The Seabourn Sojourn Experience

Posted May 25, 2012 by wjudson461
Categories: Cruise Travel

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The Seabourn Sojourn

Seabourn has earned the title of our most-beloved cruise line since we first sailed to Alaska, circa 1999.  The food, intimacy, service and the attention to small but important details placed Seabourn as our top luxury cruise line.  The original Seabourn vessels, the Pride, Legend and Spirit have just 104 suites.  That is about 210 people served by a crew of about 170.  Not a bad passenger to crew ratio in terms of service.  The ships were originally built in the late 1980’s and were refurbished between 2009 and 2011.  We have sailed the three original ships many times and love them, but there are sacrifices.  Because the ships are older, there are no verandas.  The top suite category has a “Balcony” suite which allows you to open sliding doors to fresh sea air, but they are really French windows not verandas you can actually sit out on.  The pool is very small and often in the shade, as if added as an afterthought.  In the last few years, Seabourn added three new larger ships to their fleet, the Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest.  These ships were twice the size of the older ships and carried twice the passengers.  Most of the suites had verandas and the central swimming pool was large and beautiful.  My Wife and I were very skeptical whether Seabourn could offer the same exquisite cruise experience on a much larger scale.  Well, we needn’t have worried.  We sailed the Sojourn for 10 days from November 27-December 8, 2011, and the ship was fabulous.  The Sojourn was, if not the most beautiful ship I’ve sailed, certainly among the top three.  For those curious cruise lovers out there, the other two contenders were the Regent Seven Seas Voyager and the Crystal Serenity.  It should be noted that both of those ships are much larger, with 800-1000 passengers.  I should emphasize we took the Sojourn cruise just to experience the ship, as the itinerary was pretty mundane.  The Sojourn is nothing short of spectacular.

The Main Pool

A  pleasant surprise was how many crew members and guests we knew from previous sailings on the smaller ships.  Let me use this space to praise the people who made our voyage extra special.  While tipping is neither required nor expected, when people go above and beyond, I have always felt they should be rewarded and try to do so.  I always manage to miss a few of them, but I’ll be seeing them again.  Darius, my bartender buddy from the Legend, who I was thrilled to find on the Sojourn.  He is both a marvelous bartender and one of the nicest and funniest guys I’ve met at sea.  Our Cabin stewardess Anne was terrific and very sweet.  We like to have both breakfast and lunch in the Dining Room every day, and Annie, Nigel, Kimberly and Drew were a delight.  Jo and Claudia made the Coffee Bar a must-visit every day.  Jo’s interpretation of Iced Coffee made us skip dessert at lunch in order to have one.  With ice cream, caramel, chocolate sauce and cinnamon, it was better than dessert.  So good it ought to be illegal.  Neither Sue nor I drink booze, and we had a ball with Sommelier Daniela Balser, who tried and tried to find something to entice us.  She was very funny and we were sorry she was leaving to go on vacation halfway through the cruise.  Arek, the Assistant Maître D’ made sure we were pampered at every meal as only Seabourn can.  Although there are four dining venues in the evening, we wound up in The Restaurant every night.  This was strictly a personal choice.  When the day’s activity sheet arrives each morning, the menus for that evening are provided for all four venues.  It just happened that the Restaurant offerings suited us the best.  The food was excellent, although I maintain that their smaller ship, the Legend, has the best cuisine afloat.  Conde’ Nast agrees.  In addition to The Restaurant, there are several other dining options every evening.  Restaurant 2 offers small-dish tasting menus with the offerings changing nightly.  The Colonnade is a more casual alternative to the Restaurant, offering both indoor and outdoor seating.  The Patio Grill, overlooking the main pool, offers al fresco dining nightly.

The Restaurant

The Colonnade

Restaurant “2” Tasting Restaurant

Our suite was elegant in typically-understated Seabourn style.  The veranda was a haven for morning coffee, an afternoon snooze or pre-bedtime star-gazing with the sounds of the ocean and the salt breezes easing your transition to sleep.  A tip about the verandas; the less expensive veranda categories, V1 and V2 have railings that are part metal and part glass.  Categories V3-V6 offer all glass from floor to the teak rail.  If you are going to pay for a veranda, go for the V3-V6 categories.  A few extra dollars offers an unobstructed view of the sea from anyplace in the suite.  It is a small detail, but the kind that matters to me.  The bathroom was a fabulous two-person, two-sink marble affair with both a glassed-in shower and a large bathtub.  I wish my bathroom at home was half as nice.  As with all Seabourn ships, suites feature walk-in closets, refrigerator, mini-bar, and interactive flat-screen TV.  The refrigerator is stocked with the beers, soft drinks, water and juices you selected on your pre-cruise order sheet.  The first evening, two liters of the premium liquor of your choice are delivered to your suite.  The table in the sitting area converts to a Dining table, and all Dinner can be served to you course by course in your suite should you feel like a private evening in.

