I stayed up to watch history in the making

Forward note: I was writing this post the morning of Wednesday, January 6, 2021. It was the morning after a long day into overnight of the runoff election for Georgia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate. I planned to publish around noon. I got behind in my deadline as I fell into watching coverage of the races still underway and the run up to the Congressional joint session to certify the election of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Slated to start at noon, it got underway around 1 p.m. 

Then, after 2 p.m., Trump’s orchestrated rally turned into a march and assault on the Capital. 

But, I’m not going to write about that. Even though the resulting violence stormed over what was the major story of the day and night: Georgia’s historic and game-changing election of two Democratic senators, I still wanted to share with you my story about Election Day. 

I invite you to go back to a simpler time with me, that time before the Insurrection and read it as I wrote it, naive of what was to come: 

The line inside of Marietta’s East Cobb Government Center as seen on MSNBC, Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I stayed up to watch history in the making 

I stayed up. I couldn’t go to bed although my retirement bedtime is 10:30 p.m. 

After the polls closed and the early returns began dripping in, the two long-shot Democrats jumped out to a commanding lead of five and even 10 percentage points. But it was very early. One large dump from a Red County evaporated those leads and put the Republicans ahead by a percent. The first couple of hours rolled by quickly and before I knew it, it was beyond bedtime. Julie was running down and left for bed. I had put too much time into phone banking for the runoff not to stay with it. I was in it.

So I stayed up. The numbers continued to roll in, swinging one way and back the other. At some point, it felt like it was settling in with Perdue and Loeffler in the lead. Not by much. But leading. Leading is generally better than not.

Trump tweeted something about watching the Georgia senate race returns and see if a bunch of votes for the Dems magically appear after they know how much they need to win. He continued to sow doubt on another free and fair election.

I was watching Steve Kornacki on MSNBC almost all night. Overtime I had checked out the other networks, switching from FOX News, CNN and ABC. I found that the details of the race that I wanted were on MSNBC and I eventually stopped switching. 

Around 11 p.m., with Republicans maintaining leads, I was feeling like it was going their way until Kornacki reviewed the bubbles of remaining votes across the state. Without making a numerical prediction, he did say that Democrats had a path to victory considering the real firepower left from the big Blue counties. 

I cross-checked with the New York Times election page of charts and graphs that was showing the same thing.

I got mesmerized in the possibilities and stopped writing down much, like being in class and forgetting to take notes. 

Just before 1 a.m., Kornacki outlined the numbers lining the road ahead; the counties left to report were those that highly favored the Democrats and they contained large reservoirs of game-changing votes: DeKalb with 20,000, Fulton with 7,500 and Chatham with around 3,000. The votes left were mostly mail-in, a perceived good sign for the Democrats. Conventional wisdom held that Democrats voted by mail or absentee ballots in greater numbers than Republicans. And now, with COVID19, mail or absentee voting was, hands down, the safest and easiest way to vote because it was hands off. Plus, no waiting in lines. 

Republicans, on the other hand, encouraged by President Trump, held out for in-person Election Day voting. Plus, Trump had told his followers that mail-in ballots opened the door to massive fraud. He tried to ruin the reputation of the USPS by casting shade on its reliability to deliver on time as his administration cut the department’s resources and efficiency back and drastically slowed the flow of mail. 

If conventional wisdom held true, as Kornacki pointed out, then even in Red counties, the Democrats should do better as the mail-in votes are counted. They will still lose the county, but not by as great a percentage. So, not great news for Loeffler, who was falling significantly behind, nor for Perdue who held on by the slimmest of margins. Unfortunately for the two Republicans, the first counts tallied and reported came from their strongest voting method – in-person election day voting.

I took to my pencil and started scratching out Kornacki’s estimated remaining votes in the bubbles. I multiplied by the percentages of votes each candidate was winning to get at the potential final tally. 

I added the projections to the current amount of votes the leader in each race had. It became clear that Warnock’s lead over Loeffler was poised to climb to over 50,000. Ossoff, behind by 1,322 votes, would soon leapfrog Perdue and eventually garner at least a 14,000 votes victory. I felt reassured of potential wins by both, but I wasn’t sure if I missing something that could turn the projection to the Republicans. And, I have lived in Atlanta long enough not to get my hopes up for victory in sports or in politics.

And, of course, there were the military and provisional ballots left and they would be processed last. They too, tend to lean more Democratic, but I didn’t use them to project.

So I stayed up. I desperately wanted to witness DeKalb’s roll in. Those poll workers were diligently continuing to count. I continued to watch. Anxiously looking for the movement I expected.

Around 1:30 a.m., James Carville came on and my ears really perked up. Carville had correctly predicted Biden’s victory in November before Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia were called. He seems like a kook, but he’s a very straight shooter and a hell uv a strategist. Tonight, he said he loved where the Democrats stood in the race. With Warnock up by 20,000 votes over Loeffler, he believed he would just increase his lead, and that Ossoff, down 1,322 votes at the time, would soon move ahead when DeKalb began reporting the more than 70% of votes left to be tallied. Carville said that Georgia was going to finally earn an important place in history by electing its first African-American to the U.S. Senate, and, on the same night, elect a Jewish man who was the son of immigrants. Carville was down right giddy.

I listened hard. I cross-checked the numbers. I wondered and hoped, doubted and hoped again.

I don’t have the time noted, but sometime after 1:30 and solidly in the lead, Warnock posted a live stream in which he happily, but humbly, claimed victory. A bold move because the networks were yet to call the race. He thanked the voters for showing their trust in him and paid tribute to his mother, saying that as a teenager “the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton,…went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.”  It was a historic moment for the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Then, at 1:48 a.m., after a small drop of 6,000 votes from DeKalb came in, MSNBC made it official and called Warnock the victor. His lead had grown to over 40,000. 

Ossoff, as Carville predicted, leapfrogged Perdue, and now led by 3,560 votes.  

Kornacki revealed 90% of this batch of mail-in votes had gone to the Democratics!!! Ten points higher than the DeKalb early and same-day vote. Ten points higher than I had used in my projection! Ten points higher building the lead and a new expectation driving forward. I let out a whoop like I was watching a UNC basketball game, but keeping in mind and in check that there was a long road ahead.

Another drop from DeKalb. The Democrats’ leads grew again. Ossoff jumped ahead to over 14,000. Warnock went up to over 50,000. The roll was on. Victory felt assured. 

Loeffler’s campaign responded, not with concession, but by stating their belief that there was still a path to victory. 

And then…nothing. Tick tock. I stayed up. All of the house lights on timers had long gone dark. Our automatic thermostats had dropped by four degrees. My grandfather’s clock chimed 2 a.m., then 2:30 a.m. I was almost lying down horizontally in the recliner, covered in an afghan. My eyelids were drooping. My brain was wired but over-tired. I wasn’t processing much, just hypnotized by the TV.

Still, I stayed up. Nothing changed. All of the reporting just repeated itself as if in rerun.

When I heard the chime toll 3 a.m., I realized I was spent. Nothing was happening. We were in a stall much like the November election. Reporting from DeKalb was stuck at 95%. The networks continued to hold the Ossoff/Perdue race in the “Too close to call” category. As much as I hated to, I went up to bed, but not before seeing a text notification that Perdue’s spokesperson issued a statement. In the dark I opened it and read that they would “mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.” 

It rang hollow. If not a concession, it certainly revealed that the campaign saw it had little, if any, hope for a win. If you’re already saying you’ll “exhaust every legal recourse” it certainly signals slight hope to win by votes alone. Winners don’t need to exhaust legal remedies. It sounded remarkably Trumpian.

With that I tried to self-wind down and snuck into bed without disturbing Julie. I couldn’t help but think that the unheard of was happening. I practiced a meditation technique of counting backwards from 10,000 to fall asleep. I got further along in that countdown than I expected, but somewhere around 9,900, 9,899, 9,898, I lost count. I woke up and it was 7:30 Wednesday morning. I needed more sleep but couldn’t “not” check in. Finding things still stalled I also was found that I was wide awake. There was no turning back. Maybe a nap later in the day. Heck, I’m retired. I can sleep when I want or need to. This is history in the making. Sleep can wait. So, I got up and wandered downstairs to the kitchen and found Julie making coffee.

There Kornacki was in front of the big board as I left him. Presumably in the same khaki pants. Slightly refreshed hair. Same numbers to report and same pathways to describe. Even he had taken a 75 minute nap so I didn’t feel too badly for abandoning my post. 

By 11:55 a.m. Ossoff’s lead climbed to 17,446, which is still 0.4%, just inside the 0.5% margin that triggers a recount. That’s a recount. Not another election.  

Warnock led by 54,602 votes, 1.2% ahead of Loeffler and beyond the margin for a recount.

George Sterling, the much berated Georgia election official by President Trump, briefed the press on the remaining numbers, all of which will come out of Democratic counties. If you give 80% of the remaining votes to the Dems it breaks out like this:

  • Warnock’s lead grows to 82 thousand.
  • Ossoff’s lead grows to 45 thousand. 

Both clearly beyond the 0.5% recount trigger point and poised to make for a Democratic sweep…in GEORGIA!

And, on this very same day, the U.S. Congress is set to begin its job to certify the states’ electoral votes. In normal times, this process does not make it to live TV, except on C-span. There have been objections in the past by both parties. Those were generally raised by members of the House who were not enjoined by a member of the Senate and are gaveled closed by the president of the Senate.

But, in one more nod to how “not normal” this era of Trump has been, today’s formality will be covered live on most networks. Why? Because of the number of House and Senate Republicans who have stated that they will object to the Electoral votes from the so-called “battleground states.” And, they had turned in the required objection letter and had secured members of the Senate to join members from the House in their objections. 

They are doing so under the clear pressure of an aggrieved and vengeful President. They are putting his willful attempt to overturn the election above the voice of the American citizens. They have organized their “Caucus of Sedition” and have publicly stated that they will object to the electoral results in key states pointing to unsubstantiated fraud and voting irregularities. The very same claims made in 62 lawsuits that court after court has thrown out with the admonition that those bringing the suits had “no standing.” 

One major irony in this play lies in soon to be “former” Senator Kelly Loeffler’s plan to join in this challenge. In doing so Loeffler will vote to nullify the votes and thereby disenfranchise her own Georgia constituents. She proudly made this a part of her platform to maintain her seat this week at the Trump rally the night before the runoff election. It may have cost her the election instead of win it.

This should be Trump’s final curtain call of a show he created by his very willful lie that the race was “stolen” from him. 

Trump, in fact, has become the great defrauder.

He is the “Fraud in Thief, operating out in the open, debasing the vote of the American people. He’s defrauding us of our vote, defrauding the Biden/Harris ticket of their rightful and lawful election, defrauding them of their legitimacy and defrauding the United States of a peaceful transition of power.

Under his watch, his party has lost the House, the Presidency, and now, the Senate. 

Under his watch over 350,000 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID19. 

Millions of Americans are out of work, out of money, out of food and soon, out of their homes.

America has lost its standing among the world order.

Iran is more dangerous. 

An embolden Russia grows its aggression against our country by the minute.

Donald Trump is a fraud, a loser and he will be branded so for the rest of time. 

We cannot let him bully his way back into our country’s psyche. We cannot ever let him run for another government office again.


It is disgraceful. His reign has been inhumane and unconstitutional at every turn.

