July 4, 1999
Three years ago this summer, our overachieving citizens took a collective deep breath and heaved ourselves across the finish line of one of the greatest achievements by an underdog: the successful winning and staging of the largest Olympics in the 100 years of the global games.
Now we are going through an excruciating process that has become an American tradition in the last years of this century: turning the bright lights of hindsight on the past behavior of (insert name of politician, founding father, pro player or Olympic leader here). This dribbling out of information, draped across daily headlines, must be akin to being nibbled to death by ducks.
It could have been so different.
We spent so much of the early 1990s wringing our hands over our “Olympic legacy.” Who among us, if asked in 1995, would have predicted that as we prepare for the 2000 games, we would be focused on a tug of war over boxes of old documents stored at the Atlanta History Center.
People who complain about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducting Chinese water torture on our Olympic heritage are missing the point. The AJC is only performing its historical watchdog role, albeit a bit late. Why weren’t we asking questions about the incredible odds of Atlanta winning IOC votes back in 1991? Didn’t we have the same open records laws back then?
The media’s current tenacious pursuit is the sad result of a history lesson many of today’s leaders refuse to learn: When You Screw Up, Come Clean.
Surely, they watched the same pursuit of Bill Clinton’s impeachment that we did. When some of the Republican congressmen were confronted with similar charges, they called a press conference, admitted to the wrongdoing and moved on. Do we even remember their names? When one of the more prominent Atlanta Braves went public with his indiscretion, he took his lumps honestly and responsibly. Last time I picked up the sports page, the writers were focused on his on-field batting average.
How different it would have been had the Atlanta Olympic Committee called a press conference, released the facts that they went a little overboard in their enthusiasm to win the games and asked for public forgiveness? I bet we’d be back to reading about the building of an Olympic museum.
So, let’s concede this: In their zeal, our local Olympic leaders broke some rules. Do we really need to know to what degree they were broken? If so, let’s quietly assemble an investigative team and have them give us a full report sometime next year. We’ve waited this long. Why must we get incomplete daily drippings from reporters?
Meanwhile, this month, let’s sit in the warm evening of an Atlanta July and watch old videotapes of gymnasts Kerri Shrug’s injured leap at the Georgia Dome or Michael Johnson’s record-breaking run around our Olympic stadium. While we’re at it, let’s reflect upon some related remarkable events that occurred this decade:
• A lawyer named Billy Payne had an inspirational early-morning vision and defied all odds, bring the Centennial Games to Atlanta. His tenacity and focus is an epic lesson for us all.
• Thousands of volunteers throughout the area gave of their time, their homes and hearts to host a superb show for the world.
• Dozens of athletes showed why a big heart and determination often overcome an opponent of Goliath proportions.
• And we as a city pulled together, planted trees, improved streetscapes, erected facilities and built a park that generations after us will enjoy long after we’ve opened the last dusty box of a dissolved Olympic bureaucracy.
May 1, 1999
When I went to grade school at Christ the King School on Peachtree Road many of the classes were taught by Catholic nuns. Most of the nuns ruled by terror and we, the saintly little grade school boys and girls, lived in mortal fear much of the time.
Nuns were intimidating to us just by what they wore: military style shoes, heavy stockings, undergarments that went all the way to the ground and must have been at least three or four layers thick, even in summer.
These were covered by several more layers of clothes, topped by a cape-like garment that draped over their shoulders and down around their waists. Their heads were covered with a habit, made of black cloth.
They looked like one of the aliens on Star Trek.
We wagered it probably took them about two hours to get dressed every morning.
One of our favorite tricks was to ask nuns what time it was. It usually took them about five minutes to find their watches.
Every afternoon we had our favorite activity: show and tell. Kids read articles from the paper or brought in unusual items from home. One time I brought in my new pet hamster. It was a beautiful thing: all white with pink ears and beady little eyes. It loved to crawl all over me and I loved the feeling of its little nails tickling my arms or my neck.
