Is There Good In Evil?

I have recently been hesitant to make TV recommendations in what is supposedly our current “golden era” of television. The fact is there are so many good, quality shows out there I suspect some folks occasionally wind up feeling a bit frustrated because they know they’ll never be able to watch everything of interest. I know in my case there is a lot of sensational TV I’ll flat-out never get to, but I’m resigned to that fate.

I recently came across an article titled “Please Stop Forcing Your Favorite TV Show On Me.” It expresses a couple of theories regarding human behavior which I see merit in, behavior which presents at an early age:

Nobody wants to be told to do something.

If you tell somebody not to get involved with something, they’ll likely try to.

So, for heaven’s sake please do not watch Evil, a series which just got renewed for a fourth season on Paramount +. Currently in Season 3, new episodes of Evil drop on Sundays.

My wife and I started watching from the very first episode in September 2019 when it debuted on CBS. Thirteen episodes later, my wife wasn’t quite sure how she felt about watching it going forward. I definitely wanted to see what was next, especially when it was announced later the show was shifting from CBS over to Paramount +. The creators of the show, Robert & Michelle King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight), were now being given a much bigger canvas to paint upon. The broadcast censorship reins were taken off, and their characters could now live more realistic lives when it comes to having no subject being off limits, foul language, expressions of physical intimacy…as well as depicting more…pure…evil.

The show’s premise is simple enough. Three diverse personalities come together to form a “dream team” of sorts investigating extraordinary events. The goal – to determine if there is a rational, scientific explanation behind these events…or not. A prospective priest wrestling with his career path, a cynical psychologist juggling work while serving as both parents for her children, and a no-nonsense contractor who offers an “Earthly” reason for all he encounters.

That decision to move to a streaming service and engage with the full velocity of the Kings’ creative storytelling skill set has paid off. I am sure you’ve also heard this line from friends and relatives about their favorite TV series. “There is nothing like it on television right now.”

As far as I know, there is NOTHING like Evil on TV right now.

God vs. Satan is fought on cerebral and hand-to-hand levels alike. This show questions and challenges beliefs in religion, relationships…and reality. Twists and turns exist along the way. Some sudden shocks and jump scares, but other frights proceed at a slow burn. Yet, there are guardrails built into the scripts which ensure a balance between at least two…but often three…viewpoints and reasoning on whether events, possessions, demons, miracles, etc. have explanations that are faith-based, science-based…or somewhere “in between.”

Several critics have compared it to The X-Files series from the 90’s. I think that’s fine if you’re trying to give people familiar with that show a general idea of what is going on in this one, but I believe there are more layers to the characters in Evil…as well as more protagonists.

I don’t know if you put any stock at all in the Rotten Tomatoes site, but critics there currently have Season 1 rated at 92%, Season 2 at 95%…and Season 3 at 100%. The numbers are trending upwards, and that tracks for me.

Season 1 does start very slowly, and there is some real weirdness which will have you questioning your decision to even give it a go. If you do start watching Evil, do give it time to produce a return on your investment. Get to Season 2.

The writing, editing, score, and direction are all top-shelf. The cast is stellar: Mike Colter (The Good Wife, Luke Cage), Katja Herbers (The Leftovers, Westworld), Aasif Mandvi (The Proposal, Million Dollar Arm), Michael Emerson (Lost, Person Of Interest), Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope), Kurt Fuller (Psych), and Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

Colter, Herbers, and Mandvi come together to investigate and navigate all kinds of crazy. Within an episode you have your case-of-the-week (like…how much does a soul actually weigh?), but there are also character storylines with no quick, one-episode conclusion which continue to develop.

Emerson’s portrayal of forensic psychologist Leland Townsend is a candidate for the most vile, evil villain on any current series. Yet, this show provides its fair share of laughs…especially with a family whose well-meaning kids have a habit of all talking at the same time.

As it turns out…I am suggesting you give Evil a look. If the timing or circumstances aren’t right, write it down for future consideration. Keep it in mind. There’s an awful lot of good…in Evil.

