Three Years Into Retirement And I Got Promoted

retirementcakeI just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do. 

That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours  a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of  spare time.

About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.

A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.

If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.

I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.

It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.

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An Explosion, A Shooting And Dove Bars-Tales of Covering UAW-Detroit 3 Contract Talks

contracttalksContract talks between the UAW and the U.S. automakers officially kicked off this week with three grip and grin handshakes-across-the-table photo ops before the two sides retreat to the process of collective arguing..er..bargaining. The real fun, however, doesn’t really start until the contracts are about to expire on Sept. 14th.

The first contract talks I ever covered were in 1990. As the contract expiration neared and talks revved up, my CNN crew and I, along with several dozen other journalists camped out in the press room at the old General Motors headquarters on Second Avenue in Detroit where we expected to stay until the white smoke, or some other signal let us know the two sides wore each other down and agreed to a new pact.

This was all new to me, as I’d only been covering the auto beat since being transferred to Detroit from Atlanta the year before. I quickly learned an important thing about covering the talks–GM had a kickass catering department. Knowing we would be bored stiff cooling our heels for hours on end waiting for an agreement, or breakdown, the kind folks at GM kept us fed..and fed..and fed. Every few hours more food would arrive–chicken, steak, snacks and of course, the most popular item, Dove Bars. Oh yes…all the Dove Bars you could lick, slurp or swallow. The only thing never served up–was news.

So we hung in there all day, all night, filing whatever updates we could gin up to keep our editors and producers happy. In between, to keep from going stir crazy, we’d play cards and then a crazy game one of my producers made up called “Slug Charades.” For those not in the biz, a slug is a story title. At CNN it was important to make up a catchy slug for your story because sometimes that would be all it took to sell the piece to a show producer in Atlanta. So we passed the time acting out some of our more clever slugs while the rest of our bureau crew attempted to identify it. The other scribes in the room just assumed we’d OD’d on Dove Bars and would need to detox eventually on GM catering’s tasty rice pilaf.

sagriverexplosionWell into the second day we got an urgent call from out national assignment desk in Atlanta. “Get the hell outta there! A ship blew up in the Saginaw River near Bay City!” No problem. We got our parole but someone needed to stay back to keep an eye on the talks, so we left one of our bureau staffers and told him to let us know the moment anything happened either way–and off we went…but not before a local TV reporter who had evidently lost her mind from all the waiting around could not believe we were bolting and yelled out, “what the fuck! You have to stay! We all have to stay! You can’t leave us behind!” Alas we just smiled…well..smirked…and took off for the two hour drive up to Bay City where we knocked out a few live shots, fed a package and high-tailed it back to Detroit where, back at GM, the two sides were still going at it. At least that’s what we assumed since we hadn’t heard from our guy who was holding the fort.

Knowing we had someone on-site, our desk told us to go home for a few hours, catch a few winks, take a shower, change our clothes. Early the next morning our guy left at GM rings my phone. He was from Georgia. “Hey Eeeeeeddddddddd! Somethin’s weird. No one’s in the press room anymore! Ah dunno whut’s goin’ on!” Shit. I told him to call up to the GM press office, which he did, then called me back to inform me, “sheeeeeeet! All I did was close mah eyes for a bit and they freakin’ came to an agreement while ah wuz sleepin’! What should ah doooooooooo?” Hmm…find another job?

Well, yes…there was no one in the newsroom anymore because….THEY WERE ALL UPSTAIRS AT A NEWS CONFERENCE ANNOUNCING THE CONTRACT SETTLEMENT!

Luckily, CNN had four affiliates in Detroit at the time so once our national desk realized Sleeping Beauty had napped through the breaking story they were able to quickly arrange to grab the live signal from one of the stations.

The rest of us had to hustle downtown to the bureau, which was two blocks from GM, and crash together some sort of reporter package.

We were all just glad it would be, at the time, three years until the next round of talks. Oh…nothing could happen, right?

Shit.