At show and tell, everyone had to play with it. One of the girls suggested that Sister Mary Sean, our teacher, pick it up. With some reluctance, she let me to place it carefully on her hand. She laughed as it tickled her palm.
Then that hamster ran right up Sister’s arm and underneath one of those hundreds of layers of fabric she wore. I froze and looked at Sister. Her eyebrows launched up and her eyes got as big as billiard balls and she froze too. Then, she started grabbing her shoulder, and her chest and her stomach. She started hooting and hollering and running around the front of the classroom like folks did in those charismatic churches.
All the girls acted very concerned and gasped in horror. Several rushed to Sister’s rescue, but they couldn’t find that hamster anywhere. Suddenly, Sister went screaming out the door and down the hallway toward the bathroom, followed by all of the girls in the class.
There was bedlam in the class. All the boys were on the floor laughing and screaming. Then, the parade of girls started back and the boys all jumped back into our seats. As each girl walked in the door, she would look at me with her best Catholic-girl scowl. I felt as if a jury was reentering the courtroom to sentence me to death. One whispered that they had to take every bit of clothing off of Sister before they found the hamster in her bra.
Finally, Sister walked back in and marched over to me and asked me to open the box I had brought the hamster in. She opened up her hands and dropped the hamster back in the box. She told me to never bring an animal to show and tell again.
Then her eyes locked on me just before she went back to the front of the room. I’m not quite sure to this day, but I think I saw a little smile break out across her face and just a bit of a twinkle in her eyes.
That afternoon, all the boys in the school wanted to see my hamster. After all, he had “boldly gone” where no man had gone before.
March 4, 1999
It must be hard to be a hero. Maybe we ask too much of them. Just the other day I was reading about one in particular.
He was a leader at the height of his glory. Saw a woman one day. Desired her. Did the wrong thing. Denied it. Got caught. Suffered public and private embarrassment. Was faced with losing his lofty position. Suffered tremendous consequences.
Sound familiar? It could be Bill Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, or even King David – the Old Testament author of so many beautiful psalms. Or for a more parochial example, Eugene Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons on the eve of our city’s only Super Bowl.
How could they be so stupid, we ask? How could they risk so much for such a momentary fleeting indulgence? We feel betrayed, angry, depressed, lose respect for them and interest in the other things they stand for that once meant so much to us.
But I am partly to blame for the severity of these downfalls. Perhaps you are too.
I get caught up the fervor. I am at first attracted to these people for their brilliant professional skills. I expect them to be brilliant in all areas of their lives. But, alas, they are only men. They screw up just like me, and maybe even you. But because they are who they are, their mistakes are magnified to Herculean proportions. I immediately pass a harsh judgment on them.
I try to remember the lesson of the married woman in the Biblical story who was caught in an adulterous situation. She was hauled before a huge crowd in her town. The crowd wanted Jesus to confirm the traditional Jewish law and demanded that he order an immediate death sentence. Turning the mirror back on the crowd, he said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Then I think about an even harder challenge: forgiveness. Jesus predicted one of his apostles would betray him to the soldiers, resulting in his crucifixion. He knew it would be Judas Iscariot and possibly knew it the moment he asked Judas to join his band of 12. Yet Jesus showed up at the Last Supper anyway. Perhaps he even forgave Judas before the betrayal had taken place.
Then I’m faced with so many questions. Should we have known that our presidents would not stand up to moral scrutiny? Is the very pedestal we thrust these men on too high for mere mortals? Is the international adulation and heavy responsibility we heap on their shoulders too heavy for their souls? Does the intensity of our need to look up to them squeeze out the darkness that otherwise lurks in the corners of their minds? In their most private moments, are they shamed by their realization that they are, after all, only men, that while capable of great good, also succumb to temptation?
Perhaps we should reverse the cycle. Maybe we should forgive these heroes before their betrayal. Next time a leader takes a turn at the top, we could expect mistakes. When our sports icons are preparing for the big game, we could wager which one will be weak at the worst moment.