To borrow the characterization of where we stand with regards to defeating COVID; There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But we’re still in the tunnel. 

That tunnel is the darkness of Donald Trump. The light is the hope of the Biden/Harris leadership. Hope that can emerge once Donald J. Trump is gone from our body politic. 

…And then: Inciting an Insurrection.  

Footnote: As of today, Thursday, January 7, 2021 at 4:20 p.m. Warnock wins by 76,000 votes, and Ossoff wins by 38,000. It was a good day for the Democrats in Georgia.

Kelly Loeffler pulled out of objecting to Georgia’s certified election results and conceded her loss.

Perdue has gone silent apparently pursuing all legal avenues.

The Recounts of Recounts

First, having volunteered for a shift of “get out the vote” phone banking prior to the November 3rd election, I am now on a list of people who volunteered and showed up. This is as close to politicking as I’ve come outside of marching in anti-war protests in the 70’s.

Being on the list gives you ample options for putting shoulder to the cause, mostly from the safety of your home with phone banking or texting. 

When President Trump asked for the second recount, the call came via text and email for observers to represent the Democratic Party of Georgia again. When I saw that there was a slot open for the Cobb County recount, I volunteered. I thought you might find this process interesting so here’s how it worked. 

I immediately received a link to a virtual training session on Zoom. When I joined the appointed time I was greeted by a young man and woman who were the trainers. Together they laid out the goals: 

  • Monitor the county staff as they tabulate. 
  • Monitor the GOP observers and note whether they appeared to be intentionally slowing the process or causing disruption. We were instructed not to deal directly with the GOP observers rather, bring it to the attention of the election supervisor or director. 
  • Monitor the Vote Review Panel if it meets during our shift.
  • Overall, protect the voting rights of all people through observation. 

We also were alerted not to speak to the recount workers. 

Oh, and dress business casual and wear some blue for the party colors. 

With that, I filled out a form and then received an official PDF certifying me as a registered observer for the party. I printed that out and, as required, made my own name tag identifying me as an official observer for the Democratic Party of Georgia. I  took a pen and pad for note taking and Monday morning drove to the recount center at Jim Miller Park for my 9 a.m.-1 p.m. shift. 

It was the closest thing to going to work that I had experienced since January 1, 2019. 

Jim Miller Park is a huge facility which hosts the county fair and where the county built a very large meeting center in which the election team was working. Each meeting room was the size of a large airplane hanger, readied for large meetings of all kinds. For now, Halls B and C were reserved for election work, the majority of which was, surprisingly, not for the recount, but the preparation of mail-in ballots for distribution to voters. The recount team occupied one half of Hall C. The ceilings were 40 feet high and certainly helped airflow in the pandemic world.

I checked in, underwent COVID19 prescreening formalities including temperature check, then walked down the large, long hall to the recount room, through the door marked “Observers” and entered a cordoned off area. This was a limited access space with a dozen chairs reserved for both party affiliated observers and the public. I immediately met Wendy, Amy, Clement and Gail, the rest of my party’s shift of observers. After a brief discussion with them, I presented my credential to Janine Eveler, the director of elections for Cobb County. She took my letter and reviewed the rules: masks on at all times, no cell phones out of your pocket, maximum of three observers on the floor from each party at one time, no speaking to workers, maintain social distancing and direct all questions or concerns to her.

With that, I was on the floor, walking among the “re-recount,” carrying my notepad and figuring out what I was there to do quietly sharing details with my cohorts about what was the process.

I have since found out that according to the Associated Press, there have been 31 recounts in statewide elections since 2000. That’s 31 times in a little over 1,000 elections or 3%. So, I was experiencing very rare ground here in Ground Zero Georgia. Also notable, only three recounts, or 0.3% of the 1,000 elections, have changed the outcome of an election.

Understanding just how rare it is for a statewide recount and even rarer for two recounts, that this the first time in my life to do something like this, and, only on this one 4-hour shift, imagine my surprise when I recognized four people that I knew personally! Even through the masks! Two fellow golfers were GOP observers, one neighbor is a recount worker and one, Ross Cavitt, is the communications director for Cobb County. Ross and I worked together at Channel 2 where he was the reporter for our Cobb County Bureau. Who would a thunk it? Of all the gin joints…

That’s how I got there. Here’s what I observed.

GOP observer stands outside the ropes

Janine really knew her stuff. She was patient, fully engaged, answering, I’m sure, the same questions over and over again. I think that that is her life, especially right now. She gave quick, exacting explanation to what the workers were doing, say, in duplicating a ballot, or cleaning the scanners, or what was in the boxes on the rolling shelving and why are those two boxes labeled in green?

She said that approximately 394,000 people voted in the 2020 Presidential election in Cobb County and this group was recounting all of those votes by running the actual ballots through scanners.

According to Cobb County’s Election website, of those voting, 44% voted in person in advance, 38% voted by mail/absentee and only 18% voted  in person on Election Day.  

I learned that all of the election workers were being paid and that the expense of the recounts would be born by the counties and the state of Georgia. “It’s just the price of doing business,” she said. 

She described the process of the recount for me…

All of the ballots are contained in boxes from the county precincts and are categorized as to whether they were advanced, mail-in or election day voting. 

Each box is coded and sealed with special election tape. That tape has now been sealed, opened, and re-sealed with different colored tape with each recount. 

There were eight scanning stations with teams of three workers assigned to each scanner. They scan the ballots in batches of 50 or less. Each batch is coded with a number that matches it up to the actual scanner. They do this to minimize the number of ballots effected if there’s a failure in the scanning process requiring a fix and rescan.

Another team supported the scanning team by delivering the heavy boxes from the “in-bound” cart to them, one box at a time. Once the scanning process is complete, the batches checked off and returned to the box, the delivery team carries the scanned boxes to workers across the aisle who take the batches out of the box and enter the batch codes onto a form, by hand. They place that completed form on the top of the batches of ballots back inside of the box, re-seal it for the workers to place on the “out-bound” cart. When these carts filled up they were rolled across the room in a secure storage location. 

All of these workers continued their tasks in a precise, methodical, measured and consistent pace. Checking and rechecking. The occasional question was signaled by a raised hand to which Janine or the supervisor would attend. 

It was as quiet as a library. There was no idle chatter, no playfulness, just a straightforward orderly march to the finish line.

All the party observers had full access to walk amid the workers while keeping socially distant. 

The only issue that I witnessed was that a GOP observer was not properly wearing her mask by not covering her nose. Janine fixed that very directly. Cover it or leave. 

You don’t mess with Janine. She was there to protect her staff, and our votes. No BS. 

Before my shift was up I spoke with Janine one last time. I told her how much I appreciated the dedicated work by all in what was clearly a very important yet tedious task and that I had learned a lot just by being there. I asked her if there had been objections or criticism from the GOP side to which she replied, “No objections or criticism, just questions.” Also, there were no ballots that required the meeting of the Vote Review Panel

She added that they had experienced no problems, nothing inappropriate, fraudulent or irregular. Just the boring, dutiful, responsible counting of ballots. 

For the last time! We can all hope. 

Me, Janine hiding behind me, and Ross Cavitt, former Channel 2 reporter, now Cobb Co. communications director

This morning I logged on to a virtual “Georgia Recount Thank You” call with Jill Biden. She offered her profound thanks to the over 400 attendees for voting for Joe and Kamala and for joining in to protect the vote. She was especially moved that we did so in mid-pandemic. 

And now, amazingly, we have a chance to put two great Democratic candidates in the senate and replace two major Trump supporters. In case you missed it last post, here are links to ways you can contribute either time or money or both to turn Georgia Blue!

Georgia on my mind

I am back. Back from the swirl of the times. I know. I know. I slammed you with posts running up to and including Election Day and since then, crickets from me. I spared you the anxious writings as the six or so states continued to count and we continued to wait. Most of us, patiently. One individual in particular, not so much.   

North Carolina. Arizona. Nevada. Pennsylvania. Wisconsin. Michigan. And, who would have guessed it, Georgia. All hanging in the balance. All working hard to count the surge of absentee and mail-in voting caused by the Pandemic. 

Slowly, step by step, inch by inch, like a molasses drip, Arizona, Michigan  and Wisconsin were called for Biden by the afternoon on November 5th, giving him 264 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 214. That left both candidates with viable paths to victory, albeit a very narrow path for Trump. Biden just needed six electoral votes to get to the magic 270.

Still counting were North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada. And they counted and counted until one by one they fell. North Carolina went Trump.

On Saturday at 11:25 a.m., with enough of the vote count reported, AP called Pennsylvania with 20 Electoral votes for Biden. That was the show stopper. Driving Biden way past the 270 mark. That was the presidential race, Biden’s victory and Trump’s defeat. Fittingly, Biden ultimately carded the same number of electoral votes as Trump had garnered in 2016, a victory that then President-Elect Trump had self-proclaimed to be a “massive landslide victory” and contended that the size of his victory was historic. It wasn’t. That was typical Trump hyperbole substituting his fantasy for facts. Here’s a fact from real history: of the last 58 presidential elections, 37 were won with more Electoral votes than Trump’s. It wasn’t massive. It wasn’t historic. But, it was surprising.

Biden’s victory, on the other hand, was historic on multiple levels:

  • Biden ran with an Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris will be America’s first woman, first woman of color and South Asian heritage to be chosen for national office.
  • Biden/Harris received the most votes for any presidential candidate in U.S. history.
  • Biden became only the tenth U.S. presidential candidate to defeat an incumbent president making Trump only the tenth incumbent to lose his re-election bid. Trump also made history by receiving the most votes for a losing candidate. 

Immediately following the news that Biden had won, people all over the country and the world took to the streets, in mass and in masks. They sang. They danced, waved flags, clapped and generally and politely just went happy. Outside of the U.S. people were saying, “Welcome back America! We’ve missed you.”

That day I was playing in a golf event with phone on silent when I noticed that Julie had texted that Biden had won. I didn’t jump up and down, hoot nor holler. One of my partners was a Trump supporter. I learned long ago in sports and life not to rub victory in the face of the loser. I held my joy and relief inside but quietly signaled the news to my other partner who shares my political view. My heart swelled up and a smile spread across my face before it was my turn to tee off on the next hole. I tried to focus on the difficult drive on the hole in front of me, but the news danced across my brain as I started my swing. I promptly duck-hooked it into the creek coursing down the left side. 

I laughed as I thought, “Who cares where that ball went. Biden did it. We fired Donald Trump!”

That was my quiet celebration of the moment. 

Still you heard nothing on “Life of Riley.” Not a chirp. Not one word clap. As the days passed, I even got a few emails and text messages from some of you saying, “Hey! Did I miss something? Where’s the election results blog?” 

Honestly, I didn’t know where to start. There were too many issues and aspects on which I could and wanted to comment. Trump’s continuing stream of virulent conspiracy claims turns weirder and weirder as the days go on. His voting fraud, cheating, scamming, dead voters voting, documents shredded, election stolen whine-fest has defined the non-concession Trump defeat. 

Georgia – Ground Zero

And, since you have to start somewhere, I decided to focus first on right here and now in Georgia. 

As the old Hoagy Carmichael song goes, “Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through,” all the talk is about Georgia for two reasons. First, all are still awaiting the results of the second recount of the Georgia presidential election to see if it falls in line with the initial election count and subsequent hand count showing the state turned blue for Biden. The first two counts showed Biden winning by just under 13,000 votes. Watch this Georgia website for the numbers as the counties report. Currently at 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, December 2nd, Biden leads Trump by 27,411 in reported votes.

