See those awesome overalls I’m modeling? I bought those from the Sears catalog. In 1984. I still mow my lawn in them, saw wood in them, suck up my leaves in them and do any sort of hard work that’ll get me good and dirty and feeling revived in them. You can’t kill ’em. Oh sure, they have grass stains and paint stains and some other stains you don’t need to know about that just won’t come out in the wash. They have a million pockets for tools and screws and nails, a box cutter, a pencil for measuring, a level, some string a candy bar and my phone. There’s probably some saw dust living deep in one of those pockets from back when I bought them to build a deck behind my house in Atlanta. Yeah, washing ’em won’t free those particles–pockets are too deep. It’s ok. I like how they smell.
What I’m getting at is my trusty, dusty overalls remind me, every time I stuff my body into them, of the quality Sears was known for. Sure, I could have found a pair of decent work pants somewhere else but I specifically ordered them from Sears because I knew they’d be up to the task, and another task, and another and another and scores more.
Oh folks blame Sears demise on not keeping up with Walmart or Amazon and that may be true, in part. But I look at it another way. Maybe shoppers who are too impatient or not discriminating enough or just plain cheap made the decision to exchange quality for price and expediency. I’m sure had I bought those overalls someplace else I’d be on my fourth pair by now, not my fourth decade with the same ones. Yes, the stores became dated and dumpy and less inviting, and for that I blame inept management that was tone deaf to the changing marketplace and consumer tastes and reacted way too late.
But I’m one to reward quality with loyalty, I don’t care how dumpy your store it. We always bought Kenmore appliances and they never failed us. Last year we moved out of a house we lived in for 25 years and the Kenmore fridge we bought for it in 1992 was still working like new when we gave a little goodbye tap and thanked it for its service on our way out.
When our watch batteries run down, we don’t buy one at Walmart and install it ourselves. We stop by the little watch repair desk at our closest Sears and let a guy with thick glasses and the sure hands of an expert do the job. It only cost a couple of bucks more to have it done right. Oh, when my Sears is shuttered I’ll go to the local watch repair shop because I like to support neighborhood businesses, but the Sears guy had me at “take two minutes!” And it did.
If my watch battery dies while I’m mowing the lawn, I just might show up at the repair shop in those Sears overalls…with the deep pockets that have been keeping my stuff safe and handy since 1984. I’ll reach way down, yank out my dead timepiece..bought at the store whose time has passed.
How much industrial strength does it really take to transport a person that may weigh between 9 and 20 pounds? If a weekend trip to the mall is any indication, I would deduce the answer falls somewhere between a Hummer and steam freighter.
As my son and I attempted to walk, leisurely, between stores, we were confronted by a combination convoy, flotilla of conveyances bearing down on us, building up a head of steam provided by a snarling mob of bipeds all muttering to no one in particular, “why couldn’t I be sterile?”
It’s really difficult to fathom why it takes such structural might to push a little kid around. But I get it, because this is not a new story. My kids were born in 1984 and 1988 in Atlanta. Back then, in the height of Yuppy arrogance, young couples starting their families somehow became obnoxious social climbers. Here’s how it went down.
Back then there were two main choices of strollers: The $70 Maxi Taxi, which did the job quite well and conveniently folded by just squeezing a plastic bar just under the push handle.
Then there was the $300 Aprica. At least that what it cost back then. This was overkill to the max. Indeed, it made the Maxi Taxi look like a Mini Pushcart. Big and blue and a million adjustments and fancy wheels and compartments. We chose the Maxi Taxi because, well, we weren’t insecure assholes who felt they needed to make some sort of statement about our station in life with an exorbitantly priced way to tote our tiny little kid. Indeed, when we encountered an “Aprica couple” they would eye our Maxi Taxi with the same disdain one might show nutritional information on a McDonalds menu.
The situation has only gotten worse with even more elaborate strollers, carriages and prams plying the sidewalks and walkways. They’re so immense I expect to see one some day with a snow plow stuck on the front and a tow hook in the rear just to help the couple who were suckered into buying the beasts amortize the cost of the things by using them to make a few bucks taking on odd jobs.
