My Proposed IndyCar Schedule

I’m in the mood to write a couple thousand words about one of my favorite sports, IndyCar racing. This past week, the IndyCar series announced their 2023 schedule, and it got me thinking about what I would like to see change with the schedule. I love the series, but I’ve never understood why their season ends so early every year. This year, for instance, the final race of the season is on September 11, a full two months or more before most American-based motorsports series end.

In addition, I’ve always felt that IndyCar should be more of an international series. One of the reasons for this is that every year, IndyCar features some of the best drivers from around the globe. Last year’s champion is from Spain. The leader in the points at the moment is from Australia. Several other countries are also represented. Years ago, IndyCar boasted races in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan.

Does that mean IndyCar should go back to those venues? In a perfect world, maybe. But this isn’t a perfect world. Costs are through the roof, and it would be difficult to justify spending an inordinate amount of a team’s budget to go to one race far away from their US home base.

Having said that, IndyCar should have more of a presence in Canada. The pandemic kept the series out of Canada for the past few years, and just a  month or two ago made a return to the streets of Toronto. Even though IndyCar is back, I think an argument can be made that Canada deserves another race or two.

In addition, racing in Mexico is a no-brainer (providing IndyCar can find a willing promoter). Look at the turn out and hype over Formula 1’s annual visit to Mexico. Mexican fans would welcome IndyCar to their country.

Of course, adding races in Canada and Mexico means eliminating races in the United States. Or does it? What if, rather than continuing with a 17-race schedule, we were to expand the schedule to 20, 22, or 24 races?

In putting together my mock schedule, I was as open-minded as possible to the length of the schedule, the number of races, the history of IndyCar (without being overly sentimental), as well as the good and bad of each potential race and venue. My goal was to put together a portfolio of events that was balanced between ovals, street circuits, and permanent road courses.

Let’s start by cutting the fat out of the schedule. There are a few tracks the series races at that I would not return to. Tops on that list is Texas Motor Speedway.

Texas used to be one of my favorite tracks. When at least two lines were available for racing, TMS was one of the most exciting venues on the schedule. But when they added PJ1 sealant to the track surface to increase grip for NASCAR competition, the track was reduced to just one drivable lane for IndyCars. For the past few years, the races have been mostly “follow the leader” races, with an occasional pass thrown in for good measure.

In addition, the races at TMS have not been particularly well promoted. Motorsports journalist Jenna Fryer commented last year that she was in Dallas/Ft. Worth for another event on the IndyCar weekend at TMS, and she did not see any marketing hyping the race. It appears TMS has in effect given up on IndyCar. I think it’s time IndyCar give up on TMS. When the PJ1 disappears from the track, maybe then it will be time to reconsider racing there again.

Portland is another race that should probably go away. The racing is never particularly interesting there (unless you consider a huge pile up in turn 1 interesting), and the event itself is just kind of blah. There doesn’t seem to be much excitement over the race in Portland. Why insist on going back year after year?

One argument to keep Portland is that IndyCar should have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. I agree with that sentiment and will address it in just a bit.

In addition, I would do away with the second visit to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The series is already missing out at racing at many deserving tracks. It doesn’t make sense to schedule two races each season at the Indy road course. If the series insisted on holding two races there, the least they could do is change up the configuration of the track for one of the races or run a different distance to complicate strategy. As it stands, the current schedule features two identical races, which really doesn’t make sense. For my purposes, I’m going to eliminate the August race at Indy traditionally known as the Harvest Grand Prix.

Of course, by eliminating this race, I’m also eliminating the triple-header with NASCAR. I actually like sharing a weekend with NASCAR, so I’ll try to add that back into my proposed schedule.

So, we’ve eliminated three races from the current schedule, which leaves the following events on the calendar:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca

A couple thoughts about these races: First, I’m not in love with the races at Barber Motor Sports Park or Mid-Ohio. I like them, but I don’t love them. It wouldn’t take a lot to convince me to replace both races on the calendar.

I know some people don’t like the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. I do. Not only is the racing fast and furious, but having races on back-to-back days is a real challenge for both the driver and teams, which adds to the allure of the weekend. Considering the fantastic job Hy-Vee does to promote the race and stage concerts by big-name acts, I view the doubleheader at Iowa as a huge win for the IndyCar series.

Although I like the doubleheader, I don’t like double points. There’s no debating that the Indy 500 is the crown jewel of the series, but I don’t think winning it should pay double points. Having said that, because of the unique nature of the two weeks surrounding the Indy 500, I do think double points should be on offer. I just don’t think they should all be awarded for the race. I’d like to see qualifying become a points paying event, with as many points on the line as in a normal race. In other words, winning the pole will pay as many points as winning a race.

Let’s talk just a little more about this suggestion. Teams put so much effort into qualifying for the Indy 500. They practice for a week prior to qualifying, then spend an entire weekend competing for the pole. This effort should be rewarded more than it currently is. Because so much effort and expense goes into qualifying, I’d like to see points awarded based on qualifying position in the same way points are awarded for finishing position in the race.