Right now, Rudy Giuliani is in Atlanta talking to lawmakers about the Georgia election’s integrity. Appearing for Trump, he’s asking the Georgia legislature to overturn the election and select its own electors.

Second, our special election for the two Georgia U.S. Senate seats in January will decide if Mitch McConnell holds on to his stranglehold over the Senate or if a Democratic victory creates a pathway to bipartisanship. 

What’s on the line? Nothing but saving the American people from COVID19 and the U.S. economy at the same time. That requires a willing Congress which we will never have as long as McConnell has his foot on our necks. Even if you’re a Republican, electing these two Democrats will even out the Senate in a way that will make bipartisanship possible again. Democrats won’t be able to strangle the Senate as Mitch has for far too long. 

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock run to replace Republican Senators David Purdue and the appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler.

That’s where my mind and efforts are directed between now and January 5th lending my full support to Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for Senate. I hope that you will do the same. Join me. Even if you don’t live in Georgia. Donate to the Democratic cause. Give of some of your time to get out the vote. Make calls, send texts. Volunteer. You better believe that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are bringing in money and horses from out of state to support Loeffler and Purdue. Karl Rove (see “Karl Rove, GOP building money machine for Georgia runoffs”)  is moving in to lead the GOP charge. 

We need all of the help that we can muster. Here are a few websites that will help you DO something for the cause.

Stay tuned tomorrow for what I saw as a registered observer of the Georgia recount in Cobb County, my home county and Georgia’s fourth largest county by population with almost 698,000 residents.   

As always, thanks for reading. I welcome your comments. You can post them on the site or send to me. 

The Pandemic

But First, Election Day – Change is in the air

It’s 37 degrees and sunny. So, chilly, but not imposing enough to effect the turnout. 

This morning I drove around my area and checked out two polling places, my normal polling place and the larger voting place at the county’s East Cobb center. Neither had visible lines outside although there were cars parked in the lots. I wonder if the massive early voting reduced the Election Day turnout. We’ll find out as the day progresses, and whether this is a local or national phenomenon. 

Yesterday, I volunteered with the Democratic Party of Georgia to take a shift calling local voters. Very interesting experience. I’ve never done that in my life. The virtual training was on Zoom. The trainers were volunteers and appeared to be in their twenties. Extraordinarily friendly, likable and knowledgeable. Once trained, I signed onto a system online with my identification code. It presented a page with the name, gender and age of a registered voter in North Georgia who had voted in the Democratic primary before, but not consistently, or they had not voted recently at all.

Our job wasn’t to try and convert them to the Democratic ticket but to remind them to vote on Tuesday. The system dialed for me and I spoke using the computer’s mic like an online call. It was easy to fill in what took place on the call. For instance, was the number no longer in service, or the wrong number, or no one answered. Once I completed the call and typed in info about the call, the system automatically presented a new person, I clicked the “Call” button and it dialed the call. 

I made over thirty-five calls, reached three live people, just under 10% completion rate. Each of the three had voted early and volunteered that they had voted for Biden/Harris and for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Democrats running in the U.S. Senate racing in Georgia.

I plan to take another shift today. I wish that I had done this sooner, but at least I feel like I am doing something. 

Pandemic: A dereliction of duty 

Trump had a real opportunity to do good for the country, take the reins and lead us through this pandemic. 

President Trump publicly denied it, called it a hoax by the Democrats, downplayed it, mocked it, predicted it to end by Easter, politicized it, whined and complained about it, while doing next to nothing to marshal the forces of the country to fight it. 

His go-to point in defending his response to coronavirus is that he saved millions of lives when he banned travel from China. In fact he didn’t ban travel. He imposed porous restrictions, as did many other countries. There is zero proof that his action saved millions or even hundreds of thousands of lives as he claims. 

He could have listened to the early warnings in December and January, reviewed the in-depth playbook left from the Obama administration on the lessons learned fighting HIV and H1N1. Although this virus is a totally new strain, the playbook gives the U.S. government proven steps to take. If he and his team had read the information, he could have taken immediate steps from the start to mobilize U.S. manufacturers and produce the PPE, ventilators, masks and other items that would be needed to contain the spread and treat the sick. 

He could have quickly marshaled our troops into this new and different battle to provide boots on the ground support as hot spots developed around the country.

Instead he turned it into a political football and continues to witness the most dramatic loss of American lives in such a short period of time on his watch. These lives are on him. His magic wand waving didn’t do the trick. 

Even today he says, “We’re turning the corner.” He’s not wrong. We are turning another corner as the graph of new infections has turned up signaling our third wave leading into the winter.

He showed us all that he was not the man to lead us through the pandemic. He admitted to knowing more about the virus in the beginning than he let on, and ultimately lied to us about its deadly potential from the beginning.

He lied to us about why he lied to us, saying later that he was protecting us from the truth to prevent us from panicking.

He made it a partisan fight instead of a United States fight.

He failed to listen to scientists while bragging about his ability to understand the complexities of epidemiology in an unmasked visit to the CDC. 

He berated governors for actually trying to adhere to the guideline set forth by the CDC and his own Coronavirus Task Force. 

He threatened to withhold aid to states governed by Democratic leadership.

Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of Americans were filling up hospitals, morgues and graveyards.

Knowing that the best tool in our arsenal to stop the spread was wearing masks, he flouted them, didn’t wear them because he didn’t like the image, mocked those who did and turned masks into a political statement. His job was to lead by example, even if he lived in the safe bubble of the president…and his example encouraged people to NOT WEAR masks in public as a sign of unity with the president and to demonstrate their right to exercise their individual freedoms.

The one thing Trump did show us; even he could be infected by COVID19.

After three days of hospitalization cloaked in secrecy, he made his first public appearance after leaving the hospital early and against his doctors’ advice. He appeared on the balcony and, in a theatrical display, removed his mask, saying to his public, “Don’t let the virus take over your life.”

That prompted Alice Roberts of New Jersey to write an op-ed entitled, “My husband died of COVID19 and I have just one plea to make of you.

I urge you to read her tragic story if you have any doubts as to the seriousness of the virus and your and your family’s susceptibility to infection. 

He ultimately turned on his experts, the career doctors and scientists on staff trained and accountable for the health and safety of Americans, bullying them in public the same way he has bullied everyone else who is not Donald J. Trump because they dared to speak the truth which countered with the narrative he wanted. 

Just this week, while stumping on the election trail, Trump hinted that he will probably fire Dr. Fauci after the election. Fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most trusted doctor in America! Sadly, the president’s “hint” excited those attending the mask-less rally to chant, “Fire Fauci, Fire Fauci…” reminiscent of the mob-like chant from 2016, “Lock her up!” 

It is all the theatre of the unimaginable brought to life, right here and now in the reality of the United States of America in 2020. Please, please, please vote to make it stop!

As always, thank you if you made it this far. 

I also invite you to read this AP FactCheck article. Although it is from the distant past of July 2020, it reveals the many untrue statements made by President Trump on a variety of topics including his travel “ban” with China, tariffs, immigration, Hunter Biden, hydroxychloroquine, what he claims Biden has said and will do and more. 

It’s (still) the economy, stupid

Good morning. It is Monday, November 2, 2020. The morning before the most awaited election day since…2008? Which seems weird to say now that record numbers of Americans, including Julie, me, our kids and so many of my family and friends, have already cast our ballots. Some of us, weeks ago. Our anticipation is no longer set for the actual voting, but rather, the results.

And, although many of you reading this have voted as well, I still find it necessary to write about the issues in this election as I see them.

And, knowing that many of you are working from home, if you’re working, maybe you can find 10 minutes to spend with your coffee reading a little of what I have to say before logging on to work. After all, you’ve got all that time back from commuting…you lucky dogs.

I want to follow up my “State of Our Union” post with a some focus on the economy. Why? Because polls show it is the one issue that folks, especially Republicans, give Trump his highest favorable marks. When asked, it is often a Trump supporter’s sole reason for voting for Trump, again. Even if they dislike his character, his lack of empathy, sincerity, handling of the virus, divisiveness, etc, supporters still believe he has delivered on the economy, therefore, done well by them. They take his word on that mark. They hear him claim that he’s a great businessman and a dealmaking savant, and they believe that they, and the country, are financially better off in 2020 than in 2016. And, until COVID19, they weren’t wrong in that sense because the economy has been steadily improving…SINCE 2009! The wrong is in Trump’s claim that HE took a disastrous economy and made it into the “greatest economy ever.”

“The United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,” according to The Washington Post. Not so fast my friend. It is not true.

Forbes points out that “Trump continually says that, “the U.S. is experiencing the best economy ever.” This is obvious gaslighting since the new results show that President Trump’s best year of job growth was 2.314 million in 2018 (the first year of the tax cut) but it falls short of any of Obama’s last three years. His boasts also don’t stand up when you peel the onion on GDP growth and realize that the Federal deficits during his Presidency will exceed any that were not impacted by a recession.”

Based on the real measurements of our economy, at best, give Trump credit for not blowing the growth track started under Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He certainly doesn’t deserve his own self-praise that he created “the greatest economy ever.” He, once again, was ‘born on third and thought he hit a triple.’

Somehow, Republicans over the last half century have been able to continue to push a false narrative that they know better what is best for the country’s economy and jobs. And their policies to accomplish this are: 

  • Cut taxes…especially for the wealthiest of Americans and corporations.
  • Let the free market rule…never mind that the capitalists constantly choose making a dollar over our climate, our health, our healthcare. 
  • Cut (and now gut) federal business regulations put into place to protect our health, healthcare, water, air, public lands, jobs, pay and as small businesses. 
  • Reduce the size of a wasteful government…but never doing so while in office.
  • And, smoke screen it all by branding Democrats as “tax and spend” legislators who want big, wasteful government and taxpayer expense.

Curious, I have been reviewing the actual results of the GOP approach and branding to examine if that strategy works for most of Americans. And, if the GOP does have real ownership and bragging rights about the effects their presidents and legislators had on the economy. And, conversely, if the Democratic platform of paying attention to the needs of Americans from healthcare to education to equal rights to supporting small business costs hardworking people their salaries. 

Looking back in time, Democrats actually have done very good things for the economy while doing well for and by the people. It’s a GOP myth that conservative politicians actually put actions into place that indeed stimulate the economy, reduce the budget, the budget deficit and the nation’s public debt. It’s a platform to running for re-election. It sounds good to say, “I’m about cutting taxes and governmental over-reach and cutting the deficit.” But, it has proven very difficult to do. Reagan passed the sweeping tax reform that greatly lowered the revenue while he added to the military budget, thereby blowing up the deficit.

Look at the chart below marking by years, dating back to 1990, the federal deficit and surplus. Red from 1990-1993 is GHW, blue from 1994-2001, is Clinton and the other red is GW years.

The economic statistics dating back to pre Clinton, Clinton, GW Bush, Obama and, now, Trump reveals the opposite proves true. In fact, the Clinton years saw the growth of a robust economic expansion after real financial reform and strategies to reign in the national deficit, improve job growth, lower finance rates and taxes for workers. Even with Newt and gang trying to hold Clinton back, his plan ultimately produced successful efforts to restore the economy drained by the 12 years of GOP presidencies: Reagan/Bush, and Bush/Quayle. Under the GOP administrations, the country’s budget deficit quadrupled. Reagan cut taxes and then funded the military to the degree that began a major budget deficit and then a recession. 

