Webb: Mrs. Webb on Mr. Webb, Part II

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Lifelong Kansas City Royals fans since we were kids, going to The K is one of our favorite date nights.

Ernie: What was it like watching the Royals during playoffs last year with me?

Shana: So fun. One of the few things we can agree on about TV. It was so fun. We both love that team, and we both thoroughly enjoy watching them, so to share that together made it so much more exciting.

Ernie: I’m surprised you didn’t say intense.

Shana: Yeah, you do get just a little bit intense. The whole thing was intense. Of course, it’s the playoffs, so it’s going to be intense. It was surreal when we won the World Series.

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Probably need to tone it down a bit during Royals games.

Ernie: How would you describe me during games on Twitter?

Shana: Honestly, you’re aggressive, borderline on being abusive [laughter].

Ernie: So that’s not who I am in real life?

Shana: No. There must be some other side of you because that is that way it comes out there.

Ernie: How would you describe my workout routine before I got Epstein-Barr Virus in April?

Shana: Awful. It was awful. It was way too much of everything. You overdid everything. Then when you were finished, you would talk about your workout like you didn’t do enough. It was definitely an addiction.

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Geo’s pizza, my second favorite after Shakespeare’s in Columbia, Missouri.

Ernie: What would you say are my biggest vices?

Shana: You don’t have many. If you could run right now, I think running is a vice for you. I think you’ve made giant steps away from it. Your other biggest vice was food. And not even like too much food. It was more the standard American diet addiction; the grease, the cheese, the fat, anything that was fried and bad for you, processed. I think you really struggle to stay away from those things. Everybody has vices.

Ernie: I’m surprised you didn’t say soda.

Shana: That’s right. But, I’d say writing is a positive vice for you.

Ernie: How would you describe my writing?

Shana: You like to tell a story, especially in newspapers where writers don’t always need to tell a story because they don’t have time. You find the time to get that five-minute interview, and that interview gets you just enough information to make it something heartwarming, something that makes the parents of the kids that just played feel so good. They get to relive memory of the night before. I think it’s always important for you to tell story. Even the stuff you wrote at Washburn … you always made it into something people could either relate to or feel something from reading it. It wasn’t just the facts.

[She should be my agent]

Ernie: Do you have a favorite story or blog of mine?

Shana: The one you just wrote about Fathers Day was really good, and one you wrote about your dad was really good, too.

Ernie: What don’t you like about my writing?

Shana: Sometimes I think your blogs end abruptly. I think there’s more to the story and it just ends.

[Whatev …]

Ernie: How do I typically respond to that kind of criticism?

Shana: Not well. I enjoy when you involve me in your writing. I guess in my mind you’re like, “Edit this,” and you get irritated when you say I don’t like this sentence structure. But I think it’s worth it. You go back and reread it, and make the changes that are necessary.

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San Diego stayed classed for us during the summer of 2015.

Ernie: What are two of most fun things we’ve done together?

Shana: Our trip to San Diego. We just had so much fun. A road trip is always good time. Seeing the ocean, being in California … that was so much fun. The other, there’s a tie. One is when we go to Royals games. I think both of us find that it’s a fun place to be. The other was a date we had when you lived in Topeka. You had that apartment across from Gage Park, and we rented a couple of movies, but it was summer and really nice out. So we went out on deck and we just sat out there and drank beer and talked about philosophy and so many aspects of life.

Ernie: That was the day you helped me pack up stuff to move.

Shana: It was so great to spend that time with you. We didn’t have a care in world. We just talked. It was a really nice night.

Ernie: At what point did you think this is somebody I can marry?

Shana: It was only after you suggested it. We were both set against it, but then you were like, eh, maybe it’s OK. And I thought, “Well, he knows what it’s like to go through a divorce. He didn’t want to get remarried again. Maybe I need to at least entertain the idea.”

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Of course she likes Dad. We’re a lot alike and look alike. It helps that they don’t talk politics.

Ernie: My dad is about as Republican as you can get. How do you explain that you guys get along so well?

Shana: Your dad and I get along so well because we respect each other. I’m sure we can get into heated discussions, but he doesn’t bring politics up because, at the end of the day, he doesn’t want to have an argument with me, and I don’t want to have one with him. I respect him very much. I think he’s an awesome person. I just think it comes down to respecting each other.

