Have inhaler, will travel

I recently spent a week chaperoning kids from my church at camp. While they are all great, active, healthy kids, what struck me about the experience was that 5 out of 6 had rescue inhalers or allergy medications with them, including my oldest son, Barron.

Hoops
No breathing issues this week at camp despite lots of activity.

For the four-hour bus ride north, they had their iPods and Nintendo DS game systems, but after going over the medical checklist and realizing that we had a lot of potential breathing issues, I was a little nervous.  I needed to make sure they had their rescue inhalers, too.

As it turned out, we didn’t have any problems, and I only know of one incident where an inhaler had to be used.

When did childhood asthma become so prevalent? When did a rescue inhaler become so commonplace?

Naturally, the Centers for Disease Control had answers. According to a 2006 report on the
state of childhood asthma in the United States
, the turning point occurred in the 1980s. From 1980 to 1996, the prevalence of asthma in children ages 0 to 17 years more than doubled, jumping from 3.6 percent of the population to 7.5 percent. It is now hovering around 9 percent or 6.5 million children.

When I was a kid, having to carry an asthma inhaler was a reliable predictor of a child’s athleticism. Now, so many kids have it that a rescue inhaler doesn’t relegate you to the bench. Some of the most active and best athletes retreat to the stands to take a puff when they get short of breath.

The stereotype of the bookish, withdrawn child in glasses sitting on the sidelines clutching their inhaler just doesn’t hold up anymore.

Kickball
Getting kids out of smoggy Atlanta played a big part in helping kids breath easier this week.

I am convinced that allergies and air quality have played a huge role in our own experience with the disease.  In fact, our son was diagnosed with asthma just months after moving to metro Atlanta, and his seems to be both allergy and exercise-induced.  I found it interesting that even with temperatures in the mid-90s all week and the non-stop exercise
that is inevitable in the camp environment, the Cumberland Plateau provided cleaner air than metro Atlanta and produced no asthma outbreaks.

As our understanding of asthma continues to improve you may see even more kids carrying inhalers. The day is coming when a sideline shot of an athlete celebrating a big play will inevitably include a puff on a rescue inhaler.

In the meantime, just be aware that more and more kids are packing inhalers, and breathing isn’t something we can take for granted anymore.

Babyface

Everyone has a beard these days.

OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Most women I know don’t have beards, but bearded ladies are another topic for another day.

I know, I know, facial hair has been popular for a while now, and beards have had many meanings throughout history. Sometimes countercultural, facial hair has meant everything from virility and masculinity to wisdom and intelligence to laziness and uncleanliness.

Brian Wilson
Folks down South might "fear the beard" of Brian Wilson because it's too hot to wear that much facial hair.

Much has been written about that face carpet San Francisco Giants’ closer Brian Wilson wears, and its kitsch is being mimicked throughout the sports world.

Whether you’re a middle-aged suburban dad with a hip quotient of -4  or a 20-something ne’er do well playing guitar in your parents’ basement, the goatee is the go-to choice these days for facial hair.

So what does this mean?

Absolutely nothing. The beard has become so ubiquitous no meaning can be attached to it.
I have to confess I tried wearing a goatee for about six months back in the early ‘90s. I was single without attachment, so I had no one expressing preferences about my grooming. At the time I was affecting this Gen X writer mystique, and I thought some facial hair would somehow add to this. I even had my newspaper column mug shot redone to include the beard. I’m hoping those photos have been destroyed.

I eventually pulled the plug on the whole goatee project after a few months because it was too much effort, and at 24 I decided I wasn’t a goatee guy.

Apparently, men don’t have that hang up anymore.

Lance's gray stubble
Old man and the sea

Last week during my beach vacation I went a few days without shaving. I wasn’t aiming for a look. I was just not shaving. So of course my wife had to capture the image and comment, “Wow, your beard is gray. People who think you look younger than 40 have never seen you with facial hair.”

Ah, now we get to it.

