Archive | July, 2012

It’s not the heat …

5 Jul

So, today it is supposed to be 104 degrees in Chicago.  It hasn’t been this hot here in like, forever (it hasn’t broken 100 in more than 7 years).  If it goes just two degrees higher (106), it will be the hottest day ever in Chicago.  Which, of course leads me to write about such things.  I can’t say I have a concise story to tell.  Just some random observations.  It’s too hot to think enough to make a big story.

I grew up in Iowa – and well … in Iowa, the weather is a LOT more extreme than it is here in Chicago, which as a city, seems to hang its hat on its weather.  We’re windy (although that’s a misnomer), but there are windier places; we have hot weather, but obviously there are places that are much hotter.  We get cold winters but the winters here are so much milder than places like Iowa, Minneapolis, etc. that it’s a bit laughable.  But that said, one of the favorite things to do in Chicago is talk about the weather.  And make news about it.  (more on that below).

That said, Chicago weather IS unique and that’s because of our big blue friend to the east, Lake Michigan.  Lake Michigan is an interesting factor on it all – it’s one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, and in reality, since all of the Great Lakes are just one big interconnected body of water, the Great Lakes system IS the single largest body of fresh water in the world.  Lake Michigan is a large “heat sink”.  In the winter it slowly gives off the warmth it developed all summer long, meaning nearer the lake it is a bit warmer than the rest of the area, and it calms down temperature extremes for as far as 100 miles out from the lake.  If the wind turns off Lake Michigan in the winter, we can get crazy amounts of lake effect snow – the cold air picks up lake water moisture and then when it hits the cool air over the land, the moisture condenses out and it snows like crazy.  In the summer, the opposite is true – it is this tremendous cool wall.  Approaching thunderstorm systems from the west begin running into the cool wall of air as much as 100 miles away, and begin to steer around it – sliding south and southwest.  Our area in the northern suburbs rarely has tornados as a result.  And, especially early in the season, you can have what starts out as a hot day and suddenly as the air starts to rise off the ground, the cool air from Lake  Michigan will rush off the lake to replace it – dropping the temps 30 degrees or more in just minutes.  Anyone who has ever gone to an April or May game at Wrigley Field has experienced this on more than one occasion.

And all that makes this hot weather in Chicago that much more newsworthy.  I guess.

Hot weather also brings on all sorts of related silliness and phrases:

“Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk”  And of course some d-bag news guy has to try every time.
It’s a scorcher! (Show me something that’s actually scorched.  I double dog dare ya.)
“Hot enough for ya?”  Huh?
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”  Umm, it’s the heat too.  I can take humidity when it is 75 outside.

I have a good career pal, Maddie, (someone I’ve met through work) who is from Dallas, TX (although she lives in San Antonio now).  She’s lived around the southwest, and knows hot.  Her way of describing the heat (in her big Southern accent) was “Well, down in Houston, they got that humid hot.  Out in Waco and other places out west, they got the dry hot.  Here in Dallas?  It’s just Hot Hot.”

and etc., etc.  And when the TV news idiots get on the subject, well …

I get a kick out of the news media breathlessly telling us what we should and should not do in hot weather. All of it is “well, DUH!!”  Drink of lots of water. (Nope, going on a water fast!)  Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. (Hell no.  Where’s my NorthFace?) Stay out of the hot sun.  (Are you kidding?  And miss out on the tan of a lifetime?)  Make sure to take care of your children and pets have plenty of water and shelter. (Nope, the little shits are going to fry!)  Check in on the elderly. (I got enough to do with keeping cool.  Grandma’s on her own.), etc. etc.

Holy shit, an “Orange Alert”? Really? Why don’t you just say “It’s going to be f’ing hot out there.” That advice is amazing. “Get lots of Air Conditioning.” Huh, I’d have never thought of that on my own.

Back when I was in school, I originally planned for my career to be in TV news.  Now I look at the state of local TV news and just shake my head.  Really?  Is this all you’ve got to talk about?”

