unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

The End of a Relationship

For years now I have been in a close relationship that recently had to end.  It was time.  We both knew it.

This friend and I had been virtually inseparable, and although it feels odd to say it, I spent more time with this friend than with my wife.  (She knew about it and because of her equanimity and self-confidence, was accepting of it.)

There is no denying the strength of our bond; for years my friend was part of my highest highs and my lowest lows; I can’t imagine having gone through either of those extremes without the comfort of this relationship.

When the relationship began, it’s fair to say there was an initial period of infatuation bordering on romance.  Then came a happy plateau when the relationship came to full bloom, and with it, a comfort level and ease that are hallmarks of an integrated relationship.

But, for a couple of years now, it has been evident that the friendship had run its course.  Family members and colleagues (rightfully) pointed out that the relationship had become –not toxic, exactly–but borderline dysfunctional.  Time and and soul-searching brought me to the same conclusion.

So, this past weekend, I ended it.  There were no harsh words or an ugly scene–just a silent parting of the ways.  So clear were the signals that it must have come as no surprise.  Even so, I am still wistful when I look at a picture of a friend who for so long was so true.

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A Lesson From My Gym Teacher When JFK Was Killed

This is a few days late given all the recent coverage, but I continue to think of something that happened on the day JFK was assassinated.  I was in gym class at East Chicago Washington High School when news came the president was dead.  I can’t remember who told us, but I think it was our gym teacher, Mr. Arzumanian.  In any case, the boys immediately gathered in the locker room with him when one of the students–known as a smart mouth–snickered and said, “I’m glad they shot him.”

At that point, Mr. Arzumanian grabbed the boy by the shoulders and threw him against the locker room wall.  Mr. Arzumanian’s face was red and just inches from the boy’s face when he said, with great emotion, “Don’t you wish death on any man!” 

I think the boy was just trying to be “cool” and provocative, but he looked anything but, pinned against the wall by a sturdy and upset gym teacher.  The class suffered two shocks in short order:  news of the president and what was happening in the locker room before us.  No one said a word.

But our teacher’s words stayed with me as they have, I bet, with every person there.  Spoken in that context and in that way, and with that passion, the words were searing and heartbreaking at the same time.

After decades of not seeing him, I happened to bump into Mr. Arzumanian at a civic gathering.  I brought up the incident and thanked him for seizing on a teachable moment.  He knew exactly what I was referring to and even remembered the boy’s name–as do I.  We all say and do stupid things; if we’re lucky, most are forgotten.  I still feel badly for the boy that one of his stupid moments was etched forever in the minds of that gym class because of the indelible event that prompted it.

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A Witness to History

I had the pleasure of interviewing Newt Minow on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  Minow was the FCC commissioner under JFK and is famously known for his description of television as a “vast wasteland.”  (A term which prompted the producer of Gilligan’s Island to name Gilligan’s boat The S.S. Minnow in “retaliation.”)

Minow knew the Kennedy family well before JFK became president, roomed with RFK on the campaign trail, and was present during key moments in JFK’s public life.  For example, he was with JFK when he called Coretta Scott King to express sympathy over the jailing of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  (Minow also tells the story of his suggesting to JFK that he run for vice president in 1960 — a suggestion JFK snorted at!)

And he tells the tale of the remarkable conversation during a limousine ride with JFK, LBJ and astronaut Alan Shepard.  When JFK was killed, Minow’s 8-year-old daughter, Martha (now dean of Harvard Law School), wrote a poignant poem which Minow read on the air last night.  Minow also weighs in on the Warren Commission and on JFK’s womanizing.

This is one of my favorite interviews ever.  If you missed it, click on it above.

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I Receive a “Dubious Distinction”

I just received a “dubious distinction” and wanted you to hear it from me — and not through the grapevine.

It never occurred to me that one day I’d be mentioned in the same breath as Miss Foozie (Boystown’s most famous drag queen), Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, Tamale Guy and Betty Loren Maltese–but life has a funny way of connecting us to others.

Guess I’ve finally made it!  For more details, read about TimeOut Chicago‘s 22 Chicago “celebrities.”

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What I Didn’t Realize About Vegas!


Recently, I went to visit relatives in Las Vegas for the first time since they’d moved there.  I’d only been there once before (on business) and almost immediately wanted to turn around and come home.  No explanation needed — Las Vegas works for you or it doesn’t.

But, now, with loved ones living there I was willing to go back.  And wow, am I glad I did.

I didn’t realize that within 45 minutes of the city are some of the most striking and varied hiking trails imaginable.  Depending on the direction, you can find trails through soaring cliffs, through red rock deserts, alpine forests with waterfalls, or straight up to nearby peaks with jaw-dropping views.

My relatives and I took six hikes while I was there and the beauty was staggering.  And yes, we did see a couple of outstanding shows on the strip (including an excellent retro but hip Vegas headliner named Frankie Moreno!) but the main attractions for me were outside the city limits.

So, if you find yourself in “Sin City”, the real sin would be not to explore the stunning natural attractions which nothing on the strip can match.  By the way, can you find a television host you know in the above picture taken in the Valley of Fire State Park?

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Shameless Family Promotion!

As you may know, I have two sons in the television news business:  older son, Dan, is an anchor on WGN, and younger son, Anthony, is an anchor-reporter for NBC5.  I plead guilty to getting a big kick out of the following promo WGN just did regarding Dan!

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Three Generations of Singers

Last night we had Liz Callaway on the show.  She is an award-winning Broadway singer and is known for performing works by Stephen Sondheim and other prominent composers.  She’s also known for providing the vocals for the female leads in Disney animated films.

As many of you know she is also the daughter of John Callaway, who founded Chicago Tonight.  (She’s also the sister of well known chanteuse Ann Hampton Callaway.)  Liz was in town to perform so we decided it would be fun to have her on the show.  And she brought along a special guest to sing with her, son Nicholas Callaway Foster.

Young Nicholas recently graduated from Kenyon College where he sang with various student groups.  He said he got emotional during his last college performance and didn’t want his singing to stop, so he’s pursuing it professionally.  He’s got a beautiful baritone voice.  Given how much all of us here loved John, everyone in the studio was pretty teary eyed when Liz and her son performed a duet for us.  John would have been so, so pleased.

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