Defeat is hard to accept. But I have watched my children, and many other children, do it for years now with a facility that is both admirable and instructional. Mostly it happens, in my observation, on the basketball court. There are games when my son and his teammates command such an explosive victory that you can almost see the blood pulsing in their veins as their feet dance and bodies gyrate in celebration. And there are games like last night's when the loss is deep and dark and deafening. What is consistent with these young people is the understanding of how a game fundamentally works and, on a loftier level, how all life works. A referee may make a bad call, a really wrong and unfair call. There is a bit of eye rolling but quickly these kids move on, keeping their focus on what you might call the compliance of competition. They know it takes both sides, a winner and a loser, to make a compelling contest, to produce an opportunity to shine or to realize you can do better or to simply feel the thrill of possibility. I doubt they would put it in those words, but that is how I see it. There's much to glean from these kids, these rivals, about advancing with purpose, unity and ultimately respect for rules and each other.
Today is kind of a big deal. Its Jackson‘s birthday. Not just any birthday. He's turning 18.
That means, according to state law, we can evict him if we want to because he is a man now, capable of fending for himself. Of course we won't do that. He’s still our baby boy.
Being the rocker I am, I can't help but hear that line from Alice Cooper's I'm Eighteen: “I got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart.” And what a heart our son has. He's a kind young man with an easy smile who's always laughing and finding the good in the bad. He genuinely cares. Although when he texted me in the wee hours the other night to ask if he could stay out later with friends, it rattled me from a sweet sleep. I realize he won't feel obligated to ask for permission much longer.
He has covered a lot of ground over the years, from Baby Einstein videos and Matchbox cars to varsity basketball, college-level high school courses and ultra-sophisticated music production. He's taught me more than I ever imagined, most of all how to be a kid again. Our hope for Jackson is that one day he knows the depth of love we've had the pleasure of knowing these 18 years.
Happy birthday, big guy!
Oil change and tire rotation. That’s it. Super simple. Yet a visit to the Toyota dealership for service is always an involved and some might say over-orchestrated affair.
It's a theme park of an experience, staged in a vast and sparkling complex with an army of cheery (and masked) employees in matching red shirts and in constant motion, speaking to customers, tapping keyboards, rustling paperwork, making calls. They call me twice, in fact, as I slump in a soft leather chair reading a book in a far corner of the showroom. Both times the female voices suggest I speak to a manager about a great offer they can make on my 2016 Highlander if I’d like to drive home today in a brand new car. "I love my current car but thanks."
Just as soon as I'm back to my book a text buzzes from Joseph, my service advisor: “Rear brake pads at 3mm almost metal on metal needs replacement.” Well, of course. He gives me 10 percent off, so there’s that.
I realize I could avoid the dealer and go to a smaller shop for these things. I’m sure I could save money. But I guess I’m loyal. And whiling away a couple of hours at one of the nation’s largest Toyota dealers isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a well-oiled “customer experience” machine, all this sales and service and deal making, and I believe these folks really do care.
Joseph makes his way over to me with something in his hand. "This is for a $25 rebate on the brake work. Just fill it out and mail it in. Thought you'd want this."
It all started years ago with the banging of pots and pans on the kitchen floor, our little boy’s arms flailing with spatula and spoon, electricity in his eyes. Then came the funky rhythms he'd hum, moved by some thumping beat in his head. He’d mouth percussive sounds ... click, pop! ... click, pop! ... always in time, no drums needed. Piano lessons happened next followed by guitar class in middle school and soon the software and gadgets for recording his own songs. Little by little he got the nerve to sing and now you can't pull him away from this stuff. Combine Jackson's musical urgency with the great camera work and visual storytelling of his buddy RJ, and this video is what you get. So proud of these kids.