 

Picture Courtesy Paramount +

MCU Phase Four – Staying Connected

Contains Spoilers…

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – for those who have not traversed it – is a reference to the collection of theatrical movies and streaming series featuring their comic book superhero characters. The basic template Marvel has utilized is telling distinct stories about their characters, while also interweaving those experiences into the experiences of other characters, forming a team narrative.

The discussions among Marvel fans in my little corner of the world these days are two-fold…does Marvel recognize what they need to do to keep a large, global audience fully engaged…and if they do…does that audience feel inclined to continue their investment in all things Marvel based on their recent content?

In 2018-2019, Marvel released Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in theatres, which served as the culmination of what they call Phase Three of their planned storytelling. Phase Four of their theatrical schedule began with the release of Black Widow last year. Since then, they’ve released Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the recently released Thor: Love and Thunder.

In this new Phase, Marvel also has released a great deal of existing and new character storylines within their streaming series: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If?, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel.

I have seen all of these Marvel properties. While I enjoyed comics when I was young, I have little recollection of them now. When I watch Marvel movies or series, I don’t have that iconic comic book background to know what is canon to the comics or not…and I don’t have a clue what might come next. So to provide some context, the following is from a guy who only absorbs what the Marvel movies and series provide. I rarely know how it ties back to the source material, and I’m certainly unable to puzzle together where superhero stories may eventually crossover…and a common villain or villains might appear.

First off, it should be noted in concluding its prior Phases Marvel did an incredible job of putting together several blockbuster theatrical releases with a finite number of characters, in a limited number of films, then intersecting their stories together to forge a high-quality resolution to the overall, narrative arc. The bar was set really, really high for Phase Four.

It is understandable Marvel’s fan base might shrink a bit after Phase Three. There were casual fans who got aboard and enjoyed the comic book ride, but also concluded it was unique and could never be topped…and have just moved on. The graphic novel novelty was surely going to wear off for some.

Maybe they can bring those casual fans back at some point…depending on how Phase Four plays out.

It appears Marvel is ignoring the fact a chunk of their fan base, because of all that prior formulaic success, is now expecting new movies and series to at least partially bind characters’ stories together. They are looking for connections to other superhero storylines, pushing the overall narrative for this current group of superheroes forward…outside of whatever current story is being rolled out at the time. World-building is essential to Marvel’s success, but so is team-building.

I believe Marvel also needs to reconcile many fans don’t want to feel like they have to research articles covering source material just to try and find potential connections, or guess at a possible overall arc for when this next wave of superheroes will likely come together to fight an ultimate threat…as the Avengers did vs. Thanos in the last two Phase Three films. Marvel has fans who do not know a thing about the comics these characters came to life within, and still have no interest in searching for connections among superheroes.

Marvel has always enjoyed winking at their fans, dropping hints in mid-credit or end scenes of what might come next. They’ll release some still pictures here, tease a trailer there. That was fine when they were producing a relative handful of theatrical releases with a limited number of characters in earlier Phases, but with the velocity of content released early in Phase Four the firehose of information pouring out doesn’t contain relevant info connecting these superheroes. They underestimated the logical impatience many in their audience would have regarding wanting to see superheroes and their stories start team-building to at least some extent with each release.

Bottom line…I feel Marvel released too much too soon in Phase Four, and very little has been connected between the characters. And, I think that’s a problem Marvel has to pivot towards and get corrected.

Spider-Man: No Way Home was a huge hit with most Marvel fans (me included), but a lot of what has been released recently – movies and series alike – have met with mixed reactions (me included).

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was madness. Poor Scarlet Witch. That girl has been to hell and back a couple of times now. What else can they do to her? Doctor Strange has been reduced to being a reckless, dangerous hack of a sorcerer. There was mention Marvel was going to be introducing more horror into their Phase Four. Indeed, I felt this script and story were horrible.

In Thor: Love and Thunder, Marvel did not understand the prior Thor film (Thor: Ragnarok) was successful first and foremost because of its uniqueness. With tons more humor and wackiness than was seen in a Marvel film before, and set for a third of the time within a bizarro, off-the-rails rainbow world with Jeff Goldblum of all people as a villain, it was never going to be replicated. Never. Yet, that’s exactly what Marvel so blatantly, obviously tried with Love and Thunder. They got crazy lazy, and for a character that didn’t even need another solo chapter, this movie for me landed with a thud similar to Thor’s hammer. If you pushed me for a compliment, I will say that even though this journey was God-awful throughout the ending was…acceptable.

