When the little hand is on the 4

We bet some of you still have a Big Ben alarm clock. Some of you probably still use it. Those suckers are loud!   Some folks put them on a dresser across the room so they’d have time to calm down before they got to it to turn off the alarm.   We wonder if the company ever calculated how many of its clocks were bought as replacements for ones that went off next to a bedside and met an untimely (to coin a phrase) end when thrown against the wall.

Our oldest granddaughter had a birthday the other day. Six. She’s starting to read books with chapters. And her parents decided it’s time she learned about time.   As in telling it.

So Nancy found a nice little bedside alarm clock that would do the trick and we sent it to Colorado in time for the birthday. Round. Numbers in a circle 1-12. Hour hand. Minute hand. Alarm hand. It’s modern because it uses a battery and does have a little handle on the back to wind it. It’s not a Big Ben. We want her to have a normal childhood, not go from sound sleep to stunned wakefulness in the blink of an eye.

Nancy, being a thoughtful consumer, read some of the reviews posted on the internet. Some were good. Some were less than mediocre. But they said something about today’s culture. And they are filled with “duh” moments.

One person was in a real pickle because the clock has “no am/pm specification…Example: set it for 7 a.m.. Put kids to bed at 7 p.m. alarm sounds at 7 p.m.. Must be turned on each night.”   In other words, it had no 24-hour option or it had no switch that said AM or PM.

Look, friend, it does, too, have a 24-hour function. The hands go around twice in 24 hours and the consumers are expected to be aware enough of the world around them to know whether it’s AM or PM. Sheesh!

Another reviewer, probably of the same generation, complained, “Does this alarm clock have an AM and PM button. Alarm goes off both times. All is Chinese so can’t make head or tail of it.”

No, it doesn’t have an AM-PM button. See the previous paragraph.

As for the grave problem of not being able to read Chinese directions, one person insightfully responded, “You don’t need to read directions to put some batteries in and figure out how to set the clock and alarm.” Frankly, we’ve seen some products that come with directions that are not in Chinese or any other language. We just get drawings that are supposed to show us how to do something. Supposed to.

These adults of the digital age are precisely the reason why our granddaughter is getting an old-fashioned alarm clock. She needs to do more than read a digital readout. She needs to be able to tell time.   The alarm goes off at waking-up time.   Before you go to bed at night, presumably somewhat more than twelve hours later, you turn the alarm back on. This little clock not only will tell our granddaughter how to tell time, it will encourage her to THINK and remember to do something when she goes to bed—turn on the alarm clock when she’s old enough to need an alarm.

Mankind existed for hundreds of years with clocks that did not have AM/PM switches. For millions of human being AM meant the sun was in the east. PM meant the sun was in the west. If the sun is in the west and you want to wake up when the sun is in the east, turn on the alarm.

Some of you probably worry that the increasing reliance on the digital world is leading to the extinction of common sense. I guess we’re giving you more ammunition today.

Do you suppose there are people who can figure out how to program their VCR and their digital clocks but are baffled by little knobs on the back of an analog bedside clock? Apparently there are.

Our longtime friend and fellow broadcaster Derry Brownfield, who died a little more than four years ago, would have read these concerns, would have shaken his head, and muttered one of his favorite phrases, “ignorance gone to seed.” He sometimes felt ignorance was a penalty we pay for progress.

Derry, incidentally, was just the opposite of these poor puzzled people. He could never figure out these digital clock things. When he was doing his talk show in the studio just off the Missourinet newsroom, he had a big round wall clock with the numbers 1-12 in a circle, little hand, big hand, and red second hand. He had pieces of paper taped to the rim of the clock next to some of the numbers. When the big hand was on the 4 and the second hand was on the 12, it was time for a commercial. When the big hand was on the six and the red second hand was straight up, it was time for a station break. And so forth.

And Derry could look out a window and tell if it was AM or PM.

Imagine a sporting event—

We’ll be returning to the usual topics we normally address later this week.  But for now, imagine a sporting event, professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey—any of the big-time sports like that. Imagine thousands of people being allowed on the playing field before the big game, looking at the equipment, visiting with team personnel, team owners and managers, maybe spotting a celebrity or two. Then imagine the players being introduced and walking among the crowd to their positions before the crowd goes to their seats and the game begins.


That’s part of the crowd on the main straightaway at Indianapolis late Sunday morning. Not everybody who had a ticket could be there but thousands of people had obtained passes through various channels for this experience that doesn’t happen in stick-and-ball (or stick and puck) sports.