Veranda Suite – Categories V3-V6

Watersports Marina

The brochures featured great pictures of the Watersports Marina which opens out at the stern and offers swimming, kayaking and sailing right from the back of the ship.  I had enjoyed this many times during cruises on the three smaller ships, but strangely, to my knowledge, the Marina was not opened once in our 10-day cruise.  Obviously, this was not going to happen during our four days travelling at sea in the open ocean, and the ship actually pulled in and docked in San Juan and Antigua, so those days were out.  But in St. John and St. Barts, we were at anchor while in port and tendered in.  Those are traditionally the times the Watersports Marina is lowered.  Perhaps the winds and current were too strong; I really have no idea.  But I don’t believe the Watersports Marina was opened during our cruise, and I would have liked to have at least heard an announcement explaining why.

Spa Pool

              The Spa on the Sojourn was visually the most remarkable I have seen in all my cruises.  Occupying two decks, it features such luxuries as wooden heated loungers to relax pre-massage, Kneipp walk pool, saunas, steam, outdoor whirlpools and a cabana area.  I have posted several pictures, but they don’t really capture just how mind-boggling this spa is.  That said, I had booked four massages and wound up cancelling the last two.  While the massage was adequate, it was not what I had expected, and at over $140.00 for 50 minutes, hardly a bargain.  I have massages regularly at home and perhaps I’ve been spoiled.  There is, of course, a fully-equipped fitness center for all you gym people.  As I do on all my vacations, I made it a point to walk past the Fitness center at least twice daily.

Spa – Heated Loungers in Waiting Room

The Sojourn and her Sister ships feature a Casino with far more options than the smaller ships.  Blackjack, Poker, Roulette and Slot Machines offer an array of ways to lose your money.  I was particularly happy to have the chance to play Roulette, as it requires virtually no innate intelligence to actually win.  If there is in fact a cogent strategy to Roulette, I’m unaware of it.  I finished the trip up an astounding $5.00, and viewed this as a major triumph.

The Boutique

The Casino

For all the diehard Seabourn veterans loyal to the older, smaller ships, I see no reason to change that.  I have already booked for next year on the Legend, our fifth time aboard.  That being said, I would strongly encourage you to give the Sojourn, Quest and Odyssey a chance.  The cruise experience is a little different, yes there are more people, but it is a first-rate cruise experience.  And the ship is so much bigger, I found more places to be completely alone than on the smaller ships.  Seabourn has done a great job.  I think you’ll be glad to have tried the new ships.  I will be sailing them again.

Lobby- Second Deck

Observation Bar – Also setting for Afternoon Tea

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The Biras Creek Resort – Virgin Gorda, BVI

Posted January 30, 2012 by wjudson461
Categories: Travel

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Aerial view of the Biras Creek Resort

The Biras Creek Resort is an intimate luxury resort on Virgin Gorda, cited by both Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure as among the best resorts in the Caribbean.  With 140 acres and only 31 villas, the resort is spacious and private.  Located on a peninsula, the resort actually abuts three separate bodies of water.  The swimming beach, snorkeling area and the sailboats, windsurfers and other craft are on the North Sound lagoon, protected by a reef.  The waves are gentle and fine for even a novice swimmer.  The villas are on the open Atlantic, offering beautiful vistas and considerable surf.  The Marina is on an open Caribbean bay.  Access to the resort is limited to boat and helicopter.

Arrival at Biras Creek from the Gun Creek ferry

Biras Creek is not an inexpensive place to stay, running near $1000.00 per day per couple if you select the full American Dining Plan.  Because it is easy to lose an entire day travelling to the islands in the BVI, we had flown into St. Thomas the previous day, spent the night and chartered our own flight to the Virgin Gorda Airport.  Seeing as the commercial airlines serving the BVI, Cape Air and Air Sunshine, are not presently allowed to land at Virgin Gorda Airport due to some zoning restriction, the charter flight was a stroke of genius.  Had we flown Cape Air to Tortola and taken the Ferry to Biras, we would have arrived in time for Dinner.  The private charter allowed us to arrive at the resort nearly four hours before check-in, but as we had informed Biras of our travel arrangements, our villas were ready upon arrival and we were able to enjoy the entire first day.  A few bucks extra, but money well spent.

