my experience as a juror.) Turning the case over to a jury is nerve wracking for a lawyer. You have been in control of the case for so long; have prepared so much; and now it’s out of your hands. A group of people you have only known for a couple of days will decide the outcome. You have no ability to address their arguments or correct any misunderstandings they may have. If they forgot about a key piece of evidence you presented, you have no way of reminding them of what it was. You are in limbo while the jury is out. You don’t know how much time you have – whether you and your client should just hang out or if you should go about your business until the court calls you to let you know the jury has returned with a verdict. You try to guess whether the time the jury has spent deliberating is a clue as to success or failure.

In this last case, the jury returned very quickly. I had gone to the Black Sparrow and ordered a beer and a pizza. It was about 1 in the afternoon, and the lunch shift waitress remarked that she had never seen me order a beer during the day. I told her this was a different sort of day. I’d had about half of my beer and two pieces of pizza when I got the call that the jury had returned. As a defendant, this was good news because it seemed unlikely that the jury had had time to do any math. I was cautiously optimistic, but still had to prepare my client for bad news. I also like to give my client instruction on how to comport themselves with either good or bad news. In this case, there was a tremendous amount of bad blood because my client felt like the opposing party was flat out lying about him. There is often a difference in perspective for any event, even where both sides are trying their level best to remember and tell the truth. This was not one of those cases. Someone was obviously lying. I very much believe my client was telling the truth – but I’m hardly unbiased and, at the end of the day, I wasn’t there when the event happened.

My optimism about the verdict notwithstanding, there was still a huge amount of anxiety during that period when you arrive at your spot in the court room and watch the jury file in. At this point, you get to see which juror was selected as foreman. Again, you try to figure out whether that is a good sign or a bad sign. The foreman hands the verdict form to the bailiff who hands it to the judge. Now the anxiety hits a crest. Fortunately, in this case, the jury found that my client was not at fault. Even though I was very happy with the result, it’s important to temper my enthusiasm at that point. Because, on some level, I felt bad for opposing counsel. These are guys you work with year in and year out and they worked every bit as hard as I did. I don’t know for certain the details of their contract with their client, but I suspect they were working on contingency and probably won’t get paid for all that work. Now, I know my client – angry about being dragged through the whole process – does not share my feelings about opposing counsel. But, I’m part of the system. I know that plenty of people on the other side of my cases probably have hard feelings for me.

The following days are spent recovering from the physical impact of the trial. First off, I need plenty of sleep for a couple of days. Then, there is the post-trial let down to deal with. Even though I won, there will inevitably be an emotional crash. Because that focus of so much hard work has suddenly been removed, I’ll feel out of sorts for several days. But, before too long, I’ll shake it off and have another war story in the books.

R.I.P. Uncle Fritz

I learned that my uncle, Frederick M. Long, died yesterday. To me he was Uncle Fritz, and, really, he has been gone for a long time. He was the husband of my mother’s sister. If I have my years right, the last time I truly spoke with him was in 2008. Normally, I saw him at least every two years when that part of the family got together in Hilton Head, per the tradition started by my Grandpa in the mid-70s. But, Uncle Fritz was diagnosed with Alzheimers sometime between the 2008 and 2010. His body was alive until yesterday, but it’s hard to say that the man I knew was still in there. Alzheimers is a hell of a thing; robbing the body of its person, a death by inches. In a way, his passing is a relief; now, I believe, it will be much easier to focus not on what he had become but on what a remarkable person he was.

As I understand it, and I might not understand it very well – I knew him best when I was younger – he was from a working class family in Allentown, Pennsylvania who went off to the Coast Guard Academy. From there, he was able to go to the Harvard Business School, getting his MBA, and then, have a long career at Baltimore Aircoil Company which included a stint in Belgium that must have been at or very near the beginning of the company’s European operations. The Belgium assignment (before my time) figures prominently in family lore; having family living in Europe was exotic!

To me, he was something of a father figure for the period between when my Dad left and when my step-Dad came on the scene. Maybe it’s just distorted kid-memory, but it seems like we went to visit them in Maryland much more during that period. In any event, I have memories of various levels of clarity: him picking us up from the D.C. airport in the snow; the first car I remember seeing with lights on the passenger’s sunvisor mirror; a house with air conditioning before that was common; his sailboat – including taking the boat under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the taste of warm cokes kept on the boat, laughing and hanging on with my brother Pete as the boat leaned hard to port; learning that I loved rare steaks; his studied consideration of the wine list at dinner; the Coast Guard and nautical paraphernalia at his home.

But there are two memories that stand out and bring him to mind with a fair amount of frequency. First, he loved radishes. It was fairly routine for that part of the family to have a relish tray with cocktails in the early evening. Uncle Fritz would hit the radishes. This was remarkable to me because I’m not sure I’d seen anyone else popping radishes. So, anyway, the vegetable is now very strongly linked in my mind with Uncle Fritz. The second thing is tying a tie. He is the one who taught me that the tip of the tie should cover your belt buckle. I wear a tie most days. So, at least once a week, as I’m making sure it’s the proper length, I think of Uncle Fritz.

