This isn’t September

This isn’t September.

I know the calendar says it is September.

But, this isn’t September. 

Let me explain why.

In the morning and the afternoon, the sound of a school bus no longer rumbles through our neighborhood streets.

I don’t see parents, their children, and the family dog gathered at bus stops.

When I am working on the grounds at my church, I no longer hear the happy playground voices of children carrying through the air from the nearby Tuckahoe Elementary School.

The early morning practice sounds of the Douglas Freeman High School marching band are silent.

I do not hear the voice of the PA announcer calling out the progress of a junior varsity football game as twilight falls over our backyard.

This isn’t September.

Those school sights and sounds are packed away all across America.

 We have traded in their normalcy for a virtual educational setting. 

All caused by a mindless virus intent on creating chaos. A disrupting demon, who finds joy in extending the mileage of division between us.

The stories from the first weeks of school are different. How could they not be?

I heard from a veteran high school teacher—“the toughest first week of my career.”

A friend who has a daughter who teaches kindergarten students had two parents arguing on line about the short break students were given in class.

Another friend who has a daughter teaching at the high school level described a virtual disruption to her class. The voice of a stranger entered her classroom and began to bad mouth another teacher.

And then there is the mute button. 

Students mute and unmute themselves at will. Of course, a non-muted computer is perfect for students to improve their vocabulary. Especially, when a parent observer in the background uses inappropriate language that every student hears.

Now if teaching wasn’t already one of the most challenging professions in the world, at this very moment, the degree of difficulty for teachers has increased a million times.

And like always, teachers, their schools, and their school systems have been called upon to do the impossible.

Do not even attempt to tell me teachers had it easy before COVID-19, and that they have it even easier now. If this is your mentality, I suggest you make an appointment with your local neurologist and have your brain completely rewired.

Teachers, like you, me, we, us are imperfect. 

And, like all professions cast into the public spotlight there are good teachers and teachers who struggle to be good.

Without question, technology is a powerful tool.

 Our world is in its grips. And unless there is a profound shift, we will continue to be grasped by technology.

But no matter how good technology might be, some students will struggle to learn with this tool.

Despite the efforts of school systems to provide a tablet or laptop to every student, the human infrastructure at home might not be in place to help that student adjust to this new classroom.

Part of my psychological makeup is that I am a worrier. And right now, I am worried about those students who are going to struggle mightily with this current virtual classroom environment.

 Essential foundation skills are taught in every elementary school across America. How are we to insure that students are developing competency?

How are we going to help those students who are not building those basic skills? How can we intervene virtually? 

Will these students fall so far behind that catching up will become a part of their permanent records—this is a COVID-19 student who fell behind because the virtual classroom setting was unable to offer the type of instruction this student needed.

During my career in education, I had the privilege of working at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. I have worked with teachers in our department of corrections schools, and I even went back into the classroom to teach for a couple of years in a private high school. 

That’s a lot of Septembers, and for the most part they were normal openings to the school year.

But, I have never seen a school September like this.

And, I am sure that lots of students, parents, and teachers hope they never see a September like this again.

As tough as this one is, teachers can’t whine in self-pity. 

Whining zaps energy. 

That energy is needed to keep nudging the students forward.

Somehow in the early stages of World War II, when England was bombed consistently by the Germans, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, kept his wits and never stopped believing in the people of Britain. 

Right now, we can’t let teachers lose their wits.

We must believe in them.

Photo by Bill Pike

Quiet Beer Whiners

On the afternoon of Friday, August 28, I ventured into a local grocery store to pick up a missing item for dinner. I live in Richmond, Virginia. 

Once I found my item, I was drawn to a beer display sporting Oktoberfest beers. 

Just in case you want to know, brewers make sure that Oktoberfest beers start appearing on shelves in August. You know when states in the mid-Atlantic experience temperatures hovering in the 90s, and high humidity and dew points make a person yearn for a cool October day.

That’s all a part of the marketing strategies from those who tout beer. I will never understand those strategies, but I don’t think I am supposed to understand them.

Anyway, I am sure that you are aware, and probably disappointed to know that the annual Oktoberfest held in Munich, Germany has been canceled this year. Something about a virus caused this cancellation.

But, if it brings you any comfort, Oktoberfest has already been rescheduled for 2021. The first kegs will be tapped promptly at 12 noon on September 18, and the last call for beer will go out at 10:30 p.m. on October 3.

You can research further on line why an event that runs more days in September than October is named Oktoberfest, but it is linked to a historic wedding and good fall weather.

Marketing seasonal beers and the range of prices

But, let me walk you back to that display of Oktoberfest beers.

