Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mr. Runkle deserves better

I was in Mr. Runkle's class.
It was during Parents' Night. I sat there as a student would and listened to the seventh-grade science teacher talk about his teaching and grading and disipline philosophies.
It was hard to concentrate -- and not because of the subject matter or the teacher's public speaking skills.
It was because the room was lined with cages. I mean lined. Cages on low tables; cages on higher tables; cages stacked on cages.
There were chinchillas and snakes and everything in between.
"What a cool class," I thought.
It was Mr. Runkle's classroom menagerie and he was there seven days a week taking care of it. He stayed long after school let out and was always there on weekends.
I know because we lived only a few blocks from the school and we could see his car parked there all the time.
My kids really liked his class and I was glad they had him for a teacher.
Maybe you've heard about Dean Runkle.
He's been accused of killing Amy Mihaljevic, the 10-year-old abducted from a Bay Village shopping center in 1989.
Not accused as in accused by police, accused as in accused by Scene magazine writer James Renner based on (in his words) "five or six pieces of circumstantial evidence."
Well, shoot, this "news" is creating shock waves from one side of this country to the other as former students and parents hear about it.
The reactions follow the same pattern -- disbelief followed by a "well, he was a weirdo" followed by a "yeah, a weirdo who was able to motivate middle-school kids" and back to disbelief.
So, who IS this Scene magazine writer who has put Mr. Runkle on a skewer and dangled him over the jaws of those vicious and often illiterate Internet posters who care little for fact and even less for proof?
I Googled Renner.
He's a 30-year-old Cleveland author and film critic who is obsessed with Amy Mihaljevic.
He's also somewhat of a publicity hound. Check out his Today Show man-to-man kiss at
So, he's a (relative) kid throwing a 65-year-old strange but dedicated former teacher under the bus with "five or six pieces of circumstantial evidence," which were not enough for the FBI.
It just doesn't seem fair to me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Insect screens aren't lizard-proof

Yesterday, I did something I have never done before.
I plucked petrified lizards out of the windowsills in our new house.
That's the coolest thing about relocating -- all the new experiences a person has.
I was dusting and vacuuming and sweeping up a storm, dancing around like Cinderella, so excited that the sale of the house had finally closed and it was ours. We get to move -- today! -- out of the tiny apartment where we use beach chairs for furniture and have only two plates, two forks and two glasses in the kitchen cupboard.
Anyway, in my Cinderella cleaning-frenzy, I noticed the windowsills were awfully dirty. I put the hose on the vacuum and just as I was about to shove it into the window crevice, I saw the lizard.
He was all stretched out and could have been the decorative handle on a drink-stirrer or a pate knife.
I didn't think it was a good idea to suck him into the vacuum. So what?
I made my thumb and forefinger into a pair of tweezers and then, plucked him out and tossed him on the floor.
I'll sweep him up later, I thought, as I continued vacuuming the windowsill.
Then I moved to the next window. There was an even bigger petrified lizard in that sill.
Poor things, I thought. They must have wriggled in through the screen and then were too dumb to remember how they got in and starved to death.
I involuntarily shuddered.
I plucked him out and vacuumed that sill.
Then I went to the third window. It was filled with lizard carcasses. In fact, a tanner could have probably made a belt -- do they make lizard-skin belts? -- out of all their hides.
I plucked them one by one onto the floor where it looked like a lizard ball.
I had tossed them all in relatively the same area and there they were, all lying around on the floor.
Hmm, I should have counted them.
Nah, that would have been too weird.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hooked on Florida

