Hilton Head Monthly: Don Ryan Innovation Center Profile

Here’s the link to the story that appeared in June 2014 Hilton Head Monthly.

Here’s the text

Innovators Wanted

Bluffton’s new-business accelerator helps small companies take large steps

By Tim Wood

Innovation isn’t just about apps or computers.

That’s the message that Executive Director David Nelems is emphasizing as the Don Ryan Center for Innovation begins its third year of operation in Bluffton.

When the new business accelerator first opened in May 2012, the first under the Clemson Technology Villages program, the buzzwords around town were “tech park.”

While bringing more high-tech jobs is still a goal of the nonprofit cooperative between the town of Bluffton and Clemson University, it’s not the sole focus.

“We want innovators, period,” Nelems said. “That’s a big message I find myself spreading around the community. High-tech companies have been our focus, but above all, we’re looking for innovation. If you have an idea that can grow into a regional, national and global business, we want to talk to you.”

The 49-year-old has been hard at work evolving the mission and scope of the center since he took over as its second executive director in August 2013.

The Atlanta-area transplant seems tailor-made for the tall order. He founded his own startup in 1999 with a vision for taking focus groups and broadcasting them over the Internet. His idea took hold quickly, as Nelems worked with many Fortune 500 companies before selling ActiveGroup in 2007.

He came to Bluffton with his wife Janelle in June, more for the lifestyle and to be closer to his son Michael, a sophomore at The Citadel.

“I wasn’t really looking for a job, but when I saw this job description, it’s everything that I did in my former life. It was impossible to pass up,” he said. “I wanted to pass on my years of experience to others and really help a community grow through evolving businesses.”

Companies accepted into the DRCI are put through an 18-month program, helping to evolve ideas into businesses and scale smaller companies into larger operations.

The center has “graduated” eight companies thus far, with seven companies currently working under the tutelage of Nelems and a team of mentors, innovators and potential investors.

“We’re extremely blessed to have so many retirees in this area that have incredible industry experience,” Nelems said. “It seems like every month, we are able to bring more and

ore of these folks into the center, because they want to keep a hand in the game and pass on their learning.”
The range of companies currently involved is impressive. They include:

  • MobiPET, a mobile app that serves as an Amber Alert for missing pets;
  • Surface Scientifics, a company evolving an epoxy coating meant to kill germs and bacteria;
  • CERAS, a company marketing an eco-friendly, rapid-assembly shelter system;
  • Elongator, a tailgate extension system for flatbed trucks;
  • U-Auto-Fixit, a do-it-yourself, full-service repair facility concept;
  • Page 1 Media, a video production company specializing in video search engine optimization;
  • Village Features, a company specializing in 3D rendering services.

“It’s really a wide range of issues and objectives,” Nelems said. “A company like U-Auto-Fixit, he had a great idea and we’re helping him evolve it into a business. Elongator, they want to take the next step and need help figuring out the manufacturing part of the business. Whereas a company like Village Features, they’re an established company that is trying to figure out how to scale the business. So we provide tailored assistance for every step of a business.”

Those part of the current class say DRCI, and more specifically Nelems, has been everything they were hoping for.
“I’ve been in the program for a couple months now and it’s just what I was looking for,” said Joshua Hale, founder of Village Features. “I’ve been a one- or two-man operation for a while now. David and the mentors, they’ve helped me get better at what I do, showed me how to run a business effectively, and how to find the right kind of clients with proper marketing.”

Hale, who received his master’s degree from Clemson, said having the university as a resource is a huge bonus. But Nelems was the marquee draw for him to join the center.

“Here you have a guy who has done exactly what I’m trying to do and had great success,” Hale said. “That’s invaluable. I don’t feel alone, he knows all the stresses I’m dealing with and how to tackle them.”

David Ropes, one of the owners of MobiPET, shares those sentiments.

He moved to Bluffton from Connecticut a decade ago after a successful career as an executive for international brands such as Reebok.

He and his partners had a vision but said Nelems and the center have helped with the growing pains of getting a business off the ground.

“I had the brains of someone who helped evolve businesses and managed people. David has that entrepreneurial experience that I lack, and has really helped take us to another level,” said Ropes, who recently worked with fellow DRCI company Page One Media to develop one of its first commercials. “We’ve been testing this product in the area for the past year and DRCI has helped us prepare our business plan to go out and get the seed funding that we’ll need to roll this product out nationally to every vet, clinic and pet boarder.”

The center is currently funded by the town of Bluffton with help from a number of corporate partners. It provides business advice and helps connect the businesses with funding, but doesn’t put any money into the companies or take equity out.

The long-term goal is to become self-sufficient financially, and potentially to even start providing seed money to the center’s companies.

Nelems recently won their first grant, $100,000 from the S.C. Department of Commerce, which will be used to market the center and to grow various programs for both local innovators and area high school and college students. In addition, DRCI will also buy a 3D printer and eventually make the exclusive technology available for public use.

“We’re really focused on bringing the local community into the center, making Bluffton the capital of innovation in the area,” Nelms said.

DRCI has launched a series of successful monthly workshops for the public, focusing on everything from writing a business plan to applying for a patent. Those sessions will resume this fall.

DRCI is working to launch an annual innovation summit, bringing in big thinkers from around the nation to witness and foster success in Bluffton.

“A company or a person doesn’t have to be in the program to get help for us,” Nelems said. “We want to grow this into a resource and a place that fosters folks on the local level to really think big.”

BT Column 7/23: Pizza is Personal and We’re Taking the Failures in Bluffton Personally

Here’s a link to the column:

http://www.blufftontoday.com/bluffton-opinion/2014-07-23/pizza-personal-and-were-taking-all-these-failures-very-personally#.U9BB-oBdUpw

And in case the link goes dead, here’s the words:

Pizza is personal and we’re taking all these failures very personally

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood 

Talk to many folks and it’s one of the most important non-essential decisions in their life.