The bustling Virgin Gorda International Airport

Our Private Charter from St. Thomas

Arriving at the resort from the Gun Creek Ferry, we were immediately transported to our villas.  I fell in love with the setting immediately.  Our terrace was right on the beach, on the Atlantic Ocean side.  The waves were surfing caliber, although I never saw anyone out there on a board.  Perhaps there were reefs too close to the surface.  The strong breeze was constant and invigorating.  My first thoughts were how wonderful it was going to be in the evenings, shutting off the AC, opening up the screens all the way, and falling asleep to the sounds of the wind and crashing surf.  That is my ultimate sleep experience.  The villas were done in a teal and white color scheme with unframed island art which seemed just right.  There was a comfortable living room with all the necessities and a bedroom with ample closet space.  My favorite part of the villa was the outdoor shower.  The girls were a little leery of the shower since if someone really had wanted to spy it was possible.  I considered it a non-issue and loved showering looking up at the blue sky.  When I say our terrace was right on the beach, I mean you could take a path about twenty feet to where the waves were washing ashore. I have always loved pelicans and to my delight, their preferred feeding area was right in front of our villa.  If I can come back in another Life, I’d like to try my luck as a pelican.  They are so unlikely looking you have to love them.  Wi-Fi access is available throughout the resort, which enabled us to use our iPad.  Very convenient seeing as there were no televisions or radios in the villas.  They would have detracted from the ambiance.  Biras Creek is, more than anything, a getaway.

Ocean Villa Bedroom

Ocean Villa Living Room

View from Ocean Villa Terrace

The centerpiece of the resort is what I called “the Fort,” situated on the highest point on the property.  As you approach the “Fort,” you pass the Arawak Lounge, site of the afternoon tea.  There is also a small but functional gym which I made a point of walking past at least twice daily. This brings you to the staircase leading to the Reception Desk, and another flight up to the bar and dining room.  There is a cocktail hour nightly before Dinner.

Arawak Lodge (right) and Staircase to Dining Room

Bar Lounge and Entrance to the Dining Room

So far, all of the attributes I’ve mentioned are available at many luxury Caribbean resorts.  It was the food that set Biras Creek apart from most of its competitors. The cuisine at Biras Creek was absolutely phenomenal.  Executive Chef Jermaine George made every Dinner a culinary celebration.  The soups changed daily and were all inspired by local flavors.  Appetizers included Seared Tuna over Wilted Romaine with Black Olive and Shallot dressing.  Or maybe Coconut Shrimp Tempura with a Grilled Apple and Mango Salsa sounds good. But then you’d miss out on the Smoked Bacon Caesar Salad with Croutons and Parmesan Crisps.  The Main Courses were equally hard choices.  One night, it was Pan Seared Red Snapper with Thai-Inspired Sushi Rice and Spicy Ratatouille.  The next night offered a Spiced Rub Lollipop Pork Chop with Bacon Mashed Potato and Island Rum Sauce.   Then, Pink Peppercorn Crusted Halibut with Sautéed Leek and French Beans in Truffle Oil.  Of course, steaks and other entrees were available every night.  When the main course had been cleared away, you were truly entering dangerous territory.  While I usually am able to exercise some discipline in terms of dessert, Pastry Chef Brian Luke made willpower virtually impossible.  The choices included a Hot Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream, Apple and Cinnamon Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce, Paris Brest filled with Crème Chantilly, Fresh Fruits and Raspberry Coulis and a Coconut Panna Cotta with Chocolate Sauce and Pistachio Ice Cream.  Of course, there was a Cheese Table serving Continental and English Cheeses with Complimentary Port Wine and a Cracker assortment.  All of this served by a friendly and efficient staff who were proud of their resort and seemed genuinely happy to have us there.  All in all, it was as fine a dining experience as I have had in the Caribbean.  Our sincere thanks to Fernella, Ellery, Janice, Kathy Ann, Cheryl, Dominique, Maggie, Oma, the two Jens and many others too numerous to mention for making our stay at Biras Creek a wonderful one.

Scallops

Tuna Tartar, Pickled Cucumber and Wasabi Dressing

View from the Lounge Terrace- The Marina at Sunset

It took us no time at all to slip into an unhurried and wonderful daily routine.  After a terrific breakfast featuring fabulous pastries, fresh fruit and the usual breakfast fare, my friend Ricky and I headed to the Marina.  Each morning, we’d take out a Boston Whaler and explore.  The first voyage had a few Laurel & Hardy moments, but after that, things went smoothly.  It was fun to go out to Prickly Pear Island, where we had been many times for cruise ship barbecues.  It was very different to have the whole island to yourself.  Then, we would head over to Bitter End Yacht Club, another of my favorite resorts and the subject of a future review.  After visiting with my friends on the Staff, we would head back to Biras and go to the beach to join our wives.  With luck, we would each have time to take out a Hobie Cat for a prelunch sail.  Lunch was served either in the Dining Room or at the Beach.  The Beach barbecues were far more than hamburgers and hot dogs, although those were available.  But I always try to eat things on vacation I don’t have ready access to at home.  There were skewers of fresh shrimp, seafood paella and a wonderful Thai Teriyaki Beef, along with an assortment of cold salads.  After lunch, we’d take a swim and another sail, and perhaps a nap in a hammock.  At about 3:30 PM, we’d go to the beautiful oceanfront pool.  The girls were not keen on swimming in the ocean, knowing of course, that we share it with other species.  Anytime you enter the ocean, you are leaving the world you inhabit and becoming a guest in another world, a world with different rules and inhabitants.  The pool was always slightly cooler than the sea and very refreshing.