Ernie: What’s my best physical feature?

Shana: You’ve asked before and it’s difficult for me to answer. I’d have to say your eyes. You have really nice eyes, but also they kind of show who you are. You have very soft, caring, emotional eyes.

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Nailed it.

Ernie: You once said I remind you of Robert Downey Jr. How in the world?

Shana: You’re kind of snarky like he is. You both have darkness to you physically: dark hair, dark eyebrows, dark beard. He’s got this witty intelligence, and that’s definitely what you have. … He does have a little more hair than you.

Ernie: What are my worst traits?

Shana: Your obsessiveness, which we’ve discussed. I guess that’s the bones of it all: you think in every situation you have to prove yourself to whomever else may be involved. It doesn’t matter if it’s your boss, friend, family, other people on Twitter, or even yourself. It’s like you’ve got to out-do your own goals; like you’re trying to prove to yourself. It’s kind of sad and sick because you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody.

Ernie: Do you know if the Royals won?

Shana: No, but I can find out.

[Grabs her phone]

Ernie: Don’t bother. I’m sure they lost. It’s a road game.

[They did]

Webb: Mrs. Webb on Mr. Webb, Part I

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If you didn’t know me before, you will now, as my wife talks about life with yours truly.

Shana and I have been married for three years now and a couple for going on six years. Who knows me better than her? Enjoy her insights on the “budding” author and life in general:

Ernie: I didn’t bring my phone out here. How do you feel about that?

Shana: Is this a serious question?

Ernie: There’s a Royals game going on, and I didn’t bring it.

Shana: I’m happy about the sentiment. You’re asking me questions about your blog, so of course you’re going to be involved. I mean, that’s the reality of it. Plus, you just had a soccer game on in there. The Royals game doesn’t seem to be that big a thing to you tonight.

[Hey, the United States national team was in the semifinals against the best team in the world (Argentina)]

Ernie: What was the first thing you noticed about me before we started dating?

Shana: Your intelligence, as shown through your posts on Facebook before we started dating.

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So it wasn’t my looks.

Ernie: So it wasn’t my looks?

Shana: No, but we’ve talked about that before. It’s never about looks. Well, I should never say never. Some people might be very attractive or odd-looking, but typically it’s not … it doesn’t mean anything.

Ernie: What did you think when you saw me for the first time on our first date?

Shana: You’re asking a lot of memory questions. That’s not my forte. I remember thinking that I was happy you were there and we were making this happen. I was nervous and excited.

Ernie: What do you remember about our first date?

Shana: We watched basketball. We ate soup from whole foods, I think. I don’t remember what kind, but I bet you do. [I had tomato, she had chicken tortilla] We played Battleship.

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Another round of Mario Golf, another win for Mr. Webb.

Ernie: How many of the games did you win that night?

Shana: Probably none, which was only because you like to cheat.

[I do, but this was just an ass-kicking]

Ernie: What do I do that annoys you?

Shana: Two major things. One, which obviously you’re learning a lesson in, is pushing yourself too far. It affects you negatively and affects the rest of us. Two, sometimes you’re not in the moment, in your phone, not attached to the moment. Usually, it’s some Internet-based thing.

Ernie: Sorry, I’m on Twitter, what did you say?

Shana: Very funny.

Ernie: What about me do you adore?

Shana: I adore the way that you do little things to make me feel special, and I adore that doing that is really important to you. I adore the way that you love the children. You’re intelligent. It’s sexy to be intelligent. It’s sexy to have your shit together. It’s sexy to make financial goals and figure out ways to make it happen. Those things are important to me.

Ernie: What are some of those little things?

Shana: The way you make my coffee every morning, telling me we’ve been together 1,991 days before we go to sleep. The way you sometimes you look at me and tell me I look beautiful. I’m sure there are 1,000 other things.

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Fast and furious?

Ernie: What’s it like to be with me when I’m driving?

Shana: At least you’re not texting anymore; that’s a good thing. It’s not that you drive too fast for the speed limit, which you do. It’s that you drive too fast for the circumstances. You get very pissed off with people, but I do, too.