Clinton put his plan into operation and cut it the deficit in half and, in his last years in office, oversaw a surplus of revenue. That surplus made the country’s balance sheet healthier and provided dollars to improve the lives of Americans. 

Post Clinton, GW Bush quickly reversed that course as his administration and Congress passed a historic tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, dramatically cutting back the revenue and increasing the deficit. That and launching the war in the Middle East played a role in creating the Great Recession. 

So, which party takes better care of your money, your healthcare and the health of your country? But wait, there’s more…

Let’s talk Trade Wars and Tariffs

Trump Isn’t Delivering On Reducing The Trade Deficit – Forbes –   President Trump campaigned on reducing if not eliminating the U.S. trade deficit. He has failed to deliver on this as the trade deficits in 2018, 2019 and based on the current pace for 2020 they will be the largest since 2008, before President Obama took office.

While trade does negatively impact sectors of the economy and the jobs associated with them, overall it tends to be a net benefit to the economy. Consumers receive lower prices and/or a wider range of goods and companies gain access to additional markets. Unfortunately, Trump’s lack of understanding of trade’s benefits has overwhelmed his desire to see it reduced, if not eliminated. [Forbes}

Bottomline on the Trump Economy

The bottom line is that, the three years pre-COVID of the Trump economy, at best, continued the run of the Obama/Biden economy.  Trump’s job growth is actually less, not more, than his predecessor’s. And, his tough talk “deal making” that begot a highly destructive trade war with China devastating American farmers to bourbon distillers, has given us the largest trade deficits since 2008. And, the new deal with China is, according to Forbes, “woefully behind on where it should be. While the coronavirus does have a lot to do with this, even before it hit exports to China lagged and had goals that were going to be very hard to achieve.”

And, do not forget the billions of dollars Trump has had pour into subsidizing the farming industry due to his trade war. He claims China is paying for that. It isn’t. We are. And Trump’s relief to farmers came at election time. Hmmm. What timing.

I ask you, how is that building a successful economy, yet alone the “most robust ever”? How is that, in and of itself, worth voting for? It isn’t.

No one in our time has so unashamedly made the most outrageous claims as to his own success as President Trump. His modus operandi is to slap his brand “Trump” on something, praise it over and over and over again until he believes it, and then, until his followers believe it. He has just mastered the art, not of the deal, but the art of gaslighting his backers.

And just a footnote because I found this fascinating as I have been digging deeper into various key issues…remember Trump’s campaigning on how terrible NAFTA, the international trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and how devastating it has been for the U.S. 

Here’s a quote from an interview in which Trump claims, “NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton. NAFTA has been a catastrophe, an absolute catastrophe for our country.”

Trump blamed President Clinton for it over and over and over again. He used it to vilify the Democrats for our loss of jobs to other countries and claimed he would unravel and put a stop to it.

Well, get ready…NAFTA was sponsored and signed by President George H. W. Bush and more Republicans voted for it than did Democrats. You want to talk about “fake news,” how about “fake history.” He either doesn’t know the history of the treaty…or…he does know and changed the narrative to suit the picture he wants to paint. In other words, he lied.

While true that Clinton supported NAFTA and oversaw the ratification of the treaty during his administration, it was a Republican sponsored effort from the beginning. Clinton didn’t bring it up for ratification until more protections for workers were added into the treaty.

And, what has President Trump really done to “fix” what he calls a “catastrophe”? Put a new name on it and tout it as the greatest new trade deal ever.

As the New York Times put it: “However much he wants to dismantle it, Mr. Trump is still operating within the framework that Mr. Bush helped establish. While he disparaged NAFTA, Mr. Trump ultimately accepted Mr. Bush’s fundamental concept of knitting together the three great nations of North America in a single, integrated trade bloc. The alliances that Mr. Bush built and bolstered remain in place, however frayed. And a host of civil rights, environmental and other Bush-era laws still govern America.”  

So, I realize that this is simplistic, but our president is pretty simplistic.

His economic policies haven’t done what he claimed in his campaigning for office and, now, for re-election. And, what he claimed as the condition of the country wasn’t true to begin with in 2015/2016 when he was running. He inherited seven years of economic growth that brought us out of the Great Recession. He made the Obama economy into the boogeyman, claiming, “Obama was a complete failure.” And, Trump’s economy has yet to do better. 

If you want to go deeper, read this article written by economist and former Duke Professor John Komlos in which he says that Reaganomics started laying the planks in the economy that led to Donald Trump. So, you could say that Ronald led to Donald. 

You could say that Ronald led to Donald.

He (Komlos) cited a three-decade process that started with Reaganomics and its tax cuts, which he says favored the rich by increasing their wealth and political clout. In tax year 1985, for example, he said the top 1 percent gained a $350,000 windfall while the typical household received $3,500, and the poor received a couple of hundred dollars (all in today’s dollars).

Reaganomics also hurt the middle class by crushing unions, he says.

Continuing the argument of whether Reaganomics helped or hurt, read this analysis from archives of NYT printed in 1983, three years into Reagan’s first term. 

In the beginning of his term, Mr. Reagan promised year after year of strong and healthy growth. Instead, the nation has suffered through the longest recession and the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression. Early in 1981, the White House figured it could add 13 million jobs to the economy by 1986; the record shows that 1 million jobs were added in 1981 and 900,000 lost in 1982, a net gain of 100,000.

The article goes on to describe how the effects of the new policies in tax breaks started a recession.

“The bitter recession, the most striking failure of Reaganomics, can be laid to the collision of the Administration’s policy of trying to revive the economy through tax cuts with the Federal Reserve Board’s attempts to choke off inflation through credit restraints. As the Fed tightened the screws and interest rates soared to postwar highs, the economy ground to a near halt.”

Have you had enough? I hope so. I certainly have. Let’s give the Democrats another shot to grow our country’s economy and the health of our people.

I’m working on my next posts…COVID19 and Climate Crisis. I know that you can’t wait. 

My “State of OUR Union”

I come before you today, with just seven full days of voting left, to say that the state of OUR union is dire. Never in my lifetime, or my mother and father’s lifetime, has the United States of America faced so many crises at the same time. And never before have we had a more anarchic president in the White House, sowing discord and hatred for our institutions, our people, and the people of the World. The intersection of those two facts are what makes our current and future state so dire.  

Never have we been at such a crossroads as we approach the election of our next president and seats up and down the ballot. 

Never have we had a leader seed outright distrust in our election process even remotely to the degree of President Trump. With no proof whatsoever, he is claiming voter fraud over and over and over, on Twitter, interviews and at rally after rally after rally. He did it in 2016, saying he would only accept the results of the election if he won. After winning, he established a commission to investigate…which turned up nothing. And, yet again, now as the president of the United States, he’s using his voice to spread lies under the guise of voter fraud.

Never have we had a sitting president, running for re-election, publicly call out to his attorney general to investigate his rival in the race, and then berate him for not doing so. And, this after he called on a foreign official to start an investigation on Biden.

I could go on and on listing a litany of “never before.” But I’m sure that you already know more of them than you want to know.

And yet, I believe. I do. In our country, to fix the broken.

And you believe. I know that you do. 

And what I believe and what you believe isn’t always the same. But, man oh man, do I hope that you have been seeing and believing the overwhelming evidence of how destructive this president has been to our country’s people, our institutions and our global influence during his reign of terror these last three and a half years. If you’re a Republican and you’re on my blog mailing list, I know you and your character, and I do not see what Trump represents living in you. I don’t believe that Trump reflects your character nor represents the keys to your conservatism. I am hoping that, if you voted for him in 2016, you’ve seen enough. Enough even to vote for a Democrat this time. It’s your only way out. Later, I’ll give you some reasons why it’s not that bad of an option.

I am a Democrat. I chose my party. I’m proud of the inclusiveness of its platforms for equality across race, gender, nationality and sexual orientation. I’m proud of the ideas that this political season brought to the forefront during the primaries and Democratic debates and the wide ranging discussions of smart people talking about important issues. Sure, it got messy sometimes, like with 20 or more candidates were running in the beginning. But that very gaggle of engaged individuals depicted the very essence of the party as they rose up from all over America to put their name and their ideas in full public view and showcased for me so many possibilities of leadership. They demonstrated courage and conviction to be bold. They ran towards the fire. They disagreed on some of the finer points but agreed holistically in the larger picture of what our country needs.

I’m proud of the vision of leadership forward, not backwards. 

I’m proud to stand behind our country’s needs from our federal government to do things that we can’t do alone and, by doing it through the federal government, we do it with strength and expertise of many. I’m proud to commit my tax dollars to make the USA better. 

And I’m proud to say that I’ve already voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country. I also voted for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to represent Georgia in the US Senate and to put Mitch McConnell out to pasture, if not sitting on his porch in Kentucky, at least removing his stranglehold over the US Senate into the position of minority leader.

I encourage you to do the same if you have not yet voted.

I donated to political campaigns for the first time in my life. I donated to Biden/Harris, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock who are running for the two open U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. I even donated to Jamie Harrison in S.C. and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. That’s how crucial this election is to me.

Our country has never needed a strong, unified federal government more than now, one with legislators and leaders who have the will to BE BOLD enough to tackle the huge issues before us.

BE BOLD in the fight against COVID19, flattening the curve, developing and delivering on a unified national strategy with a real plan in place that gives our scientists and field experts the support, direction, tools and manpower to succeed. It is truly about saving lives right now!

BE BOLD in providing Americans with financial support to make it through the economic hard times created by the pandemic and building the road to reopening and conquering the virus. 

BE BOLD about setting our country on the path to resolve the racism in our country, in full view and inherent in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, in lending practices, in healthcare and in education.

BE BOLD about addressing climate change, transitioning to alternative fuel through innovation, American ingenuity and returning the United States to the world of nations, sharing and working together to cut carbon emissions and clean our air, cut down waste polluting our rivers and oceans, and make and keep our promises to each other to go Green. 

BE BOLD about joining with other democratic nations to build a better, safer more peaceful world. 

BE BOLD enough to hold Russia accountable for its past and current interference in our elections and for seeding divisiveness and chaos. 

BE BOLD enough to cross the aisle and send this man back to his private world where he belongs. He’s shown that he is the worst of what we can be, not the best. He’s shown that he knows not how to govern. He’s certainly found out that being president is not the same as being CEO of your own company. You don’t always get your way. And, you can’t sue your way out of everything or wave your hand and shoo problems as big as America away. Show him that he’s not more powerful than your combined vote.

Normally, I don’t work too hard to try and influence long-time Republicans to “not” vote for their party. It’s a really tough putt to sway a lifelong Republican or Democrat off of their party. But if there’s ever a time for that to happen it is now. The man on the GOP ticket doesn’t represent nor believe in the values the Republicans that I know hold dear. 

If you want to test that theory, read this op-ed by George Conway entitled, “I (still) believe the president, and in the president.” Just say your name in front of each statement of belief, read it out loud and try it on for size. See if his actions and words fit your beliefs. 

I believe that, yes, this 78 year old white man, Former Vice President Joe Biden, is the person for the moment. Wisdom comes with age, from experience, and from battles won and lost. I believe that wisdom, patience, empathy, and vision are what we need now to erase the wholesale damage wrought by three and a half years of Trumponian rule.

