The Car Brand I Can Never Buy

tellurideI got behind a Kia Telluride the other day and couldn’t help admiring the brand’s new SUV. In fact, I had considered buying one when I was in the market for a new full-size SUV last year and gave it a good look at the Detroit Auto Show. I ultimately chose a Subaru Ascent. You see, even if the Ascent didn’t win me over by a few salient points, I couldn’t have bought the Kia anyway.

The reason had zero to do with the quality, appearance or performance of the Telluride. Indeed, I can’t bring myself to buy any Kia. It’s not what you think. I have no problem with buying a vehicle from a South Korean automaker. It has everything to with the company name–Kia.

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You see, my father was a World War II veteran. He was actually a hero, awarded the Silver Star for capturing a house of Germans by ordering them in Yiddish, which sounds a lot like German. He passed away in 2007, but something he said to me when we were driving around one day long before that stuck with me.

My father started shaking his head and said to me, “Ed, that car in front of us. It says KIA on it.”

kialogo“Yes,” I told him. “That’s the name of a South Korean automaker that just started doing business here in the U.S.”

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “Do you know what that means? In the Army if you’re designated KIA, you’re dead—killed in action! Who wants to driving around with Killed in Action on their car? Someone made a bad mistake!”

killedinaction.jpgI explained that KIA stood for something in Korean that has nothing to do with the Army designation and that they were pretty good cars.

“Even so,” he said with a little laugh, “I’d be pretty spooked driving around with KIA on my car.”

I hadn’t thought of that day for a long time because I had only bought Jeeps in the years near the end of his life until I retired from Fiat Chrysler in 2016. But when I was ready to consider other brands, I…just…couldn’t…do a Kia.

I did admire that Telluride and almost put it on my list, but I kept hearing my father’s voice–bewildered and bemused at the same time, saying “I just couldn’t drive a car that says “killed in action.”

When I got home from the auto show I told my wife about the Kia Telluride. She flashed a big smile and laughed as she said “Kia? Killed in action? Your father would never let you hear the end of it.” And that ended it.

A Coney Encounter With The Late Congressman John Conyers

conyersDuring my 12 years as CNN Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent I had the opportunity to meet and interview most of the area’s leading politicians, including the late Congressman John Conyers.

One day we were in his Detroit office, located in the Federal courthouse across the street from two of this city’s most well-known restaurants–Lafayette Coney and American Coney. lafayetteamericanconeysThe sit next to each other and are mortal competitors. For those of you unfamiliar with what a coney is, it’s a hot dog with a skin that snaps, topped with chili and mustard and onions. Not my thing–I eat ‘em plain–DON’T JUDGE!  but it’s a huge favorite around here.

coneysThe thing is you’re either a Lafayette person or an American person. You can’t be both. It’s like a Yankee fan also rooting for the Mets. My crew and I have always been Lafayette people. Still am.

What’s this have to do with the late, great Congressman Conyers? It has everything to do with how he always wanted to get things exactly right.

You see, while we chit chatted with him after our interview one of his assistants walked into the office with a brown bag containing a white styrofoam container that had the unmistakable aroma of fresh coneys, destined to be the congressman’s lunch.

Our videographer, who could wolf down three fully loaded coneys as well as a mound of chili cheese fries while driving and never drop one single ort couldn’t help himself and asked the young lady where she got the coneys.

“Um..American Coney,” she replied, suspiciously.

“Congressman Conyers! I hate to tell you this but while well-meaning, your assistant has brought you far inferior coneys! You must always, always get your coneys from Lafayette…they’re far and away the best anywhere and the Congressman should only be fed the best!” our shooter implored the poor lady.

The rest of us backed him up with our full endorsements.

The Congressman listened quietly to this impassioned discourse and turned to his assistant, quietly and respectfully instructing her to heed this advice, adding “this gentleman seems quite upset, which means he’s probably right, so please remember that for next time.”

Sadly, we never encountered Mr. Conyers again, but I trust he lived out his days enjoying only the finest coneys from Lafayette, and only Lafayette, when the taste struck him. 

RIP Congressman John Conyers–a leader, an activist, and late-in-life coney connoisseur.

