Tomorrow morning, I’ll make my way down a long corridor, and into Thompson Cancer Survival Center. I’ll have a nurse access my port…a small bulb-like device attached to a vein or artery and implanted in my chest. The clinician will feel for three little bumps that form a triangle. The needle goes right in the middle of the triangle. It hurts, but not too much. The volatile aroma of alcohol swirls around as the port is flushed and cleaned, and then samples of blood drawn. It’s geek out worthy, but has to be done.


The blood sample go into various machines, and the red liquid is exposed to numerous chemical reactors. Those tiny blood cells will tell a story. The big question is whether the cancer excised from my colon and liver has returned. It turns out blood cells are excellent stool pigeons, as they contain footprints left by the criminal….cancer.


I won’t be the only person getting a cancer re-check in the morning. I won’t be the oldest, the youngest, or the most important. I don’t want to lead the way in the march back to your doctors of re-checks. But if by going first, or going with you…you will, indeed, go… they can stick me twice.


Cancer is not a disease you fight alone. First, if you have a family they should stand with you.  Make your peace with Your Creator.  Foxhole religion is good….having religion before you wind up in a foxhole is better.  Then your friends, and friends you meet along the way. Your best resource might be the nurse who answers the phone, or even the social worker who helps you. But it’s you ….about you….concerning you…and YOU have to decide to get that re-check or re-screening.


Years ago, when we wanted to see our final grade in a class at UT, we had to walk to the classroom or building door….look up our initials, or Social Security number, or some identifier…. then scan across the page to see or grade. That was, for me, an often scary walk because I knew the news was not going to be as good as I wanted…especially when I looked up those grades on the doors of the science buildings.


But…c’mon….lets walk up to the door together, and get checked. Just for today, let’s get that done.


God Bless us all.


Looking to the west this evening, the gray streaks of clouds looked as if the ends were dipped in gold. It’s not drastically cooler today, but there’s enough difference to tell us a change is coming. Soon, we will wake up to hills and mountains covered in a beautiful quilt of orange, reds. browns, and shades of yellow.

I saw a bunch of geese the other day…more than a squadron, more like a flight group. During my flying days, it was always interesting to watch as geese would spot us, veer away, then as soon as they felt safely away from our noisy machine, they’d go right back on course.

Our seasons are just as sure as the reckoning power of those geese. They may veer a bit and order up a change-or-two…. but colder weather is coming, and soon the smell of woodsmoke and the sound of crunching leaves will be in our beloved East Tennessee.

Katrina Memories

Ten years ago, I rode along as a dozen trucks delivered tons and tons of donated goods and water to New Orleans. I was also in charge of more than eighty thousand dollars in checks and cash to help in the relief.
Most of the truckloads of good were immediately received and put to use.
The truck I was in was stacked high with bottled water. Several agencies we contacted told us they didn’t want to fool with the water if it was not already on pallets, that it would take too much manpower to unload it. One LA State Trooper walked up to me at one such location and asked “Sir, did you say you had water on that truck?” I replied that I did. The trooper asked if he could have just a few bottles for his crew who had been out all day with not much to drink. We hooked him up with several crates of water, enough that his Crown Vic was squatted down with the load in his trunk and his back seat.
Then, I got busy on the very spotty cell service to try and contact The Red Cross so we could deliver the monetary donations. It was late in the evening when we arrived, and nobody at The Red Cross wanted to meet us and accept it. Nobody at the shelters or staging area was apparently authorized to accept the funds.
We finally made our way to the government building of West Baton Rouge, where we were able to convince the sheriff to take the donated money and have a deputy escort it to The Red Cross in the morning.
At the time, there were worries that the trucks hauling relief supplies were subject to being hijacked, and the occupants possibly robbed, Trucks entering the area were marked with signs on the doors reading “Disaster Relief”. Drivers passed word to other drivers to remove the signs so the rigs would not be such an obvious bearer of scarce supplies.
We explained that we had a truckload of water, and the sheriff replied that the head of the work camp in that Parish was out with several boats, delivering water and supplies to relief workers in the flooded area, and could use what we had. That corrections chief asked the jail for volunteers, and got several of the prisoners to unload the water. It took a few hours for several men working as hard as they could. One told me “Just because we’re prisoners don’t make us bad people. That’s our family out there we’re helping.”
After being offloaded we immediately rode back to Knoxville, the best home place in the world. Driving down the Interstates close to New Orleans, miles and miles of pine trees looked as if they had been cut by a giant weed eater. Cell phone towers were knocked down, and most gas stations were either out of fuel, or didn’t have the electricity to pump it
My trip to New Orleans to help deliver your donations was one of the most frustrating I have ever experienced in public life. It was if we had corn, but nobody wanted it because it wasn’t shucked. The need was so terribly intense in those days that I couldn’t understand the horrible delays by some in the area who were supposed to be handling what we were offering.
But East Tennessee. You did your part. And I am as proud of that as anything I’ve ever witnessed from you.
We are a good and generous people in these hills and hollers I am proud to call home.