Here was the lineup, with the location of where the beer  is brewed:  Dogfish Head(Delaware), Sam Adams(Boston), Legends(Richmond, Virginia), Devils Backbone(Virginia), and Bitburger(Germany).

Let me toss out the price per six pack for you. Maybe you can match the cost to the beer:  $8.99, $9.99, $10.49, $10.49, and $12.99. 

A practical thinker might make the following logical pricing guess: the beer from Richmond, Virginia probably cost $8.99 and the beer from Germany might cost $12.99.

Sadly, there is no logical thinking when it comes to beer pricing in the beer industry, especially for craft beer brewers. 

Here is the how the pricing matched up:  Dogfish Head $12.99, Sam Adams $10.49, Legends brewed in my hometown $10.49, Devils Backbone $9.99, and Bitburger $8.99. 

That’s correct, the beer brewed in Germany and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean cost less per six pack than the four craft beers brewed in America.

If this makes no sense to you, I am right there with you.

Now, it is possible that Bitburger contracted to have the beer brewed here in America. If that was the case, then that explains the lower cost. But, I would be floored if Bitburger chose this path.

I have a deep respect and admiration for craft brewers, but even though I have tried, I do not understand how they determine the pricing of their products with retailers.

I sense that craft brewers can charge what they want knowing that a segment of people who purchase their products are not concerned about the price they pay.

There is part of me that believes that mentality is absolutely true. Here is an example.

Sticker shock when no sticker is present

Recently, I have noted that in small retail stores that sell wine, beer, and maybe a few speciality food items that some of the craft beer on shelves and in coolers have no price labels. 

According to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, there is nothing in their guidelines that requires retailers to post/label prices for beer. I’m not sure this lack of pricing signage/labels is good for consumers.

Earlier this summer, a friend told me about purchasing two four packs of beer that were in sixteen ounce cans in a small retail store near his neighborhood.  He guessed the price per four pack was going to be in the 11 to 13 dollar range. 

When the cashier rang up his purchase, he was shocked. The cost was just under 40 dollars. He couldn’t believe the price, but also remembered their was no signage, no pricing label. 

My friend was buying based upon similar past purchases. No way he expected to shell out close to 40 dollars. And my point is this, if the cost for the beer had been properly labeled/displayed, my friend stated he would not have made this selection. 

In this situation, the purchaser experienced real sticker shock, and maybe this rude awakening could have been prevented with the presence of a price sticker.

However, is it possible this experience at the cash register is exactly what the retailer and the brewer want—a blind purchase of a beer, an impulse buy.  But, the customer,(and in this case a knowledgeable one) is buying on past pricing experiences. 

And in this situation, I don’t imagine too many customers as that sale is being recorded at the register are going to say—hold on— no way I’m shelling out almost 40 dollars for two four packs of beer. Potentially, that would be embarrassing for the customer and frustrating for the employee. 

But, is that what really needs to happen?

What kind of message would be sent to the retailer and the brewer if more consumers balked from sticker shock because no price was posted? 

I’m sure staffing a small retail store isn’t easy.

 Additionally, I’m assuming putting price labels on beer packaging is labor intensive and time consuming. But, consumers need to know the cost of the goods they are purchasing.

One small retailer commented to me, the customer can always ask the price of the beer being purchased. 

While this is true, asking an employee the cost of a six pack is also time consuming and potentially disruptive. This would especially be true if the customer asked continually about a number of non-priced beers.

If other larger retail outlets can effectively and efficiently put price labels on beer, why can’t smaller retailers?

I’m sure that answer is going to be linked to time, size of staff, and pennies.

It takes lots of courage to manage a small retail shop. Those shops usually offer valuable knowledge and helpful guidance to consumers who often become loyal customers. 

But, I think there is another piece to that loyalty— making sure customers who come into a store have the opportunity to be wise consumers if they want to be related to price.  A customer can’t do that if prices are not properly displayed. 

And quite honestly, as a customer who wants to support a small local retailer, I do not like walking around in a store where products that catch my attention have no price tag. 

That might be a marketing strategy toward an impulse buy or blind purchase, but I’m not that customer. Sadly, I am less likely to support that small local retailer.

A possible backward step

My third and final whine is about what I consider a backward step for some craft brewers. A few craft brewers are now brewing lower calorie beers and seltzer beverages.

If I remember correctly, many craft brewers started their breweries to provide a distinct alternative to big breweries and their lightweight beers. Quite honestly, I’m disappointed at this move toward lighter beers and seltzers. It appears so counter to the initial purpose for brewing craft beers.

