Thursday, March 31, 2011

Profile Article

   Nick Alicea scrambles to find his cell phone as he hurriedly leaves the veterinarian’s
office. Peanut, his beloved 7-year-old dachshund/terrier mix is, thankfully, cancer free. That
mass on her belly merely a benign cyst. One thing down, a dozen to go, Alicea thinks to himself.
   Now where is that cell phone?
   Alicea searches aimlessly as he mentally runs down the laundry list of errands
demanding completion today, Nov. 22, 2010, three days before Thanksgiving. Pick dad up at the
airport. Buy flowers to celebrate the three-month anniversary of his engagement to the woman of
his dreams, Sarah. Call and wish his baby brother a happy 29th birthday. Buy groceries for the
holiday feast. Locate his cell phone.
   "There it is. Right where I left it," Alicea berates himself as he discovers his Blackberry
under a brochure for a wedding caterer on the leather passenger seat of his jet black Mustang as
he accelerates onto the highway en route to Hartsfield-Jackson. An automated voice informs
   Alicea he has one new voicemail.
   His one voicemail is from a lawyer in Virginia urgently requesting a return call.
   Alicea remains unaware of the significance of this voicemail and what it will ultimately
lead to: A life-altering opportunity to reunite with a son he never knew he had.
   Waiting for his father’s arrival at baggage claim, Alicea impatiently sips an overpriced,
over-heated espresso and Googles the area code from the lawyer’s number, again on his
Blackberry. 7-5-7, a Virginia Beach number, a noteworthy peculiarity because Alicea has never
visited Virginia’s most populous city.
   Several hours and errands later, Alicea finally gets around to returning the lawyer’s call.
   "It was the most surreal thing" Alicea confesses, seemingly still as puzzled recounting
the events as he was initially experiencing them.

   "The lawyer says he is calling on behalf of Corey Woods. Now, right off the bat I
recognize the name, Woods, Kendra, she’s a girl I dated when I was 19," Alicea continues.
   "I’m so naive. I’m thinking Corey is Kendra’s dad or brother and that something bad has
happened to Kendra. Little did I know," Alicea says. "The next thing I know the lawyer is asking
me to take a paternity test to prove Corey is my son."
   "And within two weeks, it was a done deal, a DNA swab from my cheek left no doubt, I
was a dad," Alicea says as his puzzled countenance melts into a visage beaming with pride.
   The story of Alicea and Woods’ romance is not dissimilar to many relationships that
begin in high school. Passionate enough while it lasted, but abruptly concluded when Alicea
went off to culinary school. Woods quickly rebounded and was married by the time of Corey’s
   The Woods family grew to include two other children and Corey did not learn the true
identity of his biological father until the DNA results came back from Alicea’s cheek. Until
then, Corey had been led to believe that the man that he called his dad was exactly that.

   After a brief 10 minute phone conversation between Alicea and Corey, a face-to-face
meeting was agreed upon.
  But first, something else had to be settled.

   Alicea had to inform his fiancee that he was a father.

   "At first I was scared of her reaction, but she handled it beautifully. She instantly put me
right at ease," Alicea says.
   Sara Smith recalls the moment similarly: "For the tiniest fraction of a second I wanted to
be mad at him (Alicea), but I looked into his eyes and you could see that he was happy and I was
reminded of why I wanted to marry him in the first place."
   Smith elaborates, "When I had a moment to myself, a moment to think things through, it
dawned on me that this experience for Nick would make him be a better father to our children if
and when we decided to have kids because he would realize all the moments he missed in
Corey’s childhood and want to be there even more for our babies."
   That if and when were, in reality, a yes and now, but as Alicea packed for Virginia with
his fiancee’s blessing, neither of them knew it.
   Exactly a fortnight after that fateful voicemail, Nick Alicea was back at the airport. Not
to pick up a father, but this time as a father himself, hours away from seeing his 15-year-old son,
his firstborn, his flesh and blood for the very first time.
   Yet, as he boarded the DC-9, the 34-year-old Alicea felt like he was the one that was 15.
   "It was giddiness cloaked in apprehension enveloped in dreadful bliss," Alicea slyly
recollects. "I had no idea what to expect and even less of an idea of what to say."
   "As is the case with most fated circumstances, things have a way of working themselves
out," Alicea says as he exhales. "We have so much in common. The whole three day trip there
wasn’t one awkward silence."
   "It’s not like he didn’t have a dad growing up. Kendra’s husband raised Corey as his
own. He is a tremendously well-adjusted kid. It is a testament to them, really," Alicea says.
   When Alicea returned home to Atlanta, It was Smith’s turn to drop a bombshell:
   She was pregnant.
   Smith sat Alicea down on Christmas Eve to tell him the good news.
   Four months ago, Alicea was a bachelor.
   One month ago, he was childless.
   Now, Nick Alicea would awaken Christmas morning next to his pregnant fiancee and
with a 15-year-old son 600 miles away.
   He jokes with Smith that he should start introducing himself as Nicholas, since it sounds
more befitting a father twice over.

