The Coronavirus Kick in the Ass

man in yellow protective suit holding a newspaper

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It may not seem so right now, but on the other side of this pandemic some things will have changed that perhaps should have happened long ago. I conveniently created a short list:

1-The necessity of “going to the office” has been severely challenged. I’ve always looked at offices as petri dishes of cultural bacteria, fomenting time-wasting meetings, gossip, jealousies, clock-watching and commutes that contribute to harmful emissions, wasteful and costly fuel consumption and misuse of valuable time.

Oh sure, there’s the notion of team camaraderie and collaboration, but that can be accomplished much more efficiently and conveniently without forcing employees to spend their days tied to an assigned workspace where they’re sitting ducks for all manner of productivity-sucking distractions. Scheduling regular in-person meet-ups may be sufficient to satisfy the need for a little person-to-person contact and relationship/team building. Working remotely doesn’t mean permanent exile!

Telecommuting isn’t new, of course, however, many companies offer this option as a favor or reward to precious few employees. The fact is, given today’s technology, you can perform almost any task, conduct meetings that include graphics and video and collaborate on projects from any place on Earth with decent web or mobile connectivity.

Now that so many office workers have been forced to do their jobs remotely, a lot of them are finding they’re more productive, less stressed, can manage their time better, saving money on gas and are enjoying a better quality of life. I’m betting that once this crisis is over, bosses should be ready to field a ton of requests to keep working from home, or Starbucks at least most of the time, and it’s about time more office inmates had that option.

Of course…some folks love going to the office to either get away from the house for awhile or just to be with other adults or for the free coffee or whatever. That’s great if it works for you. Here’s hoping businesses that did not previously offer the option of telecommuting will see positive outcomes during this time and make it more available to appreciative employees.

2-Car dealers that rely so much on showroom foot traffic have been forced to rethink its importance as we practice social distancing to help kill off the spread of coronavirus. Who doesn’t dread spending 2,3,4 hours at a dealership from the time you choose your new ride to sitting at the sales person’s little desk, haggling over the price, then pivoting to the finance person’s star chamber where they try to foist extended warrantees, safety and security plans or a dizzying number of finance options. My wife and I excel at this process. We walk in and tell the person, “we’ll make it easy on you. No to everything.” The last guy we did that too just sagged his shoulders while he surrendered saying, “it’s just not gonna be my day.” That was some time into our third or fourth hour.

But now dealers have learned that online vehicle marketplaces are catering to exactly what many consumers want. Do it all online, quickly. To deal with the need to socially distance, a lot of brick and mortar dealers are offering home or office vehicle deliveries, online document signing and even virtual test drives where a “concierge” will give you a tour of the vehicle via Zoom, Skype, Facetime, WebEx, etc. My friends at DriveShift.comwill even have the concierge start the engine so the customer can give it a listen. It’s true, nothing beats a physical test drive and the chance to literally kick the tires, but for some customers, expediency carries the day.

Yes, many dealers have had a long time online presence but not all have made it possible to complete the entire process without a showroom visit. As George Augustaitis, one of my trusted sources of prescient auto industry analysis at CarGurus.com told me the other day for my Forbes.com story, “To me, dealers should be thinking about relationship building, where if you’re online and you have a staff that can answer emails, text messages. I think a lot of this is about producing content. People can watch at home, answering questions online. When people feel like they’re ready to buy their car they’re going to reflect upon the fact that over these many weeks the dealer is always answering my questions, sending me videos, doing these things so I can do my research.”

So that’s just one example. The pandemic has spurred scores of other businesses that have never been involved in e-commerce to jump in and are offering the convenience of remote ordering and delivery which are especially helpful for shut-ins, disabled folks and others who are just really busy or don’t have personal transportation.

3-The whole concept of “social distancing” is one we should have been practicing to some extent anyway. Giving others some space–enough space so whatever nasty stuff is in your cough or sneeze is deprived a landing pad on someone else’s epidermis, is not only smart, but considerate. Honestly, I hate it when I’m in line at the supermarket checkout and the person behind me insists on getting close enough to read the fine print on the booze bottles in my cart to the point where they comment, “Oh yeah..Makers Mark..love the stuff. Just had it for breakfast!” Back off! That’s my lunch you’re talking about..achoo! Got ya.