Bye Bye To Our Personal Best Buy

bbwideMy Best Buy is closing. A lot of Best Buys are closing but this one is mine. Really, it’s my son’s, so it’s ours. But it’s more my son’s because we like to believe he convinced the company to open a store in our neighborhood. During the 1990’s when Best Buy was a pretty cool place to go to buy CDs and DVDs, TV’s, computers and really, anything you could plug in, we’d travel 7 or 8 miles to the nearest one and spend tons of time prowling the aisles…because that’s what men do.

When the first area Best Buy opened in Southfield, Mich. in the early 1990’s we joined the massive crowd that descended on this magic palace of electronics. I even bought an awesome Pioneer rack stereo system which I still use today. I waited forever to get to the checkout and enthusiastically signed up for a Best Buy credit card, which, over the years, I abused mercilessly.

At some point, my son, who was in his late teens at that point, wrote to the Best Buy people telling them they were missing the boat by not locating a store closer to where we live. He carefully laid out the economic data and made the case that there was plenty of money to be made if only they’d open a store in, or near, our town.

They never really responded one way or the other, but then one day as we buzzed by a decaying strip mall on one of our town’s main drags we saw a giant sign shouting that new Best Buy was going in there! Holy crap! Did my son pull off a miracle? I don’t care what you think…I’m going with it that he did.

On the day of the store’s grand opening, 15 years ago, my wife and son were first in line to get in. I was at work. Actually, my son was first and when the doors opened, he was the very first customer to walk through them, smiling wide as the employees lined up along the main aisle and applauded him…as if they knew they owed their jobs to the local kid who convinced the Best Buy corporate poobahs to plunk a store in our hometown.

We were loyal to “our” Best Buy for many years. I bought a few TVs, a couple of computers, GoPro stuff, a bunch of CDs and DVDs, hard drives, assorted parts, cables, a digital Nikon camera..and bag..of course and who knows what else. The cashiers used to laugh at how old my Best Buy credit card was, informing me I could get an updated one. I resisted for a long time since it had some sentimental value but I finally caved.

But over time we visited the store much less often. We stopped buying CDs and DVDs and the experience became both sad and annoying. We always liked just looking around at all the cool stuff but that became a game of aisle-warfare as one had to avoid the “clipboard people,” from cable or satellite TV companies stalking, then attacking you to pressure you into signing with their service. Screw that. There are no cliipboard people when I shop online.

Then there were the workers who were either not trained well or were chugging muscatel at lunch because they were either slow, apathetic or just ignorant. At times, they were simply absent because you couldn’t find one to unlock a case or get you something from the stock room that wasn’t available on the sales floor.

Of course the selection and prices were better online but I did attempt to patronize our Best Buy when it made sense. Unfortunately, it made sense much less often.

We noticed fewer and fewer people shopping at our Best Buy and started to wonder how they could pay to keep the lights lit and all the demo TVs flickering. It was actually sad to see the long, slow decline of a store that once was a wonderment….a place that represented fun, discovery and man’s constant need to plug in things.

goodbyeBBsignIt had been several months since our last visit when we approached the doors the other day. My son and I were greeted with a sign announcing the store would be closing November 2nd. For a moment we were speechless as a sudden sadness hit us. My son had worked so hard to get us our Best Buy but the store just didn’t work hard enough to survive. We walked around the store…quietly. We knew this was our final visit. The shelves already looked bare, the employees trudged through their day, mostly in silence  and we just took it all in thinking of how much we once loved this place.

Finally, my son made his last purchase–some recording supplies. The young lady who took his money politely asked if he’d like to record the purchase on our Rewards Zone account–you know, so we could earn discounts on future purchases. Sure, we said, why not? She handed him his receipt, smiled a little, sad smile, and said, “thanks for stopping in.” Little did she know my son was the very first person who ever did.

Don’t Tell Me Where To Swim At Work

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I’m not a violent person, but if you tell me to do one thing in particular, I may become surly, to the point of hauling off and throwing inappropriate punctuation at you. That one thing is so obnoxious I immediately forget how much I hate “The Ranch” and instead, visualize you as Ashton Kutcher.

What could be so offensive as to cause me to lose all sense of comity and turn to thoughts as dark as wondering if the late Mister Rogers ever wore that cardigan without a shirt?

