San Francisco

The Basin – San Francisco.

On a crisp, bright morning in San Francisco, as I stood apart from the semi-circular line of tourists who waited to board the cable car at the Powell/Mason turntable, I saw a young woman exit a black car that had stopped in the Market Street bicycle lane. She got out of the car and walked toward me.

I saw her piercings as she walked – black studs in her nose and lower lip, a small gold hoop in the corner of her left eye. Short, dark hair, black t-shirt, stained denim skirt, black Chuck Taylor high-tops. Pasty white skin, thick black eye shadow.

Staring straight into my eyes, she walked in my direction. She didn’t stop, though. As she passed – close enough to whisper – she looked me in the eyes and told me in a low, clear voice:

“You don’t love us.”

She broke eye contact and walked on. I stood there and watched her melt into the crowd of tourists, past the cable car turntable, up Powell Street, on toward Union Square and back into her Gothic oblivion.

It didn’t even occur to me to try to contradict her.


She was right, though. I didn’t love her.

Yet, over the years, a decade and more, I have replayed that scene in my mind so many times that even the memory flickers, like an old film exposed far too often to the projector’s hot light. It’s not my most vivid memory, or anywhere near my most relevant.

Those would be things like, you know, our wedding in Boston, the births of our two sons, waking up healthy after emergency angioplasty … life-altering or live-saving events. My Memories, with a capital M.

Yet, that moment in San Francisco has stayed with me. There was no reason for that particular young woman or her peculiar declaration to stand out in a four-decade-long swirl of memories. You don’t love us, she said. But …

I am her. And so are you. And so is everyone you know, and everyone you ever have known or ever will know. And she is you. She is my wife, my sons, my mother and father, everything I have ever loved or ever will love. She is every word I’ve ever written or will write or will read, every tear I’ve shed and every smile I’ve smiled. She is my everything and she is your everything, too. You don’t have to love someone, or even know their name – or even know they are alive a decade after a fleeting encounter on a bright cool morning – for all of that to be true.

This is empathy.

It is remembering every detail about the girl on the street who looked into your soul and walked right on past and disappeared forever into the crowd. It is four words – you don’t love us – carved into your cortex like a hieroglyph on a temple wall, taunting you with its complex simplicity.


It’s the visceral response we feel toward a grieving father when we see photographs of his smiling little boy, gone now, carefully holding up with just the tips of his fingers a hand-lettered sign that reads, “No more hurting people. Peace.” It’s the overwhelming urge to weep, the unavoidable shudder, the inexorable need to make physical contact with our small children after we read or hear accounts of a deadly day on the first-grade wing of an elementary school in Connecticut.

It’s running toward the bomb blast to see if there’s anything you can do to help those who were in it. It’s the physical inability to sit through a movie because some people you never met were gunned down during the midnight premier in a theater a thousand miles away.


It’s the spark and flutter of what I guess scientists these days are calling mirror neurons, which fire off signals that make us unconsciously reproduce emotions we witness – or imagine we witness – being expressed by someone else.

Evidently, some of us have more active mirror neurons than others.


Did you know that the word empathy didn’t enter the English language until the early 1900s? It was introduced by psychologist (and Oxford man) Edward B. Titchener as a translation of the German term einfühlung (“in” the “feeling”), which itself was a loose translation of the Greek term empatheia (“in” “pathos”), having to do with art appreciation. I didn’t know any of that, either, until I looked it up.

Empathy. It’s the unspoken recognition of the knowledge that we’re all going to die. It’s the shared, and the sharing. It’s the point in space and time where “we” intersect “they.”

It’s the truth behind you don’t love us.

And that truth is this …

Even now, so many years later, I want to run after that Goth girl in San Francisco and catch up to her in the crowd, and tell her that she’s right, that I don’t love her or anyone else in her life. But so what? I don’t have to love you. You still matter to me because the part of you inside that makes you human is inside me, too, and I love that part of both of us and all of us because that’s what life is. It’s what being alive is.

Empathy is life itself, acknowledging its presence and luminosity in the other.

The Year of Disney

This is why we're going back again. And again. And again.