The rise and fall of men, just like civilizations, is a consistent theme in our history and our literature. Why not anticipate it? Our disappointment and sense of betrayal will be lessened. Our judgment will be less harsh. And if we don’t thrust such undue pressure on our heroes, maybe they will perform better in the roles they have been selected to play.
February 4, 1999
I’ve made an effort in the past few years to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’ve even cut back a little on my meat consumption, but I will make an exception for one place – the Varsity. It is one of my life’s goals to eat at every Varsity.
I read recently that the Varsity had purchased some land in Cobb County to build another restaurant. I will be one of the first in line when it opens.
For readers who might be grease-challenged, I should clarify that the Varsity is the “World’s Largest Drive-in,” has been operating since 1928 on North Avenue and is one of Atlanta’s most historic spots. Like many significant cultures, it even developed its own language (Naked dog walking, an FO and a bag of rags …).
The article reported it will be the Varsity’s fourth restaurant, but as I count it, I’ve eaten at six already. I fancy myself as a Varsity connoisseur – two words that have probably never been printed next to each other.
In fact my first childhood memory is sitting on the front steps of our apartments, at the intersection of Peachtree and Spring streets and crying hysterically as I waved good-bye to my family as they drove off down Spring Street. I thought they might be driving off forever. Turns out, they were just heading to the “Greasy V” for a few chili dogs and fries. Maybe I’ve felt deprived ever since.
A big moment in my life occurred when the Varsity branched out closer to my neighborhood and opened the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh (which I think serves the freshest food and has the snappiest service). Two more locations were built in Athens and became mandatory stops on the way to Georgia football games as a child or late at night after visiting friends attending college there. A great tragedy occurred when the company decided to close the famous downtown location right across from “The Arch.”
I was among the first visitors when a Varsity opened in Gwinnett County. I was most impressed by the conveyer belts that transport the food from the “chefs.” They were a color I had never seen before at other Varsitys: white!
I have sometimes suffered in my goal to eat at every Varsity. When I attended one of the first events at the Georgia Dome I had already eaten a big meal. But when I spotted a new Varsity Express I found the fortitude to eat another.
When I lived in other states during the early part of my career I would always look for a suitable substitute for my favorite meal: a chili dog, chili pickle steak – both with Vidalia onions – a fry and a ring and a Frosted Orange. But there was none. Thus, any return to Atlanta started – and ended – with a stop there.
Not everyone shares my obsession. Once I took a college friend there and she was horrified by the experience. Years later we were in a group and someone mentioned the Varsity. I overheard her say, “Someone took me there a few years ago. I can’t believe anyone would take me to such a place.”
When my friends Charles Driebe and Mike Egan and I threw a joint 40th birthday party, we didn’t hesitate on choosing the caterer. Susan Gordy of the Varsity Jr. pulled a truck up into the Egan’s driveway and set up a deep fat fryer. We served onion rings, French fries and fried pies to all our friends and families – even to my Mom, brothers and sisters who had driven there without me years ago.
January 5, 1999
Make a mistake on television or radio and you can correct it in the next breath. But in the print business, a mistake is there for all to see and usually you have to wait until the next edition to correct it.
Three times in my career, I’ve tried to fix a mistake after a paper was printed – with mixed results. I was reminded of this recently when we found out that our Atlanta Real Estate section was mailed with our Atlanta Buckhead and Atlanta Intown papers but had been left out of the portion of Intowns that we put in stores and restaurants.
Our distributors had just put out nearly 8,000 copies in more than 100 locations around town. A call to our printer confirmed our worst fears: The sections were still sitting on pallets in their warehouse. I quickly marshaled employees from our company and the printers’ and we visited each location and hand inserted the sections.
In high school our overzealous and undersupervised staff printed a front-page cartoon of questionable taste. After we had distributed them all over campus, the school’s president demanded we collect all the papers and reprint the paper without the offending cartoon. We did – after a lot of exhausting work – and the few surviving original copies quickly became collectors’ items.