Ernie: How do you account for the fact that you’ve been in several wrecks and I have not been in any since we started dating?

Shana: Actually, every single accident has been due to someone else. But, that is ironic.

Ernie: Do you remember the moment when you realized you loved me?

Shana: No. What I do remember the battle going on in my mind on whether me getting involved in another committed relationship like that was a good idea.

Ernie: How did you get over that?

Shana: It was you. You just kind of kept showing up … I mean that in a good way. I mean physically in front of me, with your attention, your honesty, love for me, you kept being you, and after a while I thought “Well, why shouldn’t it be OK?”

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I’ve lost 60 pounds since we began dating, which is not a coincidence, and more than 120 overall.

Ernie: You’re very healthy, and I really was not when we started dating. Why did you ask me out anyway?

Shana: I don’t consider myself that healthy. I consider myself work in progress. You were making very determined steps to better yourself in a lot of different ways. That’s all I needed, was your sign of commitment. I knew everything else would fall in place.

Ernie: How did your mom (my mentor) and sister (a good friend) react when you told them we were dating?

Shana: They kind of both said something to the effect of “Ernie? Like Ernie Webb?” Like they were shocked. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar. I think they were shocked because they didn’t know how we became friends. I think my mom, of course, knew you best. One of the first things she said was “He’s a Republican, you know.” But you didn’t act like a Republican.

Ernie: What does a Republican act like?

Shana: I am quite liberal. My beliefs do not lie in politics; they lie in the believe that freedom is freedom for everyone. We all should have certain rights. People aren’t left out because of race, sexual preference, because they weren’t born in the United States. To answer your question, most Republicans are quite conservative. You didn’t strike me as that conservative.

Ernie: You know I’m moderate and conservative in some ways, though.

Shana: It’s clear to me we don’t see eye-to-eye on many things.

Ernie: You must really like that coffee I make every morning.

Shana: You have a loving heart, and that makes a difference. I can’t make you recycle, or make you want to take in teenagers who have been thrown out of house by parents. I can’t make you give your money or time to people who are down on their luck, but you do. You can call yourself moderate, but we hit a balance that works well. … I did not protest Pat Robertson like I said was going to when you worked at Washburn and he was there.

[We would have been living in a van down by the river if she had.]

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Missouri games aren’t always enjoyable for Mrs. Curtis Webb.

Ernie: What did you think the first time you watched a Missouri-Kansas basketball game with me?

Shana: That’s really specific. You’d warned me, so I was expecting it. They are cocky, so I halfway can’t blame you. I can’t say whether it was Kansas game or not, but letting a silly game ruin your whole day seems like a waste to me.

Ernie: Do I get more angry during Missouri games or Royals games?

Shana: It depends. If you have hopes and dreams set on a team, that’s one you get more aggravated about. Last year, you’d given up on Missouri, so you were chill. That was nice. This year, you got really pissed with the Royals. You’ve been a little bit better at just letting it ride, though. The worst I’ve ever seen you act was after Missouri games.

Ernie: What do you mean?

Shana: Remember that one time they lost and you were so mad you left the house and drove around for a while?

Ernie: That was the last Missouri-Kansas game when they got screwed.

Shana: I don’t remember details like you do, but I do remember you were absolutely furious.

Ernie: What’s the most angry you’ve ever been at me?

Shana: The angriest I’ve been with you was one of our first decent-sized fights. It was the one where I finally went over to you and said “This is bullshit.” I was really pissed at you. You wouldn’t talk it out, and I was really angry.

Ernie: That was our first fight.

Shana: I felt like you weren’t listening.

Ernie: What? 

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Cookie, world. World, Cookie.

Ernie: How would describe my relationship with the cats (We have two, Cookie and Sunday)?

Shana: You’re kind of like a cat with them. You’re as moody as they are with them. You love them one minute, you want nothing to do with them another minute, sometimes you just give them shit for no reason. That’s basically how they act. But I know you’d miss them if they were gone.

[ It’s true, I would]

Ernie: How would you describe my relationship with the kids?

Shana: Good, but challenged. Both of us are in that spot. I think you do your best and I think you do a good job.