He always took an interest in my studies and my career. He didn’t have a lot of use for lawyers; telling me there were too many of them. But he was tickled when I opined (as a teenager) that there was always room for a good one. His politics were well to the right of mine; but, on vacation, it was not uncommon for him to bring me some editorial or opinion piece he found interesting and ask my opinion of it. And, unlike most adults, he would consider my response and take me seriously – that makes a huge impact on a kid.

Anyway, I’ll miss him; and, in fact, have missed him for quite some time. Rest in peace, Uncle Fritz.

R.I.P. Jeffrey McManus

I just learned that Jeffrey McManus died. I never knew him in person, but I’d known him online for something like 14 years. He was part of the Well and then, later on, we were connected by Twitter and Facebook.

For me, he was a good example of the concept I’ve come to know as ambient intimacy. Even though he lived in California, I knew more about him and his family than a lot of the individuals I see in person on a regular basis. He was 46, had a wife and two kids, and seemed to be just far enough ahead of me on the “growing up” schedule that I was always taking notes when he was commenting on fatherhood and whatnot. And, of course, his Twitter harassment of Chuck Woolery always made me laugh.

I don’t know the details, but so far as I can see, this looks to have been a bolt from the blue situation. His Twitter stream looked regular yesterday, and the linked report says that he passed away in his sleep from unknown causes.

I feel so sorry for his wife, Carole, and their kids. They are a well loved and respected family, so they won’t lack for support; but I don’t know that anything will help much, at least not in the short term.

Vacation: A Tale of Trails and Beer

I am slipping back into normal after a solid vacation. The family & I visited some friends in Rapid City, SD; went and visited my sister in the Boulder, CO area; and went to visit my old college roommate in the Denver, CO area. Along the way, I spent a great deal more time with my wife and kids than during the typical work week and was pleased to find that – contra the norms set by the modern sitcom family – my wife & I seem to really like each other, and my kids seem to be developing into remarkable people. We managed 7 hiking days which the kids definitely enjoyed:

Poet’s Table near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota. A little detour off the trail to Little Devil’s Tower. Apparently in 1969, some hippies hauled a table up to a little alcove in the rocks. We had a picnic up there and the kids (with some assistance from me) left a poem as is the custom of the place.

Jewel Cave National Monument. My daughter really likes caves, so this third longest cave system in the world seemed to fit the bill. We had been to Wind Cave in the area a few years ago. There are also some trails outside the cave which we hiked on to kill time before the cave tour.

Red Rocks Trail near Pearl Street in Boulder. A nice trail that gives you a great view of Boulder.

Rocky Mountain National Park – the winds were out of hand. We’ll call it a hike, but it was really maybe a half mile walk around a water fall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder – this was a really neat place, maybe my favorite trail of the vacation. The Fowler Trail has some neat views of the canyon and then opens up into a great view of the plains heading out from the front range.

Lair O’ the Bear trail west of Denver. For us, the most notable part about this outing was less about the trail and more about this cool tree near the trail head. It had branches that demanded climbing. And, so, we did. It’s been a long time since I climbed a tree!

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. This area is just stunning. We actually managed to get off the more traveled paths and maybe got just the tiniest bit lost for about 15 minutes. It’s nice to get lost every so often.

In addition to the hiking, I also got to become familiar with some craft beers of the Front Range. In particular, I can’t speak highly enough of the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery. This is on Pearl Street. The beer was great and the service was even better. The staff was so friendly to the kids. (Not necessarily what you expect at a brewery). They seem to have a restaurant brewery model – I didn’t see much distribution of their beer in the area, but maybe I missed it.

The Oskar Blues Brewery is definitely and up and comer. I saw their beers all over, and actually ended up at their bar in Lyons, CO, between Estes Park and Boulder. The bar is kind of a neat place with two stories, a significant band presence, and a video game room featuring some old school games — I haven’t seen Defender in forever. I had the Dale’s Pale Ale a few times and the Old Chub Scotch Ale there at the bar. I’ve been told they are in discussions to distribute in Indiana.

My buddy was a big fan of the Dry Dock Brewery in Aurora and we went there for a pint and to fill up some growlers. Their stuff is definitely good, but I suppose I enjoyed the other two breweries’ offerings a little better.

And, just for good measure, one night I had the Bridal Veil Rye Pale Ale from the Telluride Brewing Company. A couple of other notes on beer: macro-brews have their uses too. Pabst is a fine thing to drink when you are spending several hours in the sun tending to a smoker, and Coors really does taste better near Golden.

In the Supreme Court (of Indiana) Revisited

Just a follow up on a post from this past March when I had the opportunity to argue a case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court. The Court issued its opinion today, and I’m pleased to report that my client was on the winning side.(pdf) My description back then:

[B]asically, it had to do with whether an employee was discharged for just cause or not. If so, the employee is not entitled to unemployment benefits. If not, the employee is. The primary wrinkle for the Supreme Court had to do with the fact that IC 22-4-15-1(d) has a number of examples of ‘just cause’ for termination. The Court of Appeals felt like the example selected by the Review Board was not well supported. I made the argument that even if that particular example wasn’t well supported, some of the others were. The Court of Appeals said they couldn’t look to any other example other than the one chosen by the Review Board. I said they could and asked the Supreme Court to say so as well.

The Court agreed with my argument that an appellate court is permitted to affirm a finding of just cause by the Review Board under an alternate legal basis, not analyzed by the Review Board, so long as the findings of fact by the Review Board support that alternate legal basis.