I’ve always loved this place. You can apply the usual descriptors. Charming. Quaint. Historic. Definitely historic. St. Augustine was established in 1565, in fact. America’s Oldest City is a fun little town with an impressive share of arts and culture. It can be tacky, though, and a bit of a backwater beyond the main drag. A browser at a record store just off King Street asks the guy behind the counter (and through the plexiglass) what it’s like to live here. “It’s interesting,” he says. “It’s a combination of a tourist town and a beach town, and since we’re kind of in the middle of the woods, you’ll see some rednecks.” I might’ve crossed paths with a few today. Actually I’m starting to worry about my own neck. Pass the sunscreen, it’s a scorcher!
When I close my eyes and think back, what comes to mind first are the sand spurs. Oooh, ooow, that one hurt. They always surprised me, and still do, even though I've known all along they're there, just waiting, the pointy bastards. Going to the beach as a kid meant sunburns and fried shrimp and go-carts and motel swimming pools. Later it meant getting away with friends and letting loose and making questionable decisions. The beach still has a powerful pull for me, its sense of elsewhere and disconnection worth a million bucks. "Hey, everybody have a good time?" I ask my teenagers as we return home from a day trip to Cocoa Beach. "What? Yeah, it was good," the boy says, momentarily removing an AirPod. I shouldn't ask. I know they enjoyed it. We splished and splashed and boogie boarded. Threw a football. Snacked on PB&Js and pretzels and Rice Krispies Treats. Talked and laughed and picked at each other and eventually tired of it all. The tent came down, the bags were repacked and we sweated our way across the scorching sand to the parking lot. Exactly six hours and 136 miles later, we're home and everyone has dispersed again, the heat and salt and breaking waves just another set of memories. A fine day. Oh, and no sand spurs.
I bought this guitar, a Gibson ES-335, in 1984 for what I recall was around $900. A chunk of change for a high school senior. If I’m doing the math right, this instrument has been a central part of my life for some 13,000 days now, making the cost about 7 cents a day, so far. Now that’s my kind of investment!
Patience has never been my thing. I need resolution, fast. What I desperately want is to board a plane full of people, even noisy kids, and travel somewhere, anywhere, even squeezed into a middle seat. I want to check into a crowded hotel. Shake hands. Hug friends. Sit next to coworkers and strangers. High-five my sweaty comrades at the skatepark. Gather with musicians in a tiny room and jam for hours. Belly up to the bar. I want to be fully involved, mask-less and unconcerned. I hear "We'll get through this" and know it's just as hard for that person, too. Look, I realize I've got it pretty good and am thankful, always. Yet here we are, restless and dreaming, in pretty much the same place we've been for two months and counting. It's a perpetual rainy day, and I’m ready for the sun to come out. Even partly cloudy would be nice.
For an instant I thought the woman was speaking to me. It was a slow, reassuring voice. “Hey, you know where you’re goin’?” She was close, maybe 25 feet, but all I could make out through the scrub palm was a vague shuffling. Even though I was arguably lost, she wasn’t talking to me, probably didn’t even know I was there, wrangling her small child and crunching her way down the trail. This oasis of old Florida, the Tibet-Butler Preserve, isn’t a place I’ve visited much. It’s small, just over 400 acres, but almost entirely removes you from the annoyances of traffic and subdivisions and strip centers just beyond its boundaries. Meandering along trails, some grassy, some sandy, becomes slightly eerie when all you hear are the sudden movements of small creatures just out of sight, scampering in the ferns and palmetto and stopping behind fallen tree limbs. I sidestep a gopher tortoise. The boomy bellow of a frog, I think it’s a frog, echoes across a swamp. Sunshine filters through the cypress. I’ve escaped, for a moment, the hum of civilization, not to mention the dread of a global pandemic.
... Never in my life have I had such a good reason not to shave. There’s no place to go, no one to impress. And maybe this act of defiance is my way of giving the virus the finger. ”You look like Papa Smurf,” my smart-ass, I mean delightful, wife says. True, there’s a lot of gray (OK, white) in my scruff. But I’m giving this beard a go until it becomes ridiculous. Which might be soon.