This is why we’re going back again. And again. And again.

Is today February?

The 4-year-old knows. He knows that the Year of Disney begins for us when the calendar turns to February. Every day since he learned that fact, he has asked the question.

Is today February?

Not yet, we tell him. Soon. Shortly after February arrives, we’ll make the first of many planned trips over to Lake Buena Vista to visit the Mouse and his minions. We’ll use the seasonal passes Disney offers to Florida residents. Choosing the less-expensive seasonal passes saves us money, but there will be blackout dates. That’s actually OK, because the blackout dates take place during the high summer, as well as at Christmas and Easter. Going to a Florida theme park in June and July is as close to experiencing the heat of the Earth’s core as you’ll ever get. The Brits and Brazilians can have those dates. As for Christmas and Easter – those are the dates when the park administrators routinely close the gates to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom because they reach maximum capacity. You can have those dates, spring and winter breakers. If we want to get lost and disoriented under the relentless crush of a crowd of wild-eyed strangers, we’ll go to Ikea.

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The Time We Almost Missed Christmas

We shuffled up to the customer service counter winded, defeated, dejected. The O’Hare concourse was empty. Anybody who had a chance to get somewhere that night, Christmas Eve 2000, was either there already or on the way. Not us. We were trapped in the giant airport on the outskirts of Chicago, stranded between working that day’s Buccaneers-Packers game at Lambeau Field and getting home in time to wake up in our own beds on Christmas morning.

There were five of us. Four were with the Tribune: a beat writer, a columnist, a photographer and me. The fifth covered the Bucs for the Orlando paper. I was the only one who didn’t have at least one kid waiting for me back in Tampa, but the house was full of in-laws, including some toddler cousins. The Orlando writer was on his cell phone when we got to the customer service counter to sort it all out.

“No, sweetheart, I won’t be there tonight,” he murmured. “Molly. Molly. Don’t cry, sweetheart. Daddy will be home tomorrow. … Well, I don’t know what time. Don’t cry, Molly. Put Mommy on the phone, OK? Don’t cry, sweetheart. Daddy’s sorry.”


When you’re a sportswriter, you don’t think about what you do as sacrifice. The night-time hours, the weekends, the holidays lost, the ridiculous travel schedule – it’s just what you have to do to get the story, to cover the beat, to keep the job. It still hurts to miss things, but the ones who choose the life must absorb that pain and wear it like a badge. Those who can’t cut it are frowned upon or mocked. Oh, you miss home? Waahhh. Work at a bank. It’s the same macho approach whether you are a man or a woman. Those who make the choice know that they are privileged to have the job, that literally thousands of people are out there waiting to take their place, and any sign of weakness might just be the chink in the armor that allows the tip of the spear to penetrate.

In other words? Quit your bitching.


The football game went into overtime (foreshadowing!). Packers 17, Bucs 14. We filed our stories and photos and headed to the airport. The plane left Green Bay on time. There was snow, of course. But a little snow didn’t delay us in Green Bay.

The delay came in Appleton. Why we stopped there, I’m still not sure. Maybe it was for fuel. Maybe it was to pick up a passenger. Either way … what? We stopped in Appleton? It took about five minutes to fly from Green Bay to Appleton. Five minutes. We were up, we landed. It was supposed to be a 15-minute stop, for no reason I could discern.

Instead, it lasted about two hours.

What. The Hell.


I remember looking out the airplane window while we sat on the ground in Appleton. It was dark and white, and snow drifts were piled against the terminal walls. It looked cold.


We were assured that we would make our flight in Chicago. It might be tight, we were told, but we’d make it. We might have to sprint through O’Hare hurdling airport chairs like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, but we would make the flight. Our departure gate wasn’t that far from our arrival gate, we were told, so we would make it.

O'Hare Neon

This light sculpture is called Sky’s the Limit. It’s a neon walkway at O’Hare. We saw it only in passing on Christmas Eve 2000.