4-Much of the world has given up on using cash for even the smallest transactions and because of the danger of touching bills that may have been handled by hundreds or thousands of others, the use of credit and debit cards for in-person purchases has increased. That way, you’re the only one who has to handle your method of payment. For those of us codgers who still carry folding money and change, that’s something going into the memory bank as we make the transition. I was dragging my feet. The virus helped me pick up the pace. Perhaps it will do the same for the more of us who still like the feel of cold cash but not the bacterial loot it harbors.

5-This final one is probably the most important. I see more concern between human beings about each other’s welfare. Not just friends and family, but co-workers, acquaintances, even those with whom you have casual contact asking how we’re feeling, and parting with the words, “be safe,” or “stay safe.” I see a degree of unselfishness that’s so heartening. If you browse posts on the Nextdoor app, you will see quite a number of posts where folks volunteer to go to the store, do a little yard work or perform other errands and services for those in tough spots…for free, in many cases. We’ve gotta keep this going even after the worst is over.

So those are just a very few examples of how this terrible time we’re in right now has kickstarted some positive actions and behaviors that should have been in wider practice all along. I bet you can think of others. I’d love to hear about them. 

Why You May Never Want To Return To The Office

eddesk0321It’s been almost four years since I walked out of my last full-time job a free man into what’s become semi-retirement and a life of doing what little work I do, in my home office.

I want to warn many of you who are now working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic…you may not want to return to your offices.

Before I retired in 2016 I worked from my own glass-enclosed, private office. I didn’t like it, but in the idiotic way some corporations operate, your workspace reflected your “band level” AKA, if you’re standing in the payroll/title hierarchy. When I got promoted to a level that “awarded” you an enclosed office, I asked to remain in my spacious, but open, workspace because such perks seemed stupid and also cut me off from my team. I asked if I had committed a felony, warranting my confinement to a 12×12 cell. HR said if I didn’t move it would “send the wrong message.” Company politics being what it is, several people were actually jealous of me and said nasty stuff about me, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I spent my final three years before retirement in that office and hated every minute of it. So I would constantly get up, walk around, touch base in person with my teammates. When another glass office denizen would pop by congratulating me on “finally getting the glass office you deserve,” I thanked them and expressed my anticipation of one day being paroled, which in all their shallowness, they did not understand at all.

Now that I’ve been working from home in my very comfortable workspace..I don’t call it an office..I get more done in a day than what I accomplished in my old office in a week. For one, there are none of the dreaded “got a minute” drop-bys. You know how that goes. “Got a minute,” really means I’m bored and I’d like to waste as much of your time as possible to avoid going back to my desk and doing actual work. Many minutes later your plan for the day is blown so you may as well get up, get some coffee, take a walk, or retreat into a zen state in order to purge yourself of thoughts of committing that felony.

One day, in answer to “got a minute?” I replied that I didn’t. No problem. The annoying inquirer had his rejoinder locked and loaded. “Oh..it’ll take less than that!” Bullshit. Sigh.

Other aspects of the office life I don’t miss are random comments you can’t unhear even  with a closed door. Examples include: “This fuckin’ printer doesn’t work!,” “This coffee tastes like burnt jerky!” “Bob sucks!” “Just like you,” “The boss has his head up his ass,” “I wish 5 o’clock came at noon.”

Then there are the endless meeting invites. When you work remotely, you can call in, put your phone on mute, do other, more productive, things while someone blathers and then chime in when appropriate or called upon. You can also make faces as an immature, but satisfying demonstration of your opinion of the proceedings.

I do enjoy popping into the office about once a week for an hour or two at one of my fun freelance gigs. Great people who are fun, smart and talented. We see enough of each other to cement our bonds, I appreciate the chance to get to know the staff on a more personal level and they quickly understand I have what I would describe as a “very limited” wardrobe with some items probably older than many of my colleagues. 

Then I hit the freeway for the 25 mile drive home, and retreat to my cozy, personal workspace where the only ambient conversations I may hear are “Dinner’s burning!” or “The Jones’s schnauzer shit on our lawn again!” It’s so suburban. So natural. Then I get back to work, unimpeded, un-interrupted until my wife ventures down to my subterranean refuge, stops at the door and asks, “got a minute?”

