Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day 2023

Today is a day for remembrance. To remember the sacrifice of those who have served and gave the last full measure of devotion. To honor their legacy.

"As for us, our days of combat are over. Our swords are rust. Our guns will thunder no more. The vultures that once wheeled over our heads must be buried with their prey. Whatever of glory must be won in the council or the closet, never again in the field. I do not repine. We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top.

Three years ago died the old colonel of my regiment, the Twentieth Massachusetts. He gave the regiment its soul. No man could falter who heard his "Forward, Twentieth!"

I went to his funeral. From a side door of the church a body of little choir- boys came in alike a flight of careless doves. At the same time the doors opened at the front, and up the main aisle advanced his coffin, followed by the few gray heads who stood for the men of the Twentieth, the rank and file whom he had loved, and whom he led for the last time.

The church was empty. No one remembered the old man whom we were burying, no one save those next to him, and us. And I said to myself, The Twentieth has shrunk to a skeleton, a ghost, a memory, a forgotten name which we other old men alone keep in our hearts.

And then I thought: It is right. It is as the colonel would have it. This also is part of the soldier's faith: Having known great things, to be content with silence. Just then there fell into my hands a little song sung by a warlike people on the Danube, which seemed to me fit for a soldier's last word, another song of the sword, but a song of the sword in its scabbard, a song of oblivion and peace.

A soldier has been buried on the battlefield.

And when the wind in the tree-tops roared,
The soldier asked from the deep dark grave:
"Did the banner flutter then?"
"Not so, my hero," the wind replied.
"The fight is done, but the banner won,
Thy comrades of old have borne it hence,
Have borne it in triumph hence."
Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave:
"I am content."

Then he heareth the lovers laughing pass,
and the soldier asks once more:
"Are these not the voices of them that love,
That love--and remember me?"
"Not so, my hero," the lovers say,
"We are those that remember not;
For the spring has come and the earth has smiled,
And the dead must be forgot."
Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave:
"I am content." "

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Closing Remarks, The Soldier's Faith, Memorial Day, May 30, 1895

May we never forget their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Indy 500 2023

Today is the Indianapolis 500.  Not something I normally would have kept up with, but living here, it's hard to ignore.  There are yards that have been decorated all month for the celebration.  And references everywhere.  And you will be able to hear it for miles.

It remains one of our goals to attend to feel like we've really experienced Indianapolis.  Hopefully next year.

For now, hopefully, it's a great race.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

To The Graduating Class of 2023...

Generally, yesterday represented the end of the school year.  The last day of class and many graduations across the state and country.  And my thoughts go to the wisdom that many will try to impart last night and today through those ceremonies in commencement speeches, while the newly free minds will be focused on one thing and one thing only: walking across that stage so that everything is finally finished.

I know of no reason why I would ever be asked to give a commencement speech, but were such an occasion ever to present itself, this is what I was say.  (I should note, that the speech itself probably gives good reason why I'll never be asked to do so.)


Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, administration and faculty, graduating class of 2023, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  I hope you know how much of an honor I consider this to be, to be given the opportunity to impart one more lesson on this special night.

Though I realize it was [cough - mumbled inaudible number of] years ago when I was in your position, that time seems to have galloped by.  And remembering how I felt that night, I will try to keep these comments brief, and hopefully a little entertaining, so that we can get to the part of the ceremony that everyone is truly here for.

Tonight is a moment of transition.  The point where a chapter closes and an entirely new chapter begins.  For some, that is continued academic pursuit through college or trade school.  For some, that means the enlistment in the service of our country.  For some, that means the beginning of their profession.  Many, many different chapters, different stories starting here.  Tonight. 

In that vein, I want to impart a few wishes for you as you new story begins.

First, I hope you fail.  
Good and hard.  At something you really wanted to achieve and worked for.  

I know this sounds harsh, but it serves a purpose.

It means you stretched yourself outside the known and comfortable.  You tried something new.  And you cared enough to give it your all.  

It means you are growing.  That you are continuing to be and develop.

And it you do, you would be in good company.

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas."  After that, he started a number of businesses that did not last too long, ending in bankruptcy and failure.  He lost his only creative success at the time to a rival, when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit went to Universal.  But he kept plugging away and found a recipe for success that worked, all thanks to a little mouse.  Walt would later state "It is good to have a failure while you're young because it teaches you so much...and once you've lived through the worst, you're never quite as vulnerable afterward."

