Get out the hair volumizer..I’m back on TV this weekend!

One of the great things about my job at Canada AM was the opportunity to travel across this great country many, many times. As you likely know, those journeys’ took me to all ten provinces and 3 territories over the course of my career at AM. And not just a visit here or there, but hundreds of remotes from all corners of this land. I really had a ‘one of a kind’ job, simply because no one then, or now for that matter, was doing what Canada AM did. I had the unique opportunity to put the ‘Canada’ in Canada AM by showing off this country and giving Canadians a chance to see how other Canadians live, work and play. But we know things change, and with today’s current monetary landscape in the broadcast world, and the way mornings are being reshaped, I doubt the kind of adventures I had will ever be repeated.

One of the perks of all that travelling was meeting great people and learning about new places and things which I otherwise would never had found out about. Another perk was being invited back of many of these places to help out in charity events, something I’ve always great grateful to be invited to and more than happy to help.

Saturday Decebmer 3rd marks the 53rd edition of the Christmas Daddies Telethon in the Maritimes, broadcast from CTV Halifax throughout the Maritimes and now a days, with the beauty of ‘time-shifting’, much of the country can tune in if they chose, and many Maritimers ‘living away’, certainly do just that. The goal has always been simple, to raise money to ensure everyone in the region has the best Christmas possible. Since it’s inception in 1964, they’ve raised 28.5 million dollars. The day is a real Maritime tradition.

My first experience with “Christmas Daddies” was in 1999 when I was asked to join in the Halifax presentation. While the current Halifax production comes from the CTV Halifax studios, back then it was telecast from the Rebecca Cohn Theatre at Dalhousie University. It was my first experience with any type of telethon, and I enjoyed my limited role while just absorbing and taking in the whole production.

For years, there was one ‘Daddies’ production done from Halifax and the people of Cape Breton had their own show originating from the CTV studios in Sydney. In 2000, I was invited to come and take part in the Sydney production, and that, my friends, was a revelation. I spent the next five straight years in Sydney and was greatful to be invited back each time.
It was like doing a show from your basement rec room with some of the greatest musical guests ever. In those five years, between 2000 and 2004, the likes of Gordie Sampson, Bruce Guthro, Natalie McMaster, Michelle Wright, Valdy, the Barra MacNeils, Matt Minglewood, J.P. Cormier, Jessie Cook, Damhnait Doyle and a host of spectacularily talented Sydney musicians led by award winning producer Fred Lavery made the Sydney show rock from start to finish. And the people of Cape Breton responded. It wouldn’t be uncommon for the Cape Breton portion to raise anywhere from 170 to 210 thousand dollars yearly in my time there. I was always knocked out by those numbers, because in the early 2000’s it wasn’t the easiest of times in the region. Unemployment numbers were high. But no one seemed to care. The spirit of sharing has always been alive and well in Cape Breton as I so quickly learned. It’s one of the things I love about the place.

My December 2000 visit to Sydney to do the telethon was my first ever visit to Cape Breton. I got off the plane when I arrived on the Saturday before the event, and it was cold and snowy and wet and miserable. I thought, ‘what have I gotten myself into’? I got to the hotel, and went to a reception being held for the crew that would run the television production the next day. I didn’t know anyone. Long story short, two hours later, we’re at Smooth Hermans, it’s a party, the music is blasting and we go who knows where after that. The live music scene was vibrant and great, and I immediately had about 20 new life long friends! We did the telethon the next day, and it was followed by a wrap party that featured all the musical guests from the show, playing at the party! By the end of my first visit to Sydney I was hoping to get snowed in so I could stay longer!

After 2004, and five straight years of the best time you can imagine with some of the greatest people you can imagine, life and other things always seemed to get in the way of a return. But in 2010, I made it back for my 6th appearance in Sydney, and well, as you can imagine, it was like I never left. Another great production and another outpouring of support from the good people of Cape Breton.

In 2011, the Sydney portion of the telethon was amalgamated with the Halifax show and went from being it’s own 7 hour production to one with several ‘cut-ins’ each hour. Oh, they still rocked in Sydney, but without their own show, the historical high numbers well over the 200 thousand range have been scaled back, but last year, the Sydney portion of the show accounted for over $92,000 of the $468,000 raised.

