Why you didn’t hear the story on Saturday

A first-person look at how the State Treasurer celebrated the holiday

It started with a tweet, and ended with a whimper.

One week ago, I spotted a Race to the Dome update on Twitter.

Zoning out for a minute, which almost never happens here in the newsroom, I thought about my Florida days when I would load up my two little girls in our canoe, paddle out to the bay and soak up the afternoon sun. We would tie up to the mangroves and fish in the shallows, spotting bonnethead sharks and baby barracuda in the gin-clear water. Happy thoughts.

The next day, my boyfriend Jimmy and I decided we were going to do it. Race to the Dome. Take no prisoners. Or, alternatively, come in dead last and enjoy a morning paddle on our wide Missouri. [Enjoy slide show of our adventure]

We found a post on Craigslist and scored a canoe from a Highway Patrolman in Rocky Mount.

Jandj

When I got an e-mail saying that Treasurer Clint Zweifel was also joining in the fun, I fired off a response telling him he was going down. Not even Neil Young himself would be able to soothe the agony of defeat at the finish line come Saturday.

3 a.m. race day: After hooking up with our friends at Paddy Malone’s, a popular watering hole on the next hill west of the Capitol, we came to the horrible realization that we had to be at the river access in Hartsburg in three hours. Ah, well, work hard, play hard. It’s worked out well for me so far and my co-workers always seem to enjoy my Monday morning show-and-tell series, which usually features random injuries big and small.

We arrived and set up our vessel with our expert supplies: one bottle of water, two paddles, a roll of duct tape, and three Ziploc bags, one of which contained my iPhone, the others our smokes and a lighter. We took one set of keys — mine — back to the car and hid them under our wheel well. You know. Just in case.

After taking a moment to further taunt our State Treasurer, we were off. The sun was not shining. The water was not gin-clear. The wind was at our faces, negating any sort of push the 11-knot top current might have provided.

If we weren’t paddling, we … were sitting … still.

After a few miles, I wrapped my hands in duct tape to prevent wearing my thumbs down to the point of actually exposing the bone by the time we reached the finish.

After a few more miles, we managed to score a couple of beers.

After a few more miles … we were only halfway there. Old ladies paddling with their canes were passing us by. How’d they get in this race? My hands were numb. I had to go to the bathroom. Water had seeped through the Ziploc bag and my phone was dead. There would be no call-in report to Priddy at the finish line.

Finally, after 2 hours and 23 minutes, we made it to the Missouri River Bridge. State Treasurer Clint Zweifel was already there.

Jimmy passed out in the canoe. I shuffled into line to collect my free bratwurst. On the way there, I sank two feet into mud that ate my shoes.

That afternoon, Missouri River Relief sent out an e-mail that said, “Thank you all for participating. Great first year with 66 boats…We found a set of keys at the Hartsburg Access. Likely someone from mid-Missouri lost them. Let me know if they are yours.”

On the upside, my phone came back to life after drying out. I got my keys back. We can say we paddled 16 miles on the Big Muddy.

On the downside, I can’t point and laugh at Treasurer Zweifel every time I go to a press conference for the next year.
But I can point and laugh at his Communications Director Jon Galloway, who summed the event up thusly:

“We finished very last. Tipped one mile in and got the canoe to shore but with no paddles. Had to wait 20 minutes for a paddle. But we finished. My Ziploc failed too but the phone is working again. We will try to beat you next year.”

Photos courtesy Diana Dexter and John Galloway

Our WWII veterans: take the time to get to know them

My uncle Leo was a tall, bald, quiet man with horn rimmed glasses. His easy smile and gentle nature didn’t seem to go with his chiseled face and strict posture.

bataanAs a little kid, I knew he was a World War II veteran. As a bigger kid, after he died, I found out he was a POW, was on the Bataan Death March, lived on water and rice and endured what was, and often still is, unspoken.

I wish I could’ve heard it all from him.

As an even bigger kid, I did a studies abroad project on WWII in France, visiting the beaches of Normandy.

ddayThe scars of the D-Day invasion mark the brick and stone buildings in and around Caen, pit the beaches. The rows and rows of white crosses and stars of David overwhelm the senses. It’s not like on T.V.

The Americans landed on Omaha Beach, where the memorials and museum pay tribute to our fallen soldiers there. U.S. troops also landed on Utah Beach, where the resistance was small by comparison. Allied forces landed on Gold, Sword and Juno beaches.

As I absorbed the landscape of Omaha Beach — a cold, drizzly day not unlike the day Operation Overlord went full thrust some fifty years before — I overheard a British man trying to explain to his wife where he had landed that fateful day.

I offered him a map I had brought with me that covered the entire area, not just Omaha Beach, and we figured out exactly where he invaded June 6, 1944. In return, I got a first-hand account of what took place, on those now liberated grounds, so many years ago.

blog7Since then, I’ve never missed an opportunity to talk with a veteran. Doesn’t matter which year, which war, or for that matter, which military.

Which is why when I saw dozens of gentlemen at the Capitol recently [photos], all wearing “Honor Flight” T-shirts, I visited with Francis Pearman, who didn’t disappoint. [AUDIO: 16 min]

AT 90, he’s the only one living from his fellow enlisted men in his unit.

He told me if he was born in 1920, that means he’s 39 going on 40 this year. For him, and for a lot of these gentle old souls, I believe that’s true.

I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

UPDATE: After doing some searching online, I found an obituary for Leo Bogler in The Quan, a veterans’ publication that is now online.

Bogler

Association of Healthcare Journalists Conference

In efforts to educate the public about the news around them, journalists must first educate themselves. Don’t kid yourselves, we don’t just regurgitate what’s thrown around Washington, or the water cooler for that matter, bureaucrats, party mouthpieces… In fact, many of the issues that affect our listening / reading public send us into a tailspin, scratching our heads, and, sometimes, God forbid, even trying to do math. That’s when we stop, reassess, absorb and research. And, do what we do best: ask a lot of questions.

One way to better report current events is to attend conferences. And that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m at the Hyatt in Chicago for the annual Association of Healthcare Journalists Conference, where I’ve picked out a full load of seminars and workshops that I — and my bosses — believe will give us greater insight on how to navigate this Grendel of a topic that affects each and every American … every human … HEALTHCARE.

Today, and over the course of the next three, I’ll be hearing about everything from how to quantify data and medical studies, turning them into consumable information that you can actually understand, and hopefully, use, to the trends in obstetrics and C-section rates. Oh, and healthcare reform. Talk about a tailspin.

Today’s keynote speakers were the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Thomas Frieden, who talked about the newest report on smoking statistics, state-by-state (Missouri ranks at the bottom of the bottom, BTW), and former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Health Secretary, who talked about (drumroll, please), healthcare reform. Her concern seems to be in line with those of us who do the news: How do we get the RIGHT information out to the American public?

I’m in the process of gathering audio from both and will have it posted soon, and in the meantime, I’ll be getting more and more good stuff to pass on.

In addition to keeping an eye on this blog, you can follow my tweets from the conference. Some 250 of my peers are also note-taking, recording and Twittering away. The conference hashtag is #ahcj2010.

Anything you’re dying to find out about (bad cliche, I know) about healthcare? I’ll try to find out. Text me your questions to 573.680.7117, or e-mail them to jmachetta@missourinet.com with “healthcare” in the subject line.