I saved my first shore bird.
It was a sunny day in St. Petersburg on Friday. The temperature was a degree or two shy of 90 and I had to use windshield wipers to see through the humidity.
I put two cans of pop (liquid is a good thing in the tropics) in an insulated lunch bag and then stuffed that bag, a book, a towel, a baggie filled with pretzels and my binoculars – an often overlooked beach necessity -- into a bigger bag, grabbed a chair and drove to Gulfport Beach.
Gulfport, a southern neighborhood of St. Pete, is where we are going to live if our bank-owned house ever closes -- but that's for another story.
Anyway, it was really hot so I thought I'd walk out to the end of the pier where the breeze off the water is great.
By the time I walked the two blocks from public parking to the pier -- regretting I didn't leave my stuffed beach bag in the trunk with my chair -- my hair was sticking to the back of my neck, sweat beads were running down my forehead and blisters were beginning to form where my rubber flip-flops rubbed against the sweaty tops of my feet.
And people wonder why they call this paradise!
I said hello to a burly fisherman casting a net over the side of the pier.
“What are you trying to catch with that?” I asked him as I pushed my sunglasses back up my sweaty nose.
“Bait. Little fish for bait,” he said.
Hmmm. I know those fish. In fact, I caught one myself just the other day on St. Pete Beach. Something tickled in the top of my bathing suit. I looked down and there was a little silver fish. I didn’t freak out as much as the man 20 feet away from me in the water who saw more than the little fish as I wriggled it out of the top of my suit.
I continued on my way, walking out the pier. The only other people on it were an Asian couple, each with three or four active fishing rods leaning up against the railing.
I smiled and said hello but they just responded with that nod and smile that says, “I know the word hello but not a lick of English beyond that.”
As I got to the end of the pier, I could see a huge bird standing on it. It was a heron. It must have been about 4 feet tall, just standing there all spindly and, wait, there was something hanging out of its mouth.
I got closer and the gangly bird started to bob away. I stopped but squinted to see what it was chewing on.
A fishing line!
It had a fishing line hanging out of its mouth.
How will it eat with that hook in its throat? How did it get there? How will it survive?
I had to get help. I got to the Asian fisherman first.
He nodded and smiled at me as I approached.
I pointed to the heron and then stuck my pointer finger into my mouth, crooked it and poked my cheek out from the inside, the universal symbol for “that bird out there swallowed a fishing hook.”
He smiled and nodded. I nodded and again pointed to the bird but by this point, the man had gone back to his fishing.
Then I saw the burly fisherman who was casting nets for those little bait fish.
“That bird out there swallowed a fishing line,” I said.
“I know. I saw it. People gotta clean up after themselves. They cut their lines, leave them laying around and the birds get at them,” he said.
“Want to help me catch him?” I asked, smoothing out my sundress in an attempt to look more like a serious conservationist than a sweaty tourist-turned-resident.
“Well, ma’am,” (that’s what they call women down here) the man laughed, “I don’t know what we’d do with that bird once we caught it.”
He was probably right. I pushed my sunglasses back up my sweaty nose and continued flip-flopping down the pier. I kept turning around to make sure the bird was still there.
Now what?
Then I remembered a new friend I had made days earlier -- the owner of the used book store. She was only a couple blocks away. She'd know who to call.
I was in luck. She knew someone who knew someone who had the number of the local volunteer for the Shore Bird Sanctuary.
By the time I got back to the pier, there were four people on it: the burly man, the Asian couple and an older woman, who was thin, wearing shorts, a white T-shirt, white anklet socks – and carrying a net.
The shore bird saver!
I could hardly wait to get to her, to tell her I was the one who called, to ask her if I could help.
“He’s gone,” she said to me before I could speak. “This is the second time today that I’ve been out on this bird and he’s never where the people say he is.”
The people?
“That guy,” she said, pointing to the bait fisherman, “said it was here five minutes ago but now it’s gone.”
“Does it bob on the water? Like that?” I asked her as I pointed to a duck 50 feet away.
“Heavens, no. They have no means of swimming,” she said as she walked away from me.
But I wasn’t done. I set my beach bag on the pier and pulled out my beach necessities one at a time until I found the binoculars.
I scanned the horizon, looking for the bird.
I spotted him. He was on a dingy tied to a shorter wooden pier a little way down the beach.
I frantically looked around for the bird rescuer. I spotted her scurrying along the shore.
I stuck my arm up in the air and waved it at her like someone lost at sea would wave at a low-flying aircraft.
She saw me.
“He’s out there,” I mouthed to her as I pointed to the other pier.
She started to walk toward me as I rushed to her.
“Look, he’s eating the bait out of a bucket on that dingy,” I said as I thrust my binoculars at her.
“Now, why would anyone leave bait on that dingy?” she asked as she took my binoculars.
She held her glasses in one hand as she tried to look out of the binoculars. She tilted them and made them wider and then narrower and then, annoyed, pushed them back to me.
“I can't see out of these."
And then, "I have my own binoculars ... in the car.”
“That’s him,” I said. “You can see the wire hanging out of his mouth.”
She grunted in agreement.
“Well, we’ll just have to hope he walks into my lure,” she said as she walked toward her car.
“Can I help?” I asked, walking as fast as a woman with blisters on the top of her feet and a 20-pound beach bag hanging off her left arm can.
“No,” she said.
So I took a spot on a bench on the beach and watched out of my binoculars as the wiry, white-haired woman went after the hooked heron.
She walked to the end of the pier where the dingys were tied up and then she bent at the waist and did something with her lure, which was a pole with a neon-green net tied to one end of it.
I couldn’t tell what she was doing but all of a sudden, she leaned back and then threw her bony arm forward, casting her lure like a fisherman casting a line.
I rotated my arms so that my binoculars moved from her, down her pole to the net.
Holy shit. It looked like she bagged an emu.
She must have had him by the foot because he was hopping one-legged toward her.
As quickly as she caught him, she scooped him up and out of the net and had the enormous bird folded up and tucked under one arm. She held its beak shut with her free hand.
I ran toward her and she walked back from the end of the pier.
“That was great!!” I said. “How did you do that?”
“I’ve done it lots of times,” she said, more annoyed with me than the emu she had tucked under her arm.
I followed her to her car, continuing to tell her how amazing she was.
She interrupted me in mid-praise.
“Now you can help me. Get those scissors off the front seat and cut this.”
She was pointing to the fishing line that was wrapped around the bird’s neck.
When I got close to the bird, I could see that while it may be 4 feet tall, it only weighs about 4 ounces. It was all spindle and feather.
I got the scissors and cut the line. The hero woman unwound it from the bird’s neck and then carried the bird to an awaiting dog crate in the back of her car.
This is where I found out why the bird had been so subdued: She was holding its beak shut. To put it in the crate, she had to let go of the beak – and immediately lost control of the beast.
As she thrust it toward the door of the crate, that bird extended every possible thing on its body that it could extend to keep from going into the cage – it opened its beak, outstretched its wings, raising every feather as high off its body as it could. It spread its long, stick legs and all the toes on it as wide as it could.
But, in another feat of magic by the rescue woman, it was momentarily in the cage and sulking, its face smashed into a corner.
“Are you taking it to a vet?” I asked of the bird that still had fishing line hanging out of its beak.
“There’s a hospital at the sanctuary,” she said. “They know what to do. They don’t even have to cut the bird. They just reach down its throat and get the hook out.”
Reach down its throat and get the hook out.
“Does this happen a lot?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” she said getting into her car.
I picked up my beach bag and watched as she drove away.
I scooched my feet back in my flip-flops, keeping the rubber away from my blisters and I walked back to my car.
I threw my stuff in the trunk and got it. I was feeling pretty good, having saved a living creature and all.
Never mind the heat and the blisters and the fact that both my cans of pop were long gone, it really was just another day in paradise ...

