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Parked in the Motor City

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The reaction from my mother made no mistake about her feelings. “Who did this to you!?!” she shouted over the phone.

I calmly replied no one “did this” to me. I asked for the transfer from Atlanta up to Detroit. It would be a big promotion. She still wasn’t happy since my parents had only retired to Florida from NYC the year before, putting them a lot closer to us and to two of their grandchildren.

It was 1989. I had worked at CNN since November, 1981 in Atlanta, first as a producer on the launch team for what was then called CNN2 and is now a far different network called HLN. Over the next 7 years I moved over to CNN as a producer, supervising producer, correspondent and fill-in anchor but what I really wanted to do is run a bureau. In the spring of ’89 that opportunity opened up when the incumbent Detroit Bureau Chief-Correspondent won his long-sought transfer to the bureau in Rome.

Not many people wanted to move to Detroit. They feared being murdered immediately upon arrival or finding their cars, wheel-less perched on milk boxes. Not me. I grew up in NYC. I loved cities, their energy, cultural mix, history and odds of covering some important and exciting stories.

So I applied…and got the job. It didn’t disappoint me. As a regional bureau we covered all of Michigan, Ohio, eastern Canada and wherever else the national assignment desk sent us. The Detroit Bureau staff was welcoming and we worked together very well. 

This month marks 30 years since we hauled our kids and our stuff up I-75..and parked in Detroit.

My introduction to some of the players in Detroit, however, was, well, not quite as smooth as my start at the bureau. I was asked to give a talk introducing myself to the public relations community at a luncheon. If you know me, you know I’m a pretty short guy. Well..the fellow who introduced me was even shorter! Me, being the wiseass I am, came up to the mic, next to the unfortunate guy, looked down at him and cracked, “I think I’m gonna like it in Detroit!” The audience got the joke and laughed. My fellow shrimp did not, and promptly sulked in his seat. OK…note to self: “Detroiters are height-sensitive.”

It wasn’t long before the late, great J.P. McCarthy invited me onto his morning show on WJR. He promptly took me to task for what he felt was the national media’s obsession with beating up on Detroit I explained CNN had no such obsession, but you couldn’t simply ignore what was really happening. But things took a more positive turn when he asked me to tell an anecdote about Ted Turner, since there were a lot of bigwig corporate executives in his audience. I told him about Ted showing up in the Atlanta newsroom in his blue terrycloth robe on a Saturday morning and cajoling with the staff. We all loved him. J.P. liked that story and over the years invited me back a few times and I was very honored to be a guest during his last week of programs before he retired. Each time, he wanted another Ted Turner story. I always came prepared.

I also love Detroit because the folks are not only welcoming, but blunt in just the right way. My first week in Detroit I was assigned to an auto sales story and was scheduled to interview the head numbers cruncher at Ford. He was weeks way from retirement and feeling a little feisty.

“You know anything?” he barked at me.

“I’m new on the beat so I’m open to learning,” I humbly replied.

“Well, listen to what I say, report it accurately, don’t write any bullshit and we’ll get along fine. So ask me some questions and they better be good ” he, um, advised.

“Yessir.” 

A year or two later I ran into the gentleman at a press event and he smiled as he came over to me and said, “I gave you serious shit when you were new but you more than proved yourself.”

“Thank you very much, sir.”

Detroit. Awesome.

We always thought Detroit was just another stop on the road. My wife and I met at college in Oswego, N.Y., got married a few months after graduating and had lived in Central New York State while I started my broadcasting career at a couple of radio stations, then we took off for Tucson, Arizona to earn our Masters degrees and where I got my first TV job at KGUN, first as weekend weather guy, then reporter, then producer, until I got the tip about the job at CNN.

We loved Atlanta and were actually looking for a larger house as our family grew, but then Detroit happened. Sure..three-year contract for the new position, then who knows?

But CNN renewed me a few more times until they closed the bureau in 2001 and I was laid off along with about a thousand other people. What to do?

Well, there was zero talk about leaving Detroit. We actually lived in the suburbs but we loved the area, Michigan and the people. We became avid fans of all the sports teams, attended games and took advantage of all the area had to offer.

Luckily I had a pretty good reputation in town and I quickly won the National Auto Writer position at the Associated Press, then was recruited by The Detroit News to be the General Motors beat writer and jumped to corporate when the head of PR at DaimlerChrysler started a blog and wanted an autowriter to ghost write and manage for him. Sweet job! That job morphed in an 11 year stay at the automaker where I was the first head of digital communications pioneering the concept of “corporate journalism” with my wonderful, creative team.