In my mind, this move is about money, and maybe survival. 

During this COVID-19 pandemic, craft brewers across America have been forced to be very creative in adjusting how they continue to get their product into the hands of the public. I admire the brewers determination in this extremely difficult environment.

Yes, I am a rapidly aging old geezer. I will probably spend the days I have left on this earth finding things to whine about.  But in my mind, the craft brewing industry is worth the whining. 

The last thing on earth I would want to see is a craft beer commercial from Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada that takes the path of an old Miller Lite ad.

What the craft beer movement has carved out is an incredible story. That story deserves the opportunity to continue to grow.

I know craft brewing is labor intensive with huge financial risks. 

I know there is lots of data out there about craft brewers and their consumers. 

I doubt if much of that data pinpoints beer whiners. 

But, what craft brewers have to realize about data is that there are people in that data. And who knows the people in your data might just help craft brewers figure out what lies ahead.

Listening might be a dying tool for learning.

I think craft brewers have always been very good at learning, adapting, and taking risks.

What might craft brewers and their industry learn about themselves and their customers, including the whiners, with a little listening?

Who knows maybe there is  growth in listening?

Craft brewers who take the time to listen will learn there is a demographic in their customer base who is just as passionate as they are about craft beer.

It is like a principal seeking out the quietest teacher in the school  building for advice. That quiet teacher hears and sees a lot in that daily action. Sometimes quiet teachers offer helpful wisdom and practical ideas.

Maybe, the same might be said for quiet beer whiners.

A quiet Oktoberfest beer on a pretty September afternoon photo by Bill Pike

A move with the water walker

It was a carefully calculated decision. There were risks at every angle.

But, sometimes risks must be taken. 

Early in July of 2019, our oldest daughter, Lauren, her husband, Doug, and their two children said goodbye to their Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. Cary, North Carolina was their destination.

A lot can happen in a year for a young family. Transitions are always interesting. 

In this case, Lauren and Doug did their homework and did everything they could to embrace this bold move.  Cary and Raleigh were good for them.

And here we are a year later, and they are on the move again.

During the year in Cary, Doug was in the process of gradually shutting down his business while searching for a job. An electrical engineer by training, he pursued a number of options. But, in June of 2020, a company based in Greensboro found him, and offered him a job.

To their credit, Lauren and Doug, never made the move to North Carolina with the idea that one locality would become their home forever. That flexibility is always good to have around when you take a risk.

With the job in place, house hunting in Greensboro started. There were lots of multiple viewings on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Raleigh helped out with child care.

Gradually, they found a house that met their needs, and their offer was accepted. Inspections, closing dates, securing a mover, and packing all started to unfold. 

Once we knew the moving date, the Commander Supreme committed us to help out. So on Wednesday, September 9, we left for Greensboro. We drove two cars loaded with an assortment of items for the new home. 

We decided to take the back way down instead of the interstates. Patterson Avenue to 288, and then our navigator, Nigel, with the British accent, lead us through an assortment of backroads in southern Chesterfield County and the edge of Amelia County to U.S. 360. 

We followed this to South Boston, where we picked up U.S. 58. We stayed on 58 until Danville. There Nigel put us on U.S. 29 south until he directed us to an exit in Guilford County. More backroads until we were in Summerfield. 

Nigel’s directions were perfect, and we arrived at the new house. We found the hidden key, scoped out the house, unloaded the junk, and headed to Cary.

When we walked in the house in Cary, you knew a move was in the works. The main clue was the upstairs playroom. 

Nothing had been packed away. Toys everywhere, but there was a reason. Toys are the last thing to be packed during a move. Keeping the toys around to the last minute prevents a mutiny.

Thursday morning, the movers arrived on time. And of course summer was being summer, warm, high humidity, muggy, uncomfortable. But, this crew quickly set up to start loading the truck.

Mid-morning, our son-in-law drove a load of stuff to the new house. Lauren, the Commander, and the kids had an escape plan. I had a list of chores to complete so I stayed at the house.

Around 3 that afternoon, the truck was stuffed. The crew sealed it up, confirmed the arrival time in Summerfield on Friday morning, and drove off.

The Commander and I stayed at Elizabeth’s house Thursday night, and Lauren, Doug, and the kids camped out in their new house.

Friday morning came quick. Within  minutes of our arrival in Summerfield, the moving truck arrived. Once again, the crew wasted no time in their set up, and the unloading started.

We all had chores that also included some playtime with Caroline and Hudson.

This two man crew of movers really hustled. Shortly after 2, they were finishing up the items coming off the truck.