There is justice however. This actually happened just this Saturday. As my son and I sat in our car about to leave the mall, we watch a couple with a medium sized stroller approach their vehicle. There was no kid in the stroller. In fact, a stuffed bear occupied the kid’s seat and the mom was holding the little one. The dumb dad was of zero help as mom struggled to get the kid in the car. No, dumb dad had put a sweet drink in the stroller’s cupholder. Wait! Why you need a cupholder in a stroller? Oh yeah, so parents can park their lattes! Anyway, A couple of hornets were attracted to the drink and hovered around. Dumb dad was also cowardly dad and he took refuge behind the next car while mom flailed away. She was good! While wimpy husband cowered, she managed to pop the trunk and fold the stroller after putting the kid in the child seat inside. But she wasn’t that good. She tossed the stroller in the trunk…with both hornets still sucking on the soft drink. Closes the lid and gets in the car. So does dumb dad. A moment later, the doors fly open as both parents flee the bees, leaving poor little kid inside, defenseless. Now…if only they saved the dough and bought a sensible stroller— without a cupholder.
This summer I became something I never thought I would be, or want to be. In fact, I’d never before used the word in a positive light, let alone aspire to become one. Yes…I’ve become a..a..a..consultant!
Some of you may have seen the really flattering news release, tweets and Linkedin posts from the kind folks at Detroit public relations firm Franco PR announcing my engagement with them as an “Integrated Media Consultant.” That’s lofty language for someone with a lotta miles on them in a position to perhaps share some guidance and insight based on 45 years of experience in journalism, broadcasting, social media and corporate public relations.
So why the initial turned up nose at the word “consultant?” To be honest, it started at my very first television job as a weekend weather guy at KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona, where I worked while earning my MA in journalism back in the late 1970’s. Our station had a kickass staff of reporters and videographers and actually paid better than our competition. The problem was, our ratings were awful–last in the market. How bad were they? If my memory serves me, reruns of MASH had a 40 share. The share for our early newscast, which followed directly after MASH was a measly 18. Now those were the days before remotes. Viewers had to actually get up off their chairs or sofas, walk over to the TV and switch channels. That’s how much they hated us. What to do? Call in consultants!
My station employed a pair of consultants–a fired news director and a woman who’s fashion sense could only be described, kindly, as, um, “industrial.” The first thing these idiots did was destroy everyone’s confidence. They spooked our anchor guy so much and made him so self-conscious he actually wrote himself a reminder on the set that said, “Don’t over-emote, don’t over gesture, don’t touch your pee-pee.” He’s not an anchor man anymore.
In my case they were borderline anti-Semitic. One of my signature things to say when only a light rain was forecast was to use the word “spritz.” My audience loved it since it’s not a word often heard in southern Arizona which made it memorable. When I was recognized on the street somewhere, often a viewer would smile and ask, “hey Ed, is it gonna spritz today?” It’s always helpful to have your own buzzword. But not according to our genius consultants. I was told to drop “spritz” because, they said, “it’s just too..um..Eastern!” I countered, “do you mean it’s too..um..Jewish?” The dynamic duo could only look at their Kmart shoes and stammer..”uh..no, of course not..um…why don’t we talk about your wardrobe?”
Ah..wardrobe! The woman consultant who’s favorite designer may have been Coleman, as in tents, deigned to offer advice on how to appear on television. Her sense of fashion leaned towards what someone like, oh, Oleg Cassini may have categorized as “tres fooking boring!” Then they told me to act “natural.” When I explained that I was, they offered, “well, try acting naturally a different way!” Hey..thanks! You morons.
The upshot of all this great advice? Our ratings sunk even lower, and they were fired. So was our news director and shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to escape after landing a job with the then, up and coming CNN to help them launch their second network, then known as CNN2 and now HLN.
Well, that was my first, scarring experience with consultants and it always stayed with me. I know there are many, many fine consultants out there. I just had a bad first experience. Now it’s my turn in that position and I’m using that experience to help shape my approach. I know full well that people are always a bit suspicious of “that outside guy” and may feel threatened. I plan to be as good a listener as talker, simply offer some respectful insight into different ways of doing things, perhaps some advice and a lot of information. Use it as you wish, or not at all. Hopefully I’ll be helpful and at the least, get folks thinking and spark some creative ideas, all in the service of satisfying clients and of course, making money.