I’d also like to see double points eliminated from the final race of the season. It’s too gimmicky for my taste. It’s nothing more than an attempt to inject some faux suspense into the driver’s championship. The final race should be no more important than any other race on the calendar. Pay the same points in the final race as you do for every other race and let the driver’s performance over the entire course of the season determine the championship.

Okay, we currently have fourteen races on our proposed IndyCar schedule. What tracks should we add?

STREET CIRCUITS

Let’s start by talking about street circuits we could add. I mentioned previously that IndyCar needs more races in Canada as well as in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s add street circuit races in Seattle, WA and in Vancouver, BC.

Seattle would be a terrific opportunity to add an event in a town loaded with high-tech companies. There could be some real synergy there for showcasing IndyCar in a target rich environment for sponsors and potential sponsors. In addition, Seattle is traditionally a town that supports sporting events, so I think they would welcome IndyCar with open arms.

Once upon a time, IndyCar (in its Champ Car iteration) ran on the streets of Vancouver in what was then known as Molson Indy Vancouver. The race took place near BC Place, and was a really popular event, attracting more than 100,000 people over most race weekends. In 1996, the race hosted the largest single-day crowd up to that point in the history of Canada. IndyCar hasn’t been back since 2004, but I think its time for a return.

By adding street circuits in Seattle and Vancouver, the IndyCar calendar will now boast seven street circuits.

ROAD COURSES

Let’s turn our attention to permanent road courses. I already eliminated the oval at Texas Motor Speedway from the schedule, but I don’t want to abandon Texas completely. That’s why I’m adding a race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin. I’ll be honest, COTA isn’t my favorite track, but it is a beautiful facility in a town and state where IndyCar should be on display.

I’d also like to add a race at Watkins Glen. It’s a terrific track for IndyCar racing and it has been off the schedule for too long. Watkins Glen is one of the most historic road courses in the country and deserves a place on the calendar.

Adding Watkins Glen could also be an opportunity to move the IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader. NASCAR already races at Watkins Glen. Maybe the event could be made even bigger by adding IndyCar to the weekend.

Next, let’s add Road Atlanta. This permanent road course is fast, challenging, and exciting. The track might have to make some safety changes, especially in the area around the esses, but they shouldn’t be too hard or expensive to do. If you’ve ever seen a race at Road Atlanta, you can only imagine how fun it would be to watch IndyCar on the track.

I mentioned previously that I didn’t love the race at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s possible that a race at Road Atlanta could replace a race at Barber. I have heard that the agreement with Barber is that IndyCar is prohibited from holding races in Georgia or Tennessee. If that is the case, I’d say “so long” to Barber and move the race to Road Atlanta, a more interesting track that would provide better racing, in a more desirable (for the series) location.

The final road course addition to the calendar isn’t a road course at all. It is a temporary circuit, but not a street circuit. So, what is it? It is Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. IndyCar ran the Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront for twenty-five years. They were last there in 2007. The Cleveland race was popular with drivers and fans alike (although drivers did complain about the bumpiness).

Cleveland is a very hot market right now and IndyCar should take advantage of it. Some people might complain that Cleveland is too close to Mid-Ohio and keeping both races could water down attendance at both events. I’m not sure that is true. I think the schedule can be organized so neither event impacts the other. If it is true, maybe it’s time to give Mid-Ohio a rest and give Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland a try.

There is one track I didn’t add to the schedule that could potentially be a terrific track for an IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader weekend. That track is the Charlotte Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I think the location would be awesome, introducing IndyCar to the diehard NASCAR fans in the Charlotte area. The thing I’m not sure about is how well IndyCars would race on the Roval. Josef Newgarden did a few demonstration laps in an IndyCar a few years ago on the Roval and says he thinks IndyCar would put on a great race there. A little more investigation is needed, but the Charlotte Roval could be a welcome addition to the IndyCar calendar.

OVALS

That brings us to ovals. One of the complaints I hear most is that IndyCar doesn’t have enough ovals on the calendar. When you think about what sets IndyCar apart from other open wheel series (particularly F1), it’s the challenge of racing on ovals, as well as street and road circuits.

There are three ovals I’d like to see added to the IndyCar calendar. First, is Richmond International Raceway. IndyCar ran there from 2001-2009. Since leaving, there has been a pretty steady drumbeat of oval fans pushing to get IndyCar back to Richmond. This would be a good chance to run on a short oval under the lights on a Saturday night. I like that idea.

The next oval addition is Homestead-Miami Speedway. IndyCar has a long history of racing in the Miami Grand Prix. Open wheel cars raced in Miami dating back to 1926. IndyCar came to Homestead in 1996 and continued racing there until 2010, including running a doubleheader with IMSA for a few years.

Miami is a terrific market for IndyCar and it would be good to see them get back there. Homestead used to be home to official IndyCar spring training. The 1.5 mile oval provides fast, close, exciting racing. What more could you want?

The final oval on my proposed schedule is the Milwaukee Mile. This one-day event was once one of the most popular on the IndyCar calendar. The races in Milwaukee were among the favorites of drivers and fans alike. The one-mile track is said to run a bit like a road course, with lots of speed and plenty of overtaking opportunities.

