Search This Blog

Friday, February 24, 2023

 The American Birkebeiner is an international athletic event, welcoming competitors from dozens of states and dozens of countries.

It's also a helluva party -- Wisconsin style.

That's as long as you don't mind a beer and a bratwurst at 5 degrees. Or some shots. Shots help. Shots. Shots. Shots.

I woke up to minus-five degrees at 7 a.m., which was warmer than midnight when it was 12 below. By the time I hit Main Street in downtown Hayward, temperatures had warmed to about 10 degrees.

But if you know weather in the Wisconsin Nort'woods, there was no wind and the sun was out. With those conditions, 10 degrees is quite lovely-- especially with a brat and kraut, a beer and maybe a shot of Dr. Mcgillicuddy's. 

I've spent dozens of hours outside this week but because I was working, I couldn't really party. I have had a bratwurst for lunch for the last two days. My vegetable side? Sauerkraut. Which used to be cabbage, so that is a vegetable. I think. 

Saturday will be the test. That's the actual American Birkebeiner competition for professionals.

You should see these folks move -- faster than I drive (I'm old, though, and the speed limit in Hayward is 25 mph in city limits).

My first, full Birkie has been an amazing experience. I love the people watching, the community support, the empathy for an athlete struggling. And the beer. And brats. And shots.

Peace unto Ukraine. And peace and a Wisconsin communion -- beer and brats -- unto my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, February 23, 2023


Doggies and skiing. Skiing and doggies.

What could be better?

As part of four days of the American Birkebeiner this morning I took photos at the Barkie Birkie -- which is dogs and skiing.

There are two parts to the event, the first is a competitive event where skier and dog take a 5K route. The photo of the team of the guy in blue and the dog in brown won, moving at the speed of a VW bug going down hill.

The second is a three-block romp where, more often than not, the skier reaches the finish line before the dog. Imagine a happy, playful dog surrounded by other dogs and snow and cheering and a fair amount of people who've been drinking copious amounts of beer for several days. This stressed out some of the dogs, whose humans would pick them up and cart them off to calmer places.

I feel lucky to be part of it as a journalist, even if the windchill was below zero and I drove through 6 inches of fresh snow.


And I met some awesome dogs. (People, too.)

If you think of it, drop me some dog chow on Venmo at @Rich-Jackson-15.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and doggies unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


This American Birkebeiner is a huge deal, if you've not heard of it.

By end of day Saturday, the little city of Hayward -- a hamlet of 2,500 -- will have seen 10,700 skiers pass through the downtown. And we'll see another 20,000 family and friends of skiers descend on to cheer them on, have beer and bratwurst and celebrate. (A few of us residents might join them.)

I took photos for nearly three hours today as the beginning of the open-course skiers crested a temporary bridge and skied three city blocks after traversing tens of kilos (it depends on where one starts during the open course).

This temporary bridge -- you can see in some of the photos -- is called the International Bridge and festooned with country flags representing the home countries of the athletes. That was put up Monday with the delicacy of a card house -- amazing to watch. The bridge and Main Street are then lathered with pristine snow that is scraped off the local graveyard and then groomed for the races. I'm sure those buried support the effort.

Complete strangers cheered on athletes along with the initial visitors who arrived early. It's tradition for people to bring cowbells to cheer on the skiers -- yes, the more cowbell the better.

The region was supposed to be covered in our first foot snow only to be greeted by a second, complimentary foot tonight and Thursday but the snowstorm split in two, nailing those north and south.

Jesus must like the American Birkebeiner.

The temperature hit a lovely high of 24 degrees -- luxurious this time of the year in the Wisconsin northwoods -- and the sun shined down. The occasional gust might force you to turn and face away but it's as nothing to us.

After a while, frozen, I turned into the warmth of Anglers Bar & Grill to have the special of the day: grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup for $10.75. Lunch served as the epitome of a warming sustenance.

On the downside? My right knee is angry about my choices and I'm walking around like Fred Sanford. The bottoms of my feet ache like angry pancakes.

These things, too, shall pass.

If you think of it, seek me out on Venmo to give daddy a little sugar at @Rich-Jackson-15.

Peace on to the Ukraine and peace and winter delights unto you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, February 20, 2023

So I hit 300,000 pageviews and then I don't write anything for a week?

That's bad blogging.

I've been working much lately, particularly on some special sections and a magazine we put out in conjunction with the upcoming American Birkebeiner.

The who what?