Last year, I was invited to join the gang at CTV Halifax for the telethon, and had a great time. I will say however, I felt like I was ‘cheating’ on my friends in Sydney, who sent me down a nice little Cape Breton ‘care package’ to wish me good luck.

But earlier this year, I got a call from Mary Murphy, who has run the Sydney show since I’ve been involved, and who clearly is one of those people that it’s impossible to say ‘no’ too! And I didn’t. So on Saturday, Dec. 3rd, exactly six months after signing off on Canada AM, I’m going to be back on TV as one of the hosts of the Sydney portion of the Christmas Daddies telethon. The show airs from 11am to 6pm Atlantic time and I not only hope you’ll tune in, but more importantly, if you can, help out with a pledge. That will make my day.

On Twitter: @jeffhutcheson
Instagram: jeff.hutcheson

For details on my Scenic Canada River Cruise next November on the Mekong River, with airfare included and a free night in Hong Kong..check here.. https://www.scenic.ca/jeffvims

Representation: Dan Champagne
Danchampagne03@gmail.com
613-447-5543

Advertisements

Reposting…If the pieces fit, we’re done!

It has come to my attention that this post, originally published back in June, no longer appears beneath the title. I’m not sure why. I’ve tried to update the page several times. Since this post is significant in the demise of Canada AM, I still wanted it on the record, and so am reposting here today..

—–

It’s been a week since the last show, and I’m not sure if my first week of retirement went fast or slow. I’ve certainly been overwhelmed at the continuing well wishes sent our way. They are very much appreciated and I can assure you I am doing my best to read every comment and every tweet. Yesterday was a much needed golf day for me with my friend Dave MacNeil, and it’s always great to have a friend who is a member at Kitchener’s Westmount Golf Club..one of the best in the land. I had dinner with two of my kids after the round, and they informed me that ‘they’ are getting calls asking what happened to the show, so I know feelings run deep in many places about Canada AM. Many of you have suggested in your comments about this blog that writing it must be therapeutic, and I hadn’t given that much thought until I read it, and I agree. I will be blogging about many things as time goes on, but I feel I owe it to our loyal audience to share what I can about why you don’t see us anymore.

That brings me to this. Six ‘hints’ over the past several months, that when put together, allowed the staff to figure out our time was up.

Back in March, I was told that Kelsey McEwen of CTV Morning Live Calgary would be coming in to train with me to fill in when I was away on vacation the week of March 21st. Here’s why that raised a red flag. Canada AM had gone through a series of deep cuts in the past several years, and my weather replacement had pretty much always been Anwar Knight or Denise Andreacchi. They worked in the building for CTV Toronto, liked do the show and our viewers liked when they filled in. So when Kelsey was flown in from Calgary to train, and then flown back in a week later to do a week of shows, it just seemed that was an odd thing to do, given the cost, and local ease of replacement. It was certainly a move Canada AM wouldn’t have made if we were still in the news division, because the money wasn’t available. I remember asking Kelsey what her connection was to our new boss and she said she didn’t have one, except for the fact she had appeared on “The Social” explaining ‘El Nino”. So that was telling and I knew they were giving her a ‘look-see’. Kelsey was named the weather host for the new CTV morning show three months later.

The second hint. It had been decided I would do a series of remotes from some of my favourite places as a ‘farewell tour’ for my impending retirement. Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. John’s, Lunenburg and PEI were selected and we mapped out the dates so that the PEI show would be last. A nice touch since that’s where I was going to permanently move when the show ended. Then one day, our producers were informed that the PEI show would have to be done before the end of May. No reason was given, but there had been a lot of planning put into these remotes and the order, and now, all of a sudden PEI was taken from the week of June 6th, and moved to May 28th, with Lunenburg falling on the 31st. At this point, in mid-April, we were not aware of impending changes, but our producers were well aware that the CTV Fall Launch was the same week in June as the planned remote. It was a red flag to them, because they realized this remote had to be done before the ‘Fall Launch”. Our show was cancelled 5 days before the Fall Launch.

The third hint. On Wednesday April 27th, Anne Marie Mediwake announced she was stepping down as co-anchor of CBC Toronto’s supper hour newscast. Anne Marie had cut her teeth at CTV in the early 2000’s on a companion show to W5 called 21c. It was a W5 for Gen X. She later moved to Global and then the CBC. She is bright, articulate and very talented, and on April 27th, she dropped out of sight. This immediately raised alarm bells with our staff. At this point in time, many of us thought Canada AM would be expanding the host base (not eliminating) and since there was nothing but silence from the Mediwake camp, speculation was ripe. Exactly six weeks later, Anne Marie was named co-host of the new CTV morning show.