Imagine any of the stick-and-ball sports that have members of the competing teams seated at tables before the event and thousands of fans without passes lining up to get their autographs or their pictures taken with the athletes. Imagine retired players being assembled to give fans a chance to do the same with them.

Imagine a crowd of 200,000 or more watching the event on-scene and imagine that they generally quietly tolerate the traffic jams getting to the arena and leaving it afterwards.

That’s what happens each Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the first race track to call itself a “speedway.” The climate and culture were similar at Charlotte, North Carolina that night where NASCAR held its longest race of the year—won by a Missourian this time, Carl Edwards of Columbia.

The past, the present, and the future—

All came together in one face Sunday at Indianapolis.


Your reporter was, maybe, ten feet from Juan Pablo Montoya when he turned to talk to Ryan Hunter-Ray and Graham Rahal, two men moments from trying to beat him to the end of the race that they and thirty others would run at speeds upward of 220 mph most of the time.

Montoya will be 40 in September. That’s starting to get up there for athletes at this level of competition (the oldest driver in the race Sunday was 42). He was 24 when he won the Indianapolis 500 on his first attempt in 2000.

To his right, dressed in the yellow uniform, was Ryan Hunter-Reay, 34, who had won the great race last year in a wild closing-lap dogfight with three-time champion Helio Castroneves. And to Hunter-Reay’s right was Graham Rahal, who is 26, the son of 1986 winner Bobby Rahal. His dad is the Rahal of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, the team for which Graham drives. Sunday was already his eighth 500 and a lot of folks are hoping that he or Marco Andretti (whose grandfather won in 1969) will someday win the 500.

Hunter-Reay, who was never a factor, finished 15th. Rahal was fifth. Montoya took home a $2.4-million paycheck for winning the race for the second time. Hunter-Reay is a representative of Indycar’s present. Rahal is clearly representative of the sport’s future. And Montoya has one foot in the past, is very much one of the dominating figures of the sport’s present, and don’t think he doesn’t believe he’s very much part of its future, too.

And speaking of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing:


Tolja he’d be there

David Letterman was in that crowd on the grid before the race. The biggest difference between him and others there is that he had a police escort and when his presence became known, photographers flocked around him. He was unruffled by the attention, chatting with keepers and tenders as he sat on the pit wall. Unfortunately, he later wound up with his face smashed against the wall on the main straightaway.

All of the team cars carried “Thanks Dave” messages on their rear fins but Oriol Servia’s car went further.


Unfortunately Servia and last year’s pole winner, Ed Carpenter tangled coming onto the main straightaway on the 113th lap and Servia’s car went side-first into the outer wall, giving Letterman a couple of interesting souvenirs of the race if he wants them—the side pod that scraped the wall or the one that didn’t. Regardless, he could have a couple of interesting wall-hangings for the den he might spend some of his new free time decorating.

Now, some of you who regularly check this scribe’s entries normally expect to read pithy things about politics, government, public policy, social commentary, history, and other things that stimulate the mind (we hope). But every now and then there are things that stimulate the soul, that render all that other stuff emotionally meaningless.   Sports are those things. Your correspondent has been to World Series games, All-Star baseball games, NFL games in four Missouri stadia that have played host to three different teams, an NBA game (one is enough), a hockey game (worth another look someday), races at Churchill Downs (sorry, but something that only goes one lap and lasts for maybe a minute and a half, max, does not make this observer’s blood run faster). I’ve seen soccer and cricket and don’t know enough about either to develop the sophistication to appreciate them. Bowling is okay as a participant. We’ve watched arm-wrestling in Petaluma, cliff-diving from somewhere, curling during the Olympics (something about ice shuffleboard with big stones holds the attention, surprisingly), and bocce ball matches at a local restaurant.

But nothing does more for the pulse rate than the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (Wimbledon, by the way, is not something many would stay away from church to watch). Diehard NASCAR fans undoubtedly think the same way about the Charlotte 600-miler that runs the night after the 500—and NASCAR has its own noisy  charm as we know from experience.

So let’s leave it at this: Get some earplugs. Get some tickets (there were plenty of available seats Sunday). Get to Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend. Get to the track and to your seats. Soak up the pre-race atmosphere and then hang on and watch amazing things happen in front of you when the engines roar.

Beats the hell out watching the things that happened in front me while I was at the Senate press table all those years, I can guarantee you that.


