My Mail Goes to Greensboro

(My mail commentary appeared in the Roanoke Times last month.)

Mardi Gras revelers trek to New Orleans, cliff swallows return to San Juan Capistrano and my mail goes to Greensboro. By way of Roanoke. From my post office in Floyd (Virginia). That’s two cities and two states to send a letter within one town of 450 people that’s less than a square mile in area.

This doesn’t pose a significant problem, but it does make me grin. My mail might travel farther than some of those wintering birds, for all I know. I could probably deliver it myself, on foot, in 15 minutes.

I think about this as the holiday season commences and my local post office on East Main Street faces that annual avalanche of cards, letters and packages. There’s Wanda and Jack at the counter and the rest of the dependable personnel who provide mail service to my town and county. They’re helpful and steady. They don’t crack under seasonal pressure.

When I send a Christmas card to a friend in town, it will be put on a truck to Roanoke, and then put on what I expect is a bigger truck to Greensboro. The card will come back the same way, a round trip of about 270 miles. And then it will be delivered to a mail box less than a mile from where it started.

This isn’t new. The mail headed to Greensboro beginning in 2015 when the Rutherford Avenue processing center in Roanoke was consolidated with operations in North Carolina’s third-largest city. At that time, the Roanoke facility was one of 82 mail-processing centers in 37 states targeted for consolidation.

The Greensboro plan was designed to save money. The U.S. Postal Service saw a 25 percent decrease in mail volume since 2007. Annual revenue had dropped by $10 billion. Drastic measures were needed.

What makes smart business sense is odd for the customer, though. I’m still not used to seeing that Greensboro postmark on my mail.

This A to B via C and D routing would not work well for other things. For example, if a friend asked me to give him a ride in town, he would not appreciate a side trip to Roanoke, Greensboro, Roanoke and then to his destination in Floyd. That would be far too lengthy and flat out ridiculous.

The truth is, as long as I’ve lived here, my mail has gone to Roanoke. Yet I never gave it much thought. Shoot, I go to Roanoke. A lot of people in Floyd go to Roanoke, for one reason or another. It can be a regular trip.

But Greensboro? Not only is it two hours away, it’s in another state.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Greensboro. It’s a hospitable city. I’ve eaten good barbecue there. Obviously, my mail spends time there. I also want to stress that I appreciate the USPS. I value its long history and am amused by its personality and delivery quirks. I still depend on the mail.

So, during these holidays, with good cheer, I’ll bid farewell to cards mailed to folks in my little town. “Have a nice trip to the big cities. Hurry back! We’ll be waiting for you right here, in Floyd.”

A Thank You to My 2016 Clients

Many thanks to these clients and people who worked with me this year.

In alphabetical order:

Clearwater Paper (via Digital Kitchen)
Cornell University Law School (Kristen Burke)
Digital Kitchen (Karen Weber-Millstein and Angela Wittman)
Gorton Community Center (Heather Chamberlain)
Heritage University (David Wise)
Leisure Media 360 (Kurt Rheinheimer)
Oster Golf Houses (Rick Oster)
Puget Sound Bank (Brad Ogura)
RJD Creative (Bob Diercksmeier)
TKA (Thomas Koontz Architects)

Sagebiel Thanksgiving 2016

Our Thanksgiving, as described and photographed by Beth Sagebiel (my daughter).

El Sage Blog

My family began the tradition a couple of years ago of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. It started out of logistical necessity – my grandparents used to live in California so we’d often fly out on Christmas Day to see them – but continued out of our growing appreciation for having the actual holiday to relax, do nothing, and enjoy our new presents.

This year we decided to apply the same principle to our Thanksgiving celebrations. So while all of you are undoubtedly fasting and putting on your most comfortable pair of jeans, the Sagebiels are sitting around the kitchen table eating Sally’s famous homemade cinnamon rolls and trying to recover from last night’s culinary event. (Actually, it’s just me eating. My dad is running, my mom’s doing dishes, and my sister is vegan.)

IMG_1699.JPG These are the cinnamon rolls. Seriously, how am I the only one eating these right now?

And don’t…

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‘SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT’ By Roland Lazenby

8f35161680f5fe05cb87208bebf2964dOctober 25 was the publication day for SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT (Little Brown and Company) by Roland Lazenby, the bestselling author of MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and numerous other basketball and sports books.

“With the publication of SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT, it is high time we recognized author Roland Lazenby for what he has become: the finest sports biographer of our time,” said Peter Golenbock, author of 10 New York Times bestsellers. “First with the astonishing MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and now his having written an incredibly researched, beautifully written biography of this enigmatic Laker superstar, Lazenby has entered rarified air: one is wowed by what one learns and at the same time you can’t wait to read what comes next.”

That’s the highest praise from someone who knows the genre and the craft. And other stellar reviews are rolling in.

I’ve read Roland’s biographies of Michael Jordan and Jerry West. They’re excellent. As I’ve said before, Roland digs, reports and provides rich context and revelations about these complex sports icons, weaving it all together in a page-turning narrative. What more can I say?