It’s my belief these last two theatrical releases have been below the quality Marvel has given us in the past – especially with the characters of Thor and Doctor Strange – and these films barely moved the needle towards where we may be headed with the rest of Phase Four.

Love and Thunder has made over $300 million worldwide. Multiverse of Madness is closing in on a global total approaching $1 billion. Cracks in Marvel’s superiority at the box office certainly haven’t appeared in ticket sales. Audience surveys and critic reviews are where some fault lines have started to develop.

I believe Marvel needs to reconcile themselves to the fact if they want to have a chance of maintaining the lofty heights of their superhero success, their theatrical and streaming products going forward must feature more guest appearances…more hints…more clues…as to how all these current superheroes will come together to save the universe.

I’m not asking them to not surprise me…and I don’t need for everything to be spelled out completely. I’m just looking for Marvel to provide superhero storylines that start to relate in at least a partial way to each other…for these characters to start moving towards each other…building a new team…towards what hopefully will be another fan-tastic finish.

I want to stay connected with Marvel’s Phase Four. I’m just asking them to start making more connections.

 

Picture Courtesy Marvel Studios

The I In Team

The first thing that comes to mind when I consider what I would be like as a head coach in a team sport is…I would work hard to ensure every player got to see at least some action in every game.

That concept was forged when I was just thirteen years old. At that age, I was a 7th grade, third-string quarterback on my junior high football team, which consisted of players from 7th-9th grade.

The starting quarterback was a 9th grader, a son of one of our senior high school team’s coaches. Mind you, he did not become a starter on that pedigree alone. He was an excellent player who went on to play some college ball as well. The back-up quarterback was also older and more experienced than I…not nearly as good as our starter…but definitely better than me.

Our school enjoyed a healthy advantage when it came to student enrollment, and as such were dominant against most schools who had a lower number of students to draw from. In this particular season, our team won all six of its games. I believe the “closest” any team got to us all year may have been 21 points. We overwhelmed all of our opponents that year.

The head coach of our junior high team (who was a coach on the senior high team also) visibly enjoyed not only defeating opponents, but annihilating them. In that spirit, our starting players played almost every play of every game.

In our last game of the season, we went up by 30-0 fairly quickly and maintained that score to the final whistle. I did not play in that game.

I did not play in any of our games that year.

Even though we dominated the opposition in every one of our games, with outcomes never in doubt, I did not play one single play.

As I recall, the second-string QB did get into one game that year…but at another position. Our stellar, super-star quarterback – for whatever reason – had to take every snap from center that season. We not only had to win, but had to win by as much as possible.

Football is a challenging game to play. Practice for upcoming seasons often begins in relentless heat and humidity…and I grew up in a time when water breaks were still considered quite the luxury rather than mandatory. And then of course…there’s all those repetitive collisions with other people to consider. It’s a brutal sport at any age.

I knew I’d have a big adjustment at my new school, and I will admit things between my parents could have been better at that time, but I really wanted to play football and was determined to do so. I kept my grades up, made some new friends, and showed up for football practice every single day.

Yet, practice football was all I was accorded. I did not get to actually play football.

I was devastated.

After that season, I focused on basketball and baseball. I also played a year of soccer…but football was over for me. Yes, in those other sports there were still times when I was the guy not playing so much, and other times when others were most often watching me play. It just wasn’t as severe as that 7th grade football season.

I think back…what if I had played just one play that year…played in any of those games at all? Would I have stuck with football? I just could not reconcile returning to it after sitting on the sidelines the whole season. For sure, being better at those other sports certainly factored into the decision to step away from it as well.

Next month, the Little League Baseball International World Series will once again return to Williamsport PA. It’s not that far from where I live, and I have attended a couple of them. This season marks the 75th anniversary of the World Series, and it once again will be a late Summer ritual for fans young and old alike. Several years ago, there was a new category of rules added to Little League Baseball called Mandatory Play. It is as it sounds, making sure all players on a team actually get to play in actual games…not just practice. I think it’s a great thing.

