When Mom “Subbed” for me On Air

mom

On this Mother’s Day, 2018, I have a true story of a true heroism on the part of one mother..my mom, whom I sadly lost in 2007. This is not a sob story. It’s kind of hilarious.

Marvin, Sandy & Clive clippingGrowing up in New York City in the ’60’s I was a devoted follower of Sandy Becker. He hosted a kid’s morning show for years on then WNEW, Channel 5. Live, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Two of his most popular characters were puppets Marvin the Mouse and Sir Clyve Clyde, which were voiced and operated by Becker. A daily feature was for Sir Clyve to  place a phone call to a lucky kid whom he interview on the air.  The kid’s reward was a Marvin the Mouse puppet.

My mother, who once had aspirations of a singing and acting career, was a typical stage mother. I..at the tender age of 6, was so shy, I hid in my room when we had visitors. Nevertheless, she sent in my name and I was chosen as the next day’s lucky kid. The producer said we’d get a call about 5 minutes to air and that we should just stand by until we hear Sir Clyve/Sandy’s voice begin the short interview.

Sure enough, the next day our phone rang and the producer gave us the five minute warning. I hung onto the phone until I heard Sir Clyve say in his British accent, “Well good morning 6 year old Edward Garsten from Bellerose, Queens. How are you?” I froze. Thrusted the phone into my horrified mother’s hands. For that split second there was dead air until my mother gamely got on the phone and put on her most childish voice. She was in her mid-30’s at the time.  “HI!” she replied emphatically.” “I’m good!”  Sensing something was up, Sandy/Sir Clyve reacted with, “My, my Edward. You have a strong voice for 6!”  “Thank you,” my mother replied. “What grade are you in, Edward,” Sir Clyve asked.  Shit. My mother momentarily forgot, but the trouper she was, came up with the correct answer. “Well….,” she stalled. “I guess, first grade.”   Sure,  now Edward was a fraud and employing an understudy, Sandy/Sir Clyve wrapped up the interview. “I say! It’s been a pleasure speaking with you Edward. Thanks for watching our show!”

Before we could hang up the producer came back on the line sounding a little confused, saying, “uh, pretty good interview. Thanks a lot. We’ll send you the Marvin the Mouse puppet. Just need your address.”

After we hung  up, my mother looked at me with that, “what the hell just happened?” face. But she knew her youngest son. So shy. Such a loser. Well, she tried.  It was OK. Mom got some free air time, playing a 6-year old.

A few days later the envelope arrived. In it was the Marvin the Mouse puppet. I tore it open and stuck my hand up Marvin’s back and showed my mother. She smiled as she said, “I think that’s mine.” Then we both had a pretty good laugh.  Miss her.

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Caught in the Daimler-Chrysler Divorce

Today, May 7, is the 20th anniversary of the announcement of the engagement that would lead to a wedding, and ultimately divorce in one of the worst corporate marriages in history.

At the time, I was the Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent for CNN, so this was a big story for me to cover. I had no idea that nine years later I would be caught in the middle of the stormy split as a DaimlerChrysler employee. Indeed, disastrous corporate tieups seem to follow me.

The first was the 2001 merger of CNN parent company Time Warner with AOL. The result was laying off about a thousand CNN employees and shutting down bureaus. That’s how I lost my job there after 20 years of service.

I found my way to the print world, first as national auto reporter for the Associated Press, then General Motors beat writer for the Detroit News. Three years into that stint, I got a call that the head of PR for the Chrysler half of DaimlerChrysler was looking to start a media-oriented blog and wanted an auto writer to ghost write and manage it. Sold. Cool job. That job later was broadened to heading the company’s digital communications team, which included broadcast and social media.