What’s my pizza place?

That sounds like one of the most absurd statements ever uddered, right? Well, think about it. Pizza is the one food that usually bridges the dietary discussion. Simply put, fat people eat too much of it and my-body-is-my-temple folks usually obsess about it as their reward food.

I have lived in places where rents were literally elevated because the property was within the delivery area of a top-notch pizzeria. Yes, this is a thing. My landlord in New York City made no bones about this being a thing and defended the policy to me for 20 minutes when I questioned him.

A great pizza place is usually recession proof, because no matter what financial difficulties folks have, they can always make room in the budget for a pizza night. Yet, here in Bluffton, the depth of options has risen and fallen with the economy.

As opportunity was abundant and development dollars were free flowing, a bunch of great options bubbled up around the area’s mainstays.

Then, as the economy went south, shockingly, so did our options.

I don’t mean to be stepping on Best of Bluffton territory, but it really struck me to see Napoli close a few weeks back on S.C. 46. So much money and time was put into renovating this building after its former tenant, Badabings, was booted in favor of an owner-operated Italian eatery.

An outside seating area had just been finished. Many I talked to said that Napoli felt too high end for Bluffton, that service was spotty and that the core product, the pizza, was not up to our discerning 29910 standards.

Yet, those are all issues that could be worked out. Instead, Napoli just went poof, gone.

They’re not the first. Monster Pizza was one of my first pizza passions in town. When the initial owners sold and the McCarthy family took over, I hoped this meant that the place had a true long-term future in Bluffton. The pizza was good, the concept was unique, the people were friendly. The location was a little out of the way on Burnt Church Road in an older plaza, but it just felt all felt right.

The outside area around the restaurant was used for family-friendly events, for cornhole tournaments and for watching big sports events projected larger than life on the side of the building.

Then, Monster tried to expand. Some say it was too much, too soon and the result was not only did the Sun City location go away quick, but so did the Burnt Church location.

Upper Crust Pizza was a fixture in Moss Creek, then they jumped ship and took on the former Monster location in Sun City.

Honestly, I can’t keep up with all the movement here, and I’m one of the folks who keeps track of such things.

I loved Jersey Joe’s, first when it was on S.C. 170 (though that was a bit far of a ride to be a regular thing) and then when they were in Buckwalter Place. They had great pizza and they were consistent. It seemed like they had a good regular business, but it wasn’t enough.

Fiddlehead’s, which went into the former Monster spot on Burnt Church, had incredible high-end taste. Another place that went away far too soon.

And yes, I loved Badabing’s. The staff treated my kids like they were princes and they did a stellar job on such a wide array of Italian dishes, it was just always a good night out. And their carryout was consistently strong.

So, I won’t lie, I rarely went to Napoli. Wanted to try it but I was bitter over Badabing’s going away. It’s passing still effected me more than I thought it went, because it’s yet another option gone.

Romeo’s in Kittie’s Crossing was a quiet gem. Small joint, not great for eating in, but the tomato sauce and their baked ziti were heavenly. Gone.

Paulie’s at Berkeley Place left us for the island. The list goes on and on and on, and I know I’m missing plenty.

The margins are small in the pizza business. Building regular clientele is so key. Then there’s the chains. The locals could survive when it was just Domino’s and Papa John’s in town.

Then Pizza Hut opened next to The Pig. That took a slice of the pie.

Little Caesar’s wrecked the local game with its $5 hot and ready. Hey, I love me some Italian Cheese Bread, but I’d always rather go for the local option.

For now, Giussepi’s is seemingly holding its own in its parking-is-awful location at the entrance to Kittie’s Crossing. Their Wednesday madness specials always keep them in our budget rotation.

New York City Pizza lives on next to Kroger. A few of my friends obsess about this place. I don’t get it, but I truly hope they have enough diehards to take a stronghold here in addition to their island location.

Moon Mi Pizza is my current local go-to spot. Great location, fresh ingredients, homey feel. The pizza at Station 300 is the sneaky good option. If you haven’t tried it, you should. And Vineyard 55’s pizzas are a delightful indulgence.

Mellow Mushroom has the formula right, making it work in a very odd spot in the Walgreen’s plaza. A chain that doesn’t feel corporate.

Where does all this history lead us?

If the economy is truly rebounding, we can only hope that means we’ll draw some more pizza pioneers to the area.

Uncle Maddio’s has opened in Savannah. It’s so good and like Mellow, does the chain without feeling like it. Maybe they come here.

I know it’s a volume game to make any money there. And I don’t have the demos and the financials. All I know is what I hear.

And what I hear is we’re dying for more options. They say high tide raises all ships.

Hopefully, it raises some pizza dough as well.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Send him comments and story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com.

Bluffton Today Column 7/16: Could Bluffton Use Youth Curfews?

Here’s the link to the story, published July 16.

Here’s the text

Curfews sound scary, but it’s certainly not a silly idea

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood

Hardeeville’s interim police chief has spread the word that he plans to propose a 9 p.m. curfew for kids aged 17 and younger.

A few friends in the town next door texted me over the weekend and said they were hearing some of these rumblings. Then, The Island Packet reported the story Monday morning, as interim chief Sam Woodward threw a test balloon in the air to see how the public would react.

Well, here’s a reaction, chief: Not only is it a great thing for Hardeeville, but I think Bluffton should adopt the same rule.

Hardeeville already has a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. but Woodward is looking to propose the rule to town leaders soon that would extend it to 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

It’s an age-old saying: Nothing good happens after midnight. And it’s never been truer than in what’s going on in Hardeeville currently.

The police are investigating a string of 15 car thefts in Beaufort and Jasper counties between March and June. Woodward thinks those thefts could have been prevented with an earlier curfew.

That might be a stretch and a way to deflect the conversation away from the fact that the thefts are happening and that crime is spreading in the town.

Nonetheless, the idea holds a lot of merit for both Hardeeville and Bluffton.

