Archive for the ‘WordSmatter’ Category

Leap Day: My Launch into 2012

admin | February 29, 2012 in Endurance,Music,Running,WordSmatter | Comments (9)

LEAP DAY: the one extra day we are given every four years so the world can catch up on itself.  Typically, Earth has 365 days to make her yearly journey around the sun; even so, we snag an extra day every fourth year so the world can make her way around…and we can reset the clock.

February 29th is a day we rarely see, so it seems I should make the most of it – use it to its fullest – and get some of these random things circling my world back under control.

If only I knew what some of these random things actually were.

Now, we’ve all heard it: “Look before you leap.”  Normally, I’d agree.  (Those that know me well are laughing; “Yes, he would.”)  It makes sense to check the course and scout out the unknowns ahead, before launching off in the wrong direction and ringing a bell you can’t, well, un-ring.

That being said, things are a bit foggy around here.  It’s hard to see what’s around the corner, and though I’d like to know a bit more about what’s in front of me before launching off…I’m tired of waiting.

So, I’m just gonna have to get good with not knowing.  Pieces of what’s ahead, I’m sure I’ll recognize.  Adventures peppered with big chunks of “I didn’t see that coming!” and “Wow! Who knew?” may well catch us all by surprise, but it’s time to get these feet churning.

Okay.  Here…we…GO!

(“The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.” U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt)

Book Club: “Endurance”

admin | October 11, 2011 in Endurance,WordSmatter | Comments (6)

At the time, book clubs were completely foreign to me. I had never been a part of one, didn’t know anyone that belonged to one, and I’d never been hit over the head with one. If anyone I knew had secretly been a member of some clandestine literary collective…they had remained faithfully discreet.

The first rule of Book Club is – you do not talk about Book Club.

I am a reader, though, and I was curious. What do they eat? Where do they meet? If two members find themselves in heated combat over an autographed edition from Oprah’s Book Club, who gets the novel…uh…novel?

The opportunity to discover the feeding…or rather…the reading habits of a local group presented itself through an advertisement in the local paper. There would be a gathering at a nearby bookstore in just a few days. The group would be discussing that month’s selection, Endurance by Alfred Lansing.

I knew the book well. It’s a favorite of mine. Cool. I wouldn’t have to study, and I could participate if need be. The perfect opportunity to explore the group’s inner workings, without painting myself as an outsider.

Endurance seemed an odd choice for a book club to me. I had just assumed the group would be primarily women, and I thought this was more of a “guy’s” book. It chronicles the survival story of twenty-eight men on a doomed expedition to Antarctica in 1914 – a remarkable story.

Losing their ship to crushing glaciers. Waking in the middle of the night as cracks run through the ice supporting their tents in sub-zero temperatures. Fighting through ravaging hunger as they sought their next meal in seemingly barren wastelands.

What enabled these men to carry on in such dire circumstances? How did their leader, Ernest Shackleton, inspire his men to follow him in potentially hopeless situations? From where did they gain the fortitude to carry on, reaching new heights of cooperation as they left no man behind?

Lots of testosterone. Didn’t seem like the cup of tea a group of women would order. “Or maybe,” I thought, “I’m just wrong and it won’t be all women.”

Well, it wasn’t all women. Because I was there. But they had each read the book, and most were especially impacted by the tremendous heart and fortitude the men in this true account displayed as they persevered through unbelievable circumstances. This book, written from the diaries of the explorers themselves, had been chosen specifically and deliberately, and it had made an impression.

One woman in particular was held in awe by a revelation. “They never really talk about getting sick in the book,” she said. “Not a cold or anything. Do you think that’s because, since it was so cold, that there aren’t any germs or anything up there to make them sick?”

I just closed my eyes and hung my head. I suppose it’s possible. Or maybe it’s because, I don’t know, because after fighting through hunger and despair and fear and triumph…they didn’t stop to write about having the sniffles in their diaries.

“Dear Diary: still hungry. No food. The ship is gone and we are alone, left to wander and wonder when, if ever, we’ll get home. On top of that, if you can believe, my nose is kinda runny. And then, that new sailor we hired at the last minute has the same fur-lined boots as me? I’m, like, so mad at him. And that jacket? SO last season.”

Club me now.