Fast forward to October, 2006. Plans were being made for DaimlerChrysler’s annual global news conference. This was always held at the company’s Stuttgart, Germany headquarters, but they were going to “trust” us to pull it off at Chrysler Group HQ in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  Two members of the Daimler PR staff flew over to meet with us to start the communications planning. We knew things were off to a bad start when we were told the date chosen was Feb. 14, 2007 and that all communications with the media would be by fax.  One of the announcements planned included plant closings and layoffs. We warned our German counterparts such an announcement on Feb. 14th would lead to headlines blaring, “Valentine’s Day Massacre!”  They were unmoved.  We also explained no one used fax machines anymore, but they remained steadfast insisting that’s how they did it in Germany. We suggested the use of fax machines was effective in guaranteeing no one would show up.  Tough scheiss.

Planning went along and on the appointed day I showed up at 4 a.m. to help direct the broadcast satellite and microwave trucks where to park and to help the crews set up.  The first truck had barely arrived when I got a call from a reporter who could barely contain himself as he asked, “Hey! What’s going on. German publication Handelsblatt just reported they’re gonna announce they’re selling you guys off. Comment?”  I was totally blindsided. We had heard not a word. I called my boss who at first stammered then promised some sort of statement shortly. It was not shortly. By then my phone was ringing off the hook asking about the Handlesblatt report. When I finally received the statement it was a non-committal corporate collection of words that didn’t completely spill the beans, but didn’t deny the reports. Things quickly got out of control. Now we had two disasters. An impending announcement of plant closings and layoff AND, with regard to the possible offloading of Chrysler, in the eventual words of DCX Chairman and CEO Dieter Zetsche, “all options are open.” Easily decipherable code for, “we’re ditching the Americans. Divorce is in the air.”  Yes, it was a Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Ironically, only a few weeks prior, the company decided we Americans should learn to speak German and contracted with a local outfit to hold classes in our offices. After being told the marriage was headed for splittsville we all declared, “aufwiedersehen!” to the classes. When the poor teacher showed up to find an empty room, one of us gently informed him of the news and our last German lesson was how to say “that sucks.”

Truthfully, we were relieved knowing within some period of time we’d be out from under the thumbs of the German management, but would miss many of our German colleagues who became good friends.  We had no idea our new owners, Cerberus, would be an even bigger disaster.

 

 

 

Draft Day on Wall Street

nfl-draft-2017-042717-getty-ftrjpg_1erpre7c3321j1ilnqq6rs44tb phone’s been driving me crazy all weekend. Every few minutes the damn thing’s been binging with updates from the NFL draft. They scream stuff like, “Detroit picks Louie Schmeckingford of Dreck Tech as Left Nipple!” I’m happy for Mr. Schmeckingford for landing a job but truly, I don’t care. Then…bing, bing bing, bing!  “The 49ers choose Dick Wad in the fourth round as backup waterboy!” Swell. I open the story to learn that Sir Wad distinguished himself in the Big Billion Conference by breaking all sorts of speed records for water procurement for sweaty slabs of two-legged beef.

I get it. Among fans and Fantasy Football geeks, the draft is almost as important as the the day they had their overbite corrected.

Then I got to thinking that maybe I’m the one who has it all wrong. What’s the draft anyway, but companies flush with money, choosing young people to join their ranks in hopes of furthering their success.

How ingenious! Why is this process limited to sports teams? It seems like a draft is a perfect way to bolster any team.

I see it now. CNBC pre-empts regular programming for the First Corporate Talent Pool Draft.

joe-kernen-2“Hi, this is Joe Kernan with Becky Quick.  Business services firm KPMG has the first pick, earned via a trade with Pricewatershouse Cooper for two insider trading secrets.”

“Joe, KPMG has their eye on Barlow Biteme, who graduated first in his accounting class   and won acclaim for his thesis, “Don’t Jump Off the Ledger.”   quick

“Right Becky. But to land him, they’ll have to cough up a huge signing bonus, a corner office and free tanning sessions just ahead of the ‘season’ in the Hamptons.”

“Who wouldn’t pay that, Joe, for a guy who not only crunches numbers, but absolutely chews them up and spits them out just the way the CEO imagined them.”