This is what the entire schedule would look like:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca
  • Seattle Street Circuit
  • Vancouver Street Circuit
  • Circuit of the Americas
  • Watkins Glen
  • Road Atlanta
  • Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport
  • Richmond International Speedway
  • Homestead-Miami Speedway
  • Milwaukee Mile

*Dates to be determined

That’s a total of 24 points paying events (including Indy 500 qualifying and Iowa Speedway doubleheader). To accommodate all of these events, IndyCar will have to extend their season from late February/early March into October or November. I’d like to see an eight-month season and a four-month off season. I think this breakdown is good for both the series and the fans.

One final thought. I started off by saying IndyCar should run in Mexico, then I didn’t add a race in Mexico. Although I like the idea of taking IndyCar south of the border, it doesn’t seem realistic at the moment. I tried to be as realistic as possible when putting the schedule together. All of the tracks I listed could realistically host an IndyCar event next year. But at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a realistic promoter and/or venue for an IndyCar race in Mexico. If that changes, I’m all for adding Mexico to the calendar.

There it is. IndyCar, if you’re reading this, feel free to reach out. I have a lot more ideas to improve the series. Just ask.

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The Lament of a Life-Long Cubs Fan

The other night, the Cubs were on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN playing the Giants. I was looking forward to watching the game because earlier this year, I gave up my MLB.TV subscription and had not seen many Cubs games. But when game time approached, I decided not to watch the game. I just couldn’t do it. Watching the Cubs this year has been too depressing, and I wasn’t in the mood to be depressed again. As it turned out, the Cubs lost the game 4-0 and, from reports I read after the game, they played just as badly as I feared.

I’m a life-long Cubs fan, and for most of my fandom, the Cubs have been pretty bad. When Tom Ricketts and the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs prior to the 2009 season, I had hope that they would improve the team, turning them into a perennial winner. Ricketts brought in Theo Epstein—the man who built the Boston Red Sox into a World Series winner—to lead the team’s efforts. Like a lot of fans, my hopes were high.

Sadly, the first thing Epstein and the Cubs did was dismantle the team. They said the teardown was necessary to rebuild the organization the right way, including improving the farm system, and setting the club up to be a consistent post-season threat.

Over the next six years, the Cubs were horrible. They had losing seasons in five of those years, building an overall 429-542 record, winning just 44% of their games.

It was tough to be a fan of the team during those years, but our patience was rewarded in 2015 when the team did unexpectedly well in the playoffs, eventually losing to the Mets in the NLCS. Our hopes were high. Then in 2016, the unimaginable happened. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It seemed that all of our sacrifice and heartache had been worth it, not only because the Cubs had won the World Series (although that was huge), but because the team was set up to compete for championships for years to come. Or, at least, that’s what we thought.

As it turned out, the Cubs never did make it back to the World Series. Over the next five years they got progressively worse, ultimately selling off their best players at the 2021 trade deadline and promising another rebuild.

Of course, Epstein is gone, and Jed Hoyer, Epstein’s former second-in-command, is running the team now. In his time at the helm, Hoyer has shown no indication that he has a plan or a timeline to get back to being competitive. Now, during the 2022 season, the Cubs are 41-60 (as of 8/2/22), 15 ½ games out of first place in the NL Central, and 13 ½ games out of the newly expanded Wild Card.

From where I’m sitting, the Ricketts/Epstein/Hoyer era with the Cubs has been an abject failure. I say this despite the 2016 World Series victory. After 108 years of futility, winning the World Series was huge, but it wasn’t the primary goal. Epstein & Company were supposed to be building a perennial winner, not a one-time winner.

Fans endured six years of horrible baseball between 2009-2014 with the understanding that, once the rebuild was finished, we could expect a Cubs team that would compete for championships for years to come. That didn’t happen. Today, as I write this, the Cubs are far out of contention, suffering through their second consecutive losing season, they are selling off their players once again at the trade deadline, and they have the 18th-ranked farm system, with just two players in the top 100 in the league. By any measure, that is not a success.

In talking to people about my feelings, a few times I have heard that it is unrealistic to expect the Cubs (or any team) to be good every year. They point to the good years the Cubs had around their World Series championship.

Since the Ricketts took over the team, the Cubs have had seven winning seasons and six losing seasons. During that same period, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs biggest rival, has had thirteen consecutive winnings seasons, including two trips to the World Series and a World Series championship. The Cardinals are perennial winners. The Cubs are not.

In addition, the Cardinals have continued to build their team, bringing in Paul Goldschmidt in 2019, Nolan Arenado in 2021, and as I write this, they are in the hunt to land Juan Soto from the Nationals. Even if they don’t trade for him, it’s clear they are building their team for the future. They didn’t take a break and endure several losing seasons in order to have a few winning seasons. In other words, what the Cubs did was not just unnecessary, but in hindsight, was counterproductive.

Another way to look at the Cubs vs the Cardinals is at their market size and payroll commitments. The Cubs play in Chicago, the nation’s third largest market. By contrast, the Cardinals are in the nation’s 23rd largest market. And, although the Cubs have spent more on player payroll than the Cardinals during the Ricketts era, the difference isn’t as much as you might think. Between 2009 and 2021, on average, the Cubs spent less that $15 million more per year than the Cardinals.

