Category: Uncategorized

Taking care of a drive-by, drive-in friend

commercemarquisBarely a day has gone by in the past 25 years that I haven’t driven by this sign. From 1957-1990 it let families, young lovers, teens giving their new drivers licenses a workout and anyone with a set of wheels entertainment under the southeastern Michigan sky or maybe something a little extra in the backseat.

We moved to the Detroit area in the spring of 1989 but didn’t discover the Commerce Drive-in sign until it was too late. Like so many drive-in movies around the nation, it lost out to mulitplexes, home video options and home computers. The internet hadn’t yet become a factor.

Over the years the Commerce Drive-in sign stood sentry over an intersection that morphed from a quiet suburban corner to almost gridlock today as urban sprawl lured families northwest of Detroit to Commerce Township. We had always hoped the fact that the sign continued to hang in there while discount stores and subdivisions and brewpubs and carwashes were built around it that someone would re-open the drive-in. Of course, that made no business sense, although the Ford-Wyoming Drive-in in Dearborn continues to thrive.

The Commerce Drive-in sign grew forlorn but defiant as time moved along, fighting a losing battle against the elements and neglect. Motorists making a left or right at the T-intersection of Union Lake and Richardson Roads would give it a reverent glance as they went on their ways, many, I guess, wondering why it would still remain long after the last picture show. Still, not a word was heard asking to have it torn down. It’s just a constant you expect to be there, even though it serves no purpose other than, perhaps, reminding those who were there, of good and simple times, when one could enjoy a double-feature with friends and family on a giant screen with bags of hot buttered popcorn and ice cream and Milk Duds under the stars not in the solitude of a hand-held smartphone.

Last New Year’s Day the sign fell victim to vandals who sprayed graffiti on the landmark. That’s not something the community would stand for. A local resident and real estate agent, appalled by the insult to our beloved sign got to work lining up help with powerwashing and cleaning the sign. commercesignsign

A GoFundMe campaign was started but community businesses were so generous in donating their services to renovate the sign, there was no need to raise the initial goal of $50,000.  The long-vacant lot where the actual drive-in stood may also be turned  into a park aimed at activities for children with special needs.

It would cost about a quarter-million dollars to get the Commerce Drive-in sign fully functional again…a little too rich right now for cleanup organizers  But even if its neon never glows again, the effort to rehabilitate the sign sheds a bright light on a community coming together to take care of a beloved roadside companion.

Using Groundhog Day to Predict…Summer

groundhog

On this first day of summer I would suggest we move Groundhog Day to around May 10th, or roughly six weeks before the Summer Solstice.

The rationale is really quite simple and sensible for several reasons.

First and foremost, the groundhog is never correct in its prediction of whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. Let’s face it, you’re dealing with a fat, furry rodent who is perfectly snug and asleep when its violently rousted at dawn by a guy who grabs it by the scruff of its neck with the sole purpose of determining whether the groundhog sees its shadow on a crappy February morning when there’s never any sun that would generate said penumbra. What the groundhog is seeing is red because it wants to get back to sleep. That leaves it up to the rouster to simply fabricate the big announcement. Doesn’t matter. Either way the weather is likely to suck for the next six weeks so what’s the point? Sees its shadow, doesn’t see its shadow. Who cares? Spring will get here when it’s good and damned ready… so don’t push it.

Pushing Groundhog Day, if there must be one,  to May 10th would still allow the town of Punxsutawney, PA to suck tourists into the ersatz event, only the results would actually be more definitive. Screw looking for a shadow. Place a calendar with a handful of peanuts outside the sleepy guy’s hole, and gently poke him. He’ll still be pissed off but he’s sure to walk over to the calendar to snag the nuts. If you put the nuts on the right date, he’ll make a beeline to the snack and find himself standing right on the start of summer. Then you can accurately announce, “the groundhog has duly verified the Summer Solstice will occur on June 21st!” It’s foolproof. The rodent is right every time, people aren’t given false hope of an early onset of nicer weather, no one freezes their asses off on a frigid February morning, Punxsutawney makes its nut for the year and everyone goes home happy.  What’s the hook then, if there’s no drama about the outcome? Ah..that’s the part I saved for last. Pets would be allowed to accompany their owners to the event totally off their leashes. Bowser who scoops up the groundhog first…wins….breakfast, thereby changing the furry guy’s moniker to “Punxsutawney Fill.”