Ernie: How did your mom react when you told her I was moving in?

Shana: Her first reaction was concern for kids because she’s a little more traditional.

Ernie: That’s very Republican of her.

Shana: It kind of is. She relaxed when I reminded here that this was the way it was going to be. I didn’t think marriage was going to happen, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be in a relationship. I wasn’t going to let anything hurt the kids in any way. I certainly wasn’t going to take somebody moving in lightly. After she realized that, she was kind of happy I wasn’t going to get married again.

Ernie: She was pretty pissed when I asked her and your father if I could ask you to marry me.

Shana: We’d been through a lot getting that divorce. It was really, really hard. It was definitely just as hard on her as it was on me. She took it all very personally.

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“If I can change, and you can change.”

Ernie: What are some of my favorite movies?

Shana: Any of the “Rocky” movies, except for one of them [“Rocky V” is a disaster], “Karate Kid” …

Ernie: It’s a classic.

Shana: It’s not a classic. “Predator.” I’m pretty sure we’ve seen “Rambo” several times. I think you have other dramas, but they don’t show up on TV as often.

Ernie: You’re missing a big one.

Shana: “Rocky,” “Karate Kid.” You don’t consider “Rocky” a drama, do you? [No]. You’re going to tell me and I’m going to be like “Ah man.” My brain doesn’t work like yours.

Ernie: “Shawshank Redemption.”

Shana: Oh, well, yeah.

Ernie: What’s your reaction when I’m flipping through channels and “Karate Kid” or “Rocky” is on the guide?

[Audible sigh. Hilariously, “Karate Kid” and “Predator” were on at the same time the next night]

Shana: I know my chances of watching something decent are gone.

Ernie: Why do you hate those movies so much?

Shana: Because the plots are so stupid.

Ernie: Are you trying to say Rocky didn’t end the Cold War?

Shana: Yeah, pretty much.

Webb: A step in fatherhood

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With my dad before my wedding in 2013. Ironically, I’m teaching him a Windsor knot for a necktie. 

“You know, you’re not our dad.”

Those words came at the end of a conversation during a family gathering. I was disciplining two of kids, trying to pass on what I’d learned from my father. Those words cut like a knife.

I calmly left a room full of family members, walked upstairs, tears welling in my eyes, and cried for the first time in years.

Perhaps it was the realization that I was never going to be their dad in the sense I wanted to be. Perhaps it hit me that I was never going to be a biological father. Either way, it hurt. Immensely.

Ever the kind, loving soul, my wife knew immediately how much it hurt. “Please give it time. They do love you. Kids say things like this sometimes,” she said.

I knew that. I said some pretty awful things to my parents when I was their age. Still, it hurt.

For years, I dreamed of being a dad. I grew up with an amazing father, and I desperately wanted to pass on all the things I’ve learned, and continue to learn, from him.

As the years passed, I began to wonder if it was going to happen. When my wife and I began dating, I knew the chances of having a baby were slim. We talked about it. I’ll never forget my future wife crying because she didn’t want me to feel like something was missing.

Unbeknownst to just about everybody, we did talk about having a baby together. It was during those conversations that I realized how much my wife cared about me. Even though she wasn’t exactly thrilled about going through another pregnancy, she said we could try if I really wanted to have one.

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The latest perk: A beautiful granddaughter.

I thought about it briefly. I’d probably have to pass on graduate school. Writing those books wasn’t going to happen for a long time, if ever. My workout routine was likely history. My mother-in-law might kill me. Literally. Most importantly, this could be a health risk for my wife. It wasn’t a difficult decision. I decided to try to be the best stepfather I could.

Being a stepdad when the biological dad is in the picture is tricky, regardless of his performance in that role. He is always going to be their dad. I’m always going to be their stepdad.

But I’ve never approached that responsibility like I’m a pinch-hitter. I don’t think that’s fair to them. Kids need love, kindness, understanding, stability, wisdom and much more. Somebody has to provide those things.

For a few weeks after the first words written in this blog, I backed off quite a bit. Basically, I pouted. I was annoyed. I felt unappreciated. I felt like a dad!