In 2016 I decided to retire, but leave Detroit? Leave Michigan? What the hell for? All the things our family enjoys are right here…so we sold the home we had lived in since 1992 and moved exactly 2.5 miles away to another house that had a lot of the features missing in the old one. I’ve been blessed with just enough freelance opportunities to keep me sufficiently out of my wife’s hair and around enough to be of use when called upon.

The bottom line is America has Detroit all wrong. It may be the country’s best kept secret. Great people, culture, major league sports, awesome restaurants, any kind of recreation nearby..even fowling. Look it up. For us, it’s been home for 30 years and we hope to remain here until the grim reaper comes calling….or the Detroit Lions win a Super Bowl. Hmm. Here to stay.

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Clucking Over Stampede for Chick fil A

chicksandwichI woke up this morning to read about a stampede of sheep lining up to eat chicken. Here in Detroit people are used to working hard to put food on the table but I would suggest, the meal they got yesterday wasn’t worth the laborious multi-hour wait in line for a breaded chicken sandwich.

 

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I truly believe it’s Atlanta’s lingering revenge for the work of General Sherman. He burned that southern city long ago, and now it’s returning the favor to us Yankees by luring us away from work, play, families and good health with the scourge called Chick fil A.

For a few hours Wednesday the chain of chicken joints opened a pop-up version in the lobby of the Chrysler House–a downtown Detroit office building. Long before the doors opened the lines began to form with those who had never sampled the stuff along with those who are addicted to it. Only two cashiers were on duty to handle the hundreds of hungry Chick fil Afficiandos.

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Detroit Free Press Photo

 

I lived in Atlanta for 8 years and yes, we stopped at Chick fil A from time to time but we much preferred a chain called Mrs. Winners for our chicken fix. The biscuits were as big as cat’s heads and the chicken was to die for, since the greasy, delicious barnyard bird would surely hasten one’s demise, but who needs to live that long anyway, right?

Let’s get real. A Chick fil A sandwich is a breaded piece of chicken with a pickle on top on a very ordinary bun. The chicken does taste pretty good, but worth wasting one’s limited time on Earth waiting for it? I don’t think so.

In Chick fil A’s hometown, the lines were about the same as you’d see at any fast food place. Here in Michigan, at the very upscale Somerset Collection mall, the lines at the Chick fil A in its food court inexplicably snake around and around while other vendors sadly sit with no one to serve. I’m always tempted to hang around with a camera hoping to catch someone in imagined rapture after taking that last bite, sighing, and lighting up a Lucky to complete the act.

I have another beef with aforementioned chicken place. When I lived in Atlanta and working for CNN, there was a Chick fil A in the commercial atrium at CNN Center. Many of us belonged to the health club on the lower level. Since I worked overnights when I produced the morning show, I would hit the gym when I got off the air at 9am. Did my exercises, swam my laps, knocked myself out playing racket ball, gettin’ real healthy, right? But the fumes from the damned Chick fil A wafted down the stairs, into the gym and after showering and dressing and being hypnotized by the aroma we followed our noses back up the stairs straight to the Chick fil A and promptly ordered two chicken biscuits and waffle fries. A sincere workout gone straight to hell.

Aw..what am I saying? Writing about it has my olfactory working overtime.  It was damned worth it. Gonna head to Somerset Place and get in line.

Shakes on a Plane–A First Class Mystery

airtravelI don’t fly much anymore. After I retired three years ago I went from Igneous Medallion to Toughshit Sucker. That all means I lose certain “privileges” such as schlepping down to the airport several times a week, being herded like calves about to become veal and stuffed into a seat even Barbie would find confining.

Now I fly when I want to, which is almost never. In fact I hadn’t been on a plane in 18 months…before last Thursday for a quick trip to Florida and back with my wife. We splurged and cashed in whatever miles I had lingering in my account, coughed up the difference in actual money and flew first class. Nice.

It all started out fine. I received a notice the day before on my Delta app to check in and I was even asked my lunch preference–Salad d’chicken stale, or a turkey sandwich floating in cheese and a bag of chips. I chose the latter. It was fine, although my cholesterol medication later sneered at me while mocking my choice, saying “you eat that shit I can’t help you.” Damn Big Pharma!

