Archive for July, 2013

The essay that follows was originally published here in 2009. The flag depicted was recovered from the World Trade Center site and photographed by Rob Hans. You can support his work by purchasing this image here.

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Virtually everybody says it – “nine-eleven.” “9/11.”

The term “9/11,” or in complete script form, “nine-eleven” has caused me heartburn since the horrific act of war in 2001. My complaint is simple, but at the same time, I wonder if it is a fairly unique, if not rather isolated perspective. I may be in the minority, maybe the extreme minority. I wonder.

I don’t like the sound of it.

The term “Nine-Eleven” seems to me to have almost immediately developed into a standard, accepted – and nearly universal – term of familiarity; a term that is now spoken with familiarity – and now this has grown in to a sort of relative ease. But I am concerned it has now evolved from a term of familiarity spoken with relative ease into a term of ownership. Not a term of endearment by any means, but used with the same ease.

A term of ownership spoken with relative ease, almost as if it is easy – or comfortable – to get it out, to let it roll off the tongue.

We have, in a sense, given the terrorist act an official name.

It is no longer just a date. We dubbed the tragedy of 2001 “Nine-Eleven” because we ought to call it something. “Nine-Eleven” was familiar to us, so it became easy to say. I understand it; it even makes sense, but I don’t like it.

My feeling over this heinous act remains as it does for most people: Anger. But like the act itself, I absolutely reject this term as anything I am willing to “receive” or “own,” in a philosophical sense. I feel a gut urge to distance myself from any sense of receiving or ownership, per se.

My thought is this: This was not my event, nor ours, corporately – it was forced upon us. I want to reject it as mine, as ours. I declare it is not mine; I do not accept it in terms of ownership. I reject the sense of ownership – because it was imposed on us – I remember it as violently forced upon us. We did not choose this, and contrary to some beliefs, we did not invite it. It was not our fault.


So, out of a sense of defiance, and out of deep sense of reverence for, faith in and allegiance to my country and fellow citizens, I choose to distance myself from this event descriptively. I will not embrace it in any reference to it.

In my mind, saying “9/11” does that. It is casual, it is easy to say, it is comfortable, it is informal, and it is relaxed. Well, I don’t want to relax. I don’t ever want this memory – or the reference to it – to be easy. I don’t like it, and so I don’t say it.
I will use a metaphor understood best by military members. When addressing or being addressed by a ranking officer, we must decide if and when it is most appropriate to either come to attention or stand at ease.

In this case, I believe I should figuratively come to attention. Every time.

So, instead, I have chosen to refer to it strictly in formal terms: September 11th, or September 11th, 2001, or “the attacks of September, 2001.” I will always refer to it in formal terms, and while I feel intensely emotional about what happened to us – our American family – that day, in my language, I will otherwise keep it at arm’s length.
Perhaps as the anniversary of The Attacks of September 11th approaches once again, we might remember that terrible day in a very sober way.

And ultimately, regardless of the semantics, I believe we will.

– – –

Michael Conner is in Sales and Project Management in the Denver roofing industry and a former Systems Engineer and Watch Officer with the Missile Defense Agency in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a retired US Air Force Intelligence Analyst and Space and Missile Operations Officer. Culminating a career of 23 years as a Guardsman and Reservist at the rank of Major, his final assignment was as a Crew Commander with Headquarters, Air Force Space Command at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs. He has worked in the aviation industry as a civilian, and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado at Denver. Conner is also a writer. In addition to serving as founder, publisher, and writer at Ask a Hoosier.com, he has also written a children’s picture book and has started writing a young boy’s adventure book as a well as a novel. He is originally from Terre Haute Indiana and is a graduate of Indiana State University.

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I …

This piece was originally published on my birthday in 2009. And while I figured I ought to write something around my Big Day again this year – but don’t like the prospect of recycling this one in November – I have decided I’d better get it done now.

Having said this, I re-read it recently and there are a few things I’d say again if I could, so here goes. And anyway, my bet is plenty of people either have never read it or don’t remember it. Bad and risky policy, I suppose, but it’s my blog, and I’ll re-post it if I want to.

– – –

I was told, I guess during my last high school english course, that when writing, say, for public consumption, a person should avoid the use of “I” as much as possible. Of course, I am not very good at this, and ever since then, I have been plagued with constant guilt that I am horribly self-centered and narcissistic, and that’s truly why I can’t get away from it.