I believe that Joe will enable the boldness and courage in his staff, Congress and in our America. And I certainly believe that he will not operate in the scorched earth policies in which Trump and Mitch McConnell have operated, where everything is a zero sum game.

I believe, that although a Democrat, he will serve and work with Republicans to bring us together because his values are much more closely aligned with your values than Trump. By miles.

Joe knows how to govern. Joe knows how government works. And, importantly, Joe knows for whom it works. The citizenry. Us. You and me. My 97 year old mother. My two year old grand nephew. My adult children.

This is the very first political bumper sticker I’ve ever put on my car. Ever.

So, that’s my state of our union in broad strokes. Next post, what I’ve found out researching key issues starting with the Economy, because the economy is the one issue voter polls show Trump leading, but only by a razor thin margin.

As always, thank you if you made it this far.

Peppermint ice cream, donuts and Dad

Dad’s birthday, September 7th, often coincided with the Labor Day Weekend holiday and made for an annual gathering at Beech Mountain, NC. It was the perfect crossing of celebrating Dad and the start of Fall which, of course, starts a few weeks earlier at 5,000 feet. Mom and Dad have owned a stake in the cottage for about five decades. 

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 people have come in from West Palm Beach, Providence, Atlanta, New York City, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Knoxville, the many places their kids and their kids’ kids live nowadays. Some years are lean, other years so well attended that we must rent another house for the weekend. This year, mostly due to COVID, is the leanest on record. Only Mom, my baby brother, Page, sister-in-law, Maggie, and their daughter, Peyton, made the journey. Maggie “broke” Mom out of her retirement home in Durham and gave her the much needed break from the isolation she has endured during the pandemic. 

I can’t tell you how unnatural it was not to be there and shows the degree of seriousness we all hold each other’s personal safety. It has been a year like no other for sure. And, this year, Dad’s birthday fell on Labor Day. 

Page and Maggie honored the tradition of cooking Dad’s favorite shrimp and grits and finished it off with homemade peppermint ice cream. The peppermint ice cream has been a Riley tradition since we were kids. It’s an egg, milk, sugar, flour and peppermint candy custard concoction that is lovingly and carefully brought to a boil just enough to coat a wooden spoon while not curdling,..a true test of your patience and attention span. 

Then, it’s churned into ice cream, packed and frozen, fresh for the night. 

Usually the cream is accompanied by couple of chocolate chip cookies or brownies by Julie (except this year) all to which Dad would usually say, more than once during the evening, “Oooh Lord, that’ll make a bulldog break its chain!”

So, in honor of Dad’s 98th birthday on Monday, and in the spirit of families everywhere, I thought that I would share a few of Dad’s stories, some of which would often break out over the said peppermint ice cream consumption.

But first, I’ll lead off with the words I wrote for Dad’s 70th Birthday card way back in 1992, which we celebrated in force, of course, at Beech Mountain.



The code for your birth,

The combination for you locker.


How many times we twirled that dial

To open up 

More than the door to our golf shoes,

It was the door to our hearts.

9-7-22 until 9-7-92

Equals Seventy,

And with every year that passes

We get to know you better.

First, as a father and a husband.

Then, a road builder and grandfather.

Always a golfer, 

And now a retiree.

Doing things you’ve never done before,

Showing an interest in life and living

That inspires us all.

You continue to teach us new lessons

In how we can live our lives,

And reach for the happiness that resides within

Each of us.


It’s a combination we love always

Loving you. 

Happy Birthday!

4/21/2005 when Mom and Dad visited us in Atlanta

Mom started this story about Dad.

“Your dad was spoiled by a lot of people,” said Mom, and that announcement around the table got our attention. 

“His teachers all took a shine to him and his cute smile and they felt a little compassion for him knowing that he ran a morning paper route. They forgave him for nodding off in class. One teacher, who your dad really liked, told him, ‘Homer, you go ahead and rest your head. I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn to answer a question.’ You see, she knew that he left home without breakfast.” 

“What she didn’t know,’ Dad interjected, “was that when I picked up my bundle of papers every morning, the mailman had already taken his paper and left me a half pint of milk. The fruit and vegetable man had left me some fruit in exchange for his paper, and when I hit the bakery they’d let me have my choice of yesterday’s donuts. I’d rake me an arm full and treat your mother and her sisters. 

“On Saturday mornings I would ride my bike by their home and call them out. Sha, (he called my mother ‘Sha,’) Virginia and Betsy would all come out of their second floor bedroom window onto the tin porch roof and I’d toss ‘em each a donut.” 

“I reckon he was spoiled enough, but so were we,” said Mom. “Those donuts were so good who would ever know they were day-old,” Mom said, looking at her Homer as if they were still kids in love.

10/3/2002 Homer and Martha telling stories about the early days of Dad’s career with Nello L. Teer Company

Teer Company was a local family-owned construction outfit started in 1916 with mules that became an international construction company and known the world over. Dad was the first professional engineer in the company and he worked for Teer his entire career. He rose to the rank of President and CEO before he retired in 1987. 

Back when Dad was fairly new to the company, Nello Teer Sr., the owner, told Dad that he was sending him to Waynesville, NC, to run the office and engineer the job for Mr. John Caricoff. Mr. Teer Sr. said, “Son, I hear that Mr. John has taken to drinking likker. I want you to keep an eye out and let me now if he’s having problem.”

“No sir, I can’t do that,” young Homer replied to a startled Mr. Teer. “I can’t serve two masters.” 

Mr. Teer stormed out of Homer’s office not being used to anyone say “no” to him. Later, Nello Jr. came to a worried Homer and said, “Well, you almost did it. Daddy was so mad. He said he didn’t know whether to fire you or give you a raise.”

Homer later went to Waynesville. At a well-chosen moment, he asked Mr. Caricoff what he did on his daily walks into the woods along the line of the road plans. “Well Homer, I have to stay ahead of the job, plan where to attack the area and get it all ordered in my head.”

Dad asked if he could walk along next time, to learn on the job. Next morning, Mr. John invited Dad along. They walked a ways beyond the progress of the clearing work and into the woods until they came upon a stream that meandered across the job path. Mr. John bent down next to a branch, felt around until he found a string and pulled it in. Tied to the string was a pint of Four Roses whiskey. Mr. John took a sip, screwed the cap back on and put it back into that cool water. They crossed that stream four more times and Mr. John had a sip waiting at each crossing. 

Homer never told anyone and they built a beautiful road.

9/3/2004, Beech Mountain Labor Day and Homer’s 82nd birthday

Dad telling tales from his teenage days.

Dad and a friend were riding in the trunk of a big 2-door Hudson because there were already three guys in the front seat. He and his buddy held the truck lid open with a stick. Driving down the highway the car blew a tire and rolled over, dumping Dad and his friend out of the trunk. Dad said that they hit the ground running and miraculously, no one was hurt. The car ended up upside down, all four wheels at the sky. They checked on their friends and all were okay. They helped the three guys out of the car and took stock of everything and everybody. All were shook up, but amazingly, no injuries. 

When a car stopped, the driver asked if he could help. Homer and his pal hitched a ride and that was that. When they got to town Mom picked glass out of his hair. 

Marines Boot Camp Stories

A Dry Shave

Homer was the squad leader. One morning when the men fell in for line up the DI noticed that Dad’s friend had not shaved for the day. He rubbed his hand against the young soldier’s face. “Son, you did not report for duty clean shaven. Why?”

“Sir, not enough time, sir!” the marine called out in answer.

“Not enough time? All these other marines found the time!” Barked the DI. “Riley, you report to my quarters at 1700 with this soldier. Bring your razor.”

“Yes sir!” answered Riley.

At the appointed time, Dad and his buddy rapped on the DI’s door. 

“Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, sir.”

The DI let them in, instructed Dad to dry shave his friend. Dad took out his Schick single balde razor and gingerly started shaving while the young soldier flinched.

“Stop moving,” Dad urged, at which point the DI said, “Riley, I don’t see any blood. If I don’t see any blood, you’ll be dry shaving for a week!”

Dad loved at his friend, mouthed, “Hold on,” and pulled that razor across his face, blood popping up in its wake. 

“That’s more like it,” said the DI, looking up from his newspaper. 

Dad finished. The DI released them, and both men made sure they always found time to shave…for the rest of their lives.

All for one

The Drill Instructor said that he was very proud of this unit. So much so that he wanted to treat them all to a movie, marching them right by the General’s quarters. That’s how proud he was of them. He ordered them to dress out and be back in formation in front of the barracks at 1500.

The full unit minus one formed out when the DI blew his whistle. That last remaining Marine made it into formation 30 seconds too late. 30 seconds. 

The DI read ‘em the riot act and instructed them to go change into work clothes, take every thing out of the barracks; beds, footlockers, everything, and report back with their work pails. He sent them all off to a construction site to haul sand back in the buckets. 

“Pour the sand on the floors and then go back and fetch two bricks apiece,” he ordered. When they returned with the bricks he made them rub the sand and scour the hardwood floors white.

They hosed out the sand, put everything back and waited at attention for inspection. 

The old salty DI swaggered through the room, looked in disgust and ordered them to do it over again, putting Dad in charge of the unit.

“Riley, come and get me when you’re sure that the floor’s as white as it can be!”

Two hours later Dad knocked on the DI’s door. 

“Sir, Corporal Riley reporting as ordered, Sir! The unit has completed its assignment, SIR!”

“Are the floor’s scrubbed white?”

“Yes, sir! Ready for inspection, Sir!

“Fine. Dismissed.”

“You don’t need to inspect the barracks, sir?” Dad asked.

“No. Dismissed!”

Dad saluted, about faced and marched his way back to the barracks. The men cheered knowing that they were done and the lesson learned by all. 

“All for one and one for all.” If anyone lets the unit down, there’s hell to pay for every one. Lives would depend on it one day.

That’s it for now. It certainly is my privilege to write about my dad and you honor him by reading. For that I’m most appreciative. 

Have a great week. Stay safe. 

The Civil Rights hero, a legendary journalist, and, then, well, there’s me and a tie

People mourn John Lewis, congressman representing the state of Georgia, near a mural of Lewis in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, July 19, 2020. (Photo by Alan Chin/Xinhua)

I asked John Pruitt, my friend and former colleague at Channel 2 WSB-TV, if he would offer his observation of John Lewis. Pruitt and I worked together at Channel 2 from 1999 until he retired in 2010. For those of you from outside of Atlanta, allow me to introduce him.

John was into his fourth decade covering news in Atlanta and beyond when I joined Channel 2. I found out quickly what a privilege it was to work with him and I learned so much from him over our ten years together. John represented all of the best qualities to which any journalist should aspire.

He has always loved history because it defined how we got to where we are now. 

He’s extremely observant and deeply interested in the full context of the facts; the who, what, when and where of a news story’s arc.

He is dogged in his pursuit of the truth to the story while maintaining the humanity of the people involved in the story he was covering. 

As an anchor, John provided leadership both in the newsroom and from the anchor desk. He listened to and respected the opinions of others and reserved his observations or opinions for last. And, he was all about maintaining balance and fairness of the telling of the news stories.  

When the sh*t hit the fan and news was breaking, John was the proverbial calm inside the storm. He had the experience and vision to see beyond the chaos of the moment, to connect dots others were not anticipating or seeing and to make us all feel safe in knowing John was on the story. 