I bet you’re with me now. You’ve been there too. If you haven’t, you’ll soon understand and immediately empathize.  Yes..you guessed it. Someone at work has looked you squarely in the eye, and with all seriousness, demanded you stay in your swim lane!

thumb_seahorse-and-i-was-like-i-saw-a-land-horse-62554107The very first time I heard that idiotic term was during my time working for a car company. Someone from another department complained to me that a member of my team was not staying in his swim lane and I needed to do something about it. Realizing I had just heard a grown person say something inane I asked exactly what the problem was? I was very sure the member of my team was an excellent swimmer and regardless of stroke, never strayed beyond his lane. Of course I knew what she meant but I wanted to make it known I thought what she had just said was the daily double of dumb: arrogant and stupid.

Not having much of a sense of humor she went on and on about my excellent team member not sticking to his job description to the letter in his quest to use his imagination and initiative to expand and improve his portfolio to the betterment of the company. What was really going on was this person actually felt threatened and sought to quash the efforts of someone who might earn kudos and maybe even a promotion for being an excellent employee.

Me being a good teammate, I promised I would do something immediately. I called the apparently errant swimmer into my office and related my conversation with the moron upstairs. I told him to learn the backstroke so he couldn’t see where he was going in an effort to further stray from him swim lane. I  left him with the firm directive to continue to be as creative and imaginative as possible, within reason. You don’t want someone straying willy nilly into someone else’s area, but you also don’t want to kill an employee’s creativity, drive or enthusiasm.

Just keep up the communication so you know what your folks are up to and step in if you think it’s not merely a swim lane infraction but a dive into a completely new pool. Who knows? That idea may be an opportunity to work with the person or team who may otherwise feel aggrieved and, if successful, you both win.

But just blatantly ordering someone to stay in their swim lane represents the depths of paranoia, haughtiness and pathetic power play. You tell me that and I’ll not only dunk your ass, I’ll pee in your pool.

Food For Thought On Deciphering Clues to Auto Contract Talks

gmuawtalksI’ll be blunt. When it comes to reporting the progress, or lack thereof, in contract negotiations between the UAW and General Motors, present day journalists are going down the wrong rabbit hole.

I’m retired now, but I have covered my fair share of contract talks between Detroit’s automakers and the UAW and worked for one of them between 1989 and when I retired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2016. That means I’ve seen the meat grinder from both sides of the gristle.

The bottom line is too many reporters are wasting their time calling their sources asking for some indications as to how the talks are going. Oh sure, some may have a pipeline to the bargaining table and others who have been through the process previously, may think they know what’s happening. I’ve found those clandestine quotes make for good stories under even better headlines and broadcast news teasers, but are often off the mark.

Now I’ll share what many longtime auto scribes already know–the truth is in the food. I realize times have changed dramatically since the days of reporters basically living at auto company headquarters waiting for the white smoke of a contract settlement. I even spent my 20th wedding anniversary at Ford’s Glass House fast asleep on a couch hoping for a timely agreement so I could get home in time to celebrate our big occasion.

dovebarBack in the day, the automakers fed us ‘round the clock. Catered meals, unending supplies of Dove Bars, midnight snacks. For the first few hours it seemed like the most fun you could have without beer.

Yes, we’d constantly be calling our sources hoping for at least one new lead. I was working at CNN most of the I covered the auto beat, so I was desperate for something new to say on my almost hourly live shots. The producers got pissed if all you had was “GM stuffed our faces with a delicate linguini.”

But the menu was more prescient than less experienced reporters realized. When the fare was suddenly upgraded to include steak, or lobster, or steak and lobster, it was like the big finale at a fireworks show. We’d get on the horn to our editors, breathlessly reporting, “Shit! It won’t be long now. Put me on the air!”Steak-and-Lobster-640x426

Anchor to Ed: “Ed, what’s the latest from the contract talks?”

Ed: “Well Bernie, all indications are they’re about to shake hands on a new pact.”

Anchor: “How do you know this?”

Ed: “They just fed us surf and turf. There can be no doubt it’s a done deal.”

Anchor: “Thanks for that scoop, Ed! Folks, you just heard it first on CNN. The two sides are just dessert away from inking a new four-year contract!”

Then there was the time a PR guy at one of the Detroit 3 decided to spoon feed me the scoop without actually saying it. This actually happened.

Ed to PR guy: “Hey Tom..what do you hear? Can I step out for a little bit?”