I went to college at the University of Virginia, where there are several “secret” societies. Some more secret than others when its comes to the selection of new members. Some groups place ridiculous gowns on their newest inductees, make them drink lots of beer and parade them around parties in a crazy marching band replete with drums and a raucous song list. One group does not reveal its members until they die.
In my last year, the rising group of editors on my newspaper staff decided to play a practical joke on me by printing the names of new inductees in a secret group of which I was a member – a group that never revealed its members, even after their deaths. After the papers were distributed, my group moved into retaliatory action. A few of us gathered up thousands of papers from libraries, classrooms and stores. One even snuck in the window of a rival secret group member and took his paper when he went to the restroom.
Other members went to the newspaper office, replaced the offending page 2 item and drove an hour south to the printer, who reprinted the cover sheet.
The rest of us drove to a secluded wooded hilltop and began “skinning” the thousands of original papers. It was fun for a while, but by the time the others arrived at sunrise with new covers, our zeal was long gone. What seemed like a great idea at midnight suddenly began to look like a college prank gone terribly wrong.
Someone left for coffee and distributed a few of the “new” papers. Reports filtered in from the valley below: a rival group was debating whether we should be charged with “stealing” the papers, a grievous offense of the honor system; the rival daily newspaper’s editor launched an investigation; the dean of students wanted to see me.
It took my group until early afternoon to reassemble the papers. Some headed off for a nap, others went to class. I had to attend a round of meetings with my furious staff, an angry dean and a zealous rival reporter.
After that long day in college, I began to wonder if I should go into television journalism. A few weeks ago, as I sat inserting newspapers once again, I began to wonder if I made the right decision. I wonder how I’d look in a toupee?
September 4, 1998
You don’t get many second chances in life. Sometimes the best you can hope for is to learn the lessons and be ready should similar circumstances reappear.
At lunch with Susan Weltner Yow, an longtime friend a few months ago, I asked about her husband. He was in the doghouse for having let Mother’s Day pass without getting her a present. Having missed a few such occasions myself, I suggested to her something I have sometimes wished for: a second chance.
That afternoon she forgave her husband and proposed a “do-over”: She would pretend the following Sunday was Mother’s Day. Later that night I got a message from him. “Thanks, buddy,” he said with a touch of hyperbole. “You saved my marriage.”
This summer, I attended a 90th birthday party for someone who once gave me a “do-over.” Dr. William Pressly spent a lifetime nurturing a private school in Atlanta called Westminster into a reality, despite several early crises in which he nearly closed the doors for lack of funding. Today it has a showcase campus with a reputation and an endowment that rivals the finest prep schools in New England.
I attended his school in seventh and eighth grade and following my family tradition, left for boarding school in ninth grade. There, I fell in with a tough crowd and flirted with all kinds of trouble. Midway through my junior year, my family urged me to go see Dr. Pressly and ask to return to Westminster.
I didn’t present an impressive case. My grades were mixed and, in the style of the day, my hair reached down to my shoulder blades. As I sat in his office, he looked me over and, despite some hesitation, agreed to roll the dice. It was the break I needed. Returning to Atlanta and Westminster, I had a surge of energy and appreciation for both. I made lifelong friends, joined several groups – and found my life’s work when I signed up as a reporter and then an editor for the school newspaper.
My debut, however, was an ignoble one. With little training and less direction, I was given an assignment to write the lead story and an accompanying editorial about Dr. Pressly’s retirement after 22 years as the school’s founder and only president. On deadline, my editor gave me what he thought was a press release on Dr. Pressly’s life and said I could run all or part of it. It ran with little alteration – under my byline. Much to my embarrassment, we learned upon publication that what I had been given was a draft of an article prepared by the school’s development director for the alumni magazine. I learned a hard lesson about being careful about your sources – and about plagiarism.