On the other hand, I’d rather think it’s simply a fundamental lack of writing talent.

Ultimately, I worry it’s both.

Anyway, here it is, reconsidered and updated a little.

– – –

Papa Ed and Uncle Verl

I …

…eat red meat (not much these days) and any wild game (my personal food rule is I’ll try anything twice); hunt, and deeply appreciate wildlife – and often get emotional about it; enjoy shooting clay pidgeons as much as actual hunting; like to get my hands dirty; love my family; miss the friends I do not see or speak with anymore; like mechanical stuff; like to chop wood in winter; think that old movies and classic literature are the best.

…miss my grandparents and friends who are gone; miss the smell of the corn in late July and early August; and am anxious to go to Aspen again.

…am hung up on certain movies (and the original stories), like Pride and Predjudice, The Proposal, Children of Men, Dan in Real Life, Wuthering Heights, and the frustrations and conflicts and possibilities I feel when reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

… like to recommend movies to people and think that Crash and Invincible are especially worth seeing, then discussing with people you care about.

… am sorry I threw the eraser at Melody Dillingham in second grade and would ask her forgiveness if I could.

… am fascinated by space and nature.

…feel an intense and exhilerating sense of being, of self-awareness and of doing what I ought – when running and riding, especially on a trail…

…and very thankful I still can.

Jaces+White Fish 2007

…care too much about interior decorating for my own good; still wish I had my ’69 Land Rover 19 years after selling it; want to go to the cabin in Canada every year and was filled a deep sense of joy and accomplishment when my son, Jace went for his first time – like something really important in life had just happened.

…think that Martin Luther King, Jr. ought to get just one day a year and Eisenhower should have gotten one a long time ago.

…would like to pick morels next Spring, and and am always willing to pay someone to FedEx a freshly-picked box to me.

…believe that as Americans, we are free to be as stupid as we want to be…

…and as great, and good and decent.

… am overly nostalgic about most everything; get mad too easily (but am getting better at it); am mellowing.

…am still learning; miss home; love Colorado, but smell Canada when I step outside early in the morning.

…enjoy politics…too much, and was mystified and made nearly insane in 2012.

…am sometimes thankful, thoughtful, and thoughtless. Many times.

Jace and Dad - 2001

…used to love to play a good game of football in the rain and still will when I can, and love to play catch with Jace and toss a baseball for him to take a swing at…

… and believe there is nothing like the feel and sound of a hardball being hit with a wood bat.

Many times, maybe most of the time I don’t know why, but believe asking why is pointless. And have stood at the grave of a friend; of too many friends, alone, looking and thinking; listening, remembering, and felt everything… and in some way, hope it never fades too much. And leave from that place and return to the Living, my family, and am restored somehow.

…intensely love to see my son’s smile and to hear my wife’s laughs, and am reassured by both.


…used to like traveling alone but then wished I could share what I saw along the way.

… struggle with things I cannot see and feel.

…struggle with myself.

…am hopeful and amazed… but not always.

…am very happy to just be here and amazed at the prospect of what’s next.

…am thankful, relieved and humbled to be forgiven.


… and not necessarily in that order.

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If you were at all touched by the Allstate video advert recently, you’ll be absolutely be crushed by this wonderful presentation by ESPN. They get an “A”.


Click on the picture to view the video.

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I guess I’m feeling inspired.

It’s another music Top 5, from my iPod Shuffle. It’s more of the stuff that moves me the best when I run, ride and lift.

But there’s an angle this time: This is the association edition. Each of these songs conjures a specific time and place for me.

– – –

1. Icarus (Born on Wings of Steel), Kansas (Masque, 1975)

It’s the summer of 1976. I am moving in and out of the garage carrying boxes labeled “kitchen” and “Mike and Ty Bedroom” and “Bathroom” and “Books” to our utility trailer. We are moving to a new neighborhood, far to the north and away from every place I have known since Library School in West Terre Haute (the year before Kindergarten).


There is a radio sitting on top of the freezer, which sits hulking next to the door leading into the house. The antenna is angled just right to pickup WPFR through all the metallic clutter of shovels and rakes and other signal competition deep in the garage. Born on Wings of Steel is playing.