The fourth hint. On Tuesday May 4, news gossip website “Frank Magazine’ tweeted that Ben Mulroney was going to take over Canada AM beginning in September, with ‘co-hosts’ to be named, and that ‘Jeff Hutcheson was toast’. Well since people at CTV knew a year prior I was leaving, it was no scoop that I was going to be “toast”. In fact I announced my retirement to our viewers the next day. But the Mulroney part of that tweet certainly caught our attention. While ‘Frank’ can be considered a media ‘gossip’ website, they have certainly nailed things in our business in the past. The Mulroney rumor had been around our office for quite some time, and now it was ‘out there’. Ben Mulroney was named co-host of the new CTV morning show on Monday.

The fifth hint. Complete silence, and I mean complete silence on who my replacement was going to be. As the months and weeks got closer to my, then, June 17th retirement date, we all began to wonder who would be doing the weather on June 20th. This would have been the first day of the show after my retirement. I asked both Anwar and Denise if they had been contacted about doing the weather on that date, and dates after I left and they hadn’t heard a thing. The staff, now in complete bewilderment about what was happening and what the future would hold, also were curious as to who my replacement would be. On Wednesday June 1st, when a staff meeting was called for after the show on June 2nd, they knew they would finally get some answers. The show was cancelled during the June 2nd meeting.

The sixth hint, and the one where staff knew the end was near. Canada AM would produce many ‘taped’ pieces. These were segments done to run on the show, but taped outside the studio, sometimes with a host and sometimes as just an interview. Paul Hughes had been the producer for both my Newfoundland remote and the PEI remote. It’s a herculean task to produce just one remote, and Paul did two in a week. But after the PEI remote on Friday May 28th, he had to rush back to Toronto, because he was told a taped piece he had produced that was currently ‘sitting on the shelf’ ‘HAD’ to run before the next Friday, which was June 3rd. This not only raised a red flag with our staff, but set off alarm bells, warning buzzers, sirens, fog horns, you name it. They knew it was trouble. On Friday June 3rd, a day after the second of the two part series ran, the show was cancelled.

These hints certainly look neat and tidy all lined up as above. I outlined in an earlier post we knew change was coming, so when these seemingly little things happened at the time, their importance became exaggerated greatly as we looked for something, anything that might hold a clue to the future.

So, it’s the weekend, and I’m going to take a little blogging break of a day or two, and just a reminder that Marci has tweeted she will be guest hosting on “The Social” on June 21st and Bev should be back on the air on Newschannel sometime in the next week. I miss them both greatly.

Twitter: @jeffhutcheson
Instagram: jeff.hutcheson
Representation: Dan Champagne
Danchampagne03@gmail.com
613-447-5543

How I sort of, apparently, almost worked for TSN..maybe.

The leaves are raked and lawn mowed for the final time. The gardens are put to bed for the winter. The lawn furniture is put away, the gararge straightened around and summer necessities including the golf clubs have been moved to the basement. The Christmas lights are up and tested, BUT NOT ON. And, because all of that is done, I’ve had a little time to ‘graze’ around the TV dial lately, something I haven’t done much of in the past six months.

Last week I was watching “CTV News at 5” on CTV Atlantic in Halifax. This is actually my ‘local’ CTV station as PEI only has a CBC station on the Island. This show began in September of 1982 as “Live at 5”, and was the first 5pm newcast in the country, and, the first daily local newsmagazine produced in the country. It was ahead of it’s time then and has remained current and relavent ever since. Legions of viewers have watched this show since it’s inception and it maintains spectacular ratings. A who’s who of hosts and anchors have manned the ship. After Bellmedia took over CTV and rebranded all of their stations as “CTV ( Toronto )” for example, “Live at 5” was also rebranded to it’s current name in 2012, but is still referred to by many as “Live at 5”.