PR guy: “NO! The pizza is coming and it’s gonna be SO GOOD!”

Ed to PR guy: “Aw thanks, Tom, but I’m stuffed”

PR guy: “NO! you don’t understand. The pizza is coming at about 2 a.m. and it’s gonna be awesome. Don’t leave!”

He seemed kinda wound up so I stayed. Good thing. “Pizza” was code word for an agreement and sure enough, at around 2 a.m. word came down they’d reached a deal.

Sure, times have changed. I haven’t been stuck holed up staking out labor talks for several years so I’m sure the automakers aren’t serving up surf, turf or Dove Bars anymore which means today’s journalists are working hard, working their sources, pumping them for any nuggets of news. But it just might be worth it if one enterprising scribe went a little old school and asked the question, “hey, what’re they serving?”

If it’s pizza, fire up your device and prepare to file. It’s gonna be “so good!”

pizza

My Cash Ain’t Nothin’ To Trash

cashless_society_3298205

I’ll be blunt. I’m having money troubles. It’s not what you think, so there’s no need to start a GoFundMe page or anything like that. You see, I have enough money to get by, I’m just having trouble spending it. That trouble starts when I attempt to purchase something with actual, folding money, perhaps augmented by some metal coins.

For example, the other day I found a great deal on a humidifier that was priced half-off…$60 down to $30. Who could resist? With 6% tax the total cost would be $31.80. Awesome. I always carry a pocketful of change to make it easier all around, so I presented the 20-something cashier $31 in bills and 80 cents in coins. Exact freakin’ change! But instead of thanking me for making her job so easy, the poor young lady’s eyes grew wide with a combination of confusion and contempt as she hollered to any co-worker within shouting distance, “I need the cash box! Where’s the cash box! Someone is paying in cash! Hurry!” 

Me being the unsympathetic wiseass I am asked her if the store was now converting to a barter system. If so, I would be happy to take back my $31.80 and exchange some beaver pelts I happened to have in the trunk of my car for my item. Rather than chide me as a creepy old man she spat back, “what the hell’s a pelt?” When I explained, the horrified cashier resumed her high decibel plea for the “cash box.”

Someone who, I guess, was a supervisor, finally came over with a little gray box with a variety of bills and coins, and explained to the cashier, that this was a cash box and that some people (he kindly didn’t use the adjective, “old”), might be presenting the archaic form of payment popular way back in the 20th century, called “cash,” which is pretty much how the job title “CASHier” was derived. “Heh,” the CASHier replied. “Whatever.” She then took my combination of currency and coins, stashed it in the cash box then hid the thing for fear others might be tempted to pay for their items in a similar manner.

cashnotacceptedMy daughter, who is in her 30’s, explained to me that I should not continue to embarrass myself by shoving actual money in the faces of CASHiers since “who does that anymore?” in lieu of just tapping, sliding or inserting a credit or debit card and having intangible dough just magically disappear from my bank account. I could go online, I was told, to monitor my account’s activity and check its balance. That’s nice, but what the hell would I keep in the part of my wallet where valuable slips of paper with photos of George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton normally go? And no, I’m not stashing my shopping list there. That’s right, she said. No one has shopping lists anymore….they put it in their freakin’ phones! No wonder kids have crappy handwriting. They have no practice.

It reminded me of a story I covered in 1986 for CNN. A group of Cambodians  who had assisted members of the U.S. armed services during the Vietnam War, were coming over to live in North Carolina. They hadn’t been exposed to some modern conveniences including an ATM. One of the sponsoring service members showed a mystified Cambodian gentleman how it worked after an account at a local bank was set up. He was told to just insert an envelope with his deposit into the ATM’s slot. The man gave it a little push, and whoosh! It disappeared into the machine.  “Where my money!” the man shouted. When he was assured it was safe in the bank, he was not convinced and vowed to return some day soon to reclaim his cash. The service member didn’t have the heart to tell the man his lucky five-dollar bill was gone forever.Cartoon ATM Machine

But this thing about a cashless society works both ways. In a delicious turnabout, our favorite frozen custard stand only accepts cash. There are plenty of signs warning customers of this, but apparently some, mostly Millennials, refuse to believe it. Whether they’re illiterate, arrogant or one of those people who don’t believe what they read on a sign, they step up to the window to order, whip out their debit cards, then act aghast when told the signs didn’t lie…no cash, no cream…there’s an ATM in the convenience store across the street. They generally just step away, speechless, shell shocked, and return to their cars and leave. In all the years we’ve been going there, I’ve never seen even one chastened Millennial return with actual cash, having made the decision that a luscious, creamy dessert was not worth a quick trip across the street to grab some liquid assets to pay for it.the-look-i-5b6110

Don’t get me wrong. Of course I use credit cards for many different purchases. It only makes sense for lots of things, but there are times it makes more sense to me to just pay with cash and be done with it.