We landed with 20 minutes to spare. We grabbed our carry-ons and bolted up the ramp. We would make it. We sprinted up the concourse, found the connecting passageway to our departure terminal, ran at top speed down a hallway lit by flowing neon lights. We would make it. We found the right terminal, ran past the other gates, counted the numbers to ours. We would make it.

And I swear this happened next: We saw our gate 50 yards ahead, three attendants hovering around the desk and the ramp door. We kicked it up a gear, sprinting, shouldering our computer bags, a bunch of out of shape sportswriters desperate to get home for Christmas. In slow motion, one of the attendants reached for the handle to close the ramp door. We would not make it. In slow motion, the attendant’s head turned toward us as we yelled for her to wait wait wait wait we’re coming don’t shut it yet hold on we’re almost there stop stop stop stop stop!

We would not make it. The door shut just as we got there. Click.

I lost it. We all did. They knew we were coming. They saw us. They had been told we were on the way.


There was a floor-to-ceiling window right next to the door. There, at the other end of the ramp, was our airplane. The ramp began to move away from the side of the airplane. Then, while my fellow travelers tried to reason with the attendants, I actually did something I’ve only ever seen in movies and TV shows. I banged on the window and tried to get the pilot’s attention. I hammered on that glass and waved my arms and yelled as loud as I could. The pilot never so much as glanced in my direction. The ramp kept moving away from the plane.

Merry Freaking Christmas.


At the customer service desk, the Orlando reporter tried to comfort his young daughter on the phone. The airline customer service guy gave us all $100 vouchers for pretty much any local hotel we wanted to stay at that night. He also told us that the O’Hare Hilton had a Christmas Eve special. It was connected to the airport, so we decided to stay there. Then we were all booked on a first class flight for the next morning. To Orlando. Because there were no direct flights to Tampa until late in the day. So we rented cars, too. To drive from Orlando International Airport to Tampa International Airport, so we could pick up our cars before we drove home to our families.

Merry Freaking Christmas.


After we checked into the O’Hare Hilton, we met down in the hotel bar. There was a Christmas Eve bowl game on. I think it was Georgia and Virginia in some very, very minor bowl in Hawaii, of all places. I don’t even think they play it anymore. So, we gathered at a table in the empty bar and watched a college football game. We ate bar food and drank. We toasted Christmas.

Then an old man in a gray suit and fedora stumped into the bar with the aid of a brass-handled wooden cane. He sat at the table next to us and ordered a drink. He placed his hat on the table in front of him and leaned his cane against a chair. He nodded to us and sipped his drink while he watched Georgia-Virginia in a bar at the O’Hare Hilton on Christmas Eve.

We sat and talked and asked the old man to join us and watched the game until it was time to go to bed.


I can only imagine what it would be like to still be one of those guys. The guys who spend Christmas Eve working in Green Bay and miss their connecting flight home to Tampa. I never had to call my boys and explain through their tears that I wouldn’t be there when they woke up on Christmas morning. For that, I am grateful.

My sportswriting career didn’t end on my terms. I was laid off in 2008, freelanced for 19 months, then landed a Monday through Friday job writing and editing in a cubicle for an Internet marketing agency. That’s what I do now. I don’t have to concern myself with inexplicable layovers in Appleton, Wis., or callous gate attendants or inattentive pilots or lonely old men in hotel bars on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t my choice for the sportswriting to end, and I do miss it every now and then. But I wouldn’t go back. Not to the way it was, anyway. I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving or a Fourth of July or a New Year’s or a Halloween or any holiday since 2007. Having weekends off is like having 52 two-day vacations every year.

Tuesday morning, I’ll see the light in my sons’ eyes when they come downstairs and dig into their stockings. I’ll be home for Christmas.


After we landed in Orlando on Christmas day, 2000 – I highly recommend first class flights, by the way – I rode in a rental car with the photographer and the columnist. The photographer drove and we took I-4 in record time. At the Tampa airport, I got into my car and drove home. It was around 2 o’clock Christmas afternoon when I walked into my house. There were maybe 20 in-laws there. They had already eaten. I hugged my wife and ate some leftovers, then opened some presents.

It was nice.


Cape Cod Days

Cape Cod 2006

Jay’s first trip to Cape Cod in 2006.