Last week as I was ‘grazing’ around, I stopped in and caught one of the current hosts, Maria Panopalis, the other is Jayson Baxter, interviewing two former hosts, Nancy Regan and Paul Mennier. Nancy spent from 1988 until 2003 anchoring ‘Live at 5″ and Paul was with the show from 1983 to 1997 in a sports, and later, in an anchor role. It was the expected ‘love-in’ but that was a good thing. Nancy and Paul looked like they could up and host again right now, and because of the format of the show, the segment had lots of ‘breathing room’ allowing viewers an extended amount of time to catch up with the two former hosts, who had spent 15 and 14 years repectively on viewers TV’s. Certainly a ‘where are they now’ segment, and a good one.

Back in 1988, I have written in this space how I was the Bobsleigh and Luge Commentator for CTV at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Among the many fellow broadcasters I met during this experience, was a guy about my age from ATV ( now CTV Halifax ), by the name of Paul Mennier. He was also tabbed to be a commentator by CTV, and by the end of the games, and because of the nature of the games, we knew each other well enough to say we knew each other.

Back in the late 1990’s, a couple of guys I worked with in Kitchener at CKCO-TV, now, CTV Kitchener, headed west to work for Craig Media at what was known at the time as A-Channel. Chris Duncan and Jim Haskins had long been friends of mine and occasionally I’d make my way west to visit. Jim, who is now GM at Global Halifax, was hired as station manager at this new channel, and Chris, who is now with Shaw in Alberta, the news director. On my first visit out, Chris and I headed out for a beer after he was finished work with the stations’s new anchor, from the east, Paul Mennier.
So, on a few visits I had a few beers with Paul and friends.

Fast forward to November of 2001. I’ve been at Canada AM for three years. I was invited to dinner at Scott Moore’s house. Scott is currently with Rogers as President of Sportsnet and NHL Properties. At the time in 2001, he was heading up CTV Sportsnet, which was soon to become Rogers Sportsnet as CTV had recently acquired TSN. He went on to run CBC Sports, before making his way to Rogers. Back in 1988, Scott was also at the Calgary Olympics as a producer, and he was also a producer for TSN, which, in 1988, had just turned four.

It was during this dinner with friends that Scott let me in on a little secret. Some 13 years earlier, he had ‘noticed’ my work for CTV at the Calgary Olympics, and thought I would be a good fit at TSN. So much so that he reached out and made a job offer, which was turned down. But not by me. It seems that Scott, at the time, though MY name was Paul Mennier, and offered him the job, which he did not accept.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Scott had not gotten his names mixed up and offered me the job. At that point I was four years away from even being thought of at Canada AM. And, in 1988, I had already been working in sports in Kitchener since 1976. I think I would have jumped at the chance. Having said that, in the end, I’m glad Scott did mix us up. I think I had a longer career at Canada AM than I would have had at TSN, because I think my ‘shelf life’ would have been shorter there. You don’t see too many 60 year old, or even 50 year old sports people these days. I retired at 62, had an unforgetable career, traveled far and wide and met many thousands of Canadians, worked with the greatest people and most important to me, had a very meaningful and fulfilling career.

So, all this to say, thank you Scott! You’re mistake was certainly my good fortune!

On Twitter: @jeffhutcheson
On Instagram: jeff.hutcheson

Info on my Scenic Cruise on the Mekong Nov., 2017: https://www.scenic.ca/jeffvims

Representation: Dan Champagne
Danchampagne03@gmail.com
613-447-5543

Tim, Garth, Pete and the Bee Gees..

For as long as Canada AM existed, we played host to some of the biggest names in music whether it was just an interview or full blown music set. The list of names is both impressive and long…very long. Adele, Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Diana Krall, Anne Murray, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Bill Wyman, Paul McCartney, Michael Buble, Elton John, Lady Antebellum, Paul Anka, Stevie Wonder, Train, Drake, Shawn Mendes, Chicago, Earth Winds and Fire, Doobie Brothers, Jessica Simpson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rod Stewart, Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, Great Big Sea, Colin James, Johnny Reid, the cast of Jersey Boys and well, the list goes on and on and on and many of these names appeared on the show several times over the years. Like I said, some came and played, some came and just talked, and sometimes, we had to go to them.

The job of travelling to interview someone, be it political or entertainment, usually fell to the hosts of the show. But, on those occasions where there was a scheduling conflict, I got to make the trip and do the interview. Since I retired, many people have asked me about my most memorable interviews on the show, and my worst, and to be honest with you, it’s been hard to come up with an answer on the spot. The problem is volume. Over my years on the show, the hosts did hundreds, if not thousands of intervierws, and many would fit the memorable mold. While I didn’t do nearly as many, I do have a few favourites in the music realm and sometimes the stories behind the interviews were as interesting as the interviews themselves..well, ok, not quite, but still part of the business of doing them.

