Welcome to 12-20-12Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. Also the first day of winter. And, according to some, the end of the world. I'm not taking any chances, so I went out and spent all of our money on frivolous items, including chocolate-covered socket wrenches and diamond-encrusted pretzels. Or maybe it was the other way around, I can't remember. It was wild day of on-line shopping.

Oh wait. What was that? The Mayan calendar doesn't actually end on 12/21/12? The Mayan calendar is simply one "baktun" and at the end of it they roll over a new baktun and start again, and this is actually the cause of much joy and celebrating in Mayan culture, often with very fancy hors d'oeuvres complete with toothpicks? Well then... What am I going to do with 10,000 little green army men made of titanium, including the really cool guys laying in the prone position with machine guns, and the fully operational miniature troop carrier airplanes that fly around the living room and deliver these guys via tiny little parachutes? At least I only put 12 miles on the Lamborghini, so hopefully I won't take too big of a bath on that. Stupid Mayans...

Well, it really is December 20 though, and as such it is the eve of the first day of winter, and right on time we got our first substantial, real deal, shovel-worthy, wet, and heavy snow storm last night. Unlike the mini-dusting we got before, this one actually took some effort to move around, but I did not (I did NOT) fire up the snow blower. During all those years in Minnesota, it became apparent that snow blower use by any upright male was a tacit admission of defeat, a bowing to the snow gods with a lonely cry of "uncle" into the swirling white mist. Maybe next time. Seriously, it was only about 4 or 5 inches, so no snow blower yet for me. Neighbor next door? Oh yeah, at 7:30 this morning.

Speaking of the snow blower, it works. Our landlord (that sounds funny, how about the owner of our house) dropped by on Tuesday and we not only got the fireplace back in working order, we also finally fired up the aforementioned snow tossing machine, successfully filling the garage with putrid blue smoke in the process. Much fun was had by all. Major John Wheeler is his name (we call him Major John because we're close like that) and he's one truly great guy. He did a stint in the U.S. Army, and then joined the National Guard, and has done two deployments in Iraq, coming home with a Purple Heart after (as he put it) he "got blown up twice, once in a heavily armored truck and once in a barely-armored Humvee."

Major John had been based out by Fairchild AFB here in Spokane, hence the purchase of this house in Liberty Lake, but then he was transferred to the other side of the state, to Camp Murray by Fort Lewis (just south of Tacoma) and he only comes back to this side of Washington a couple of times a month. They tried selling the house at the bottom of the market, and we tried buying a condo out here at the same time, but those moves didn't work for either of us and somehow we found each other. They get to hold onto the house for a few more years until the market comes back, we get a nice home to live in, they get professional and reasonable tenants, and we get a great landlord. It's a perfect fit.

Major John and I had spent some time together before, and we email quite often, but this time we actually talked for a good 30-45 minutes, about his service and his experiences over there. He wasn't shy about talking about it, which I appreciated, and the stories were really fascinating, in a head-shaking "Wow, I don't think I could to that" sort of way. Cool dude. Brave American. Good landlord, too.

Okay, so we did not attend the uber-secret (unless you're on Twitter) private test session at West Palm this week, so once again there's no racing to write about. Racing, however, is a sport and I do have sports stuff to cover, so I think we're good.

Sports Item No. 1: Did you know that my brother Del Jr. was a terrific athlete before he became an even more terrific businessman and sports marketing impresario? He was indeed, earning varsity letters in everything but basket weaving at our mutual alma mater, St. Louis University High (SLUH). As a quarterback, he was good enough to land a scholarship to Purdue, where he was the backup QB for his roommate, a guy named Bob Griese. They've been friends ever since. Del didn't finish all four years as Bob's backup because he was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth round of the first-ever Major League draft, in 1965. Baseball became his initial professional sports calling, but he and Griese stayed connected all these years.