But all that seemed about normal. The spooky stuff was to come. I did NOT receive a notice to check in the day before our return flight. I did NOT receive a request to choose a meal for our return flight. After awhile I became suspicious that perhaps I screwed up somehow…but I didn’t. When I attempted to check in on the Delta app it said I had ALREADY checked in. My wife too! We did not check in. Not having flown for so long, perhaps flying first class now entitled you to a “check in angel.” It did not.  So when we got to the airport I figured I’d just go old school and use the kiosk to check in. BN-PH362_deltak_P_20160808120542I slip in my credit card and instead of being nice and polite to first class customer on the screen it says, “do you want to check in…again?” I mean the box had a freakin’ attitude as if I was annoying it during its reboot break. I reply, most emphatically, “yes!” I thought I heard a pathetic sigh from the little speaker and the instructions on the screen seem to indicate the electronic fucker was ready to see things my way by leading me through the process of re-checking in…even though I had never checked in in the first place. But fine.

delta slidersFrom there everything was cool until we settle in our seats. The flight attendant comes over to me and says, “so you pre-ordered the burgers for lunch.” In fact I did not. I did not have the opportunity to pre-order anything, but I thought I’d play it cool. “I believe so,” I lied. The flight attendant whipped out a computer readout that had my name and “burgers” next to it. Strange. But I wasn’t sure. What if there was something better? So I asked in my most innocent tone, “I can’t remember. What was the other choice?” The flight attendant was delighted to tell me it didn’t matter. Whatever the other choice was there weren’t any left. “Ah! Good thing I pre-ordered the burgers, then!” “Yes,” she replied. “You were very smart to do that!” Although the entire scenario was a sham. So were the burgers. They were billed, actually, as “sliders.” Maybe that’s because rather than actual meat, they appeared to be made with some sort of non-stick chemical in a shade of gray-beige. Of course, since I’m a man and men will eat anything I scarfed down both sliders which later slid through my digestive tract and were useful in waxing our hardwood floors to a high-gloss sheen.

Now I’m actually looking forward to my next flight to see if the Dark Spirit of Delta will further intervene on my behalf. Maybe send me a notice that it already watched the safety video for me, or nixed my drink selection because I deserve a better brand of bourbon. I’m OK with such pro-active service. In fact, I’d love it if I received an email informing me “We already snagged an extra dozen of those Biscoff cookies for you. They’ll be in your seat pocket.” Damn…Delta, you’re good!

My Groovy Cheapass College Education

la-1552449455-ctwg8rk8vm-snap-imageReading about the celebrities and other rich suckers who shelled out fortunes to get their lil’ darlings into prestigious universities through illegal means I can only think about what my parents did to get me into college.

Here’s how it went down. In 1969 my old brother was going to medical school. That’s expensive. Being four years younger, I was about to become a freshman someplace else, which my father stated plainly “would be much cheaper.”

There were two choices. As a resident of New York City, I could go to a city college. A new one had opened called York College. At the time it was no more than a glorified trailer park since the real campus was under construction. The tuition would be a backbreaking $35 a semester. Seemed like a good deal. I could hop one bus, transfer to another and be there in 30 minutes. I wouldn’t drive because there didn’t appear to be any place to park.

There didn’t appear to be any athletics or night life to speak of, unless you consider hanging out at the nearby falafel stand after the sun went down for some “after hours chickpeas.”

I didn’t end up at York College because my parents were concerned I was hanging around some “bad kids” and should therefore be sent to a school many miles away. Not as cheap as York College were the schools in the State of New York, or SUNY, system. I was accepted at Oswego State, about 30 miles north of Syracuse and built along the shores of Lake Ontario. Sound idyllic? Perhaps 2-3 months of the year, definitely. The rest of the year it was a windblown, snow-covered Siberia with an annual snowfall of at least 120 inches.

Nope..not the Ivy League! Closer to the Icy League!

oswegosnow2This would all cost more that York College, but much less than Yale. All-in, tuition was $440, and room and board $1,139 a semester. Still a bargain. My dorm was right on Lake Ontario with a million dollar view overlooking the water–much cooler than a bunch of stringy, clingy ivy. It was also a kick wondering what it looked like on the far shore over in Canada where the beer was much stronger. One day I would imagine rowing to that far off land in my blow up raft that I had bought at Kmart for 7 bucks. Such is the effect of substances available to “serious” academics such as myself.

oswegolakeMy quality of education for that bargain-basement investment? Well..my first class was Sociology 101. It was in a giant lecture hall with Doc Richmond presiding. Remember, this was 1969 and everything was extremely groovy. When the esteemed professor said he really wished there were urinals for women, the rapt/stoned class duly nodded and remarked how exceptionally groovy Doc Richmond was. What a great college!

What I didn’t expect was to find both a career and wife at Oswego. The former helped begat the latter. During an especially raucous party where many beer kegs were tapped dry and upper classman informed me I had a real knack for making strange voices and would therefore be a natural to work at the campus radio station. Talk about groovy! The next day he took me to the station and told the guy on the air I should be a DJ. The guy yawned, told me to show up the following Saturday and I’d be on the air for a couple of hours. From that day, for the next 40 years, I was on the air somewhere from various radio and television stations to CNN.