Tell me one good thing that happens when tweens and teens congregate without adults at night. You could think for a week and you couldn’t come up with one.

Go to the movies at Cinemark on a weekend night and you’ll likely have to work your way through a cluster of youngsters hanging out in the outside pavilion. Why? They have nothing better to do.

We have done a horrific job of creating family-friendly activities in the Lowcountry. As the parent of 11- and 5-year-old sons, I can vouch for the criminal lack of entertainment options.

Get up to the teens, and the options nearly disappear. No teen clubs, no afterschool hangouts. There is nothing.

The lack of financial attention paid to recreational activities is equally disturbing. While The Boys & Girls Club and Beaufort County PALS do admirable jobs with the resources they have, we as a region are just not doing the things to stay out in front of the demand.

So what are kids left with? Get in trouble online or loiter somewhere they shouldn’t be.

The Bluffton police have bigger issues to deal with at the moment. But this is one of those issues that can creep up on us real quick and turn into a real burden.

I’m not going all “these kids today” on you, but there is a idiocy mixed with a rebellion in today’s children, where common sense is tossed aside at the prospect of doing something crazy that may go viral on YouTube.

I have heard too many stories of busted up mailboxes, random fires started on lawns (yes, I actually put one of those out for neighbors as the kids ran away from their little joke), cars getting keyed and community spaces like pools being vandalized to tell you there’s no problem in Bluffton.

Community watches pay dividends and keep a lot of the after-dark street wandering to a minimum. But as communities grow, the volume of incidents is going to increase.

It would be much easier to pin a lot of the stories we hear to kids being kids, “getting all the stupid out,” as my friend puts it.

Sure, this might fall into excessive policing, but in a day and age where we all want to feel safe in our houses, keeping kids out of harm’s way to make bad decisions is resonating with today’s parents.

But there’s a core concern that resonates just as much in Bluffton as it does in Hardeeville: There is just no point to kids being out past 9 p.m.

The ordinance currently in place in Hardeeville is rarely enforced. The fines aren’t bankrupting anyone — it’s more of an inconvenience and a deterrent than something that is going to turn into a profitable law.

What may save lives in Hardeeville is more of an isolated nuisance in Bluffton. For now.

Make no mistake about it. This is a problem that is brews beneath the surface for a long time. The more we take for granted now, the more we morph into a Hardeeville situation.

I wish we were in a situation where we could let our kids roam until all hours like we did in our youth.

Curfew sounds like such a militant word, but it doesn’t have to be.

Really, when it comes down to it, we’re in a time when we’re being forced to enforce common sense.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com.

BT Column 7/9: Do We Really Need Cursive Writing Anymore?

Here’s the link to the column that ran July 9, 2014 in Bluffton Today.

Here’s the text

When signatures equal budget dollars, they’re just not worth it

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood

It’s tough letting go. I’m not one that’s much for change.

I might have gone in to Blockbuster eight times over its time in Bluffton but it felt like a major loss when it closed. I loved The Pig and wrote the corporate owners to tell them how stupid they were when they closed ours.

And when Badabings suddenly closed on S.C. 46, I swore up and down that I’d never go to its replacement — and then inexplicably proceeded to feel sad when Napoli closed its doors a couple weeks back.

So when the movement began all across the country to get rid of cursive writing instruction in schools, I was crushed. This isn’t a store closing or a new way to fold the bathroom towels. This was major change.

Cursive writing felt like a basic rite of passage that was just the latest victim of our seemingly never-ending need to cut school budgets and play roulette with our country’s future.

Well, for once, I was on the same page as a politician. Gov. Nikki Haley brought back cursive writing in a big way by signing the Back to Basics in Education Act last month.

Beaufort County elementary schools never stopped teaching cursive, but state standards have not required cursive in five years.

Now, instead of just teaching it in second and third grade, there will be guidelines and statewide assessments to make sure students are mastering the writing style.

I appreciate our school administrators fighting for cursive. Good for you, Gov. Haley, right?

Wrong. This whole cursive thing is a waste of time and money. Sometimes, change is good and necessary. It goes against every fiber of my being to say that, but we need to take the emotions out of this argument.

And that’s what this is, folks. This fight for cursive is an emotional reaction. I saw Brian Williams telling me that this basic rite of passage was going away and it felt wrong. You’re taking away my youth. You’re making me obsolete and you’re making my kids into mindless robots.

Step back and think about it. When is the last time you actually used cursive writing? And yes, Sun City friends, I know you’re shaking your head right now. Many of you still write hand-written notes and that’s beautiful and it’s something I want to pass on to my kids because that personal touch means so much more than hitting keys on a keyboard.

But is that worth adding expenses at the cost of other more necessary programs? I would say there was never fat in a school budget, but we are truly at a time when administrators are forced to make “keep this, cut that” decisions that alter our kids’ futures like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

We can’t afford waste, and money spent to teach cursive is waste.

Friends say to me, “How will our kids sign documents?” Oh, the horror.

Have you seen your friend’s signature lately? It’s not cursive. It’s some indescribable lazy mutation of that art.

Technology has evolved that makes that chicken scratch for us. Electronic signatures are becoming more and more the norm and by the next generation, it will be the standard.

So, what else then? Tell me one other thing we use cursive for. There’s nothing.

Listen, that signature might be enough to make the argument. With identify theft running rampant in our world today, it may just be necessary enough to warrant these costs.

I never thought I’d be making this argument. On an emotional level, it bothers me that my 11-year-old doesn’t know how to sign his name. This basic thing we learned in past generations is a relic in today’s world.

This isn’t a popular sentiment, but oddly enough, it’s a stance that county education executives are voicing. That’s how dire our state of funding education is.

We’re forcing educators to argue against long-established basics because they know that in today’s world, any monies spent teaching cursive could be put to better use to promote skills that have long-term real-world application.

