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A Hemingway-Inspired Christmas Story

If Ernest Hemingway wrote down his Christmas thoughts:

hemingway-e1568254410986I write this at first light. Christmas morning. Damn Christmas. Oh, it’s not the festivity or ceaseless singing. It’s good. It’s fine.

Presents. Gifts. I’m compelled to shop but I prefer the term hunt. My prey is challenging. Staring at me. Mocking me. Daring me to exchange cash for whatever supposed joy it may impart the recipient. Damn joy. I release my debit card. The prey is captured. Later wrapped and lain in repose beneath the fir awaiting reception. Others have hunted too and expect appreciation from me, I suppose. Damn appreciation.

papaxmascardTime comes to release the captive items. Expected joy is expressed. I reciprocate sparking a smile. Maybe two. It doesn’t matter. I have participated. It’s good. It’s fine. One can’t complain when endowed with a new sweater’s warmth, or sustenance of a cheese log. Thanks is expressed and accepted. It’s a process and I submit. One may term it celebration. Some do. I submit, and drink. No, not that nasty nog. A zesty mojito or scotch and soda will do just fine. Several. Then, I celebrate.

hemingwaymojitoThere are children. Many. I observe their youthful mania while manipulating machines with batteries. It is not long before the batteries expire. I wish for children operating under the same power. Peace. Another mojito. More peace.

I am informed. In the days following the exchange of hunted items there are further expectations. Notes. Damn notes to express gratitude for procured items. I have already expressed such gratitude orally! It’s all overkill but I submit to allay matrimonial harangue. I sit and write. What is there to it? There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. If one could now find a typewriter I would gladly bleed rather than manipulate intangible characters that might disappear without warning.

Someone in my family. Perhaps a distant relative with little knowledge of my comportment reports the beginnings of a smile. I demur. It can’t be. Damn, I’m slipping. As if losing traction on Mt. Kilimanjaro, or being becalmed off the Cuban coast.

I retreat to examine the commodities bestowed on me and they were good. They were fine. I’m good. I’m fine. Very fine. Perhaps you are too. Damn season’s joy. Another mojito seals it. A new year awaits. The hunt renews.

Oh No…Another New Culture in ChryslerLand

IMAGE CP CT MMI originally posted this on Forbes.com when news broke last month that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Group PSA were working towards a merger agreement. Now that they have announced such an agreement, I thought it might be worth re-posting here.

psafcalogoNow that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is proposing to merge with French automaker Groupe PSA, Chrysler employees may be faced with their fourth culture, and probable name, change since 1998. That was the year the all-American Chrysler Corp. merged, was usurped, gobbled up, by Daimler Benz AG of Germany, creating DaimlerChrysler.

Since then the Germans off-loaded the American side of the company as the “merger of equals” ended in divorce in 2007. Chrysler quickly found a new sugar daddy in Cerberus Capital Management, which had zero experience in the auto business and it all fell apart less than two years later amid the recession and the company’s bankruptcy.

In June, 2009, the late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne swept in to save the company, marrying it to the Italian automaker, eventually creating what it is today, and for the time-being, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

I joined DaimlerChrysler in 2005 to establish and run its digital communications team after more than 30 years as a broadcast and print journalist. It didn’t take long to lock onto the corporate culture, heavily influenced by the Germans, who were basically the senior partner. Business attire was the norm, saying “ja” to directives from Stuttgart was expected and the free coffee available in the headquarters was your basic grocery store stuff. Some employees tried their best to learn German, especially those who were summoned to Deutschland for any period of time.

Flexibility wasn’t really in the German vocabulary. When we collaborated on ideas, say, for a new website, our thoughts were considered suggestions. Those from our German counterparts were orders.

During one of my visits to Stuttgart one of my American colleagues who was on a six-month exchange stint there asked the leader of a meeting if they could conduct it in English for my benefit. The answer was a swift and angry “nein!” I didn’t bother sitting in. I took four years of German in high school and college but I wasn’t taking that discourtesy.

When we heard, through a news report, our side of the company was in play we rejoiced, hoping to regain a totally American management, culture and name. Well … Cerberus was the devil we didn’t know. We got the name Chrysler Group LLC and the American management but they had no clue as to how to run an auto company.

The culture was one of constant fear because they had these guys with clipboards walking up and down the aisles in our office suites taking note of how many workers there were and ostensibly making decisions on who should stay and who should receive a cardboard box and told to take a hike. A strange man with long, white hair took over one of our offices. He equipped it with “the best white board possible” and wrote a bunch of stuff on it. Again, we figured he was plotting the demise for many of us. We were right.

Indeed, during the Cerberus corporate slumlord era little was accomplished as thousands of employees, many who had been at the company for decades, were handed those cardboard boxes for the purpose of filling them with the stuff from their desks and walked out the door for good.

Then, on one magnificent day, it all changed. On June 10, 2009, employees were invited to gather in the main well of the massive Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. With the deal done, there was no sign of anyone from Cerberus in the crowd. Our new leader, Sergio Marchionne rode in on an electric cart. He was wearing a dark golf shirt, hair a little askew and as thousand of workers hung in rapt attention from the four tiers of the open space called Tech Plaza, all the misery of the past two years was swept away with the modest, but reassuring words from Marchionne. We would be a team, working together. He had respect for our work and our talents and had no doubt we would be ultimately successful, despite the horrible times we had just endured. He even tossed in a few words in Swahili.