Friday, October 10, 2008

House for sale -- cheap

It's 88 degrees in St. Petersburg today. Good thing me and my stuff are in air conditioning.
Now, if I can just get us in the same air-conditioned space.
As I sit in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment in my beach chair, I dream about the comfy couch across town in a storage facility.
But the end is coming soon!
We bought a house -- a foreclosed house -- from the bank.
The real estate market in southwestern Florida is as bad or even worse than the one I left in Lorain, Ohio.
There are so many houses for sale and most of them are in at least PRE-foreclosure, which seems to mean nothing more than the step before full-blown foreclosure.
We had to look for a second house after the first one we "bought" did not appraise as high as the price we had agreed to pay. The buyers wouldn't budge so we walked away from the deal.
As it turns out -- GOOD THING!
I ended up finding a crackerjack ball-of-fire real estate agent named Delia and she had a house up her sleeve.
It's brand new and twice as big as the first one and has marble and tile throughout -- and we got it for almost exactly half of the price it was when it was foreclosed on two years ago. Since then it has been sold at auction, another deal that fell through. We are the third buyers of this new house. It must have been like gum on the bottom of the shoe of the bank that owned it for it to be offered at such a great price.
We should be in by the end of the month.
It doesn't have a pool -- a deal breaker for my husband -- but with the money we saved buying it, we can afford to put one in -- immediately.
The woman who foreclosed on this house, located in the Gulfport area of St. Pete, was from California. She had it built -- with all the upgrades -- but for some reason never moved in or, obviously, paid for it.
Buyers are lucky in this market but poor sellers certainly aren't.
What's going to happen to all these houses that are worth so much less than the owners paid for them? I don't know but I hope somebody smart figures it out soon -- hopefully someone smart enough not to ask "hockey moms" what the bailout plan should be.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Moving heaven and earth -- and my stuff

