Not all heroes wear capes. Not all champions get trophies.

Morgan Hentz is an all-universe volleyball player. Two-time All-American, and two-time NCAA champion with Stanford.

I worked with Morgan’s dad Mike at an ad agency eons ago. We still get together for the occasional happy hour, but those are few and far between, for reasons that will become patently obvious when you read this wonderful article about Morgan and the Hentz family on the Stanford Athletics website.

Morgan’s younger brother Louie had a cancerous brain tumor at age one. Louie and his mom, Kerin, spent a year at St. Jude’s in Memphis… yes, a full year… while Mike mostly stayed home with Morgan and her sister. Wrap your head around that for a moment: a mom separated from her young daughters, a father 500 miles away while his infant son was fighting for his life.

Then the other shoe dropped: at age 3, Louie was diagnosed with autism.

Louie does not interact through spoken language – other than simple wants and needs. He’s 16 and weighs 300 pounds because of his meds, and can be difficult to control physically. His life has been one of appointments and therapists. His development has been slow — hopeful on a good day. He is repeating some lines from familiar movies and videos, creating some optimism about brain development. But there’s no way to know.

Morgan is a superstar, but so is the rest of her family.

photo from GoStanford.com article. ISIPhotos

Long ago, Kerin and Mike learned to sacrifice things that other couples take for granted – nights and weekends away, dinners out, and even time with their other children. Instead, they’ve learned to roll with whatever happens and be prepared for whatever comes next.

Every day is a new challenge. Mike and Kerin have been playing at the highest level for 16 years. They’re world champs in the game that matters most.

“I feel like I would never wish what Louie had on anyone, but I think that because of my family and being able to make the most of the situation, I’ve learned a lot from him and my parents. They are the biggest role models in my life — the sacrifices they have made for our family. They have always put us kids first.”

photo from GoStanford.com article

Please read the article by David Kiefer. It’s a beautiful profile of a beautiful family.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

I’m not talking about the “holiday season” (I’m a USDA Certified, Grade A Grinch about that nonsense).

I’m talkin’ ’bout the college basketball season. And in particular Xavier University basketball. As an alum, as a 25+ year season ticket holder, I love it — it gives me something to look forward to during the dreary days of winter. Even the cheesy hype videos give me goose bumps.

I used to just have a single season ticket, sitting with a few friends. But last year, I added another season ticket, so each game is also a chance to spend some quality time with one of my kids, or my wife, or a friend. The games have created some fantastic memories over the years…

Here’s to many more magical moments. Let’s go X!

The poor get poorer

Nick DiNardo is a fellow parent of Walnut Hills High School kids. Our sons played on the same junior high soccer team, and our daughter participated in the Ultimate Frisbee club that he leads/coaches.

(Photo: Jeff Dean/The Enquirer)

Nick’s day job is Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. He was featured in a Cincinnati Enquirer special section a couple of Sundays ago. The Enquirer is doing a four-part series on the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and it’s well worth the reading investment. You quickly realize how the economic collapse of a decade ago created an even greater divide between the haves and the have nots, and how the cards are stacked against the poor.

The article that featured Nick is about payday lenders. After reading it, the term usury comes to mind.

The article is a great example of how hard it is for the poor (including the working poor) to keep their heads above water. All it takes is a single, solitary, unexpected expense — an urgent care visit or car breakdown — to crush you.

Most payday loan customers are poor, earning about $30,000 a year. Most pay exorbitant fees and interest rates that have run as high as 590%. And most don’t read the fine print, which can be unforgiving.

Cincinnati Enquirer article

Read the article to find out how a working single mom wound up paying $3,878 for an $800 loan. And she’d still be on the hamster wheel if not for Nick’s intervention.

Payday lending may not be illegal, but it sure as heck is unethical.

DiNardo hopes the new Ohio law regulating the loans will mean fewer cases like hers in the future, but he’s not sure. While mortgage rates go for 3.5% and car loans hover around 5%, poor people without access to credit will still turn to payday lenders for help.


And when they do, even under the new law, they’ll pay interest rates and fees as high as 60%.


In DiNardo’s world, this is progress. 
 

Cincinnati Enquirer article

It’s not “just business”…. and it’s not anywhere close to being just.

The Marty Party ends today

Marty Brennaman, who has been the Cincinnati Reds play-by-play radio announcer for the past 46 seasons, will step away from the mic following this afternoon’s “titanic struggle” (that’s a Marty-ism) with the Milwaukee Brewers.

When I was 6, my family moved from New Jersey to Arkansas… sparing me the ignominy of being one of those obnoxious fans of the Yankees or Mets. With no geographic allegiance to a particular team, I was an MLB free agent fan.

