Big Russ and Me

This is, for the most part, an autobiography of Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press. It is more than just a retelling of his life though because it focuses a lot on his father’s life story and how his father has affected his own life (the subtitle is “Father and Son: Lessons of Life”).

I have only recently become a Tim Russert fan. I never get to watch Meet the Press because my Sunday mornings are usually filled with golf, worship, or both. But with the purchase of an iPod and the adoption of iTunes as the main focus of my digital life, I am now in complete control of my intake of news and entertainment in audio format. I religiously download the Meet the Press podcast every Sunday afternoon and usually listen to it on the treadmill or elliptical trainer on Monday or Tuesday.

On Meet the Press, the guy just asks tough questions – of everybody. I don”t sense any bias. I feel like the guy is trying to get answers, that’s it. I was mildly surprised to learn during the book that he admired the Kennedy family (John and Bobby), was DP Moynihan’s chief of staff, and protested Vietnam at John Carroll University in Cleveland. The only time his personal views come through on Meet the Press is when he is talking about his two favorite sports teams, the Buffalo Bills and New York Yankees. He is more than worthy of being my top source of political news and analysis and Meet the Press will always be 45 minutes of time that is never, ever wasted. So I bought the (audio)book and listened during my commute.

His roots are in Buffalo, NY. South Buffalo to be exact. He grew up the son of a garbage man in a working class, Irish Catholic family. He relates his life experiences with plain talk and a humbleness that I think is genuine. Even though he is one of the most powerful newsmen on the face of the earth, if I met him in an airport I could see us talking about football and baseball for hours. That is just how he comes across. He seems approachable and thoughtful.

I found it easy to identify with his childhood. He describes in great detail two items that really hit close to home for me. First, he attended many sporting events with his dad, especially in Cleveland, OH. Like Russert, I vividly remember the whole process of my dad preparing the vehicle with sandwiches, snacks, pop, beer, lawn chairs, umbrellas, etc…for the trip to St. John’s Arena (Buckeye hoops) or Municipal Stadium (Indians baseball). I was going to Cleveland because I loved the Tribe, but Russert was coming from the other direction to see his beloved Yankees playing in the closest park to Buffalo. Recalling the atmosphere of a bunch of guys sitting in a car for a trip to the game, talking about sports for hours while shoveling finger food into their mouths, is as special for me as it is for Russert.

Second, the Russerts love to eat and he told stories about how much they appreciated food for more than just fuel. Now granted, one member of my family diverges from the Russerts a little in this instance because my dad is not a big fan of food like Big Russ is, but the rest of my family sees food as the Russerts. We definitely are NOT food snobs, or foodies as they are called, but we have a keen appreciation for all sorts of culinary delights. Making a decision on something as simple as where to order pizza resulted in deep analytical thought and plenty of debate in our household. I am just glad that we were not the only family where the main topic of conversation while eating one meal was the plan for the next meal. Here’s to you Big Russ.

Russert has had an interesting life. The cool thing is that with all of his rich experiences, I didn’t detect even a hint of arrogance. I also think he treats the rich and famous the same way that he treats his buddies. His stories about playing jokes on Al Gore or George Bush sound like the stories my dad tells about playing jokes on business colleagues or friends. It is devoid of pretentiousness, which makes the audio book very easy to listen to.

This is maybe the third or fourth audio book that I have purchased and until now, I was NOT sold on the medium. Books are meant to be read…It’s an art form and you denigrate it by listening to someone else read it to you…blah, blah, blah. Whatever…I’m an idiot. Audio books are the way to go if you want to increase your volume and they are a must for commuters. My theory is that one should listen to non-fiction only, preferably read by the author. At some points, I was actually happy to get stuck in traffic so that I could get through more of this book.

It gets a strong recommendation from me.