In fact, you can see this occur repeatedly in the lives of people that we find successful now.  Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she "wasn't fit for TV."  The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording because the company "didn't like their sound" and stated that they "have no future in show business."  Albert Einstein's teachers said he would "never amount to much."  J.K. Rowling was rejected by publisher after publisher until she found one that would finally publish her little book series.

What we see from each of these people is that failure is only a problem if you do not learn anything from it.  If you never try again.  If you give up.

So when you fail, approach it like a scientist.  That particular experiment did not work, so change the variables.  

Or approach it like an artist.  Revise and go back to the drawing board.  

Or like an athlete.  Get back up off the mat and keep swinging.

Whatever metaphor works for you, use it.  Let it be your drive.  Try, fail, try again with changes from whatever you have learned.  And then repeat the cycle.  Just keep at it.

Similarly, I hope you get fired.  
From a job you like. And for unfair reasons. 

Because it removes the fear of the act. 

And it allows you to stand up when it matters. 

To speak up when those around you are being mistreated.  When you are being greatly undervalued. When you are being taken advantage of.

When you need to do what is right. 

Being fired frees you from the fear that it is the worst thing that can happen to you. That it is a final end. 

It’s not. It’s a change. It can be a new beginning. And speaking from personal experience, it can be the exact needed change at the exact right time. 

Further, being fired provides you a more intimate knowledge of your worth.  You now know exactly what you will and will not put up with in your employment.  It frees you to more directly seek that promotion, that raise, that benefit. After all, what’s the worst they can do, fire you?

Next, I hope you get your heart broken.

Because it means you have one.

And this is not just about romantic love.  Far from it.  It's about all kinds of love.  Love and kindness towards friends, family, strangers.  

It's about being willing to be charitable and gracious to your fellow man.  To look for the good in those around you.  Being open and a part of the community around you, rather than an isolated individual.

People today are able to be more connected to one another than ever before in human history.  We have so many communication tools that enable us to remain in contact on a global scale like never before.  But we are also more lonely and distant from one another in our unplugged lives.  

This dichotomy cannot remain.  

Human beings were not meant to function as islands.  We are social creatures - science shows we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  C.S. Lewis described humanity as "one great need."  We are all apart of this need and we need each other more than we would care to admit.

I know there are many of you here tonight who have reason to be cautious, reason to be distrusting because of what has occurred in your lives.  I recognize and understand.  Do be cautious, do be measured, but please do not let your past and the bad actions of others completely isolate you from the world.  There are resources available that can help.  And there are avenues and causes to which you can contribute.

So care.  Be passionate and embrace your causes and those around you.  We've seen where division gets us.  Let's try a new approach.

Additionally, I hope you question everything you believe in.

Because only then will you know what you truly believe.  What you are willing to stand for.  What will remain when everything else falls away.

Part of growing up is learning who you are.  Discovering you identity.  And what you really believe.  All to often we try to hold on to "inherited beliefs,"  those that were passed on to us by our parents, our teachers, or the community we grew up in.  The problem with "inherited beliefs" is that they rarely take root because they are not earned or experienced, just observed.

James Baldwin wrote "people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them."  Far too many people are trapped in the beliefs of others around them.  They live the lives they believe they are supposed to live.  And are doing so half-heartedly, at best, or begrudgingly at worst.

My hope is that from this day forward you start exploring the world around you in such a way that leads you to formulate your own firmly held beliefs derived from experience and knowledge.  And for you to keep refining them.  For you to read, read, read, read and explore any areas you have questions about.  For you to ask others and listen far more than you speak.  For you to continue to re-evalute, refine, and refresh your beliefs based on new information and experiences.

I hope you to travel.  Mark Twain put it best when he said "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."  Go see the world and explore places you never thought you would visit.  Get to know the people there and let them inform your understanding of the world.  Let them change you.

I hope you make a variety of new friends.  You do not need more friends that think and act exactly like you.  Make friends with people who challenge you.  Who disagree with you.  And who aren't afraid to discuss these differences with you.  Iron sharpens iron only when it meets at an angle; from a different perspective.  

Discover who you are and from here on, live life only as that person.

Finally, I hope that high school represents the worst years of your life.