“So true, Becky! One story going around has Biteme cooking the books so well at his college fraternity, his brothers nicknamed him ‘The Chef!’ No doubt, KPMG can’t wait to serve the SEC what Biteme whips up.”

“Right, Joe! Let’s move on to the second pick. That’s comes from Deloitte.Touche.”

“Well, Becky, those pencil pushers are counting on landing Flo Nase from Wharton.”

“For sure, Joe. She’s was known there as “The Eraser.” In fact, Nase is so adept at making poor performance metrics go away, her Theory of Imaginary Computation won the top prize at this year’s Conference of Complicits.”

“Ha! That’s amazing Becky! One source tells me one of Nase’s favorite funnies is the way she plays dumb when someone challenges one of her audits by exclaiming, ‘audit? Oh..dat!”

“No wonder she’s a top pick, Joe!”

“Indeed, Becky! Don’t you just love this? Folks, we’ll be back with second round picks in a moment, after this word from upstart Wall Street brokers Questionable Quotes.”

On the Mustang’s 54th…me and my Mustang II

mustangIIstockThis week marked 54 years since the Ford Mustang was introduced to the world, appropriately, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. I lived about 20 minutes, or two bus rides, from the fair, and went often, whenever I could scrounge up the buck fifty it cost to get in. 

One of my favorite attractions was the Ford pavilion which featured a ride  in a convertible Galaxie 500 through tubes and tracks that took you through time. You often had to wait a couple of hours to get in, but it was worth it. When you got off the ride, they handed you a green plastic badge embossed with a likeness of the pavilion and a state. You never knew which state you’d get. I got New Jersey. I still have it. If you hold it up to a light for about 30 seconds then go in a dark space, it’ll glow bright green. fordbadgeAll these years later mine still glows.  What also glowed was the cool new sporty car on a turntable they called the Mustang. The badge on the grille was a horse, but the Mustang name was really derived from the World War II P-51 fighter jet, which Mustang stylist John Najjar admired.

Since I was only 12 at the time, I wasn’t ready to buy a Mustang. Besides, my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. In fact, I never really thought about owning a Mustang even though I admired it. But things can change quickly in life. After I graduated college in 1973 and got married, I had a very limited budget since the radio station where I worked paid only minimum wage. Except for a used car, the only new ones I could afford were either an AMC Gremlin or Chevy Vega. I went for the Vega..a nice bright red one with sporty fake black leather seats.

Anyone familiar with the ill-fated Vega knows it was a complete failure. I went through 3 transmissions in three years. Many years later as an automotive reporter for The Detroit News, I visited the Lordstown, Ohio Assembly Plant where the Vega was built. One old codger who had worked on the car looked at me sadly and asked, “you owned a Vega? On behalf of the men and women here in Lordstown, I APOLOGIZE!”

Then one day a guy I worked with at radio station WMBO in Auburn, N.Y., outside Syracuse, came up to me and begged me to go down to the parking lot with him, where he showed me a shiny silver new Mustang II. “They’re having a big sale on Mustangs at the Ford dealer in Skaneateles! Dump that Vega!” he said.

It was, indeed a cool car so that night my wife and I drove the five miles east to Skaneateles and instantly fell in love with an emerald green Mustang II with white, fake leather seats.  The soft-spoken salesman actually offered us money for our Vega and we picked up the Mustang the next day. It wasn’t a good start. No sooner had we pulled out of the lot it started raining and flipped the switch to turn on the wipers. Nothing happened. Made a quick u-turn back to the dealership where the embarrassed salesman said, “oh, sometimes the wiper arms on the new ones have to be tightened.” Right.

But after that we felt cool as crap riding in the green machine. Took great care of it and it never failed us. We ended up taking it across the country when we moved to Tucson, Arizona and across again when we moved to Atlanta. That’s where it was time to say “goodbye” to it.  Oh, I forgot to mention the car had no air conditioning which was a big negative living in the desert in Tucson where we’d often have 10 days or more above 100 degrees. I had to drive to work in shorts and a t-shirt and then change when I arrived. Before figuring this out, I’d drive in my suit then have to ask someone to pry me out of the car because my clothes were stuck to the fake leather seats.