School Days Tough Days For Some

And finally- 
Phil WIlliams and Hallerin were talking about how much harder they had it when they were kids, relative to the youngsters today. 
I don’t believe it. 
Children have to learn more, faster, and under different conditions.  
Computers help, but the computer between our ears has not expanded significantly, and there’s several worlds of new information that have to be retained. 
I remember achievement tests from years ago at Fair Garden School. Students today will remember not just a day or two, but many days of testing.
Some children live in households where parents have to work two, maybe three jobs just to keep their chins above water. That means fewer parents at home at night to help.
A national research project also indicates (reported on ABC) that children are getting far too much homework relative to their grade level. But, as I said, there’s so much more to learn.
And I think we pressure youngsters into making career decisions far too early.
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
Then there are teachers– who are swamped with paperwork and ever increasing demands for performance. I admire my wife so much, because she followed God’s call for her to teach, obtained her Masters at Carson-Newman, and taught several years before she had to retire for health reasons. This time of year I can sometimes hear her talking softly in her sleep, reciting lessons. There’s pressure from above, and from below, and it takes extraordinary skill to teach to both the brightest in the class, and those who struggle.
It is harder these days.
And… on top of all that… there are active shooter drills and lockdown drills. You think the little ones don’t know what’s going on?
Baby boomers, I think we were the luckiest generation so far as education is concerned.

Keeping Secrets

A note from The Old Guy In The Balcony
For a while, I worked as a sub contractor at Y-12. It was nothing secret. It was a project for a display module, and I used information to turn out scripts to record for an interactive exhibit. The subject was “Intelligent Transportation”. But I was cleared to work in one building, and I’m sure I could have managed to see something I shouldn’t have…but for two things. I’d like to think I’m too honest a person to go ’round sniffing in places deemed secure and beyond the scope my work. Secondly, I didn’t want a couple of well dressed young people, one at each arm, hauling me out and before a federal magistrate.
There appears to be some top secret material turning up on Mrs. Clinton’s eMail server. The standing order in Oak Ridge was no recording , phone, or photo device of any kind. (This was before cell phone cameras.) Checkers would walk through the building at night, and open random computers to see if they had been tampered, and whether any messages were sent.
I’ve met the FBI contingent in Oak Ridge, and they’re a bunch of tough, smart people. I wonder if we could spare them for a few weeks and clear up this Sec. Clinton E. Mail mess once and for all .

Special VFR

It was a cloudy and rainy day, and my pilot and I were tired and ready to return to the airport from our morning shift.   But the air traffic controller would not grant clearance for our “special VFR” (visual flight rules) approach.   Helicopters were allowed to land and take off from the airport in marginal weather, providing we followed a prescribed route.  But that morning, we were told to stay outside the air traffic control space.  The tower had lost an airplane.  The single engine aircraft had disappeared from the radar as it approached the runway.

We bored holes in the sky for a few minutes, waiting for permission to land.  Finally my pilot, Mike Ward, asked the tower if we could be of any help if the controllers believed the plane was down somewhere.  The air traffic controllers told us the last spot they had for the plane was just beyond the outer marker, just northwest of the airport. 

Mike was an excellent pilot, with great instinct, and he flew directly to the site of the crash.  It didn’t look like an airplane anymore. Instead, it looked  like a collapsed metal tool shed.  We radioed the tower and told them we had located the downed plane, and gave directions for emergency crews.  We both knew the pilot had not survived the impact.