I fully recognize the priority of a head coach, especially at “business” levels, is to win. It’s just my feeling to help ensure an entire team stays actively engaged throughout the year, what better way to do so than to have each player alert to the fact they’re going to be called upon to contribute at any moment? Seasons are long. I think a no-brainer way to keep your players motivated is to assure them they aren’t just going to practice…but play…all year.

I hear high school, college and professional head coaches lament the fact they don’t have enough depth on their teams, are lacking at certain positions, etc. These are often the same coaches who never use their benches no matter what. Maybe their substitutes would be better if they let them into competition once in a while? Who knows, they might find out one or more can contribute more than first thought? Some athletes shine brightest when the bright lights are on…and the minutes actually count for something.

If my team’s substitutes were clearly a couple notches down in ability below my starters, I would still work hard to find a way to get them onto the field, onto the court, etc. I’d be rotating them into play with the majority of starters still playing. I would find ways to not compromise the team’s chances of winning, but still making sure everyone truly felt like a part of the team’s fortunes.

I acknowledge there are team sports where getting everyone onto the playing surface each time out isn’t feasible. I also get the tremendous amount of pressure on head coaches at any level…to just win.

Still, I’d like to think even if it sounds naïve or idealistic on the surface, deep down I’d aspire for my teams to always play together…not just practice together.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

What’s In A Name?

Throughout the Internet’s relatively brief but amazing history, one thing we can always count on is a thoughtful and intelligent response when you ask it for creative advice.

Several years ago, the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council asked the Internet to come up with an inspirational name for a $240 million-dollar British Navy polar scientific research ship.

The winning name was Boaty McBoatface.

By a wide margin.

The Research Council then decided to quickly pivot away from that suggestion, instead naming the vessel the R.R.S. Sir David Attenborough after the famed naturalist. However, they did honor the Internet’s opinion by naming the lead vehicle among three remote-controlled submarines being carried aboard that ship as Boaty McBoatface.

As it turns out, the initial suggestion for Boaty came from BBC Radio’s James Hand, and that came about from an Adopt-A-Bird program a few years earlier. Boaty’s popularity was apparently an homage to…Hooty McOwlface.

(Mr. Hand did apologize to the Research Council as the Boaty votes started pouring in…)

Names aside, Boaty has over the years become a key player in assessing marine ecosystems and the health of the UK’s waters, and also will be a contributor of information that will help measure the impact of climate change.

Other historic moments in ask-the-Internet history:

Austin, Texas officials passed on the Internet’s recommendation of naming their Solid Waste Services Department the Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts (after the lead singer of the band Limp Bizkit).

Slovak officials balked on the Internet’s advice in naming a pedestrian and cycling bridge near their border with Austria after actor Chuck Norris.

Mountain Dew drank in the early Internet responses towards selecting the name for their new apple-flavored beverage…promptly pulling the plug on their “Dub The Dew” campaign after Hitler Did Nothing Wrong took the lead.

Pitbull honored the Internet’s selection of which US Walmart location should host one of his concerts…the most remote one in Kodiak, Alaska.

Circling back to Boaty, the Research Council has also utilized him in marketing campaigns for children to understand the nature and value of maritime research.

There still remains those who will reach out to the Internet for advice. A couple of winters ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation welcomed Plowy McPlowface to its snow-moving squadron.

We bought ourselves one of those Christmas mini-trees last December – for the first time – with the thought we’d only keep it through the Holidays as a small yet special reminder of the season when walking by our patio doors.

The tree has since maneuvered itself inside to an encouraging corner of the house, and it now looks like it will make its way to another Christmas.

With the tree now being a full-time resident, it only seemed logical to give it a name. I did not need to solicit the Internet for suggestions.

Hello, Snowy McSnowface…

 

Pictures Courtesy Natural Environment Research Council/The Guardian – Metro News

ClickClickKnow

So there I was last night, re-watching the opening episode from the fourth season of the HBO series Westworld just before the second episode of this new season was to debut, and…

(We interrupt this post to advise readers in order to get the point of this post you do not…repeat do not…have to know anything about Westworld. If you don’t know what’s going on with Westworld that’s just fine, because none of us who have watched it from the very beginning know what the hell is going on either.)