This opens up a Pandora’s box of sorts when it comes to these choices. I’d argue that algebra and calculus should be next — and not just because I’d rather eat feces-flavored dirt than ever take another algebra class.

Same argument as cursive — it’s a useless skill for most of society. Once a kid determines he’s going down an engineering/computer science career path, then work that in. But that’s an argument for another day.

I get it. To say cursive isn’t worth it, it somehow invalidates our life experience, makes us feel old and increasingly obsolete.

I’d argue that having the guts to make this decision makes us relevant and responsible guardians of the future.

I take pride that I can have a decipherable signature. That pride shouldn’t be a line item in a school budget.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com.

Hilton Head Monthly: Target the Band feature

Loved talking to Brian Raehm. Hope it came through in the writing for this Hilton Head Monthly July 2014 edition feature.

Here’s the text

Let the good times roll

TARGET THE BAND TURNS EVERY PERFORMANCE INTO ONE BIG PARTY

By Tim Wood

It’s a Tuesday night in Bluffton. The bowling lanes at Station 300 are mildly crowded, a typical lull after the weekend.

But the same can’t be said for the complex’s Zeppelins Bar & Grill. The crowd started to build at 5:30 and by 6 p.m., there was a velvet-rope atmosphere just to get in.

A sell-out crowd of seniors on a Tuesday night? That’s the norm when the headlining attraction is Target the Band.

Brian and Michelle Raehm are in their fifth decade in the business of entertaining people. They’ve travelled close to 2 million miles on the road, but have called Hilton Head Island and Bluffton their home for the past 20 years.

They are joined by long-time collaborator Mike “The Sicilian Song Bird” Carletta to form the musical powerhouse trio that continues to be one of the most popular nights out in the Lowcountry.

“Boy, it’s been a beautiful ride, I’ll tell you that,” Brian Raehm said. “I never thought I’d be happy being tied down and not on the road. But boy, once we came up over the Hilton Head Island bridge the first time, it was game over. We found home.”

Home was originally upstate New York. That’s where Raehm first got together with Michelle Lapaugh to start making music in 1973.

“I gave up my dreams of pro hockey stardom to perform with the love of my life,” he said. “Not a bad trade.”

The group started with fellow musicians Dean Blask and Vinny Esposito and became a veteran of the road very quickly. They achieved fame when their song, “Give Me One More Chance,” became a Billboard soul pick of the week. The record went on to sell more than 100,000 copies.

As the record became a hit from New York to Michigan, the band became a touring force. At the height of their fame, they toured in a 28-foot bus with a three-man road crew and a traveling nanny to help watch their kids.

From New York to Chicago to Las Vegas, the Motown-infused music carried on through 38 states and six countries. At their road peak, they logged 70,000 miles per year.

It’s taken on different members throughout the years – Blask left the band in 1977, Esposito in 1996 – but the constant has always been Brian and Michelle.

“We lived and worked together for 10 years before I finally got up the nerve to ask her to marry me,” Brian said. “It has been an absolutely blessed journey for us. I work with my best friend, I share all these adventures with the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The two grew up with similar roots in New York – both their fathers worked for General Electric, both had tight-knit families and both had music in their soul.

“Michelle has always been the creative one, I was the technical guy, setting up the equipment, booking the gigs,” he said. “Together, it’s been one hell of a pairing.”

They have their separate lives outside of music – Brian’s passion is tennis, while Michelle teaches equestrian at Moss Creek. But when they meet on the stage, it’s magic.

“I can’t remember the last time we fought. Music has truly made our lives a joy,” he said.

Even when tragedy has hit, the music has carried them through. When one of their three children, Matthew, passed away from sudden infant death syndrome at 5 months old in 1986, they were on stage five days later.

“It was more tragedy and trauma than we’d ever suffered,” Brian said. “To get on stage, it was a huge relief and release. It wasn’t our best performance, but it truly helped us honor him and start the healing.”

Home base was always New York until a chance call changed everything.

“The daughter of one of our long-time clients, she was running resorts across the country and she moved to Hilton Head,” Brian said. “They were looking for entertainers. We came down in 1991 thinking it was going to be like some rowdy resort town like Myrtle Beach. Four years later, we knew we had to live here.”

Nine years ago, the Raehms called their long-time friend Carletta, a veteran performer back to their days of growing up in Utica, to see if he’d be interested in joining them down South.

“He had just finished treatment for cancer and the timing was right. He was looking for a new adventure,” Raehm said. “We couldn’t have gotten luckier there. He’s just such an incredible talent on guitar and vocals. He’s used to being the front man and having the guitar riff to end the song, as am I. But we just blended together right away, as if it was 45 years ago.

“I’ve learned more from Mike in these nine years than in any other point in my career,” he said. “He teaches me every day in just his presence and his work ethic. What a professional.”

The trio’s song list is as varied as the band’s history. They tackle everything from the ‘50s classics of Chubby Checker and Sam & Dave right up to today’s hits.

“They did a cover of ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams a couple weeks back and it was just flawless,” said Robert Walsh, assistant food and beverage director at Zeppelins. “They don’t tackle anything halfway. They are so full of personality and harmony, it’s infectious. It’s why we have to take reservations just to get folks in the door on Tuesdays. They are just incredible.”

Raehm appreciates the praise, but he said there’s another secret to keeping the crowds coming.

“We don’t take a break. From 6 to 9 at Zeppelin’s or later at Ruby Lee’s on the island, it’s one big party,” he said. “You take a break, you give folks the excuse to leave. That’s just not in our DNA.”

Raehm said he’d never thought playing 200 nights a year mostly in one place was in his DNA either.

“This place is special. You never feel like a local band. And we’ve seen enough of the road, we know what our accomplishments are,” said the 64-year-old. Indeed, their hit song is seeing a renaissance as a dance-club remix favorite in Japan and Europe, with original 45s of the song selling on eBay for as much as $500.