When fire crews arrived, we offered to lift a couple of responders to the site.   Mike landed on a sloping, grassy hillside.  I hopped out, and opened the door for a paramedic/firefighter, but the responder nearly walked into our main rotor.  We had landed on a hillside, and our main rotor was much lower than usual on one side of the hill.   Just a  second before a calamity, Mike  jerked the collective up, raising the machine and its rotor to a safe distance, at that same moment, the responder saw he was about to walk into the spinning blade and ducked.   Meanwhile, I lost my footing and found myself flat on my back with a helicopter skid right over me.  Mike stayed steady in a hover as I regained my footing.   In a few minutes, we were back airborne, and doing the job of reporting the news of the crash.    

We had some close calls in my three thousand hours of flying, and some of them were the result of flying in bad weather.   That was likely the same thing that happened to the airplane we found crumpled in a field.

In the moment, I didn’t think about anything but helping the police and fire responders,  and then reporting live with the news.  But later that day I wondered about fate, odds, survival, and dumb luck. And I still can’t tell you I’ve figured out how some folks cruise through the bad weather of life, and how others end up getting slammed into the ground.  And it sent a chill up my spine. 

Breaking News Needs Fixin’

A note from the geezer in the balcony.
Breaking news is broken.
The phrase “breaking news” is one of the most over-used, mis-used, abused, scattered, covered, and smothered phrases in the history of news writing.
Breaking news is supposed to mean a developing story, something that is happening at that very moment.
I’ll give you an example from the network television news tonight:
Several newscasts labeled as “breaking news” the confession in court of a woman who helped two inmates escape from prison in New York. It was not breaking news. It had happened earlier in the day. It would have been breaking news had the woman been in court at that hour, but the story actually was about eight hours old. That is not breaking news.
Over, and over I hear and see stories labeled as breaking news- and the information is older than yesterday’s burrito special.
I have a theory about it.
Some news executives think we’re a bunch of dummies.
They might be listening to consultants who tell both network and local news directors they have to push “breaking” into stories to make them “compelling” or “watchable”. Slick graphics splay ‘BREAKING” across the screen. But if you put a clock on the story to see when it actually happened, sometimes you find it’s hours old.
The words “breaking”, “alert”, and “bulletin” are supposed to be powerful, but they are rapidly losing their punch. In earlier times, they carried the same emotional impact as a bedside telephone ringing in the middle of the night. Now, it’s more like a snoring spouse, a poke in the ribs, and “roll over”.

Another Chapter In Life

It’s back.
It’s officially called Stage IV colon cancer, metastatic to the right lower lobe of my liver.
The unofficial name is heartbreak. I know I am not alone in a fight like this and I thought the folks who check in with this blog  deserve some info, too. Here is part of an e-mail I sent to the staff at Cumulus, Knoxville.
It started with a visit to our long time family physician Dr. Dean Mire, with a complaint of a cold.
On a scheduled check of my CEA test, it showed a near doubling of the factor, from 3.1 to 6.1.
Dr, Midis scheduled a PET scan, and it indicates a mass in my liver. The scan also showed why I lost my voice. I have pneumonia.
Treatment of the pneumonia started immediately (I had already called in sick because I sounded so cruddy).
My commanding general in this fight is Dr. Greg Midis, a Fort Sanders physician who is known as a hot shot who comes from M.D. Anderson hospital. He is also a friend and a listener of Newstalk 98.7.
Proving once again the doctor’s care and effectiveness, he called me last night, saying he had been thinking about me, rather my cancer treatment, all day.
Here is the battle plan:
It will definitely involve liver surgery. Which is quite painful, I understand. God put our important parts inside the ribcage, and it has to e moved in order to get the job done. The doctor says then, the liver is pulled down and cut upon. There’s about a twelve inch incision.
Then, there is around five weeks recovery.
It will definitely involve chemotherapy. The question is whether is comes before or after surgery.
For those who might not be familiar with how this operates, so to speak, Thompson Cancer Survival Center has a cancer committee. Doctors present their cases for consideration on Tuesday mornings. That brings more minds into the fight, and its ia good thing. I’ll be assigned an oncologist who will be Dr. Midis’ wing in the fight. My treatment is in their hands.

For now, I’m working hard to beat the pneumonia which is essential before any other treatment begins. Pneumonia is dangerous in, and of, itself.