The movers were coming.
The big orange semi into which all my worldly belongings were loaded in Lorain last Friday was set to pull into Quality Self Storage on Pasadena Avenue in St. Petersburg at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Walid (pronounced Wall-eed), the main mover, called me and said to meet him there.
I made sure I got there on time. Something says you shouldn't anger in any way the man who holds all your earthly possessions.
Plus, it would give me a chance to find some things I wish I would not have packed -- like all my clothes and my toaster.
There we were -- Walid, a local moving man named Greg who was there to help and me -- in front of the Quality Self Storage at 8 a.m.
Too bad the place didn't open until 8:30.
Yikes. I offered to go find coffee for the kind mover men.
We finally got into the place and started unloading. My compartment could only be accessed from inside the huge warehouse because I got a unit that was "climate controlled," which means it is in air-conditioning.
I watched as boxes marked "books" were loaded onto dollys on top of boxes marked "fragile -- wine glasses."
I thought I better help.
So there I was in 90-degree heat and humidity, working right alongside the two men.
I plucked out a box here and there. Some marked "kitchen," some marked "Patti's clothes," some marked "EXTREMELY fragile."
Most of those boxes would be placed toward the front of the storage unit so I could get access to them at a later time.
A few of the others, I would take back to the teeny little one-bedroom apartment my husband and I are inhabiting until we find a house we like, er, can afford.
About three hours into the unloading-off-the-truck-and-reloading-into-a-storage-unit, it became apparent -- to Walid, at least -- that everything wasn't going to fit into one unit.
So, soon we had two.
I was chasing after the cart- and dolly-wielding moving men, trying to read what the boxes were labeled. Darn, I wish I would have put bright yellow stripes on the important ones.
Walid, who came to the United States from Syria 20 years ago, assured me 1. he would stop loading books on wine glasses and 2. he would keep the boxes I need toward the front of the unit.
It took "us" eight hours to get everything unloaded. About six hours in, I gave up caring about anything. They could put the stuff in however they wanted.
I was sitting on the curb outside the warehouse when Walid came to tell me they were finished.
"It was close but we got it all in," he said.
"Just be careful when you open the second unit. We had to put the TV on top."
The TV? The 52-inch TV? On top of what?
"Can I get at the boxes I need?"
Walid didn't answer.
"If you take the TV home first," he said.
"Let's go look," I told him.
He followed me into the warehouse and we stood before the closed door of the unit.
"It's in there," he said.
"Can we open it and look?" I asked.
"We better not."
We better not? What does that mean? We better not when he's still here?
"I want to see what happens when we open that door -- while you are still here," I told him.
So, he pulled open the garage-door-like metal door.
There before my eyes was my stuff -- packed from floor to ceiling. I could see the front tire of a bike and piles of boxes. And right in the front -- if it was any closer, it would be touching the door -- was the back of the big TV.
Oh, well. At least, I had put some boxes in my car to take home with me.
I was too tired to see if I grabbed good boxes until this morning.
I pulled the tape off and opened them.
The kitchen boxes contained not the toaster or my coffee grinder but cups and casserole dishes.
The boxes marked "Patti's clothes" contained not shorts and T-shirts but sweatshirts and shoes.
Well, I never win the regular lottery -- why should I win the box lottery?
Hopefully, we'll be in a new house soon and I'll be able to have everything I need.
Until then, you'll find me walking around in sweatpants and high-heeled pumps as I try to brown my toast in a casserole dish in the oven.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All's fair but that doesn't make it right

Once we knew we'd be moving to St. Petersburg, we started thinking about where we would live when we got there.
I found a readers' forum on a real estate site from the area and posted a question asking about the best places to live.
I got several replies, including one from a real estate agent named Mike.
We wrote back and forth and pretty soon, he was Our Realtor.
We'd give him a list of houses we found online and he would line up visits for us.
He might have seen us as business clients but we saw him as a friend -- our first friend in Florida.
He took us through dozens of houses.
A lot of them were nice; they were OK. But they just weren't THE house.
Then one day, the day after a marathon house-shopping spree with Mike, I drove around all day long all by myself. I drove street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood, trying to find a house.
Six hours later, I went back to the apartment my husband is temporarily staying in and called up the Tampa Bay Craig's List.
(Craig's List is a free online classified service, available for most parts of the country -- including the Cleveland area.)
I found a house there that seemed perfect. A street was listed but no house number. I sent the home owner, who was selling it without a real estate agent, an e-mail.
She wrote back with the house number and we drove past it.
It WAS perfect. It was in a great location. It was the right price. And, most importantly, it was exactly the kind of house we were looking for.
We went and looked at it, one thing led to another and pretty soon we were making plans to buy the house.
And then we got an e-mail from Mike.
"Where are you guys?"
Mike. Our Realtor. Our friend.
How does Mike fit into this?
We didn't know so we didn't answer him. We haven't answered him.
I asked some friends. They said, "Oh, well. Too bad."
I asked a real estate agent. He said, "It depends on what you signed."
We didn't sign anything. Besides, I wasn't asking about the legality of what had happened, I was asking about the morality of it.
I want to tell Mike we never set out to betray him.
We had every intention of buying a house from him.
It just happened.
I just wish I felt better about it.