The Hobie Cats

The White Sand Beach

Beachfront and Barbecue Venue

The Oceanfront Pool

Some days, I would arrange for a massage at the spa before returning to the villa to dress for Dinner.  The Spa was adequate, but nothing more.  The masseuses were pleasant and willing, but I guess I’m somewhat spoiled in that regard.  If Biras wants to be known as a world-class spa, there is work to do, both in the appearance of the spa and the training of the masseuses. 

Iguana

The Biras Creek Resort is very spread out, so each villa is equipped with two bicycles.  They come in very handy since it is about a fifteen minute walk from your villa to the beach, and longer still to the Marina.  I had been looking forward to riding the bikes, although I had not ridden one in thirty years or so.  But I recalled the old adage that you never forget how to ride a bike.  That is true.  What they don’t tell you is that although you may recall how, that is no guarantee that you will still be able. I have had several sports-related knee surgeries, and although I got up and riding with no problem, my left knee could not handle the hills.  Only a small portion of the pathways are paved, the rest just dirt trails.  After a rain shower, the dirt trails were particularly hard to navigate.   I found out that the staff was always readily agreeable to driving you anyplace you wanted to go in one of the many staff golf carts.  Everyone was very nice and amenable, but I found myself viewing my requests as an imposition.  I felt old. I began to walk to the beach, and in the process, saw some things I’d passed without appreciating.  I passed iguanas ranging in size from tiny to three feet long not counting the tail. The tennis courts were about halfway between the villa and the beach.   Just before the beach were the stables, where the resort keeps horses that had been abused in Puerto Rico.  I do not know the nature of the abuse, but the horses have a pretty good life now.  They graze and nap and are leery of people.  I had the impression that the long-term goal was to get the horses comfortable enough with people to let them ride them.  Some part of me hopes that never happens.  While I can understand the additional revenue to be derived from offering horseback riding on the beach, these horses have paid their dues.  I hope they continue to keep their distance from people.

One of the Rescued Horses

In closing, a few impressions I got from my time at Biras Creek.  The only children I encountered had either hiked over from another resort or come ashore on a boat.  Biras is really meant for couples.  There is very little night life and that is how it should be.  The Biras Creek Resort is a beautiful, luxurious place to spend time with your special someone.  Replace the party scene with a beautiful sunset.  Get up for the sunrise and watch the rays come into shore to feed, while a lone shark glides through the shallows.  Use this tranquil place to slow down your life. I would like to see golf carts available for those who cannot handle the bicycles.  You can adjust the speed the carts are able to go to make them safe, and I would wager there would be far fewer accidents with the carts than with the bicycles.  Apart from that, the place is damn near perfect.  A place to rejuvenate.

Dawn Breaks from Our Terrace


Sequential Sunrise- Biras Creek Resort- December 2011

Posted January 10, 2012 by wjudson461
Categories: Travel

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Sunrises in the Tropics

One of the great free pleasures in life is watching the sun come up out of the ocean in the Tropics.  I am rarely up at the crack of dawn at home, but somehow it happens naturally in the Caribbean.  Maybe it is the cumulative effects of swimming, snorkeling, sailing and eight hours in the sun.Whatever, I tend to sleep very early and get up at sunrise.  It is a magical time.  Rays come into shore to feed, the lone shark patrolling the shallows.   The following pictures are a sequential attempt to catch the beauty of a morning sunrise from our Villa terrace at Biras Creek Resort on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands in December, 2011.  I hope you like them and that I was able to capture the absolute tranquility of the experience.

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Andy Rooney and Jud Sr.

Posted November 16, 2011 by wjudson461
Categories: Friends, Here and Gone

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The recent passing of Andy Rooney just four weeks after his final appearance as a regular on 60 Minutes compelled me to write this piece.  I have known Rooney since I was a toddler.  At the time of his death, I had not spoken to Rooney in a number of years, my Father having passed on in 1983.  But there are many memories of Rooney that remain very vivid to me to this day.  They are bittersweet memories.  While Rooney was unquestionably my Father’s favorite person on the planet, he was not mine.  Nor did he seem to like me much, if he had any opinion at all.