My debut as an editorialist was even less gracious. I took on the style of the rebellious journalism of the day and wrote that our school was fine under Dr. Pressly’s leadership, but would profit from new direction under a different president. Despite the insults, Dr. and Mrs. Pressly were gracious to my family at graduation, saying nothing when the subject of the newspaper came up in polite conversation.
Years later, seeing the Presslys again after all these years, I realized that most people will honor them for their extraordinary contributions to the institution that flourishes today in Buckhead. But I will remember much more: a lifelong commitment to taking chances on some marginal students and to maintaining a level of charm, graciousness and polish that is rare in today’s world – and a willingness to provide me with my own “do-over” nearly 25 years later:
July 1, 1998
For 12 years I was an itinerant newspaperman, traveling through four Southern towns before returning home to work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. From Mississippi to North Carolina, almost everyone I would meet would have a story about Atlanta.
One of the more popular topics was people’s love and admiration for a syndicated columnist from the Constitution named Lewis Grizzard. People read his column in their local newspaper, listened to his tapes or bought his books, with titles such as “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.” He was passionate about the South, Atlanta, his Georgia Bulldogs and a few other subjects that made him controversial. He created a group of somewhat fictional characters that entertained his fans for years. When Lewis died in 1994, he left behind a depth of loyalty few other newspaper writers have matched this century.
On more than one occasion, I was asked to join the host committee to welcome Lewis to town when he was booked to speak before a local civic or social group. Lewis, when surrounded by people he didn’t know, could be a man of few words. So people thought they should get a local newspaper guy with an Atlanta connection to come “talk with Lewis.”
In Augusta, I sat next to him at a Junior League barbecue. In Charlotte, the local symphony asked for my help to fill a 2,500-seat auditorium with tickets that sold for $25. I placed a couple of ads in our newspaper and the tickets sold instantly. A year later, we picked a larger venue and filled 4,500 seats at $15 a pop.
I spent the day with Lewis and Tony, his manager. My mission was to entertain them with one of Lewis’ favorite pasttimes: a game of golf. They drifted into my office with Tony fussing at Lewis because he hadn’t finished his daily column yet. Lewis begrudgingly sat down at my conference table and scratched out a column on some notebook paper. Like most polished columnists, it didn’t take him long. He called and dictated it to his assistant at the AJC and we were off to the course.
It was a cold, blustery February day and Tony was not thrilled about spending it on a golf course. But Lewis was not to be deterred. We played six or seven holes, talking about subjects we had in common: Newspapers, Atlanta, mutual acquaintances. Lewis told a few jokes. I had recently heard one from my boss and while we were putting out on one hole, I told it. Lewis chuckled slightly and looked at Tony for a second.
“Hey, that’s a pretty good joke,” Lewis said. “You mind if I use that one tonight?”
“No, go ahead. Be my guest,” I said, flattered at my supplier-to-the-stars status.
It started to sleet. Lewis and I wanted to keep playing, but Tony started to grumble. On the next green, Lewis tried to make a 20-footer, but the mounds of ice that were starting to collect knocked his ball away from the hole. Finally, he relented and we retired to the clubhouse to drink Irish coffees.
That night, before thousands of spellbound fans, Lewis kept the crowd giggling with his voice, his accent and the eventual punchline. Our stomachs were hurting from laughter.
Near the end, he worked in my joke. Only Lewis told it better and the audience laughed. Suddenly, I wondered whether I may have committed the cardinal sin of telling Lewis a joke that was his to begin with. I never did ask Lewis if I had stolen his joke or if I added just a little bit to his routine. And Lewis, a fine Southern gentleman, never let on.
April 4, 1998
I ask a lot of my employees, but I also grant a lot of freedom. One rule I stress above all others: It’s okay to make a mistake, but learn from it so you won’t make it again. Admittedly, I’m the worst offender.
I park in a garage where you leave your key with the attendant. If you leave by 6:30 p.m., there’s no problem. But if you come late, your key is locked up. This happened to me once so I walked home, actually enjoying the hour-long journey. “Won’t let this happen again,” I chided myself. I decided I’d have a spare key made to give to the attendant.
