Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to You, AYBABTU

I had no idea.
Honest. Until 30 seconds ago, I hadn't given it a second thought. Then it suddenly dawned on me. I looked at my watch — not to check the time, but rather the date.

Yesterday was my anniversary. Yikes!

No...not that one, silly. Fat chance I’d forget that!

Actually, it was my Blog-a-versary.

While thinking about how to commemorate it, I decided it’s time I went a little deeper into the details of how it all came about — a subject I’ve rather shied away from in the past here.

Hope ya packed a lunch.

Goof or Dare
Four years ago, on May 24, 2004, I made my initial foray into this wondrous medium with In a Blog of My Own. It was originally just goof; a lark; a dare with myself, really.

My original idea was to experiment with writing, something that I never truly considered I could do particularly well, yet for a long time had wanted to try. After all, it was an activity I devoted a lot of my daily energy to, via e-mails and message boards, so why not? However the primary inspiration for this literary whim was one board in particular: a web-gathering of folks loosely devoted to the fandom of Washington Post Sports/Lifestyle columnist, Tony Kornheiser.

You see, for over five years now, this group of Mr. Tony enthusiasts have gathered online daily to comment, cavort and sometimes deride the often outrageously funny and always quirky observations of the man currently best known for his shoot-from-the-lip sports commentary show on ESPN television with co-host Michael Wilbon: Pardon The Interruption, and more recently, as the third-wheel color commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts.

But before there was PTI and MNF on the TeeVee, there was the TKS on the radio.

The Tony Kornheiser Show had been around a long time prior to my becoming aware of its host's brilliance. It began in 1992 as a locally-produced morning radio talkshow out of Washington D.C., where Tony continues to live today. But in 1998, the show was picked up nationally by ESPN Radio, and quickly became one of the 4-letter’s most popular offerings, broadcasting from 9AM to Noon (Central), to an apparent cult-like audience all over the world.

In early 2002, The Company where I work finally removed its previous restrictions on streaming Web content, allowing employees access to streaming audio/video from our desktops for the first time; I was finally able to listen to ESPN Radio during work as opposed to only those rare occasion whenever I went out to lunch and managed to catch a few moments (typically of The Dan Patrick Show) on my car radio while traveling to-and-from.

Prior to hearing it on the Web, what little I knew of Kornheiser, whose show preceded Patrick’s, was from those random snippets I heard while driving around. I had never read anything he’d written for The Post, nor the three humorous books he’d penned since 1995. I caught only bits and pieces of his show over the years, but never enough to really ‘get it’ prior to that opportunity to begin listening regularly in early 2002.

You see, the TK Kool-Aide is often an acquired taste. But by June I was guzzlin’ it by the gallon.

The Mister Tony Experience
I had never experienced anything so engaging, so hilarious, and so much fun — and that's no exaggeration. Kornheiser’s wit, humor and commentary on both sports and non-sports/pop-culture subjects was unlike anything I’d ever heard or even heard of. However I’ll spare you of the long-winded description of what the show was all about. I mean, heck, that's what Wikipedia is for, right?

The reason I'm bringing this up after all this time, however, is because the recognition of Tony Kornheiser as my literary inspiration is long overdue. Without him this space would not exist; this anniversary would be meaningless, and so many of the friends I’ve made here these past four years would still be strangers to me and I to them.

It’s that simple. No TK ≅ No blog.

My ‘Other’ Fellow-Bloggers
As much as I count many of my readers as true friends, I have perhaps even a greater affinity for that group of message board geeks I mentioned earlier. I’ve spent the better part of the past six years with that group on a nearly day-to-day basis. Our original reason for gathering together was indeed Tony Kornheiser, but the time has long since passed that we would hang out together regardless of whether Mr. Tony was around or not.

We all know each other pretty well. We know how to poke fun at each other too. we're well-acquainted with each person’s foibles and hot-buttons. Nonetheless, among that group, none (save perhaps one) of these guys even knows about my blog, or the huge part that All Your Blogs Are Belong to Us has played in my life.

And the irony is, when I created this blog back in 2004, it was primarily to catch their attention.

But much to my surprise — despite the fact that these are an extremely Google-savvy bunch of guys (many of whom are computer professionals) — no one apparently has ever found me here, save for the one fellow I actually told about the place (and he’s kept his mouth shut so far).

As I alluded to here way back when, the title of this site was a ‘running inside joke’ within the group, which I fully expected at least someone to notice, but no one never did.

Then after the joke got cold and I decided to actually dive in and make use of this forum, I suppose I was too concerned about being teased about the content — the kind of stories I tell and the personal nature of my writing — to openly announce my blog’s existence to ‘The Blog’ (the unofficial moniker of this message board group). I decided to just leave well enough alone and if someone found it, I’d take my lumps and move on.

But even after a couple of years, reasonably secure in my anonymity, I continued to shy away from the subject for concern that Google would leave a trail of cyber-crumbs too easy for one of them to miss.