…at the end of this re-watch episode I was reminded of a beautiful piece of instrumental music playing towards its conclusion. I had initially figured it was original music recorded for the show and probably not available just yet. However, I really liked it and was determined I should try to research its origin on the chance I could get a copy somewhere. I know there are websites which list background music used on movies and shows…but that info isn’t always made available immediately and I wanted to know now.

I searched #westworld on Twitter from the week prior when the episode first aired…and what-do-ya-know…a Twitter user had in fact tweeted out last week how cool it was Westworld used an instrumental from Lana Del Rey’s song, “Video Games.”

So, then I was off to iTunes to confirm that was in fact the same piece. Yep, it was. Then, over to Wikipedia to see what if any entries were there…and what-do-ya-know…it had a new entry stating an orchestral cover of “Video Games” was played at the end of the Westworld episode, composed by Ramin Djawadi. I was familiar with him, as he is known for a slew of famous movie and television scores including Iron Man, Game Of Thrones…and Westworld. I was also familiar with Lana Del Rey, but was way less knowledgeable of her work. I wound up listening to a number of her songs and was impressed. She could be an artist I’ll be doing more “in-depth” research on.

And…it is in moments like this where I find myself giving silent thanks I’m living in a world with such instant access to information…as well as all the various communication platforms we have at our disposal.

I was not only born pre-Internet, but pre-Fax machine (Google “fax machine” if necessary…). It is truly mind-boggling to think back occasionally to how very little we had in all our information and communication toolkits then, and how recent technology advancements have propelled us to where we are now.

The super-basic takeaway from my research to find what that music was all about…was simply how very little research was needed.

Westworld?

I don’t think any amount of research will ever determine what it’s all about.

 

Picture Courtesy HBO

No Way Four-Way Highway

I come before you to plead my case for elimination of four-way stop intersections. This has been a silent crusade of mine for a while now. Many are unable to process the requirements of successfully navigating the Mother Of All Driving Dilemmas…four-way stop intersections.

All my wife and I were trying to do was get home with our takeout Chinese food. We were not in a particular rush as the local establishment manages to pack out orders at temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun…which is fine because we like the food hot…and it does re-enter the atmosphere of safe eating by the time we get home.

Yet, there are multiple four-way stop intersections without lights in our path. Why this is I don’t know. Some degreed sadist in charge of “urban planning” perhaps.

On the way home as we were navigating these four-way stops, I commented to my wife how many people seem incapable of knowing who is next to go based on common sense and decency…not to mention who gets to the intersection first.

As I approached the final four-way stop before getting home, I encountered only one other car. Sweet. We and our flaming food would conquer this last hurdle and get home without incident.

While I clearly was the first car to arrive at my stop sign, the driver of the other vehicle pulled up a bit before theirs, but then began to roll into the intersection.

It was MY turn.

Instant replay would have confirmed it. I was first to my stop sign.

It was MY turn.

I rolled out into the intersection as well. I mean, if you don’t at least try to train these people what hope do we all have?

The other car made a full stop at this point. Success. I felt they had learned their lesson and proceeded forward once more…but alas, they did also. It was like they were toying with me.

Both cars were now parked pretty much in the middle of the intersection.

History will show the first obscene gesture was made by the driver of the other car. I point that out with pride, because what I did thereafter will not go down as one of my finest moments…at least that’s what my wife told me afterwards.

I returned the obscene hand gesture with one of my own. I then locked eyes with my new-found enemy – a woman with a cell phone attached to her face – and rattled off a stream of obscenities clearly audible outside our car regardless of the windows being up. Regardless of the decibel count, the other driver would not have to be a lip reader to get the context.

I then sped off, clearing the intersection first. Flush with adrenaline and filled with the sense of victory…I then heard the honk of a horn in the distance. I guess it was her way of trying to win the war even if the battle was lost. I should have taken the high road on all this at this point…but I couldn’t.

I honked back.

A lot.

Discussion while enjoying the cooled-down Chinese food was how I needed to be cool. Take it in stride. Don’t get upset. I’m not a road rage fellow at all. I yield. I take pride in not putting pedestrians on my hood. I’m a damn good guy behind the wheel.