That's an annual ski event that brings in more than 10,000 cross-country skiers who then make their way through hill and dale for 50 kilometers. (My metrics translator tells me 50 kilometers is "too far." I don't even like to drive that much.) In addition to the number of skiers, it's estimated that each skier brings two people to view the race.

That's 30,000 people in our little hamlet of 2,500, thus creating extra work for our small newspaper staff.

I'm still also taking photos at local high school games as my co-worker recovers from a horrible car crash in December. 

The other night I photographed two hockey matches, the girls team first and then the boys team. Both killed their playoff opponents. We like our hockey here and have had long success with both genders.

Last weekend, though, I had two days off in a row as my colleagues recognized my burnout and I made them delightfully lazy, reading, writing and cooking. Nice downtime.

And as this is kind of a catch-up post, I'll add that I've set up a Venmo account so people can -- if they wish -- send me a little money for the time I've spent blogging over past couple of years. I never imagined I'd still be here or I would have done that early on. (I refuse to use the word "monetize" because it was a cliche in one of my old newspaper companies.)

But if you're interested in supporting the blog, connect with me on Venmo at @Rich-Jackson-15.

This work -- I'm filing my 390th post -- has taken time and it would be nice to receive compensation, even if meager, for it. Thanks in advance.

Peace unto the Ukraine and peace unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

 Three hundred thousand.

That's an unfathomable number to me for just about any context.

This little blog just passed that number for pageviews, a few months short of celebrating three years of blogging.

I know I've written before that I started the effort just to keep busy. After being laid off in May 2020, I knew I needed that. In addition to applying for jobs most of the day, I needed fun writing, something more personal than endless job applications. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked 14-hour days during the week and 10-hour days during the weekend. I've never minded a little bit of work. Then I was laid off after a newspaper merger and kicked out of my apartment at the newspaper. Within a couple days, for some reason I still don't understand, I had 20,000 pageviews, enough for The New York Times to report on the blog.

I wrote a post everyday except for a week of deep depression that January and then most days for some time thereafter. A new job intervened, as did access to the internet many days. I'm working on getting better than that.

My previous blogging effort had received 55 pageviews, I think 45 of them mine.

Here we are nearly three years later and almost 400 posts. I've tried to keep the promise I made to myself: Be brutally honest, even when it hurt. So I posted about ideal jobs lost, applications ignored by fast food restaurants, deep depression.

Some nights I winced while editing but what's the point of writing if it's not honest?

And now I'm no longer homeless and still an editor. One out of two. That's a .500 batting average that won't get me in the baseball hall of fame. If there's a blog hall of fame, I won't get in there, either. There are hundreds of blogs that get in the millions of pageviews.

But you know what? That 300,000 number makes me happy. Even on a day like today where I'm suffering from the effects of depression, my life partner.

I've contemplated in the past when the blog should wrap up.

Not as long as people take time out of their lives to read what I write.

I remember almost everyday what my fourth-grade teacher said to me. When I said in class I wanted to be a writer, she said, "Mr. Jackson, no one will pay to read what you write."

I get to do that for a living as a journalist while I've not made any money off this little passion project. But, yeah, I get paid to read and write for a living.

And I have you readers.

That's pretty cool.

Thanks for reading, friends.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and more posts for you my brothers and sisters.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Oh, I slept deeply after my long day Friday.

But I had to get up and photograph high school boys wrestling for three hours today.

That is the life of a smalltown journalist, from tragedy to victory within a day, usually with some small tasks thrown in. (Note to self: Take out the garbage tomorrow. And clean the men's room but take a valium beforehand.)

I've now attended two wrestling matches and they are a different world to me. Today, it was a sectional where there were three mats stuffed into the basketball gym. Teams would switch mats and to make it more difficult, I was shooting for the two newspapers where I work -- Hayward and Spooner -- as well as publications from Ashland and Rice Lake.

Mind you, these are the little cities of my youth. Without buses in grade school, we would create a train of cars up and down the brand new Highway 53, eat at greasy burgers in smalltown diner and head to the game. (Back then, before food giants like Cisco, the hamburgers tasted different in each diner. Now, they're all the same patties, same buns, same cheese.)

The goal this morning wasn't a Pulitzer worthy shot. It was get something in focus. And all-smalltown journalists shoot the still moments at a sporting event so they have at least one frame a newspaper can use. I shoot team meetings most of the time but also before the free throw at basketball games. For wrestling, there is a moment before the boys grapple -- that's  my specialty.