I’m very much looking forward to reading SHOWBOAT.

In addition, I know Roland as someone in our region who is wonderfully generous when it comes to mentoring and encouraging writers and authors. I’ve seen and experienced it firsthand. We are lucky to have him.

‘TRUEVINE’ By Beth Macy

28962954-_uy400_ss400_October 18 was the publication day for TRUEVINE: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South (Little, Brown and Company), which is the second book by New York Times-bestselling author Beth Macy of Roanoke.

Anyone who lives in southwest Virginia and has been even a casual reader of The Roanoke Times through the years is surely familiar with Beth’s exceptional work as a journalist and storyteller who, as her biography says, gives voice to outsiders and underdogs.

Two years ago she made her authorial debut with FACTORY MAN, which was a sensation. I expect a similar reception for TRUEVINE, “the true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back,” says the publisher.

“It’s a story about race, greed and the circus,” writes Beth at her website, “and I’ve been chasing it for more than 25 years. I’m thrilled to say it was just short-listed for a Kirkus Prize in nonfiction, and long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence, a project of the American Library Association.”

I’m not surprised one bit. Based on what I’ve seen, no one chases, researches and writes a true story quite like Beth Macy.

VIDEO: ‘The Giant Awakens’

The giant is back. The mission is unchanged. Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.

Recently, Adweek reported:

You may be forgiven for thinking the Giant had retired as he hasn’t appeared on TV screens in recent years. But a new campaign launched this month by Deutsch will explain where he’s been—and why he picked now as an ideal time to make his comeback.

This teaser-style launch film, which will (appropriately) air in movie theaters around the country, doesn’t include any shots of the Giant himself. But it leaves no doubt that he is back and bigger than ever.

Finally, I encourage you to check out my ebook, HO! HO! HO!: The Life and Legend of the Jolly Green Giant (at right). It’s a fun read. It may be good for you.

Vin Scully: A Pure Voice Goes Silent

This commentary appeared in the Sunday Roanoke Times on September 25, 2016.

It was circa 1970. I was a 12-year-old boy who had recently moved to Southern California from Indiana. Dodger Stadium overwhelmed my senses and Vin Scully was music to my young ears.

“Grab a Dodger Dog,” he’d say, “made by our friends at Farmer John.” As I recall, a Dodger Dog, a 10-inch pork and beef frank, was about a buck. I liked mine with yellow mustard and real onions — raw and coarsely chopped. I gobbled it down as we watched batting practice from the long, beige bench seats in the left-field pavilion.

Los Angeles was a big, exciting place for this Indiana boy. It was an hour drive to the sprawling city and Dodger Stadium from our new home in Palmdale on the edge of the high desert. In those days, locals called traveling to LA from the Antelope Valley going “down below.” We took 14 to I-5, exiting at Stadium Way and then winding up the hill and through the canyons to Chavez Ravine.

From the moment we entered the gates, the sounds at Dodger Stadium were unmistakable: the perky organ that musically narrated the action, the insistent cries of the food and drink vendors roaming the stands, the loud crack of a wooden bat in the hands of a big leaguer and, of course, the silky voice of Vin Scully.

“It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.”

The Dodger home uniforms were as white as sea gulls, trimmed in “Dodger” blue with red numbers. Wearing those magnificent uniforms in 1970 were, among others, Maury Wills, Willie Davis, Wes Parker, Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey, Manny Mota, Don Sutton, Claude Osteen and Charlie Hough. Walter Alston, nicknamed “Smokey,” was the manager. Wills was the highest-paid Dodger that season by a wide margin. His salary was $88,000.

I don’t recall seeing the best National League teams such as the rival Cincinnati Reds. I do recall seeing cellar dwellers like the San Diego Padres. That made it easier to get into the game — and to find a prime spot in the left-field pavilion. We always arrived early, an hour or more before the first pitch. We watched the teams take infield and batting practice. Occasionally a baseball would fly deep to left and clear the wall. A scramble for the precious souvenir ensued.

Once the game began, I stared a hole in the back of whomever played left field. I studied the long warm-up tosses of the outfielders between innings. Sometimes they looked our way and acknowledged our cheers. And sometimes fans heckled the opposing players. The left-field pavilion was also the place to peer into the Dodger bullpen. I remember Hough, the knuckleballer, and others loosening up their arms and hearing the rhythmic thud of the catcher’s mitt.

In later years, when I was in my twenties, Vin Scully was my companion on drives between San Diego and Palmdale. On hot summer nights, with windows rolled down, he talked me through Temecula, Riverside, San Bernardino and over Cajon Pass and onto the high desert. By that time I was no longer a true-blue Dodgers fan; I just loved listening to their announcer rhapsodize about baseball on a summer evening. I was still a Vin Scully fan. I’ve always been a Vin Scully fan.

That voice going silent after this, his 67th year broadcasting Dodgers games, saddens me. Whether in a ballpark or another walk of life, there are few voices as pure and enduring as Vin Scully’s. How can we afford to lose him?