Vanity. I don’t wear facial hair because it makes me look older and unkempt. Others wear facial hair because it accentuates their face or their wives/girlfriends like the look or they feel it gives them an edge visually to distinguish them from the rest of masculinity. There are as many reasons for having a beard as there are types of beards.

Beards no longer make a statement, but I am certain that it won’t be long before beards are used to convey marketing messages. Who wouldn’t look good with a Nike swoosh shaved into their beard? When this happens, remember you heard it here first.

Some beach, somewhere

Southerners don’t just go to the beach anymore. They go to a particular beach.

Carla's toes at Santa Rosa Beach
Carla's view from her beach chair at Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. This year the seaweed washing ashore has affected the visual beauty, but the beach is still the beach.

These beaches aren’t just the popular ones: Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, Hilton Head. In the New South, it is fashionable to go to a boutique beach with its own charming small-town feel.

There are still thousands of people who flock to the popular beaches each year. Clearly the Destins and Panama Citys and Daytonas are still popular, but the trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is how specific everyone is now about where they stay. It has almost turned into a competition to see who can come up with the most obscure beach. I’m beginning to think half of these beaches don’t really exist.

My friend, John, pointed out this trend back at the beginning of the summer when he asked when and where we were taking our family vacation.

Santa Rosa Beach. It’s between Destin and Panama City.”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “Everybody goes to one of those beaches these days. No one says
they’re going to Destin anymore.”

In the weeks that have passed since that conversation, I’ve given this some thought. I believe he’s right. Maybe it’s pretentiousness, maybe it’s pride in finding something we think is relatively undiscovered or maybe it’s rationalization for spending so much money on vacation, but it seems some of us need to go to a smaller beach so we can feel special.

We discovered our boutique beach about 10 years ago. Friends told us about the beautiful beaches in Florida’s panhandle. My wife went online, did some investigating and, voila, we rented a condo in paradise. I knew a little about the beaches of South Walton County from interning back-to-back summers in the early ’90s at The Destin Log. Not as crowded as Destin and Panama City, these beaches, such as Seaside, used principles of new urbanism to guide their development.

30A logo
Doesn't this make you want to go to these special beaches?

So each July we make a trek from Atlanta to Scenic Florida Highway 30A. If you see the little “30A” bumper circle, that’s what they’re hinting at: bragging about their little boutique beach. Another common way to show off your beach is the “SoWal” square, which stands for “South Walton” as in “the beaches of South Walton County.”

Those of you who have discovered these communities of Rosemary Beach, Seagrove, Seaside, Alys Beach, Watercolor, Grayton Beach and Blue Mountain Beach (still haven’t found the mountain) etc., already know the flavor and appeal of a boutique beach.

I have to resist my own snootiness when it comes to my beach vacation. The fact is, there are only so many things you can do at the beach, and people do the same things at the beach no matter which beach it is. Sure, the sand may be a different color and texture or the water may be colder or wavier, but the beach is still the beach.

Maybe I’ll adopt the practice of my children. When asked where they are going on vacation, they say simply “the beach.” Isn’t that all that really matters?

Are we there yet?

Summer road trips have been a part of the Southern landscape since rednecks first discovered their Riviera on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. For nearly as long, parents have been looking for ways to entertain their children in the car on the way to the beach.

We’re just past Independence Day, and my family has already made one long and several short car trips. All the time behind the wheel has me contemplating how kids pass the time in the car in the New South.

When I was growing up, my family made annual treks from Fort Worth, Texas, to Columbus, Ga., to see my grandparents.  Not confined to car seats like today’s kids, my two brothers and I freely roamed the back seats of our family’s station wagons and sedans.

We amused ourselves with books, coloring books and handheld, battery-operated electronic games, which were the new technological rage in the late 1970s. We counted “Lovebugs” and cried out in olfactory offense when we passed a nearby paper mill. We enjoyed egg McMuffins and Whoppers, and occasionally stopped at Stuckey’s when traversing Mississippi.

electronic football
Mattel's Football 2 was our favorite. You could even "pass" indicated by one red blip blinking and moving downfield to another red blip. Highly advanced for its day.