Carry On: A Reflection on 9/11

admin | September 11, 2011 in Music,WordSmatter | Comments (10)

On September 11, 2001, I was preparing to fly to New York for a television performance with country superstar Tim McGraw and his band, the Dancehall Doctors; that appearance was cancelled as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers – what we now have come to refer to simply as “9/11.”

In 2002, I did travel to New York City for that postponed performance with McGraw. While there, a collection of his band and crew went to “Ground Zero,” the site of the tragedy, to gain some personal perspective on the events that had changed the nation so dramatically just one year earlier.

In recognition of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, I share my personal account of that experience as it was originally published in the “From the Road” column of Tim McGraw’s official website in 2002.


With so many looking back on the past year and the effects of the events in New York City, I thought it perhaps appropriate to include some of our experiences as we visited Ground Zero earlier this year. At the time of the attack, the DHDs (Dancehall Doctors) were preparing to leave for New York for a television appearance which was subsequently cancelled. All of the DHDs were in Nashville at the time, with the exception of Denny Hemingson, who was in Boston.

“I was on vacation in Boston with my wife,” said Denny. “We were supposed to fly home to Nashville from Boston on September 11. We were packing in the hotel, watching the news, preparing for our flight on American Airlines. We were ready to head to the airport, and we saw the planes fly into the towers on television. I knew when the second plane hit that this was some kind terrorist thing or something. At that point, everyone was calling my cell phone to see if we were still alive. We stayed an extra day, scrambled around and found a rental car, and drove home to Nashville from there. Everyone around us was trying to get home, but it wasn’t like they were headed home to take care of business.”

Denny continued. “That day…how quiet. Boston was so…quiet. We went to a store and they had grounded all the planes…just military jets in the air. Nothing else. Cops checking buildings out everywhere…but other than that, the streets were empty.”

Tim and the DHDs did later make a trip to New York for a rescheduled performance months later. While in the city, the DHDs made the journey to Ground Zero. We wanted to see for ourselves the impact on the geographical and emotional landscapes of New York City and the world.

Taking the subway, we were immediately struck by the amount of people that were NOT on our train. Only a few locals shared our train with us; instead of being caught up in the bustle of New York City life, we essentially had the car to ourselves. In the past, the trains running to the financial district were always busy.

But not this time. Now things were much quieter. We could not help but reflect upon what had caused this shift in the lives of so many.

We arrived at our stop and made our way to Ground Zero. Much of the area was barricaded and zoned to protect citizens from intruding upon the cleanup efforts. We were led along wooden walkways toward a viewing platform, and we could not help but notice the messages and drawings that others had left along the walls, chronicling their love and support for those lost.

From the platform, the cleanup and construction was in full view. We could better understand the expansive nature of the event, seeing for ourselves how big the void was. It also became much clearer how this could affect so much in the surrounding area.

“Man, we could have been there,” said DHD Dave Dunkley. ” We were flying in for ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show’ the next day. We would have been only a few blocks away.”

“When you looked across the area where the buildings had been, the reality was so much bigger than I expected,” shared DHD Denny Hemingson. “But even more amazing to me was the impact some blocks away. There was a clothing store that, months later, still had clothes in it covered with a thick layer of dust. They had just put a sheet of plexiglass over them and left them. As much as I had seen on television, I understood even more how immense this really was.”

Some of our boys had visited the Trade Center towers in earlier years, long before the attacks.  “In 1977, I participated in a ‘Battle of the Bands’ on the roof of the Trade Towers,” said DHD John Marcus. “Our rock band at the time performed on the helipad overlooking the city…and now it looks like a parking lot. I was particularly saddened as I remembered looking over New York City from the roof…and now it’s gone.”

Adjacent to the cleanup site was St. Paul’s Chapel. Built in 1766, this church miraculously escaped damage on September 11, while many of the surrounding buildings suffered significantly. For the following eight months, this church would be instrumental in supporting the crews and workers of the relief efforts.

The fence and surrounding walls of the chapel had become a home for the tributes and memories for all of those left to suffer as a result of this tragedy. In contrast to the actual clearing and construction, the gifts and notes left here brought home the passion and love inspired by this event. Photographs, banners, flowers, a child’s doll…all of these decorated the sidewalks. Messages and poetry adorned the walls from all different countries and in all different languages.