We’ll head back to Cape Cod for the fifth time as a family in a couple of weeks. Before we started going there (almost) every summer, I thought of Cape Cod as this exotic place. It was the Kennedys and lobster, sailing and lobster, summer theater and lobster, golf and lobster, lobster and lobster. There was also a deep link in history between my family and the Cape, but more about that curious connection in a minute.

The first time I went to Cape Cod with my wife was for her sister’s wedding in 2005. It took place at this incredible seaside resort built around two Gilded Age mansions perched on a bluff over the Atlantic. You would think that breath-taking setting would reinforce my pre-visit perception of Cape Cod. But I think in this respect, Cape Cod is like any other place you hear or read about a lot and mentally slot into a “mind’s eye” view. What you leave out in your imaginary vision of a place is what I call the street-level view. It’s like that in Las Vegas, where you imagine a never-ending line of magnificent casino resorts glittering in the desert, only to forget the space in between, where you’ll find nameless souvenir shops, outdoor bars, Walgreen’s, the McDonald’s, M&M’s World, 7-11, and the stream of people who wander up and down the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard all day and night.

Cape Cod Light

THIS is how I always envisioned Cape Cod.

The street-level view at Cape Cod is defined by the forested stretch of Route 6, the main artery that runs the length of the Cape from Bourne to Provincetown. There is nothing remotely exotic about most of Route 6, also known as the Mid-Cape Highway. My first impression of Cape Cod was shaped by that drab drive along Route 6. I was expecting Cape Cod-style clapboard cottages, sweeping beachfront vistas, yacht slips and mansions. Instead, I saw trees. An apparently endless mass of trees to left and right for mile after mile after mile. Oh, but what those trees concealed. It turned out to be far more exhilarating than I imagined – and I can imagine some pretty exhilarating stuff.

So, we go back now just about every year. Jay was 8 months old the first time, and he tried to crawl up the beach to Boston. He didn’t quite make it.

First Encounter Beach

View of First Encounter Beach from the cottage.

MomScribe spent most of the summers of her youth at Cape Cod. It was just what her family did. When school got out, they shipped out of Westford, Mass., and settled down in the cottage in Eastham, situated about a quarter of a mile down-Cape from First Encounter Beach on the shore of Cape Cod Bay. They stayed for weeks, living the Cape life, working on their tans and appreciating the sunsets. The girls worked at an ice cream shop, or at Arnold’s – a well-known seafood, ice cream, and mini-golf spot along Route 6 between Eastham and Wellfleet. When it was time to go back to school, the family packed up and shipped north again. But the summers were spent on First Encounter Beach, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was among 20 passengers and crew members of the Mayflower to conduct a (bloodless) battle with Cape Cod’s Native Americans. His name was Stephen Hopkins, and he was a part of the third on-shore expedition that issued forth from the Mayflower as the future inhabitants of Plymouth Colony searched for a place to put down stakes. Others more famous than my 10G-grandfather were also there, including William Bradford and Myles Standish. Hopkins was included, we have decided, because he had been to the Jamestown settlement a decade earlier and was (ostensibly) familiar with the native inhabitants.

‘Stephen Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

In any case, the spot where Hopkins and the rest of the Mayflower force fired muskets and stood among the falling arrows of the Nauset Indians was named First Encounter Beach and would one day become the summer-time playground of my future wife. It is entirely fitting that a descendant of one of those intrepid Mayflower passengers should journey there with his family every summer for a week of eating lobster rolls, exploring the tidal pools, building sand castles and searching for the perfect Cape Cod cocktail (I favor a simple concoction of Captain Morgan and ginger ale).

There is another historical connection between my family and Eastham. Among the Plymouth settlers who left for the Outer Cape in the mid-1640s was Nicholas Snow, who came over a few years after the Mayflower and married Stephen’s daughter Constance Hopkins. Nicholas and Constance helped found Eastham, which was incorporated in 1651. Giles Hopkins, one of Stephen’s sons, also came along. The three of them are buried and memorialized now at the Cove Burial Ground on Route 6, located just north of the Orleans Rotary. Constance and Nicholas were my 9G-grandparents.