Because, I hope, your best days are ahead of you.

I hope none of you have had any truly horrific experiences from these past four years.  To any that have, my deepest and heartfelt condolences.  I pray for healing and comfort for you and those affected.

I wanted to address this topic to specifically address a mindset that can become all too prevalent.  To view high school as "the glory days."  "The greatest years of my life."  

Your best years should be ahead of you.  Tonight should represent merely the closing of an early chapter in your book, in which I pray you have many, many more chapters ahead.  And that is where the plot should get really good.

I know some of you here tonight are waiting, almost impatiently, for something different than high school.  You never quite fit in, never felt you belonged, you were just ready to get out.  And I can say, that while somethings never change, generally, yes, it does get better.

For those of you that are not ready to leave this behind, let me challenge you to run toward the new opportunities in your path.  Remember, there are so many ways now to keep in contact with your roots here.  Cherish those connections, but make new ones as well.

And to those of you that feel trapped by your current circumstances, please know that it can get better.  It may take a fight and it may be long and hard fought, but there is a way.

Because truly, I'm counting on you all to make this a better world.  Your generation has shown a remarkable resilience and desire to change things for the better.  I need you to go out and do incredible things.  To make new inventions, to write new music, to make us laugh, to enact new policies and laws, to raise incredible children.  To protect us.  To defend us. To entertain us.  To correct us.  To lead us.

So go live your story.  And then tell us about it.  

I cannot wait to hear how it turns out.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Last Day of School 2023

It's finally here...

Today is the last day of school.  It's hard to believe it is already that time, and yet, it feels like so much has happened in this past year.   It's easy to imagine why the kids and teachers are so ready to be finished.  

Just as with every year, I think it is important to show our teachers that we recognize how they continue to be challenged and that we appreciate how much they have done.  Instead of constantly second-guessing their professionalism and ability.  Instead of continuing to heap on requirements that make their jobs more challenging, and less rewarding.

Hopefully everyone has a teacher that they can thank in their life for inspiring or motivating them.  Recognizing the impact teachers have on the lives around them.

I feel blessed to have had so many wonderful teachers throughout my lifetime, at all levels.  There really are too many to mention here in any meaningful way.  I'm proud to have so many teachers that I would consider family and I'm proud to have teachers that I call friends.  I'm especially proud to have married one.

The hours go way beyond whatever you imagine a regular school day is.  The pay is far too low for what we ask of them.  They cobble things together from duct-tape and baling wire to make sure they have what they need for the class.  And they succeed in spite of the ridiculous tests that we ask them to prepare students for.

They do it because it is a calling.  Because they know that they have the potential to reach someone.  To make someone else's life better.

So go hug a teacher. Go shake their hand.  If one of them truly made a difference in your life, please let them know.  You cannot imagine how much it means to them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Most Happy Birthday!


While her party was a few days ago, today marks the birthday of a very special lady in our family.  Our matriarch. Our cinnamon toast maker. Our harmonizer (I know she’s why I can hear a tenor and alto line so well).  Our boss. Our rock. 

My Grandy. 

Today, Grandy Sheppard celebrates another birthday and another year of memories, life, and love.  These are the times that the distance gets tough for us, because this is where we’d love to be a part of the party.  But we are thankful for the technology that allows us to video in and celebrate. To share our well wishes and love.  And to spread that to all we know.

We hope today was truly a Grand one and hope to physically celebrate together soon.

We love you Grandy Sheppard!  Many blessed and happy returns of the day!

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mother's Day 2023

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  Thank you!  We love you! 💕

One bright and guiding light
That taught me wrong from right
I found in my mother's eyes

Those faithful tales she told
Of streets all paved in gold
I found in my mother's eyes

Just like a wandering sparrow
One lonely soul
I'll walk the straight and narrow
To reach my goal

God's gift sent from above
A real unselfish love
I found in my mother's eyes.

To the best Mom and Granna anyone could ask for.
I wish we could be together today and cannot wait until we can all be there.
We love you, we miss you, we are thinking of you, always!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

If I Were Disney CEO - AstroDisney

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts.  I honestly thought I exorcised all of these ideas already.  I admit, I've wanted to touch up the old articles so I could submit myself for the role now that Iger has a two year limit (tongue firmly in cheek), but there hasn't been a lot I've felt I've needed to express in this area. 

