Scaling Mount Dora

In the Navy

My friend’s father, was a retired Naval aviator who had been stationed in, and later retired to  the Central Florida town where I spent my high school years.

Naval Air Station Sanford, Fl circa 1968
(Photo by: Lt. Wade USN)

The military base was later decommissioned and now known as the Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

At my friend’s house one evening, The Commander told me a story of a Navy buddy  who in his first post-military interview was asked this question:

“Do you have experience flying over mountainous terrain?”

The man’s  response was this: “I have flown numerous missions over Mount Dora.”

He told the truth.

“Mount” Dora

Mount Dora is a small town, about 30 miles NW of Orlando. If you’d like, you can become acquainted with Mount Dora in this 3-minute video:

If you’re perplexed by the absence of mountainous terrain, there is a very simple reason for that: there is none. Central Florida is pancake-flat.

Mount Dora’s peak elevation is 182 ft. It wouldn’t be that hard for a toddler to reach Mount Dora’s peak on a tricycle.

However, the candidate had given a truthful response, even if it didn’t address the question.

And it sounded great.

The man was offered the job shortly after the  interview.

Is Truth Enough?

I don’t know anything the man’s skill in flying a plane, or the job’s responsibilities or experience requirements.

Nor do I know anything about the context of the question, the “Mount Dora” line might have been a joke.  I wasn’t there.

Though I’ve occasionally thought of being in a similar interview scenario and wondered how I might answer.

If somebody were to ask if I’d ever scaled a high-altitude peak? I could say  “I climbed  Mount Dora.” and that would be true. If pressed further, I could provide a vivid, truthful account:

“I was 16. We set up a  base camp–in a municipal parking garage where we left my brother-in-law’s Volaré–and reached the peak 2 minutes later. The view of gift shops, bakeries and shuffleboard courts was absolutely stunning.”

Except it wouldn’t answer the interviewer’s question. I’d likely  just say no.

Though it’s probably  a moot point in modern times. A hiring manager might react with “Whoa, if true.” but could see how flimsy my answer was in a few seconds after a damn good Googling.


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I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back

Just Passing Through

I first arrived in Chicago in late summer of 1992. I intended to only stay about two weeks before returning to the East Coast.

As I neared the end of that two-week  period, the temperatures had cooled a bit, and I enjoyed the pleasant weather for running, biking, or exploring. There was much of the city I hadn’t seen.

And there was still a helluva lot of time left in the baseball season.

At that point in my life, I had been to one Red Sox game (a glorious old park) with my Little League team, and earlier in 1992, I’d driven up from DC area to a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore (a gob-smacking, brand-new stadium).

I felt as though I needed to see more live baseball. Hell, I deserved it. And a city with two teams was a great place to do it.

Thus, I decided to prolong my stay and I began to seek freelance projects. And go to baseball games on weekends. I was particularly interested in going to a Cubs game on a weekday afternoon. That seemed  like a totally-Chicago thing to do.

Soon, I received a call from an  educational publisher in the suburbs. The caller, George, informed me they were in Glenview, Illinois, I didn’t know exactly where Glenview was, but I was fairly confident that the CTA trains didn’t go there. Which meant driving, and being stuck in traffic. I was slightly less interested in the job.

He described their location and it didn’t sound far away–not that much car time.  Still, I was momentarily disappointed. Since I was in elementary school, I’d envisioned myself working in downtown Chicago, largely because of  this TV intro:

However, the project was with a company I was interested in. I was pretty excited about a chance to work with  an academic publisher, on an elementary and middle school math textbook revision.

I thought ahead: if I were to be offered to this position, I could get to an afternoon Cubs game that week, and start the position the week after. Therefore, I agreed to come out for an interview.

The next day, a Tuesday,  I met with three different design managers. It went well. The interview ended with George  who was leading the math textbook project asking,  “Can you start tomorrow?”

This was good news! Or was it? Starting the next day would disrupt my game plan (literally because I planned to go to a game.)

I thought for a few moments. The project was due to end in November. Well past baseball season. The project was  rather  behind schedule, so I thought it might be hard to get a day off.

I paused, then thanked them for the offer and said,  “I really need to do some work on my car, can I start Thursday?”

They agreed. I felt like I’d hit a home run.

Play Ball!

The next day, I hopped on  the Brown Line for a short ride, then walked a mile, east on Addison Street and held  up one finger outside of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs would be playing the Dodgers.

I hadn’t expected that they would be sold out. I talked to a few scalpers and settled for a standing room only ticket.

After a few innings, the crowd thinned out, and I took a seat in the left field bleachers, and had  my first taste of Old Style.

When I got home, I went to my car, that was parked a few blocks from my apartment, and checked the oil. I could honestly say I worked on my car.

What the Hell is a Blueline?

I started the freelance job, the next day. The project was hectic from the get-go. The pace was quick and I was a bit out of my element. Though I had deep experience with desktop publishing, this was my first exposure to ‘traditional’ publishing.  Production managers kept asking me about status of  “blue lines” and I thought they were referring to the train that went to O’hare, for crying out loud.

It seemed borderline barbaric, a waste of time  that revisions to a textbook would still be done with  pencils and ink. The horror.