A couple of weeks later, I stopped off at a store to get the spares made. They were busy so I said I’d be back shortly to pick up my keys.
So, of course, I work late that day and totally forget about my keys. At 8 p.m., I’m staring at my car, realizing that I not only made the same mistake again, I made a much worse one. It was Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. I would be without the car not for just one night, but for the entire three-day weekend, and the next day I was to pick up my children in Greenville. Everybody I could call was out of town. I peered through the window in the garage office and called all the phone and pager numbers of the garage employees to no avail.
For 10 minutes I stood there looking at my reflection in the car window, wondering how the state ever gave a guy this stupid a license to drive. When I was tired of listening to myself, I looked heavenward. “God, I really messed up this time,” I said. “I can’t imagine You bothering to bail me out of this one.”
A minute later a van pulled up slowly, its passengers eyeing me closely. “Great,” I thought. “I hadn’t considered the possibility of being robbed.” The gates to the garage opened and my heart leapt :Maybe this is a garage employee. It wasn’t. It was a security guard from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, escorting an employee to her car. He unlocked the garage office and got her keys out. “Hallelujah,” I shouted. “You’re my savior.” I explained my story while his passenger eyed me suspiciously. “This means you can give me my keys, and my life is saved,” I finished.
“Sorry, sir. I’m not authorized to do that,” he said.
“Oh, no, you don’t understand,” I pleaded. “It’s so simple.” There was a long silence. The security guard wasn’t buying it.
“Look,” I said. “I used to work at the AJC. I’m still in the newspaper business and I own my own company. Here’s my business card, my driver’s license and my insurance card. I can prove I own this car. You can rescue me, please, please, please,” I said.
He started to get back in his van. “You’re the answer to a prayer,” I begged. “Not two minutes ago I told God how stupid I was and asked if there was any way He could bail me out. Then you pull up. You see, it’s meant to be.”
He took a deep breath, looked at the employee he dropped off as if to seek guidance. “I won’t tell anyone,” she said. As the guard went back in the office to get my keys, I turned to her and shook my head. “I don’t know how I got this lucky,” I said.
“Jesus is looking after you tonight, son,” she said.
I haven’t walked home since.
February 1, 1998
One of the hazards of starting a newspaper in your home town is that you cannot escape some of the mishaps of your youth. About once a year I get a nice note from Buckhead resident Helen Sterne saying she is enjoying our newspaper, but she always closes with: “It certainly is a lot better than The Great Speckled Bird!”
In the late 1960s Atlanta was no Haight-Ashbury, but long before bankers and lawyers were walking the streets of Midtown, the area along Peachtree between 8th and 14th streets was known as “The Strip.” The sidewalks and alleys were full of long-haired, blue-jeaned, tie-dyed “hippies” offering all kinds of illegal substances and alternative lifestyles. It made today’s Little Five Points look like Phipps Plaza. On any given Friday night, parents would drive us through The Strip on the way back from dinner at the Piedmont Driving Club or Capital City Club, lock the doors and warn us of the dangers of this part of town.
So naturally, with 13-year-old curiosity, we would get up the next morning, tell our parents we were going to play tennis, and sneak out with our Jimi Hendrix T-shirts to “expand our minds” or to try to “find ourselves” amidst the record stores, head shops, and clothing boutiques on The Strip. One of the required souvenirs was to get the latest issue of The Great Speckled Bird. It was full of the latest inside reports on college students going on strike and closing down campuses, about battles with police in the streets of Chicago, about counterculture political parties, civil rights demonstrations, wild concerts, dangerous drugs and a movement older people feared most, a concept foreign to us – something called Free Sex.
One day, I noticed an ad promoting an opportunity to make money: buy 50 copies of The Bird for 15¢ each and sell them for 35¢. My first newspaper entrepreneurial thought stirred. I could get rich! I bought 50 copies and the next day, took 25 to my school, Westminster. I could stimulate intellectual thinking and make a tidy profit. Only one problem: students didn’t want to buy The Bird from a freckly-faced eighth grader.
