You Can’t Go Back

No doubt, 2006 will go down as the year when Kansas finally helped make intelligent design a phrase that everybody now defines as idiotic attack on science. And it will be remembered as the year when Missouri went from crimson to reddish-blue by helping tip the scales in the U.S. Senate.

We wanted to hear firsthand from those who were kicked down or picked up by events this past year. So the Pitch went looking for a few people who were in the news — and those who should’ve been.

We found a radio executive who became comfortable for the first time being a woman, a former Chiefs coach who learned how to watch TV on Sundays, and a weatherman who dealt with death. We found locals who had something to learn in 2006, and we let them tell it themselves, in their own words. You can¹t go back

Dick Vermeil, 70, retired Kansas City Chiefs head coach

You know, sometimes on Sundays, you can feel a little empty. I can’t detach from the Chiefs. What I try to do on Sundays is get really busy and dirty outside and then come in and sit down and take my muddy boots off and pour a glass of wine and watch the game. I mean, I get so involved that I just die with each mistake. My wife says, “Watch your language.”

I won’t come back. One of the reasons I left the Kansas City Chiefs is that, after five years, I hadn’t gotten it done. They needed another five-year commitment. At 70 years-old, I couldn’t make that. Lamar Hunt deserved more.

Yes, I show emotion. I don’t do it on purpose. If I had control over it, there would have been a lot of times that I would have never shown it.

I never did anything different as a high school coach than I did as coach of the Chiefs. To me, players just want to be good at what they do, and it’s my responsibility to help them do that. I never look upon it as coaching a football player. I’m coaching a person who is playing football.

I’ve always thought that true discipline comes from the player caring enough about himself, his performance and his contribution to his team and his organization that he does everything he possibly can do. The fact that a guy walked into a meeting two minutes late or was late for an airplane — very little of that carries over on the field. For example, I watched the Giants the other day. There’s no one in the league who works more on discipline on all the tiny little things than Giants coach Tom Coughlin. But they still get penalized, you know?

I’m a partner in OnThEdge Winery in Calistoga, California. You bet my coaching philosophy carried over. Every plan requires organizational details, and when you are not a detail-oriented guy, your plan doesn’t work so well. Organize everything in a way that you can functionally make it work.

I worked as a commentator for the Monday night opener between the Raiders and the Chargers. It was the first game I’d done since the 1997 Rose Bowl, so I was a little apprehensive. People seemed to say it went OK. I prepare and do as good as I can and move on. I watched the Pittsburgh-Kansas City game in Mexico, broadcast in Spanish. I had no clue what the guy was saying, but I understood what was going on in the game without him telling me.

Hollywood just released the movie Invincible, about my 1976 Eagles squad, about a guy who walked on to the team. It wasn’t 100 percent true, but I loved it. Grandparents can take their grandkids and walk out with a good feeling.

I have nothing to do with the Coors Light commercials. Having my former statements used to advertise beer doesn’t bother me. Everyone should have the right to drink. It’s part of our society and it’s lighthearted, so I enjoy it. But I don’t like watching myself on television. Shit, I’ve never looked at the television copy of the Super Bowl. But if I happened to be watching games and that commercial comes on, I get a kick out of it.

The No. 1 way anybody should measure accomplishment is the relationships developed in the quest. I never enjoyed an experience more than working with people in Kansas City. Never have I been treated with more respect than I was in Kansas City. I feel very close to that city and organization and will always feel that way. And it’s, it’s … I, um … believe me, I don’t take it for granted.

I moved back near my family, about 45 miles out of Philadelphia. I’ve been away from here for so long that it’s hard to get onto their schedule. The kids are busy with soccer games, basketball games, football games, PTA meetings. But I recently went with my sons to New Mexico, elk hunting. All three of us got our elk.

You can still call me coach. In downtown Philadelphia, everyone calls me coach: grandparents, sons and grandkids. I used to tell my players, “I’m called coach because if you call me Dick during the season, I’m not sure what you mean.”