My first experience with a ‘superstar’ interview was Tim McGraw. This was back in December of 2000 when McGraw, and his new wife at the time, Faith Hill, were on the 62rd stop of their 65 city Soul2Soul tour in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. McGraw was at the zenith of his popularity and has kept churing out the music in the years since. In fact, the pair just announced another Soul2Soul tour last month, 17 years after the first. The 2000 tour grossed 50 million dollars. So, my assignment was to go down to the ACC on Friday December 8th, at 5.30, to interview McGraw. To be honest, I was well researched, and the interview went off without a hitch, but it was something that happened before the interview that I remember the most. Every ‘superstar’ has ‘people’. Handlers, deflectors, hangers-on, and McGraw was no exception. Our crew had arrived at the location about an hour before the interview to set up. They had placed a couple of stools adjacent to one another for Tim and me to sit on. They lit them and tested their shots. About 5 minutes before the interview, one of the aforementioned ‘people’ a PR person, came in, saw the set up and said under no circumstances was McGraw going to sit down on a stool and do the interview, and don’t even think about asking him to to it. Well. OK. I guess. There was no reason given, but it seemed like the very interview hinged on McGraw NOT sitting down. That was made very clear to us. A few minutes later, another PR person came in with McGraw, introduced him and we directed him to our new ‘standing’ location. McGraw, who couldn’t have been nicer, looked at me and said “Why don’t we just sit on those stools?” And we did.

In March of 2001, I was asked if I wanted to fly to Miami to interview the Bee Gees on the occasion of the release of the album “This is Where I Came In”. I was there representing Canada AM and Bill Welychka from MuchMoreMusic, at the time, was also on the trip. We were flown down by the Bee Gees Canadian record lable as part of the promotional blitz to launch the album, and this certainly was nothing new for Bill who had done these things many, many times, but for me it was a first, and, let’s face it, I was of the generation that grew up with the Bee Gees, so I was excited to get the chance to not only interview them, but meet them in person.

We got to Miami and stayed at a property beside the famous Delano hotel in South Beach. We popped over for what was a $15 beer, (in 2001!) and there, playing billiards in the middle of the bar, was Queen Latifah, who at this time was a major rap and hip-hop artist. She, of course, expanded to become a TV and movie star as well. The morning of the interview we got up and had breakfast at our hotel. I was on a work ‘per diem’, meaning I was being paid ‘x’ number of dollars per day for food. I don’t know why I’ve never forgotten this, but when we finished our meal, the lady from the record company collected all our breakfast receipts when she found out we were on per diem. I know what she was doing, but I just didn’t think she’d be so blantant about it.

We jumped in our rental van for the drive to the Bee Gees recording studio in South Beach. Think very non-descript. In the middle of a somewhat beat up neighbourhood, away from the water, sat the brown single story stucco building the group recorded in. The only way I was certain it was the Bee Gees studio when I got out of the van was by viewing the Bentley, the Boxster and the Rolls parked outside. Once inside, we were taken to their studio and a few moments later in walked Barry Gibb. Larger than life. Couldn’t have been nicer. He introduced himself to all of us, including the crew and said if anyone wanted a photo he’d be happy to do it. Alas, this was the era of non-camera phones and no one had a camera. Robin and Maurice came in shortly after, and were just as welcoming. Here’s the thing about this interview. This was the 22nd studio album produced by the group, and their last as a group. They had sold over 220 MILLION records to this point, yet they answered all my questions like it was the first time they had ever heard the question! It was very impressive. My take-away from the interview was Barry saying that this album, “This is Where I Come In” would have been the next album they produced and released….had a little something called ‘disco’ not gotten in the way.

In October of 2001, Garth Brooks released the album Scarecrow. It went to number one, and he then took the next 13 years off. We certainly knew about the man and the music as we flew down to Nashville, but nary a word was said by anyone that this would be it for Brooks until 2014. I remember being a little reticent about flying to Nashville for this interview. Just five weeks earlier the world was shocked by the events of 9/11 and everyone was clearly still bruised and on high alert. I had flown a lot for work at this point already, but this was different. The airports were different places, the people flying were different, and conditions were different, it was unsettling. But, like everything, we were picking up and carrying on, and while one Garth Brooks interview meant very little on the larger scale of things, it got me moving again.