 

A Father’s Day tribute to lessons of hilarious retribution

On this Father’s Day 2017, I’ve decided to honor my late father for a couple of valuable lessons that contributed to my general delinquency as an adult and ability to ward off jerks.

smilingJPGI’ve previously written about my father as a  WWII hero, but once Japan and Germany surrendered he fought another honorable war for the next 65 years…the glorious struggle against assholes.

In the interest of time and space, I call to your attention two specific lessons passed down to my brother and me that we continue to use a decade after our father’s passing.

The first involves office supply warfare. Having earned the Silver Stars and a Marksmanship medal during the war, my father never lost sight of his targets, nor his dead aim. He was able to combine his shooting skills with his post-war career as an engineer to develop a superior method of shooting rubber bands–a method that vastly increased the speed and accuracy at which a rubber band could reach and sting its intended target. You see, engineers juiced up their afternoon coffee breaks by engaging in brutal rubber band battles, often resulting in shredded pocket protectors and red-stained blueprints.shootingrubberbands

One day my father walked in on my brother and me as we lamely launched rubber bands at each other, barely raising red marks, let alone the desired welts. He patiently let us in on his secret, as I will now do for you.  The trick to faster and more accurate rubber band shooting is to place the rubber band around one of your index fingers. Then, -twist it with your thumb such that one side of the band is loose, and the other is taut. It creates increased tension, resulting in whipass speed and accuracy. Try it. If you do it correctly you can shoot holes in targets, and soft flesh. rubberbandThere is little as satisfying as seeing the result of a properly shot rubber band strike an adversary’s ass. It’s really quite exhilarating and gives you a momentary feeling of invulnerability, although you risk getting the crap beat out of you through conventional street warfare methods.

Now, lesson number two, concern my father’s ability to decisively discourage an asshole from a return visit to our home.

My father played in a long-running Friday night poker game with some other engineers and some guys from other professional fields such as journalism, printing and accounting. An erudite bunch for sure. But over time, one of the engineers became very wealthy after going into business for himself and he became rich and obnoxious, partially, by screwing some former friends and associates.  That didn’t play well with the poker guys. Oh, they could have simply told the jerk he was out of the game but what fun is that. He’d just argue and call them names and make a scene. My father had a better idea. They would say nothing. When the creep showed up at our apartment for the Friday night game, the boys were fully armed. Not with rubber bands this time, but with full bottles of ice cold, bubbly New York City seltzer…in the kind of bottles with the lever you push to shoot the stuff out with force. sprayingseltzer

Knock, knock. Open door. “Hi!,” jerk boy said.  BLAM!!! SIX BOTTLES OF SELTZER IN HIS FACE. “Bye!” the poker boys said. Not another word was spoken…or at least I didn’t hear any, over the raucous laughter as the loser ran back to his car, sopping wet, and thoroughly carbonated and humiliated. I attempted to used this valuable lesson shortly thereafter on a loser who kept asking me to go to the movies but my mother didn’t want to clean up the carpet a second time so soon. But I will always have that weapon in my arsenal should it be necessary and I can find New York City-type seltzer bottles in Michigan.  seltzer.jpg

So on this Father’s Day, among the many gifts for which I thank my dear father, I fondly thank him for the gift of creative non-lethal retribution, and the lesson that whether it’s with rubber bands or seltzer, to always be a straight shooter.

We’ve all been “just new to this”

ryanSpeaker of the House Paul Ryan may have not just hit the nail on the head, but flattened the sucker when he explained President Donald Trump’s political faux pax as “he’s just new to this.” I say that because politics aside, admit, you’ve been there. I know I have.