You’d be correct if you pointed out that the Cardinals are now, and have been for some time, one of MLB’s most successful franchises. You might say that it is unfair to compare the Cubs to the Cardinals. I don’t agree that it is unfair. There’s no reason the Cubs, in one of the largest markets in the country and having one of the most rabid fan bases in MLB, can’t and shouldn’t be one of the league’s most successful franchises. Even so, if you think the comparison is unfair, let’s instead compare the Cubs to another NL Central rival, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Since 2009, the Brewers have the same number of winning seasons as the Cubs (7) but have actually won more games. The Cubs have an overall record between 2009-2021 of 1005-998 (.502), while the Brewers have a record of 1028-997 (.513)

The Brewers have accomplished this while playing in the 37th largest market in the country (the smallest in MLB) and spending an average of about $45 million less on player payroll than the Cubs. And as the Cubs tank the 2022 season, selling off every player they can, the Brewers are leading the NL Central and adding players at the trade deadline.

All of this is to say that, as much as I love baseball, I’m really questioning my fandom. My favorite team doesn’t seem willing or capable of building a consistent winner. And watching them trot out a AAAA team day after day to play mediocre (at best) baseball just isn’t very fun.

Rumor has it that the Cubs are going to be big spenders in the upcoming off-season, supposedly being in the running for big name free agents like Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. I hope that’s true, but to be honest, I don’t have any confidence in the current regime to either spend money intelligently or build a team around one or two big names.

I’ve been a fan of the Cubs all my life, but I have to say, I feel like I’ve been taken for granted. I know a lot of other fans feel the same way. The team seems to consistently be on the verge of doing something big, but with one exception, never delivers on their promise. The current re-build seems to be just another empty promise made by an organization that makes lots of money off of it’s fans, but can never seem to build the consistent winner they lure us in with.

Maybe it would be more fun to watch the Cardinals or Brewers.

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The Barn Where It Happened

It isn’t much to look at. It’s not ugly, but there’s nothing beautiful about it either. It’s just an old barn. Gray, weathered boards cover the exterior, along with a few mismatched sheets of unpainted brown plywood here and there covering holes in the walls. The roof is covered with gray corrugated steel, the edges rusty and worn.

Big sliding barn doors, the same color as the plywood patches, cover the entrance. The bottom of the doors are rotting away, delaminating. The doors still do their job, but they don’t look as good as they once did.

The barn is unremarkable on its own,  but it’s part of a larger scene. Deciduous trees grow next to the barn, and a sloping, manicured lawn surrounds it, along with a winding dirt path. The sky above is azure blue, punctuated by fluffy, white clouds. The barn is the centerpiece of a serene, pastoral scene. It’s peaceful, comforting, relaxing.

But if those gray, weathered walls could talk, they wouldn’t talk about anything serene or peaceful. They’d speak of evil, of hatred, of violence. They’d tell a story that happened nearly seventy years ago, and which still haunts the barn, the community, the state, and our nation.

***

In 1955, Emmitt Till was on the cusp of becoming a man. At 14-years-old, he wasn’t a man yet. He was still a boy. But as with all boys of a certain age, things were changing. His voice was changing, his body was changing, his thoughts and ideas were changing. He was taking his first steps toward manhood.

During that summer, Emmitt was visiting family in Mississippi. He traveled with his mother, who tried to prepare him for the visit. She told him that Mississippi was not like Chicago, where Till and his mother lived. She told him that he had to show respect to his elders, especially white elders, calling them “sir” and “ma’am.” She told him not to look white woman in the eye. He needed to be respectful, quiet, invisible.

Emmitt was staying with his great-uncle, Mose Wright, at his home on Dark Fear Road near Money, Mississippi. Mose’s youngest son, Simeon, and another cousin, Wheeler Parker, took Emmitt along with them to Bryant’s Grocery, a small convenience grocery on a rural road near Money. The boys were looking around the store when Emmitt spotted 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant.  He whistled at her. There have been stories written claiming he never whistled, but the truth is, he did. Simeon and Wheeler confirmed it.

A black boy whistling at a white woman in 1950s Mississippi was a foolhardy, dangerous act, but Emmitt didn’t immediately understand what he had done. Simeon and Wheeler, they knew. They were both older and used to the mores of life in Mississippi, and they knew that Emmitt’s action was going to cause them trouble.

***

Simeon thought about telling his father what had happened at Bryant’s Grocery–how Emmitt had broken one of the many unwritten rules that existed in Jim Crow America. Maybe they could sneak Emmitt out of town until his crime was forgotten. Maybe they could hide him from what Simeon feared would be a quick and severe punishment from the white people in town. Simeon decided not to say anything. It was a decision he regretted  later that evening, and for the rest of his life.