Yet, I have come to the conclusion we need to see the light and install lights at each and every one of these four-way stops.

Then…maybe I’ll start to lighten up.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Thinking Christmas

The Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel has already started their “Merry Movie Week,” and the “mothership” Hallmark Channel will be rolling out a whole month of “Christmas in July” starting at the end of this week. When we aren’t streaming or watching sports, one of the Hallmarks is usually on our television this time of year.

You’ll see Christmas pop up here more frequently as it gets closer, but I wanted to offer three disclaimers about my outlook on the holiday itself before I/we get there. To me…

  1. Hallmark Christmas movies reflect about 15% of what real life is all about. (The % may be a bit higher for their non-Christmas fare, but not by much…)
  2. Christmas can be a truly miserable time for many people, in some cases the lowest they’ve ever felt. Others don’t acknowledge or care about it. People who go all out for Christmas should keep that in mind.
  3. I myself l-o-v-e Christmas, even though I’ve only had one or two extra-memorable ones myself.

For that matter, any holiday or “celebrated” day on our calendars can be a time of soul-crushing sadness for others. Deaths, illness, separations. They don’t follow any calendar. Much like hearing a piece of music can transport us back to a certain place in time, the calendar may do the same.

The arrival of July signifies Christmas is less than a ½ year away. Then again, several networks (including Hallmark) fire up their Yuletide offerings Halloween week (!)…which no doubt makes those who don’t enjoy the Christmas season feel worse. I myself love Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and like to give those holidays total attention before then focusing in on Christmas.

Each July, when these films come on with their over-the-top messages of Christmas, I do find myself being a little nicer to folks, a little more considerate, a little more forgiving. The movies act for me as a mid-year reminder…a reset…to aspire to be the best human possible…even within the never-gonna-be-perfect-life we all reside within.

In the real world, I think all of us should never take a holiday from trying to understand what others are going through, where they are coming from, and how we can make both their day and ours a good one.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

A Bridge To Nowhere

My home state of Pennsylvania is a very old state. It is certainly not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is quite…old.

Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of bridges in the country. For as long as I’ve been alive, the subject of its aging bridges has been at the top of the planning agenda each year when the Commonwealth’s Department of Transportation reviews what structures need immediate attention, reshuffling the priority deck based on traffic flow, the repairs needed, etc. to best determine where repair crews should head next.

And of course…as long as there is money in the budget.

And of course…if one of our major cities is involved, whether or not some or all of the funds should come from the city or state budget…if the money is even available.

This topic will be staying atop PennDOT’s agenda for a long, long, l-o-n-g time…at least as long as some of these bridges have been in existence…bridges people drive across daily. Pennsylvania has as of this writing north of 25,000 state-owned bridges. There are almost 7,000 locally-owned bridges which the PA Department of Transportation also takes inspection responsibility for. Many of the bridges are of modest size, helping drivers get across small streams and rivers, but when they are shut down or closed…traffic Armageddon can be the result.

Several years ago, a plan began where vehicle owners were required to pay an additional charge when their annual Pennsylvania vehicle registrations came due. It was explained at that time the plan was to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County you resided within. The funds being generated would be for bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been assured by our transportation experts these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. Ok, but…I don’t know about you but the use of “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking Jenga or Legos instead of supporting structures for cars or trucks.

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years. Five years ago, of the 95 bridges reported to be in existence in our Chester County at that time, 57 of them were over 75 years old…31 over 100 years old.

Chester County has been trying to keep a goal of restoring or replacing at least a couple of bridges per year. Two. Since 1980, there were twelve years where no bridge work was done in the County at all.

I don’t think we’re gonna get caught up, folks.

Recently, one of the smallest bridges in Chester County was deemed unsuitable for traffic and taken out of commission completely…in our neighborhood.

Without getting out my tape measure, I’m thinking the bridge area stretches about 75 feet long, designed for two-way traffic just off an intersection which gets high volume usage. It lies just a short distance from two major highways.