I realized, of course, that that was wrong. My father never would have acted like that. Within a few weeks, some wonderful things happened. I took one of my sons to lunch and consoled him for hours the day after a girl broke his heart for the first time. My daughter and I spent an evening playing basketball. I bought her a brand new ball for her birthday, and she wanted to learn how to shoot. I taught my other son how to tie a bow tie for his prom.

There have been so many other awesome moments. Teaching the boys how to shave and drive. Delivering a corsage to the daughter before her first big dance. Holding my first grandchild a few weeks ago.

Shortly after our son broke the news to us that he was going to be a father, he and I drove around Overland Park running errands. I had a heart-felt conversation with him about being a dad. How he had examples how to treat his child, and how not to treat his child.

I told him that even though I wasn’t his dad, I’d tried to pass on all the things my dad has taught me through the years. When I was finished, he said, “Ernie, you’ve been more of a dad to me than my real dad.”

I cried later that evening. Tears of joy.

 

Webb: Rest in peace, Shawn

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Shawn was 38 years old when he died last week. A native Missourian, he graduated from Burlingame High School in 1996.

I hadn’t spoken to Shawn Boner in 20 years, unless you count the occasional comment in a Facebook thread. The last time I saw Shawn was on the day of his – and my younger brother’s – high school graduation in 1996.

I remember feeling bad for Shawn that day. Two years earlier, he had a falling out with a popular group of friends. The rest of his high school career wasn’t a bundle of joy. Of course, having Boner as a last name didn’t help.

I’d forgotten about that until the advent of Facebook, when we no longer had to rely on reunions and websites like classmates.com to reconnect with the people we grew up with. If not for social media, I’d probably have no idea where Shawn was.

Though we were friends on Facebook, I really didn’t know what Shawn had been up to the last 20 years. I knew he still lived in Burlingame. I knew he’d finished up his associate’s degree.

What I didn’t know is that he had a heart attack recently. And if not for a text from my brother, I wouldn’t know that he died last week.

Shawn was 38 years old. It’s always shocking when somebody dies young. It’s incredibly sad when it’s somebody you grew up with.

Though Shawn and I hadn’t spoken in 20 years, I have fond memories of a guy who had a similar high school experience, that is of a shy, awkward, short and chubby kid. Those adjectives are not a recipe for a wonderful high school experience.

Nonetheless, Shawn was a friend to many. I remember vividly playing flag football in our yard and basketball at the park. It was two-on-two: My brother and Shawn vs. Troy Pennington and myself. Shawn was more athletic than you might expect.

nwaI remember cruising the red brick road many of us grew up on in Burlingame. We typically listened to NWA, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg – all the songs the grown-ups in town loved.

I also remember that Shawn was a kind person. Based on my interactions with him on Facebook and the mentions on his Facebook wall this week, that hadn’t changed.

His death is a reminder to embrace our time here. Take nothing – or anyone – for granted. Be kind, like Shawn was.

 

The Daily Reporter: A ‘Hub’ of memories

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Longtime publisher Hub Meyer was tough, grizzled and a good mentor. He ran the Independence Daily Reporter from his early 20s until his death in 2014 at age 67. Hub also grew up in Independence.

SEVENTEEN YEARS. It’s been 17 years this month since I began my career in journalism. In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime.

I’m less than a month away from turning 40 (mark July 3 on your calendars), and I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the past. I’m not doing what I expected to be doing … and I’m much happier than I ever imagined. My wife has a lot to do with that.

Though it’s been nearly 20 years, the memories of my first professional job interview are fresh. I had no idea Independence, Kansas, existed, let alone had a newspaper. I had no idea the town was 15 minutes away from where my father grew up in Coffeyville.

If not for my father, I still wouldn’t know much about Independence. Dad was worried I was going to sit around and do nothing for too long after I finished at Washburn in May 1999. In other words, taking a few weeks off wasn’t an option, even if I had my own place, paid my own bills and sort of had a plan (at least that’s what I told him).

At the time, dad lived in Warsaw, Missouri, but he was working at a craft show in Coffeyville. He stopped by after the show to visit and to drop off a business card he’d picked up from a photographer at the Independence Daily Reporter.

That was the only job lead I had after college. Of course, I wasn’t really trying at that point. I’d saved some money and planned to continue working part-time at the local Osage County Chronicle during the summer.