Kids in the New South, spend car trips watching movies, listening to MP3 players and playing handheld game systems like Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP. These game systems allow kids to play interactively in high resolution graphics. Back in my day, we tried to move a red blip past other red blips in a game that sounded like Morse Code and resembled a malfunctioning Internet router more than it did football.

Our 2-year-old son, Carlton, demonstrated a new breakthrough during a recent trip to Tampa. As all 2-year-olds confined to car seats for long periods do, Carlton began to fuss and whine and lose interest in the movie my older two boys watched on our minivan’s built-in DVD player.

My wife clicked away on Facebook on her ever-present iPhone attracting Carlton’s attention.

“I want it!” he whined, arms outstretched.

Tough love isn’t something we practice during long car trips.

Carla handed over her phone, and in just a few seconds we heard Barney singing “The Wheels on the Bus.” Carla and I exchanged puzzled looks. She took the phone away, reset it and handed it back so she could see what he was doing.

Carlton on Iphone
Carlton outsmarts the smart phone.

Unable to read but not immune to good branding, the 2-and-a-half-year-old Carlton scrolled through the apps until he found Netflix. After he hit the Netflix button, he immediately found “Barney & Friends” among the “recently watched” options. He clicked it, resuming Barney in mid-chorus.

I get that kids pick up technology quickly. I get that the iPhone is easy to use. What is a little hard to fathom is how quickly we went from counting state license plates and Volkswagen Beetles to playing DVDs and streaming children’s TV shows on our smartphones.

With one more car trip to go, my faithful readers as my witness, if I hear the words “I’m bored” I’m going to lose it.

Here’s hoping Carlton’s fascination with Barney and friends holds up for a few more hours, and Carla’s data plan doesn’t give out.

Patriotism … with lasers!

We moved to the Atlanta suburbs in March of 2003. When July 4th rolled around that first year, we naively thought we would just take the short, 10-minute drive to Stone Mountain to catch the fireworks.

laser show
Had the Confederacy been armed with lasers,the Stone Mountain Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision may be showing on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

As it turned out, 20,000 other Atlantans had the same idea. The place was packed. We didn’t even get to the gate before turning around and making a mental note to avoid Stone Mountain on any and all holidays, particularly the Fourth.

In 1983, when Stone Mountain first started its laser show, laser technology was fresh and new. Lasers were blowing up death stars and stormtroopers on the big screen and beginning to find their way into Disney parades and sports venues. It only made sense that lasers would augment a fireworks display with colorful animations unleashing emotions in us we never thought possible. Who could have imagined you could draw the devil running from a monster truck on the side of a mountain with a green beam of light?

Now that lasers are so commonplace that we use them to blast our stones, both gall and kidney, and repair our vision, they evidently aren’t impressive enough to carry the whole show any more. The lasers needed some super-charging, so the folks at Stone Mountain Park have spent $1 million updating their fireworks and laser show to include digital, 3-D projection in their new  Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision.

new laser show
More than lasers, the new Stone Mountain Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision turns "the Big Rock" into a 5,500-inch projection screen HD television.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the effect of this newly revamped laser spectacle as turning the mountainside “into the equivalent of a 5,500-inch high-definition TV screen.” I’ve not seen the new show, which debuted Memorial Day Weekend, but reviews indicate it has all of the elements people loved from the original show, only with more graphics and updated music. There are now 10 segments instead of nine, and the show runs a full 42 minutes.

If you are planning to take in the new Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision this weekend, plan to get there early, stay late and get close with 20,000 of your neighbors. The new show promises sweat and patriotism will be dripping from your pores.

I’m so glad Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis aren’t being held back by antiquated laser technology any more. They have definitely joined the New South.

Happy Independence Day!