Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Long But Amazing Friday

I wanted to share with you guys, who are kind enough to follow this blog, about one of my most memorable days of public speaking engagements yet. I woke up yesterday - Friday, Feb. 24 - already a bit tired because the night before, Jessica Jiménez, aka J-Squared, and I went to the Latino Film Festival Media Kickoff Party. In addition to seeing peeps like Univision's sports anchor Beto Gurmilez and 933's Geena the Latina, J-Squared and I discovered an IHOP Express on 4th & G and grubbed there afterwards. Here is a picture of me at the event at Merk Restaurant (Fifth Ave.) with Jessica, Geena, and 933 DJ/Producer Sonic.

Well, the next morning I was tired but still pretty pumped because I was going to speak at the kickoff event for this year's Cesar E. Chavez Commemoration Series. A couple years ago I spoke at their Breakfast in front of 1,000 people and this time it was far different - a workshop of 20 people - but the work was still important. The goal of the workshop was helping young educators relay Cesar's stories and accomplishments in such a way that today's iPod wearing, Angry Bird playing, quite prosperous generation could relate. So I talked about the camp director in 1991 who wanted me banned as a "potential liability"; how I fought that discrimination; and how today's kids need to know those types of injustices exist and how to peacefully fight them.

I wasn't at my sharpest because I haven't spoken much lately and the Anytown story is not one I use often. But with some key pregnant pauses and raw emotion, I held their attention and it went great.

I spoke at 10am, the event ended at 11:30, and by noon I was headed to downtown San Diego. I had just a few minutes to check my e-mail, grab my sunglasses, and head to lunch. My lunch date on this warm and sun-splashed afternoon was another Jessica, Spinazzola. I get asked about her a lot but not by name. She's the girl that Peter Rowe describes in his Foreword in "Swinging for the Fences" as me asking him to 'hold my chicken', walking up to her in a restaurant, and within minutes extracting giggles and a phone number. People ask, "whatever happened with that girl??"  Well, J-Spinzz, as she is known, moved to Denver, had a daughter, and we've remained good friends. She was in town to check out schools because she wants to relocate her kid and boyfriend back to SD. I am so glad my moxy that day resulted in a good friendship. I'll post pictures soon that she took of us at Tin Fish.

After lunch, I hustled back to the office and it was straight to the car of my buddy Miguel Trejo. He was driving me to speak to his group, "Encuentros", which mentors teenage Latino boys at Fallbrook High. I fell asleep in his car almost right away but he said he understood. I woke up refreshed, still a little woozy though, and walked into a room full of boys and a homemade banner. I spoke on my overall life challenges and how they need to not let anyone tell them they can't succeed. I was afraid they might consider it a little hokey but when they asked if we could take pictures and wanted to share school experiences with me, I knew I'd made new friends. One kid, Jonah, was both mischievous and sincerely good-hearted and I saw a lot of myself in him. He's behind my left shoulder here.

Afterwards, Mr. Trejo took myself, his family, and a couple of the students out to dinner at Cocina del Charro in Escondido. His older sister came and she's pretty cute. By the time I got home I was wiped out. It was the most amazing Friday I've experienced in a long, long time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Taking the Crazy Train to "Lob Angeles"

A (more or less) accurate chronology of a roadtrip with friends today.

6:07 am - I am arising at this ungodly hour on a Saturday because today a group of us are going to Los Angeles for the Spurs-Clippers game at Staples Center. The game is at 12:30 but we are catching the 8:40 MetroLink train, which means arriving to the station in Oceanside by 8:00, which means picking up LoLo and Jakey in La Jolla by 7:45, which means Shawn and Mark will be at my place at 7. Thus the 6am wake-up time. I am kind of hating life.

7:57 am - We pull into a La Jolla parking lot where Jacob and Logan are going to leave their cars. Randomly we see San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner getting out of a car. I am officially convinced the man never sleeps.

8:20 am - There is a long line at the MetroLink station in Oceanside and the portly ticketing guy tells us we can always get on the train and pay at a future stop. Half of our crew hasn't even arrived yet. I am nervous. But I'm also hungry. So I give Mark ten bucks for fries and a drink at the nearby Burger King kiosk.

8:35 am - Those of us taking the train - Marky, Dubois, LoLo, Rossi, Double J, Ark, Em, Rob, and J-Lo and myself - are present. So is the train. But we see no pathway to the door. Suddenly an older gentleman says, "You need to go down the ramp, across to the other side, underneath the station, and board there." Which means one thing: run!!!!!!!