Then, over the past couple of weeks, I've watched an AstroWorld documentary, highlighting the rise and fall of that park in Houston.  That lead me to the Wikipedia rabbit hole of articles on AstroWorld and the Astrodome.  That lead me to investigating the current use of the land in the former AstroDomain and learning how much is sitting unused or ill-used.  

Combine that with a healthy dose of nostalgia, and the news that Universal is getting into the regional parks business with a park in Frisco and a year-round haunt in Las Vegas, and the gears started rolling in my head.  I kept thinking through how best to use the current NRG Park-former AstroDomain area to its fullest.  And in that process, my brain kept coming back to one owner who could truly maximize the potential of that area.


I've written before on my thoughts for a Disney park in Texas, but that focused on starting from scratch.  Building an entire resort in a new location somewhere around Central Texas.  The thought was to give Texas a resort somewhere between Disneyland and Disney World.  What makes more sense to me now, is for Disney to look for an area in which they could quickly ramp up and entire the theme park business in Texas. 

Especially when Disney is reconsidering where to spend its $17 billion in park expenditures given its current fight in Florida.

What's better for that, than an area that has an empty theme park parcel of land, plenty of parking, the infrastructure needed to move people across a highway to the theme park, a light rail stop, and current venues that would generate revenue from day one?

With that in mind, I think it's time for Disney to buy the AstroDomain from Houston.

Welcome to AstroDisney.

What's great about this proposal is that Disney gets plenty of space to maximize to its fullest for the construction of a one park resort, with the infrastructure work already in place.  Because Disney is essentially re-establishing the AstroDomain as it had previously existed, the work can go a lot quicker.  Building a true resort area - theme park, hotels, shopping and dining area, and a parking garage, all while leaving the existing buildings.  And possibly adding a water park.

This is how I think it would work.

First, Disney leaves NRG Stadium, the AstroArena/NRG Arena, and the NRG Center as is.  There's no need to mess with what is working, and this can guarantee Disney income from the start to being recouping their investment.  I'd buy NRG out of their naming rights, so that Disney could start relabeling things with the Astro- label (AstroArena, AstroCenter, etc.), but otherwise this all works.

The first thing Disney builds is a parking garage.  In looking at Disney's work in California, Disney built the Mickey and Friends Parking Garage, which was at the time the biggest parking garage in America.  It can hold 10,500 cars.  And thankfully, there's plenty of space for Disney to build something similar here in the lot adjacent to the Astrodome and above the AstroArena, as indicated in the image below.  That will free up a lot of surface parking for expansion.

From there, I would suggest Disney remodeling the Astrodome into a luxury hotel/mixed use space.  It would be a great way to preserve the structure, but make it work in context with the other buildings around the AstroDomain and there have been proposals for similar conversions that have already been suggested to Houston.  Disney could create the rooms around the outer ring, converting the old field into the pool and slide area.  With the roof, they could do a pretty amazing projection fireworks show at night and make this a really special hotel to stay at.

I would then build a version of the Downtown Disney area from California from the AstroDome to the pedestrian bridge across to the theme park plot.  The area from California perfectly fits, including the Grand Californian.  If Disney so desired, it could build a second hotel - the Grand Texan resort, in which they could add their time share component, the Disney Vacation Club.  This adds hotel, dining, and retail space to the area, enhancing the athletic and convention space and leaving some surface parking in addition to a new garage.  Win, win, win.

Then across the street, in the empty space, Disney has a blank canvas.  They could build any park they desired, but for nostalgia, I would go with AstroDisney.  A Disney theme park themed to their space related properties.  The image below is crude, but it conveys the point of the massive space Disney has to work with.  Disney could add their entire Tomorrowland from Disneyland in California, Pandora from Animal Kingdom, Star Wars Galaxies Edge from Disneyland, a version of the Avengers Campus from California Adventure (including the expansion space), and Mission Space/Space 220 from Epcot.  All with room to spare.  The land is there and its open, though I did bring in a car lot that has entered that space.

Additionally, there's land available around the space for admin and offsite back of house.  They could likely even acquire land close to the park for a version of the Star Wars Starcruiser boutique hotel if they desired.

Again, land available, ready for prime investment. 

Now if I could just convince Disney to do it.  

It makes sense to my brain if nothing else.