We need more weathermen like Ollie from Family Guy:

So, hey folks, it’s a hot time, summer in the city, back of my neck feeling dirty and gritty.

But I’m not going to give you advice about it.  If you can’t figure it out on your own, well … I think you’ve got greater issues.

As you were,

Stew

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Miss ya, Dad.

1 Jul

Twenty years ago today, my dad, Donn Campbell, passed away.  Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.  I was only 30 years old when he passed – my wife Robin was pregnant with my now-about-to-turn 20 years old son, Joel.  He was born only six weeks later.  I’m 50 now.  Hard to believe how time flies.

I wanted to write about my Dad today for a number of reasons.  There are so many people in my life now that never knew him, and I’d like to introduce you to him.  Obviously, another reason is simply in memory of him.  And, well, I miss him. Earlier this week, an old friend from my hometown, Sharil, wrote a beautiful missive on Facebook about her dad, who had passed in 2005.  I never met him but after reading her story, I felt I did.  So, thanks for being my muse today, Sharil.

I’m going to attempt to introduce you to my dad today.  This isn’t a sad story about a life ended too early (It was.), or a tearful drone about missing him (I do.) – instead, I’m just going to tell you about him.  And hopefully, you’ll get a glimpse into who he was, what he was about, and why everybody who knew him thought he was pretty much the nicest guy they had ever met.  I’m going to try to make this NOT sound like a eulogy.  We’ll see how I do.

My Dad was sort of the epitome of the song “Small Town” by John Mellencamp.  In that song, Mellencamp talks about a guy who was born in a small town, lived in a small town and will probably die in that same small town.  My dad was born and raised in Newton, IA and lived his entire life there, and well, died nearby, and is buried there as well.   He was fiercely proud of his hometown, his state and his alma mater.  Out traveling, he’d be the first guy to proudly speak up with “we’re from Iowa”.

Being one of those rare folks that lived his entire life in the same small town, he was immensely proud of his town. Newton IA is a tidy little town, 30 miles outside of Des Moines, with a population of about 15,000 people.  When my Dad passed, Newton was still riding pretty high – Maytag Co. hadn’t yet overgrown its opportunities and gotten sold off to Whirlpool, dealing the town a hard blow.   He went to the local high school, where I graduated as well, and played football there.  He had season tickets to the Cardinals and went to nearly every football game there, following them like someone might follow an NFL team.  Newton’s football nights are the embodiment of Friday Night Lights, and without the presence or distractions of nearby pro sports, it’s everyone’s outlet for sports fan activity – an outlet my Dad always enjoyed.  He was actively involved in a number of aspects of the community and I think was one of its most ardent supporters.

He was a broad-based sports fan in general – he’d pore over the Sports section in the Des Moines Register every morning, especially the stats page – that’s a habit my son Joel has today.  He was also a tremendous fan of his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes – he had season tickets to the Hawkeyes for years, and when I was in school, my favorite thing was to roll out of my dorm or frat room bed and head across campus to my parents tailgate bashes.  He rarely missed a home game for the Hawkeye football team, and frequently made it to Iowa City for basketball as well.  When he went to Iowa, he was part of the championship-winning team in that era, as a manager.  He was still wearing his letterman’s jacket years later – I remember him wearing it when we’d go sledding.

After college, he went into the US Air Force – he was in ROTC in college and went in as an officer – a 2nd Lieutenant and left the service 3 years later with the rank of Captain.  My dad was fiercely patriotic – shortly after we moved to the house my mom still lives in – in 1971 – we erected a 20 foot flagpole in the front yard and proudly displayed the Red White and Blue every day.  We’d have an epic 4th of July brunch every year with a flag-raising party.  I think that was one of his most favorite days of the year.  Those that know me locally know that ever since I’ve had a single family home (20+ years now), I’ve had a 20-foot flag pole in my front yard too.  And it displays Old Glory every day.

