For so many years, the schedule of a sports columnist took me far from home on the birthday of my country, on my own birthday.
“Do you remember all the places you’ve been?” my wife asked. Sometimes she was with me. Sometimes she wasn’t.
Companions get used to journalists being away -- weekends, nights, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. My wife recalls my taking a day's drive to the mountains on our first month in Kentucky -- and being gone for New Year's after a mine blew up in Hyden. (After that, I kept a change of clothes in the car.)
Reporters head toward danger, not totally unlike police and fire officers. But I was a family guy and could be hard to find by the office when a child had a big game or we had company. But sports reporters often work on scheduled events and cannot avoid being away holidays and weekends.
It's easier for a man than a woman to forage for a meal on the road. In her Sunday column, Maureen Dowd describes the snooty reaction to a single female diner in a Paris hotel. Alas, her good meal was spoiled by the rancid presence of Boris and Donald in her active mind.
My birthdays were often spent on the road. When I was at Wimbledon, I would scan the Times, which ran a daily box of birthdays of notables. I never expected to see my name – and never did – on July 4 but I was always happy that George Steinbrenner was a non-person in the UK, and I hoped Pam Shriver would be mentioned.
I never mentioned my birthday to colleagues; why draw attention in a press room? But in the age of the blog, here are birthday highlights of a travelling journalist:
1939: Born the day Lou Gehrig delivered his farewell speech in Yankee Stadium, I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan at birth.
The ‘60’s: a blur of Mets and Yanks, three children being born, great times. Was I in Minnesota…or Shea Stadium….or home? Can’t remember.
1970: We took the family to Italy for a glorious month. I can’t remember where we were on July 4 – possibly the side trip to Switzerland – but I do know that on July 9, Corinna’s birthday, my wife arranged a cake on the hotel patio, off the Via Veneto.
1976: Bicentennial Day. Now a news reporter, I was assigned to a destroyer in the Hudson, where Henry Kissinger was on board. Asked about the raid on Entebbe the night before, the Secretary of State said in his gravelly accent, “You people know more than I do.”
1982: I was alone in Barcelona, covering my first World Cup. On the night of the Third, I went to a concert by Maria del Mar Bonet in a plaza. The next day I went to El Corte Inglés and bought a vinyl record of hers, which I still play, in memory of a lonely but beautiful night.
1986: We landed in Moscow for the Goodwill Games. A grim customs agent inspected my passport and suddenly he smiled and said, “Happy birthday” in English – the start of a lovely three weeks, glasnost in summery Moscow.
Wimbledon: The English always honor the Original Brexit with flags flying, burgers in pubs. I would buy a bag of cherries in Southfields and sit with a friend and listen to the military band play American music before the tennis began.
1990: We woke up in Naples after Argentina beat Italy on penalty kicks in the semifinals of the World Cup, and we took the train back to Rome, celebrating the day in the trattoria beneath our flat near the Piazza Navona.
1994: Tab Ramos was cold-cocked by Leonardo in the round of 16 at Stanford. I bought a great t-shirt with American and Brazilian flags; it recently fell apart. After dinner with Filip Bondy and Julie Vader in Palo Alto, I caught the red-eye to Boston for another match.
1998: Dennis Bergkamp scored in the 90th minute as the Netherlands beat Argentina, 2-1, in Marseilles. We were staying in Aix; my wife had gone shopping in a market for presents.
1999: A joint birthday celebration, for me and ace photographer John McDermott in San Francisco, with family, the night before steamy July 4 semi of Women’s World Cup, a 2-0 victory over Brazil.
2004: Alone in a motel in Waterloo, on the Lance watch, reading David Walsh’s book that pretty much convinced me Lance was cheating. (The masseuse who was ordered to lie about saddle sores!) Watched Greece beat host Portugal in Euro final and wrote paean to underdogs.
2005: Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon finals. Next morning we took the Eurostar to France to pick up Lance’s bid for a fifth. Two days later, we heard that nihilists had set off explosions in the London transit.
2006: In our hotel in Berlin, watched Italy beat Germany, 2-0, in semifinals, then went out in streets to interview rollicking fans, celebrating a good run with beer and curry and ever-present wurst.
2010: Jeffrey Marcus drove from cold, inland Johannesburg to the fresh salt air of Durban for the Germany-Spain semifinal two days later. My unexpected birthday present: chatty Indian staff and glorious smell of curry from the dining room -- a treat for a journalist who picked an odd day to be born.
