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Archive for September, 2017

Well this is a fine kettle of fish.

Burns & McDonnell, the “Hometown Team” that for many weeks appeared to be on a glide path to landing the new single-terminal project at KCI, has now placed a big stick of dynamite under the terminal-selection process. But that’s not all: It has lit the fuse.

In very short order, we should be hearing a big explosion. Burns and Mac has decided to go scorched earth, even to the point of destroying its own chances in order to keep any of the three other competing companies from getting the contract.

The impending explosion means there will be, in all likelihood, no KCI election in November and no City Council recommendation on a contractor anytime soon.

As twisted as things are right now, we might not have an airport election until November 2018 or even 2020. And that’s as it should be: This process was horribly flawed from the outset, and it needs to be dumped.

…In a nutshell, here’s what has unfolded in the last several days.

The City Council’s bond adviser alleged there were flaws (it’s too complicated to get into) in Burns and Mac’s proposed financing proposal. In retaliation, Burns and Mac, which has seen its chances of winning reduced in recent weeks, called Tuesday for the selection process to be scrubbed and for “a new, open process” begin anew.

Mayor Sly James got this “process” — if you can call an unadulterated muddle a process — off on the wrong  foot because he wanted to rush the airport project to a start while he still had a couple of years left on his second term. It all started over a lunch at the River Club, and it mushroomed from there, after he strong armed a few other council members to go in with him.

It was going to be the whipped cream on Sly’s milkshake. It was going to be the Cuban leaf in his cigar.

So, instead of going the traditional route of having the city take bids and select the “lowest and best” bidder, he tried to anoint Burns and Mac as contractor and, in so doing, he basically invited the firm to name its price tag.

But he didn’t get away with it. After other City Council members insisted the project be opened up to other competitors, another firm came along and said it could do the job for nearly $500 million less than Burns and Mac had initially projected!

A friend who has been in local politics a long time told me Burns and Mac tried to pull off “the biggest scam in the history of Kansas City.”

Now, the firm is reduced to being the spoil sport. And in that role, it will succeed.

In assembling a “Hometown Team,” it recruited as partners several powerful interest groups, including organized labor and minority and women-owned businesses. With a majority of Kansas City voters lukewarm, at best, toward the prospect of getting rid of KCI’s horseshoe terminals, the prospect of labor and important parts of the African-American community turning against the initiative spells certain doom.

…There is one more possibility, albeit remote. Burns and Mac could capitulate and try to reel back in its call for a do-over.

Won’t work. Too late.

The headlines on tonight’s story in The Star, combined with the story that will appear on the front page of tomorrow’s print edition, will sink this ship that’s been taking on water from Day One.

In the face of these hurricane-level headwinds, a City Council majority would be crazy to go ahead with a November election because the proposal would go down in flames. But I don’t think they’ll do that. They’ve been eating Sly James’ dust for many months now, and they’re tired of it.

I think they’ll throw the milkshake, the whipped cream and the Cuban cigar back in his face.

…I’ve said before I don’t like sitting in those bullpens at KCI. And it is a dump. But I would prefer to put up with the bullpens and the gloomy terminals for a few more years, until the city can show us an appealing terminal design and give us a solid bid process that will result in a good product at the “lowest and best” price.

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I don’t like hot weather and can’t stand high humidity, but even so, this day — this last day of summer — is always difficult for me.

The calendar says summer goes on until Sept. 21, but the reality is it ends today. Yesterday or day before I saw a few leaves coming down. That says it all: It’s about over.

This morning, we turned the air conditioning on. By late this afternoon, if the weather forecast is correct, we’ll be able to turn it off, open the windows and let the north wind cool the house.

But today’s north wind — assuming it arrives as scheduled — won’t be an aberrational respite, like the occasional north breezes of July and August. For me, that north wind will bring a sweeping finality to summer, as well as a wistful feeling of loss and transition.