We only had a quick overnight in Nashville and I stayed in the hotel right beside the new arena where the Predators where in their 4th season. The next morning we got up and went to a recording studio on Music Row and we sat in a ‘listening’ room just outside a control room. A guy from the record company came in and said he was going to play the first side of the album, and then myself and the other reporter with our group, from CMT, would have a chance to interview Garth. They started the music, and something was drastically wrong. It sounded terrible, like the ‘Chipmunks’ had produced the album or something. The first song ended, and the second started and we thought this just can’t be right. And it wasn’t. The studio guy rushed into the room and let us know the tape was playing back at the wrong speed. No kidding. The only thing missing from my interview with Garth was the beer, because it certainly felt like you were just sitting down and having a beer with the guy. He was that nice. I have a picture of Garth and me somewhere that I should pull out one of these days..

In late May of 2013, I made my way to Stratford Ontario to interview Pete Townshend of the legendary band “The Who”. If you thought meeting the Bee Gees was a bucket list item, meeting this guy was a ‘gold’ bucket list item. He was in Stratford because the iconic festival there was doing a production of his ‘Tommy’, which first hit Broadway in 1993. I prepped and prepped for this interview and didn’t know what to expect. We set up in a small rehearsal studio in one of the Stratford Festival buildings. The PR person from the festival was there and said we’d have about 10 minutes with him. She left to go get Townshend, and what happened next surprised me. In walks a guy who looked like a school teacher. Satchel hanging over his shoulder, sweather and sports coat on, and, all alone. Pete Townshend literally wandered into the room, said hello, asked how we were doing, and 30 minutes later we finished the interview. He couldn’t have cared less about the time, and I only stopped it because I knew we were going to cut this down to about 8 minutes, and put the rest on our website. Like the Bee Gees and Garth Brooks before him, he answered all of my questions like he’d never heard them before. His answers were long and thoughful, and it was actually hard to believe this was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet sitting across from me and not a bean counter from the festival. ( with no offense to bean counters!) For the first time since Garth Books some 12 years earlier, I had my picture taken with a musical guest. It’s a keeper.

Twitter: @jeffhutcheson
Instagram: jeff.hutcheson

Information on my Scenic Tours Danube Cruise..( very few cabins left!)
https://www.scenic.ca/jeffpabd

Information on my newly released Mekong Cruise next November already selling on a new boutique Scenic Boat..
https://www.scenic.ca/jeffvims

Representation: Dan Champagne
Danchampagne03@gmail.com
613-447-5543

Gators, bees and Corkscrewed!

As I sit here and type this I’m looking at my daytimer ( yep, I still have an actual calendar that I write things down in ), and this is how my next 7 days are shaping up. The cable guy is coming today to fix the cable box in the bedroom. Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment. Monday I have a dentist appointment and Tuesday, the city is coming to install a new water meter at the house. In other words, the dreaded November has arrived, and my first ‘five months of retirement honeymoon’ is over… but not before I squeezed in one last golf trip to Florida!

My oldest friend Paul( in terms of years of friendship, not age!) and his wife Susan have a winter home in Venice Florida. They have been after me to come down and visit in the winter since they purchased about eight years ago. But as I’ve stated here many times before, that was always tough for me to do because if I went alone it would mean an extended time away from Heather and with Heather teaching, it was just too tough to escape for a weekend in Florida with kids, hockey and life in general. But now that retirment is here, I have time for these things and took advantage. Heather had to work and stayed home…this time…but I spent the last week in Venice and had to put up with the 29 and 30 degree weather. I somehow managed. We also played golf 5 times in the 6 days I was there.

Paul and Susan have been married 41 years. I was the best man at their wedding. They were, and still are, and adorably act like, high school sweethearts. I have known Paul since grade 9 and he is the one guy from Preston High School that I have kept in constant touch with since we graduated in 1972. Over the years I’ve moved, and they’ve moved, but we visited, kept in touch, played golf and their friendship has been a constant in my life. Invariably, when we get together on an extended trip like this one, conversation over a few beers takes us down memory lane where we reminisce about old friends and foes, and what they’re doing now.
Paul played all star hockey for Hespeler growing up and I was a goalie on the Preston all star team, and I don’t think a visit goes by when I remind him that in all the games between our two teams, he never once scored a goal on me..everyone else apparently did, but I kept him off the scoresheet!