This time, I am scared, and worried. Not scared of my ultimate destination from this life, but scared of the pain, as any normal human might be. and worried over what my family will have to do with endless “work around” and compensation for my down time.

So that is exactly where I stand right now, in my jammies, loaded with Levaquin and Combivent,
and pondering these words from Jereimiah:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

And I’ll hang my hat on that promise any day.

As they say…. stay tuned.

Random Tuesday Thoughts

**I sound like Andy Devine if try to stretch into the upper range of pitch… as in NEWStalk ninety-eight-point seven. Comes out like NeWWss Talk. I think it’s the RAGGggweed.

**Speaking of voice, I heard a young person in a band today doing a great job on Marty Robbins’ old hit “Big Iron ON His Hip” Several of those ole classics have been re-done.

**In the re-do department, I’m going to have to either buy some new headlight lenses or use a refurbishing kit on the existing ones. It’s too easy to out-run my lights, or miss spotting a lurking Kamakazie deer just off the road.

**Traffic note, in case you have missed my on-air alerts– there’s work on I-40 westbound in Roane County scheduled until the end of October, and it’ll be down to one lane. (per TDOT)

** Did anyone see the CNN piece on the Chinese government’s crackdown on Christian churches? It was in one particular city, nicknamed The Jerusalem Of China. As I have posted here earlier, the report documents how some churches have been razed, and members of another beaten for taking a stand against Chinese law officers. The church members (seen on a smuggled video) lost their fight to keep the Cross on top of the church, and it has been taken down. China has blacked out the reports in its country.

** And finally, the power of radio. I listened to a Blue Bell Ice Cream commercial today, and the jingle and voice-over took me back to a time when my dad and my uncles took turns on an ancient ice cream maker…turning the crank and pouring in the rock salt and ice. Just for a minute I was a burr-haircut kid asking if I could have a turn at the crank, and anticipating some vanilla heaven in a bowl. Thanks Blue Bell. And I think just sold me some ice cream!

New Police Cars- And A Tale From My Files

A The City of Knoxville Police unveiled their choice, and color scheme for new police cruisers today.  Dodge won the trials, and this is what we will start to see on the streets: 

The police department had to pick another vehicle...after operating Ford Crown Victoria police specials for years and years. Ford decided to discontinue building them. Police graded the candidates Dodge, Chevy, and Ford on a points basis, while the candidates were also checked by fleet services during the try-outs. Dodge won with 9.89 points, followed by Chevrolet Caprice at 7.66, and Ford Interceptor at 6.31. In all- five models were tested, and this one came out tops. Photo: Knoxville Police Department)

The police department had to pick another vehicle…after operating Ford Crown Victoria police specials for years and years. Ford decided to discontinue building them. Police graded the candidates Dodge, Chevy, and Ford on a points basis, while the candidates were also checked by fleet services during the try-outs. Dodge won with 9.89 points, followed by Chevrolet Caprice at 7.66, and Ford Interceptor at 6.31. In all- five models were tested, and this one came out tops. Photo: Knoxville Police Department)

A few years ago, a KPD officer had placed a woman under arrest. I was working outside doing traffic and street reporting at the time, and heard him mention the fact that she was “pretty large” and that she might not fit into his back seat. That….was an understatement.  Because of my oddball curiosity, and because it was quiet– nothing going on, I decided to roll over that way and take a look at the situation. It appeared to me that the officer had arrested a woman who was tickling the five hundred, to -six hundred pound range. I parked a discreet distance away and watched as the events unfolded. Make sure that I place no judgement on the woman’s physical attributes, I was just curious as to how this would end. I had seen ambulances transport large people, but never a paddy wagon for someone this size.

A Knoxville Police Department cruiser from the 1950's (Photo from KPD)

A Knoxville Police Department cruiser from the 1950’s (Photo from KPD)

Another one or two officers arrived, and then the paddy wagon. The woman was not violent…and I really don’t know what would have happened had she decided to rassle with the police. it was just a matter of fit. After much cogitating and discussion, it was decided that officers would help her back up to the open door of the paddy wagon, and then back-step inside onto the floor, where she would scoot all the way inside. No bench, just a ride on the floor. Comfort was not an issue because the steel floor probably felt as hard as the steel bench. The whole process took several minutes to complete, and I presume she exited the wagon by scooting out, and reversing her step outside.