Parsing the Pandemic

Like billions of people around the world my family and I are trying our best to get through the coronavirus crisis, elbow-bumpin’, hand washin’, sanitizin’ and choking back sneezin’ so as not to get it or spread it.

Of course, this is a serious situation but I always find letting my mind wander a bit helps me cope with tough times, so here goes.

CORONAVIRUS_STOCKING_UP_CALG6K64Let me start with something that started with guilt and quickly morphed into a sick moment of entrepreneurial thought. Without getting too clinical, yeah, I was about to use a roll of Charmin the way it’s meant to be used. But as I tore off a few squares I suddenly felt guilty of using what’s become more or less contraband. Fear of long-term quarantine has people scooping up every roll of TP as if two-weeks at home means constant crapping.

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 9.56.14 AMSpeaking of which, check out this listing on eBay hawking the stuff at 8 bucks…a roll! Some of the comments didn’t hold back on the human sphincter behind the listing.

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 9.56.59 AMMoving on..thankfully, I had a scary vision regarding all sports shutting down. We had planned to eat dinner at a popular sports bar. One with dozens of screens all around so you could normally watch hockey, basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, NASCAR, goat roping, ring toss or amateur cherry pit spitting…. all at the same time!  sportsbarWith none of those sports, except maybe the pit spitting, off the grid for now, I started shivering in fear I would look up at the walls to see repeats of “The View” and the “Murphy Brown” reboot on every screen. Thankfully, the screens were thoughtfully populated with ESPN sports casts, reruns of key sporting events, and yeah, I think one did have the live broadcast of cherry pit spitting…until one competitor breathed in at an inopportune time and shot the pit into his gullet and had to be given the Heimlich Maneuver. It was fairly exciting and actually have bereft sports bettors something to wager on. His survival was the “under.”

frittataMy wife reported to me that eggs were in short supply at the grocery store. Really? It’s not like bread or flour or canned goods. You can’t really stockpile eggs for long. Are people mass-cooking frittatas and freezing them? I dunno. Sounds like a rotten idea.

I know a lot of companies are having their folks work from home. Since I’m semi-retired and mostly freelance I work from home about 99% of the time. If I get sick I figure it’s because I didn’t clean my microwave often enough and whatever’s growing in there is more contagious than “Old Town Road,” but only half as infectious.

Yes, we must be very vigilant to take care we do our parts to stay healthy and considerate during this pandemic. But I don’t let it get me down. In the wise words of Wavy Gravy during Woodstock, “there’s always a bit of heaven in a disaster area.” And probably toilet paper too. 

Stay safe and healthy!

One Last Visit to Art Van

artvansale

Well…that was a shock the other day when the report blasted through my radio that the Art Van furniture store chain was going away…but not before a weeks-long liquidation sale.

If you’re not from around here or any of the other markets with Art Van stores, it’s not a big deal. But this is lousy for several reasons, the lousiest being 3,100 people are gonna lose their jobs. The distant second lousiest is it’s sad to lose another local brand and an organization that supported local causes including Detroit’s wonderful Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I got to thinking about why this happened. Of course brick and mortar retail has been taking hits for a long time as consumers decided they’d rather shop online or at discount stores. It’s why you see a number of shopping malls dying, downscaling or de-malling. Some retailers simply made bad decisions, either expanding too quickly, misread the market or couldn’t manage their finances.

Art Van was bought out by a private equity firm a couple of years ago after longtime family ownership. By all accounts that company was little more than a financial slumlord, leaving Art Van a future with no future.

The truth is, I always hated going to furniture stores. We did buy a couch from Art Van 10 years ago and haven’t been back. I haven’t been in any other furniture stores either, unless you include Ikea, which is like going to a hobby shop to buy a fun kit to construct, or a plate of Swedish meatballs with a cheap hot dog on the side.