Our wedding anniversary is September 15th–the precise day the contract would expire. 1993 marked our 20th anniversary. Kinda special, right? I spent most of it at Ford World Headquarters, “The Glass House,” instead of celebrating our big anniversary at home with my wife and kids. CNN was sensitive to this and was kind enough to agree to fly in my predecessor in Detroit, Bob Vito, from L.A., where he was now stationed. After all, he had many years of covering contract talks. The plan was for Bob to spell me for a bit so we could at least go out to dinner, then I would return to Ford.

Heh. I waited and waited and waited and waited and Vito doesn’t show up until around midnight. “Where the hell were ya?” I ask. “Oh…I just really needed a Lafayette coney dog, it’d been a long time.”

lafayetteconeyWhatever. I finally got home for late night drink and toast. Better than nothing. Of course all is not fair. Along with all the other journalists I had been going stir crazy at Ford for almost 36 hours with nothing. Then my guy, fat and happy with his belly filled with coneys strolls in and an hour or so later they reach an agreement.

The last talks I covered for CNN were in 1999 and this time we were holed up at the basement press room at the Chrysler headquarters in suburban Auburn Hills, Mich. Again…nothing to report for hours and hours and hour but we were always well fed, which just made us more sleepy.

You know that thing about history repeating itself? Yeah..it’s not bull. Nine years after being wrenched from GM to cover the Saginaw River explosion we get an urgent call from the Atlanta desk. “There’s been a church shooting in Fort Worth, Texas! Multiple deaths. We’re throwing a ton of resources at it, so get the hell outta there and head to Texas!”

Uh…sure. By the time we could get our gear packed and down to the airport, which was at least an hour’s drive away, and then down to Fort Worth, what really would be left to cover? But we did as we were told, hustled to the scene and I was instructed to stand in front of a camera to do a live shot. I stood there for an hour when some producer said, “eh, don’t really need ya.” The next day we were assigned a follow up piece. Filed it and another producer said, “eh, don’t really need that.”  So we took our toys and flew back to Detroit to continue covering the contact talks but…well, you know the ending…they settled while we were en route and CNN had a reporter from one of our affiliates do a live shot.

So…the final tally on that one? Got wrenched from covering contract talks to fly 1,500 miles to cover a shooting story that in a town where CNN already had a bureau and crew that did a fine job handling it when it broke, so our work was not needed and in the meantime missed the big finish to the story we should never had been told to vacate.

I covered one more set of talks in 2003 when I was the GM beat writer for The Detroit News. This time I was allowed to see it through and no one napped. But times had changed significantly since 1990. Despite my strongest hankerings there wasn’t a Dove Bar to be found. 

Dove

What-Me Worry About MAD’s Demise

trumpputincoverI’m quite sure none of you gave this any serious thought, but doesn’t it seem a bit suspicious that Mad Magazine announced it’s all but shutting down shortly after its “face,” Alfred E. Neuman was referenced by Pres. Donald Trump? You may recall Trump derided the chances of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s chances of succeeding him in the White House, telling Politico, “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become President of the United States.”  Fact is, Neuman did give it a shot in back in the ’60’s, running under his fairly over confident slogan “What-Me-Worry?” whatmeworry

For Buttigieg’s part, he tweeted that he had to look up who Neuman is because he claimed he wasn’t familiar with the reference. To that, I say, anyone who doesn’t know who Alfred E. Neuman is cannot be President, since the gap-toothed ginger represents just what made me what I am today–a semi-retired aging Baby Boomer who spends much of his day writing things in his basement office partially adorned with water color courtroom paintings of Pete Rose on the wall. I covered the case. Our artist kicked over the water for his paints in the jury box and it still makes me laugh. edpete

Now, two months later, Mad announces it’s shutting down. Coincidence, I think not. Once a chump like Trump co-opts the magazine’s mascot, you know only bad things can happen to a publication that took great joy in lambasting him and most of his predecessors over the past 60 some-odd years. That means my whole life.

But I will not be denied. My brother and I were devoted readers as we refused to mature  into adolescence and adulthood, regularly coughing up a quarter, and later 35 cents (cheap!) for issues of Mad and deep in a box in my awesome basement I came up with these three beauties from the 60’s. The pages are brittle, but then again, so was the humor.