Andy Rooney was my father’s best friend.  They met in prep school at the Albany Academy, forging an almost immediate and lifelong friendship.  They were the starting guard and tackle on the football team.  After Prep school, they went on to attend Colgate together until World War II changed many people’s plans.  Rooney joined the Army, writing for Stars and Stripes, while my Father became a B-17 bomber pilot in the Army Air Force.  After the War, both of them came to live in Manhattan.  My Father took over his Father’s liquor store in Sutton Place, while Rooney got his journalistic career going.  Andrew and his Wife, Marge, settled in Peter Copper Village on First Avenue in the 20’s.  My Mother and Father took an apartment in 405 East 54th Street, across First Avenue from his shop.  As kids began to enter the picture, both men decided to move to the suburbs, ostensibly for the better school systems.  We bought a house in Port Washington, out on Long Island, while Rooney settled in Rowayton, CT. Even after the move, the two families saw each other.  My Father met Rooney for lunch fairly often, and they spoke on the phone almost daily.

Although 60 Minutes called him Andy Rooney, I never heard either of my parents call him anything other than Andrew.  So for the duration of this piece, Andrew he will be.  As much as he liked my Pop, he disliked my Mother.   My Father internalized everything, seldom saying anything incendiary until he would explode at some later date, for no apparent reason.  Everyone liked my Pop because he always had the proper, expected response.   My Mother was the polar opposite.  She was highly-opinionated, extremely intelligent, bitingly sarcastic and confrontational.  She almost never raised her voice, and never swore.  But arguing with Helen was like walking into a buzz saw.  Andrew was very much the same kind of person.  As the years have passed and I’ve had time to think about this, it seems to me much of their mutual antipathy was rooted in their innate sameness.  Alcohol played a role in all of this as well.  While it would be silly to blame booze for the frequent arguments, it was as if there was a pile of dried kindling in the room with an accelerant poured over it.  Some evenings no spark would hit the pile and the evening would be civil and pleasant.  But all too often it did not end that way and a blaze ensued.  The more rounds of drinks, the greater the chances of an unhappy ending to the evening. There was a period where my Mother and Andrew did not speak for years.

Andrew made his own ice cream from scratch, and to this day I have never tasted anything as good.  My memory may fail me, but it seems the first time I had it, it was peach.  This was an almost religious experience.  He was an avid New York Giants football fan and had season tickets both at the old Yankee Stadium and later at the Meadowlands.  He took my Father fairly often.  Andrew drove a little two-seater, an MG or Triumph, and with great enthusiasm.  And speed.  My Father was terrified of Andrew’s driving and would come home pale and white-knuckled.  My Pop loved his football and hanging with Andrew, so the drive was the price of admission.  He toughed it out.

I went to college in Miami, determined to become a journalist.  While I hardly broke a sweat in most of my classes, I actively pursued two unpaid internships for academic credit.  I worked for both the Miami Herald and Channel 10, Miami’s ABC affiliate.  I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  As Graduation approached, Channel 10 expressed an interest in bringing me on full-time.  I was thrilled.  But my Father suffered the first of several heart attacks and everything changed overnight.  I had to go home and run the family business, something I had sworn I would never do.  In retrospect, I was probably selfish; my Pop had not wanted to get sick.  But I was not happy and I do not hide it well.  When my Father had recovered, he returned to work.  He had a staff he trusted, and I began sending out resumes to media companies in New York.  I must have sent out a hundred of them without so much as an interview.

I returned from lunch one afternoon and my Father told me that an interview had been arranged with Andrew at CBS.  I was ecstatic.  For the days leading up to the interview, I edited and re-edited my resume and rehearsed good answers to questions I might be asked.  I bought a suit, shined my shoes until they reflected like a mirror, and cut my hair corporate-short.  It was hard to tell if I was more excited or nervous; probably equal parts both.

The big day came and I entered Andrew’s office over on West 57th Street.  I had just sat down and had not even said a word when Andrew lit into me.  “You’re not my friend.  I’m your Father’s friend” he hissed.  “Why should I pull strings for you when I don’t do that for my own children?”  This was true. His son Brian, about my age and also a journalist, had had to start out in the Midwest someplace and work his way from there.  He has established a terrific career in L.A. and deserves a ton of credit.  Rooney went on to accuse me of looking for shortcuts through connections rather than earning my station in life.  I listened as long as I could take it, and then stood up and walked to the door.  Before I walked out, using some rather coarse language, I inquired why he had agreed to talk to me at all.  This was a complete waste of time for both of us.  I was angry and humiliated, and this episode bothered me for a long time.