I was working overnights at CNN in 1986 and on my way home on I-85 I felt the car failing. I managed to get it off the freeway, about halfway up the Druid Hills Road exit, where it died. A few minutes later the traffic reporter on WSB warned morning commuters, “a green Mustang is blocking the northbound exit ramp at Druid Hills Road off I-85!”  After I had the car towed to a nearby gas station, my wife came and picked me up in our other car….a two-tone blue Chevy Chevette. Yeah..we had strange taste in cars.  By the time I got home a guy who worked at the Ford plant in Hapeville, Ga., near the Atlanta airport, called and said he’d give me 150 bucks for the car and pay my towing fee, then fix it up for his 16 year old daughter. Deal!

For a year or so after that I would run into the old car. I knew it was mine because I had a Newscenter 9 bumper sticker on it–the TV station I worked at in Tucson. I was glad to see the old green Mustang got a second life. It certainly served us well during its first one.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday and I had the privilege of covering the Mustang’s 54th birthday at Ford World Headquarters for Automotive News. Here’s my story which was the latest edition of my weekly feature, The Closer. Enjoy.

A Columbine Miracle Remembered

I didn’t cover the shootings at Columbine High School, but I covered an upshot.

On the day of the terrible events of in 1999 I was actually in Pell Lake, Wisconsin for CNN, covering the news that an Illinois couple had won a big Powerball lottery jackpot. As I stood in front of the camera awaiting my cue to go live, the cue never came. Some other news was breaking.

Move ahead to December and again I found myself covering a disgusting story about a guy in Pontiac, Michigan selling photos from World War II concentration camps on eBay. My pager, yes, it was 1999, went off. The CNN National Desk in Atlanta said they need us to go the next day out to Colorado. The Columbine High School football team was going to play for the state championship again prohibitive favorite Cherry Creek.

Our plane to Denver was running late and we, in turn, were late for a news conference with the school principal the day before the big game. Instead of castigating us for being late, he was warm and understanding, and above all, sympathetic that our tardiness was beyond our control. We were sure he had honed these skills through necessity over the last six terrible months.

When we arrived at the game the next day, our goal was to shoot some student interviews before  it started, then settle in for the game and whatever the results might be. We were not greeted warmly by the students. We didn’t blame them. That’s all they needed was another camera in their faces. Another reporter sticking a mic in front of them looking for answers from traumatized teenagers. We respected their pleas for privacy and retreated. Then the game.

Columbine wasn’t supposed to have a prayer of beating Cherry Creek, but their prayers were answered. A semblance of joy and accomplishment in a year of utter sadness and anger. We had little time to put together our piece and in the end, I decided the bulk of it should just be the natural sound of the expressions of happiness and gratitude….for this one bright light during  the darkest year. Here’s my story.

Today’s Five & Dime is A Buck or Five

woolworthsOh how inflation has changed our perception of cool, cheap stuff. When we were kids, it was Woolworth’s..the five and dime store. Of course, that was a cruel come-on since there wasn’t much that actually cost a nickel or a dime, except a candy bar or a pack of gum. If I was a good boy while my mother spent hours shopping for clothes at the neighborhood department store, we could walk a few doors down to Woolworths and I was allowed to choose anything less than a dollar. Inevitably, I’d find a toy that cost 98 cents, but my mother always rounded up and that was too close to a buck to make the cut.

dollar-tree-officeToday a dollar is the magic minimum. People swarm into the dollar stores and spend money like it grows on trees. Maybe that’s why the number two dollar store is the Dollar Tree. It’s only outranked, sales-wise, by Dollar General. dollargeneral5_600x400Today, my son and I visited the Dollar Star.  Not sure it’s part of a chain, but a nice old guy runs the place and he carries everything from picture hangers to oddball brands of candy to birthday and playing  cards to rather large images of Jesus. For those of faith, you can’t beat a buck to pay homage. I found a package of two little bottles of hand sanitizer. The label says the scent is “original.” I took a whiff. Yes..the scent is, indeed, original. In fact I’ve never smelled anything like it, although it reminded me a bit of my last visit to a slaughterhouse. At least I know my hands will not only be clean, but will smell like either raw sirloin or a butcher’s severed thumb.handsanitizer

The dollar store is also a good place to pick up the local newspaper. The Detroit Free Press costs $1.50 but only a buck at the dollar store. The paper sometimes feel a little thin, so maybe for 50 cents less we’re not getting all the obits.

