Dec. 30, 2011

I spotted a pair of interesting license plates on the road today:

  1. CTRL Z — Given my extensive background with computers, I can only guess that the female driver is a particularly big fan of the Undo command. (Wouldn’t it be great for cars to have that feature?)
  2. 350 ZED — This appeared on a burnt orange Nissan 350Z, so the driver probably just wants to make sure that everyone knows that he’s British.

[ No. 618 ]

Dec. 10, 2011

Last September, a suspension in service during my train ride home was followed by an even more eventful evening. And this fall, a SEPTA disruption led to another (but quite different) surprise, too.

On the evening of Nov. 8, I was less than 48 hours away from a trip to Key West for Joan’s friend’s wedding. I left work and quickly learned that my commute home would be challenging at best, as the Paoli/Thorndale line had been suspended due to a tragic fatality on the tracks at the Overbrook station. I called up Joan, who agreed to pick me up in Conshohocken, a station that’s served by a different train route that was unaffected by the accident.

Joan drove me back to my car at Devon, and we agreed that I’d pick up a take-out dinner from nearby Berwyn Pizza. As I headed home, I opted to take a few side roads, and little did I know that I would pay dearly for that decision.

As I drove through a corporate park along Cassatt Road, less than two miles from our house, a deer suddenly jumped in front of my car and severely dented my passenger-side headlight and bumper. In fact, it happened so fast that I can only guess that the blur to my right was actually a deer. I was unable to find the deer in the area after the collision, but the car was miraculously driveable for the remainder of my trip home. And above all else, I was incredibly lucky to escape unharmed.

I filed an insurance claim through State Farm (excellent after-hours service, by the way), dropped the car off at Grand Sport Auto Body the day before Joan and I left for Key West, and upon our return, I picked up a rental car through Enterprise until the repairs (estimated at around $3,300) were completed. For over two weeks, I drove a black 2010 Chrysler 300, a luxurious but rather unwieldy sedan that’s quite similar to the gigantic Chevy Impala that I remember renting after a minor accident several years ago.

A few of our neighbors noticed the unusual car in our parking lot, and I was amused by one particular exchange. The older woman who lives in the next building over called out to me, “Hey, I see you’ve got a much nicer car.” I replied, “Actually, it’s just a rental; I hit a deer and my car is just in the shop.” She seemed a little embarrassed by her assumption, but I didn’t take offense.

Since I’ve been living near Valley Forge Park for well over seven years, it’s rather surprising that I hadn’t struck a deer until now. But in the end, the folks at Grand Sport did a terrific job with the repairs to my Altima, which feels like a coupe in comparison to the rented Chrysler. And I’m definitely keeping a closer eye out for any more deer along the side of the road, too.

[ No. 617 ]

Dec. 4, 2011

Now that November 2011 is behind us, I can confirm that it was the most shocking, painful, and humiliating month in the 156-year history of my alma mater, Penn State University.

An academic institution that was once the source of great pride has suddenly become one of shame and anguish. A collegiate athletic program that had adopted a motto of “Success with Honor” is now a national disgrace and the target of relentless media scrutiny. Penn State’s campus and the surrounding State College community are now the scene of not only unspeakable crimes against children, but also a nefarious cover-up by so-called university leaders who enabled a retired football coach to repeatedly commit those unspeakable crimes for many years.

*     *     *     *     *

Three weeks ago, at the outset of my friend Brian’s bachelor party, someone mentioned that Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator and a legendary PSU figure for decades, had just been charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse against young boys. That news sounded incredibly bad, and when I consulted my BlackBerry to read a story about it on ESPN Mobile, the emerging details of the case were a thousand times worse than anything I could have possibly imagined.

A disturbingly graphic grand jury report — one that described Sandusky’s alleged crimes and the subsequent inaction by university administrators, and easily one of the most horrific documents I’ve read in my entire life — quickly became a national news story. And over the next few days, the scandal proceeded to tear Penn State apart.

Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were both charged with perjury and placed on administrative leave. Graham Spanier, Penn State’s president since my senior year, and who had absurdly expressed his “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz, was forced to resign. Ultimately, on Nov. 9, in an ugly and previously unthinkable end to an otherwise legendary career, Joe Paterno was fired — yes, fired — effective immediately as head football coach. And later that night, in a furious response to Paterno’s termination, students foolishly added to Penn State’s disgrace by rioting in the streets of State College.

In utter disbelief, I watched most of the televised news conference and live coverage of the student uproar while attempting to pack my bags for a four-day trip to Key West with Joan. Prior to the announcement of Sandusky’s arrest of Nov. 5, I had been completely unaware of any such grand jury report. Just four days later, a Penn State football icon was gone, a previously respected university president had been forced out by the Board of Trustees, and the campus had been turned upside down.

Today, nearly a month after the Sandusky story first broke, the nightmare at Penn State remains so surreal that I find it hard to believe.

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve often been told that one person can make a difference.

That’s certainly true of Joe Paterno, a man who transformed Penn State in countless positive ways. He dedicated over six decades of his life to coaching football, and in terms of football statistics alone, Paterno’s accomplishments are genuinely amazing. Under his watch, the Nittany Lions won their only two national championships in 1982 and 1986, as well as Big Ten titles in 1994, 2005, and 2008. His all-time career record of 409–136–3 (.749) includes more wins than any other Division I-A/FBS coach in history, and his mark of 24 bowl wins is also unsurpassed.

But Paterno was much more than just a successful coach. He stressed the importance of getting an education and boasted one of the highest graduation rates in all of college football. And off the field, Paterno helped many charities and donated millions of dollars to the university, and his devotion to higher learning led to the construction of the Paterno Library, which was dedicated on the University Park campus in 2000.

Based on what I’ve seen and read, I believe that Joe Paterno could have and should have taken more actions to follow up on the allegations about Sandusky’s behavior. In fact, Paterno admitted as much before he was let go, stating, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Although many detractors sarcastically refer to him as “St. Joe” out of envy or spite, Paterno is far from a perfect man, and he would readily admit that, too. But it’s simply heartbreaking that so many of his achievements and contributions will be tarnished by this horrific scandal.

Sadly, one person can make a difference in a truly terrible way, too.

Although any defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, I refuse to believe that so many victims could possibly invent or exaggerate their statements about Jerry Sandusky’s behavior. There is no conceivable way that they could all be wrong. So I have no problem stating that Sandusky permanently ruined the lives of his numerous young victims, and his appalling crimes have brought extreme sadness, shock, and anger to thousands of Penn State alumni. I can only hope that he spends the rest of his miserable life in prison, then an eternity in hell where he belongs.

Personally, I can’t ignore the parallels between the abuse scandals at Penn State and the Catholic Church. Both were widely respected institutions in which brutal crimes against defenseless children took place for years on end. And in the interest of self-preservation, their leaders protected the criminals within their ranks instead of rooting them out and holding them accountable for their deplorable actions.

I’m not sure if I’ll feel quite the same way about either of them ever again. And that makes me unbearably sad.

[ No. 616 ]