Next idea: sell them to my neighbors. So I wandered up my street and stopped at the Sterne household. Mrs. Sterne answered the door. As I made my sales pitch, a look of horror crossed her face. She was the matriarch of a household containing her husband, the president of Trust Company Bank, and two Catholic schoolgirls. A household I was threatening to poison with radical, seditious journalism. Trying to fill the silence, I mumbled something about selling them at school. Well, when the story got around, I was selling them for the profit of Westminster.
Two days later, I’m dozing in chemistry lab and the principal walks in, grabs me and says I am being summoned to Dr. Pressly’s office. Dr. Pressly, the school’s founder, was a man who was so polished, so patrician, but so powerful that I must have done something really great to be going to see him.
He asked if I was telling people I was selling The Bird for the benefit of Westminster. I turned bright red and quickly said no. He said some board members had gotten confusing information and were calling him, greatly concerned. Graciously, he let the conversation drop there.
But others didn’t. Apparently, at that very moment my father was at Peachtree Golf Club, involved in a shouting match with a legendary school board member, Mr. Warren, about my disparaging the good name of the school.
All this because I was trying to make 20¢ a copy. I think I sold only about 12 of those papers. I wish I still had the rest. I could probably sell them for a lot more now.
January 3, 1998
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As children grow up, a parent tries to introduce them to all kinds of life’s experiences. You also try to plant in their minds a series of visual and emotional moments, which they can recall and replay in those times when you cannot be with them.
A parent takes his children fishing or camping or perhaps takes them on trips to see other cities or countries. And when that parent is a father, he takes his children to sporting events.
In Atlanta, we’ve been graced with lots of opportunities to see great sporting events, from championship college football teams, to NCAA basketball tournaments to one of the greatest events in the world, the Olympics. But in America, where sports are often elevated to a spiritual domain, the highest church of all would have to be to take your kids to a World Series baseball game.
A few years ago, when the Braves were in their second World Series against Toronto, I was negotiating a business deal. When my contact at this corporation mentioned that she could throw in two field-level tickets to the Seventh Game, the deal was done. In the high church of World Series, the Seventh Game is akin to going to a Sunday service with the Pope.
I discussed the logistics with my daughter and secured her blessing on allowing me to take my son to The Game. You can imagine my heartbreak when the Braves lost the series in the sixth game, voiding the tickets I had so excitedly held.
A few years later, when the Braves were opening the World Series on a Saturday night against the Yankees, I decided to be a little more proactive. I took both of my kids down to the stadium, determined to beg, borrow or scalp tickets to get in. My son was happy to give it a shot. My daughter was willing to try to get in the game, but she was humiliated when I presented her with what I thought was a clever, full-proof scheme.
I showed her three simple signs I made on my computer and told her we were each to hold one in sequence. My daughter’s read, “Never been,” my son’s sign read, “Wanna go,” and mine was a simple plea: “Need three.” I positioned my kids near one of the entrance ramps to the stadium and we stood for nearly an hour and a half. Crowds of people pointed at us, laughed at us and consoled my daughter, who covered her face in embarrassment while reluctantly holding the sign aloft under my orders. We stuck around even after the game started, hoping something would loosen up by the second inning, it was all for naught We never even attracted the attention of a TV camera.
We finally decided to go where we knew there would be hundreds of Braves fans who didn’t have tickets, either. We grabbed a cab and headed to the Varsity on North Avenue where we got front-row seats in one of the TV rooms. Munching on delicious Varsity fare, we had a great time and took a cab home satisfied that we, and the Braves, did our best.
Recently I read about major league baseball raising its World Series ticket prices to astronomical heights, far out of the range of a bottom-feeder like me. So this year, should the Braves go all the way, I’ll probably prepare a new sign for my home or office: “Gone Fishin’.”