Somewhat begrudgingly, I called the Daily Reporter and spoke to the grizzled editor, an elder woman who had worked at the paper for more than 30 years. She knew little about sports, other than the paper needed a sports writer to help the sports editor.

In early June, I drove two hours south to Independence, arriving an hour early. I sat in my car down the street from the newspaper, trying to calm down. I ran as many questions through my head as I could, and I reviewed my portfolio for the 100th time.

The interview lasted all of 15 minutes. I don’t remember the questions. I remember meeting with the sports editor for 10 minutes. All told, less than 30 minutes. The editor offered me the job on the spot. Given the size of the town, I had a salary in mind. I figured the paper couldn’t meet it. I was shocked that the offer was more than expected: $385 a week ($20,000 a year). Ah, journalism.

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At age 23 during the Independence days. I had hair, and for some reason, an ugly Michigan sweatshirt.

I didn’t start for another month. My first day was July 6. The sports editor was on vacation, which wasn’t a surprise. If you work in sports, you take time off in the summer. That hasn’t changed to this day.

I remember being humbled by my first task: writing short stories about tee-ball. My dream of writing columns for the Capital-Journal seemed about as realistic as marrying a prom queen (somehow, both happened years later).

It might have been a small-town setting, but in many ways, I’ve never had more fun than I did in my first job out of college. I certainly learned more at the Daily Reporter than I have in any job.

The summers moved at the pace of Billy Butler on a grounder to second base. We really didn’t have much to do in sports. For the first few weeks, I dutifully stayed until 5 p.m. Mercifully, the grizzled editor came up to me one afternoon and said, “You really should go home early in the summer. Trust me, we’ll make up for it.” I remembered that well when I was working 70 hours a week during the fall and winter.

That first summer in Independence was a blast. Once the section was finished in the morning (the Daily Reporter was an afternoon paper), I spent most of my time planning and working on our special football section. The theme was a common one in sports sections in 1999: football teams of the millennium.

Each of the 10 teams we covered in the area got not only a preview, but also a “team of the millennium” feature. Much of the research for those stories entailed digging through the archives to determine which team in the 1900s was the best for each school.

Keep in mind this was 1999. The Internet had arrived, but it wasn’t as prevalent. The Daily Reporter wasn’t even online at the time (and wasn’t, amazingly, until 2015). So, when I say digging through the archives, I mean digging through the archives.

The sports editor, Brian Thomas, still a sports editor and now an icon in the region, and I spent most of July and August in the paper’s storage room. The bound archives were not organized. They were stacked on top of old desks, buried on and behind newspapers, a complete and utter mess. It was the dried ink and faded yellow paper version of “American Pickers.”

Among the characters I met at the first job was the longtime publisher, Hub Meyer. To say Hub was old school would be to say Craig’s List hurt newspapers. He was blunt. He was honest. He absolutely loved the news.

Hub began working at the Daily Reporter when his father, the publisher, died in the early 1970s. He was the publisher until his death in 2014. I had not seen Hub since I left in 2000, but I will never forget his last words to me: “Ernie, you did a really good job here, and you’re a talented guy. I expect you do really well. The best of luck to you.”

I worked in newspapers for 11 years. Those words are the ones I remember the most to this day. I also know that in 11 years of working at newspapers, I got bonuses twice. Once was at the Daily Reporter, the smallest paper I worked at.

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Hub was proud of the football tab. He also knew it’d make money.

What I also remember about Hub, usually short on praise, is how he reacted when Brian and I finished the football tab. He loved that tab more than we did. He also smiled like The Grinch when he was done reading it. I realized why the next day when I saw a bin of football tabs in the front office for $2 each. They sold out in a week.

All these years later, I think about those first few months in Independence often. I think about my late-night jogs past old, cozy houses on weathered, cracked sidewalks. I think about climbing on top of a desk and chair in a musty, stoic storage room to grab the June 1912 editions of the Daily Reporter. I think about how dazzled I was reading box scores in those papers dotted with names like Cobb, Ruth and Gehrig.

I made a little more than $20,000 in my 14 months in Independence, but I gained a lifetime of memories.