“It’s nice to be recognized like that, fun to see a Japanese group remaking the song on YouTube, but we’re not chasing that anymore,” he said. “We’re at a point where we’re never embarrassed to truly be ourselves on that stage. With all the different kinds of folks that come here, it never feels like the same show twice. Even the regulars bring a different energy every week.”

The trio will soon head back to upstate New York to play their annual reunion tour in August with Blask and Esposito. But then it’s right back to Zeppelins, Ruby Lee’s and Shelter Cove this fall.

“The warmth of the people down here makes this place feel as close to home as any place we’ve ever been,” he said. “We’ll keep playing as long as they keep coming out. We’ve worked 40 years in semi-retirement, playing three hours a day. We can’t stop now.”

BT Column 7/2: On RVs, cord cutting, kids growing and reserving judgment

Here’s the link to the column that ran July 2, 2014 in Bluffton Today.

Here’s the text

Mailbag time: On RVs, cord-cutting, kids growing and reserving judgment

As you read this, I am likely in serious vacation withdrawal mode after my family spent last week aboard the beautiful Carnival Freedom. It was part work (yeah, I know, some job) and part celebration of Debbie and my 18th anniversary.

Before we boarded the ship, I opened up the Over Medium mailbag. I have been overwhelmed with the response you’ve shown me since returning to the pages of Bluffton Today two months ago. You’ve shared a lot of nice words, some fun memories and asked some interesting questions.

Here’s just a sampling from the e-mailbag.

“How’s life in the RV going? I found that it wasn’t for me, just too much maintenance and not enough fun. We sold ours after about a year.”

— Ron S., Sun City

I won’t lie, we find ourselves constantly measuring the positives and negatives. It was such an ordeal to actually getting to use the RV to begin with, but now that we’ve been out on five trips now, we’re starting to feel like veterans.

This is a rolling house and so, there’s just as many little issues to deal with. Our RV has spent more days in the shop at the dealership than on the road so far. Nothing major, but a lot of minor things that are adding up to a major pain. It has us questioning the decision.

That’s just part of the picture, though. The biggest thing we wanted, that we needed, was to have an escape. It sounds odd, given that we live in a tourist community. But we just let ourselves get too consumed by the work week, to the point that we felt like doing nothing on the weekend.

The RV has forced us to get out and see the region. Even if it’s just going up to Camp Lake Jasper at I-95 Exit 8, it’s still away from the bills and worries of our house life.

So as long as the warranty keeps covering all these issues with the RV, we can put up with the small delays.

The time together with our kids and the space away from home to rediscover there’s more to life than work has been worth the albeit steep price tag so far.

“I read your column and have been thinking of ‘cutting the cord’ like you guys did. Any tips you can give me?”

— Allison R., Westbury Park

If you listen to the news, you’d think the “cutting the cord” movement took a major hit last week when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the business model behind the Aereo basic TV service. But that plan only worked in a few select big cities for now — and no one near us.

My biggest tip is to understand the finances behind the move. Most times, you’re not going to save a ton of money doing this.

You will need a higher-speed Internet connection to make this work. So you’re looking at, on average, a $30 spike in what you’re paying right there. Add in separate $8 per month charges for both Netflix and Hulu Plus and, for some, that might equal what you were paying for cable.

Deb and I already were using a higher-level Hargray Internet plan for work, so that was not a major cost. Plus, we already subscribed to Netflix.

For many I’m hearing from, it’s more about fighting back against “the man” and rebelling against not being able to pick your channels a la carte. On that front, I can tell you that we like the feeling that we’re fighting the monopolies here.

Also, get familiar with torrents and players such as Vuze and Popcorn Time. They give you legal (for now) access to shows you might not get on the streaming services, plus movies you might be missing from HBO and other pay movie channels.

“I read your recent column about your kids growing up. I wish it could get easier, but you’re only through elementary school. The closer you get to empty nest syndrome, the harder it gets. Keep strong, Tim.”

— Mary T., Okatie

I apparently hit quite the nerve with the column and induced a lot of tears, including my wife when she read it.

As much as I love that y’all have loved reading the columns, understand that writing them can be quite cathartic. By sharing those emotions, I was able to pinpoint what was troubling me about time marching on.

Between the RV and last week’s cruise, we have tried to take back control of that clock a bit, just by simply refocusing on the kids.

Deb and I made a conscious choice a decade ago in moving to the Lowcountry from up north. We weren’t going to be big-city commuting parents. We wanted to make sure we were devoting the right time to our kids.

The last few months have simply made us turn the mirror on ourselves and make sure we weren’t letting all the little moments with our kids slip away.

“I’m surprised you haven’t touched on the controversy going on with Bluffton High School wrestling coach John Hollman. What do you think of him being charged with assaulting a female student?”

— Alex M., Bluffton

Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t written about it, either. When it happened, my first reaction was to write about it. I’ve told Lawrence that I was turning something in there a couple times now. But the truth is, in this rush-to-judgment world we’re in, I’m going to let this play out in the courts.

I have been a big fan of Hollman the coach in the past. But I’ve also recognized that he has made questionable decisions when it comes to interactions with students. From what has been reported elsewhere, this situation looks like a series of questionable decisions.

But again, this is in the court’s hands now. No matter how this plays out, I will always appreciate Hollman’s positive contributions to the community. I’m truly hoping this doesn’t play out to be the negative ending it’s feeling like right now.

Thanks to all of you for the great feedback to the column thus far. Keep the suggestions and interaction coming.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas attimmaywood@gmail.com.

BT Column 6/18: On Crime, Law and Order in the 29910

Here’s the link to the column that ran June 18, 2014 in Bluffton Today.

Here’s the text

Unfortunately, crime is too random to be defined by a trend

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood

If there’s one thing I know after 25 years in the journalism business, it’s how to spot a trend.

Editors are always looking for that trend story, and it only takes something to happen twice before we call it a trend, according to some of my less judicious editors through the years.