And just think of what we lose if we go totally cashless. What are you gonna do, stick your debit card under your kid’s pillow when they lose a tooth? Believe me, the Tooth Fairy doesn’t fly around with a card swiper although I’m a little scared she has a Venmo account. That would be disturbing.

I kinda stick with the way Steve Miller ended his song “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” with the lines: “Your cash ain’t nothin’ but trash…But I’m sure going to get me some more.”  Cha-ching!

Hard Assed About Hardwoods

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We moved a couple of miles to a subdivision that’s hooked into the Nextdoor website. Familiar with it? It can be really useful when you need a recommendation for a window washer, a lawn service, a plumber or just looking to form a canasta or golf group.

The other day someone asked for a recommendation for a good, honest place to buy some carpeting. She received a few good tips…and then I came across this response:

“Put in hardwood carpeting seems dated and always needs cleaning!”

My first response was, “heh..what an asshole.” My second response was, “Yeah..a big one.” You see, I’m totally mystified by what seems to be a growing devotion to cold, hard floors.

Oh, we tried. the house we moved into is all hardwood on the first level, with the exception of tile in the kitchen. Keep in mind, I grew up in a small apartment in NYC where every room was covered in wall-to-wall from the looms of Mohawk. After we got married in the early 70’s we grooved out to awesome orange shag carpeting in our first couple of places and graduated to luxurious deep-pile on thick padding.

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This is a generic house..not mine

 

I found our new house on Zillow and despite the photos that showed wide swaths of varnished hardwood, we loved it too much to pass up. Oh, we tried to get with the current hardwood hard-on that seems to be in vogue. The first night we sat on our couch to watch TV, the thing went flying when I got up for a snack. Hmm..maybe get an area rug to avoid that next time, but we rejected that idea because come winter time, only that little bit of floor would be warm and we’d freeze our footsies padding elsewhere around the place.

Our kids are grown now, but I got to thinking about families with toddler who might launch themselves across the slick surface only to crack their noggins on a sharp corner of the furniture. Not only would the poor kid be hurt, the blood might leave a permanent stain on an end table. 

Why-Do-Dogs-Slip-on-Hardwood-Floors

And think of poor pooch! What’s the poor thing know except its owner ignorantly might believe it can pull off a double axel. Pathetic there has to be a website with tips to keep pets from spilling their kibble on carpet-less floors.

Now we’re not totally tone deaf. We know that many people swear by the curious desire to live their lives on what amounts to small roller skating rinks so we decided to install carpet on part of the floor and leave some hardwood exposed on another where there isn’t as much traffic. So far this has served us well, although I’m sure those who totally heart hardwoods would be appalled that even one inch of precious oak is suffocating beneath a blanket of warmth and comfort. If and when we decide to sell, we’ll make it plain that if they must, the carpeting can be removed so they can enjoy a life of cold feet and chasing dustballs. Wear slippers you suggest? Oh no, you slat-faced silly! Hardwood people do NOT allow the wearing of footwear on their precious planking!

slippersWalk around in socks? Ha! You’ll fly across the room and punch a Kool-aid Kid hole right through the guest bathroom’s drywall.

The final faux issue regards upkeep. The moron who posted on Nextdoor complained that carpet “always needs cleaning.” Honestly, what doesn’t? I rather enjoy running the Hoover over my carpeting far more than slopping around with a Swiffer or mop across the boards. Then again, I’m a man and I like things you plug in that make noise.

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Well, I hope the person who requested recommendations for a good carpet supplier ended up happy with her new flooring. I tip my hat to her for making the smart choice and standing her solid, stable, warm, luxurious ground against the hardwood hard asses…who are probably nursing black and blue from their latest fall.