The finding the wife part came from a group of comely co-eds (they said that back then) who became regular listeners to my show and called in requests. It turns out the upper classman who dragged me to the radio station was a mutual friend and set me up with one of them. It was love at first keg party and we got married six months after graduating. It’s worth noting that several years after our wedding at a catering hall in suburban Rochester, NY, we returned to find out the place had become a topless joint. Made sense.

The point of all this is that it’s not worth the effort to break the law and fork over all sorts of big money to get into a fancy school. Let’s face it, these celebrity offspring were probably too dumb to get in on their own which means they may have flunked out anyway, making the whole idiotic, and illegal scheme worthless.

Personally, I’m glad I was able to go to a school that didn’t break my parents’ budget, making it possible for them to have the great retirement they deserved. I got just about the amount of education I needed to get through life, a fine career and a great wife–all for a few grand a year. Now that’s pretty freakin’ groovy!

When Ted Lindsay and I Were Teammates

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A sad morning as I woke up to the news the great Detroit Red Wing Ted Lindsay had passed away at age 93. As a New York Rangers fan, growing up in Queens, I was not amused by “Terrible” Ted”s regular manhandling of the Blueshirts, but as a hockey fan, I respected him.

Fast forward to September, 1998. I had lived in the Detroit area for 9 years and while still a Rangers fan at heart, I grew to love the Red Wings. For our 25th anniversary my wife sent me to the Detroit Red Wings Fantasy Camp after seeing a promo for it during a game. Keep in mind, I hadn’t played ice hockey since college. I graduated in 1973. I still had BOBBY Hull skates. Antiques. And a wooden stick.

I was horrible but what a kick. At the end of the weeklong camp we played a charity game at The Joe and our teams were combined campers and Red Wings–some current, but mostly alums.

So what a thrill when I found myself on a team with the likes of Chris Osgood, John Ogrodnik, and, yes, Ted Lindsay. Indeed, since he wore #7 and I wore #8, I was introduced right after him.

Shortly after, on a line with Ted and Osgood, I got an assist with an outlet pass, then, between the first and second periods, Ted was nice enough to sign my jersey. Watch the video. It’s priceless. It has the introductions, my assist and Ted signing.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It was an honor to play with Ted Lindsay, have a few words with him, see a legend up close, and best yet, see, firsthand he wasn’t terrible at all. Ted Lindsay was a gentleman–even when he rocked the bones of his opponents. RIP Ted Lindsay.

A Belated Apology to the Late Chevrolet Volt

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The Chevy Volt went out of production last week so it’s a good time for a belated apology to the extended-range hybrid electric car. he Volt actually was built and sold by General Motors. The cars I was paid to promote contained similar technology, but were as real as testimony by Paul Manafort.

Here’s how it went down. For 11 years I was the head of electronic communication at the various permutations of DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler Group LLC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. My duties covered video, our media website, social media and broadcast media. It was my actions under that last area of responsibility that leads to this mea culpa.

In 2008, when our company was caught in the gates of hell under ownership of corporate slumlords Cerberus Capital Management and on a straight path to bankruptcy, it came up with a trio of extended-range and electric vehicles. They were known as the ENVI vehicles. ENVIronment…get it?

ENVICARS.001One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?

One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?

We staged a big unveiling of the vehicles in front of Chrysler World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., live on CNBC, followed by a news conference and ride/drive opportunity for the media on our test track.

It was a major deal and the press dutifully reported the company’s stated intentions to put at least one of these on the road by 2010.

My team and I even trekked to SoCal where we were hoping to stoke the “green” media out there with our environmentally friendly “production intent” vehicles–staging a dog and pony at the Rose Bowl parking lot, which included a series of drag races between the Dodge ENVI car and a Dodge Challenger. The electric Dodge won every time.

From there we schlepped the cars to Irvine for the weekly Cars and Coffee event, then up to a Huntington Beach dealership for further fawning. I produced two video features on the attendees at both going gaga over the green vehicles. Apologies on the quality of the videos. They were shot on tiny digital videotapes and have deteriorated over time.

At some point I get a call when I’m back in Michigan from a contact at NBC. I won’t name the person because that person is still working. The contact says, “hey, we’re gonna have the Chevy Volt on the Today Show day after tomorrow out on the plaza. If you can get that sporty Dodge ENVI car here I can probably get it on the show too. I hate for the Volt to have the spot to itself.”