I remember one paper I worked at in upstate New York during the first big bird flu outbreak in the early 2000s. There were two reports put in to police of people on the same street sneezing and coughing out of control.

Immediately, my editor wanted to do a story on bird flu infecting the city. Could it be happening here? A couple calls later, we found out the neighbors were both on allergy shots and having a real bad time with pollen.

So where am I going with this? A number of readers have written me since I started writing the column again saying, “Boy, things have changed since you were writing regularly. This town is so crime ridden, it’s out of control.”

One wanted me to write a column on how this just isn’t a safe place to live anymore.

So let’s take a look at the facts.

We have had some awful things happening as of late. The Preston Oates trial is making headlines right now, a death resulting from a Christmas Eve argument between neighbors.

We’re mourning the loss of Polly Ann Mitchell, a beloved community pillar in a vicious attack, in May. The senselessness of it all inspires rage. We want answers where there are none.

A Beaufort youngster committed suicide due to bullying. Sun City residents are being scammed out of their life earnings by phone con men.

So I understand the need to label this madness. It’s much easier when we can call it a “crime wave,” the police amp up efforts and then the wave is over and everything is back to normal.

There are things we can do for sure. It’s good to see a task force being formed to fight bullying efforts.

But the vast majority of what we’re seeing around here lately doesn’t add up to a trend, in my humble opinion. I’m not a police officer, I’m simply just zooming out a bit and comparing the decade I’ve been in the Lowcountry.

My wife and I discuss it often. Is this still the place we fell in love with? Do we feel any less safe than we did when we moved here?

We don’t want the real world to penetrate our oasis, but we can’t stop the randomness of human nature.

Does that mean we shrug our shoulders and just put up with it? Of course not. When our neighborhood watch saw too many cars coming and going from a renter’s house up the street, they called in the police.

The place was staked out for a couple days and the police arrested the renters for running a drug house.

It’s alarming to know that on the walk between our house and the elementary school, there were drugs being sold. But it’s equally refreshing that folks cared enough to take action.

Red Cedar went on lockdown this spring when a crime suspect carrying a gun was thought to be on the loose in the nearby neighborhood.

Sitting in the parking lot, waiting to either see my son come out or for shots to start being fired, it’s scary stuff.

In that moment, this feels like the most crime-ridden place in the country. How in the heck could we live here? Put the house on the market tomorrow.

I’m not going to get on my high horse and tell folks to calm down. It’s alarming to see this level of crime and fear hit us so close to home.

All I can say is it’s important to get out of the fishbowl from time to time. I’m fortunate to get to travel around the country and to other countries in my job.

It’s like watching an episode of “Jerry Springer.” I’m scared for humanity but glad that’s not my wife having a baby with my best friend.

When I drive or fly back into the Lowcountry, I realize that no matter how bad these incidents feel, they are isolated.

September 11. Newtown. They’ve changed us for good. There’s a lot more locks on doors than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we become fear-ridden hermits.

Be vigilant without being vigilantes. The bigger picture is that while we can’t always hold back the madness of a few, this is still the same place we all fell in love with.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com.

Hilton Head Monthly: Ron Knight, Cycling Legend

Here’s a story that appeared in June 2014 edition of Hilton Head Monthly.

Here’s the link to the story.

Here’s the text …

Knight Rider

Cycling a true passion for island resident

By Tim Wood

Ron Knight has always worked better with a goal in front of him. It just took him 47 years to figure out that he’d rather accomplish those goals on a bike.

Thirty years and 35,000 bike miles later, the founder of the Kickin’ Asphalt Bicycle Club is still pedaling and still tackling goals riders a half century younger wouldn’t dare take on.

He tackled the 104-mile Assault on Mount Mitchell and Marion on May 19, trying to become the oldest rider to even finish the grueling trek.

“I did this once when I was 71 and I asked around and found out that the oldest person that had ever done it was 78,” Knight said. “I told them, ‘OK, I’ll see you in seven years.’ And here I am.”

The Assault starts in Spartanburg and is a bearable 76-mile ride to Marion. That’s when the real fun begins. Riders traverse rolling hills then start a steep ascent for 28 miles to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

“It’s about 6,700-feet elevation, but when you factor in the downhill portions of the climb, it’s about 10,000 feet of climbing,” said Knight.

Numbers on the page don’t do justice to just how grueling the Assault can be, the toll it can take on the body. So why does Knight feel so compelled to put his septuagenarian body through this?

“I guess because I’m crazy,” he said with a laugh. “You know, I’m not a fanatical bike guy, I just love staying active. I think it will enable me to live longer, but I know for sure it makes me feel more alive while I’m living.”

This passion was acquired, not genetic. Knight was a salesman for IBM in Ohio and raised four kids before the bug bit him.

“One of my customers had just done the Iron Man in Hawaii,” Knight said. “I was really intrigued by his excitement. He talked me into challenging myself, got me to try it and I absolutely loved it.”

The next year he tackled a marathon, a feat he calls one of the three toughest things he’s done in his life.

That led to Knight taking part in international distance triathlons (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 10K-run). He’s completed 80 overall, none more satisfying than one he did with family.

“My grandson Gabe and I tackled a triathlon in Chicago. I was 70, he was 12 or 13,” he said. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life, getting to share that with him.”

He’s done plenty of endurance treks that have prepped him for the Assault. Right before moving to Hilton Head 13 years ago, Knight did an LA-to-Boston ride with his former wife.

“What an unbelievable way to see the country. The red mountains in New Mexico and Arizona, riding in the rain … what a trip,” he said. “I dipped my rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean in Manhattan Beach to start. We rode for seven weeks with five total days off. We averaged 83 miles a day. Then I got to dip my front wheel in the Atlantic at Revere Beach outside Boston. My ass felt like hamburger when we got there, but boy was it worth it.”