He was at his best when it came to political coverage…John is THE man with deep political knowledge in this town. So much so that Channel 2 continues to call on his insight and political wisdom to this day. You will be seeing him over the ramp up to the November elections I can assure you.

And, of course, John’s decades of experience in covering the Civil Rights Movement makes him Channel 2’s go-to expert during times like Lewis’ passing. When Lewis passed, John was on the air with his words of reflection on the life of Lewis.

For all of those reasons, I’m appreciative that John shared his observation and feelings about John Robert Lewis. 

I’ve covered so many public figures over my reporting career, but John Lewis was truly unique.  When he came to Atlanta as head of SNCC [Students Nonviolent Coordination Committee] in the late 60’s, Lewis was already a civil rights legend.  Having survived Bloody Sunday, the Freedom Rides, and a series of arrests and beatings, he was renowned for his courage and leadership.  Time Magazine referred to him as a “living saint”.

Yet, despite his fame, John Lewis was one of the most humble people I ever met.  He was gentle, respectful, soft spoken, and self-effacing. Oh, he could be in your face when crusading for his causes on the floor of the house or walking at the head of a group of civil rights marchers. On those occasions he could be downright bombastic. But his power to persuade through his quiet sincerity and humility, his unquestioned dedication to lead the nation to his life-long goal of the beloved community, could and did move mountains. Those qualities made him a figure of deep respect for people on both sides of our partisan divide.

It was a privilege to cover John Lewis over the course of his long political career.  He made a difference in so many lives right up to the end. And the legacy he leaves will continue to light the way.

Across the displays of clothing stood a Civil Rights legend

More than a few years back, Julie and I were shopping in a Perimeter Mall department store on the Fourth of July. She was off looking for something special while I whiling away the time in the men’s section. I glanced up from whatever clothing in which I was pretending interest and as I scanned around the aisles and displays of men’s clothing there, looking at ties, was Congressman John Lewis. I could only see him from the shoulders up, but I would recognize his profile anywhere. And, he was all alone. 

I felt nervous excitement and the growing need most of us feel in the presence of the famous…to, well, go over and introduce myself. I hesitated for a moment, questioning whether or not it would be rude or disrespectful of his moment alone to do a little uninterrupted shopping. 

And then I thought, this is John Lewis, a Civil Rights legend. He’s right there! In the end, I just could not pass up the opportunity to meet him. I didn’t know what I would say but I would figure it out. 

I made my way over to him as he continued to browse through the ties. I could see that he was dressed in a suit. I must have caught his eye because he looked up, saw me coming and he smiled. I started talking as I approached with my hand outstretched to his, “Congressman Lewis, I am so sorry to interrupt your shopping and I hope that I’m not bothering you too much,” as we shook hands. “My name is Steve Riley and I work for Channel 2.” 

“It is so nice to meet you, Steve,” he said. “And, it’s no bother at all. I’m just in between events and thought I’d find me a new tie.” He grinned again.

“What is it that you do for Channel 2?” he asked. I told him and he acknowledged, “That is a great TV station. You must really enjoy working there.” I told him that I did and then said the only thing I knew to say.

“I want you to know how much I admire you for all that you have done to make Atlanta and our country a better place,” I said. 

“Well, thank you, Steve. I appreciate that. I have certainly had a blessed and rewarding life. But we have much further to go you know.” 

A young man came up, politely said hello to me and told the congressman that it was time for them to go. 

“Well, I gotta get going,” he said looking at me. “I’m am so glad to meet you, Steve. Have a great holiday.” 

I thanked him for his time, we shook hands and off they went. 

And that was that. My personal moment with John Lewis in the men’s clothing department at the mall. And here’s my take on it years later and in light of his passing.

First, did you catch how quickly he welcomed me, how he said and then repeatedly used my name?

He saw me.

Right at that moment, when he was focused on a new tie, he moved so graciously into seeing me, a human being, and taking the opportunity to make a real human connection. He seized the moment to be real. To get real. To make a real connection. And, to get in one more motion toward justice, a campaign that he has been waging for his entire life. 

And he left me a bigger admirer than I was before because he let me see him, too. 

Today, I had another thought about this chance meeting at a clothing store in a shopping mall…in Georgia. Fifty years ago he would not have been welcomed to shop in a clothing store in Atlanta, or anywhere else in the South. And here he was, in Nordstrom’s. I thought, man, what he has seen, what he has endured to get us to the point where this common little thing, looking at a tie, his hands on the material, thinking maybe this one or that one, a Black man with the freedom to choose. His sit-ins and marches and protests and legislative work made it possible for him, and all people, to enjoy the freedom to shop for a tie.

And I am so thankful, for him, what he did with his life and what his life did for this country. 

I thought of this meeting during his funeral service when his niece remarked that “Uncle Robert was always camera-ready.” 

That is true if you look at how he was dressed in a coat and tie in almost every photo. He dignified a protest, whether it was a march or a sit-in, by dressing as if he was in church. I think that he wanted observers, and especially white observers who did not want him there in the first place, to see, by his dress, that he was a serious man involved in serious and important work.

I would like to add that he was also always “people” ready because it was in knowing people that he seemed to receive his greatest joy.

John Lewis: He was Black Lives Matter in the 60’s

Momentous. That is one way to describe the year 2020, which is just seven months in the making. And yet, the year has proven to reveal so much that the word “momentous” feels like a major understatement. 

Consider that in this short time we have witnessed the House of Representatives led by the Democrat majority impeach President Trump on charges of pressuring a foreign government to investigate his then most likely opponent in the upcoming election. We saw the U.S. Senate Republican majority try and acquit the President.  

The coronavirus appeared in the U.S. in March. It has since swept the U.S. causing the largest pandemic in 100 years and killed over 163,000 Americans.

The resulting shutdown necessary to maintain public safety resulted in most of us living our daily lives at home, working, if we were lucky, but out of a job if we worked in the business sectors hit so hard by closures. Unemployment grew to record numbers. The economy dropped to record numbers.

Layered on top of that, the killing by police of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd spurred large and consistent protest marches in the streets across the country and the world, many lasting for days and weeks on end. 

It was in this charged atmosphere of political and civil unrest that Congressman John Robert Lewis passed from this earth.

I wrote about his Homegoing in the last post, his remarkable life of commitment to a singular cause of justice and civil rights for African-Americans, and all Americans. I feel a deepening interest in learning even more about Lewis, his belief in non-violent protests, his move from the Movement into politics. His fight for the civil and human rights of all citizens of this great and challenged country.

Working for Channel 2 WSB-TV for the final 19 years of my broadcasting career put me working side-by-side with journalists who covered the Civil Rights Movement from the epicenter of Atlanta. I turned to former colleagues and continued friends for their perspective on John Robert Lewis.

Dorthey Daniels worked for Channel 2 for over 30 years prior to retiring this past year. During that time she produced many of the station’s most important local programming specials including “Return to Selma” in March of 2015. Anchored by Fred Blankenship, the program covered the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. John Lewis, then 25 years old, led the marchers across the bridge.  

Dorthey Daniels, right, receives an EMMY with her colleague and multiple EMMY winner Monica Pearson, left, looking on.

I asked Dorthey for her take on the recognition of Lewis’ life and her experience of having worked closely with him over the years. 

What struck you watching Lewis’ Homegoing service on July 30th? 

I watched a lot of the funeral and coverage of him from Alabama, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. I thought each service along the way was a unique tribute to him. Well planned. Honestly, before his passing, I doubted that many citizens knew him…and if it had not been for the racial strife we’re going through, I wonder if Lewis’ life and death would have gotten so much national coverage. Things have a way of working out, and I believe his death made some people really see how long this struggle for human rights has been going on.

What struck me from the Atlanta service was President Bush’s speech. I loved that he said, “We [Bush and Lewis] didn’t always agree but that’s the way democracy works.” 

Powerful message. Very much needed.

Were you surprised by Lewis’ Op Ed that ran the day of his funeral? 

No. I was not surprised by the 0p-Ed. He knew his time was running short. He knew there was a lot that still needed to be done. I’m glad God blessed him with the opportunity to have a final word. He could have said so many things in that op-ed. He was so unselfish…not talking about his life, but still encouraging others to keep the faith…still serving literally until his last breath.

You produced “Return to Selma,” the Channel 2 Action News special with Fred Blankenship on the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. What stayed with you from working on that and being on that very bridge with him?

Note: Click here to watch “Return to Selma.”

I produced “Return to Selma” in 2015. I approached his office nearly a year before the 50th anniversary and asked if we could go back with him. I knew it would be a special moment. I knew the networks would be there. I’m so glad he told us yes.

A couple of things stayed with me from that day. We arranged for Lewis and his staff to have food when it came time for him to interview with us. They were so grateful, his PR person, Brenda Jones, said no other media offered them anything. We had a local chef in Alabama cook for them and rented out a conference room at the hotel. I remember him sitting there eating, peacefully, quietly and I imagine re-gathering himself for the next round of interviews.

Congressman John Lewis (left) walks with Channel 2 Anchor Fred Blankenship across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during shooting for 50th anniversary special.

       Second, at the end of the interview, Fred showed Lewis a clip of Lewis, Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy at a news conference. Lewis looked like he was 18 years old. His reaction was priceless. He said, “Oh, wow! I’ve seen pictures of this news conference, but not video. This is my first time seeing video of this!!! I remember this very well because I didn’t have a suit and I had to go out and find a cheap one because i didn’t have much money.” 

He asked for a copy of the video and was sincerely grateful when Fred handed him a flash drive with the footage.

       Third, I was impressed with how Lewis spoke so passionately about what happened on that bridge. He remembered every detail: the things he had in his backpack, fruit, book. I thought, how many times has he told this? His conviction was amazing. I’ve seen many, many interviews with him telling the bridge story…but to be there in person and hear what he went through made me so grateful to be in his presence that day.

What questions did you want answered for the program?

Well, again in producer mode, I wanted him and Fred walking across that bridge, a nice lengthy interview for the show and an opportunity for people to hear Lewis in his own words, talk about what happened then and where he thought we were in 2015.

How did meeting him change you and add to your perspective on race in America? 

I had met Lewis many times before at the station. In 2007, Monica and I flew to his office in Washington for an exclusive interview when he announced he would support Obama and no longer support Hillary for president. 

His office was a museum on the civil rights movement: awards, newspaper clippings, billboards and mementos from events. It was like living history. After the Selma special, I learned and appreciated the special place Lewis holds in our history. 

Really, back in the late 50’s and early 60’s he was “Black Lives Matter.” 

They [Civil Rights organizers] were so nervous about what he was going to say at the 1963 march on Washington. He was one of the last speakers. They had a Plan B and C if he didn’t stick to the script but he spoke up and spoke out anyway!!!  What courage!!!!! 

What part of his story affected you the most and why? 

John Lewis was like so many of us growing up in America…knowing this country could do better, be better and had promised its citizens that in nearly every document that we hold sacred as Americans. He inspires me because he heard Dr. King on the radio, knew he had to be a part of the movement, wrote a letter, got an answer and a ticket to come join. He could have easily stayed in Troy and obeyed his parents. That’s what makes our country so great for every single person who comes here or is born here…to have the opportunity to make us better. 

If you could talk to him today, what would you ask him? 