I just plan to act naturallly…in my own way. Hope it helps.
Two years after “retiring” I now have two new jobs. Both part-time but still, it ain’t exactly lounging on the beach, or playing golf with the other alta cockers or pushing a shuffleboard stick at a condo in Florida.
Regular followers already know I’ve been contributing to Forbes.com since the end of July. Today, the super official news release went out about my new gig…with the big boy pants title of Integrated Media Consultant at one of Detroit’s leading public relations agencies, Franco PR.
A reasonable person might ask, “what the hell’s the matter with you? You’re retired!” Let me clear that up. I retired from full-time work. I didn’t retire from wanting to use my skills, from creating, from collaborating with smart, creative, courageous people, from being excited at accomplishing something that fills me with pride and self-esteem. So now I have the best of all worlds. I’m old enough to retire from the full-time rat race but not too old to stop moving forward.
I did give full retirement a shot for about three months when I first left Fiat Chrysler but I got so bored I almost longed for a staff meeting. Almost. Well. Never. Then my series of part-time things began and that was just right.
I have just enough free time to be either of use, or annoyance to my wife and family, to go play hockey, paddle in my kayak, jump on my bike, scare myself on the ski slopes and bang on my drums and guitar and still be able to write for Forbes.com to maintain my reporting and writing chops and advise the awesome team at Franco that’s so skilled and open to new tricks..even from an old dog, who’s open to learning new things too.
A little work. A little play. Most afternoons around 3 p.m.? A tall glass of Jack on the rocks. Retirement? Nah..It’s living.
Oh people, when will you realize there’s a quiet controversy polarizing this nation that goes far beyond the white noise surrounding the White House and directly into the hearts, minds and bellies of anyone who has ever had to take a stand to defend a vital personal choice.
Indeed, once one has chosen an option, that’s it–there’s no turning back and that person becomes a stubborn, surly, inflexible advocate, willing to take you to task for even suggesting some sort of equivocation.
Deep in your heart you know of what I speak, because you are quietly simmering the more you think about it as your pour yourself a cool, calming glass of milk, considering the move that will define you among family and friends with the fear your choice will blow previously warm relationships permanently asunder.
I tell you this because a discussion during a recent family meal quickly escalated into harsh words and accusations of questionable loyalty. You see, I innocently remarked I could be perfectly happy eating an oatmeal-raisin cookie. But, aha! My family turned on me with the force of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly with the barb, “you say that, but if faced with the choice of an oatmeal-raisin or chocolate chip cookie which one would you choose? Don’t lie! We know no one REALLY prefers oatmeal-raisin. You will guiltily go for the chips!” While not under oath, my personal code did not allow me to fudge my reply as I mumbled, “mmmyeah, like the chocolate chip but ok with oatmeal-raisin….IF NO OTHER CHOICE.”
“What a wimp!,” said a family member. “Your alleged loyalty for oatmeal-raisin is totally conditional on it being the only cookie in the jar. Most sane and honest people would just as soon go cookie-less than descend to the depths of the oatmeal-based outlier.”
Feeling further pressured in this would-be CA…”Cookies Anonymous” meeting I crumbled and admitted to a dalliance with an alluring Snickerdoodle. Was it so bad to stray, just once? But my exposure as someone who cookied-around while trying to pose as an ardent oatmeal-raisin advocate was complete.
I helplessly asked the group, “are you telling me I have to stick with one cookie and make the same choice every single time?”
“Here’s the deal,” the biggest and bulliest family member shot back. “If you’re faced with the choice of chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin, you better pick the oatmeal -raisin. You may be the only one to save it from gathering mold at the bottom of the jar.”
But I suddenly rallied. I noticed something on the face of the family member who first launched the attack, smugly claiming to be a chocolate chip loyalist and fired my coup de grace: “What’s that on your face.??..OREO CRUMBS!” Indeed…there’s no victory for those caught in an argument half-baked.