The problem with your traditional furniture store is you’re either stalked from the moment you cross the threshold, browbeaten or ignored. Take for example the time we bought that couch a decade ago. My wife saw the one she wanted in an Art Van circular.  We went to the store, was immediately met by a guy who looked like he was having a very bad day and we told me we’d make his job easy. My wife showed him the circular, said, we’ll take that one. Easy sale, right? The guy would just have to write the order, we’d pay, set up delivery and go away. But no, our Willy Loman whined, “you only want the couch, not the whole grouping? It’s better when you buy the whole grouping.” It’s better for him, but it wasn’t what we wanted. We politely told him we’d just like the couch but if he couldn’t sell it to us by itself, we’d be happy to take a hike. “O…..K……..,” he sulked wrote up our order. What the hell! We were an easy sale but were made to feel like we were a couple of cheapskates or losers who couldn’t afford “the whole grouping.”

Then there was the time we just needed a room divider. One of those things that folds in three or four sections. We’re at Art Van again. This time we weren’t immediately attacked. We actually had to walk around the store and beg for help. We finally found a saleswoman who seemed friendly…until we told her what we needed. “Oh,” she said with a very disappointed look on her face. “Yes, I think we might have some. Let me look in the back.” Never saw her again. Room dividers cost less than 100 bucks and that apparently wasn’t worth her time.a

16997721_802087963263257_3720780266921991251_nArt Van also operated Pure Sleep stores. We went to our local Pure Sleep about a year ago to replace our bed. Easy, right? Not at Pure Sleep. The friendly salesman said we needed to “take the test.” Oh shit. He had my wife and I lay on a bed with a couple of monitors looming over us. The salesman gave us some mumbo jumbo about how sensors or something in the mattress could reveal how each of us sleep. I could have saved him the effort by responding, “generally soundly, when large TV monitors are now hovering overhead.” Anyway, he led us from mattress to mattress where we dutifully laid down and gave our impressions. We finally ended up at a newer version of the mattress we’d been happily using for more than a decade. That’s the one we bought. The whole process devoured almost two hours. We both needed a nap afterwards.

Finally, at another chain, my mother-in-law was looking for a small dresser. Small..because the room in her home built in the 1920’s…is small. The salesperson showed her one thing and that was too large. Think Smaller! She showed us another dresser….still too large. She just wasn’t getting it. When my mother-in-law said everything she was shown was just too big, instead of working a little harder to satisfy a prospective customer, the sales lady turned snotty, spitting out, “well why don’t you just buy a nightstand.”  Next stop…parking lot.

If we had these types of experiences, we couldn’t have been alone. I know there are hundreds of conscientious, hard working and caring sales people just trying to make a living, and they suffer when a few losers give their ilk a bad image. It all leaves a negative impression on customers who just want to find what they have in mind and be done with it. Believe me, I’d prefer to buy my furniture in a store where I can see the colors and feel the fabric or wood and sit in the chair to see if my short, stupid legs will reach the ground. You can’t do that buying on Wayfair.com. But when we bought a new kitchen set last spring, we did buy it online. It was smooth and easy and arrived when expected and no one whined at us, insulted us, or disappeared on us.

Well, we did decide to take one last walk around our local Art Van today to see if we could score a bargain on a living room table. Several hundred other bargain-hunters jammed the store, hovering over the liquidation sale offerings like vultures over carrion. We didn’t see anything we liked, although we did notice an odd piece there and there that were nice, but not necessary, so we kept walking. On our way towards the exit I saw a family test-sitting on a triple sofa and thought to myself, “Do the salesman one last favor… buy the whole grouping.”

Why I Hate Leap Day

kayla2This year is a Leap Year which means there’s a Leap Day, February 29th. Since 2000 I have hated that day–the day 6-year old Kayla Rolland was shot to death by a classmate in their school near Flint, Mich.

You see, I’m like most reporters. Over the years you write thousands of stories. Some you forget after a while, others are memorable for one reason or another and then there’s the story that sticks in your gut forever. This is one of them.

The day started out on a light note. Feb. 29, 2000 I was the CNN Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent. We were assigned to do a light feature on how people spend the extra day that comes every four years. Fun.

We never reached our first shoot. As we cruised on the John C. Lodge freeway in downtown Detroit I got a call from our desk about a school shooting in Mt. Morris Township, a suburb of Flint and we were to head there immediately.