Emmitt was fast asleep when two white men walked into his darkened room. The men, Roy Bryant, the husband of the woman Emmitt whistled at, and J.W. Milam, who held a flashlight and a pistol, woke Emmitt, demanding he come outside with them. Emmitt was groggy, asking the men if he could put on his socks. The men become agitated, demanding Emmitt move. Moses’ wife, Emmitt’s great-aunt, begged the men not to take her nephew, but their minds were made up. They weren’t leaving the house without Emmitt.

Outside, the night was still, the buzzing of insects filling the silences. Mose followed the men as they dragged Emmitt out of the house. He heard a woman’s voice tell them that, yes, they had gotten the right man.  Mose saw them force his nephew into the back of a pickup truck, then pull away, driving down Dark Fear Road until they disappeared into the Mississippi night.

***

Leslie Milam, the brother of J.W. Milam, lived in an old farmhouse on a plantation owned by Ben Sturdivant. The house was run down and in need of new paint. A barn, used to store cotton and farm equipment, stood behind the house on the top of a small rise. The barn was worn and weather-beaten, with faded gray walls and a metal roof, it’s edges rusted from years exposed to the elements. Two large, sliding doors stood open, revealing the interior of the barn.

The Milam brothers, Bryant, and a couple other white men—no one is exactly sure how many—pulled Emmitt from the bed of the truck and dragged him into the barn behind the farmhouse. Wille Reed, an 18-year old black man saw this happen. He stayed out of sight near the road and listened to Emmitt screaming for the men to stop beating him. At one point, Reed saw J.W. exit the barn to get a drink of water, a pistol holstered on his hip. J.W. rested for a moment, then returned to the barn. When he did, Emmitt’s screams turned to moans, then to silence.

J.W., Roy, and the others talked about taking Emmitt to the hospital, but all agreed that he was beyond saving. Their beating had gone too far. One of the men—presumably J.W.—shot Emmitt in the head, ending his misery. They spread cotton seeds on the barn floor to soak up the blood.

The men then loaded Emmitt’s lifeless body into the pickup truck and drove to a bridge over the Tallahatchie River. There, they tied a cotton gin fan around his neck and tossed him into the murky water below.

***

Willie Reed told his grandfather what he had seen at the Milam barn, and his grandfather begged him not to talk about it with anyone, especially not the police. Willie thought it over. He struggled with his decision. In the end, he chose to talk.

J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were tried for the murder of Emmitt Till. Willie, Mose, and others testified about what had happened to Emmitt. It didn’t matter. Milam and Bryant were both acquitted by an all-white jury.

After the trial, Willie ran for his life, having to escape the area to avoid a mob that was searching for any witnesses. He made his way to Memphis where he met up with Detroit Congressman Charlie Diggs, who flew with Willie to Chicago. It was Willie’s first time on an airplane.

Willie started a new life in Chicago,. He changed his name to Willie Louis and met a young nurse named Juliet. They married and bought a home in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. He avoided visits to his old home and didn’t talk about what he had seen that night. Willie and Juliet were together for more than twenty years before she first learned about his old name and his connection to Emmitt Till. Willie died near his Chicago home in 2013.

After the trial, Life Magazine paid J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant to give a full confession they could print for their readers. The two men obliged. It was a mistake. They became ostracized in the community, not so much for the murder, but for bragging about it in a magazine. People in the community felt the paid-for confession brought disrepute on them and their fellow Mississippians. By bragging, Milam and Bryant had made them look bad.

Carolyn Bryant testified at the murder trial of her husband and JW Milam that Emmitt not only whistled at her, but grabbed her and made a lewd comment. That was almost certainly a lie. Emmitt’s cousins, Simeon and Wheeler, said Emmitt only whistled. Nothing else.

Carolyn and Roy Bryant remained married until their divorce in 1979. Carolyn is still alive today, living in a senior living center in Raleigh, NC. Last month, a team investigating the Emmitt Till murder discovered a warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest. In 1955, the Laflore County, MS Sheriff indicated that he would not serve the warrant because Carolyn had two children at home and he didn’t want to bother her. After that, the warrant was forgotten until it was rediscovered last month. Some groups have called for the warrant to be served and for Carolyn Bryant to be tried for her role in Emmitt Till’s murder, but it is unlikely that a prosecutor would agree to move forward with charges against the 88-year old Bryant so long after the murder.

Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, ended up closing his store. Since most of his customers were black, business had slacked off after the murder. He spent the rest of his life broke, moving from one run-down rental to another, shunned by his neighbors and former friends. He died on September 1, 1994.

J.W. Milam lived out his days in a poor black neighborhood. It was the only place he could afford to live. He spent his life skirting the law, committing assault, writing bad checks, using stolen credit cards, and committing other petty crimes. He died on December 31, 1980.

Three months after the murder of Emmitt Till, Ben Sturdivant evicted Leslie Milam and his wife from the old farmhouse and fired him from his job on the plantation. Ben’s grandson, Walker Sturdivant, who still lives in the area, said that his grandfather didn’t approve of what happened in the barn and didn’t want any part of it.