(Birthday wishes to Pam Shriver, John Hewig and John McDermott, all over the globe.)
7/4/2016 09:31:22 am
Dear George. I loved to know that you were born on the same day that Lou Gehrig delivered his farewell speech.
7/4/2016 10:32:50 am
Happy birthday, George. Nice to read you on a relaxing Fourth. We're partied out with this holiday coming on a Monday. John Adams would be pleased we celebrated on his day and the day after. And it's great to be home. I'll put a candle on each of our lobster rolls, one you for and one for good luck for our country.
7/4/2016 02:00:10 pm
Happy Burday from Dubai, George! I am always grateful that you and Marianne have been enduring friends and mentors these long years. Fondest to Team Vecsey, Pranay
7/4/2016 02:16:08 pm
Happy birthday George, and it's appropriate, even though you're a Dodgers fan, that you were born the day Lou Gehrig delivered his now-famous "Luckiest Man'' speech at Yankee Stadium.
7/4/2016 02:52:44 pm
It is nice to have the entire country celebrate your birthday.
7/4/2016 03:40:04 pm
7/4/2016 03:57:43 pm
Hi, David: great to hear from you.
7/4/2016 05:12:26 pm
Happy Birthday, George, Had a younger sister turn 60 today, so I know how it is for children to compete with the 4th of July. Of course, I remember a lot of your coverage from those memories you posted. Although I seldom read papers anymore, at least other than quick glances at CNN headline stories, I did read the paper which funds your retirement today, from cover to cover. Still tickled they publish both the facsimile and the text of the Declaration of Independence. What was missing, of course, was your byline.
7/4/2016 09:28:30 pm
Happy Birthday, George. Thank you for working all those birthdays for NYT readers who love soccer - you brought the World Cup home to us with intelligence, grace and wit. I am so glad you continue to write and especially grateful for our occasional correspondence.
7/5/2016 02:16:15 am
Happy Birthday, George.
7/5/2016 07:41:34 am
Happy birthday George!
7/5/2016 12:57:50 pm
A belated happy birthday, George! You preceded my by a few years into this world, but my birthday precedes yours by a day. So I share with you some of the ups and downs of a holiday weekend birthday.
7/5/2016 03:36:00 pm
Long term marriages depend upon overcoming the occasional bump in the road. One such hurdle was convincing my wife, who has no interest in sports, the necessity of taking Josh to see Pele play his first game with the Cosmos on a school night.
7/6/2016 08:58:45 am
Bonne anniverser, George. Good health and good luck and good family and continued good living and writing in the many years ahead. I know the Welsh can sing, but I'm still liking Portugal to name that tune.
7/6/2016 12:17:00 pm
Happy Birthday, GV, (wait til next year for on time performance.). On July 4, 1939, the beloved Bums beat the Phillies, 8-6 with reliever Hugh Casey getting the win, so you were off to a good start. (At Ebbets Field.)
7/6/2016 12:47:48 pm
Thanks to so many nice people. I thought it was a bit self-indulgent to write about myself, but I have such vivid memories of being in great places on July 4. (Olympics tended to be in August -- 8/8/08 for Beijing opener, etc.)
7/6/2016 10:57:48 pm
7/7/2016 10:20:47 am
Bruce, thanks. Even got to exotic foreign places like Canada.
7/7/2016 10:33:27 am
7/7/2016 11:12:23 am
7/7/2016 11:22:34 am
Bruce, I went to the first game in Jarry Park. They were still painting the outside at 10 AM when I arrived.
7/7/2016 11:23:53 am
Bruce, wait, you avoid Toronto? Queen Street with great Asian restaurants. Great waterfront. Oh my. GV
7/7/2016 11:44:32 am
7/8/2016 12:58:07 pm
George--didn't you once ride in one of the lead cars at the Tour de France? If so, would it have been on t a July 4th?
7/8/2016 02:19:22 pm
Alan, I know I've been in France several times on the Quartorze but the only 4th I can remember at the Tour was 2004 in Waterloo. Very vivid, because Lance's agent-lawyer-attack dog was giving me subtle hints that I had maligned the poor lad by writing he had failed tests -- a matter of semantics, but you know lawyers.....(The Irish masseuse and the non-existent saddle sores are part of that tale.) I was in a team car in 1982, but around the 14th....my dear friend Roby was chatting with Hinault while driving Jonathan Boyer's car through the Pyrenees....Hinault was making a breakaway and chatting at the same time....amazingly cool. Like sitting in the dugout and listening to Ted Williams between at-bats....GV
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.