   According to those that know him, Alicea has adjusted nicely.
   Corey Custer, Alicea’s co-worker and friend for over a decade, says "All these changes
in Nick’s personal life have affected him greatly. The one overriding change I’ve noticed it that
he has acquired perspective. The little things don’t bother him like they used to. It’s a maturity
   Alicea, for his part, views these events more as life-affirming than life-altering. "Do I
wish I was there for Corey’s first steps or first Little League game? Of course. But God does
things for strange reasons and I don’t know a single soul who is more blessed than I am."
   A recent ultrasound revealed that Alicea’s newest blessing will be a baby girl.
   "During my bachelor days, I did a million things that made me happy," Alicea says, "But
now as I lay on the couch, with Peanut at my feet and my head resting on Sara’s burgeoning
baby bump, looking up at my son’s picture on the mantle, I realize for the first time in my life I
am content."
   Isabella Alicea, Corey Wood’s kid sister, is due to enter this beautiful world Aug. 1.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

     A somber teenage boy lies in an oversized hospital bed. An overcast afternoon at a local

skateboard park has gone horribly wrong. The child is saddened more by the doctor’s report that

he is out of commission for six months than he is by the physical pain of the fractured tibia and

torn patella tendon in his left leg. To Mike McNabb, six months without skating might as well be

a death sentence.

     Among the well-wishers that would crowd McNabb’s bedside that July evening would be

Mike’s older brother Stan. McNabb had received magazines and baseball cards as get-well gifts

already, but Stan arrived with this ordeal’s silver lining. Stan gave his kid brother a fingerboard.

A fingerboard is merely a skateboard in miniature. Whereas a skateboard is manipulated with

feet, a fingerboard is controlled entirely with the middle and index fingers of one hand. Stan too

had once been an aspiring skateboarder before moving on to the more traditional high school

athletic endeavors of baseball and football. Stan’s $4 gift, purchased at gas station and given

halfway in jest, would have a big impact on his little brother.

     Six years removed from that fatefully unsuccessful landing at the skateboard park, Mike

McNabb, now 19, could not tell you how many hours he has spent fingerboarding in the interim.

     "More than 2,500 and less than 10,000" he says without giving the question much

thought. "It (the fingerboard) is essentially an extension of my hand at this point. If I go to the

movies, I board on the armrest. In school, I board on the desks, railings, books, basically

anything that’s in front of me."
The wiry 6-foot-2 McNabb looks the part. Calf-length black denim shorts with a

seemingly endless array of pockets. A belt around his waist that was once a car seatbelt, barely

holding up his shorts. A nondescript grey T-shirt under a beige camouflage vest. A sandy blond

mustache that adds a decade to his visage. Upon first glance, his presence makes you think he

has seen too much in this world and eaten too little. McNabb looks ill-prepared for anything

outside a cameo in a Nirvana music video. Looks can be deceiving.

     The man widely credited with inventing the fingerboard was Cam Fox Bryant in the late

1970s. The original versions consisted of little more than cardboard, coffee stirring straws, and

axles from deconstructed Hot Wheels toy cars. The 96 millimeter board started out as a

keychain and remained a novelty item until the mid-1990s when skateboard companies began to

see the marketability and profitability of product branding on the miniature boards.

     According to, a leading manufacturer of fingerboards and related gear,

the industry broke the $100 million mark in revenue for the first time in 1999. It is difficult to

estimate the number of people who have joined McNabb in the fingerboard revolution, but the

consensus is, whatever the number, it is growing. There is even an iPhone app, Touchgrind, that

caters to the digital fingerboarder. A YouTube search for fingerboarding videos returns over

9,500 results. Mike McNabb is not alone.

     Among McNabb’s newest converts, Yovani Reyes may be the most fervent. Both young

men work at an The Geisha House restaurant at Atlantic Station in downtown Atlanta. That is

where McNabb introduced Gio (as he is known to his friends) to fingerboarding. The two would

pass the down time at the restaurant in a back storage room fingerboarding. Reyes fell in love

with the activity immediately.

     "The first time I picked up the board, I was hooked. I always wanted to skate, but it is so

intimidating. With your fingers, it is so much less risk," Reyes said.

     The two have a mutually beneficial relationship. McNabb teaches Reyes the

idiosyncracies of the craft, and Reyes, whose father is a carpenter, supplies McNabb with

handmade obstacle courses. Reyes explains, "It’s fun either way, but when you have built the

pieces yourself, it is just that much cooler."

     Corey Custer, the restaurant’s manager, has a surprising take on his employees and their

unusual hobby. "Ordinarily, we wouldn’t want our team members doing anything other than

work when they are on site, but with Mike’s fingerboarding, it seems to be a morale booster for

the employees. Everybody gathers around and there’s a lot of oohing and ahhing. We want our

employees to have fun and they seem to have fun with this. Plus, they are mature enough to

realize that you have to put the board down when it’s time to work. So I don’t think a little

fingerboarding is hurting anyone. The only drawback is when Mike needs a weekend off to

‘follow the board’."

     McNabb has "followed the board" throughout the Southeast.

     "I have been to Charleston, Knoxville, and New Orleans for competitions and shows. The

prize money sucks, if there even is any, but it is fun to go on road trips with my boys."

     McNabb also professes to the tangential benefits of increased dexterity that

fingerboarding offers.

     "I’ve always loved to mess around with cars. When I get done with school I want to be a

mechanic and I really believe that fingerboarding makes me better with my hands. At least when

you do it as much as I do."

     McNabb still occasionally rides his skateboard.

     "Now I can ride with reckless abandon, because if I get hurt, I can still board with my

fingers. That’s the beauty of it. It’s like golf. Me, I hate golf, but they always say you can golf

for your whole life, you never have to give it up. I have that same security with my fingerboard."

     McNabb and his friends have recently started a rock band called Beast The Line. The

phrase refers to a particularly good run at an obstacle course on the fingerboard. McNabb is the

group’s songwriter and drummer. Between songs McNabb has been known to navigate his

fingerboard across and around his drums. And yes, they do have a song called Follow The .