3mads.001

In what other publication could a kid learn to be a cynical shit though tough love satire like this classic showing the big bad wolf blowing down the Berlin Wall.

berlinwall

I still crack up about the warning about making sure we pay close attention to the asterisk in ads. 1964 Plymic “luxury car with the economy price” for $2,164. Asterisk-all the stuff you need like power brakes, seats, a roof….are extra.

1964Plymic2134

There was the famous inside back cover fold in. Here’s one asking “Who wants to be President more than anything? with caricatures of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and failed 1964 candidate Barry Goldwater. Fold it in…and it reveals the real answer….Richard Nixon!  

foldin.001

Think things are much different today than they were in Mad’s heyday in the 1960’s. You would be wrong. Take a look at Chapter 1 in The Mad Primer of Bigots, Extremists and Other Loose Ends, which concludes, “Now you know what a Super Patriot is. He’s someone who loves his country while hating 93% of the people who live in it.”

chapter1Mad held nothing sacred, taking aim at even the most sacred chestnuts such as the soundtrack from “Sound of Music” as part of its feature titled, “Fakeout Record Jackets.”

soundofmusic

Of course Mad’s classic subversive Spy vs. Spy strip basically lampooned how idiotic creating international conflicts is with every perceived “victory” being pyrrhic in the end. spyspy

Right up until the end, Mad shoved it up butts that deserved thorough stuffing, including recently departed Press Secretary Sarah Sanders …trumpsanders

and the arrogant Facebook posse.

facebooklibraBut the bottom line is we need Mad’s kind of satire to keep us laughing when so much seems so hard to take. Oh sure, a lot of what “the usual gang of idiots” published was technically “fake,” but like all good comedy, based on truth…and that’s what helps us keep it real.

RIP MAD. Neuman in 2020! Sorry, Pete. 

The “Problems” With Your Vehicle May Just Be Problems With You

confused driver

Several years ago when I was an auto writer for The Detroit News and attending a media ride and drive program in Arizona, I was joined for 60-70 miles by a high ranking executive. I would drive, so I could learn about, and evaluate the new vehicle, while running a voice recorder so I could capture my interview with the executive. First thing, the executive says, “Ed, please turn off your recorder for a moment. I have something to say, that, if you associate it with my name, we’re through..forever.” Sure. I stop the recording and the guy asks me for a favor. “Could you please write a story with a simple angle but leave me out of it? That angle would be, ‘IQS is pure bullshit!” He then went on to elaborate complaining about the criteria for a “problem” and how automakers are screwed when operator error or failure to properly research a vehicle before purchasing may really be the culprits. Seeing I had only limited time with the guy I made no promises and quickly moved on to areas where he would go on the record so I could come away from my time with him with a story we could publish.

If you’re not familiar with it, IQS is the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Each year the J.D. Power sends surveys out to several thousand folks who are asked to cite what they would consider problems with their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership.

Based on the responses, the analytics company publishes a study ranking each brand by how many problems are reported per 100 vehicles as well as enumerating specific problems reported by consumers.The most recent study results were released a few weeks ago.

Sounds good, right?

Over the years, IQS has been criticized and questioned to the point where J.D. Power actually made wholesale changes to the survey some years ago.

hummergasArguably, one of the breaking points was when owners of gas hog Hummers complained they weren’t getting very good fuel economy from the beasts. Ya think? Was that a problem with the vehicle or a problem with customers not doing some basic research before buying?