Later on it was that same avoidance of being outed that kept me from elaborating on the August 2005 trip to Reston, Virginia in the first (and thus far, only) face-to-face meeting of our group. It was the much-publicized event in which we met together to play golf with Tony Kornheiser and some of his radio show staff at Reston National Golf Club.

It was a fabulous weekend! Everything from the greensfees to the hotel to the food was comped. But that’s another big story in of itself.

I posted a short teaser on the subject soon after I returned home, including a photo of the foursome I played with, featuring Kornheiser and his son, Michael. I thought for sure that would be the post that would blow my cover with The Blog, but alas, as of yet, still no one has said a word, although I’m quite certain that at least some of the radio show’s other listeners have surfed my site, but they too, to my knowledge, have remained silent.

But now, I really don’t care. If they find it, they find it. If they tease me, whatevs. I yam what I yam.

Bloger Beginnings
Perhaps I should ‘splain one thing that I’m sure must have at least somebody scratchin’ their heads. Why call a message board a ‘blog?’

The nickname of our TK message board, ‘The Blog,’ came about because it actually was one — right here on, back in the pre-Google days. However the format of the site, as well as their way blogs were posted, was much different at that point in time (circa 2002).

For reasons of brevity and going waaay off-topic if I took the time to properly explain it, allow me simply to say that it was weird and pretty unconventional, but the way things were set up on Blogger back then, one could take a group-authored blog and make a quasi-message board out of it. The reason we did is because it was free of both cost and censorship, and it was non-public, which is just how we wanted it. Still do.

However when Google saw a good thing and bought it, became something altogether different. The upgraded templates and new publishing processes were completely incompatible with our comfortably bastardized purposes, so we were forced to abandon our Blogger digs and find a new home. Fortunately via the efforts of one of our members (an IT professional) who went out and actually purchased a real message board program, we have since been ensconced in a more conventional Internet forum.

However the original moniker remains and we still refer to our group as the ‘TK Blog,’ and to each other as ‘bloggers,’ despite the fact that in all likelihood, only myself and one other member (who also has a Blogger site dedicated to Tony Kornheiser, but whom, again, still does not appear to know about mine) are the only ones who actually still are bloggers.

(E)mailing it in
And now, back to my underlying purpose of this post. I have a lot to be grateful for regarding my involvement as a fan of Tony Kornheiser and the ancillary trappings that have come along with it. It’s been a lot of fun. But besides being involved with a group that owed its existence to him, giving me both motive and opportunity for that involvement, I’m grateful to Kornheiser for also giving me the confidence to write and believe that I could be successful in expressing myself through the written word — all of which happened largely as a result of participating in his radio show as an oft-read e-mailer.

Now please understand, I have no delusions about being the next Dave Barry. There have always been and will always be funnier, more intelligent, — and certainly — more acclaimed contributors to TK’s show from a worldwide audience of millions than I have ever been. But from the summer of 2002 through the next 2-3 years, I was seemingly always on Tony’s radar. He read my e-mails so often that other listeners would jokingly try signing their e-mails with my name in order to increase their chances of making the cut.

And while I’ve never really believed I was all that, I was pretty damn proud of the fact that I could make the Orange Man laugh on a fairly consistent basis.

Naturally, the time constraints of anything being read on-air during a radio show are a large factor in whether or not the host can take time to include them. Given my disdain for brevity, that one factor probably worked against me as much as anything else. However it did force me to organize my thoughts and try to be as concise as possible — whether I was successful most of the time is debatable — but I know it did indeed give me a sense for composition and storytelling that I may well have never seen on my own.

Prior to my years of e-mailing the TK show, I’d never have dreamed of considering myself a writer — amateur or otherwise. And whether or not even now I have the right to think of myself in those terms, my life and my self-image, based on the feedback I’ve received from my readers here these past four years, has literally (pun intended) changed my life.

And so what about now, you ask — are you still listening to and e-mailing Kornheiser’s show? That answer would be — a little, and not much at all.

Critical Mass
Things began to change dramatically for TK after the launch of Pardon the Interruption in September of 2001. For years a local celebrity and writer of note for The Washington Post, Tony now began receiving a lot more attention, nationally. As a result, ESPN played up the radio show more to try and capture the coattail effect of its success. PTI received among the highest ratings of all ESPN’s regularly scheduled programming.

Even after moving the radio show from ESPN Radio, back to the local Washington D.C. market in late 2004 (but retaining most of his Internet listeners like your truly), Kornheiser’s star continued to rise.

He began receiving more and more requests of his time for various projects. He would constantly lament the fact that he now had “a dozen jobs,” and that something was going to have to give. Eventually, ostensibly, that ‘something’ would be his involvement with The Post, which had heretofore been his primary employer. He began writing less and less, finally condensing his weekly offerings into brief “columnettes,” as he dubbed them.

But as the print work diminished, the television work increased. The man who proclaimed in self-derision that he was born with “a face made for radio,” was seeing more face-time on camera than ever before.