After spending 33 years as a journalist, working in fast-paced, no-nonsense newsrooms at CNN, the Associated Press and The Detroit News it was more than culture shock when I flipped to the “dark side” in 2005, joining the PR department at then, DaimlerChrysler, now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

First off, as a long-time broadcaster, I was just too damned loud for a corporate setting. Hey, I’m projecting! A kindly administrative assistant told me not only to not “project” but to maybe stop talking altogether. “We communicate by email and -+-+instant messaging here,’ she instructed me. “It’s quieter.”  Heh.

Next screwup was getting up out of my seat to walk over to a colleague’s workstation to ask a question. When I appeared at his cube he shot me a look that said, “you remind me of a recent bacteria from which I’ve just been cleansed.” Soldiering on, I gamely said, “Hi. Got a minute to talk about that Dodge media program?” He answered my question with the question,”Did you send me an Outlook meeting request?” “Uh, no,” I replied. “I don’t need a meeting, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.” “Well, I have three minutes until my next scheduled meeting, ” he shot back. “So why don’t you send me a meeting invite to arrange some time and then I’ll answer your questions.” Using all the tact my reporting career taught me I smiled as I replied, “Are you shitting me?” He assured me he wasn’t and I returned to my workstation.

That’s where screwup number 2 began. I had sent another colleague an email earlier that day asking a question. Four or five hours went by with no answer. So I sent a follow-up, as I would have done if I was tracking down a story. Couple of hours went by. No reply. I then called the guy. No answer. Left a voice mail. No reply. This went on for another 24 hours so I got my butt up and walked over to his cube. “Hi!” I said. The guy, who was just screwing off surfing the web, jumped, turned around, smiled and returned my “Hi!” with an even bigger “HI!!” When I asked if he got my emails and messages, he said he did. When I asked why he didn’t respond, he said, “oh, no one here is in that big of a rush.”

Later that day my supervisor called me into her office with a stern look on her face.  “Ed,” she barked. “Two employees have complained to me that you’ve been harassing them.” “Right,” I quickly admitted. “I walked up to one guy to ask him a couple of questions and he whined I didn’t schedule a meeting…for a conversation! The other guy didn’t respond to my emails or phone messages for two days and I needed an answer to my question.”

I was foolish to think that would acquit me and the case would be closed. Ha! My supervisor looked me in the eye and hissed, “you’re not an effin’ reporter anymore. You don’t browbeat people. You don’t hunt them down like dogs for answers. You simply wait until they’re good and ready and have time to deal with you.” She didn’t seem amused when I informed her that’s not only a rude and disrespectful attitude between co-workers but it’s totally counter-productive. In fact the conversation was closed with, “this is a corporation. That’s how you need to act in a corporate setting.”

I guess I was “just new to this.” I did eventually tone my voice down and learn to request meetings with people, but if someone didn’t answer a question the same day I posed it, I was on them like Black Flag on a roach. Sometimes, you just need to change some of “this,” to a little of you  own “that.”

In defense of cargo shorts

cargoshortsI’ve been choking on my Sunday morning oatmeal reading blasphemous blather in the Detroit Free Press decrying one of my favorite warm weather garments as, “dumpy and dorky, silly and bulky.” It’s all in the context of what clothes guys shouldn’t wear if they want to charm women into dating them this summer.

I do not want to charm any women into dating me but I do want to charm my attractive wife of almost 45 years into not averting her eyes or wearing an “I’m with dumpy and dorky” t-shirt when we’re together in public.

In fact, when discussing this post with her, she assured me that I look just fine in cargo shorts. Who else looks just fine in cargo shorts? probstcargoshortsMy daughter, in her late 20’s, assures me “Survivor” host Jeff Probst is definitely “hot” in his cargo shorts. I imagine he hides dozens of disgusting bugs and Kit Kat bars with which to torture and entice starving “Survivor” contestants, which just proves how both stylish and utilitarian they can be.