Over the years I’ve bypassed the well-known big box discount stores for the dollar store when I’ve needed a water bottle, book of crossword puzzles, a bag of Fiddle Faddle or mechanic’s rags.

When I’m feeling flush, I visit a Five Below store where everything is FIVE dollars or below. That’s 500 percent more but the stuff they carry is usually many percent less expensive than other stores. For instance, when I got a new cell phone I looked for a case at a discount store. Some discount. The cases ranged from $25-$45. At Five Below I had a fairly decent choice of cases all priced at five bucks.  Same for Bluetooth ear buds, USB cables and Pickleball paddles.  I’m not sure I’d buy clothes there, though since I’d be afraid to wear them in the rain. fivebelowtech

What this whole cheapo store phenomenon tells me is you can find a lot of life’s little needs for next to nothing. I mean, why pay 4 dollars for picture hangers when you can pay one little George Washington for the same thing? So what if you don’t recognize the brand–they all probably come from the same factory in Shanghai anyway.

I often wonder what my childhood would have been like if they had dollar stores back in the 60’s. Probably not that much different…since a dollar is still more than 98 cents.      

Senior Moments at the Gym

GoldenAgeFitness_wb_LTrejoThe slight elderly woman was bent over a magazine propped up on the stand attached to the stair-stepper machine. Slowly, slowly, she depressed on the pedal, stopped, read a line or two from an article, then took another step with the opposite foot.

She was in the middle of this routine when I arrived at the storefront fitness place I joined in January to rehab my left knee, which underwent surgery in December to repair a torn cartilage I suffered playing ice hockey into my mid-60’s.

I mounted the elliptical and began my program. She was three machines to my right. I cranked up the Tom Petty concert playing in my ear buds and entered the trance one enters when doing mindless, repetitive exercise. But the spell was broken when I found myself looking over to see if the stair-stepping senior was OK. Oh, she was. Where at first glance the poor woman looked like she was in pain, a closer examination revealed a small smile. I’m not sure what made her happier. The workout or the article on Reese Witherspoon’s cupcake preferences. I know what I’d choose. 

Man-Exercising-in-Fitness-Center-300x222My time on the elliptical complete, I moved on to the leg press machine where a grey-haired gentleman had just finished his routine. He paused to watch me start and, I’m guessing, to see if I added any weight beyond the 10 pounds he had locked in. Well, yes, I did add another 40 pounds, and he left with a wistful look as if to say to himself, “I’ll get there too.”

From there it was on to another machine I can’t name, but it’s supposed to help you strengthen your chest and upper arm muscles. A serious-looking fellow dressed in a faded golf shirt, work pants and brown walking shoes got on an adjacent piece of apparatus, took a bit of a breath, and slowly worked on completing some leg curls.

To be surrounded by seniors, like me, just trying to fight off Father Time, attenuate whatever aches and pains might wrack our aging bodies, perhaps boost the flow of serotonin to our brains, is most inspiring and comforting. 

None of us wear designer workout togs, worry about our hair or makeup or pose for the benefit of, really, no one. Sure, there are always a few of “those” at the gym, but this is a cut-rate joint in a strip mall, making it affordable for us retirees and absent the attitude at flashier and more expensive fitness centers.

I complete my workout and as I start to walk towards the door I see my stair-stepping friend still at it. Slowly, slowly, slowly on her virtual climb, head still bent over that magazine. Still smiling. Me too.