Good question. I think he answered all my questions in that op-ed. It’s a powerful message to current and future generations.

The last time I saw Lewis was in September of 2019, at the grand opening of Tyler Perry studios. He was his customary good natured self.. no entourage, I never saw him with one. He told us how important Perry’s studio was for Georgia and the country. 

I did notice that he looked extremely small and not exactly healthy.

[Editor’s note] When Daniels last saw Lewis he was soon to announce that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He made his diagnosis public in December of 2019, vowing to fight it. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance.”

He died seven months later on July 17, 2020, but not before paying a visit to Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on June 7th for a private moment to pay his respects to the protests, the protestors and to spirit invoked by Black Lives Matter.

As I said in my former post…we learn a lot from funerals. I’ve also found that often what we learn is that we want to know even more.

Next post, when I looked over the displays of men’s clothing and there, looking at ties, was John Lewis. And, the reflection of long-time Channel 2 (and for a while, Channel 11) anchor, John Pruitt. Stay tuned.

We’ve come to celebrate John Lewis

He was born into the world of Jim Crow. He died in the world of COVID19. Both wrapped a stranglehold around our country. And, through both, John Robert Lewis emerged, through deeds, words, vision and leadership to leave an enduring legacy for us to follow. 

Julie and I watched much of the coverage of his homecoming trip traversing the places in which this quiet young boy from Troy, Alabama, made history. It was a revisiting that set up eloquent and ironic moments when depicted against time and a different era in our country. Nothing said more than his final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as members of the Alabama state troopers honored him with salutes as a horse-drawn carriage carrying his body crossed over, juxtaposing how they received him when he led the march across that same bridge, a bridge named to honor a Confederate general and head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. Fifty-five years ago, state troopers met him and his fellow demonstrators with billy clubs and tear gas, cracking the young leader’s skull.

Time Magazine cover after Lewis died

In the Rotunda in the Nation’s Capital, while his body lay in state, his colleagues from both the House and the Senate, paid tribute. The most meaningful moment for me came when Speaker Pelosi played the audio from John’s 2014 commencement address to Emory students. His voice was full of life and joy for the students on their day and it filled the Rotunda. As he saluted the students’ accomplishments and urged them to enjoy the moment, to have a good time, he reminded them of what is now their charge: To get in the way. To get into trouble, necessary trouble, good trouble. 

I listened to that address again on Friday morning as I was walking through the neighborhoods near my home. How genuine, how humble and caring his voice resonated. How reassuring. And, how filled with commitment and prophecy. I urge you to give it a listen, again if you’ve heard it before. In this day and time, you can not get too much of his words. 

Thankfully Lewis lived through countless other beatings at the hands of law enforcement to march forward as a young leader of non-violent civil rights movement. Through it all, he showed his character. Loving. Courageous. Hard-working. Funny. Benevolent.  I wondered how a man who had gone through so much, faced so many white people who hated him for his black skin, who denied him at every turn the promises they enjoyed in America. How could he remain such a gentle soul after a lifetime of suffering racism? How could he love those who did not love him back? It’s a question answered by his life lived wholly. It showed us all the way forward; it took a mountain of Willpower, commitment to the Cause, an Ocean of Hope and a Forgiving Heart.

The journey of his homegoing finally led to Atlanta, his adopted home and base. On Thursday, July 30, starting at 11 a.m., at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church of Reverend King, Sr. and Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., and now, Reverend Raphael Warnock, brought him home to let others pay tribute to his completed life. 

Op Ed by John Lewis

I learn a lot from funerals. Something always surprises me. Lewis’s service proved that true again. And, this was no ordinary service because John Lewis was no ordinary man. Three former presidents. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, 50 members who served along side of him in Congress, and, Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker. 

COVID 19 played a role throughout the service; social distancing reduced the capacity of the sanctuary and all attendees that I saw wore masks, reducing the humanity of the event. Yet, it did not reduce the significance of the ceremony, the compassion for the man, the sadness, grieve and joy in John Lewis’ life. 

I marveled at the number of local, state and national dignitaries attending and the words of those invited to speak. Here are some of the choice words from the day that moved me.

Reverend Warnock, who officiated the service, said, “Instead of preaching sermons he [Lewis] became one. He loved America until America learned how love him back. 

“Here lies a true American patriot who risked his life and limb for the hope and promise of democracy. He was wounded by America’s transgressions… Let the nation say AMEN!”

The following is the Edited prayer by Dr. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on behalf of the entire King Family. 

“We are eternally grateful, oh God, that he lived among us for four score years and demonstrated on that bridge that physical force is no match for soul force.”

Dr. King then listed the issues that still separate Black Americans from the same freedoms experienced daily by White Americans invoking the country to get into good trouble to overcome:

“…radical reform in policing in our nation. 

“…until voter suppression is no longer apart of our body politic. 

“…until there is an equitable wage. 

“…until all labor is treated with dignity. 

“…until the school, the prison pipeline is nonexistent and every child gets an equitable education. 

“…until white supremacy around the world is uprooted in all of our policies and everyday practices no longer reflect white supremacy. 

“…until this nation truly becomes a compassionate nation because, as Daddy reminded us, ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. 

“…until black bodies are no longer a threat in this world, and black lives have equitable representation, power and influence in every arena.” 

“Grant us finally, Father God, that a double portion to get into good trouble until love becomes the way we live, the way we lead, the way we legislate, and until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The honorable George W. Bush, who was president the last time the voting rights act was authorized, told the story of working together with John to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. 

“Listen, John and I had our disagreements, of course,” said Mr. Bush, a Republican. “But in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”

President William Jefferson Clinton said, “John always kept walking to reach the beloved community. He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget, he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal trouble waters. When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”

House Majority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi said, “He wanted us to see the civil rights movement through his eyes.” She spoke on the commonality of President Abraham Lincoln and John Lewis. “We got to know John from his speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. 

“And now, John’s body lay in state in the nation’s capital on the platform that held Lincoln’s body.”

Pelosi went on to remark that a double rainbow appeared over his casket in front of the Capital. There was no rain, just a double rainbow. She believed that Lewis was telling us that “I’m home in heaven.” 

If you were to go and watch only a few of the speakers, I highly recommend that you watch the Reverend Dr. James Lawson’s tribute. I am embarrassed to say that I have not heard of Lawson but I intend to learn more from him. To me, he was the surprise of the funeral. What a mind, presence and force. He and John met during a formative time in Nashville in the 50’s. They have been friends in the deepest sense of the word, ever since. Here are some of his words and his points of reflection and direction on behalf his comrade in arms: 

“Most of the books are wrong about how John Lewis got into the movement. Sixty years ago was the time of sit-ins that swept into every state in the nation. Black women made the decision that it was going to happen in Nashville with this confluence of people. 

“John Lewis had no choice in the matter. You should understand that. John saw the malignancy of racism in Troy that formed in him a sensibility that he had to do something about it. He was convinced that he was called to do whatever he could do, get into good trouble, to stop the horror that so many folk lived through. 

“At an early age we recognized the wrong under which we were forced to live and we swore to God that we would do what we had to do in order to put on the table of the nation’s agenda…this must end! Black Lives Matter!!

“John Lewis must be understood as one of the leaders of the greatest advance of Congress and the White House on behalf of We the People of the USA. 

“We need the Constitution to come alive!

“We will not be quiet as long as our economy is shaped not by freedom but by Plantation Capitalism that continues to cause domination and control rather than access, liberty and equality for all.” 

Professor Lawson ended his tribute quoting the famed Black poet Langston Hughes, “I dream a world where no human, no other human was scorned…where love will bless the earth and peace its paths adorned.”

Jamila Thompson, Lewis’ Deputy Chief of Staff, said, “He created the space. A family. As a staff we are heartbroken, we are lost.” 

And, she reiterated her mentor’s lifelong belief and mantra, “Be kind. Be mindful. Recognize the dignity and work of everyone. For the love of God, please vote.” 

I also loved the remarks of his niece, Sheila Lewis O’Brien, as she expressed the thanks from the family. I got the feeling of just how tightly knit they were by her description of their gatherings. She smiled and said, “Uncle Robert,” as he was known to the family, “was always picture ready.” 

“Because of you, John.” 

The words Barack Obama wrote on John’s program from the inauguration.

And then, the time came for which all had waited. President Barack Hussein Obama II took the pulpit. One of the greatest writers and orators to hold the presidency, he reminded me of so much that we have missed over these almost four years. Obama knows how to tell a story, and his powerful eulogy put heart, courage, muscle, context, pain, suffering, hope and triumph together in ways that inspired me to keep the faith. 

He told the story of meeting Lewis for the first time when he was in law school. Obama introduced himself and said, “Mr. Lewis, you are one of my heroes.” Lewis gave him an “Aw shucks” grin, shook his hand and thanked him.

The next time they met, Obama had won his Senate seat and he told Lewis, “John, I’m here because of you. And on inauguration day in 2009, he was one of the first people I greeted and hugged on that stand. And I told him, ‘This is your day too.’”

“John Lewis will be a founding father of the fuller, fairer, better America. He believed that in all of us there’s the capacity for great courage. He believed in us even when we didn’t believe in ourselves.”

And then Obama turned his attention to the people in power and the state of our country today, saying that that is what John would want him to do. To speak out. 

“John spent his life fighting for democracy. He knew that it depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John’s moral courage to question what’s right and what’s wrong and call things as they are. 

“If we want our children to grow up in a democracy, not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, and a big hearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation, then we’re going to have to be more like John. 

“Keep getting into good trouble. Make the powers that be uncomfortable. 

“The voting rights act is one of the crowning acts of our country. You want to honor John, let’s do so by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. 

“Like John, we’ve got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness, and put a spotlight on injustice, and make the powers that be uncomfortable. If you don’t do everything you can do to change things, they will always remain the same.

“He could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality. A new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote. In some cases, a new generation running for political office. And I told him, ‘All those young people, John, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation, John, those are your children.’ 

“And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from. Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance, and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone. What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way. God bless you all. God bless America. God bless this gently soul who pulled it closer to its promise.

“Thank you very much.”

If you made it to this point, bless you. I hope that the words and sentiments of these people, brought together safely in the time of COVID19, makes you feel. Feel for the mighty and just fight for justice which John Lewis fought using his open hand, his forgiving heart and his undying belief in his country to do the right thing.

Now, let’s do it. Get into good trouble. Necessary trouble. Get in the way. And, VOTE!

More reading:

Harvard Gazette remembers Lewis

Washington Post Article on Lewis

Opinion Piece in WAPO on the day of Lewis’ funeral

From Time magazine

The Story of Us at 40

We married on Saturday, July 19, 1980, in Charlotte, NC. It was 96 burning degrees hot, unavoidably sunny and as humid as a wet, sticky ocean breeze, without the breeze. It was reported to be the hottest day of that summer. We knew July for what it could be; viciously hot, humid if not stormy afternoons. Still, we searched out July 19th because it was the one Saturday in 1980 that fell on the 19th of the month. Starting with Mom and Dad, all of the Rileys had married on the 19th. We saw no reason, other than it could be hot, to break that chain.

My folks hosted the Rehearsal Dinner at the Ramada Inn on Friday night. Toasts upon glass clinking toasts rang out. Stories told. Laughter to be had. Even a ceremonial tossing of groom into pool. All in all, a great time with family and friends who came in from Durham and other points beyond to Charlotte.