– – –

Recommendation: Get the studio version. Check out a sample at iTunes here.

– – –

(And “thank you” to my several friends with whom I attended Library School who read this blog. It is kind and quite mercenary of you.)

– – –

2. Where the Streets Have No Name, U2 (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

It’s May of 1987. I am driving downtown San Francisco with my friend Diana who has traveled with me as I am about to begin flight school with the Air Force. We are a week or so early so I have time to get settled in before my classes start at Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova and we have time to sight see.

It’s pretty crowded in the streets that day – a demonstration parade of several sorts is making its way through the city center. The first bunch we see is a gay pride thing – all the rainbow flags and banners and what I guess you’d call party costumes and such.

San Fran March 87

Then it morphs into a “Free El Salvador” thing, with more banners, except partly in Spanish and something about fascists and dictators and “Get Out Of Our Country” (I don’t quite get who is in who’s country, I can just tell somebody’s unhappy and very loud about it.) Then it morphs again as it continues to move along – Panama, Cambodia, Vegetarian’s rights, some more gay rights, and something about the UN being evil. How’d they get in there?

Anyway, we arrive in front of a hotel and we see a couple of limousines parked in the street directly in front of the entrance canopy. All traffic is stopped now because the light is red, but also because there’s a big stir – the limos are blocking the street. Security guys are out and opening car doors and standing there, looking around. Then heads pop up and start moving toward the hotel lobby.

It’s Bono and The Edge and Larry and Adam, right there next to us.

They on the other side of the cars from us, but we get a clear view of them. It lasts long enough – somehow – for me to get ahold of my camera and shoot a picture of them. Or somebody, one of them, maybe a couple of them.

(I can’t say for sure anymore because later, I gave the photo to the guy at the video store near my apartment because he said he liked U2, and now I can’t find the negatives.)

Anyway, we are thrilled and feel like we accidentally stepped into a little piece of transient history.

(Oh, sorry – Jim’s camera. Thanks, Jim. I did give that back to you, like, ten years later, didn’t I?)

I hear that song and I am right there. Thanks, Diana. That was fun.

– – –

Here’s the video that got it all started: http://youtu.be/QQxl9EI9YBg

– – –

3. Cuttin’ Heads, Peaceful World, and Worn Out Nervous Condition, John Mellencamp (Cuttin’ Heads, 2001)

I am running along a rough, pot-holed asphalt county road east of my parent’s farm.

It’s a trip home, an all-too-rare visit, this time by myself. As I run I smell the alfalfa hay, recently cut in the field to my right, and the dull, musky, scent of decay in the mud in the ditch between us. I cannot hear the bees and cicadas that must surely be making their sounds – I have earphones in. Taking it all in.

– – –

Last.fm has the full album:
http://www.last.fm/music/John+Mellencamp/Cuttin’+Heads?ac=Cuttin’ Heads

– – –

These songs are great, and to listen to them in this atmosphere . . . well, I guess I am sentimental.

While they are not the highest energy-run fast songs you might think are needed for a vigorous workout, they are, well . . . inspiring, introspective, and honest. And they’re home – at least to me. It seems very good to me.

Mellencamp is right at ten years older than me; roughly the same age as my oldest cousin from Seymour – also Mellencamp’s hometown. So the idea is that they – John and Cousin Richard – graduated from Seymour High School together. Well, the truth is I have no idea. I like the idea, but it’s probably way off.

The better thing is that my son, Jace likes to call me “Poppi.” We listen to the title song together once-in-a-while, and early on, because the “N” word is used (in a proper context) I was sure to talk with him about racism and the good message Mellecamp presents. The result is that we hate racism and we love the song.

Green Acres - Rob Robbins

Insert shameless plug here:
My folk’s home and the road I mention are near the original Green Acres Dairy Bar, Where The Buffalo Roam. (Actually, used to roam. The buffalo were removed a few years ago, although last I knew, they still sold a buffalo burger.)


And to sit in the parking lot of Green Acres and have a burger and ice cream and listen to this or any other mandatory Mellencamp, head north out of Terre Haute to Sandcut on the “Rosedale Road”, a couple miles east of and parallel to Old US 41. From Brazil, go north on State Road 59 to the Rio Grande Road (W County Road 1220 N) and head west to Sandcut, then south.