“What really got me was realizing the magnitude of how many people were really involved in what happened,” said DHD Darran Smith. “When I looked at the site, I saw the trucks, the machinery, the construction. I didn’t think about the people. But when you look at the wall…it was…wow.”

For everything we witnessed on that day, one moment stood out for many of us. While we filed along the walkway of the viewing platform, we saw two local firefighters standing along the barricade. Just watching. They had their backs to us, and we couldn’t even see their faces. We didn’t have to.

Our drum tech, Joey Supak, caught this poignant moment on camera and told us the story. “I didn’t know who they were. I just grabbed the shot. I just thought it was so amazing to see how intent they were on what had happened.”

Later in the day, Joey spoke with the two men. “They told me that they came there every day. A lot of guys they knew had gone into those buildings. They came every day to just watch and remember…kind of a tribute to their friends that had perished when the towers came down.”

DHD Darran Smith also took notice. “Those two firefighters looking over the site…by themselves…that really got me…gave me chills,” he remembered. “It makes you realize that all that stuff you hear about ‘the brotherhood’…I mean, who knows how personally they were involved in the tragedy?  But you could see the loss…just watching them.”

As we approach the anniversary of last September’s tragic attacks, we recall those happenings and how they have affected each of us. In some ways, we have moved on from the tragedy of that day. In other ways, we should never let go of what those events have taught us to treasure.

I am glad that we have come to celebrate our firefighters, policemen, and emergency workers. American flags are still flying, not because of a holiday, but because of the inspiration to express our patriotism. There is a greater respect for the military that serve this country. We have a greater appreciation for those we love and a greater understanding of what is important.

These are things to celebrate, and as we remember those that still suffer from the events of that day, my hope is that we continue to celebrate them.

Nobody ever said that life was gonna be fair

You’re never gonna get nowhere by running scared

If you look down deep inside you’ll find the faith to make you strong

Carry on

(From the song “Carry On,” written by Mark Collie, Even Stevens, and Hillary Kanter, and recorded by Tim McGraw)

Memorial Day

admin | May 30, 2011 in Military,WordSmatter | Comments (67)

(Photograph provided by Major Dave Bingham of the I-10 Attack Battalion when stationed in Iraq.)

On this day of remembrance, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our servicemen and women that have bravely laid down their lives in the name of freedom and compassion.

They have served to defend those unable to defend themselves.  They have served to provide liberty for those that have seen their liberty denied.  They have served in response to hardship, oppression, catastrophe, disaster, and death.

In wars and conflicts spanning the globe, they have answered the call and responded, putting first their fellowman.  As Americans, they have served on my behalf…on our behalf.

They have given their lives through their service.  Customarily, it is on this day, Memorial Day, that we remember them and pay tribute to those that have given so selflessly.

In humble gratitude and reverence, THEY ARE REMEMBERED.

A Runner Goes Forth

admin | March 28, 2011 in Endurance,Running,WordSmatter | Comments (9)

“Plow ahead.”  “Rock on.”  “Keep on truckin’.”  There are many different versions of this handy little catchphrase that drive us through life…drive us down bumpy roads, past unplanned inconveniences, through unexpected turmoil.  We’ve all been there.

The endurance athlete…lives there.  Thrives there.  Belongs there.

Now, when confronted with all the crap that seeks to derail us on our journeys, both in our lives and in our training, some just want to distract themselves.  They chat with friends during their runs, they hide in their iPods, some just stick to their trusty treadmill behind the TV.

“Don’t think about the soreness,” some suggest.  “It takes my mind off what’s bothering me,” chime others.  “I just get bored,” I’ve heard.  The idea is to not think about what is confronting you – pretend it’s not there or take your mind off of it – and keep rollin’.

Of course, I do understand the camaraderie between runners.  I love getting out there with my runnin’ buddies, and I will sometimes take to an untrafficked path with Marine Corps cadences ringing through my ears as a pacing exercise.  It’s not that this is always bad; not in the least.

But I just can’t move forward by pretending what’s behind me…isn’t.  That’s not for me.  I don’t work that way, not in life and not in my running.  I can’t win…hell, I can’t even fight…my pulled muscles and broken past if I have to put it all out of my mind to get started.  I learn nothing from running around the fire; I learn from running through it.