Dr. Hemant Thakur, 50, Veterans Affairs counselor in Kansas City and Army Reserve colonel

I didn’t see being in Iraq as too stressful for me. Stress is a perception.

Fifty percent of those returning from fighting the war have problems unrelated to facing the war.

The Army can be less stressful for soldiers if they have contacts like the Internet and phones. But for some people, having that constant contact, they don’t know how to handle that.

I have a wonderful wife, and if I could talk to her for a couple of minutes every day, that contact was enough for me.

“Dear John” letters existed during World War II, they existed during the Vietnam War, and they still exist. The only difference is, there is no lag time. Today, the soldier’s wife gets on the Internet and says goodbye.

You are never going to reprogram the soldier by giving medication. You need to train people on how to change things psychologically. That’s something that has to be done in talk therapy.

Donna Ross, 53, KKFI general manager

I kind of knew something was different as a child. When I was about 8 years old, we had a bunch of boys taking advantage of the younger neighborhood girls, playing I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours. My mom told me it was not appropriate, but she said it was normal for little boys to wonder about little girls. What she didn’t say was that it is not “normal” for little boys to wonder about being little girls.

I got married. I had two children. Life proceeded. I really wasn’t all that happy about being a guy. There was clearly a girl in here.

It wasn’t until I was 46. My marriage was coming to an end, and it became financially feasible.

My new wife and I moved here in July 2005. Two months later, I left for my sex-change surgery in Bangkok, Thailand. My daughters don’t call me dad anymore. They just call me Donna.

My parents didn’t take kindly to this news. We did not speak for almost two years. When my mom passed away, my father didn’t allow me to come home for her funeral.

The day after the funeral, I got up and asked my wife, “Do you mind if I go to church?” When I showed up to Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ, I was, unbelievably, welcomed by everybody. So I went back the next week. It was not long after that that I started hearing “Welcome Home, Donna.” I’m thinking, 52 years of a life spent as a male in Portland, Oregon, and now I come here to Kansas City, and now you are telling me welcome home?

With help from the church, I was able to reach out to my father. In October, I went home to go visit him for the very first time since before the surgery.

I’ve got a 35-year background in radio. I worked as the color announcer for the Portland Winter Hawks hockey team. After I completed the interview process at KKFI, I felt that if I didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be because I was transgendered. And to be afforded that kind of respect? It was the capper to being accepted in Kansas City.

Let’s face it: Kansas City is characterized as the Bible Belt. Coming here, I thought there was going to be a much more hostile environment. The nasty term I have in my life is “clocked.” It means to be identified as a former man. If anybody has “clocked” me, it’s never become an issue here. No one has said a word to me. I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

I’m not a very tall person, so I don’t stand out. Unfortunately not a lot of transgender women have that luxury. Now I don’t know whether I’m all that gorgeous or not, so I’ll leave that up to you.

Miguel Morales, 39, reporter for the Johnson County Community College Campus Ledger and author of articles about a sexual harassment scandal that forced the resignation of JCCC President Charles Carlsen

I probably broke the biggest story of my career while still in college. At the time, I was kind of freaking out. I thought somebody was trying to set me up. Or, if it’s true, I’m in way over my head.

I had a meeting with the president, and I basically dropped the bomb. I said, “There’s these allegations — did you do it?” And he says, “No,” and he turns all shades of red.

Did I print the victim’s name? Yeah, I did. I said, “I’m going to use your name, so what do I need to do to protect you?”

The college had this big investigation that cost half a million dollars. It’s very corny, but one person really can make a difference.

It’s not that people have ethics or they don’t have ethics. It’s just, they don’t always follow them. And then, pretty soon, they’re sliding down the slope where they are doing all kinds of crazy things.

The JCCC Board of Trustees recently announced that the college is going to build this $300,000 scholarship in the name of Carlsen. He’s trying to buy his way back into our college.

The good ol’ boy network is still deeply entrenched at the college. There are professors who have tenure who say they’re not going to speak because their classes will be reassigned. They can still get to people.

I don’t know if I want to be in a traditional newsroom. I’m thinking of creating a local newspaper that’s only online. With today’s media, you don’t just have to find your place — you can create it.