When he first got here, there was no bike club on the island, so Knight rode with the Coastal Bicycle Touring Club in Savannah at first. He quickly got tired of the back-and-forth to Georgia and quickly found a group wanting to start a group here.

Thus, the Kickin’ Asphalt Bicycle Club was born in 2007. “You know, I tried to pick up golf and do as the Romans do, but it just wasn’t for me,” he said. “So I started looking for other nuts like me and pretty soon, we had 40 people.”

The club started with monthly Lowcountry rides, quickly evolved into weekly rides and stands at 188 members today. Knight and his crew have tried hard to establish rides for all classes of riders, from the most expert to the beginners – or as Knight lovingly calls them, “the Draggin’ Asphalters.”

“We’re a very social club, we don’t do advocacy. Frank Babel and his crew have done a marvelous job with that and we play well off each other,” he said. “We do unique rides all over the Southeast. We have a summer picnic and a holiday party, so outside of the riding, it’s a great place to make friends.”

It’s where he met his triathlon mates, Bob Bredin and Brian Cossachi. Together, they make up Team Viva Viagra.

They do the Beach Bum Triathlon together each year and tackled the Assault together seven years ago.

“They’re my bucket list crew. We meet every Monday for lunch to solve the world’s problems and dream up the next trip. We went tubing in the North Carolina mountains. And we did the Warrior Dash near Charlotte together,” he said. “It’s a 5K full of obstacles, a 12-foot rope wall, running over fire and sloshing through mudpits. That was fun but tough at age 75.”

Knight is on his own this time in the Assault. He finished it in 11 hours and 33 minutes last time but has had two left hip replacements since then. He must complete it in 12 hours to qualify as an official finisher.

He spent extra time training in the mountains this time and even bought a new Trek Domane bike for the journey, retiring his 16-year-old bike.

“I strongly believe I can do it, but I’ve already met my goals here,” he said. “The oldest to finish thing, that’s just a badge. I’ve lost 15 pounds and really challenged myself, so whether I hit the 12 hours or not, I’ve gained a lot.”

And this is far from the finish line. Knight already has a hike planned for June with Team Viva Viagra.

Then the club will tackle a weeklong ride in Germany along the Moselle River in the fall – a follow-up to a weeklong Austria ride along the Danube two years ago.

Knight knows there’s plenty of people that might call him obsessed with riding. He prefers to see it as a means to adventure. He has plenty else in his life – he just finished renovating his kitchen and he’s prepping for another fall of Ohio State football at Mangiamo’s with the Buckeyes Alumni Club.

“I love life and I love to live it to the fullest. I feel great and I want to get every ounce out of this life,” he said. “Hey, I can be a couch potato. And I know the obsessed ones. For me, this is a passion. I love home improvement, the Buckeyes and chasing women. This is just the thing that gets my juices flowing the most.”

BT Column 6/11: To Stop the Clock or Not, A Fathers Day Dilemma

This column first ran in the June 11 edition of Bluffton Today.

Here’s the text

To stop the clock or not: A Father’s Day dilemma

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood

My wishes for Father’s Day have been simple for many years.

I simply want my sons to stop growing. I don’t believe I’m asking too much. I only have two of these young beings and I merely want them to stay young until I die.

So this past week was very disturbing and viciously interrupted my grand plan.

Both my sons took part in a “moving up” graduation ceremony at their schools. My 11-year-old T.J. graduated from fifth grade at Red Cedar Elementary School, while my 5-year-old Jake graduated from preschool at Amazing Creations.

To be fair, there was much reason to celebrate and my wife and I couldn’t have been prouder of our boys. But I know I wasn’t alone as I looked around the rooms full of flashing cameras and teary eyes.

Beyond the tears, the emotion was clear.

“How the hell did this happen? Where did that time go?”

First was Amazing Creations, a place our kids have called home since we moved to the Lowcountry nearly a decade ago.

Center owner Cathy Ferguson struggled to get through her opening remarks before the tears interrupted. It was one of many moments during the ceremony where it was apparent just how much the caretakers truly cared for our kids.

Then the graduation march began. That’s when the memories truly started flowing.

He couldn’t march when we first started going in the building.

At first when he walked, he didn’t let my hand go as we got closer to preschool, and once inside, he didn’t want me to go. And it wasn’t long until he didn’t want to hold my hand going in the door. Come on, Dad, don’t embarrass me in front of my friends.

He still wanted his hugs goodbye, we just had to find a moment and place where no one could see it.

The arts and crafts pictures evolved from blobs to colored-inside-the-lines masterpieces. The lines on the wall kept creeping upward — the growth during his last year in Ms. Danele’s Hummingbirds class alone was insane.

The toddler innocence was gone. He has a neck and a personality and a confidence all his own.

There’s still a little boy there — he still loves his tubbies, plays in sandboxes and howls like a coyote for no reason.

But I’m losing the battle with time.

He’s pushing boundaries, roaming as much of the neighborhood as he can get away with.

He’s testing our patience and ends up in timeout multiple times a day.

And he’s fighting back against his oldest brother, with enough brawn now to hold his own wresting with big bro, even giving up 60 pounds and six and a half years.

Four days later, T.J. took his place in the graduation line at Red Cedar.

No caps and gowns this time, just a steady flow of awards and congratulations to go with a palpable vibe of trepidation in the room.

These fifth-graders know they’re going from the big kahuna on campus to a gigantic new building where they’re the toddlers again.

They’ve seen “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” they’re weary of the adventures ahead.

My wife and I have watched our first-born excel thanks to a tireless staff of teachers pushing him every step of the way.

He has gone from crayons and Play-Doh to gifted and talented in a blink. While it’s still shocking to see hair growing on his upper lip, we’ve watched our son be much more mature than any youngster should ever have to be.

He has fought respiratory issues since birth, leading to horrific allergies, extreme asthma and constant bouts with bronchitis and pneumonia.