Again, the passage of time yielded clarity and understanding that had eluded in the moment.  I realized this had nothing to do with me.  Andrew could not say no to my Father, his best friend.  I would have liked to tell Andrew that I had not asked to speak with him, that I understood his principles.  I never got the chance.  I’m hoping my Pop told him at some point.

The last time I saw Andrew was in 2004 at a Giants game in the Meadowlands.  I looked to my right and he sat alone, looking cold and hunched over.  I just read in his obituary that his Wife Marge had passed in 2004, and it occurred to me that maybe it had just happened recently when I ran into him.  He looked devastated.  I went over and said his name.  Without looking up, he gestured to keep walking.  Rooney never much liked strangers approaching him.  Then I told him it was Bill Judson.  He looked up, smiled and shook my hand.  We made some brief small talk and I told him my Mother was terminally ill with emphysema.  He told me how sorry he was and I asked him to give her a call, writing her number on a scrap of paper.  I don’t know if he ever called her.  Maybe he’d seen enough Death.  She didn’t mention his having called.  She was dead a few months later.

When I think of Andrew Rooney, the most prominent thing that comes to mind is the completeness of his friendship with my Father.  In 1983, when my Father was close to the end, my girlfriend Susie (now my Wife) and I would go up to Lenox Hill Hospital every night after work.  Andrew never missed a night; like clockwork.  He had worked a whole day and had a long commute home ahead of him, but he would not go home without visiting my Pop.  As you grow older, you watch friends drift away as circumstances change.  You come to realize that while once you thought you had lots of friends, ultimately you are blessed if you have one or two.  The real friends finish the race.  They walk the walk.  Well, in his very distinct way, Rooney walked the walk.   Andrew Rooney was funny, interesting and lived his life on his terms.  You didn’t have to like him, but you had to respect him.   But his greatest trait to me was his absolutely unwavering and total commitment to the few he called “friend.”  My Father was lucky to have had him.

For those of you who enjoyed this article, please read Andrew’s piece Jud written just after my father’s death.  It is in Rooney’s 1984 book “Pieces of My Mind” in the Chapter called Passing.  The piece is short, emotional and to the point.  Very much like Andrew Rooney.

 

Why Sean Avery Is In Hartford

Posted October 27, 2011 by wjudson461
Categories: Sports

Tags: , , , , ,

New York Ranger Coach John Tortorella has never been a big Sean Avery fan, to put it mildly.  After Avery’s unfortunate “sloppy seconds” comment concerning a former girlfriend, Tortorella, working for TSN at the time, said “He doesn’t belong in the league.”  Now a couple years later, Tortorella has made it happen.  Avery is out of the NHL after being placed on waivers.  He is now plying his trade for the Ranger AHL team in Hartford.  Both Tortorella and GM Glen Sather are painting all this as a pure hockey decision.  The facts seem to indicate otherwise.

When the Rangers signed free agent Brad Richards from Dallas to team up with Marian Gaborik, the only thing missing was a grinding winger to get them the puck.  Richards is a fine passer and sees the rink well.  Gaborik is a pure shooter who doesn’t like the dirty work.  When he comes to play, Gaborik is a legitimate 50-goal scorer.  But both of them need someone to go in the corners and get the puck.  Neither of them are grinders.   Avery’s skills seemed well-suited to precisely this kind of role, at least for several shifts per game.  But the job was given to Wojtek Wolski; a peculiar choice, and one that has not, to this point, borne fruit.  Last season, when paired with Gaborik in games against Toronto and the Islanders, Avery had two of his best outings of the year.  In the Islanders game, Gaborik had a hat trick and an assist, while Avery picked up three assists.  Against Toronto, Avery picked up three more assists.   MSG commentators Sam Rosen and Al Trautwig both voiced their feeling that Sean Avery had been the best player on the ice.  Yet Tortorella has given Avery no chance to skate on the Richards-Gaborik line.  Not a one.  Sound curious to you?  It would seem he’d want to try all the options and see what clicks. In a recent preseason game against the Flyers, Avery and Brian Boyle were paired together for their first shifts and produced a solid forecheck, controlled the puck and got a goal.  There was definite chemistry.  Yet Tortorella opted not use them together again.  The only reason I can think of is Avery played too well!  Avery brings energy, aggression and speed to every shift.  Although playing limited minutes under Tortorella, Avery led the Rangers in assists per minute played last season.  He backs down from nobody and always has his teammates back.  Avery comes with baggage, and that baggage obscures an essential fact.  He is a good hockey player.  Not a superstar, a good solid player.