Hurricane Ida, which did take out a handful of the state’s bridges completely, was the reason for our local bridge being taken off-line as well. (Side note – I think some people relax when they hear a Hurricane has been downgraded. That’s for the wind. The moisture and its fury is often a bigger culprit, at least in our region) The Ida damage took place in early September, 2021. The structure has since been judged to need a total replacement. If all goes well, the current estimate is the new bridge will be completed…in March, 2023.

Unless of course, other bridges deemed more critical to traffic flow become unable to be used in the interim. Unless of course, the money isn’t there, no matter whose budget gets tapped into.

You may have heard about a bridge collapse in Western PA in January of this year. Pittsburgh made headlines when the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed with a bus and several cars on it. Since then, there have been calls for more information to be provided to the Commonwealth’s residents as to the current condition of each and every bridge in the state. The goal would be to have a database for all to reference. As it turns out, the state was previously displaying inspection notes about bridges on its website, as well as names of the inspectors involved…but when the Pittsburgh media began asking questions about this information post-Fern Hollow, the information was taken down. Hmm.

So we’ve got it all now, the perfect storm of too many bridges that need help, not enough money to address all the work needed, and uncertainty as to whether or not our current inspection system is actually, truly keeping the citizens of the Commonwealth safe.

As for the arrival of that new bridge our area needs to return to normal…we’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

My Laser Focus

In my earlier post about the bullet points of my life while I was away from blogging, I failed to offer up if you ever need advice on what to expect when your retina falls out of position…I’m your guy.

Final week of September 2018. I woke up one morning, looked outside…and the view from my left eye made nearby homes look a little like the bending buildings you see in movies like “Doctor Strange” or “Inception.” At first I thought it had just been a rough night of sleep, but once I got oriented to being fully awake it was obvious something had gone a little sideways…

…like my left retina.

At the time, I somehow convinced myself it was not an emergency situation and started to go about my day. After all, I had cataract surgery a few years ago on the same eye. There were “floaters,” which happened off-and-on both before and after the cataract work, so they did not alarm me. I actually waited awhile, somehow convincing myself the eye would simply reset itself. I had also just gotten my annual eye exam three months ago and was judged to be just fine. It simply couldn’t be anything super-serious and I was planning a fairly busy week.

I eventually did research the Internet (where I always go first for my medical advice). Oops. This could easily be a medical emergency…and my first introduction to the words “retinal detachment.”

Off to the eye doctor, who confirmed the Internet’s diagnosis.

I was immediately booked into the eye surgery center (where I had my previous cataract surgery), scheduled for a next-day, 6 AM procedure. I was told I would actually be operated on at the same time as a couple other folks. They squeezed me in to their schedule, and all I could think of after hearing the confirmation was…1) it’s a super-early hour of the morning and I hoped everyone associated with my procedure would be fully awake, and 2) if there is going to be more than one person operated on at a time, what if they get distracted and work on the wrong eye? I wasn’t sure if I would even be awake to see they corrected the correct one.

Both of those concerns were resolved once things got rolling. Everyone in the room seemed to be awake and ready to go, and I also would not need to be “out” for the surgery. In fact, the surgeon not only announced what eye they would be working on, he had me confirm which eye needed an intervention before digging in.

I will say the surgery itself could not have been easier, or gone better. No discomfort at all – local anesthesia. The vision immediately thereafter was not 100% like before, but it was judged to be 20-20 and I judged myself to be lucky. My doctor (and the Internet) did note not only getting older, but having a cataract removed previously, might increase one’s risk for a retinal detachment.

I did have to go back to the surgeon for a couple post-operative visits. These visits were the only time I felt any discomfort or pain at all. The reason? The surgeon also had equipment in his office which allowed him to go in with his trusty laser and “burn-in” what was needed to further ensure the original surgery was a success. There was no local anesthesia.

The pain was like…like…someone was using a laser on your eye and you had no local anesthesia.

Ouch.

After the second post-op visit – and just an hour later at that – I actually had a job interview (for the role I eventually held until I retired last month). I could still feel that laser’s “touch-up” effects while trying to be calm and collected.

Flash forward a couple of months to the first week of December 2018…I had just started that job a couple of weeks earlier after having to delay my acceptance to fully recover from the surgery. Early in the morning one day, I thought I was back in the movie theatre again…

…out of the SAME eye.