The other day, I was cruising around Amazon.com when I saw that Bob had collaborated on a new book about the Miami Dolphins' perfect season (17-0) in 1972, and I quickly ordered it. I was a big fan of that team, partially because my big brother's friend had sent me an official training camp t-shirt, just a white shirt with block-lettered "MIAMI DOLPHINS" in their aqua color on the front, and I wore that shirt until the backside and front side of the fabric met and it literally fell off me. Favorite... Shirt... EVER!

I asked Del if he thought there was any way to get the book autographed and within minutes I had Bob Griese's home address and a nod from the man himself. 48 hours later, almost to the minute, it was delivered back to me with a great inscription. You can see that in the photo gallery today. Cool deal.

And I also clearly recall a time, maybe when I was in college, when I was driving up through central Florida and I stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for some reason. Two big guys were in there eating, and they were each consuming their own entire bucket of KFC. One of them looked really familiar, or maybe it was just his mangled nose that caught my eye, but I didn't put it together until I went back outside and saw the pickup truck in the lot, with "Csonka Brothers Farm" on the door. Big Larry Csonka didn't look like he was in the mood to do anything but devour the next drumstick, so I didn't go back in...

Sports Item No. 2: As much as baseball and football have been integral to the Wilber family, basketball has made its mark as well. My dad's brother, Don Wilber (aka Uncle Don) had a brood of athletic kids himself, and we'd all meet up during the summers at Wampler's Lake in Michigan. Don's only son is Donn Wilber (middle name Kevin, so to us he was Donn Kevin just like I was Bobby Joe to all of them) and by the time Donn was 12 it was pretty obvious he was going to be a bit on the tall side. He ended up being listed as 7-feet tall (although he'll admit to having been a little over  6'11") playing on scholarship at La Salle University, where his nickname was "The Super Swooper" and the Portland Trailblazers took notice. The Blazers selected Donn in the NBA draft, but Italy was where he was bound and he played professionally over there for six seasons.

One of Donn's sisters is Donna (middle name Kay, therefore Donna Kay to us), and her son is a pretty good basketball player, if by "pretty good" you mean he stars for the Butler Bulldogs. A lot of people watched Butler beat Indiana recently, to knock the Hoosiers out of the No. 1 spot in the national rankings, and that kid Erik Fromm was a big part of it. Erik is Donna's son. So my cousin (my father's brother's daughter) is the mother of a college basketball player and I think that makes us second cousins.

My sister Mary has five kids, four of whom are female and of typically standard height. However, her son Ewan ended up being about 6'9" and he played college basketball at Eckerd in Florida.

My brother Rick played football for SLUH just like our older brother Del did, and he earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota as a QB, but left after one year and played both hoops and baseball at Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, where I later played ball on a four-year scholarship.

I only played baseball, mostly because I was so skinny as a high school athlete that even an undersized cornerback (or possibly a cheerleader) could've snapped me in half with a decent hit. I did love to kick footballs though, both place kicks and punts, and was pretty darned good at it, but the SLUH Junior Billikens didn't carry kicking specialists and with SLUH being a soccer powerhouse, there was no shortage of guys with strong and accurate legs. Later in life, after college and minor league ball, I played one season with the St. Louis Pepsi Challengers, in a loosely configured organization called the National Touch Football League, and on that team I could be a kicker and punter. I bet you didn't know that!

That league was basically terrifying. You had a bunch of ex-college or high school players, most of whom were large, getting amped up and fired up like they were still at Mizzou, running around without any pads on, hitting whatever moved while salivating and making strange guttural sounds. Kickers were a favorite target. I survived, and one of the other punters in the league was ex-NFL guy Larry Swider, who took the time to compliment my spirals and hang-time after a game. He asked where I played college ball, and I had to tell him I'd never even played in high school. I just loved taking four or five footballs out into the street on Woodleaf Court when I was a kid, kicking them until my mom made me come in, day after day and night after night. And now I write this blog. Ta Daaaa!!!

Sports, sports, sports. These Wilbers are all about sports.

On a totally unrelated subject (there I go again) I saw a pic on our Team Wilkerson Fan Page on Facebook, posted by a guy named Monte Hooker. He plays in a band, and the photo was of him and his guitar, playing in his new "gig shirt". You'll understand when you see it... Pretty cool!