Constance Hopkins’ memorial at the Cove Burial Ground.

I took a photo of Constance’s headstone at the Cove Burial Ground on a Tuesday in August of 2007. The next day, MomScribe and I took a quick trip to pick up her grandmother in Connecticut. On the way, at my insistence, we stopped at Plimoth Plantation, the amazing living museum based on the original Plymouth Colony. There is a colonial village recreated in great detail from period maps, and it is “inhabited” by actors playing the roles of the colonists who would have been there in 1627. Of course, the first thing I wanted to see was the Stephen Hopkins house. We found it, and sure enough, there was a portly gent with a beard holding forth on a log chair across the dusty road from the Hopkins house. It was the faux Hopkins, who was something of a character in life, and we listened for a minute to the man portraying my 10G-grandfather before we ducked into the very small hut that served as their family dwelling.

Constance Hopkins, Plimoth Plantation

‘Constance Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

Inside, we found a young woman in period dress. It was Constance. I added her picture to the one already on my camera of her grave stone. The actors couldn’t break character, so it would’ve done no good to tell her of the strange circumstance of visiting her final resting place the day before. I don’t know if it would’ve meant anything to her, anyway. It meant a lot to me, though. It was one of those moments only Cape Cod could give me. I think about Constance every time I pass the Cove Burial Ground. That’s a big part of my street-level view of Cape Cod now, that surreal brush with the living past. I can’t wait to experience that again in a couple of weeks with MomScribe and the boys.

This time, when we cross the Sagamore Bridge (or the Bourne Bridge, whichever seems quicker at the time) and jump onto the Mid-Cape Highway, I’ll see those thick trees again. But I’ll also see the sunsets, and I’ll feel the breeze off Cape Cod Bay, and I’ll smell the fresh fish and burgers and hotdogs and veggies on the grill. I’ll taste that first cool sip of Captain-and-ginger ale, and I’ll hear the soft waves rolling in off the bay at high tide. I’ll think of the boys running and laughing along the beach, and I’ll remember all the days we’ve spent there already, and smile at the thought of all the Cape Cod days to come.

Cape Cod Sunset

Cape Cod sunset at low tide.

Cap Cod Baby

Jay almost made it to Boston. Almost.

The Places I Saw, the Things I Did

I was a sportswriter from 1986 until 2010. During that time, I worked primarily for the Tampa Tribune in Florida. When I was hired there in 1992, there were about 65 people on the sports staff. After the most recent round of layoffs, there are, by my count, seven sportswriters working at the Tribune today.

It’s as good an example of the demise of newspapers as you’ll find. Just 20 years ago, sportswriting was an invigorating career, tough but generally fair, relatively safe from the whims of the economy. Today, it is a dying* industry.

*Some might quibble with that characterization, preferring the term “evolving” to “dying.” I’m sure the folks who built horse-drawn carriages when Henry Ford came along made a similar myopic argument.

There is a lot I miss about the business.

The people, of course. Sports journalists are almost all adolescents at heart, with all of the quirks and charm of that species. This is not a knock on sportswriters. Far from it, in fact. I’m not calling all sportswriters immature (although many of them certainly were – and are), and I’m not calling all of them irresponsible pups (although, again, if the shoe fits, many of them will certainly chew it to tatters). I’m saying that as a group, the sportswriters I knew (and know) combine an endearing eagerness to please, an astonishing lack of self-awareness, outward confidence and a burning desire to know that makes them as energetic a professional class as you’re likely to come across. Sportswriters are not necessarily poets, but they care deeply about the written word. They are story tellers and historians. They are witnesses, and I was one of them for a while.

Big Ben and Parliament, London. Taken as the clock struck 10.

My sons know virtually nothing of my life as a sportswriter. They don’t know that I was fortunate enough to sit in press boxes all over the world, watch games, and write about it for a living. There’s a lot more to it, of course, like cultivating sources and breaking news and competing for stories. And on, and on. The heart of it, though, was being there when something happened that was worth writing about.

