Working vacation shines light on FM program



Well, as you can probably gather from the pictures of your balding, aging, and, apparently, lost editor, I’ve been on a working vacation since Wednesday, and even though we literally grow every day here at the Pen City Current Funhouse, sometimes we can’t do e-Editions.

Actually, we’re contemplating an investment in more technology that will allow us to remotely put this bad boy together, but another story for another time.

At the end of the day, sometimes you just need a vacation. But when Fort Madison Activities Director Jeremy Swink asked me last Monday if I was going to Louisville to cover the FMHS Building Trades team in the national SkillsUSA event, I looked at him like he was weird. Louisville?? Uh…no.


I then sat through a three-hour school board meeting and thought to myself…why not? You travel to Fort Dodge which is four hours away to cover a 16-minute cross country run…and drive back home.

Why does this program deserve anything less….and this is a national competition. AND Louisville is home to the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple A team and has Skyline Chili outlets.

Now I’m not a fan of Skyline Chili…it’s a bit sweet for me, but I’m a huge fan of how my Reds (yeah….after 42 years they’re MY Reds) are playing right now. Our sales and marketing coordinator Brian Wright raves about Skyline Chili. So I got him a case (four cans!) for $15.99. I told the lady at the counter to put the second one back, sorry Brian. It’s not THAT good!.

We (I dragged my 19-year-old who’s on summer leave from college off the couch to go with me) got into town Wednesday late afternoon after several setbacks in trying to hit the road. We rolled into town and hit our hotel which was seven miles outside of town, grabbed some dinner, and turned in for the night.

The trades competition ran Tuesday-Friday with an orientation, oral presentations, and pick-up of project specs.

Wednesday the teams framed up the project. Instructor Clint Kobelt had nothing to do but stand or sit near the black apron barrier for what had to be a 14 grueling hours where not one instance of contact was allowed during the sessions.

Kobelt said it looked like the Hounds were behind in framing the project because everyone else framed up. The Hounds, who have done a lot of framing in their classwork, framed on the ground and then put everything up. Kobelt said they shot past most of the teams on the floor once they began putting everything in place.

Thursday I headed over to the Kentucky Expo Center, which is a monstrosity of a campus, picked up my press pass, and headed over to the west wing, where I quickly found Kobelt with arms crossed intently watching his troops from about 30 feet away.

My pass let me go wherever I wanted…I felt kinda bad about that because the FM parents and faithful that followed were stuck behind the barrier. Sometimes I just want to sneak a parent a pass and hand them my camera. I suppose if I gave them a dollar, it would be legit.

I went behind the barrier and down the aisle to the site where our Hounds were literally, hammering away. I took about 20 minutes worth of pictures before this old guy with an American flag dew rag came up with a camera on a unipod and asked where I was from. I told him and then he pointed to his head and said, “you need a hard hat, just to be safe”. I tilted my head a little and said, “Where would I get one of those?”

“Down there at the end. there’s a bunch on wooden box,” he said with a smile.

“Well, why don’t you go down there and grab two.” I said. His smile fell and he turned the other way with a glance back that met my eyes. I don’t like egotists… and I went and got a hard hat.

I chatted up Kobelt on several occasions. That helped me avoid the $8 Nathan’s Hot Dog vendor strategically positioned right outside the west wing doors.

Kobelt talked about how proud he was of this group of kids who were experiencing in real-time, what he called the “Joy of the Journey”.

“No matter how they finish…they’re winning right now as we watch them,” he said.

I left him to his thoughts after a while and I wandered about this uber-plex and watched what I could only imagine was a senior in high school build this fantabulous brick monument from scratch. He even had the words USA and a trowel in gold and white brick worked into the project. I watched him for probably 20 minutes. Very impressive.

Then I went over to the electrical wiring contests where money and equipment was on the line for the top wiring students. In other buildings everything vocational from auto mechanics, to photography, cabinet-building, forensic science, cosmetology, and many, many more were all in full tilt.

This event hosts 6,400 students and has investments, donations, and hard costs totaling $36 million and has a $27 million impact on the Louisville economy.

I continue to advocate that the education debt bubble is going to pop very soon. The cost of education is too high and wages are too low. Simple economics dictates that can’t stand up to the weight much longer.

But these kids, I think, are the ones who’ve figured it out. Upwards of 6,400 students who may not even have to go to college, but undoubtedly will shrink the government’s grasp on the financial futures of those who do.

Anywhoooo. I left Thursday with all my pictures and interviews and headed back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and dinner at Bravo! I went back to the expo Friday morning at about 10 a.m., but everything was torn down. The tear downs, which were also scored on how much of the product can be reused, were completed in less than two hours.

My daughter and I petered around the tight streets of Louisville until she got nauseous from all the driving. Dad’s kind of a “Squirrel!” type of motorist. “Ooooh….What’s thaaaat?! We called it quits for a while and I caught up on some work while she rested. Off to Dave and Busters so she could school me at air hockey – which she did, and we got enough tickets from $40 for some Sour Patch candy that I could have gotten for $3. But it’s all about the memories, right?

Well, our favorite memories were a trip to Churchill Downs where we played the ponies for the first time ever. I got her the $40 Millionaire Row tickets that come with lunch so we could be in a cooler climate and get a bite. We missed the first race, but we dropped $20 on the second race and won nothing.

But then this 19-year-old who may go into Family Law started reading a little. On the next race (20 minutes later) she picked a 6-1 horse named Exemplar. The horse slipped to 14-1 before post. Apparently it ate a little too much alfalfa this week and was acting up and the betting level was low. Dad put $5 on this horse to win and two others to place and show. This Exemplar shook off the weight and won by a head over my horse I picked to place and we won $98.

We won a couple more times and stayed for lunch and about seven races. We ended up wagering $122 and winning $210. Not bad! Paid for the tickets and the tip, but what a great time we had.

This girl had never gambled in her life and was pounding her table with the best of them as I watched her and laughed. What a beautiful little girl of 19 all revved up. She felt underdressed in a tank top and jean shorts. I, in my Reds jersey and hat, felt right at home. She looked gorgeous to me, I was steeped in watching her digest these racing books like college homework.

This girl hampered by Type 1 Diabetes, and then pulmonary hypertension that was diagnosed later than it should have been had dad, teachers, and doctors been watching a bit more carefully than we did. We take nothing for granted, not even an unanswered phone call.

We had a great ride home after that vixen of a GPS lady on my phone sent us on an unplanned trip through southern metro Indianapolis after she missed a closed exit.

We got back on the road and the Reds game had gotten out of hand when Javier Baez hit a grand slam. I cussed out the damned radio and said she could have control. About an hour later she started headbanging to a Michelle Branch song…(not sure that’s even doable), but I thought her head was going snap clean off and bounce down the dashboard like a coconut and she’d be looking at me with drawn “X”s over her closed eyes.

I explained that very fear as she reeled from the ensuring dizziness and she laughed so hard she nearly hyperventilated. I can be a little dramatic. I think that’s where she gets it.

From the trades boys finishing in the top half of the best teams in the nation, to winning some cash on the ponies, to envisioning my daughter’s head falling clean off…it was a great working vacation.

Now it’s back to work before we take a small break for the holiday…but that’s Beside the Point.

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