Nineteen years later, Frances Milam, Leslie’s wife, called a Baptist preacher named Macklyn Hubbard, and asked him to visit their home. Leslie was sick and wanted to confess the role he played in the Emmitt Till murder. Hubbard listened as Milam unburdened himself. “He was releasing himself of guilt,” Hubbard later said. “He was belching out guilt.” After giving his confession, Leslie Milam fell asleep and died.

Years later, the Milam home was bulldozed and replaced with a nicer, newer home. There’s even a built-in pool. Off in the backyard, on a slight rise, stands the barn, with its gray, weathered exterior, metal roof, and a story to tell. It’s a tough, emotional story about evil, and hate, and violence. It’s a story that reminds us of who we once were as a country. It reminds us of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Even though it’s hard to hear, it’s a story we should listen to. It’s a story we should never forget.

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Poetry As Song: Yesterday, When I Was Young

YESTERDAY, WHEN I WAS YOUNG

Yesterday, when I was young
The taste of life was sweet
Like rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if
It were a foolish game
The way an evening breeze
Would tease a candle flame

The thousand dreams I dreamed
The splendid things I planned
I always built to last
On weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned
The naked light of day
And only now I see
How the years have ran away

Yesterday, when I was young
There were so many songs
That waited to be sung
So many wild pleasures
That lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled
Eyes refused to see

I ran so fast that time
And youth at last ran out
I never stopped to think
What life was all about
And every conversation
That I can recall
Concerns itself with me
And nothing else at all

Yesterday, the moon was blue
And every crazy day
Brought something new to do
And I used my magic age
As if it were a wand
And never saw the waste
And emptiness beyond

The game of love I played
With arrogance and pride
And every flame I lit
So quickly, quickly died
The friends I made all seemed
Somehow to drift away
And only I am left
On stage to end the play

Yesterday, when I was young
There were so many songs
That waited to be sung
So many wild pleasures
That lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled
Eyes refused to see

There are so many songs
In me that won’t be sung
I feel the bitter taste
Of tears upon my tongue
And the time has come for me
To pay for yesterday
When I was young.

–Herbert Kretzmer & Charles Aznavour

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Be Like Claire

Want to be a better person?

Want to live a better, more fulfilling life?

Follow this two step process:

  1. Watch this video about Claire Wineland
  2. Be more like Claire

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It’s Time to Get Busy

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been busy for the past year or so completing a master’s degree that I started in 1984. Between re-certifying classes, researching my thesis topic, and writing my thesis, I’ve been really busy. Sadly, I haven’t had any time to write fiction. I’ve missed it, and for months, I’ve looked forward to getting back to working on my next novel.

Now that I’ve completed my master’s degree, there are a few things I’d like to accomplish.

There are two things I definitely want to complete by the end of the year. First, I want to complete the audio versions of my first three books. I’ve put this off for too long. I’ll be reading the books myself, and my daughter (a sound engineer) is going to be helping me out. I’m looking forward to getting this done.

Second, I want to complete (at least) the first draft of Second Chances, the novel I’ve been working on for nearly two years, and which was interrupted when I decided to finish my master’s degree. Second Chances is the story of former high school basketball players–all now in their 50’s–who get a chance to redeem the biggest, most demoralizing lose in team history.

The novel may be the most complicated book I’ve ever worked on. It involves telling the stories of six-eight different characters, the struggles they face, and the second chances they’re being given. It’s trickier than writing about just one character, but it’s much more satisfying to get right.

If I can finish those two things in the next five or six months, I’ll be happy. If by some miracle I finish both with time to spare, I’ll turn my attention to Leaving Home (formerly Paris), which is already in pretty good shape and shouldn’t take too long to get ready to publish. If there’s not enough time to get to Leaving Home this year, it will be first on the agenda for next year.

Today starts the countdown to the end of the year. It’s time to get busy.

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Better Late Than Never

Later this week, I’ll be traveling to Macomb, IL to finish something I started in 1984.

Way back then in the dark ages of the 1980’s, I was a 24-year old pup, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, I had just finished my first year at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. I loved law school, but I knew myself well enough to know that I couldn’t avoid all of the distractions the city of Chicago had to offer. I was there to attend school and study. The Second City had so many other options.

In law school, I was a C student. I loved what I was studying, but I didn’t spend nearly enough time studying it. I thought about transferring to a law school in a smaller city that offered more sanctuary from the real world. What I found was that most law schools had enough C students of their own. They weren’t interested in transferring in other schools’  C students.

I decided my best course of action was to return to Western Illinois University, where I got my undergraduate degree, and earn a master’s degree in political science. The plan called for me to earn good grades and to eventually get into a better law school, preferably in the south.

The plan worked, kind of. I got accepted into a couple of different law schools, but before I could go, I realized that I couldn’t afford to stay in school any longer. I was broke. It was time to leave school behind (at least for a while) and join the real world.

During fall semester 1985, I took the last of my graduate classes and worked on my thesis. School was coming to an end, and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I met with a recruiter for the Air Force and made the commitment that, if I did not get a job by the end of 1985, I was going to join the military. I was scheduled to take the test to get into Officer Candidate School on January 4, 1986.