... Just the semblance of a cough now freaks us out. I hear my wife hack on the sofa. I shoot her a look and ask, “Is that a dry cough?” “No,” she insists, finishing a gulp of something. “It’s an I’ve-got-orange-juice-stuck-in-my-throat cough.”
... All of a sudden I realize we’re going to need chemicals for the pool during the shutdown. A call to Pinch-a-Penny is answered by a peppy guy eager to please. “We are number 21 on the list of essential businesses,” he informs me. And I’m glad for it. I drive over and grab a jug of chlorine. “You’ve got to take care of your pool,” he says. “It’s built-in entertainment for the kids.”
... It isn’t bread or toilet paper we’re after. We want music. An old jazz album by McCoy Tyner for me, the new Harry Styles for my daughter. We yearn for vinyl so start calling record stores from the car. The good guys at Park Avenue CDs are in and check their inventory and find Lucy’s choice but not the old man’s, though their jazz selection is usually extensive. For the first and hopefully last time, we arrange to make our purchase over the phone and pick it up curbside at the store. “Thanks guys,” says the tattooed clerk, handing over the brown paper bag with latex gloves. Oh, and I’ve discovered that Harry Styles is actually really good, quite an imaginative musician. “He’s so vibey,” is how my girl puts it.
... Where did all these people come from? Neighbors everywhere! We walk around the hood in the evening like we usually do and encounter folks we’ve never seen before. Couples, families, young people, all strolling, biking, skating. Everyone’s friendly. “Hello!” “Hi!” “How are you?” An outing early the next morning is a little quieter. “It’s so nice to hear the birds chirping,” says a woman I pass on the sidewalk. “They don’t know anything’s wrong.”
"Hey Taylor, what’s up man?"
Did that guy just call me Taylor?
"Hey, good to see ya," I say.
I decide not to correct him mostly because I just want to get to the task at hand, skateboarding. So that's what happens. I move on, he moves on.
Then I start thinking about the name. Taylor. Definitely youthful and handsome sounding. He's probably a snappy dresser with a good haircut and an Apple Watch.
Not much later a woman among the morning's riders at Orlando Skate Park makes a beeline for the exit, saying to me, "See you next time, Taylor." Oh great, now it's spreading. Looks like she's in a hurry so I don't bother slowing her down and correcting her either.
This isn't the first time my name has been confused or jumbled or simply forgotten. And my name is pretty straightforward, so I bet this happens to most everyone. I get Dillion a lot. With the extra i. Like million. My first and last names get reversed. I was addressed as Mr. Paul in a rejection letter from a big newspaper where I applied to work long ago and I'm always ready and willing to answer to Dylan or whatever.
I'll never forget how I was called Mr. Gillum to my face on multiple occasions by my landlord in Jacksonville in the 90s, despite the fact my monthly check to this guy was emblazoned with Dillon and not Gillum, every time. I chuckled once when I opened an email to Phil, thinking at first it was sent to the wrong person but quickly realizing it was yet another twist.
If you call me something strange or not quite right, I promise not to take offense. I really don't care, although I'll probably write it down.
Later at the skate park, my buddy makes his way back over to me. "I think I had you mixed up with somebody else earlier. You're Paul, right. I know a few Pauls. The Paul that works at Disney, right?"
And just like that, it’s all cleared up. And I'm a little disappointed. My bubble is burst. It was cool being Taylor for the last hour and a half. I felt more spry and capable. Smarter and funnier, with more promise.
“Yeah man, no problem," I tell him. "All good."
It strikes me as odd but then again, this is Florida. Guys walking out of one set of doors with their newly purchased rifles and boxes of ammo, and squads of high school cheerleaders skipping past the gun show into the adjacent building for the Universal Cheerleading Association Regional Championship. Weird, right?
OK, where’s my daughter? I’ve lost her in a sea of glittery hair bows and lipsticked teenage faces. Oh, there she is, with her team in a corner of the room. Competition is underway and the applause and yelling and of course cheering is deafening.