And one of the things I miss most about the business is the very reason I’m glad I don’t do it anymore: travel. There was nothing better than going places and seeing things. And, in my opinion, there is nothing worse for a sportswriting father than going places and seeing things that don’t involve his family. There are plenty of sportswriter parents who manage to meet the extraordinary demands of the career while rearing a family. Good on them for that. But it’s not the life I wanted. I didn’t want to miss my sons’ formative years. I wanted to be here for them. So, I asked off a pretty nice beat, covering a major league baseball team, and moved to general assignment sports at the end of the 2005 baseball season. I was laid off three years later. I managed to scrape along on freelance sportswriting work for 19 months before landing a full-time job with an Internet marketing company. And that was that.

And even though I want to be here for my kids and wife – have to be here for them – part of me misses the road. I look back now and think of all the places I saw, all the things I did, and sometimes it seems like a dream. The list below is just a sample of the opportunities the job gave me to broaden my horizons. I want my boys to know I did these things, saw these things. They’re listed in no particular order:

  • I stood in front of the Aztec Sun Stone at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
  • I saw snow-capped Mt. Fuji from the deck of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter flying from Tokyo to Yokohama.

    Mt. Fuji from a Blackhawk helicopter.

  • I visited Monument Park by myself – just me and the ghosts of Gehrig, Ruth, and the rest – at old Yankee Stadium.
  • I walked inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
  • I saw the Chicago skyline at night from the 96th floor observation deck of the Hancock Center.
  • I stood at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
  • I sat through a 5.8 earthquake in San Diego.
  • I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and explored Muir Woods.
  • I drove to the end of the road up Mt. Rainier.

    Golden Gate Bridge and fog.

  • I stood in Times Square.
  • I saw Queen Street in Toronto.
  • I saw a forest of green and gold banners amid the smoky haze of hundreds of grill fires in the parking lot of Lambeau Field.
  • I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
  • I visited the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas Book Depository in Dallas.
  • I lost way too much money at the MGM Grand casino in Detroit. And at Harrah’s in New Orleans. And at the airport in Las Vegas. And at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. And the Casino du Lac Leamy in Hull, Quebec. Sigh.
  • I stood on the edge of the world, also known as the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I didn’t notice I wasn’t breathing for at least a minute. That’s when I learned what it meant when something takes your breath away.

    The Grand Canyon.

  • I strolled through the Harvard campus during a bitterly cold spring morning.
  • I stood under the St. Louis arch.
  • I walked the length and breadth of the Manassas battleground in Virginia.
  • I walked the corridors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • I got lost in the French Quarter.
  • I saw a family of beavers waddling along the Ottawa River right in the heart of the Canadian capital.
  • I saw Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the sunset from the top of the Space Needle.
  • I breathed the sacred smoke and marveled at the ancient architecture of the Hexagonal Shrine at the Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Templein Tokyo.

    The gardens at the New Otani Hotel, Tokyo.

  • I saw the Rosetta Stone behind its glass enclosure at the British Museum.
  • I stood (reverently) on Charles Dickens’ grave at Westminster Abbey.

I saw all that, and I did all that, and much more, and met so, so many people, because I was a sportswriter for a time. Mind you, it wasn’t all a Rick Steves travel documentary. I managed to do most of these things because I made a point of playing the tourist when I visited all these places. It wasn’t the cool thing to do, I know. But I had to do it. It meant waking up early – really early – most of the time and getting out of the hotel room on limited (if any) sleep. It meant going it alone, more often than not. Then it meant grabbing a quick lunch and heading to work. I did it because I was almost obsessively curious about the world around me, and because I just … wanted to see what there was to see.

Westminster Abbey, London, resting place of Charles Dickens.

So, I’ve seen it now. And, yeah, I miss it sometimes. And I wish I could somehow upload those memories into my sons’ young brains. But I guess it’s OK that these are my memories, my experiences, because the boys will create their own. One thing I know. No matter how much I miss it, no matter how much I wish I could walk along Fisherman’s Wharf or browse the historic shelves at City Lights Book Store one more time, I know that I’m where I need to be. Where I want to be. I’m home.