My friend Brett was living in St. Louis at the time and was working for State Farm Insurance. He told me they had job openings in their auto insurance claims department, and he encouraged me to apply. I knew nothing about insurance. I really wasn’t interested in working for an insurance company. But I also didn’t want to join the military. So, on December 30, 1985—just two days shy of my self-imposed deadline—I interviewed for a job at State Farm.

In one day, I interviewed with four different people (in four separate interviews), and to my surprise, I was offered a job that same day. I was saved from going into the military (something I now kind of regret), and I was going to work for an insurance company.

Back in Macomb, I turned in my thesis, thinking I would leave for my new job in St. Louis with a master’s degree. The subject matter for the thesis had been approved by the chair of the Political Science Department, but when I turned in the paper, a new chairman had taken over. He did not approve my subject matter and said I’d have to write a new thesis. (In his defense, my thesis subject was more related to criminal justice than political science.)

I didn’t know what to do. All of my hard work had gone to waste, and I was preparing to leave school. The new department chairman told me not to worry. I had seven years to complete the thesis and still earn the degree. That sounded good. I could move to St. Louis, settle into my new job, and then begin work on my new thesis.

That never happened. Once I was away from Macomb and my new job took up most of my time, I largely forgot about the thesis. Years went by, and the only time I thought about the thesis was when my mom would chastise me for spending all the time, energy, and money on graduate school without having anything to show for it (Thanks a lot, Mom.)

Seven years went by in the blink of an eye. Time had run out and I didn’t complete my thesis. I wasn’t concerned. I had moved on. My career was taking off. I had married and started a family. Not completing my master’s degree didn’t bother me much. Of course, that’s not to say it didn’t bother me at all.

In August of last year, not completing graduate school began bothering me more than usual. I didn’t like that I had spent all of that time and money just to walk away without a degree. I thought about returning to school. I had a lot of questions. So, I contacted the Political Science Department at WIU, explained the situation, and asked if it was still possible to complete the master’s degree. As it turned out, it was. In fact, the person I spoke to seemed kind of excited to help me get through the program.

Since last August, I have been working on re-certifying my classes (writing papers to show that my knowledge is up-to-date on the subject matter of each class I took in 1984-85) and researching and writing a thesis (I made sure the subject matter was approved by everyone). Later this week, I’m meeting with three professors from WIU to defend my thesis.

It’s not supposed to take thirty-seven years to complete a master’s degree, but that’s just how it worked out. I’m excited to defend my thesis and excited to earn my master’s degree (assuming the defense goes well). And maybe, just maybe, the voice of my mom that has played over and over again in my head will be quieted. I think she’d be proud.

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The Bixby Letter

THE STORY

In September 1864, as the Civil War raged, a widow named Lydia Parker Bixby approached Massachusetts Adjunct General William Schouler and informed him that five of her sons, all serving in the Union Army, had been killed. Schouler was touched by the loss suffered by the widow, and asked Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew to notify the President of Mrs. Bixby’s story and requested that the President send a letter of condolence to her.

Governor Andrew relayed the request to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War. The Secretary asked Andrew to provide him with the names of Bixby’s sons and the units in which they served. Schouler retrieved the information from Mrs. Bixby and sent it to Secretary Stanton, who then passed the request on to the President.

In addition to requesting the letter, Schouler made an appeal for contributions for the families of soldiers at Thanksgiving. The appeal was published in both the Boston Evening Traveller and the Boston Evening Transcript, and it included information about Mrs. Bixby and the five sons she had lost in the war. A portion of the proceeds from the appeal were delivered to Mrs. Bixby on Thanksgiving Day. The following day, she received the letter of condolence from the President.

A copy of Lincoln’s letter was published in the Boston Evening Transcript. Lincoln’s sincere condolences struck a chord with readers of the letter, and it served to increase his popularity and strengthen the war effort among the people of Boston, and throughout Massachusetts.

THE TRUTH

It’s true that Lydia Parker Bixby spoke to Adjunct General Schouler. What was said between the two is a matter of controversy. Schouler was clear that Bixby claimed her five sons had been killed in the war. Some time later, after receiving the President’s letter, Bixby claimed she never told Schouler five of her sons had died in the war. The truth was, Bixby had lost two sons, not five.

Of the five Bixby sons that served during the war:

  • Sargent Charles N. Bixby was killed in action near Fredricksburg, Virginia on May 3, 1863,
  • Private Oliver Cromwell Bixby was killed in action on July 30, 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia,
  • Private Arthur Edward Bixby deserted his post at Fort Richardson, Virginia on May 28, 1862. He hid out until after the war, then returned to Boston,
  • Private George Way Bixby was captured at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 and was held as a POW at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. Reports differ as to what happened to him after his confinement. One report indicates that he died while in custody at Salisbury. Another indicates he joined Confederate forces and re-joined the fight.
  • Corporal Henry Cromwell Bixby was captured by Confederate troops at Gettysburg and was sent to Richmond, Virginia. He was released on March 7, 1864 and subsequently received an honorable discharge.

Astonishingly, the War Department had records for all five Bixby boys, but ignored them, instead relying on Mrs. Bixby’s claims.