With the movers gone, the real unpacking started. Gradually progress was taking place.

By the time the Commander and I started back to Richmond on Saturday afternoon, the kitchen was really starting to come together along with the bedrooms.

At some point during this North Carolina visit, I caught a glimpse of a window sticker on the back glass of a vehicle. We were stopped at an intersection. As I was waiting for the light to change, I saw and read the following sticker: My life guard walks on water.

Clearly, this was a reference to the Bible story when Jesus walked on water in front of his disciples.

Moving is quite simply a pain. Even with professional movers to help, moving creates stress.

I have thought quite a bit about the timing of the move by Lauren and Doug from Chicago to Raleigh. It seems to me that the life guard who walks on water has been involved all along.

His touch is evident. 

At the right time, the condo in Chicago sold.

At the right time, Doug found the rental house in Cary. A preschool, a church, a pediatrician, a job offer, and a new house were in that mix too.

But, I keep coming back to one event.

In late February, our youngest daughter made an extremely emotional and difficult decision. She decided to end her engagement. As soon as she communicated her decision to Lauren and Doug, they were there for her. 

During those challenging days and weeks, Lauren and Doug with love, respect, and patience supported Elizabeth and her decision.

I am convinced that the life guard who walks on water was in all of this.

On those days, when my faith is doubtful, my hope is bleak, and no solution is within my reach, I’m going to remember the move from Chicago. 

And, I’m going to think about timing.

Without question, the water walker was in that timing. 

Pieces of the puzzles of life came together and connected in a way that I couldn’t see or predict.

So, what have I learned?

Oh me of little faith has learned—don’t doubt the timing and the skills of the water walker.

The truck in Cary photo by Bill Pike

“You Still Believe In Me”

Read Psalm 100

If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.  Job 9:16 (NRSV)

Thought For The Day

The capacity to endure is in believing and trusting.

Much has been written about the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. This collection of songs was a departure from their normal tunes about the culture of surfers.

While the band’s trademark vocal harmonies remained, the instrumentation, chord structures, and lyrics were quite different on Pet Sounds

These songs composed by their leader, Brian Wilson, were remarkable, and the lyrics from Tony Asher were an introspective match.

One song, “You Still Believe In Me,” asks a challenging question in the relationship between a young man and young woman. The young man asks—“And after all I’ve done to you, how can it be, you still believe in me?”

That same question often runs through my mind. How is it that through the disappointments and frustrations I have put the good Lord through that he still believes in me?

In a similar way, Job (9:16) probes: “If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.”

Clearly, there are times when Job’s statement matches my thinking.

But, I need to realize that no matter how much I put the Lord through, he does not give up on me. 

His foundation of love, grace, trust, hope, and forgiveness can’t be shaken. 

There is an enduring harmony in his foundation.

That harmony holds me with this truth—he still believes in me, and I must believe in him.

Prayer:  Father of us all, no matter what we face, endure our hearts to trust that you will still believe in us and we in you. Amen

Prayer Focus: Musicians and songwriters

By Bill Pike edited and submitted to the Upper Room on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

October 10, 2019 notified by the Upper Room this piece was being held for consideration.

August 31, 2020 notified by Upper Room this piece was no longer being considered for publication.


In September of 1979, I was scared.

I had accepted a job to teach English to tenth and eleventh grade students at Hermitage High School in Henrico County, Virginia.

Since the fall of 1975, I had been a Title VII remedial reading teacher at Martinsville Junior High School in Martinsville, Virginia. 

Making this transition was going to be a challenge. And to tell you the truth, I was scared, really scared. 

The faculty and staff at Hermitage could not have been nicer.  The English department was very supportive and patient with me.

My curriculum in Martinsville had been a single, pre-planned IBM reading program.

 At Hermitage, I would have more homework than my students in prepping for tenth and eleventh grade classes everyday. I used all my waking hours to read and plan, and gradually, grading papers would be woven into that mix.

Interestingly, those tough students in Martinsville had given me an essential gift—classroom management. The discipline lessons learned in my Martinsville classroom helped me transition into my new environment.

Everyone kept telling me, just make it through this first year, and next year will be better.

Somehow, I made it. 

I have always felt the American literature textbook used for our eleventh grade students helped me survive.

That book reconnected me with America. In fact, I so cherished this collection of literature that I kept a copy of it.

The editors arranged the textbook into five sections:  Examining Inner Struggles, Observing Human Frailties, Crying Out For Justice, Celebrating Independent Spirit, and Probing Values. They used fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and excerpts from longer works of literature to probe their five topics.