I took the rest of Saturday off, getting nothing done. I'm good at that. But I'm a little tired and my 57-year-old bones are still recovering from the chill of Friday morning.

Sunday, I'll sleep late and do administrative work at the paper before production days of Monday and Tuesday kick in. Also, we have a special section and a magazine this week.

Don't be jealous.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and satisfying work unto you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, February 3, 2023

 It occurred to me this morning, standing outside a police stand-off in minus-14 degree weather that my first such event was in 1989.

Wow -- that makes me sound old.

But 33 years is a long time and I'm still chasing police cars. It's not a bad gig.

I received a phone call as soon as I arrived at work. I hadn't even sipped my Irish breakfast tea -- by Adagio, I swear by it.

I will tell you I didn't want to go. My plan had been to wipe up some leftover work from the week and take off the afternoon -- either lounging about or day drinking. Hmmmmm.

A man who failed to take his medication for schizophrenia had stabbed this landlord, who was able to escape to a resident next door to the bar where the stabbing occurred. They called police but the stabber would not leave and so a stand off ensued. 

That means waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

My car doesn't really warm up anymore so I could not seek refuge. It has 197,000 miles on it and -- I believe -- pretty significant chlamydia. It huffs and puffs and heaves and lurches. But warm-up? Not so much.

I finally trundled over to the Radisson, Wisconsin, village office where the woman there greeted me with an open door and a bottle of water. "Sorry," she said about the water. "It's cold." She did offer to make some coffee but I declined.

I called in the story and texted in some photos so we could break the story.

And waited.

Every time I thought there was action, I'd pop outside.

At one point a very elderly, very large man drove up in this tiny Toyota truck. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded.

"Police standoff," I reported. "Someone was stabbed." He stayed put until deputies pointed out he couldn't park on a public highway. "Where the yell am I supposed to go?" he demanded. "Anywhere but being parked on a highway."

He pulled off the street, directly blocking the sheriff's command vehicle. The large, old man was told to move again, so he pulled into a bank parking lot within the perimeter of the scene. I wasn't close to the discussion but I assume he was told to leave or be arrested.

"I see you met Anton," said the woman in the village hall. "He drove into a field last week and couldn't get out. He shouldn't be driving."

Later, outside taking photographs, another truck -- this is truck country -- pulled up and the couple politely asked what was going on. I explained to them and the man driving asked, "Where's your goddamned hat?" Sometimes I rush off to scenes. Not the first time, even this year. He handed me a knit hat from his console and said, "Here -- this is yours now."

I do so enjoy being back in my home state where a knit cap can be a lifesaving gift.

I ultimately left after about three hours because I was a day behind on another article. The weather had warmed to four below.

Two hours later, the sheriff called to say the standoff was done after deputies shot in some tear gas and sent in a robot.

The scene ended peacefully.

As I write this, I'm having my second Manhattan before dinner, still trying to warm up from a cold that can sink in deeply, bone deep. 

Then I'll have some fish fry and a deep sleep.

Peace unto the Ukraine and peace and warmth and sleep unto you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

 One of the disadvantages of having a colleague out -- much work.

One of the great advantages -- I'm wandering out more to places I wouldn't otherwise see.

Last weekend, I went to a sledding hilltop where the wind chill was about 20 degrees below zero. I met hearty Wisconsin folks, the kind of people who say "it doesn't get real cold until 30 below." There was enough hot chocolate to drink and more cookies than could be eaten inside a warming shelter. And a bonfire tended to by town of Hayward officials.

The day before, I attended a boys basketball game (the Hayward locals were slaughtered) but a high school basketball game is never just a sport. It's a dating ritual. It's a social event. It's local bonding. I could see boys sitting next to a red-faced girl or a rush by the junior varsity team to attack hot dogs in order to replace calories left on the gym floor. Teachers mixed in with students to make sure nothing bad was happening -- and to cheer on the boys.

One day last weekend, I attended a boys hockey game and a girls hockey game on the same day. (My nipples are still angry about these assignments.) Here in Hayward, it's like a conference game in most other cities. There's a laser light show and then a smoke machine through which both the boys and girls skate. The girls team is one of the best team in the state this year and I was happy to see nearly the same attendance for each of the games. Also, in the warming center next to the rink, a little group of boys gathered and often shot glimpses of girls who returned in kind. The place smelled of hot dogs and hot chocolate, which sounds disgusting to me but was a pretty good combination for a photographer with angry nipples.

Life is pretty cool so long as you're paying attention.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and a life unto you my brothers and sisters.