Those winds blew some sense in me

"If a hurricane's coming," I said to my husband the other day, "I'm not leaving."
He turned toward me, laughed and said, "Oh, yes, you are."
"The house isn't that close to the water," I said, waiting for him to keep arguing.
But he was done talking. He wasn't angry but it was clear he thought the subject was too ridiculous to waste any more energy discussing.
I was talking about weathering a typhoon in the house we are buying in St. Petersburg.
If you've ever flown into the Tampa airport, you've seen St. Petersburg. From the sky, it looks like a teardrop -- made up of almost as much water as land -- hanging into the Gulf of Mexico.
In other words, almost all of it is close to water.
The city is mapped into evacuation areas. The areas that get evacuated first are given the letter A. That includes waterfront property and all mobile home parks.
Our new house is in Evacuation Area B -- second highest priority.
But I still thought it was OK to wait out a hurricane there. How bad can it be, I thought.
And then I met Ike.
The winds were just starting to pick up when I dropped my weekend-marriage husband off at the airport Sunday afternoon.
By the time I got home, the sky had a yellow cast and the wind was blowing down leaves and limbs.
My backyard looked like a war zone. Most of the potted plants were tipped over and ...
It's one of those canvas shelters that have screen sides that can be pulled shut but most of the time are tied in the corners.
It had been BOLTED onto the wooden deck but now it was in the pool -- like a dead dog in a cartoon with its four PVC-pipe legs sticking straight up into the air.
I've got to get it out, I thought as my head quickly filled with visions of those four pipe legs ripping holes in the pool liner.
I reached in the pool, grabbed one of the legs and pulled.
But the howling wind was pulling back and the water in the pool was lapping over the side of the canvas, filling it like it was a gigantic upside-down umbrella.
I yanked and pulled and rocked and tugged and eventually pulled it out.
Now what?
I now had an upside-down umbrella on land. It was no longer in danger of sinking but now it was in danger of blowing away.
I stood on the canvas to keep it from blowing away and I looked around for salvation that wouldn't come.
I pulled the legs off and dragged it next to the utility shed to shield it from the wind.
The wind was still gusting as I walked back to the house, satisfied I had secured the gazebo as best I could.
I stowed some lawn furniture and righted the plants that had tipped over.
And then I went in the house -- and finally had the chance to say, "Yikes!"
The wind was THIS strong 1,000 miles from where the hurricane made landfall.
How strong must that wind be in Evacuation Area B?
Don't ask me. I'm pretty sure I'll be long gone before I ever get a chance to find out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The last Chronicle column

What makes a woman -- who is not going into witness protection -- up and leave family and friends, a comfortable home and a newspaper career to move 1,200 miles away?
A husband whose lifelong dream has been to live among palm trees and palmetto bugs, that’s what.
You see, a few months ago, I dragged home from yet another day leading the charge to put out this newspaper to find my teacher-husband hunched over the computer, feverishly tapping on the keyboard with his two pointer fingers.
There were manila folders and stacks of paper everywhere. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose and I’m pretty sure he was sweating.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Sending out resumes to Florida,” he answered.
“We’re moving to Florida?”
“We can if I find a job down there. What do you think?”
What I thought was that our lifelong dream of moving to a tropical climate could actually turn out to be more than a dream.
And I also thought that it would give me an excuse to get out of the newspaper.
Putting out a 25,000-circulation daily newspaper is like riding a never-ending roller coaster. I would never voluntarily get off that roller coaster. It’s too much fun. But, at the same time, I always wished the thing would stop for just a minute so I could catch my breath.
And now, with the words, “moving to Florida,” I thought for the first time in my life, I could actually hear the sound of that roller coaster pulling into the station.
In recent years, there have been some things going on at the paper that told me it’s time to move on. Now I had the chance.
And, so, we were moving – or at least we were willing to move.
My husband sent out close to 100 resumes to Florida school districts that had teacher openings.
He never heard back from any of them … not even a “thanks but no thanks.” It’s as if he was filing those applications into a black hole.
And then he heard from St. Petersburg. He was one of a dozen prospects for one job. He went down for an interview. They hired him that very day.
And so, we really were moving.
Fast forward two months and here we are today. He has a job. I don’t. For the first time in 30 years, I not only don’t work at a newspaper, I don’t work anywhere.
Talk about a woman without a country.
I hope to get some writing work, hopefully on a magazine, and I plan to shop my column around down there.
But I just wanted to say how much fun it has been telling you stories every week in this column.
And I want to thank you for all the kind comments you have sent back to me about it and the stories of your own lives that you have shared with me.
I always thought that deep down we really are all a lot alike. Your reactions to this column proved that to be true.
I’ll keep writing online at
I’m sure the skunks and other critters that have been terrorizing me in Ohio will get word to the wildlife in Florida that I’m on my way down.
Do you think beating with a broken broom handle on the top of the metal lid of a fire pit will scare away alligators in Florida the way it scared away birds of prey in Ohio?
Stay tuned.