Once more…well before the sun came up…you-know-the-rest. The medical explanation as to why we had the do-over was the first go-round fixed the tear present at that time, but the other side had now torn. Lucky me. The procedure itself was once again a breeze. Everyone at the eye surgery center seemed to be very surprised and quite sympathetic I was back again – so soon – for the same eye. Once more, a couple of post-op follow-ups…and the chance to visit with the laser again.

Ouch.

I still have “perfect” vision in the left eye chart-wise, but the view is a little weirder than after the first reattachment. In all seriousness, I recognize I am fortunate considering there have now been three operations on the eye overall.

Hopefully, the right retina stays upright.

We shall see.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Horrible Bosses

The worst boss I ever had…was also the best.

This subject came to mind when the hometown Philadelphia Flyers named John Tortorella as their new Head Coach earlier today.

Tortorella has significant National Hockey League experience in such a role, having carved out 673 wins at four different stops. He has won NHL coach-of-the-year twice, and led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 campaign.

He is equally known for his in-your-face, confrontational, critical relationships with management, players, and the media. His “blow-up” history is easily reviewed courtesy of the Internet.

And today, he also made me reflect about a former boss of mine…who for purposes of this post we’ll call “John 2.0.”

John 2.0 was only my boss for about a year. The company I was working for at the time had some operational challenges which made it imperative they consolidate locations, and our location was closed just about a year after I started there. This event was impossible to predict, quite unforeseen, and losing this position frustrated me because I truly enjoyed my time there.

John 2.0 contributed to my liking the work environment at that organization…to some extent…although my full enjoyment probably didn’t come until I was several years removed from that role.

I say to some extent because John 2.0 absolutely demanded his workers work hard, and work smart. If you made an error he’d call you out on it…sometimes not in the most flattering way. But…he always verbalized his unhappiness behind a closed door. He always made sure anyone he had to have a word with (which was always more than one word…) was done off the floor…and behind a door.

I appreciated that because I had prior supervisors who didn’t have that filter, who would criticize and call you out for a mistake in front of others. John 2.0 was a demanding leader who expected his reports to do their job well, and he’d let you know when you did not. Oh, you knew it.

Yet, the reason why John 2.0 was also the best boss I’ve ever had is because when other departments in the organization tried to paint any of our group in a bad light, or tried to dump projects and work upon us instead of taking ownership themselves, or if another supervisor made unflattering comments to us directly and he learned of it…he couldn’t have been a more vociferous supporter of his section…and its workers.

He would push back, and push hard when he felt our group was being undermined, overtasked…you name it. If we did something in error, he’d work it out with us directly, but if another department head spoke to us about any issue and he found out, he’d go to that person and make sure they knew the next time they had a problem with someone in our unit to come to him to discuss in private. He supported us no matter what.

I had prior experience with bosses who were the exact opposite, and it was refreshing to know this one had all of our backs when it came to interaction with others in the organization. Looking back on it now, John 2.0 did get the very best out of us via his aggressive management style.

It was funny…others in the organization would come up and ask how I could possibly like working for him. In those moments, I would acknowledge it was not for everyone but there was good with the not-so-good. After all, other supervisors and their reports didn’t see this individual as we did. They only saw one component, one side of John 2.0.

John Tortorella is certainly not John 2.0. The two appear to be quite similar in demanding excellence, but the Flyers head man is also known for calling out his players in public, ripping into the media for trying to do their jobs, etc.

Yet, for a franchise that has not won the Cup since the 1974-75 season, the selection of this individual to run the team at this particular moment in time may just be a winning move. If he can motivate (and bring in) enough players to buy into his playing style – and handle his management style – maybe this is exactly what this organization needs right now.

I admittedly would like our new hockey hire to be a bit more like John 2.0. I know at times I am not going to be thrilled with Tortorella’s public personality. However, in my experience John 2.0 was a rare breed, a one-of-a-kind. If Tortorella wills the Flyers to achieve excellence as much as John 2.0 did, this franchise might finally end this l-o-n-g dry spell and win another Stanley Cup.

 

Picture Courtesy Pixabay