Make no mistake, Sean Avery’s fate had been decided long before he reported to training camp.  Throughout camp and in the preseason games in Europe, Avery played limited minutes on lines with minor league kids.  The company line says that Avery lost out on the thirteenth and last forward position to Erik Christensen.  I love Christensen…..for shootouts.  This implies twelve forwards were better than Sean Avery.  Let’s look at this.  Gaborik, Richards, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Prust are all viable choices.  So far, no argument.  Mike Rupp gets the nod as the new enforcer, replacing the late Derek Boogaard.  Every team should have a big tough guy.  Derek Stepan is just 21 years old and the kid has real potential, so he’s a go.  Artem Anisimov?   Here’s another young guy with size who has had flashes.  OK, we keep him.  That’s nine forwards.  From here things get much murkier.  Erik Christensen is great on shootouts, not so much anywhere else.  Do you keep a guy just for shootouts?  Wojtek  Wolski with his 3.8 million dollar salary?  Ruslan Fedentenko?  I’d rather have Avery.  Kris Newbury?  Who?  Having never heard of him, I did a little research.  Almost Avery’s age, it appears Newbury has never played in the NHL.  His resume is all minor league teams and he’s no kid.  My guess is he is probably a quasi-goon, and not a great one.  I hope I’m wrong and he is a pleasant surprise.  But this is a no-brainer.  Avery all the way.  In announcing the waiver, Tortorella said Avery takes too many penalties.  He’s right.  But he draws more penalties than he takes.  I guess that explanation doesn’t really fly either.

No doubt there are people all over the hockey world saying good riddance to Sean Avery.  Tortorella was not the only guy Avery did not endear himself to.  But make no mistake, the Garden crowd loves Avery.  They want him back.  I have been attending Ranger games since my father took me to the old Garden to see Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and the like.  The Rangers have never had a player that ignites the fans as Sean Avery does.  In the pregame warm-ups, it is fun to see him head to the red line to “socialize” with that evenings opponents.  He adds spice to between-period interviews, usually the airwave equivalent of Ambien.  He is an interesting, complex and highly-intelligent guy, certainly not your average jock.  I’ll concede sometimes his judgment could use some work, but who’s perfect?  For that matter, John Tortorella is hardly a master of restraint.

Avery is in Hartford, so he is still Ranger property.  They are paying him a lot of cake to toil in the minors.  Here’s hoping someone will play himself off the roster, and Avery will get called up to the big team.  Until then, I will go to the games and wear my Sean Avery jersey pictured below.  I like several other players, but those jerseys are expensive and I will not be buying another.  So I’ll be wearing number 16.  But I’d much rather see Sean Avery wearing it again.  He didn’t deserve this.  The Garden will be less interesting without him.

In closing, you will no doubt continue to hear Tortorella and Sather spout the company line when asked about Avery.  They will say it was strictly a hockey decision.  Don’t be fooled.  This was personal.

George’s Dilemma

Posted October 18, 2011 by wjudson461
Categories: Humor

Tags: ,

George had no idea he even had a problem.  At least not yet.  His alarm had gone off at the usual 5:45 AM.  He rose, showered, shaved and selected one of his Wall Street pinstripe uniforms.   Ready for the day, he entered the kitchen, put on coffee and went to the front door to retrieve the Wall Street Journal.  Something seemed out of the ordinary, but he couldn’t immediately put his finger on it.  Ah, the cat!  Binky always bothered him to be fed and watered first thing.  Not today.  No sign of him.  George went into the living room where Binky slept peacefully on the carpet.  A little too peacefully.

George called to the cat, asking him to come and eat.  Nothing.  Approaching the kitty, George stamped his foot.  There was no reaction.  Bending down, George stroked the cat, feeling for a heartbeat, pulse, anything to disprove what he was dreading.  Binky was late, among the departed, no longer with us.  Dead. While George felt badly, he had always been pretty much a dog guy.  His Wife, Debbie, had wanted the cat, and five-year old George Jr. absolutely adored the cat.  George was considerably more concerned with how this should be handled than in Binky’s demise.  Binky had been an adequate cat, as cats go, but George was not devastated.   Little George knew nothing about Death.  That’s what was eating at George.  He dreaded being the one to tell his boy that nothing is forever. Things die.  As he sipped his coffee, he ran through some alternate scenarios.  He could always just get rid of the body and tell little George the cat must have run away.  That seemed convenient, but cowardly.  Maybe he could get Debbie to take the reins here; worth a try, for sure.

Running quietly upstairs, George gently woke Debbie and explained the situation.  He had been hoping for some guidance.  Actually, what he had really been hoping for was a transfer of responsibility.  It did not happen.  Debbie suggested a proper burial in the backyard after George had explained to the child about Life and Death.  After he had done the explaining; definitely  not the desired response.  She deflected the issue as if she were Teflon-coated.