Patti Ewald’s last day as managing editor of The Chronicle was Friday. You can always reach her at Please stay in touch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Patti and the bachelor

Well, things have finally calmed down with our local-boy-makes-good story about Jesse Csincsak and The Bachelorette.
I got involved writing the story when Steve Fogarty, our entertainment go-to guy, couldn't watch it one night.
Then, a couple weeks later, he couldn't watch it again.
After seeing it twice, I was, gulp, hooked.
It's a dumb show and I yelled at the TV as much as the sports guys in the newsroom do when they are watching the Cavaliers but I watched anyway.
I'm pretty sure it's just because Jesse was involved. Although I never knew him, he was a year behind -- and a friend of -- my older son in high school.
He also happens to be my cousins' cousin.
So I had more than a casual interest.
I never thought he had a shot ... even when he was one of only two remaining.
But I did think he was the only one of all of them who wasn't the kind of gushy guy I would never want to go out with.
I got the interview with him that ran on Wednesday by calling his publicist -- "Everything has to go through my publicist," he told us -- as soon as DeAnna Pappas picked him.
I asked if I could talk to Jesse the next day and she hooked me up.
I didn't know until I got him on the phone that I had 10 minutes with him. Now, I don't know if you've ever interviewed anyone but 10 minutes isn't a lot of time.
Sure, it was time to ask all the questions I had prepared but it didn't leave a whole lot of time to write down his responses.
If I would have been smart, I would have recorded the conversation.
He's a nice guy. He really is. And as was his style on the show, he seemed to be really honest and forthright with his answers.
I'll be curious to see how the story ends.
Until then, I'm trying to get an invitation to a party he (his publicist) is having when he comes to Ohio later this summer.
If the "press" isn't invited, I told her I would just come as a regular person.
Wonder if she believes me when I say I can separate the two.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The building has no power and neither do we

We were without electricity for a few hours Monday night after the storm knocked out power downtown and the newspaper's generator failed to kick on.
When we finally were able to get back on our computers, we hustled to get the paper out.
Sometime after midnight we got a tip that Middle Avenue near Value City and a portion of Russia Road had been barricaded and there were many police cars in the area.
We called the Elyria Police and were told that the sheriff's department was handling it.
The only question was: Handling what?
There were no reporters left in the newsroom at that hour to dispatch so I asked one of our copy editors -- Michael Baker -- to call the sheriff's department to find out what was going on.
Well, seems the dispatcher would give him absolutely no information. Nothing.
He came into my office.
"What am I supposed to do in a situation like this?" he asked.
"She wouldn't tell me anything."
I couldn't imagine that a dispatcher would not give us a general idea of what was going on.
So, I said, "Give me that number."
I called her.
"I don't have any information," she said.
"You don't know what the call was they went out on?" I asked.
"I don't have a press release," she said.
She doesn't have a press release.
Now, come on.
"All I want to know is what was the call they went out on," I repeated.
She repeated similar stonewalling sentiments.
She would not tell me anything.
So, I pulled Michael away from his copy-editing job and sent him to the scene to check things out.
Then I left a message on Sheriff Stammitti's voicemail pleading for just a little cooperation.
When Michael got to the barricades, he was told by a law enforcement officer to wait in the Value City parking lot.
Michael asked him what was going on and he said he didn't know.
He said he didn't know.
I was beginning to wonder if anybody did know.
Michael told me that Terry Costigan of TMC News was already there.
I told him to ask Terry what was going on.
And finally, we got our information: There's a hostage situation in a house.
Thanks, Terry.
You know, that's all we wanted to know.
Is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pomp not too circumspect

It has to be tough to be the superintendent of a school district and have to speak at commencement. And, if there are two high schools in your district, it would be doubly tough.
So, what do you do?
Well, if you are Cheryl Atkinson, winding up her first year as superintendent of Lorain Schools, you just give the same speech twice. Well, almost the same speech.
When I was reading over the story Jason Hawk wrote for Wednesday's paper about Admiral King's graduation, her words sounded vaguely familiar.
So I looked back to see what she had said to Southview graduates the night before.
Monday night, she asked Southview graduates, "Who are you? Are you the next business owner? Scientist? Teacher? President? Will you hold the cure for cancer? Who are you, really?"
Tuesday night, she asked Admiral King graduates, "Who are you? You are the ones who have achieved in spite of obstacles … you are our window of opportunity, cure for cancer, hope for the future of our city, state and nation."
Well, at least by the second reincarnation of the speech, she was answering the question, "Who are you?" instead of following it up with more questions.
Maybe she'll luck out next year and one of these graduating seniors will answer her question with the words: "A speechwriter!"