Maybe I’ll see  you at the place they call The Racing Capital of the World next year when the engulfing experience of this event happens for the 100th time.  Look for me ‘n’ Dave.                                                                       \

(pictures copyright by Bob Priddy)

On the grid with David

David Letterman has joined those of us who have left decades of the tyranny of a clock-regulated life and have started living by our own clock. He might have disappeared from my TV set but I know where he’ll be on Sunday. I’ll be there, too.

We share a great affection for the Indianapolis 500. Both of us were at the great Speedway for the first time when the fastest lap was about 140 miles an hour. Now the cars and drivers are aiming at 240. We’ve heard the great engines, from the Offy to the Novi to the Cosworth, the Fords and Buicks and the Chevvys. And the Hondas and Toyotas—even a Porsche once, an Alfa-Romeo and a Mercedes that was known as “the beast” by those who created it. We’re like tens of thousands of others who are drawn to a specific place and a specific event because it’s part of us.

We’ll be among the people in the crowd on the starting grid of the nation’s most iconic sporting event, the Indianapolis 500. I’ll be there as a reporter. He will be there as one of the owners of the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. He’s not just a celebrity who has put some of his spare cash into a hobby. He’s serious about racing, as viewers should know from watching how much he enjoyed interviewing racing drivers on his television show.

We both were part of the crowd on the grid just before the start of the race last year.


No, I didn’t interject myself into his personal space to say hello. But if I had, I would have told him that something he said more than a decade ago has stuck with me because I had never heard anyone who is so much a part of the sport say it—not in all the years I’ve followed and attended this great event.

The year he said it was 2004 and Buddy Rice was writing a Cinderella story for the then-Rahal-Letterman team as the race started to wind down with rain moving in.   Rice was in the car because the winner of the 1999 Indianapolis 500, Kenny Brack, had been injured in the last race of the 2003 season and wasn’t cleared to race. He had started from the pole, the first starting position, and was leading at the three-quarters mark.   A pit reporter for ABC television interviewed Letterman, who was obviously feeling the moment—the excitement, the tension, the anticipation.   Letterman told him, “It’s an unbelievable job Buddy has done all day. It’s a heroic effort.”

Later, when rain, thunder, and lightning stopped the race and forced the Speedway to move victory lane indoors so Rice could get the victory wreath, the traditional bottle of milk, and the celebration of his victory, Letterman described Rice and the rest of the team as “smart, brave, tough guys.”

In all the years of listening to or watching the race broadcasts or hearing people on the public address system during the race, I don’t think I ever heard anybody use the word “heroic” to describe the drivers’ efforts. But that’s an appropriate way to describe what these drivers are all about.

For them, dressing in their fire-resistant suit and climbing into a race car probably seems as ordinary as people like me putting on a coat and tie and going to the office.   It’s what they do. But what they do during their day in their office is so far removed from what we do or are capable of doing that is unfathomable to most of us.

It’s not the danger although danger is always present that makes them heroes. It’s the skills they demonstrate lap after lap, hour after hour, that puts them on a level far above most of us. There’s no break between rounds, quarters, or innings. There’s no halftime. For about three hours, the Buddy Rices who will climb into the cars on the grid at Indianapolis Sunday will have no breaks from the necessity of putting their tires exactly—exactly—where they have to be to go through a corner at more than triple our interstate speed limit or to pass a competitor who also wants that space. They have to do it while competing with 32 other Buddy Rices who want the same thing they want and they’re willing to live on a fine edge to get it.

To watch these drivers flash past at speeds television cannot properly convey, lap after lap, is something unique.   It is heroic.

Saying that is not a matter of hero-worship. Calling their efforts heroic accurately describes what they do. We accept mortals doing things that most of us consider super-human without thinking what an extraordinary thing they are doing.   That’s why his passionate description of what he saw unfolding in front of him is so memorable—because he captured the nature of those efforts with just the right, memorable, word eleven years ago.

We’ll both be at the first place to call itself a “speedway” watching men and women do something heroic on Sunday. We might see each other. I will know who he is. He won’t know who I am. And that’s okay because both of us know why we are there.

Are we there yet? Yes, thank goodness

I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, I thought you knowed
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, way down the road
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, hard ramblin’, hard gamblin’
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, lord

–Woody Guthrie, “Hard Travelin’”

A woman who works at the Capitol walked up to me at a banquet Friday night, shortly after the legislature had slouched to adjournment, and asked my thoughts about the “ugly” session.  It was an interesting choice of words, particularly since I had begun to write this entry shortly before heading to the banquet and had used the same word.

The first legislative session since 1974 has concluded without me.  I was reminded as I read the things that former  Capitol colleagues such as Mike Lear and David Lieb and Bob Watson were writing about the disintegration of things in the last few days of the old saying about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

It feels so good when you stop.   I have spent the last five months feeling good.