Jeff “Stretch” Rumaner, 41, sculpture artist and owner of Grinders restaurant and Zone Gallery

My name is Stretch. It’s not just a name. It’s an entity.

But there are still a fuckload of people that don’t take me seriously.

The city is raping everyone who moved down here, with $38 parking tickets. When I was awarded an Urban Hero Award, I got a parking ticket because my truck doesn’t fit into a parking space. The mayor did a great thing by installing a bunch of artwork in a vacant chunk of land at 44th and Main, but when we were there for a dedication ceremony, parking patrol comes by and starts ticketing cars. They are fucking piddley ass Nazis.

My restaurant gives $70,000 a year in taxes, and then the city comes and hits me with a $125 dollar-dance permit fee. The city should be down here giving me a lap dance for rejuvenating a dead section of town.

More and more people are coming down here. It’s kind of like a concentric-circle thing: first your homeless, then your artists, then your yupped-up developers, then your yuppies.

Downtown doesn’t need to look like Leawood. The biggest failure this city has is 18th and Vine. It’s candy-coated crap that was done from a boardroom by people who don’t know the city. The Power and Light District? It’s not real. It’s not authentic. I mean, I’ve never been asked about it.

Gary Lezak, 44, chief meteorologist, KSHB Channel 41

I never thought I’d be in TV. I was a little shy and I was scared of the camera, but I loved weather so much. Most people get interested in weather with hurricanes or tornadoes. Ever since I was 5 years old, all my memories have been of clouds and rain. I got a few big breaks and wound up in Kansas City.

Standing on the air, you are always concerned about people who are possibly in the track of a tornado. The idea that a tornado could come down at any moment and affect people — it really hits hard emotionally.

My dog Windy was very old. It was a very difficult experience to go through. I will remember her in a positive way, but I believe we go on and life goes on, and that’s how I’m living.

After we announced that she had passed away, we did a little tribute for her on our blog. We had over 800 responses from people sharing their experience of their own pets who have passed away. It was just a tremendous support system, and it was overwhelming.

Breezy — she is a great dog. But I’m working on some training issues with her. Stormy keeps Breezy in line.

I believe I’ve made a major weather discovery. Each year, the weather pattern sets up in the fall between October and early November and then starts cycling. Knowing this helps long-range forecasts from winter to summer. I can give you a good idea if we are going into a wet pattern or a dry pattern over the next month.

I am one of the few meteorologists across the United States who actually did a special on global warming this year. How can it not help future generations? Why not try to do something now?

I just recently had a test, and I am seven years cancer-free. I wish I really could get this message to people: Instead of being scared to death of cancer, stay optimistic and think, Man, if I can get through this, it will be great to tell my story later.

Sarah Finken, 26, activist with Code Pink

Some of my friends and I started the Code Pink chapter here. The name Code Pink is kind of a play on words with the terrorist levels. You know, code yellow, code orange?

There aren’t any leaders or structured hierarchy. Code Pink is a woman-initiated, woman-led (but gender-inclusive) peace movement. It looks at how war and violence affect women and children and minorities and how our tax dollars could be used instead. It’s the comprehensive picture of how war affects the everyday person.

At the end of July, we went on bikes to gas stations to block the pumps and hand out fliers about how gas consumption is related to the war in Iraq. The message was that we’re all part of the system without our knowledge or permission. But that gives us the power to insist on doing things differently.

At the first gas station, a gentleman pushed me away from the pump, tried to grab the megaphone and tried to grab my bike. He was 50ish, middle-aged, your typical white guy. Another member in our group was taking pictures. The man grabbed the camera and smashed it.

His initial reaction illustrated a very tangible example of white-male privilege. Here’s a white man, and he wants to get his gas, and he’s not going to let a woman stand in his way.

Later that day, the guy pressed charges against me. I got the cuffs on and got taken downtown. The case was continued two times before the charges were dismissed.

It was an indication of how much we’ve lost our connection to each other and our ability to see each other as human beings. A lot of people are just overwhelmed by how big the problems are.

Categories: News