8:37 am - We are running. Specifically, my friends are running and I am walking as fast as I can. I feel like LMFAO just Shuffling furiously but really going nowhere. Emily pierces the cool morning air by yelling, "What about A-Mooooooo?"

8:39 am - The crew has run down and underneath the station, as the old man instructed, and there are fries, french toast sticks, and splashes of soda everywhere. Joslin shouts from the platform, "I'm gonna hold the door but don't worry - if the train starts to leave, I'll just drive us up! Do NOT fall!"  He's a good man, that Double J, a kind soul.

8:40 am - With my heart beating like a Rihanna bass line, I jump aboard the train. We collectively scramble to find an empty car and locate one with two tables. We sit and exhale. We made it. It was like reaching The Finish Line - available on and bookstores this summer. Boom.

9:49 am - We are on the train, laughing, eating, cajoling, Checking In, relaxing, when a conductor barrels her way through. With great sass she barks, "Feet off of the seats, please, feet off of all seats!" Oh I'm sorry, I thought I paid to be on here.

11:00 am - Hello, Los Angeles. We depart the train, enter Union Station, and somehow took a maze of blue lines, red lines, frickin' yellow lines, and wind up at our destination - in the heart of L.A. Live, the bustling entertainment district across from Staples Center.

11:03 am - We are joined by one Phil Lorenzo, the man who's almost as famous in Miami as Pitbull, who drove from beautiful San Diego. I relay to Phil and Jake how the last time I was at Staples was when my homey Colleen McDonald surprised me with the incredible Christmas gift of tickets to the Jay-Z/Kanye concert. That ish cray.

11:47 am - We settle onto the outdoor patio of ESPN Zone, amid quite a few fans rocking Kawhi Leonard jerseys from San Antonio or San Diego State. I shout out, "Aw yeah, Kawhi Leonard, Aztecs, baby!  619!" I make new friends.

11:57 am - The remainder of our crew is now here, Golden, KRB, Sancheezy, Hazel, Hazel's friend that looks like the singer Adele, and J-Lo's friend Rocio (how YOU doin'?). I propose a toast: To great friends and great Lob Angeles.  Hollaaaaaaaaa!!! <Clank, clank, clank.>

12:10 pm - I realize I am a lifelong Lakers fan, who jumped on the Bulls bandwagon because of MJ when I was in school in the Midwest, and still like them but shifted back to the Lakers when I moved back to Cali, and I love the Fighting Irish and Aztecs...and none of them are playing here today. Dang.

12:27 pm - It's almost tip-off and some of our crew have begun drifting for the gates, so I challenge Rocio to a chugging contest. We both have straws. I lose.

12:30 pm - Rossi, Soltren, and I take a picture in front of the statue of one of my heroes, Magic Johnson. So cool.

12:35 pm - Metal detectors hate me.

12:40 pm - I am earnestly impressed how many rabid Clippers fans there are. There are jerseys here and there reppin' Lakers, or Spurs, or the hockey Kings but "Clipper Nation" is pretty strong. Lob City and The Poster Child are a sports marketer's dream.

12:48 pm - Mark, Jacob, and Nick are getting food on an outdoor food court so I yell, "Hey, is that Jeremy Lin?", and walk away.  Everybody turns around.

1:30 pm - There's a McDonald's here!

1:42 pm - Spotted: actor Rainn Wilson.

3:05 pm - I hear the Aztecs have lost 58-56 amid 16 turnovers at Air Force. I am really starting to worry about those boys.

3:17 pm - I notice Tim Duncan doesn't really run anymore. Which makes it funny when he raises his hand to signify I'M OPEN. Well, yeah.

3:20 pm - Blake Griffin has 22 points and 20 rebounds. He's just ridiculous.

3:27 pm - Clad in their retro ABA uni's, the Clippers lose a gut-wrenching game in overtime, 103-100. It was an amazing game.

3:59 pm - A t-shirt salesman on the street is hawking, um, unofficial Clippers gear. But My Man is also peddling Whitney Houston tees. Really? Come On, Man!!

4:40 pm - We are back on the MetroLink and I realize I always have fun in L.A.

4:57 pm - The sassy conductor is back. "I said, get your feet off the seats! And yes, I do work all day here. If people on Monday are wearing white pants, guess what happens when they reach the seat your feet are on?"  Jacob looks at me like Who wears white pants to work?