Legislative sessions are brutal for everyone even if things go well.  But your scribe here on this quiet street who kept up with the proceedings by checking Missourinet.com or by reading the morning papers while starting a relaxing day with a bowl of cereal thought this one was pretty ugly.

The majority party, as usual, proclaimed it a great success.  The minority party, as usual, proclaimed it a failure.  In truth it was both.  All sessions are both.  But few are as graceless as this one seems from this distance to have been.

Two-thirds majorities are not good in today’s political climate.  Regardless of party, two-thirds majorities tend to display bully tendencies at times.  They are more susceptible to agendas that benefit a few and make broader public service a lesser responsibility.  There is no need to consider views or proposals from the other side and the other side knows it—which makes the minority a little prickly.

Or a lot prickly when it thinks it’s been bulldozed. And when Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard announced on the Friday before the last week of the session, “There’s priorities on both sides of the aisle and if mine don’t make it, nobody’s bill will either,” the minority started hearing the sound of a big diesel engine firing up and a blade being lowered.  When the Senate voted to shut down the minority filibuster against the so-called Right to Work (or as reporters sometimes refer to the other side preferred title, so-called Paycheck Protection) after more than eight hours, the minority party retaliated.

The sponsor of the bill, Rolla Senator Dan Brown, told the Senate, “I don’t know how you’re a Republican if you don’t support right to work,” a remark that highlights how far the Senate has deteriorated from the times when Senators did not try to denigrate one another because of the way they cast their votes.

We don’t know whether several Republican Senators resented that characterization of them, but five Republicans opposed all of the motions cutting off debate and opposed approval of the bill.  That included the Senate President Pro tem, Tom Dempsey, who was joined by Senators Bob Dixon, Gary Romine, Ryan Silvey, and Paul Wieland.  It will be interesting to see if they become “good” Republicans before the September session that considers whether to override Governor Nixon’s certain veto of the bill.

The Democrats might have been bulldozed but they certainly weren’t buried.  They retaliated by stopping consideration of almost all legislation for the rest of the session, allowing passage only of a bill letting hospitals tax themselves to raise enough money to bring $3.6 billion federally-collected tax dollars to Missouri for the Medicaid program. (Some folks continue to find it interesting that Republicans who generally favor tax cuts were so concerned that hospitals wanted to keep their taxes up so they can get federal Medicaid money while at the same time the party continued to oppose an expansion of the Medicaid program generally that would have bought even more billions of federally-collected tax dollars to Missouri for health care).

The stalemate resulting from the GOP’s insistence that it pass the bill backed by individuals and organizations that traditionally support Republican causes (while also weakening the financial foundation of unions, which traditionally support Democrats), ticked off another group that Republicans are cozy with.   Missouri Right to Life said it was “profoundly disappointed” that Richards’ emphasis on his issue ultimately killed the enactment of MRL’s big issue this year—a requirement that any licensed abortion provider be inspected once a year.  “While we know that other issues are important to Missourians, there was no need to call for the PQ…when there were other extremely important issues still on the calendar needing passage by the Republican majority,” said MRL, which apparently overlooked “other extremely important issues still on the calendar needing passage” by Democrats.

On the front wall of the Senate are carved the words of Scottish minister George Campbell, “Free and fair discussion will ever be found the firmest friend to truth.”   Some might suggest after watching the last days of this year’s session in the Senate that those words be replaced with words from the Old Testament Book of Hosea: “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”

While the Senate was self-destructing, the House was dealing with the sudden revelation in the Kansas City Star that Speaker John Diehl had been carrying on with a Missouri Southern State University freshman who was another representative’s intern.  Nothing sexual, said Diehl, just some sexy talk in texting.   In our time we have covered the conviction and imprisonment of two former Speakers of the House and the case of another former Speaker who faced that possibility until his case was resolved without seeing the inside of a cell.  But we have never seen the roof fall in on a Speaker of the House as quickly as it did with John Diehl, nor have we seen someone who got out of town as rapidly as he did.

The House soldiered on as best it could after picking a new Speaker to get it through the last day and after the Senate gave up on the session three hours early. When all was said and done, some good things were done, some bad things were done (we will let you decide which is which from your perspective) and some things that seemed so important in January became road kill during the 71-days of hard travelin’ to the end of the road last Friday.

Road kill on a bad road.   And the legislature’s record on fixing roads, whether those in the state highway system or its own road through sessions of the general assembly, seems to offer little hope for pleasant journeys to come.