The letter from the President that received so much praise throughout Massachusetts seemed not to impress the widow Bixby. In fact, Elizabeth Towers, a granddaughter of Mrs. Bixby, reported that her grandmother was a southern sympathizer who was indignant over the letter. She claimed that Mrs. Bixby had “little good to say about President Lincoln.” It was reported that Mrs. Bixby destroyed the letter after reading it.

The copy of the letter that was given to the Boston Evening Transcript was also destroyed by the newspaper’s editor after it was printed in the paper. Since then, several people have claimed they have copies of the original letter, but the claims have always proved to be forgeries.

Along with the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, the Bixby Letter is considered one of Lincoln’s finest written works. It has been quoted in memorials, included on epitaphs, and was even used in the popular film, Saving Private Ryan.

However, many scholars believe that the letter was not written by Lincoln. They instead attribute the letter’s authorship to John Hay, Lincoln’s assistant private secretary.

Lincoln was incredibly busy during the last few months of 1864, executing the war and trying to keep his cabinet together. It’s very possible that he delegated the task of writing the letter to Hay. However, there is no definitive evidence to support the contention that Hay was the author.

THE LETTER

Here is the letter of condolence that President Lincoln sent to the widow Bixby:

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,–

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

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A True Abomination

A conservative Christian friend recently wrote a Facebook post saying how much she enjoyed and appreciated the book Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles. In the book, Coles describes his life growing up as a Christian, but never being attracted to girls. When he hits puberty, he realizes that he is attracted exclusively to other guys. He loves Jesus with all his heart, but he is sexually attracted to boys.

As Coles’ story unfolds, he explains how he came to the conclusion that he was not a mistake. God created him just the way he was. Even so, in order to live by God’s word, he has to forego any gay relationships. He can’t be in a loving relationship with another man, and, to remain true to his Christian beliefs, he must remain chaste.

My friend said Coles’ story opened her eyes to the struggles LGBTQ Christians live with and the book made her appreciate how much faith and “love for the Lord”  it took for Coles to make the decision to deny his earthly urges in exchange for eternal life in Heaven.

As someone who is not a conservative Christian, I initially felt good about my friend’s admission that she had gone from believing a person couldn’t be both a LGBTQ and a Christian, to understanding that even LGBTQ people can be part of the Christian family, provided they live a life worthy of God. It was a small step, but at least it was in the right direction.

My good feelings quickly disappeared when I began reading the comments to my friend’s post. One person wrote:

“Could you show me in the Bible where it is ok to live this way and be a Christian? The Bible says it is an abomination. People who are unbelievers love, but their eternal destiny is also hell without Jesus. I can give you all the verses in the Bible that say what the end result is. Love is telling people the truth about what God’s Word says! No one likes to hear the truth because it is hard to swallow. But when you show them, and they sincerely want truth, the Holy Spirit will convict them. It is our job to speak the hard truths in love. The greatest love we can show-is by telling sinners to repent and OBEY GOD!. Especially if they profess to believe in Jesus! It is a matter of life and death! 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 7, Revelation 21:27, Ephesians 4:9-16, 2 Peter 2, 2 Peter 3:14-18”

Another person wrote:

“Agreed. And as this review by Denny [B]urk states, there are some significant theological issues with [C]oles conclusions on quite a few things, first and foremost, the celebate gay identify genre…Haven’t read the book but have seen enough of the same kind of talks and even some debates with those who advocate the same perspective and even though they try to support their case, the identity genre and resultant mindset that is presented cannot be aligned or supported at all with the clear reading of scripture. And that was the emphasis of Burks review. I just would encourage you to not be so taken by the emotion of the struggle and conclusion presented in the book. It might be compelling, but we also need to be making [sure] it can be supported by scripture. That’s what Burk and others are trying to convey.”

As I read these comments–which to me, are filled with hate disguised as Christian love–I was reminded of the letter that circulated several years ago to Dr. Laura Schlessinger. If you’re not familiar, Dr. Laura was a conservative Christian talk show host who often railed at the depravity and sinfulness of a LGBTQ lifestyle.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

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Christians like my friend and those in her comments tend to be very selective in the Bible passages they choose to follow and those they don’t. To me, that’s the real abomination. They judge people harshly for what they see as a violation of one of God’s laws (homosexuality), but they fail to hold others, including themselves, to God’s other laws. Seems a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

As long as we’re recommending Bible verses, let me recommend Matthew 7:1-3 (NKJV) to my friend and those that commented on her post:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

I’m not nearly the Christian my friends are, but I do recall Jesus commanding us to love one another, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and house the poor. I think I’ll stick with that.

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How to Make Your Soul Grow: A Life Lesson from the Great Kurt Vonnegut

In 2006, an English teacher at Xavier High School in New York gave her students an unusual assignment. The teacher, Ms. Lockwood, instructed her students to write to their favorite author and ask for the author’s advice. The assignment was designed to help build the student’s persuasive writing skills.

Five students chose to write to Kurt Vonnegut, author of several novels and short stories, including his most famous work, Slaughterhouse Five. As it turned out, Vonnegut was the only author to answer any of the letters sent by the class. Here’s what he had to say:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

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