George picked up Binky from the carpet, carried him to the kitchen and found a large brown paper bag.  Once he had Binky in, he put the paper bag in a large white plastic bag and went out to the car for the short drive to the LIRR.  He contemplated just putting the bag in his garbage can out at the curb, but balked at the idea.  The garbage guys knew him.  Maybe he could put the bag in the garbage can at the station.  Again, he couldn’t do it.  Parking his car, he boarded his crowded rush hour train to Manhattan.  As he found a seat, he placed both his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.

George was unable to concentrate on his paper.  He could just discard the bag in a Penn Station garbage can, but his conscience was kicking in.  That was no way to treat a family pet.  Binky had not just been an average cat. He’d been a damn fine cat.  Any cat that’d had to suffer the name Binky shouldn’t just have a grave; he ought to have a mausoleum.  No, George was going to face the music and do the right thing.  But obstacles still remained.  He had a whole day to get through and he could hardly keep the bag in his desk drawer.  At some point not too far in the future, Binky was going to get a little aromatic.

The subway ride was uneventful and George entered his office a few minutes early.  Good thing, too, because the Department refrigerator, though big, could get very crowded.  George put the Binky bag on the bottom shelf, as far to the back as possible.  Barring something unforeseen, Binky should “keep” until quitting time, right alongside everyone’s salads and sandwiches.  Nice. George hoped the Department had no closet “frig foragers.”

The day seemed to go on forever.  George made umpteen clandestine visits to the Kitchen to check on the bag; so far, so good.  When quitting time came, George grabbed the bag out of the refrigerator and was among the first to the elevator.  The subway came immediately and he arrived at Penn Station in time to catch the train before his usual one.  Again he placed his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.  Binky seemed to be noticeably less limber. Sort of stiff, no pun intended.

As George got off the train, his briefcase and bag in tow, he made a beeline for his car.  Leaving the lot, he cut off some guy in a Lexus, who flipped him off.  Following protocol, George returned the gesture.  Minutes later, he was pulling into his driveway.  The sun was setting and the backyard was dark.  Figuring he could get the grave dug before Dinner, he grabbed a shovel from the garage and went to work.  Though not yet Winter, the ground was hard and the digging was harder.  George comforted himself by imagining how difficult this could have been were Binky a rhino.  He got the grave finished and went in to eat.

Over Dinner, George was somewhat distant, wrapped up in what he would say at the burial.  After the plates had been cleared, George explained to his Son that all beings, people and animals, face a time when their Life on this Earth ends.  They go to join God in Heaven, a much better world than the one they left behind.  While we will miss our departed one, we must be glad for them and send them off with good, loving thoughts.  Little George, though very sad, seemed to understand, inasmuch as any five-year old kid understands.  It was time.

The family went out to the small grave, and held hands while George did his best impersonation of Minister delivering a graveside eulogy.  Some tears were shed, and Debbie and little George held hands as George brought the bag to the graveside.  They all bowed their heads as George opened the bag, knelt down and gently shook it over the grave.

Out of the bag and into the grave tumbled a cellophane-wrapped leg of lamb.

545 People by Charlie Reese ( Orlando Sentinel, March 7, 1995)

Posted September 9, 2011 by wjudson461
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , ,

I liked this piece very much and wanted to share.  While I usually avoid politics, the recent turmoil in Washington has sickened me to the point I really would like to see a clean sweep.  It is no longer possible to think Congress has our interests at heart.  Nor the interests of our country.  If you can read this piece without feeling justifiable anger, we are not on the same wavelength.  I welcome your feedback.

The 545 People Responsible For All Of U.S. Woes

BY Charley Reese

Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?

You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don’t write the tax code. Congress does. You and I don’t set fiscal policy. Congress does. You and I don’t control monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank does.

One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices – 545 human beings out of the 235 million – are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.

I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered but private central bank.

I excluded all but the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it.

No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislation’s responsibility to determine how he votes.

A CONFIDENCE CONSPIRACY

Don’t you see how the con game that is played on the people by the politicians? Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.

What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of Tip O’Neill, who stood up and criticized Ronald Reagan for creating deficits.

The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating appropriations and taxes.

O’Neill is the speaker of the House. He is the leader of the majority party. He and his fellow Democrats, not the president, can approve any budget they want. If the president vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto.

REPLACE SCOUNDRELS

It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 235 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts – of incompetence and irresponsibility.

I can’t think of a single domestic problem, from an unfair tax code to defense overruns, that is not traceable directly to those 545 people.

When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair. If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red. If the Marines are in Lebanon, it’s because they want them in Lebanon.

There are no insoluble government problems. Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take it.

Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exist disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

Those 545 people and they alone are responsible. They and they alone have the power. They and they alone should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses – provided they have the gumption to manage their own employees.

This article was first published by the Orlando Sentinel Star newspaper