Let me continue my defense of the demeaned garment by pointing out the author’s assertion that “the shorts are completely inauthentic in that nobody, except maybe MacGyver or Indiana Jones, needs that many pockets and the men who insist on these shorts are, alas, neither,” is just as inauthentic.

I can’t even count the number of times my wife will ask me “honey, do you have any galvanized nails on you? I need one to repair one of my patio planters.” Are you kidding? I almost have to smoke a cigarette with satisfaction after fishing deep into one of my cargo shorts’s 9 pockets and coming up with a handful of various gleaming fasteners and asking her, “sure honey. what size?” Gonna be a big night.

I’ve worn cargo shorts on several assignments when covering floods or some other natural disaster in warm weather. It’s like having a cotton filing cabinet attached to your butt. Pens, pencils, pads, business cards, tissues, sunglasses, smartphone, half a donut…all arranged perfectly in my awesome cargo shorts’s pockets. I especially love it when my shorts have one of those deep, deep pockets. They always remind me of one of my late, funny father’s favorite putdowns regarding cheap guys. “Ha! He’s got short hands and long pockets!” I make sure I keep my spare change in those pockets.

While I’m definitely not the target audience for the Free Press story, I would maintain the writer missed an important point. Cargo shorts are perfect for young, horny guys. Do you know how many condoms you could stash in those things? Think outside the box, madam reporter, will ya?

I’m proud to say I own at least four pair of cargo shorts, thanks to the huge selection one can find in total testosterone places like Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops. They offer so many varieties of cargo shorts you could stock your entire closet with them. Hey…they even sell long pants that convert to cargo shorts when you unzip the bottom portion of each leg..so ..you can effectively wear cargo shorts all year long

Don’t listen to the naysayer’s guys. Cargo shorts are manly as hell. Put on a pair. You’ll soon have the object of your affection, right in your deepest pocket.

Got a thought..partner?

bfjhExactly a week ago I covered the news conference where Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford announced the bloodletting  naming of new CEO Jim Hackett and other management changes at the Blue Oval. What struck me, besides how fast the deposed CEO, Mark Fields was shown the door to the Glass House, was one of the roles Ford said he would play in the new regime.  Ford put it succinctly in a story for my current workplace Automotive News, saying “”I plan to be very active with Jim as a thought-partner.”

thoughtleaderjerkA few years ago, when I headed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles digital communications team, I was asked to appear on a panel in Chicago to discuss “thought leaders.” Now I’m not sure that “thought partner” and “thought leader” are much different from each other except a “thought partner” may not have cogent enough thoughts to be a “thought leader,” although I would think as executive chairman of a giant automaker, Bill Ford’s thoughts must be considered “leading.” One of the reasons given for the dismissal of Mark Fields was the nearly 40 percent drop in Ford’s share price since he took over a little more than three years ago. One would think the man whose name is on the building would have contributed some leading thoughts on how to stop that slide. Apparently not. But as a “thought partner” to the new CEO perhaps it means he will now share the responsibility of thinking up stuff to keep the automaker afloat.

Honestly, a term such as “thought partner” reminds me of  when I gave my “thought leaders” presentation. I refused to use that term because to me it’s just another one of those cute little phrases those who consider themselves leaders in thinking think up to build themselves up and then write books that are obsolete by the time they are published. See my previous blog post re self-help books.

I like to encourage those who work for me and with me to always be thinking of new, better and more creative ways to accomplish our goals. Some are stronger thinking artistically while others are especially adept on the business side. There are some folks who can think in pictures and abstract concepts. You’ll always find people who seem to be more literal but are nonetheless leading thinkers on that plane. That’s why you have to empower colleagues and teammates to come forth with their thoughts since it’s not uncommon for the best, fully-baked ideas to rise from a recipe that includes combining dollops of collective thoughts. If you can make that happen, then the true “thought leaders” are actually groups of “thought partners” working together.

Ya think?