unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

Thirteen Gold Coins

Photograph of gold coins

I just realized that summer is more than half over.  Yikes.  So I thought I’d reprise this post from 2010.  It may be the most essential summer insight ever!  (Or not.)

Some time ago, I had an epiphany about summer. That’s why this may be the most important piece about summer you’ll ever read! Here goes.

Summer in Chicago is the time I live for. It’s when the city is in its full glory. I think about it all winter; it’s my compass point the umpteenth time I am shoveling snow in February. But like all treasures, summer is finite. And quantifiable.

There are 13 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Just 13 precious weekends. Think of each weekend as a gold coin, because that’s what is, something of value that should be treasured. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. It should be spent wisely and not squandered.

How do you squander a gold coin? There are lots of ways to be a wastrel of summer weekends, but one way of misusing this treasure is to spend it on something you don’t really want to do–a social event you feel obligated to attend, a weekend with people about whom you’re indifferent, or doing something that just doesn’t speak to you. Sounds a little cold-hearted, I know, but parting with a treasure is not to be done lightly.

Use the gold coins on the people you truly care about, on the activities you really love and that are meaningful. Sure, some summer weekends have to be used for chores and drudgery, but that’s all the more reason to spend the balance wisely!

Come Labor Day, how will you have spent your coins?

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Dinner With Hitchhikers

Phil blog

Remember those mystery hitchhikers I picked up earlier this year?  Here’s an update.  George and Antoine are now in the final two weeks of their graduate entrepreneurship program at Purdue University after which they will make their way back to China and France respectively.  Their program gave them a free weekend in Chicago so we got to have dinner on Saturday night.

When I visit a city, it’s always fun to get away from the downtown tourist sites and see some of the neighborhoods.  So I picked up George and Antoine from their downtown hotel and brought them back to my house in the Ravenswood neighborhood.  Then we walked to a favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner.

Topics of conversation included:  labor unions (none in China!), the Cultural Revolution and the strict dining etiquette in France.  For dessert, we had cheesecake–which Frenchman Antoine found incomprehensible (“It’s either ‘cheese’ or ‘cake.'”  How can it be both?”)

Both George and Antoine will spend some time traveling in North America before they head back home.  In fact, Antoine actually plans to hitchhike in Canada and on the East Coast.  And even though things worked out fine with their hitchhiking experience so far, I strongly advised Antoine not to do it anymore–at least in the United States.  Ironic, ain’t it?

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There But For the Grace of God…

You’ve probably heard about the San Francisco news anchor who read fake, racially insulting names of pilots flying the Asiana flight that recently crashed in San Francisco.  Now, according to the Associated Press, the airlines will sue the television station for its gaffe.  The offending news segment has gone viral and been the subject of intense criticism.  The station has apologized as has the NTSB for the apparent role of one of its interns in confirming the names.

It’s not hard to imagine the scenario by which this prank might have gotten past the weekend news crew, up and down the line.  Say you get information that sounds reasonable, you check it out with a government agency; in the rush to get the information on the air, the producer whispers to the anchor via an earpiece all anchors wear, “We have the names of the pilots.  Read them off the screen.”   Say the anchor doesn’t have time to sound out the names phonetically, so she does as she’s told.

I like to think that here on Chicago Tonight that would never happen (for starters we typically present analysis, not breaking news).   And I always sound out a difficult name before reading it on the air — and confirm the pronunciation with others.  But I can see how, at a commercial station, in the rush to advance a big story with new information, something like this could happen.  I can’t imagine how that anchor in San Francisco feels–she must be humiliated and devastated.  Who wouldn’t be?

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It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Bling

The Stanley Cup afterglow continues for the Blackhawks.  But the cup itself is not the only piece of hardware the team gets to enjoy.  Coming up, of course, are the championship rings which, unlike the cup, team members get to keep.

“Rings” may not really be the right term for them — they’re more like small fists of encrusted gold.  Whenever I’ve interviewed a professional athlete who’s wearing a championship ring, the thought “understated” does not cross my mind.

But I’d never given any thought to how the rings are made.  Not only are they custom made to fit an individual player’s finger, they also have the player’s name as part of the design.  A Blackhawks-loving colleague (is there any other kind?) sent me the following video that shows just how the rings are made.  Who knew what a painstaking process it is?  And 404 gemstones?   As “Gollum “would say (from Lord of the Rings), “My precious!”

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Just Stanley and Me

phil with cup

Okay.  I couldn’t resist.  If the Stanley Cup’s in the building, you just have to get a picture with it.  Unlike other trophies in sports, it seems to have a personality of its own and it’s one that’s loaded with charisma.  People get giddy around it.   I can’t remember a living luminary who has drawn as many staffers to the studio as the cup.

But here’s another thing.  If you’re a savvy marketer–and there’s no question Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough is that–you would want as many people as possible to see the cup, to touch it, to kiss it!  Each encounter with the cup strengthens the bond between team and fan.  Each person who touches it or sees it is a potential ticket buyer or jersey (sweater) buyer.

Tune in to see Thee Cup on Chicago Tonight–along with McDonough and Stan Bowman, Vice President and General Manager of the Hawks.  They talk about what the last two weeks have been like and what the prospects are for hockey’s holy grail staying in Chicago next season.

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Why I Love Jeff Garlin

If you’re a fan of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, there is no way you do not already love Chicago native Jeff Garlin.  He plays Jeff Greene, Larry David’s bad-boy manager–a character who’s highly flawed and who sometimes needs to be managed more by his client than the other way around.  But despite the character’s occasional (!?) sleaziness, there is something about Jeff Greene that is still appealing; yeah, his moral compass may be off, but his comic compass always points in the right direction.  So let’s just say that Garlin is a brilliant comic actor.

But the real reason I love Jeff Garlin is because he’s such a terrific guest on Chicago Tonight.  For me, comedians can be the trickiest people to interview.  Why?  Because, while they can be brilliant, they also can be unpredictable and not always in control–something that can give an interviewer fits.  Garlin strikes the perfect balance between spontaneity, looseness and unscripted zaniness with the conventions of a television interview.  He knows how far to push his comedic instincts during an interview without jumping off the tracks.

Maybe it comes from his training and background in improv and understanding the give-and-take inherent in a live performance.  Whatever it is, I know when Garlin is on our program, it is a treat for the viewer.  And the host!  Tune in to watch him tonight talking about his new movie, his new television series, whether “Curb” is coming back for another season AND to hear about his recent arrest (huh?)

(If you miss it tonight, you can watch it here later, along with a trailer of Garlin’s new film and a web extra conversation.  And here’s a link to his last appearance on the show last November when he came on with his mother!)

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Cycling the Hoosier State


When I think of outstanding bike riding, I instinctively think of Wisconsin, a state which is loaded with wonderful bike trails.  Last summer, my wife and I rode the famous Elroy-to-Sparta trail with its dramatic (and vaguely terrifying) tunnels.  But even though I grew up in Indiana, I was not aware of the fantastic bike trails in the northwest corner of the Hoosier state; they must have sprung up after I’d moved away.

Over the 4th of July holiday, I had the chance to ride two of the trails with friends.  The picture above is on the Oak Savannah trail, a trail which easily connects with the Prairie-Duneland trail.  They are beautifully maintained, paved, and take you through meadows, wetlands and forests.  Most of the time you are protected by shade so the ride is pleasant, even on a warm, sunny day.

My memories of growing up in East Chicago tend to conjure up the region’s industrial side.  I invite you to check out these trails for a glimpse of northwest Indiana you cannot get from the interstate; they rival anything I’ve ridden in our picturesque neighbor to the north!

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