My soul was touched. 

James Thurber made me laugh. Richard Wright formed tears. Louis Untermeyer’s piece on Susan B. Anthony gave me perspective. And Phyllis McGinley’s poem “Eleven O’Clock News Summary” captured radio news as a war weary citizen listened closely to a broadcast before trying to find sleep.

But, the work of one writer, Reginald Rose, still remains with me. Mr. Rose wove together a powerful television drama— Twelve Angry Men. These twelve men are jurors in a murder case. They must decide the fate of a nineteen year old young man who is accused of killing his father.

Reginald Rose’s career as a writer for television carried him from the 50s into the 80s. He was a much sought after writer, and Mr. Rose actually wrote for each of the three major networks. Twelve Angry Men was his best known play, and it was made into a movie. Mr. Rose based his play on an actual experience he had serving on a jury.

As Twelve Angry Men begins, in the jury room, the twelve men are seated. To get their assignment started, the foreman asks for  an initial guilty or not guilty vote. That first assessment found eleven votes for guilty and one not guilty. 

The one hold out, Juror #8, is the protagonist. Jurors #10 and 3 are the antagonist. Essentially in that jury room, every piece of evidence and testimony is revisited. Emotions and tension run high as jurors clash. Juror #8 holds firm to his pursuit of fairness, and Juror #10 bitterly counters every point. 

In the last act of the play, Juror #10 has a meltdown. His bigot attitude spills out:  “Look you know how those people lie. They don’t know what the truth is. That’s how they are. You know what I mean—violent! Human life don’t mean as much to them as it does to us.”

Slowly, the other jurors stand. They move away from the table and turn their backs on Juror #10.

Finally, Juror #4, appalled at Juror #10’s outburst, stands over him. The room is quiet. Juror #4 tells him:  “I’ve had enough. If you open your mouth again, I’m going to split your skull.”

Rose gives us no indication that Juror #4 could be pushed to utter such a threat. But, Juror #4 was disgusted.

And as unsettling as the words from Juror #4 were, here is what is scary to me—that play first aired on American television in 1954. 

Here we are 66 years later, and we are still wrestling with people in our country who think like Juror #10.

Bill, Bill, Bill, my friend, this is a Hollywood script. You know Hollywood. 

Yes, I know it is a Hollywood script.

But, if Reginald Rose was sharp enough to pick up on that mentality in 1954, we should be sharp enough to realize that sadly, the thinking portrayed by Juror #10 hasn’t left us. 

What is even more sad is this—that thinking today is dividing us— dividing us in ways that might never be repairable.

Why is that? 

Why are we so slow to learn, to adjust, to change?

Why can’t we let go and build ourselves new hearts?

When will able to say to people who are so full of hatred, racism, and bigotry —that’s enough?

In Jeremiah 33, verse 3, the Lord says:  “Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Lord, I’m calling, e-mailing, texting, to you. I need you to tell me these unsearchable things that I do not know.

I don’t think we can keep living like this down here. I know you have your hands full up in the blue yonder. 

Or maybe you don’t.  

Maybe, you are counting on us to figure things out down here on our own.

Maybe, your thinking is I have guided them enough, by now they ought to know.

What is it we ought to know Lord? That is why I’m bugging you.

Ok, Bill, here goes.

When you first started writing this post you stated that in 1979 you were scared.

And guess what, Juror #10, and anyone in your world today whose behavior is like his—is scared too.

Yes, that hatred, racism, and bigotry is all grounded in fear.

A fear that is grounded in misinformed history, lack of education, lack of understanding, and a temporarily lost heart.

You want to say enough. I want you to say enough.

But ask yourself this question, “How did you overcome being scared at Hermitage High School that first year?”

Here’s what I recall. 

You worked hard, you accepted help from the people who surrounded you, and you don’t know this, but people prayed for you.

Being able to say enough to all of the challenges in front of your country will require hard work.

 It will require you and everyone around you to relearn the lost art of working together, and this will require surrounding people who we do not understand with help, support, and love.

And somewhere in there, you need to pray.

In the final act of Twelve Angry Men, Juror #9 states:  “It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone.”

I am certain that Juror #8 was scared when he was the only vote for not guilty when the play started. He stood alone.

And, I am certain Juror #10 was scared in a different way. By the final act, his values had been exposed.

Sometimes the courage of our convictions are in conflict. 

When this occurs, it is incumbent upon us to do difficult work just like the jurors in the play. 

This real life we are in requires the same of us. 

We must do the difficult work.

That is the only way we change scared and lost hearts.

My new friend in 1979 photo by Bill Pike