I have experienced that feeling about Labor Day more acutely since a Labor Day-weekend trip to Truman Lake many years ago. It was hot that weekend, and we and another couple and our children and a couple of theirs were camping out.

**

One of my foremost memories is that a young couple, maybe newlyweds, were at the adjacent camp site, with their big RV taking up much of the site. They weren’t particularly friendly — just gave us an occasional nod — and didn’t show their faces much. After being outside for a few minutes, they would retreat to the comfort of their version of the great indoors. It was clear to all of us on our steamy camp site that this couple was there for carnal rather than aquatic activities.

But we had our own situation to deal with. My friend, also named Jim, had hauled his speedboat to the lake, but it hadn’t been on the water in years, and we didn’t know what to expect. As a back-up of sorts, I had brought my 14-foot fishing boat, equipped with a powerful 5.5 horsepower motor I had inherited many years earlier from my father.

On Saturday or Sunday of that weekend, our group, which included our two children and a couple of theirs, went down to the marina and put Jim’s boat in the water. The rest of us piled into the boat from the dock, and, as best I recall, Jim got the motor to a sputtering and spewing start, and the boat lurched slowly away from the dock area.

We hadn’t even cleared the no-wake zone, however, before the engine conked out. With his stepson Gabe at the wheel of the boat, Jim went to the back of the boat and started fiddling with the motor. He would bark out orders to Gabe, telling him when to push the ignition button and when to back off. The shouting got testy at times, as the frustration built.

Meanwhile, the rest of us just sat there — sweating, sloop shouldered and silent — realizing this probably wasn’t going to be much of an outing.

After a long battle, Jim gave up, and we either paddled back to the dock or had another boater pull us back by rope. We piled out of the boat at the same place we had left an hour earlier, when our spirits were high and we had visions of the wind blowing our hair and cooling our faces as the boat skimmed over the water…Later I told Patty we must have collectively looked like the Clampett family as we sat forlornly on that boat, bobbing gently up and down in the wake of the cove.

**

The next 24 hours or so were entirely unmemorable, and on Labor Day Jim and his family gathered their things and departed fairly early. Patty and I had driven separately, as I recall, because we were hosting a party back home that night and she wanted to get back to prepare. I told her I would be home in a few hours but wanted to go out and do some fishing in my boat.

It was a great feeling when the motor fired right up and I moved out into the body of the lake. Propelled by 5.5 horsepower, I didn’t go very far or very fast, but at least I could glide along and feel that breeze I had been anticipating in a much bigger way.

The sun was out. Lots of boats were on the water. I fished for a few hours — don’t remember catching anything — and as the afternoon wore on clouds began to roll in, the wind picked up and the temperature began to fall.

I was reluctant to leave, partly because I knew this was probably the only boating and fishing I was going to get in possibly for the rest of the year. Late in the afternoon, though, a decided chill set in, and I headed for the marina. A lot of other boaters had the same idea. In the cove, a slew of boats was idling, each boater waiting to approach the dock and get his boat on the trailer and get out of there.

Operating on my own, I had to first tie the boat to the dock; retrieve the car and trailer from the parking lot; back the trailer into the water; then get back in the boat and drive it onto the partially submerged trailer. By the time I did that, I was one of the very last boats in the area. After pulling the boat from the water, I stopped a short distance up the ramp to get my fishing tackle and other items out of the boat.

It was starting to get dark. The wind was blowing, and it was chilly. I looked around and saw the cove was clear of boats and only one or two other stragglers were in the ramp area. As I tossed my gear into the trunk, a feeling of emptiness set in. Summer was over. Really over. And I was going to be late for the party.

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Well, it’s the first big college-football weekend…Who am I going to be rooting for?

Nobody.

I’ve written in the past about my effort to wean myself off pro football because of the game’s clearcut association with degenerative brain disease.

I was moderately successful last season: I watched relatively little of the Chiefs’ games and went to just one — on a frigid night against the Raiders, when a friend offered me a club-level seat. (Temptation at that level is hard to turn away from.)