Monday, May 19, 2008

Of missing bodies and handsome bachelors

Some nights here in the newsroom, we dig and dig and finally find gold.
But some nights, we dig and dig and all we end up with is a great big hole.
Tonight was a whole lot more the latter.
Court reporter Brad Dicken picked up a lawsuit during late afternoon court checks that had him breathless.
The suit seemed to say that three brothers were suing the City of Amherst for digging up their deceased mother's body from a cemetery and selling it to a man for $70.
Well, after Brad went to Amherst and talked to a few people, the story became: Amherst dug up a woman's ashes from a potter's field in Crownhill Cemetery because a man -- presumably the woman's boyfriend -- wanted to move the ashes closer to family.
It's still an interesting story you can read about in tomorrow's Chronicle ... it just wasn't quite what we thought it was going to be.
But then, neither was the story of our bachelor, Jesse Csincsak, vying for the affections of "The Bachelorette."
Jesse, an Amherst grad, is a professional snowboarder -- and he dresses like one (think skater). He had on a multi-colored jacket and neon sneakers and his hair hung in his eyes.
But, no matter, The Bachelorette not only kept him in the running, she gave him one of the first three roses (which means he's safe from elimination). Steve Fogarty watched the show at home and e-mailed in a story when it was over.
Well, those were the two most interesting stories we were working on tonight.
And the good news is, they're not over yet.
Stay tuned.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Slow night except for the Cavs

The most exciting thing that happened in the newsroom tonight -- besides the Cavs tying up the series, of course -- was a phone call I got from an extremely angry woman.
"I want to talk to the person who puts the ads in the paper," she said to me through what sounded like clenched teeth.
"Ads or stories?" I asked as calm as she was uncalm.
"Whatever. Did you see today's paper? Despite imposters, wild child, Cavs beat all (that was the headline that ran on the Cavs story on Monday's front page)," she asked, her words dripping with disgust.
"Does that belong on the front page?"
"What offends you about it?" I asked her.
"It's sports!"
Hmmm. I tried to explain to her that every day every story is relative. That's the way the news goes. Sometimes a really great story will end up inside the paper because there just happens to be -- on that particular day -- half a dozen even greater stories.
Other days, a cute squirrel or a Cavaliers preview story winds up on Page 1 because there just isn't anything better to knock it out of its lofty front page spot.
I think I settled her down a little but all that means is she wasn't quite as angry. She didn't stop her sports-on-the-front-page complaint.
I don't know. I think the Cavs are pretty big news right now.
Aren't they?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Workin' on the night shift

I have new hours custom-made for those upcoming sunny summer days but not so much for an old girl like me.
In a recent downsizing, the paper eliminated the assistant managing editor position and the top three newsroom managers all got jockeyed around.
I kept my title and as many of the management duties as I can perform on the late shift while the assistant managing editor was bumped to metro editor and the metro editor was bumped to a reporting position.
But, seriously, it's kind of nice to be with the night people. The pace is much slower and the aggravations a lot fewer.
Gee, I might even have time to blog ...
Here's what was going on tonight in The Newsroom: My favorite story we were working was the one about the 23-cent pizza sale going on at 86 Papa John outlets dotted around the Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown areas.
Bruce Bishop, our always photographer and sometimes reporter, wrote a short story based on what he saw when he went to one of the two Papa John's closest to us on Detroit Road in Westlake to take photos about 3 this afternoon.
When Jason Hawk, our night police reporter, got in, he updated the story and filed it around 6. At that time, the manager of nine Cleveland-area P.J.s said they had enough pizza makings to go the duration -- which was supposed to be 12:30 Friday morning.
Well, guess what? They didn't. Both the Westlake and North Olmsted P.J.s stopped answering their phones before 9 p.m. and reporter Cindy Leise, who stopped in for a late night pizza snack after shopping in North Olmsted, called us with an update just before 10 p.m.
"The cops just came by and told us all to go home," she said. "And, we heard the Westlake one is closed, too."
So I pulled the story off the page and gave it back to Jason for an update. It changed considerably with the thrust now being that they ran out of pizzas before hungry LeBron fans ran out of the desire for them.
We also were finally able to report that it looks as if the victim of Tuesday's heinous abduction and shooting at the Carlisle Reservation will probably be paralyzed from the wound to her back.
We had known and reported that the bullet hit close to her spine but we were not able to get the family to tell us any more. But they told the sheriff's department and that's who we are attributing it to in tomorrow's story.
The Cavs game was on the TV out in the newsroom and although I can't see it and can hardly hear it from my office, I can usually hear hoopin' and hollerin' coming from the sports desk.
But not tonight.
"The Cavs lost?" I asked Assistant Sports Editor Scott Petrak.
"They got killed," he said.
And other than that, it was a pretty quiet night.
Unless, of course, you count the unannounced visit from our former co-worker Matt Westerhold, who is now the managing editor of The Sandusky Register.
And, if you think there are sordid tales here in Lorain County, you should hear what goes on in Sandusky.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The calm before the storm