It was great to getaway one last time before the winter to play golf, and play golf we did..cheaply, very cheaply. The rates in Florida are spectacularily inexpensive prior to November 1st, and then they rise again when the onslaught of snowbirds hits in January. We played five times, and it cost less than $120 for four of those rounds, less than $30 a round. My other round was free, but more on that in a minute. Our first day out was to a very nice course called Mission Valley in Nokomis, just outside Venice. Clearly, it’s Florida, and there wasn’t a valley, or even a hill to be seen, but it was a nice track. And it didn’t take long. On the fifth hole we played, there it was, just across a small pond, a four foot gator. That’s a small one, but you still don’t want to startle it and I didn’t even want to go close to it. They warn you at various places around the course with ‘Caution Gators’ signs, but that only makes you scour the lake to see if you can find one.

Later in the week, we played a very nice layout called Sarasota National, and on the 9th hole of that course, we saw a gator..a very, big, gator, just sunning itself beside a pond. I tweeted out a picture of this guy earlier and it was at least 8 or 9 feet. That’s a gator you don’t want to even think about getting close to, in fact Sue was telling the story of how she once saw a gator at this course..eating a wild boar!

When we played at Sarasota National, we were joined by a young man whom we learned was an emtomology graduate from the Univeristy of Nebraska at Lincoln. Just as a friendly reminder, emtomology is the study of insects, and Matt’s speciality was bees. ( notice to Bev if you’re reading this..you might want to skip to the next paragraph!) Matt was in Florida because he works for a company that manages 2/3rd’s of the captive bee population in the U.S. He gets stung 10 times a day in his line of work. I said that his company must have millions and millions of bees, but I was wrong. They control 60,000 hives, each with 30,000 bees. That’s a total of 1.8 billion bees. During the round, we were eating some almonds and he pointed out to us that we wouldn’t be eating almonds at all without bees. They truck their bee population to the almond fields of California during pollination season, and without those bees pollinating the almond plants, the yield would only be 10% of what it is. Interesting guy, interesting day.

Sometimes you lose track of high school friends, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to reconnect with them years later. Such was the case with my friend Phil. A great basketball player and all around athlete at Preston High School, I had lost track of Phil through the process of life.
About 12 years ago, we reconnected at a Big Brothers golf event in Florida and I have seen Phil and golfed with him several times since then. I should also mention here that Phil is another of those that married his high school sweetheart, Irene, and they are also a lovely couple. I had very little knowledge of Phil’s whereabouts, or what he was even doing before reconnecting. Let’s just say Phil is a very successful businessman whom, I learned, has made a lot of right moves. He sold his company and ‘retired’ several years ago, but in Phil’s case retirement meant other opportunities including the Old Corkscrew Golf Course in Estero Florida, just west of Fort Myers. I had heard about this Jack Nicklaus Signature design and was very much looking forward to playing, on what turned out to be the windiest day of my trip. What. A. Beauty. This course has hosted US Open regional qualifying and many NCAA golf events. It winds its way through a wildlife sanctuary and there’s nary a house to be seen, but lots of wildlife, and yes, including gators.

I was told by my playing partners, that whenever I was looking for a ball, to go into the palm frond laden rough club first and to never just look under a bush without a club. Possible snakes, possible who knows what.
On the 16th hole, Paul hit his ball just to the edge of some vegetation at water’s edge. He moved some of it around, club first, and he startled a gator which took off into the water, and, the gator certainly startled Paul who headed for dry land!

I enjoyed this course. It was tougher than a lot of other Florida courses but it was fun to play. At the end of the round, you have an opportunity to purchase a shirt in the clubhouse which says “I got screwed at Old Corkscrew!” I didn’t buy one. But I could have.

I could go on and on about my trip, but the cable guy is here and I’ve got to run!

Follow me on twitter: @jeffhutcheson
On instagram: jeff.hutcheson

For info on my Scenic Tours Danube cruise, with just a cabin or two left..
https://www.scenic.ca/jeffpabd
For info on my Scenic Mekong trip, on a beautiful spacious boutique boat..
https://www.scenic.ca/jeffvims

Representation: Dan Champagne
Danchampagne03@gmail.com
613-447-5543