Oh, over the years respondents would whine that the ride in a Jeep Wrangler was rough. Yes. That’s correct. The Jeep Wrangler is not a family land yacht, minivan or cushy crossover. It’s a vehicle designed to go off-road, climb rocks, take you places that have no roads. All one has to do is take a few minutes to research the Wrangler AND….take a sufficient test drive over less than perfect pavement. It’s not the Wrangler’s fault! A lot of people buy Wranglers just because they look cool and find out what they’re really all about later…then complain about the vehicle doing what it was designed to do. I owned one for 6 years and loved it because I kayak and the Wrangler had no problem navigating some of the iffy dirt and rocky two-tracks that led to the water. I only got rid of it when the transmission smoked up and died. It had a lot of miles on it and I figured I’d take advantage of its high trade-in value.


navSystemUpdateIt all further hit home when I covered this year’s IQS and we were told many people complained about several automakers’ infotainment systems. Oh..they cried about them being too complicated or whatever. So during the question and answer period I asked whether there’s really a problem with these systems or are owners just being too freakin’ lazy to read the manual to learn how to use the systems.

Here’s the answer I got: “People won’t read the manual. They just won’t. The true solution is to fix it upstream and get it right the first time.”

But what’s actually wrong? OK..yes..some systems are unduly complicated, but generally modern infotainment and connectivity systems are not necessarily so intuitive you can just sit down and operate them as you could in the old days when the most complicated electronics was an AM/FM radio with an 8-track, cassette or CD player. There is a learning curve. But you have to take the time to learn. Personally, I spent a couple of hours with the owner’s manual of my Subaru Ascent learning how its electronics work and what all the buttons and lights mean. Now I’m happy. It was easy. No complaints.

Some dealerships, like my Subaru store, offer what’s known as “second deliveries” where, after owning the vehicle for a week or so, you come back and there’s someone to answer any question you have and demonstrate how things work. If the instructions in the manual weren’t clear enough, the person conducting the second delivery is likely to help you figure it out. I know, I know…who wants to schlep back to the dealership? Well..my dealer dangled a 25 buck gas card as an added incentive, on top of, you know, learning how to use the cool stuff I paid for.

To be fair, IQS offers some valuable insight, especially when it comes to fit, finish and ergonomic issues a customer might not detect during a quick test drive, or do not become apparent until you’ve lived with the vehicle for a bit. If it’s really a quality issue, then the automaker deserves to take the heat. But if the issue is a failure by the customer to adequately research the vehicle and simply buys it because of appearance or brand cache’ or is simply too lazy to breeze through the owner’s manual..then it’s too damned bad. You don’t have to read the manual cover to cover…target the sections that pertain to items you’re not familiar with and return to it as needed. There are also plenty of instructional videos and customer support sites on the web. Jeez…make the effort!

hyundaivirtualownersmanual-3

But every year when I’m covering IQS I’ll think back to that long ago conversation with the auto executive and his invective aimed at the closely followed study. When I break it down I really have to believe what he really meant was don’t report something as a problem with the vehicle, when often, the real issue is with the person driving it. 

Some Rules to Keep Those Crowded Democratic Debates Moving

debatefullBeen thinking a bit about the challenge of 10 candidates at a time trying to make their best pitches during the two-night Democratic version of “Survivor.”

The combination of binge-watching “Veep” and lack of REM sleep conspired to create this imaginary scenario of how it might go.

NBC Moderator: Welcome to the first Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 election cycle. Since we have so many unknowns, er, candidates on the stage mixed in with a few old guys, er, elder statesman, we’ll have to set down a few rules to make this work.

First, to save time, we’re boiling your names down to one or two quick syllables. For examples, you, from South Bend, you’ll be addressed as Butt, while long, tall, spastic hand-waving guy from Texas will be Butt-O. See the difference? Makes sense, right? There won’t be a doubt whom we’re addressing. The former Veep will be identified as Bye and the other old guy from Vermont will be Burn. The senators from California and Massachusetts will be recognized as Harry and Tonto respectively. Sorry if we seem disrespectful at times, but this is television and we don’t care.

As for the others whose polls barely show a pulse, we’re just going to address all of you as Who? Just jump in if you have a thought, but be prepared to do so only when we’re in commercial. That’s simply to keep things moving and because, again, we don’t care.

Some of you won’t like the names we’re assigned you but let’s face it, for at least half of you, it doesn’t matter because most Americans don’t know who you are anyway, so go with it and enjoy your 15 seconds of face time in between ramblings by the front runners, aka, those sucking up all the donations, airtime and are prominent enough to earn an obnoxious nickname from President Trump.