Well, it's election day in the newsroom -- and it's the deadest place you have ever seen.
And there's nothing comforting about a quiet newsroom. It's unnatural.
It's supposed to be filled with chaos and chatter and people running around and squabbling, er, discussing.
The few people who are actually working the day shift -- we need all the troops we can muster tonight when the results start pouring in -- are out and about, checking out polling places and police stations.
So far, so good.
Meanwhile, I'm just here waiting for all hell to break loose.
Editors will start coming in about dinner time, reporters an hour or so later. They'll try to get as much of their assigned stories written as they can (the background on candidates or issues) and then "top" them with the results when they come in.
While the Internet and its continuous stream of information has taken some of the fun out of elections for us, I think tonight will have its own magic.
For we, like the rest of you, will be on the edge of our seats waiting to see who won the Democratic presidential race.
Want to share how you voted? I'd love to hear.
It'll give me something to do until the floodgates open.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Earth to Earthlink customers

Just a note to any of you who send e-mail through Earthlink.
You can talk to us, but we can't talk to you.
Yes, it's true. We -- The Chronicle -- have been blocked by the Earthlink blocker.
Our IT department has tried repeatedly to get us off the Earthlink spam list.
I even tried again this morning with a live-chat person.

Anyway, if you are an Earthlink customer and haven't gotten a reply from us, it's not because we don't want to answer you.
It's because your e-mail agent won't let us get to you.

School is closed, no, open, no, closed ...

School closings.
Seems easy enough information to obtain, doesn't it?
It's NOT!
Finding out if your school is open seems like something you should be able to get from the local paper, right?
Well, we think so, too.
We usually have to call every district and ask "Have you closed school for tomorrow?"
Seems inefficient. We are trying to set up some sort of system so the schools will automatically inform us.
This is what happened early this morning: Bruce Bishop, our chief photographer and Web site guru, wanted to post school closings online. It was 2:50 a.m.
He looked first to WEOL, the AM radio station owned by the same company that owns The Chronicle. The radio's Web site had nothing. We found out later that the radio posts its school closings around 6 a.m. (That's what I get for having a night-owl instead of early-bird Web guy, I guess.)
When we had spoken to Lorain County Community College at about 11 p.m. Sunday night, the campus was going to remain open. But that decision changed in the morning.
Long story longer, we are doing our best to try to get you the most accurate information on school closings first. I wanted you to know that.
And if anybody has a suggestion on how we might do that more efficiently, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hurka recipe

If you have come here looking for the hurka recipe I wrote about in my Feb. 4 Chronicle column, you can get it here.

Good luck, all you little hurka makers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hey, it's Lorain, not Low-rain

I live in Lorain.
And I work in Elyria.
That means that every day when I come to work, I cross over the Great Divide -- Route 254.
And I've heard from both sides of that Great Divide.
Elyria people call Lorain "Thugville."
And Lorain people call Elyria "Cowtown."
My Elyria co-workers are always saying things such as: "Aren't you afraid to go home?"
Or "Is that city completely out of control?"
Or "How can you live there?"
I like living there.
Even though there have been a dozen unsolved armed robberies in Lorain since the first of the year.
I want to know what gives?
Who are these gun-totin' robbers?
Are they kids? Where do kids get guns?
Why are they doing this?
Is it because they see others getting away with it?
Is it because they need drug money?
Or do they need money to pay their mortgage or buy their kids medicine?
At least one of these robberies was solved. The one that involved the killing of a man, who by all reports, was one of the gentlest, kindest people in Lorain.
Jose Gonzalez Sr., the grocer who managed to keep his little corner store operating in these tough times. The man who forgave money owed. The man always willing to help someone out.
To that arrest, we should tip our hats to the Lorain police officers who hunted him down.
But what about all the other robbers? How can they be caught?
Help me have something to say when someone says something bad about Lorain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A blizzard of replies

We've been asking readers to give us their storm stories from the Blizzard of '78 -- and here we are digging out from under a pile of responses.
It is great to have readers interact with us. I think you'll enjoy reading about babies being born, weddings being performed and lots of digging out in our packages of blizzard stories on Sunday.
If you haven't sent us your story, we're still prepared for a late flurry. But send them by Thursday noon.