His career, and his “other” life was his business – Maytag Dairy Farms – makers of the delicious Maytag Blue Cheese.  His dad/my Grandfather helped the Maytag family found the Blue Cheese business in the late 1930s/1940s, and when my dad graduated from Iowa and returned from the Air Force, he worked for the Maytag Company for a few short weeks before the Dairy Farms hired him to work at his dad’s side.  When my grandfather retired as Chairman, and died shortly after, in 1973, my dad ascended to President of the company and ran it until his death 20 years ago.  He loved that business – loved both the cheese and the farm operations side of it (in addition to making cheese, Maytag Dairy used to have a championship-winning Holstein dairy herd.  He had a strong partnership with his “boss” – Fritz Maytag, who is widely known now as the father of the craft brewing movement.  Together with Fritz, they built Maytag Blue Cheese into the brand that is widely known today, and expanded production, introduced new products, build brand buzz through press, restaurant menu distribution, events and more.  I was never given the opportunity to work there, and in fact when I asked my Dad about it two years before his passing, he discouraged me from it, saying he believed that I would be bored there.  He was probably right. But it was his favorite thing.

So, what was my dad like?  He was just a great guy.  Very simply.  He was always that guy that would invite you to join into whatever he’d be doing at the time with a hearty smile and a firm handshake.  My best memories of him as a kid are a mix of adventures – such as hiking in the Rocky Mountains, fishing in Northern Minnesota lakes, and of parties and entertaining.  It seems, as I look back on being a kid, that my folks were always entertaining people – from their epic Hawkeye game tailgates, to parties, to simply having others to our home for dinner or even just a beer on the patio in the afternoon, my parents were the consummate hosts.  My mom, of course, has much to do with that, being an incredible cook, and an even better host, but my dad was an equally willing partner.  This is something that has carried forward, of course, with me.  I would much rather cook and serve dinner for friends in our home than go out to dinner.  People ask Robin and I where we get that, and it comes from our families.  It’s what we do, because it’s what we’ve done for our entire lives.  And I can put a lot of that inspiration on my Dad.

My dad was also naturally outgoing,  a “friendmaker”.  He would make a new friend everywhere he went, and naturally engaged strangers in conversation, and of course within seconds of the start of the conversation, two points would be made that a) he was from Iowa, b) have you had Maytag Blue Cheese?   And everytime, he made a friend.  I can’t imagine anyone ever meeting my dad and afterwards saying anything derogatory about him.  He also generally had a great sense for people, and well, a bit of a naive trust that everyone was a good to the core, and as nice and well intentioned as him.  My favorite “dad made a friend” story comes from one of our Colorado skiing vacations we took during high school and college.  He had ridden the chairlift with a couple of interesting guys from Columbia, who were staying in what was at the time in Breckenridge, the ritziest condo development in town.  Later that day we were invited to their condo, and of course it was incredibly opulent.  My mother and I, being the skeptics in the family, started putting two-and-two together when we were hearing that these guys flew to Breckenridge in their private jet, had houses in multiple cities, etc.  These were cocaine moguls.  My dad would hear none of that, though a few years later would just chuckle and say “Yeah, well, that’s probably right.  But hey, they were still nice guys!”

My dad loved life.  He liked both simple pleasures and big times as well.  He loved home improvement projects like painting the house because it allowed him to just relax and do things – a pleasure I understand well.  He’d derived just as much pleasure from a good walk after dinner as he would from going to a big event at their local country club.  His favorite thing was to provide for others – treating you to dinner, entertaining you in his home or at his tailgate, providing cheese for a charity event, or just volunteering.  I write a lot about “the little things” in this blog.  I learned this from my Dad.

At my dad’s funeral, our next door neighbor, who was the Chairman/CEO of Maytag at the time (Leonard Hadley), came up to me and gave me a big, uncharacteristic hug (this guy wasn’t a hugger), and with tears in his eyes (again, incredibly uncharacteristic), said to me “Your dad was the nicest man I’ve ever met.”  Wow.

I think a lot of folks would agree.  As would I.  For those that never met him, I hope after reading this, you’ve gotten a sense of that as well.

Miss ya, Dad.  Love you.

As you were,

Stew

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