The wedding took place at 4 p.m. at Providence United Methodist Church. Julie made her walk on the arm of her brother, Johnny, to Bach’s Organ Fugue in G Minor. Dr. Bob Osborn, who I’ve known since high school, officiated. The Reception was held at the Quail Hollow Estates Club House. It was a lot of fun but the AC in the clubhouse couldn’t fight back the heat and everyone in the photos from there have a lasting sheen from sweat.

Following that, Julie and I hosted a party at our home. It was one of those ideas that sounded great with so many folks coming from out of town…until we were at the Radisson Hotel in uptown Charlotte following the reception, too tired to eat the steak dinner and just wanting to crash. Then we wondered, how did we think this was a good idea. We sucked it up, regathered ourselves and headed home. When we arrived at our house, the party was totally in full tilt, and we forgot that we were tired and had the time of our lives. Julie sang in perfect harmony to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” using a candle for her mic.

The next morning, we shook off our hangovers with breakfast in our hotel room, then dropped by the house expecting to find a mess. John and Heidi Waller and their baby Luke had spent the night there. They were already on the road but they left a sweet note and the house totally clean.

We drove to Palmetto Dunes Condos at Hilton Head in a station wagon borrowed from Julie’s place of work for the air conditioner. A very wise move. Then, we drove to Charleston, SC for three nights at the Battery and Carriage House. It was the time of our lives and the beginning of so much more.

Some memories from those who remember:

Page, my baby brother – “I have the image of your wedding matchbook ingrained in my memory. I have forgotten a lot of things but I just always remember that white matchbook inscribed with ‘Julie and Steve Riley, July 19, 1980’. Funny what and how you remember things.

Sylvia, our first sister-in-law – On our nuptials – As the toasts started rolling at our rehearsal dinner, a glass rang from a what felt like the back of the room. We saw Sylvia rise up to clang, ready herself and proclaim, ‘I’d like to make a toast!’ No sooner had she claimed the moment, she quickly dropped out of sight. There was some commotion. Then some shy laughter as Lin waved that she was okay, just a little overcome. She sent us her memory of the moment.

“I did sink to my knees in awe of the love between you two. I distinctly remember my glass following me down. I send you and Julie a much belated and largely accomplished “LONG LIFE and HAPPINESS!”  With my love. Sylvia PS, If you have great butter it is best enjoyed on cold toast.

From Lin, my older brother, and Sylvia’s husband – “How could it be that many years ago? And who would have ever thought we would  be where we are today.  Some bumps in the road but still between the ditches!! As we stumble/trip along our life’s roads we can be thankful for the wonderful, sometimes crazy circumstances that bring us to our mates.  Damn Steve, you are one lucky guy!!  And Julie is one lucky girl!! Happy 40th Anniversary and wishes for many more.  Love you both.”

From Susie Mitchell, Julie’s baby sister “It was the hottest day of the year, DAMN hot. Momma Rudy was furious that the caterers didn’t let anyone in the building until she got there. You know after [post wedding party] pictures, travel out there etc. Julie also chose a high neck, long sleeved dress on this, the hottest day of the year. There is a photo of Julie and me getting ready to go down the aisle- she looks terrified. I have an identical photo! [from her wedding day]

We took you to the hotel downtown in a 1980 Cutlass Supreme, navy blue with a landau top. This after partying all night. 

Below is the card that I wrote for Julie on our 35th wedding anniversary. The passing of five years have not changed the feeling and the intent. With a few edits changing out the years, I’ll let this speak for how I feel about a the Story of Us at 40.

Dearest Julie,

Yes, we’re celebrating 40 years, 

Together as a whole, 

But it’s all of the small bits and pieces

Of time separated,

That make the 40 so special,

So truly wonderful.

From the total chance 

Of moving in next door,

To our individual attraction to Selwyn Village,

To me liking you,

You liking Kritty Krat,

To both of us liking Long John Baldry,

Then, finally, you liking me.

That liking turned to love,

So quickly that it was truly meant to be.

I pulled you into the wonder of my life,

Sharing with you the beauty of my mountains, 

The isolated strength of Ocracoke,

How to tame a van with three speeds in the column,

And a quarter turn play in the steering wheel,

Into a drive down the highway in a study in estimated direction.

And you bit into it with a lust for the moments each of these afforded.

You absorbed me into your world, 

A little slower, 

Not being the effusive fountain of yourself that I can be.

You revealed your inner self like you cook,

Mise en place, Simmering and slow, 

Delicate. Measured. Masterpiece.

We fell so deeply in love,

That we shall gladly never ever recover.

From that first kiss,

To whenever we share our last, 

We began that journey that has taken us from then to now. 

That brought with it Clark and Blair.

The joy of these two,

Pays tribute to our parents, our ancestry and our own personal hopes and dreams together. 

The fact that they both look back on their childhood with such happiness,

Such fond memories, such love of traditions, and appreciation for how they were raised,

Testifies that we did more right than wrong, 

And that paying attention to our love,

Was the best gift that we could give them.

And we gave them our all,

So that they would grow up and move out,

Confident that they could build a life of their own.

No one knows for sure,

That their vows will outlast their lives. 

After 43 years of love, 40 years of marriage,

I’m looking forward to ours going down in history as,

Ever lasting.

Thank your for taking the time to read my post. It is a true joy to share The Story of Us with you. Being human is a wonder and a true gift. Sharing that together answers the question of “why?” so often felt in the living of this life.

The Devil went down to Georgia

Happy Tequila Friday one and all. And as happy as we all are about it being Tequila Friday, I’m sure that you have seen or heard that Charlie Daniels died this week at 83. 

I always liked the fire that he brought into the music world as he joined a long list of great country music crossovers. That said, I’m not going to really review his music, but I thought I would share how it came to pass that I met Charlie, spent about 20 minutes with him backstage, and how all of that turned out. 

When I lived in Charlotte from 1977 to 1984, the Queen City was a quiet moderately sized city trying to grow up and find its place in the world. At least that’s how I see it looking back. When I arrived on the scene, it had already gone through a 70’s renaissance of sorts. As a matter of fact, part of that renaissance was in how it reimagined downtown, connecting a series of existing stores, including the Belk Department Store, with a series of enclosed pedestrian bridges and interior large hallways that made for the “Overstreet Mall” concept.

I found it cool and exhilarating. Afterall, I’d lived my life in small America up until then. So, to say that the city was embracing, if not starving, for attention and respect, would be an understatement. And that leads up to its brush with Hollywood, celebrities and the world stage. What helped bring it to the attention of the film industry was its kinship with NASCAR through the Charlotte Motor Speedway, its willingness to roll out the red carpet and pay homage to all things tinsel town and its chance at fame and fortune. And that is when the city and its reserved Southern elites ran into Burt Reynolds, Lonnie Anderson, Jim Nabors and “Stroker Ace.” 

In 1982, the hype started with the sightings of the stars and crew filming at locations in and around Charlotte. Women swooned just knowing that the rakish and sexy Reynolds, the darling of fast cars, blue eyes and blonde women, was in town. Then it calmed down after principal shooting until the finished movie opened with its World Premiere in Charlotte. The production made big plans including a festive weekend of star-studded parties that culminated with the showing of the film in Ovens Auditorium to an invitation-only crowd.

I don’t remember the details of the manner in which WSOC-TV got involved with the premiere but Channel 9 was in some way a media sponsor of the event. That meant that in return for promoting the premiere and the movie the TV station got exclusive inside cooperation to produce a special that would air in concert with the premiere. 

And, for the life of me, I can’t remember how it came to be that I was given the job of producing an interview with the musician whose music became the soundtrack for the film. That musician was Wilmington, North Carolina’s own Charlie Daniels. But I was tapped from the Promotion Department in an “all hands on deck” production effort. I was working with my long-time co-hort, Keith Smith, veteran station photographer with whom I worked over my time at WSOC-TV.

The day of the premiere we were allowed to set up in Daniel’s backstage dressing room for him and his band. We were going to interview him prior to their performance in front of the showing of the film and we would get 15 minutes max with the entertainer. And I was asking the questions.

I don’t remember all of the details except feeling nervous about handling the interview, also anxious about being set up, ready to go as soon as Charlie was ready. Our job was to get what we needed and then get the hell out of the way. Nothing could get in the way of the performance. 

Well, of course, we waited. And waited. And waited. The clock was ticking down and cutting into a comfortable time to get our job done. Every minute meant a narrowing of the window. Narrowing our chance for success in producing the content we needed to fill our show. 

And then, suddenly the big man burst in, huge cowboy hat balancing out his lengthy straw-like beard. His body filled the threshold for a second and changed the air pressure in the room as he walked in, and his seven or eight member band flowed in behind him and scattered about the room.

“You the boys doing the interview with me before the show?” he asked, looking at Keith and me. “Yes sir, Mr. Daniels,” I said as Keith nodded as well. He reached out to shake our hands and said, “Well, let’s get to it. Where do you want me to sit?”

We had set up two chairs facing each other, lighting one side for Charlie. I wasn’t going to be on-camera at all. Thank goodness. Keith ushered him to the chair and ran a lavalier microphone on him, hiding the wire as we do. As he sat down and we talked for a second about what we were going to do and talk about, the band members were busy eating and drinking, popping beers and Cokes and snacking. As we were getting ready to record, the noise level in the room got pretty raucous. Keith, wearing headphones, pointed at his ears letting me know that the noise level would be a problem for our recording. So I did what I did whenever we were getting ready to start sound recording. I called for quiet with a “We’re recording, please can we keep it down for a few minutes.”

You would have thought that I had dropped a bomb in the room. Or maybe farted. I got what I wanted. The room immediately became silent. I also got what I didn’t want. An unhappy staredown from Charlie, who switched from likeable to not so much in that instant. 

He drew down on me like he was holding a pearl-handled Colt 45 with eyes of steel. 

“Nobody, and I mean nobody, tells my boys what to do! Especially before a show. You got that?”

Boy did I get that. 

“If they want to laugh and scream and play around, they can laugh and scream and play around. I don’t allow anything to get in the way of their performance.”

He sat on that for what seemed like forever. I didn’t know if he was done with me and the interview or what. I am sure that I mumbled some sort of apology while I looked straight at him to see if we were moving forward. 

Then, his eyes smiled, and I remember that I could even see a smile through his massive beard. 

“Now come on, let’s get this done. I want you to get what you need for the show. And then, me and my boys are going to go out there and light up this arena.” 

The rest is a blur. I asked questions, probably run-of-the-mill what’s it like to be you? What was it like writing music for the movie, blah blah blah. 

And then, they were gone, but not before Charlie leaned over and said quietly, “Sorry about that. I know you’ve got a job to do. But I’m pretty protective of my guys and the show,” he said. Then he winked and he was gone, playing his fiddle walking down the hallway. 

Keith and I gathered our gear, carried it to the truck and I went back in to watch the show. 

Sadly, the best thing about the event was Charlie Daniels and his band. The movie sucked. It would later bomb at the box office. And it did little for Charlotte and its relationship with Hollywood. 

But it did give me a memory and a backstage pass to hear, “The Devil went down to Georgia” and see fire fly from his fingertips as he played that fiddle against the Devil.

So, pour a glass of tequila, rosin up your bow and hoist a toast to Charlie Daniels. May he rest in peace and beat the Devil again. 

Hey! Keep it down down there, will ya?