Can’t miss it. If you do, just call them: (812) 466-3711.

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4. Zoo Station, U2 (Achtung Baby, 1991)

It’s April 1992. I am sitting alone in a luxurious car on the ICE, racing north, from Frankfurt to Hamburg. Golden fields of blooming canola are blurring past my massive window. I have a cheap pair of headphones on and I’m playing a cheap cassette tape player listening to U2.

Germany and its beautiful rural scenery, U2, this giant window; it’s like my own private music video. There is something exhilarating and freeing – exotic – to be here in Europe and doing this solo, but still I feel an intense desire – a wish – to be with, to share it with someone.

I have been to my cousin’s wedding in Portugal, spent a few days in Oberursel with my adopted German grandmother – Oma, Erica, or as I have always known her – Mutti. Now I am going to see my friend Julia, a student at the University of Oldenburg and will finish my trip in Amsterdam.

After being amazed by the Vermeer’s and Rembrandt’s of the Rijksmuseum and having dinner with a Michigan businessman, I reluctantly head back to my hotel room. I turn on the television to watch a U2 concert in Berlin, and have to force myself to turn it off after an hour because I have an early flight to New York.

– – –

Check it out at Last.fm: http://www.last.fm/music/U2/Achtung+Baby

– – –

Rossington Collins Band
5. Don’t Misunderstand Me, Rossington Collins Band (Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere, 1980)

Summer 1979. We’ve just officially become seniors and Karl and I are driving all over West Terre Haute in his white 1969 Triumph TR6 convertible. We’re smoking Swisher Sweets and listening to this hard-hitting, top-down, post-Lynyrd Skynyrd near-rock anthem.

Man, we feel free and light. Our junior year is over. We’ve made it.

The sun is bright and the open cockpit is a swirl in the wind and it’s anywhere we want. So we want DQ on National Avenue, then we want to go to South Lake, which requires a cruise through Toad Hop to get there.

We park on the west side of the white cinderblock building and saunter into the open-air pavilion, across the cold concrete floor, shaded in the basement of the raised building; we’re in a breeze-way of a concession stand full of neatly aligned green wood picnic tables. We move to the counter to order a follow-up to our DQ visit of just ten minutes before.

We each get a huge Coke and keep glancing out, through the open lake-side of the room, to the beach, its coarse gravel pit-quality sand, same as it ever was, just as it was when we were kids. The tall, galvanized slide standing half in and half out of the water is still there, too, as it has always been. And the warm water in its color of weak coffee with a little cream; that too, just as it has always been.

We were searching for our friends – mainly girls; probably strictly girls, come to think of it – who have come to get a tan.

We are searching when we get there, and searching when we finally leave. Jeez, this is good. And summer has only started.

We continue to search through the summer and all the way through our last year of high school and beyond. And life has only started.

Find it at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/rossington-collins-band/id64790

– – –

BONUS TRACK: Unbreakable, Fireflight (Unbreakable, 2008)

No sentimental association here . . . except perhaps, ultimately, for the message within. Remember the Top 5 for June, where I spoke about the about the idea of “. . . an offer, a possible future . . . a thing that can set people in motion…”? Yea. These guys are talking about the same thing.

But suppose you’re not interested in that. Ok. Just check out this song, check out the video.

This is the one that will make you move; make you want to move. More energy than that 6-year-old Honey Boo Boo-kid in Texas drinking the Mountain Dew-Red Bull breakfast concoction. Well, maybe not quite that much, but enough.

And as if I really need to tell you – turn it up. A lot.

Check out the video here: http://youtu.be/pWRJAHaOrYg

– – –

Dedicated to my friend, Karl Johnson. Wherever you are, however you are. I love you, Brother.

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July 4th, 2013: The Fast Track Mile, presented by the Wabash Valley Road Runners.  

It started many years ago as the Mayor’s Cup Mile…

To this point I have never believed there ever was an actual cup. I expect I never saw it because every year I ran it the winner had happily hauled it off long before I finished.

Two summers after I graduated from high school I ran the inaugural 1982 Mayor’s Cup Mile, straight down Wabash Avenue, from 3rd to 14th (streets, that is, not race results).