That’s where I feel the greater sense of execution and fulfillment.  Not in moving forward, pretending that hurts don’t hurt or heartbreak doesn’t happen…but doing so with the threat of that past agony and misery in full view…and moving forward anyway.

I was reminded of this on the morning of January 1, 2011 after finishing the New Year’s 5-Mile Run at White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas.  Surrounded by runners, shaking out the holiday cobwebs, it was a way to dig my spurs into my own sides and get this horse out the door and into a new year.

I ran hard and finished strong, gettin’ a little completion buzz from a race well run.  As I walked off the run, catching my breath, glad to have the new year rollin’, the street sign on the corner caught my eye.

I was standing on the corner of Northwest Highway and…Goforth.

Goforth.  Go…FORTH.

It’s what we do.

The Make-Believe Me

admin | November 28, 2010 in Music,Running,WordSmatter | Comments (11)

Okay, here’s the deal…

If you’ve heard from me recently, it might not have been me.  If you reached out, someone else may have answered you…or ignored you.

Facebookers, you may have even poked someone you don’t even know. Seriously.  Ew.

There are fake MySpace pages, fake Facebook pages, fake websites, fake email addresses.  Phony “Road Dog Runners,” pretend “Pianomen,” and other mock “McMen” offering running insights and telling road stories.

Oh, sure.  They all look like me.  Same hair, same interests, same gigs.  We are all runners and we all wander the country leaving both musical and uh, marathonical footprints.  They all send out “add a friend” notices and answer questions as me.

These irritating Facebook frauds do work hard at their silly little games. Honestly, these screwballs spend more time PRETENDING to be me than I have to ACTUALLY be me.

Don’t ask.  I don’t know why.  But at least for a good while, I got kicked out of Facebook for being a phonybecause a phony reported that I had built a fake page and was pretending to be the real me when it was really the fake me that was reporting the real me for Facebook fakery.

Whew.  I know…right?

It all blew up while I was traveling the world with a busted laptop, so I wasn’t online, wasn’t watching, and hadn’t a clue.  Some of you would text-message-comment-call me later to say “Dude, is this you?” It probably wasn’t, so thanks for the heads-up.

I wonder.  Do folks still use carrier pigeons?

Maybe I should try that.


admin | September 20, 2010 in Music,WordSmatter | Comments (4)

Fair season. Winter is done. Spring is here, and summer is starting to peek around the corner.

With fair season…comes fair food. We’ve played a lot of fairs and festivals over the years, and we’ve seen some weirdness when it comes to culinary carnival contributions. Some even teeter on scary.

Oh, there’s deep-fried Snickers and deep-fried bananas and deep-fried Twinkies. Beef kabobs and turkey kabobs and “I’m not sure but it must be some kind of meat” kabobs. I’ve heard about deep-fried Coca-Cola, (I’m not sure how that works), and at this year’s Minnesota State Fair, I saw cheerful vendors serving up spaghetti and meatballs…ON A STICK!

So when we headed down to the southern edge of Texas to perform at Borderfest in Hidalgo last spring, the Dippin’ Dots ice cream stand in the lobby of the arena didn’t really seem suspect…until I looked a bit closer at the sign.

“Ice Cream of the FUTUTE?” Ew…that just sounds bad. Not even a handmade sign, but factory issue and mass-produced. I ran the words through Microsoft Word, Spellcheck, and looked it up in the dictionary on my laptop. Nope. “Futute” was nowhere to be found.

I thought about ordering some. What flavors might they have? Ganilla? Slawberry? Rocky Toad? Hey…wait a minute.

It occurred to me that Borderfest 2010 was celebrating the culture of Australia with this year’s festival. Outback Steakhouse is the current sponsor of the “Southern Voice” tour, and as I write this, I sit in my hotel room in Sydney, Australia; we perform here tonight for the very first time.

Of course. “One CROC-olate, please.” Yum.

Creepy Facebook God of Running

admin | April 2, 2010 in Endurance,Running,WordSmatter | Comments (4)

Okay…that did NOT just happen.

I’m poking around online, picking up pieces of runner stuff before jumping into something really work-related. Checking out training blogs from some of my fellow runners, dropping Team McGraw notices into Facebook, posting up pictures from a recent event.