We’ll start with opening statements. Due to the number of candidates and time constraints please limit your statements to a 20-second pre-written soundbite you hope will go viral. 

From there our panel, chosen from recent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, will fire off piercing questions. Each of you will be limited to either two-word responses or one hand gesture. Rebuttals are allowed, but, again, due to time restraints they will be limited to the following choices:  “Huh,” “Uh uh,” “Well, yeah, but,” or simply a moment of arched eyebrows or a tight grimace.

At the end, each candidate will be afforded a closing statement of 12 seconds or less. That pretty much kills the idea of parenthetical thoughts or tangents and gets us off the air on time because no one in this great country wants to miss even a second of the popular NBC series “Filthy Rich Cattle Drive.” which, you have to admit, is genius programming following this useless cattle call.

We realize not every candidate will have to time to fully flesh out his or her talking points but then again, that’s not why you’re watching, right? You’re here for the inevitable embarrassing screw-up or pantsing of one candidate by another frustrated when his or her arched eyebrow rebuttal was laughed off as an incomplete response.

So if everyone is ready, let’s to this thing! Time’s wasting!

In Defense of Us Older White Guys

biden_token

Ever since Joe Biden jumped into the POTUS race I’ve heard a lot of talk to the tune of “oh crap, just an older white guy.” So I got to thinking. I’m not as old as Amtrak Joe but I’m chugging along in my late 60’s which means I’m probably considered an older white guy too– among younger white guys and their ilk.

Politics aside, I’m here to defend us older white guys…and even older non-white guys, because, well, they may have a shade of white, on top of their heads or in their facial hair. So we’re all brothers in ageism, right?

I read that some younger workers are unhappy with us older guys because many of us are still working–gumming up the corporate ladder for the young pups who want a bigger office and bigger paychecks. I actually retired from full-time work three years ago, but I work a couple of freelance gigs because, in both cases, those businesses came to me seeking someone with, uh, seasoning, aka, actual skills and experience. Not one of them said, “even though you’re an older white guy, we’ll hire you anyway.” Or, “even though we probably have enough older white guys on staff who we wish would finally hang it up so we can have more lower-paid younger white guys on the payroll, we’ll make an exception for you.”

Nope, as I said. They reached out to me, which is extremely flattering and not bad for the self-confidence–especially when my birth certificate blares, “Hey Ed! You’re a freakin’ older white guy!”

I like to think they came to me because they appreciate what I’ve accomplished during my career in journalism and corporate communications, along with what skills I have that might be helpful to them. In both cases, that’s exactly what they told me, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. I wasn’t ready to be a full-time retiree anyway. I ran into another sort-of retired journalist yesterday I hadn’t seen in a long time and we compared notes about freelancing–not for the money, but because it keeps our gray matter, mattering, and because what we do is just so much fun. “It’s impossible to just hit that off switch,” he said. So true. You just don’t have to slam that switch all the way to 11, as we did during our full-time work days.

There’s a lot to be said about institutional knowledge and overall experience. Aside from the obvious, they can provide valuable context and judgment along with a few tricks that  could be helpful to developing younger workers early in their career journeys.

One thing I love about working with younger people is it works both ways. I learn a lot from them too and that keeps me sharp and current. They also know all the good coffee places that aren’t Starbucks and I act like I’m hip by putting on my best Billie Eilish voice, going around the office telling the Millenials and Gen Z’s “I’m a Bad Guy!” billiee

So don’t write off us older white guys. Sure, it’s great, and entirely necessary, to bring along younger talent, but we’re still in the game. Maybe not playing the field, but we have enough in us to at least be designated hitters who can still sock a homer once in awhile.

Now I’m not advocating for Joe. But I’m also not Biden my time. Just watch out. At age 67, I still play ice hockey with much younger hot shots every week. I’m by far the oldest guy in the game. I’m a bit slower than those “kids” in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but I’m still a pain in the ass and even score once in awhile. Yeah, this older white guy is still in game, and don’t even try to send me to the bench…I can still yank your balls with my stick.