I tap Lucy’s arm and make eye contact to let her know I’m close by.
“Go away, go away,” are her exact words.
“I just wanted to say hi.”
“OK, hi. Go away,” she says again, like I didn’t get it the first time. I now fully realize how a gray-haired, 53-year-old dad can cramp a daughter’s style.
Now my stomach is growling. At least I think it is. I can’t actually hear it but I feel it. Luckily lots of snack options here, popcorn and hotdogs and nachos and Cuban sandwiches. Did I mention this is Florida? I roll the dice on a Cuban and have to say, it’s delicious.
There must be 5,000 people in this room at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. It’s like a big warehouse with bleachers. So full there’s no place left to sit and hardly any place to stand, especially when it comes time for the awards ceremony. Anticipation builds. “Crazy Train” blares. I do love Ozzy. Then it’s “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift. Man, the juxtapositions are killing me!
Honors are bestowed. Dang, those trophies are huge! Announcements are made followed by screaming so loud my ears ache. My daughter’s team, Olympia High School junior varsity, takes sixth in their division and advances to Nationals.
What is it that cheerleaders have? Not sparkle. I mean they do have that. Spirit, that’s it! Never in my life have I seen so much spirit in one place, not to mention laughter and smiles and proud parents.
On the drive home, the one who was quick to flick me like a flea around her friends warms up when I suggest hitting the Chick-Fil-A drive through. “Thanks for coming to my competition, dad,” she says. “I’m glad you were there.”
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is having a hand in inspiring people, connecting them to a common purpose and seeing them react positively, even joyfully, to content I’ve helped to create.
Today, after four weeks of traveling and putting on shows for more than 3,000 Disney Cruise Line team members, I’m one satisfied dude.
With the assistance of many, many others, I’ve been supporting crew assemblies on all four of our Disney ships. They’re essentially business updates hosted by our president and each ship’s respective captain, accompanied by live Disney entertainment, lots of video clips and fun giveaways. These shipboard town halls make our oceangoing teams feel a stronger kinship with our larger Disney organization.
“It’s wonderful to come together like this and get excited about the future,” one of our entertainers, Kristina, told me this morning on the Disney Wonder in Nassau.
I’m not going to say these shows weren’t taxing. We took a lot of flights. We packed up and sailed at sea. We took ubers and hailed cabs and did rehearsals in the wee hours. And of course we had to continuously update scripts and slides and incorporate ship-specific details into each program.
But the outcome, while not absolutely perfect, has been everything I’d hoped it would be. Most of all, I’ll remember the cheers during certain parts of the show and the smiles and thank-yous from the housekeeping staff and the dining room servers and the engine room crew.
“I love it when we do these events,” said Jo, a member of the Disney Magic team, in her charming British lilt. “It energizes me and makes me proud to be part of this great company."
It’s hard not to fall for the laidback flow of the islands. Great weather, beautiful water, total vacation vibe. But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t peel back a layer or two.
“There is so much about the Bahamas that our visitors don’t know,” says Sidney, my cab driver. He has spent his whole life in Nassau, at least 60 years. I ask him, have you ever considered living elsewhere? “No!” he says. What keeps you here? “The beauty of it all.”
Sidney gave me a veritable history lesson on the Bahamas including how Columbus landed here before finding his way to Florida and how pirates ruled these waters centuries ago, and lesser-known tidbits like how the Bahamas is home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef and is the source of a majority of the world’s salt. I did not fact-check my new friend, mind you, but he sounded authoritative.
What intrigues me most about the islands these days is their growing and quite inspired creative community. Just step into The Current, a gallery of regional contemporary art set amid the slot machines and overpriced cocktails at the sprawling Baha Mar resort. Tonight I had the whole gallery to myself. What I saw weren’t trite beach pastels but powerful statements of color and rhythm and possibility.
Sidney will tell you that not enough people take the time to see the real Bahamas. “The rich history of the Bahamas has never truly been told,” he says. “But it should be. There’s no other place like this in the world.”
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