I jump into Running with Snakes, a running blog that first catches my eye via the tagline by musician Ani DiFranco on the homepage: “The finish line is a shifty thing…and what is life, but reckoning?”

Okay, the quote is the second thing that grabbed my attention; the first thing is probably the word snakes.

The author juggles ultramarathoning and mommy-hood, and I stumble onto a fun entry titled “Running Should Be Free, Man,” where she notes the expense of big marathon events, the addictiveness of finishers’ medals, and her return to the simple joy of the run.

I log onto her site, post a comment, and receive the expected verification notice to assure that I’m not some pulseless computerized spammer. I type in supessec as directed. Accepted.

I then wander over to a blog called Push Me…I Need You! I’ve never been here before. It appears that Amy – author, runner, and push-ee – has started this blog as a tool to solicit motivating participation from other runners.

Again…log in, my two cents. Verify, please. Type in henur. Accepted.

Time to find a push of my own. I pay a visit to Coach Kevin Leathers’ blog, Can’t Stop Endurance. His new training post spotlights pace training, sharpening the sword. I can use a little sharpening. Excellent.

Log in and enter my response. Security check. The word is aphrida. Accepted.

Though I’ve done this before, for some reason, I’m especially aware this time that the three “words” serving as the keys to admission of my comments are not even words. I think they might be, and I am curious, but after typing supessec, henur, and then aphrida into my laptop dictionary, I find nothing.

Huh. Before logging off, I stop by to drop something onto the Facebook page for the ING Philadelphia Distance Run. (Now officially the ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.) I’ve run it the last two years, and though I can’t make it this fall, Team McGraw will be there…so it’s time to beat the drum.

Same drill. Log in, add my comment. This time, I’m asked for two words…


Uh…(quick glance back over my shoulder)…uh…yeah…

National Grammar Day 2010

admin | March 4, 2010 in WordSmatter | Comments (7)

(“Language is something to be celebrated, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it. It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!” ~ As posted March 4, 2010 on


In recognition of National Grammar Day, I thought I would share the first blog I ever posted titled “Fleas and Parrots.” It was originally published in the midst of summer touring on August 1, 2005, and as I read what I wrote at the time, I realize that for all the unplanned corners and unfortunate dead ends along the road since then…I could have written it this morning.

So here it is…as it was.  See you on the road.


I travel for a living. Not all the time…not year-round. But when I’m at work, I’m gone. Real gone. Can’t have a dog gone. Hold my mail gone.

Dead plants gone.

Now I think I do pretty well keeping in touch with the folks back home. Maybe I’m wrong. “We never know how to get a hold of you.” I’ve had the same mailing address for years. “We never know where you are.” Have cell phone, will travel. Have laptop, will write.

I do, too. I’ll often stay up well into the morning hours answering email or knocking out road stories. I’ve written articles, letters, journal entries. I enjoy the exercise. Much of the time, that’s what it is for me…exercise. A nice break from the travel and a chance to stretch my seemingly deteriorating brain for a moment.

I don’t assume that I am especially good at this art of writing. I have friends that are great at it. I’ve read great writers. Still, sometimes it is fun to share a story and some of those stories just have to be written down. So I try to do it well. I’ll spend more time than necessary searching for proper spellings, correct punctuation, and the perfect metaphor.

For example, a misplaced comma can severely change your dinner plans. “Have you already eaten, gentlemen?” This shows a great deal of courtesy, a rarity in this less-than-chivalrous time of ours. “Have you already eaten gentlemen?” The second shows a bit less courtesy and somewhat negates the assumption of a vegetarian menu.

Words matter. The flower shop back at home has been selling “carantions” for over a year now. Come on, people…at least use Spell-check. I love the story of the teacher that used the word “metriculous” with me as she defended “creative spelling.” Perhaps I’ll tell that story later.

Things can slip by; those programs ain’t perfect. Sure enough, I’ll count on a computer program to correct my hasty mistakes only to find out that I’ve ordered a medley of “fleas and parrots” as my vegetable of the day.

I’ll try my hand at this. I think it’ll be fun. Another way to keep in touch and a place to stash my literary meanders. Not really sure what all will find its way into this world that is blogging. It seems like I have a lot of options.

And so it begins.

(“Fleas and Parrots” was originally published August 1, 2005.)