This year, I’m going to try to avoid the pro game altogether, and I am vowing here and now to extend my self-imposed ban to college football.

This is going to be extremely difficult, mainly because I love going to KU football games — not because it’s quality football, which it hasn’t been for years, but primarily to watch the KU Marching Jayhawks and listen to the band play “Home on the Range” after most of the fans have left and the field has long been cleared.

I know…A lot of people might think it’s a bit weird, going to Lawrence to watch a marching band and listen to one song. But that’s me. I pick up on obscure stuff and stick with it. (Example: Several years ago, when a certain women’s college basketball referee — a woman — caught my eye, I sidled up to her at halftime and introduced myself. Through downright perseverance, I befriended her over the course of a few seasons. We still see each other about once a year…In case you’re wondering, Patty doesn’t mind: My friend is gay and has had a partner for more than 20 years.)

A neuropathologist has examined the brains of 111 N.F.L. players — and 110 were found to have CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head. The New York Times, July 25, 2017

**

You might be wondering what brought me to my present vow to try to abstain from football altogether.

The turning point was a recent New York Times story about a longtime ESPN and ABC college football analyst named Ed Cunningham, who last spring announced he was stepping away and giving up his six-figure-a-year job. At the time, he said he was resigning because he wanted to spend more time with his two young sons and because of his workload as a film and television producer. Only recently did he come out with the real reason — “my ethical concerns.”

Ed Cunningham

“(T)he real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain,” he told The Times. “To me, it’s unacceptable.”

I decided that if a guy who has been making more than $100,000 a year (by his own account) as an analyst is willing to act on the courage of his convictions, I should do likewise.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport. I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.” Ed Cunningham

**

I don’t think I’m going to be able to make a complete withdrawal, however, for one main reason: Patty is an MU graduate, and she loves going to Columbia at least once or twice a season. Although she likes to go to the games, the bigger attraction for her is tailgating at the Phi Sigma Pi house, a few blocks from Memorial Stadium.

Patty was a Phi Si “little sister” when she attended MU, and many members of her old gang gather at the frat grounds on football weekends. I go with her at least once a year, and I’m sure I’ll be going again.

On “Phi Si” weekends, I’m going to give myself a pass and try to keep my focus on the socializing and not get caught up in the football…which is going to be a big challenge.

“Repeated blows to the head cause the buildup of an abnormal protein that degenerates brain tissue. Areas of the brain vulnerable to CTE include those that govern cognition, working memory, abstract reasoning, planning, emotional control and aggression.” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 6, 2017

**

The hardest part of living up to this vow, though, is going to be finding other fall and winter-time diversions.

I already play golf through most of the winter; I play when the temperature is as low as the upper 30s, as long as the wind isn’t strong. And with the “wrap-around” professional golf season starting in late fall, it’s not hard to find a golf tournament on TV.

As many of you know, I like women’s college basketball and go to some KU games every season. (Fortunately, the pep band plays at those games and I can get my “Home on the Range” fix, although it’s nothing like hearing the song played by the 270-member Marching Jayhawks.)

So, I’m in the market for new possibilities for fall and winter activities and interests.

— Maybe I could expand my basketball horizons and start following men’s college basketball more closely. MU is expected to be much better this year, and it’s only a two-hour drive to Columbia.

— Maybe I could take Patty’s suggestion and start doing some volunteer work, you know, “giving back” to the community instead of focusing mostly on my “fat self.”

—  Maybe I could get a weekend job working at the 7-Eleven in Brookside.

Wait, what am I thinking about? Scratch that.

As you can see, I need help.

Any suggestions, constructive or otherwise?

**

“He ended his life living out of a car, unable to get his thoughts together and fighting anger and confusion. At one point, he destroyed all his football pictures, slashing them apart.” The New England Sports Network, writing about the late Mike Webster, former Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas Chiefs center, who died of a heart attack in 2002. An autopsy showed his brain was filled with an abnormal protein associated with CTE

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