I make the calls to the people who can make it happen….and it does! Next thing I know I’m off to NYC to manage the Dodge EV’s appearance. By that time we were calling it the Dodge Circuit.

Sure enough, Circuit is sitting next to the Volt on the plaza. Matt Lauer comes out to do the spot with CNBC’s auto beat reporter Phil LeBeau. The Circuit is bright yellow/orange. The Volt is a darker green. Phil explains both vehicles to Lauer and everything’s going well. I’m standing next to the PR guy from GM and we’re both happy. Then, as the spot is about to wrap up, Lauer makes some comment about how cool the Dodge Circuit is and that’s the one he’d want! The GM guy’s face drops. I’m smiling because I know neither Lauer, nor anyone else in the world will ever be able to have a Circuit or any of the ENVI vehicles because, well, it’s all bullshit. The chances of any of them actually being produced and sold to consumers was roughly the same as the Unabomber’s shot at parole, but they sure made a good case to Congress and the American people that the company was right on the leading edge of new technology, and therefore worthy of financial help from the taxpayers.

The gang back home watching was ecstatic and, I have to admit, I was too, initially. But once the company finally announced the ENVI program was being killed, and therefore exposed as the vaporware it really was, I felt a bit guilty that, for a moment on network TV, we fooled some folks that what we were doing was real while the innovative Volt was actually being built and sold to consumers. I always wondered if Lauer, now himself exposed for being a creep, would have preferred the Volt if it was painted in a brighter, more exciting color, since that seemed to be his deciding factor.

In all honesty, the whole episode was quickly forgotten. I only bring it up to clear my conscience and tip my hat to Karma. Long after ENVI and Lauer were both shitcanned, the innovative Volt was the last thing rolling.

Regarding Oscar and Other Fancy Nutcrackers

oscarAre you excited about the Oscars? I’ve only seen one of the films, “A Star is Born,” so I have very little skin in the game. Maybe I’ll catch up with some of the others, but probably won’t. It isn’t that I don’t like movies. I just don’t like sitting in one place in the dark for 2-3 hours unless, since it reminds me of the time my family toured the U.S. House and Senate chambers where most everyone who sits there is in the dark.

My issue today, however, is not the worthiness of movies as a form of entertainment. I did enjoy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” back in the 60’s because it was packed with stars, funny gags and was really, really long, which meant I didn’t have to do my homework.

My issue, however, is the award itself. Formally known as the Academy Award, of course, it’s also known as Oscar. Now Oscar is damn fine name. I named my first goldfish Oscar. Unfortunately, a month or so after we got together, Oscar decided to jump out of his bowl and ended up inside a steaming radiator in our Queens, New York apartment.

My brave brother attempted to rescue Oscar, but the poor little mini-carp was steamed into eternity. At least my Oscar, when he was alive, briefly, he had fully functioning fins, gills and a mouth. The Oscar award is basically a casting of a naked eunuch with his arms clutched to his bare chest..just like one of the hapless nominees who was only put on the list to fill out the ballot but has zero chance of winning. Oh, the camera will show them in their seats with a look of hope as their names are read, but honestly, they’re nothing but high profile seat fillers doomed to disappointment. An honor just to be nominated? Really. It just means you were chosen to be one of the designated losers cast aside so the actor or film with a biggest kiss ass budget could be paid off with a fancy nutcracker, with no nuts! Now that itself warrants an award–so many people screwed without benefit of a weenie.

It also makes no sense to me because the Oscar trophy doesn’t scream “awesome acting! Awesome movie!” It’s just a functionless guy mounted on a pedestal. Kind of like Sean Hannity.

grammyAt least the Grammy award is an old gramophone–a device on which music was once played–so it makes sense.

tonyawardThe Tony really looks more like a Chinese gong and no Broadway show or actor wants to get the gong, especially before intermission. Maybe something that looks more like a marquee or a likeness of the late great Carol Channing or Zero Mostel. 

 

 

The Emmy is also stupid. It looks like someone on the ladies Olympic beach volleyball team ready to spike the pumpkin, but is disqualified due to her use of wings. An award for television should look like a teenager with zombie eyes. emmy

So I’ll probably watch the beginning of the Oscar broadcast because there’s no host, which mean no embarrassing monologue, although I think they should have given Dave Letterman a second chance. “Uma..Oprah!” Heh. I don’t care. Dave could do no wrong in my book.

If you do watch, and care about the outcome..enjoy it. But when they start handing out those statues, just remember, all those winners are going home with a guy who can only gather dust…but can’t satisfy their lust..except for attention..and, as the song that will probably win a guy with no poopik..is pretty, um, Shallow.