In those pre-cable dark ages of the early 70s, all we had was the NBC Game of the Week (Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola) and the radio. I quickly latched onto the Cincinnati Reds, also known as The Big Red Machine. Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Geronimo… they were my heroes.

The Reds flagship radio station was — and still is — 700 WLW-AM, a 50,000 clear channel station. The station’s signal covered dozens of states at night, including Arkansas. So I would tune in nearly every game. Marty joined in 1974 (replacing Al Michaels), teaming up with former teenage major league pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

Marty & Joe were the soundtrack to my baseball life. Marty’s signature victory cry of “… and this one belongs to the Reds!” has been the source of thousands of smiles over my lifetime.

Marty’s last call is today. They’re giving away transistor radios to kids who attend, which is certainly anachronistic in the streaming media/smartphone era, but it’s totally fitting for the generation that grew up with him.

Illustration: Clinton Reno (clintonreno.com) from this cool article from a fellow Reds fan

I can’t attend the game (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of play?), but I’ll be sure to tune in for one last party with Marty.

Source: Cincinnati Reds

Will the (pizza) circle be unbroken

Our daughter Leah started her first real job Monday. She’s working at Ramundo’s Pizzeria. It’s a family-owned small business, but it looms large within the dubbatrubba family.

Our oldest, Gabriel (age 19) has been working there since the location in our neighborhood opened two and a half years ago. Son #2 Peter also started working there when he was 16. Now he’s away at college, but Leah (who turned 16 in June) slid right into his old slot, working the sandwich/salad bar. She didn’t even have to interview – her older brothers’ work ethic got her a free pass.

Gabriel has moved up the food chain (pizza chain?), starting as part of the pizza-making crew, then doing deliveries (which pays better), and now he’s the night manager a couple times a week, working around his class schedule at the University of Cincinnati.

The owner is super nice. The pay is good… the freedom it affords our kids is even better. Gas money for the car. Yet another guitar for Gabriel, some Doc Martens for Leah, and funding for a Robinhood investment account for Peter (dude doesn’t buy stuff… he still has every nickel he ever made).

The owner is named Tony Ramundo… but you probably could’ve guessed that. (Photo credit: Forrest Sellars, Community Press, in this article)

But it’s not about the cash, really. It’s learning to show up when you’re supposed to, working hard when you’re there, treating customers with courtesy and respect, getting along with your co-workers, earning promotions through your efforts. All the habits they’re forming now that will serve them well, well beyond when they’re serving pizzas.

Free shift meals too!

It’s said that small businesses are the lifeblood of a community, and the American economy. I’ll raise a toast to that! (Craft beer buckets available at Ramundo’s for the incredibly low price of five cans for $15…)

photo credit: Yelp

Nature’s air conditioners

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree

Joyce Kilmer

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation has a great program that offers free trees to city residents if they plant them in their front yards. Pretty up your plot and suck more carbon dioxide out of the air… win-win.

It’s called the Fall ReLeaf program, and you can request a tree (or trees) online. They have several varieties available, from small trees such as Serviceberry and Royal Raindrops Crabapple to towering ones like the Dawn Redwood and Northern Red Oak. And you don’t get some tiny twig of a tree that has a slim chance of surviving. The trees they dole out are typically a few years old and approximately five feet tall. As long as you plant them in the right place, they’ll thrive.

Trees Without Hats

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation used to offer the program in the Spring, but realized that Fall is better for transplanting. Five of the trees in my own front yard are from this program – a Yoshino Cherry, a Black Plum, a Frontier Elm, a Queen Maple and a Kousa Dogwood.

There are so many environmental and social benefits to trees.

Source: the great 30 second video embedded below

And they’re fun too… well, after the raking is over.

It’s a program I really dig. You will too!

They grow up so fast…

In case you missed it: a youth football/cheer squad organization in a town just a few miles from Cincinnati was requiring kids as young as age seven to sell tickets in a gun raffle as a fundraiser. (Full story from cincinnati.com is here. All excerpts below are from that article.)

Absurd is absolutely right. Asinine.

Because the brave mom questioned the “wisdom” of such an event, the organization’s leaders allowed kids to opt out of selling tickets. However, the youth org is still raffling off the type of semi-automatic weapon of war that has been used in several mass shootings/killings. The Junior Lions need to raise funds to… wait for it… pay their insurance bill. Because youth football can be a bit dangerous, don’t ya know?

Kudos to Heather Chilton for trying to provide a sanity check in a country that desperately needs more of it.

Biking and breathing

“Just breathe.” It’s become a mantra in our multi-tasking, mile-a-minute society.

But if you have Cystic Fibrosis, it can be difficult just TO breathe.