And finally, on to the most important topic today. Yes, even more important than the Mayans, Bob Griese, and basketball. Okay, maybe not more important than Bob Griese. I mean, he's Bob Griese! He's in the Hall of Fame!!!

I filled out my post-injection "Pain Diary" dutifully for one week and sent it back in yesterday, sharing the bad news with my doctor that the injection was less than spectacularly successful. In other words, it didn't work. I'm right back to where I was, and no more than a few minutes after I faxed the diary to him he was calling me on the phone.

Bottom line, the narrowing and compression of the vertebrae is officially "severe" and the nerve is reacting to that and the bulging disc. I have another appointment with him set for next week and we may do another injection, just because they like to tick off all the boxes and "try everything" before going to more extreme options, but he was motivated enough to also tell me that he was referring me to a spinal surgery specialist immediately, and he hoped they'd at least get me in for a consultation in short order, to (as he put it) "go over the risk/reward scenarios" and plot a course of action.

Until I have that consultation, I'm keeping an open mind, but once we hear what the best option is I want to take on that challenge as quickly as possible, while I've actually got some off-season left. And, to be frank (my name's not Frank) the prospect of flying 10 hours to get to Spain doesn't seem to be a very wise thing right now. Typing this blog makes my whole left arm zing, and just driving to downtown Spokane is uncomfortable. I might be able to suck it up and fly as far as MSP for New Year's Eve and our anniversary, but that's about it I think.

Hey, it's just a challenge and in the big scheme of things lots of people have it worse, so I'm ready to move forward and get it fixed. Let's face it, it's no big thing compared to the tragedies going on all around us. I even felt pretty stupid telling Major John about it, knowing that he'd been "blown up twice" in Iraq. So we move on, and we move forward. To infinity and beyond!

The final subject today is just one more hint at something I hope we get a chance to do here. Don't tell anybody, because it's not for public knowledge (I know I can trust all of you to keep it quiet) but it's time to redesign the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang. We've had the same paint scheme for four years, so it's about time we come up with something fresh.

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Real snow. Real heavy. No snow blower used. Yet.
All things and ideas are subject to change, but our goal is to narrow it down to a couple of potential options and then put it to a vote, just like we did when we couldn't decide if the transporter should be "berry" or "teal" based.

I'm not sure when this will happen (we still haven't seen all the possible concepts yet) and I can't guarantee it will happen, but I'm going to do my best to do it and let all of you vote. One hurdle in the process is the fact everyone at NHRA (and it's publications and website) works very hard all year long, and they all deserve a little time off during the holidays. I won't be able to just fire off a blog like this and see it magically appear within the hour, but Phil Burgess has committed to working with me on this a little, if I give him adequate warning and I don't expect him to get up from Christmas dinner to post anything. So, we'll see...

In the meantime, I may only be able to post one blog between now and the new year, so I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas, or a very Happy Holiday no matter what you observe. We all need a little happiness right now. Enjoy!

Hold the presses! I was just about to hit "Send" on this puppy when the UPS truck pulled up out front and soon thereafter the doorbell rang. If your shopping habits are anything like ours, you know that's a pretty common thing this time of year, but the boxes that were delivered looked like they could hold nothing I'm still waiting on, so I figured it was something Barbara bought. Nope, it was a surprise I had totally forgotten about.

When I bought our tickets to the Rush concert in Anaheim, I splurged and bought the ultra-cool VIP package. When we got to the show, we got our 5th-row tickets, a laminate, and a special edition commemorative ticket as well, but the package included quite a bit more Rush swag than that and the small print indicated we would get the rest of it at a later date. So here we are more than a month later, and I'd totally forgotten about it.

Today's UPS delivery included a t-shirt, a tote bag, a tour book, and a set of Rush guitar picks for each of us! How cool is that... Santa made an early delivery, and he was dressed in brown.

Okay, one more time: Happy Holidays everyone!

Wilber, out!