During the hour-long drive we monitored the all-news radio station but details were few except for the vital information that the shooting happened at Buell Elementary School. That meant very young victims. We had no idea.

First stop was a command post set up by the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department where we informed as to the main spokespeople and told where we could set up our satellite truck in an area across from the school.

CNN being what it is wanted a live shot ASAP, and then several more after that. You vamp as best you can during those first ones until more solid information becomes available. It finally became available while I was standing out in front of the camera awaiting our next hit. A little boy shot a little girl. They were both 6 years old. I never get nervous in front of a camera, but I was shaking…because I was shaken. I could only think of my two kids…a boy and girl. He was 15, she had just turned 12. Still in school. School. SCHOOL! A place that was supposed to be a safe haven. But the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that occurred only 10 months previous were still very fresh in our minds.

Now I was standing yards away from a school where a little child killed another. We later learned the boy found the gun in the closet in the crack house home of his drug-dealer uncle with whom he and his family were living because his father was in jail for violating parole. He had served a sentence on a drug-related crime.

We also learned the boy had several behavioral problems, including stabbing a girl with a pencil a few weeks before the shooting.  When he tried to kiss little Kayla Rolland, she  rejected him. The next day he caught up with her, said, “I don’t like you,” then shot her dead.

Yeah, well, reporters can be a callous ilk, but this one got to me. I could barely get the words out and hold it together while on a live camera. I’ve covered any number of tragedies, natural disasters, plane crashes, shootings, fatal auto accidents, but the vision of a very damaged child violently taking the life of another is something I will never shake. Not ever.

Every four years I dread so-called Leap Day. I think of Kayla. I think of the little boy who shot her. It’s the day our society took a leap backwards…and kept going….Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High School, Virginia Tech and on and on and on.

Yes..I hate Leap Day….and every other day school kids and their teachers can no longer feel safe. They’re there to learn. When will this country? 

The Static of Networking As A Retiree

networkingmeme

I’m retired, but I’m not totally retired. I’m retired from full-time work, but I do some freelance things which means I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder and I certainly don’t care about a better title or office with its own bathroom. So it makes things a little tricky when I’m at an event that includes time for networking.

Oh….don’t get me wrong. It’s not difficult for me. I’m always happy to make new friends. I don’t even need benefits. Plus, networking has served me very well in finding freelance gigs. But it sure sucks for the non-retirees who made the mistake of striking up a conversation in hopes they’ve made a new connection that will result in new business or the inside track on a better job.

Take, for instance, an event I attended this week. The networking breakfast lasted an entire hour before the main presentation. I grab some food and coffee and camp out at a high-top table with three seats. I’m a sitting network duck. A guy aims his two-blue lasers at me, pivots to the empty seats and gamely asks, “these seats taken?” Me being a wiseass reply, “only by a layer of dust, but I’m sure it won’t mind if you sit on it.” The guy is intrigued and sits anyway. Oh boy, I’m guess I’m gonna get networked. We introduce ourselves and he stops and gives me an appraising look before asking the inevitable question, “So what is it you do?”

My answer always stops ‘em at square one. “Oh, whatever the hell I want,” I reply with a smile. “I’m semi-retired!” His face drops as he thinks to himself, “oh shit, now I’m stuck with a guy who’s useless to me and my career until I can find a graceful way to escape.”  I know this and amuse myself with that thought.

He seems like a nice guy so I get a little serious and explain that I freelance as a journalist and also work as a consultant for a PR firm. The guy looks a little happier although it’s obvious we have no common ground.

I, of course, know networking protocol, and make the required inquiry as to his line of work. “I’m in real estate. Commercial real estate.” An excellent profession. Now, hoping to justify wasting 10 minutes with me he gives it his best shot, asking me, “so where’s your office?”  I love this one because I get to shatter his last hope by responding, “My basement. It’s awesome. Has a window that looks out into the woods, a microwave and a bathroom four steps away.”

Poor guy is ready to eject from his stool and uses the excuse I certainly have used many times. “Well, I’m gonna go get some more coffee.” He gets up and thinks he’s done with me. I decide to give him a scare. “Hey, me too!” But I’m not a complete jerk. I hang back and let him make his escape.