Fifth grade was by far the worst of it. It was the worst pain we’ve ever faced as parents, to see him so sick and not be able to solve it beyond hearing “he’ll grow out of it.”

Despite missing more than a month of school, including one last bout of bronchitis right before graduation, he still finished with high honors.

Yes, I’m bragging. I watched my son get his goodbye hugs from his teachers and I’ve never felt such pride.

Knowing how hard he fought, seeing his growth in never giving up, it was hard not to well up in that moment. I thought of my mom and how she instilled that same resolve in me and I knew she was smiling and crying right along with us from Heaven.

As we sat playing chess against each other last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of the first games of “Chutes and Ladders” and “Candy Land.”

The emotions are in conflict with each other almost daily. His life is like a leveling game app he loves so much. Each day, he unlocks a new level of grown-up activities he can tackle. It’s exciting to witness him evolving into my sidekick.

And as my boys evolve, my wishes are evolving. I realize now that wish was less about wanting to halt the clock and more about my fear of a gray mane and ear hair.

Seeing Jake taking on soccer, T.J. taking on middle school, I don’t want to stop time.

It’s more selfish on my part. I thought I’d have six kids and constantly be in the middle of this moving-up cycle. Fate had other plans for us, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I don’t want to stop time anymore. Watching them grow and evolve has been a daily gift.

I’ll probably have a different take when T.J. beats me in chess and Jake takes me down in basketball. For now though, I’ll stick with “gift.”

Happy Father’s Day.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com

BT Column 6/4: Knowing the Answer Only Part of Trivia Fun

Here’s a link to my June 4 column that ran in Bluffton Today.

Here’s the text

Knowing the answer is only part of trivia’s fun

OVER MEDIUM

Tim Wood

I’ve immersed myself in a new subculture over the past few months.

It is one that I really never knew existed. I’ve always been good at “Jeopardy” thanks to head-to-head contests with my dad for most of my teens.

And since I’ve been of drinking age, I have taken great joys in finding unique watering holes with good spirits and grub.

Yet, combine those two passions and you’ve created a fascinating new species.

And I don’t say that in a negative way. Bar trivia nights are among the most fun I have on a regular basis.

What survivor of the RMS Titanic disaster became known after her death as “Unsinkable”?

If you knew that was Molly Brown, you’re off to a good start.

But it’s as much about the people watching as it about answering the questions.

First, you have the couples that are just out for a date night. And that’s a beautiful thing. I’m envious when I see them and often ask for the number of their babysitter.

Competitive juices eventually take over, though. Relationship dynamics are immediately on display.

They both know the answer and both insist they’re right. Who backs off? And when they’re wrong, how do they take the “I told you so”?

Just in my short time on the local circuit, I can say without hesitation that trivia night is a great test for both the newbie and long-time relationship.

If you can survive the mental Jenga that takes place over that two hours, I think you can survive any level of fighting or hardship. (I’m only half kidding there.)

What annual television special was introduced in 2005 on Animal Planet as counter-programming to the Super Bowl?

If you answered The Puppy Bowl, you’re a pop-culture asset to The Conglomerates.

These are the friends who form supergroups. They have History Guy, Sports Girl, Music Buff and the all-important Mr. Potpourri, the guy who knows a little bit of everything but isn’t a master in any one part of the trivia universe.

There’s always a Magneto in the pack, the evil genius who compiled the supergroup. And if you know who Magneto is, you’re likely a Nerd Herd asset, the player who knows all about comic books, video games and Silicon Valley tech startups.

The best part of the supergroups is watching every feuding clique from our high school years work as one. The jocks, geeks, cheerleaders and bookworms all coexist in a finely tuned symphony of knowledge.

It always brings me back to the finale of “Rocky IV” when Rocky has taken down Drago.

The Gorbachev look-alike appears as if he’s about to launch a nuclear warhead until Rock grabs the microphone and says, “If I can change, you can change!”

I literally leave the bar some nights with a renewed hope for humanity.

All this, and we’re usually only playing for bar credits or a free pizza. It’s about so much more than the prize. It’s about the camaraderie and the journey that takes place over those two hours.

More recently, I’ve gone from group player to host of these trivia nights. It began in Savannah, where I was asked to host a Thursday night game at Uncle Maddio’s Pizza.

I watched local legends like Trivia Lance master the art of trivia MC’ing and I was intrigued. Yes, I had radio experience, but I soon learned this was much harder than reading questions and knowing how to handle a mic.

First, there’s the music between questions. You have to have the perfect mix of current songs and legends, pop and rock, adult and kids.

Music is the great equalizer. It can create and keep the right mood even for the group that is missing a lot of questions. If they’re feeling the vibe, it’s still a good time.

Then there is knowing how to read the room. Is there a mix of all supergroup players in the crowd? Are they more of a classic rock loving group? Do they like a fast-paced game or some wisecracks in between every question?

The good trivia master always comes ready for any contingency, equipped with extra music mixes, one-liners and a full supply of substitute questions to make any room happy.

I’ve probably already said too much. I don’t want to be the Masked Magician giving away all the trade secrets. Lord knows, I’m far from a master MC. But I haven’t gotten the boot from a gig yet, either.

The next test will be moving my talents from Savannah to Old Town. I start as host of Wednesday night trivia at Captain Woody’s tonight. Then, we begin a regular Monday night game at Moon Mi Pizza next door on June 9.

Do you know which Hall of Fame quarterback’s son was arrested on assault charges last weekend?

You may be the greatest asset of all, the hybrid. You know sports and current events.

You, my friend, are too valuable to be sitting home tonight. Get yourself to the Promenade over the next week, have some fun and put your talents on display for the crowd.

After all, I’m probably making too much of this sociology study stuff. Above all, trivia nights are an escape from the mundane work week.

Winning is just a nice fringe benefit.

Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at timmaywood@gmail.com. And “like” Timmy Time Trivia on Facebook, where you can get a free answer for each show, like tonight’s freebie, John Elway.