On this Labor Day during this second year of my sort-of retirement I would like to announce I sometimes like to labor with my hands–making things like Jack Daniels on the rocks or a thick steak on the grill, but sometimes I’m compelled to perform actual handiwork, building something out of wood or something electrical, yardwork and repairs with tools.
There are others like me and many of them join me in the same club–the mailing list for the bestest, most awesome store for guys with guts, too-tight t-shirts, ballcaps and an active email account. Yup it’s the Harbor Freight mailing list. Every single week you receive two, three, four pages of coupons that offer discounts on all sorts of stuff you may never need in your life, but crap, those coupons are like catnip for men like me who just like to buy stuff that either plugs in, spins, cuts, bangs, screws or wipes. At the top of the sheet are generally three coupons offering a free item with any purchase. The free item could be a bag of rags, a little battery-powered worklight, even an electric bug swatter in the shape of a tennis racket! Some are items of no actual redeeming value but you are compelled to buy and item so you can redeem the coupon for the free thing. But here’s the best part, for Labor Day, a one-day coupon offering 25 percent off anything! So off I went with my magic tickets ready to score some great deals.
I needed some cheap gardening gloves, and sure as hell, there was a coupon for $1.99 a pair. Score! My wife requested the free bag of rags. Got ’em, even though I had to fight off two guys with large wrenches in their hands, accompanied, of course, by the appropriate coupons.
Now what would I use that awesome 25 percent coupon to buy? I don’t really need any more power tools, or an ax or even an extension ladder, lathe, plastic tie-downs, tarps, welding torch or drill bits. Ah! I just bought a new bike and there waiting for me was an industrial-strength cable and lock to secure that shiny new two-wheeler. Yes! What’s 25 percent of $10.99? Doesn’t matter. 25 percent is less than 100 percent! I also ended up buying some attachments for my rotary tool, but there was no coupon for that. Sad face.
Bottom line? The $1.99 gloves and free bag ‘o rags I came for ended up costing me a little over 18 bucks. Bet you can guess who the real tool in the store was. But Harbor Freight, I love ya. Can’t wait for next week’s coupons. I think I really need that bug-killing tennis racket.
I had the honor of telling the story for CNN during the late senator’s first run for the presidency. Sadly, the video is long gone, but here is a transcript from when it aired during CNN’s “Inside Politics” Anchor Judy Woodruff read the intro.:
WOODRUFF: As we’ve been reporting this hour, our new poll shows John McCain with the highest favorable rating among the presidential candidates.
For one woman, a nun, the Arizona senator and his name carry special memories.
Our Ed Garsten reports from Michigan.
ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sister Mary Leanne long ago put away and forgot about this POW bracelet she bought back during the Vietnam War.
SISTER MARY LEANNE: This article appeared March 14th, 1973. I cut out the article and said, “Oh my goodness, this is my POW.” So I removed the bracelet, and I put it in a box of treasures.
GARSTEN: But then about three weeks ago, for no particular reason, the nun, who is now a high school principal, felt drawn to that box, and it was a revelation.
SISTER MARY LEANNE: And I said, “Oh my goodness, look who’s bracelet I have!”
GARSTEN: It was the bracelet inscribed with the name of a young pilot shot down and taken captive on October 26th, 1968, a man from Arizona named John McCain. Sister Mary Leanne knew there was only one thing to do. She had her opportunity Monday morning when McCain’s presidential campaign came through Michigan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SISTER MARY LEANNE: I hope that this bracelet does not bring memories of pain and suffering that he endured while a prisoner of war, but to remember that while he was there a young nun in Garfield Heights, Ohio prayed every day for him and his release.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, sister. I’m honored. And I would be doubly honored if you would keep that bracelet so that every once in a while when you look into your treasures, that you would remember me and all my comrades, including those who were not fortunate enough to return. And we still hope you’ll keep us in your prayers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARSTEN: Carrying an inscription from the candidate in her copy of his book and what she calls a radiating warmth from finally meeting him, Sister Mary Leanne, previously an undecided voter, promises she will.
SISTER MARY LEANNE: I can’t assure that my prayers are going to get him to the White House, but I’m going to do my best. I’ll do my best.
GARSTEN: Ed Garsten, CNN, Harper Woods, Michigan.
WOODRUFF: Quite a story.