All of this would have been  manageable except for the fact that I was pushed out the door at 4:30 every day. My undone work deficit grew larger every day. Stress invaded my sleep.

One thing was clear, I would absolutely not have time to get to another Cubs game on a weekday.  Delaying my first day for this project  now seemed like a genius move.

Soul Cleansing

We wrapped up the textbook revisions just before Christmas. I received several contract extensions for  post-project cleanup, and some additional work that had been on the department’s to-do list.

On my last day, nearing February, I went to say goodbye to George and he invited me into his office. We talked about the project, their coming  move to digital publishing, my future plans, and of course, comic books and baseball.

About 20 minutes in,  I said that I  didn’t want to keep George from his family, but I had a quick confession.

His eyes widened a bit, and his head tipped back.  He looked like a smaller, a non-intimidating  edition of Ernest  Hemingway, with a voice that resembled comedian, Jackie Vernon’s . I revealed that I had kicked off my tenure with the company by playing hooky.

“….and since I didn’t know I was going to stay in Chicago, I thought that might be my only chance….”

He put up his hand to stop me.

He sat back in his chair, with his hands on his belly, chuckled a bit and said, “I don’t blame you. In September, it’s too nice to work. Though I wish you had told me your plans,  I’d have met you there.”

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Performance Review

A Drexel University student (a zealous baseball fan) once did a 6-month ad agency internship for me  in Chicago. After he went back to school, I received some paperwork from his internship program.

I called a friend, then teaching at Penn, who said I could stay with him. I booked a cheap direct flight to Philadelphia and completed paperwork at my friend’s house.

I contacted the former intern and arranged a meeting place, “Gate 1 of Veteran’s Stadium…”

I arrived in at the Philly airport a few weeks later.

Two days later, I was here:

Baseball diamond, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia

Veterans Stadium
(Paul Altobelli / CC BY (

That stadium was ugly, the Phillies were bad, and it was a hellishly hot day. It wasn’t hard to find privacy. My former intern and I just walked up four rows from where my friend and his kids sat. We went over the review form  and returned a few minutes later.

Certainly employee-performance reviews during the 3rd inning of a Phillies game is one those things that is no longer a thing.

What is the Zoom equivalent?

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Naming Rights

Heads or Tails?

My favorite  sports memory was a coin toss.

This is likely quite rare, among fans, and even non-fans. I may be even be alone in this.

I haven’t watched football for many years, my reasons for shunning it are too many to list here ( short story: nothing to do with kneeling vs standing). Though, the last team that I had any interest in (decades ago) was the Washington Redskins; which as of yesterday are no longer the Redskins.

I didn’t have any prior connection to the team, but when we were young men, one of my high school teammates became their special teams captain for a few years.  My loyalty to Washington’s  team came on rather suddenly.

Seeing Reggie on the field, across from John Elway and other Denver Broncos’ captains, for the Super Bowl coin toss stands alone as my all-time favorite sports moment.

Referee and Redskins football player at Coin Toss cermony

Reggie Branch, Super Bowl XXII

No other sporting event has ever reduced me to tears. But there I was, furiously wiping my eyes and  cheeks, with fingers that had just handled some hot peppers, so I cried some more.  At least I could  legitimately use the “I got something in my eye,” excuse when my friends made fun of me.

That Name, Though

I didn’t think that much about the name “Redskins” in the beginning. As a whiter-than-white kid, growing up in the era I did, I was exposed to many  entertainment options containing  racist elements. You probably were, too (if you don’t believe me, you  can pop some search terms into YouTube–perhaps ‘racist cartoons’– then you can get back to me). As a child, when I first heard the name Redskins, I never even gave a thought as to whether it was offensive.

Though,  as I pondered the name and listened to people, it was clear how problematic the name Redskins was.  I briefly lived in the DC area in the early 1990s, and there was what seemed like an especially large amount of uproar about the name. Yes, it was  a pretty messed-up name.

I was glad to read today that the owner of the team announced that the Redskins name was being dropped. This followed comments by the teams owner that he would “never” change the name. This threat, by FedEx–which had naming right the team’s stadium– to revoke a sponsorship deal seems to have been the reason for the reversal.

Money talks.

From what I’ve seen on social media, many middle-aged white men are offended by the decision. This  seems rather comical, in the same way when dudes claimed that their childhoods were ruined when a remake of Ghostbusters featured women in the lead roles.

Let them be offended. They’ll get over it, or become outraged about something else, soon enough. It was well past time for that team’s name to be changed.

Good riddance.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I don’t think I’d talked to Reggie Branch since  we were about 20, when during a college break we both showed up at our high school’s weight room to for a workout.

Though a few years ago, I was able to get his contact info. In the subsequent  text message conversation, I made it abundantly clear that I alone was responsible for his success.

“I missed so many blocks in high school, that you had no choice but to become a tough runner. You owe me everything! EVERYTHING!”

Football play runner avoiding Defense

Scott Smith (72) Preparing to Miss a Block

He laughed, or at least his emojis laughed for him, and he agreed.

I feel as though he should give me his Super Bowl ring.

Bonus Track

Much of the world is in a sports-starved state, so I’ve included this post, National Signing Day about my storied career, and  my scouting report.

Yes, it’s satire…..or is it?


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