5:01 pm - I am asleep amid a pile of Lay's potato chips and crumbs from a Subway sandwich. Straight SLOB Angeles.

7:07 pm - Back in Oceanside, we all hug and mostly part ways. Man I love these friends.  

8:45 pm - I am back at my crib, watching the overtime frame of Notre Dame's 74-70 victory at Villanova, their eighth straight 'W'. I am yelling, kinda, 'cause as Nick noted as we left Staples, I totally lost my voice. That's how much fun we had. Taking the train was the right call. Seeing this NBA matchup was a great decision. Having these friends, this crew, is a tremendous blessing. I am pretty much loving life right now.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

She's Every Woman: A Farewell to Whitney Houston

Each generation has a list of singers who transcend music and are true icons. Etta James. Gladys Knight. Janis Joplin. Aretha Franklin. Diana Ross. All of these are iconic in the pantheon of female singers.

For my generation, three immediately come to mind: Madonna. Mary J. Blige. And Whitney Houston.

Women who have a string of memories and monumental moments to go along with a string of no. 1 hits.

The world lost a great one last night, a songbird who could make you feel whatever she was going through, and make it so that listening to her songs always reminded you of whatever you were going through too. It's easy to rhapsodize about her booming pipes, melodic voice, and mesmirizing shifts in tone. Many will do that and rightfully so.

But what stands out to me about Whitney - that's the first sign of a star, when only a first name suffices - is that she created a number of iconic moments that I experienced personally or as part of the American public.

Her first few hits, and they were heavyweight successes, are ingrained into '80s pop culture: You Gave Good Love; How Will I Know?; I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I didn't realize it at the time but it was rare, if not unheard of, for girls all across the country to get their style from an African-American woman. Whitney transcended race and culture during a time when, really, there weren't very many black pop singers.

Perhaps that was why our teacher forced our class to sing I Believe the Children Are Our Future at sixth-grade graduation. I say forced because my classmates at Lindbergh Elementary in San Diego's suburb of Clairemont thought the song was sappy; we thought we'd be laughed at. We weren't, of course, but what we didn't realize until years later was Mrs. Negus had chosen that song as a hallmark of diversity, education, and triumph. It would become a classic.

What was interesting is the youth of the 1980s and '90s eventually went through a cultural metamorphosis. As the glitz and economic success of the '80s grinded into the more challenging early '90s, a lot of families lost jobs and homes. Whitney herself found pop stardom, which came so easily from 1985 - 1988, came at a cost. She was criticized by other R&B singers for "not being black enough" and was booed at the 1990 Black Entertainment Television Awards.

Then came late 1990 and the emergence of Saddam Hussein and what eventually became Desert Storm. Our country had not engaged in international conflict since Vietnam and, needless to say, it was an unsettling time. With debate raging over war in Iraq and even the Super Bowl overshadowed by the gloom of families sending sons and daughters overseas, Whitney was tabbed to sing the National Anthem. What followed was the most beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner I have still ever heard.

I can still remember players from the Bills and Giants - the Super Bowl champions in this year that Whitney has passed too - wiping tears from their eyes. The next day famed B.E.T. announcer Donnie Simpson recounted on air how, when the anthem ended, he picked up his phone, called his brother somewhere, and said, "Man, did you hear that?", while wiping tears from his eyes.

Personally I believe the Lord made it so that Whitney could sing that song, like only she could, before the biggest single-game sporting spectacle in the world, to comfort, encourage, and galvanize us that good would eventually defeat evil.

The next few years were as roller-coaster wild for Whitney as they were for our generation. She created the album I'm Your Baby Tonight, which finally gained her R&B acceptance; became a mega-star in music and movies; married my favorite male singer, Bobby Brown (an original member of New Edition); got caught up in a whirlwind of drugs, abuse, and money; became a reality-show trainwreck; survived and eased into her roles as mother and singing luminary.

Her role in Waiting to Exhale showed her acting chops and displayed the sass many didn't want to believe she had. Whitney wasn't the pop princess many in the public desired her to be. But she wasn't an all-out crazy diva either. She was many things in many different eras and I think another one-name queen of entertainment, Oprah, recognized that. Not every singer has a song like I'm Every Woman selected as the theme for the biggest talk show in television history.

Whitney Houston was every woman: brash, talented, romantic, mischievous, ambitious, sensitive, resourceful, tough, and always able to come back from defeat. Hearing her songs is like taking a trip through 25+ years of music history.

She is incredible. She is an icon. She is Whitney and, man, will she be missed.