Then three years ago, potentially his biggest break yet came down the pike — the opportunity to join Mike Tirico and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski (preceded the first year by another former QB in Joe Theissmann) in the broadcast booth for Monday Night Football. It was perhaps the biggest exposure that anyone in his shoes could have received, based upon the popularity of MNF. He actually didn’t want to do it at first, but would admit later, he simply had to go with the opportunity before him.

But the reason I’m going so deep into the Kornheiser resume here is because of the way that this move affected me and my involvement with the radio show. Due to the amount of preparation involved with the NFL season, the MNF announcing teams begins in earnest mid-summer with meetings and interviews of players, coaches and team officials, to get ready for the upcoming season’s broadcasts.

Kornheiser felt he needed the time to do right by his MNF commitment, so in 2006 he decided to leave the radio at the end of April, to begin fulfilling the new responsibilities that a daily radio show would render realistically impossible.

He left the air at the end of June, with the intent to rejoin the show the following January after the conclusion of the NFL season (a policy he has since followed for the last two years and will again in 2008). The break was actually a good thing for me, because basically, I was starting a new job too.

Buried Like Cheese...or Just Desserts?
At almost exactly that same time I was informed by my new boss at The Company that my job status was on rather iffy ground. They had made the decision to hire someone over me, a Webmaster position to oversee the implementation of the new, more modern corporate web site that The Company was paying an outsourced developer thousands and thousands of dollars to write.

It was a job I had hoped to be offered, but realized I was completely unqualified to perform at that point. I felt the wind of a door slamming on my career.

Suddenly, hearing my funny e-mails being read on the air wasn’t quite so important anymore. The whole scenario has been fairly well-documented in other posts, but the good news is that I didn’t lose my job, but am now in the process of learning and improving my skill-set to include those emerging modern web technologies that were never even mentioned, let alone expected of me prior to the new boss’s arrival.

And if that sounds like an excuse, well, it is. I made my bed by coasting and not pushing the envelope from within The Company’s existing IT regime years ago to give me a reason to learn what I needed to know, and now I guess I’m lying in it.

Quite frankly, as much as I’d like to, I don’t have time to listen to Tony Kornheiser anymore — save for the 30 minutes per day I can listen as it’s simulcast (albeit on a brief 15-minute delay) on XM Radio while I’m driving in to work — and I certainly don’t have the time and concentration required to come up with anything topical to say in an e-mail under my current circumstances.

To a lesser degree, the same goes for writing. I used to do a bit of that at work too; can’t anymore. Don’t have the time.

Sheesh; this post was supposed to be a celebration, but instead all of a sudden I feel totally bummed.

Manning Up
I guess I’m rightfully constrained to the obvious guilt I now feel over the time I spent concentrating a little too much on the TK show as opposed to what I was actually being paid to do. Nonetheless, the reality is that it may not have mattered; I was in a pretty impotent place back then, professionally. I had no power to change anything with regard to The Company’s IT department, who usually treated me with no more respect than a fly buzzing around the room. I was pretty much on my own; development resources were constantly in backlog. The only way things could have changed would have been for me to take the bull by the horns and do it by myself. Admittedly, I failed miserably on that count, always waiting for somebody else to make the first move.

Now of course we have Trey, my direct boss (as opposed to my big boss, Katie, the Marketing VP who hired him). He has been exactly what I’ve needed: a patient teacher who respects the skills I have, while gently pressing me to expand my knowledge in those areas in which I’m lacking.

It’s a lot more daunting than anything I’ve had to do in my nine years at The Company, but it will pay huge dividends down the road. And oh, yeah, it’ll also make it possible for me keep my job; that’s a nice bonus too.

It really is interesting, the way seasons of life come and go; each one bringing with it sometimes life-defining circumstances and events. One day you think of yourself one way and the next, everything has changed; then just when you think things will always be that way, BAM — they change again.

I’ve often wondered what will be the ultimate purpose or effect that blogging will have had on my life. Tony Kornheiser once thanked me for my “enthusiasm” for his radio show. Who knows...maybe I was a bit too enthusiastic.

Whatever. What’s done is done, and really, the benefits I’ve gained from the end product of all this — my blog, my friends, my discovery of a means of self-expression I never knew I had before...

Oh yeah, whatever dues I have to pay, post hoc — hell, they’re chump-change.

This season of my life in which I’ve discovered writing is and always will be one of the most liberating, important moments of self-discovery I have or ever will know — of that I am certain. It does appear however to be on its way out with regard to my daily devotion to blogging, and that does indeed make me sad.

But was it worth it? I could go on and on about the way it has completely transformed my relationship with my father; all the great friends I’ve met, whom I hope will always be a part of my life; all the things I’ve come to appreciate about just thinking, and then dealing with the challenge of putting it all down in written form.

That’s a lot to learn at age 48, which is the age I was when I started this thing.

I guess something I’ve learned is that there really is no end to life, not at least until it actually ends.

Here’s to a few more rounds.

Happy Blog-a-versary to me.

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