I actually do refill my coffee, grab a pastry and return to my high-top perch. I’m on reset. Here comes another one. “Hi! My name is Ralph, what do you do?” I go through the act, thoroughly disappointing him and this time it takes only 3 minutes before we both decide we need refills.

But this being a sort of game for me, I know I won’t always win. I see an old friend and we start to catch up. A woman who knew my friend pops by and I’m introduced. I have a feeling about this one. She’s looks really confident, and happy… and is carrying an empty coffee cup. “Oh, what do you do?” she asks, half expecting me to bullshit her with a fancy executive title. But being honest, as well as a wiseass I give her my stock reply. “Whatever I want. I’m semi-retired.” She half smiles, gives me a knowing look and says, with a conspiratorial air, “Me too. But the coffee is free and I need a refill.” “I do too!” I gratefully respond. “Damn right,” she says. 

I’ve Forgiven Pete Rose 30 Years After Our Tiff…So Should Baseball

petePete Rose has again asked to be reinstated into the good graces of Major League Baseball and I think he should. You see, me and Pete…well, we go way back…back to the time he was tossed out of baseball for betting on his own team and other infractions that don’t include taking performance enhancing drugs or stealing signs.

So what’s this about me and Pete? Don’t ask him. He’ll have zero memory of me. I was just another reporter covering the whole saga of the investigation that led to his ban, but we did have some one-on-one time together that resulted in a good anecdote and an idiotic decision by a CNN producer in Atlanta.

Here’s how it went down. We were granted an exclusive with the man on the first night of his radio show on a Cincinnati station. We captured him taking calls on the air, and afterwards I would interview him. Cool. Right? Now, I couldn’t care less about his radio show. I had some questions about reports of alleged tax issues and other fun stuff like that.

So we set up in a separate studio where I would conduct the interview with both of us standing up near one of the walls. Remember that wall. I figured I’d soften him up with some fluff questions about his radio show and flattery that he sounded relaxed.  “I’m always relaxed talkin’ about baseball,” he replied with a big smile.

That’s nice. I knew his smile would soon disappear. After a couple of those softballs I got to the point and asked him about a report in the Dayton newspaper about alleged tax irregularities. Smile now a frown. “I ain’t seen it,” he snapped. Me being the helpful reporter gave him a quick summary of the story while his PR person panicked and attempted to get our cameraman to stop rolling. He ignored her. I persisted but Pete was looking at me the way he eyed poor Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse when he barreled into him to score the winning run in the 1970 All Star Game. In 2015 Fosse told the Denver Post he still felt the effects of that collision. petefosse

At that point Pete had had it with me and my line of questioning so he took his big, beefy right arm, placed it across my chest and slammed me into the wall..remember that wall? Then he walked out grumbling he had to record promos. His PR person was shaking and insisted I shouldn’t have asked those questions. Meanwhile, my cameraman also was upset because he thought the chances of getting an autographed photo of Pete for his son were out the window. But somehow, a few days later, a signed glossy arrived in the mail.

I really didn’t get much of an answer from Pete but I thought it was good video, which we fed into Atlanta. A young producer didn’t quite see it that way and the video never saw the light of day. Today, a clip like that would probably go viral since there’s an insatiable appetite among many Trump supporters for video of reporter abuse.

I ended up covering the whole damn saga. Here are original courtroom watercolors of Pete from one hearing in downtown Cincy.

rose2Funny story. The artist was placed in the jury box since there was no jury. It was still pretty tight quarters and in the middle of the hearing the poor guy kicked over the container holding the water he used with his paints. The judge was not amused and paper towels were summarily summoned. Despite that unfortunate interruption, I thought the images of Pete came out very well. Afterwards we politely suggested he consider colored pencils.rose1

I think Pete’s paid a fair price for his infractions. I’m not making excuses. He screwed up, but he’s paid a much higher price than others who cheated, affecting the outcome of games and were only fined and/or suspended. Pete made some bad decisions. Did his time, suffered the consequences. He never lost his love for the game and even on the outside looking in, he’s continued to be an ardent ambassador for the game of baseball.

Look, I don’t hold it against him for slamming me into the wall. That was a long time ago. Things happen…then you move on. So should baseball.