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. 

https://www.cff.org/What-is-CF/About-Cystic-Fibrosis/

I don’t ride my bike as often as I used to, but I do participate in the Cystic Fibrosis Cycle for Life event in Cincinnati every fall. I’ll be riding a 32-mile route, which is no small feat for an old man with creaky knees pedaling a rusty (but trusty) bike.

Sure, my lungs will be burning a bit, especially on the hills. But that’s a not-so-subtle reminder of the challenges that folks with CF face on a daily basis. As I pedal, I’ll be thinking of the people I know who are affected by this disease: John’s daughter, Walter’s stepson, Paul’s niece and nephew…

I’m sure you know someone battling CF too. If you feel so inclined, I hope you’ll donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and support me in my ride. You can do so here:

http://fightcf.cff.org/site/TR/Cycle/42_Greater_Cincinnati_Cincinnati?px=2458867&pg=personal&fr_id=7574

If you can’t swing it, no worries. Either way, I know you’ll be rooting for me to ride like this:

Even though I’ll really look more like this:

Off the beaten path…

I like to zig when everyone else is zagging. I also like to zig when everyone else is Zumba-ing. (Don’t try this at home, you might pull a hamstring.) If there’s a mainstream, I like to swim the other way. I don’t follow fashion (ask my wife, she’ll gladly attest to this). I like my music weird. I like weird in general.

I like my businesses that way too… the quiet coffee shop on a desolate corner, the hole-in-the-wall bar in a forgotten part of town, the mom-and-pop shop in a sea of corporate sameness. Landlocked Social House was all of those: quaint, quiet coffee shop by day, hole-in-the-wall bar by night, run by a husband and wife who became a mom and pop about a year after opening up.

The reasons I loved it are probably the reasons it’s closing down. It was tucked away on a street that was a one-way street for eons… and a lot of Cincinnatians probably don’t realize that part of it has changed to two-way. Landlocked was right on the corner where the street changes from two-way to one-way, and right by the interstate… hence the “Landlocked” name. Easy to love once you experienced it, but tough to get to, and nowhere near top of mind or “in crowd” status.

I was a huge fan, but I only made it there a handful of times… usually dragging along some other folks who’d never been, for a happy hour or nightcap. I’d sing Landlock Social House’s praises to anyone and everyone, but I’m a middle aged suburban dude, not a social influencer. (I should change my last name to Kardashian, that might help.)

Photo credit: Brittany Thornton, from CityBeat article linked above

The “mom” (Anne Decker) was the coffee expert, and the “pop” (Andrew Decker) was a craft beer pro. They and their staff were super-friendly. They hosted trivia nights, and chef pop-ups that were quite popular. No reason was given for the closing, but running an independent business is an uphill battle in the best of locations, much less when you’re under the radar and off the beaten path. Opening at 6:30 a.m. for the coffee crowd and staying open until midnight for the beer gang, six days a week, isn’t very family-friendly either, especially for a couple with a young child.

Thank you to everyone who made this place special. We will never forget you, we will never forget our time together. We will be open this week. Come pay your respects to this thing we built together. Landlocked Social House is Dead, Long Live Landlocked Social House. #landlockedsocialhouse

It’s just another independent business that didn’t make it to the five year mark. You can find dozens of examples in every city. But this one really stings, and it’ll sting even more with every Starbucks cup I see.

The XU crew

It all started with this photo:

My college buddy Mike O’Maley used to recreate this scene by hanging upside down from his dorm loft and saying the famous line from Sixteen Candles:

Mike had the “parted down the middle” hairstyle that was popular in the early 80s, and he was the spitting image of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. That’s how Mike earned his nickname “The Donger”… which we still call him to this day. (Of course, he also used to spring this trick on unsuspecting folks who were visiting his dorm room in the wee hours to hear his roommate play the full-sized piano that they snuck into the dorms, but that’s a story for another day.)

In May, Mike texted this photo to several of “the old gang” from our Xavier days, which created quite a bit of chatter (yes, old people DO text!) and eventually our friend Tom suggested that we all try to get together. Which, miracle of miracles, actually happened last night. Tom drove up from Louisville, Donger and his wife Missy (a.k.a. “Mister Mister”) drove over from Indy, and a few of the locals showed up as well. We had a nice dinner, then went to the old (and pretty much only) Xavier watering hole, Dana Gardens.

A good time was had by all. Sure, we’ve changed a bit over the past… (gulp)… 37 years since we first set foot on campus. But getting together reminded me of this passage from a blog post from Gaping Void back in April:

It’s a bit like college. You remember it so fondly, not because anything you did was that special or unique (study, go to class, sit around talking, go to parties, try to find a mate, i.e. the same as millions and millions of other students), but who you did it with (i.e. your lifelong, best friends).

That’s so true. The friends I made in college are some of my favorite people in the entire universe, and I truly treasure our friendship. We may not get together as often as we’d like, but we’ll always be super-connected.