It felt like a high-speed gauntlet, and it seemed that as we ran we were on a sort of display, flanked on both sides by spectators and storefronts.  The competition was serious, with serious runners coming from all over the place – every high school in the area and even beyond; college runners, too. And no-kidding grown-ups who ran to stay in shape. It was fast and exhilarating.

I was anxious to compete. It wasn’t like high school now; for the first time I was independent of a team, of any external obligation to perform well; it was just me.  I was free to do it or not, and it felt like a new sort of competition. It was a new sort of responsibility, too – I was responsible only to myself this time. It felt like some sort of new freedom.

Well, almost.

Ok. The whole truth is this:

I actually had this peculiar “independence” experience my first summer after graduating from West Vigo High School. My running-hunting-BB gun wars-adventurizing buddy, Mark and I ran a race – a 5k, I think – from somewhere downtown to Deming Park. While I don’t remember much detail, the one key detail remains vivid in my mind: Mr. Phillips, my elementary school principal in West Terre Haute FROM THE LATE 1960’S beat me.

I was stunned. But I was also incredibly impressed.

My respect for him was always strong. And it had been violently intensified during second grade when, after catching me and a couple of other boys throwing erasers at Melody Dillingham – twice – and he told us to get in his office NOW (which of course, was way too close to Mrs. McDermott’s classroom anyway, just around the corner practically). He yelled and slammed the world’s largest paddle on his desk to emphasize each – word – as – he – declared – our – lives – would – be – snuffed – out – in – a – blazing – instant – of – hard – wooden – pain. I can still feel the heat of fear that we were consumed in as we sat petrified in his office, crying, or going in our pants, or both. I won’t name names, but as I remember, they’re spelled R-o-b-b-y-C-o-o-p-e-r  and  D-e-n-n-i-s-M-o-r-g-a-n.

I’m sure they’ll let me know.

(I have said this before: if I could possibly find Melody now I would apologize to her. Perhaps, at least sometimes, justice lies in lingering regret. I am sorry, Melody.)

Anyway, I respected Mr. Phillips immensely even then.

Then years later, he doubled-down on the whole respect phenomenon by smoking me in this race. He instantly transformed into a hero for this naïve and perhaps formerly a bit arrogant college student.

– – –

So came July 1982 and the Mayor’s Cup Mile. Over the three decades  – exactly, I should note – since then, I have run it – now the Fast Track Mile – several times. My best time (that I know of) was achieved in 1993, when I ran a 5:34-something.

But I consider that my best race came in 2001, because two particular people were there: my 5 month-old son, Jace, perched happily in his baby backpack and again my friend Mark, who ran it with me.

(In the end, Mark was gracious and ran right along with me. Not far from the finish line, I said, “Come on!” and we kicked it up. He let me take third – in our age group – I believe, because he appreciated the one-thousand miles I drove to get there; I’m pretty sure there was no other reasonable way I could have beat him. You’re a good and loyal friend, Mark.)

– – –

I didn’t reach 5-anything last year, but that’s not what was on my mind.

Jace, then 11, ran it with me. Again I was running on a team – the most significant team I have ever been on, and it was a different kind of competition; not anything like high school. For the first time I was not only the leader of this team, but I had a special sort of external obligation to perform well, and it is far more than just running well.

Jace finishing the FastTrack Mile

We saw so many people at the start I recognized from my growing up and living years in Terre Haute, and to be on the starting line with my son was an experience of fulfillment; there was a sense of having come full circle, and it was gratifying.

Jace took off fast, as I thought he might. Though he was inexperienced, he was enthusiastic. He got a little burned out after the high-speed start, and we had to walk briefly a couple of times. But as those last few blocks neared and the finish line came clearly into view, I said, “Ok, Jace. See it? It’s time. Let’s go. You can do it!”

And man, did he.

He took off like a shot and finished about ten yards ahead me. It was beautiful. And my wife shot the picture to prove it.

– – – This year my friend Mark’s daughter, Annie, and another friend, Paul’s (who is, himself, a top-shelf runner and first-place finisher in his age group in the Fast Track Mile) son, Justin are the WVRR scholarship recipients, and we are very proud of them. Ask A Hoosier.com is again proud to promote the Fast Track Mile.

Go, Annie and Justin, go.

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