The culture had instantly changed again to one of optimism, strength and confidence. Suits and ties were left hanging in our closets as Marchionne’s preference for golf shirts and black sweaters set the tone for a more relaxed dress code. That didn’t mean a relaxation in work ethic or expectations. In fact, Marchionne held us to the highest standards, we were just a lot more comfortable pursuing them.

Ah…and then the coffee. I always arrived early to the office. On the first day of the Fiat regime my Italian boss came by and asked where he could find some coffee. I had to tell him he had two choices…the free Folgers in the pot in the hallway, or we could go down to the little sundry shop where he could purchase Starbucks. He thought for a quick moment, sighed, and asked me to take him to the Starbucks. He filled his cup, sniffed it, made an unhappy face, and softly, but firmly informed me, “this will not continue.” By the end of the next day we had an espresso/cappuccino machine in the office, as did many of the other offices in the building.

With the French soon in the mix, I imagine employees may find fresh, flaky croissants to go with their morning espressos. If so, they’ll need to savor that treat, before the culture changes again.

Authors note: I worked at the various iterations of Chrysler from August, 2005 until July, 2016 in the company’s corporate communications department.

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Help An Author Without a Book

"I'm sorry-you tapped into something no one cares about."Even before I retired 3.5 years ago co-workers, colleagues, former colleagues, but no one in my family, urged me to write a book. Like my late father, I have a deep bucket of war stories, “life” experiences, bad puns and assorted bullshit that I like to dip into–often to the chagrin of whomever is unlucky enough to be within earshot.

Some people think my stories are entertaining. Others accuse me of taking great license with the truth and there’s an element of skeptics who just can’t believe some of my wilder tales are based in fact. All of those individuals have been correct at one time or another.

Well…I never really fully retired. Since walking through the spinning turnstiles at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on July 29, 2016 I’ve held one actual part-time job where I was on staff. That lasted almost two years and now I’m juggling three freelance gigs. Even so, I have plenty of time to write a book.

But what the hell should it be about? Some have urged me to recount my 20 years at CNN based on anecdotes I’ve bored people with over the year. More than a few people have told me they’re entertaining, but I always shoot that idea down countering “most reporters have great war stories.” 

Of course, I’ve had a long career in journalism and PR leading others to suggest I broaden the scope of my recollections. But honestly, I’m not exactly famous so who would buy such a book? I don’t wanna be that pathetic author sitting alone at a table in Barnes and Noble for a book signing where the only people who come up to me ask to be directed to the shelf containing guides to Pokemon Go! I’m not a snob. I’d autograph the book.

Oh, I could try fiction, which would be a new challenge. Although some rankled subjects of my news stories might contend I have deep experience in that genre. I am intrigued with delving into the untrue and attempted to outline a modern thriller set in the auto industry titled “Recall Revenge.” But I gave up when it became apparent the killer was just a bad ignition switch.

I despise self-help books that dictate “THE ONLY WAY YOU SHOULD DO SOMETHING.” But I don’t mind tomes that offer solid suggestions. That’s a possibility, but what do I know that would be helpful to someone? Well, maybe “101 Hints For Spiking the Office Coffee Pot.” I’ve already considered, and discarded reaching out to a Millennial audience with “You’re Right. You Don’t Have Enough Bandwidth.”

I’m still very open to the idea of writing a book but need to really buckle down, choose a direction and stay with it. If you have any ideas, just let me know. Right now I’m leaning on a semi-autobiographical recounting of my struggles resisting free food samples at Costco. Working title: “Grab, Go, Die.” Think it would sell? Your my focus group. Thanks in advance.

More Than Thoughts and Prayers

It’s been a little over a year since I first heard Susan Orfanos tell people to keep their prayers and actually do something about gun control. You see, she had just lost her son in a shooting at a country bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was one of a dozen people mowed down at the bar that day. 

Her words have stayed with me every single day, especially in the aftermath of still more gun violence, whether it be in Pensacola, Pearl Harbor, El Paso, Dayton or anywhere else. I think of Susan Orfanos’s words when some well-meaning person offers “thoughts and prayers” to family and friends of the victims and what might be a more comforting and meaningful promise.

tree-of-life-memorial.jpgThoughts are nice. Prayers are fine. Go ahead, think, pray. But may I suggest doing something else in conjunction with thinking. I’ve decided that if I’m in a position to express support I’m going to change my promise from “thoughts and prayers,” to “thoughts and ACTIONS.”  Actions can be almost anything that addresses the issue. Actions can include having frank discussions with your kids about being watchful and non-violent ways to handle circumstances that may lead to anger, sadness, feelings of isolation.  Actions could include writing to our representatives imploring them to have the courage to stand up to the NRA and to gun companies and pass the type of legislation that might make a difference in reducing crimes involving firearms, snuffing out the ability to buy assault weapons and closing the egregious gun show loophole that makes it easy to pick up a weapon without a background check.  Personalize each communication with the name or names of victims of gun violence and maybe a photo so their once-alive eyes will stare down the cowards, if they even bother to read what we’ve sent.  Work to toss the spineless saps out of office–replaced by those who are committed and brave enough enough to pass legislation with high enough caliber to make a difference.

elpasoshootingEveryone has different levels of what actions might be comfortable for them. Any action is positive action. No one is trying to take firearms appropriate for hunting or self and home defense out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. But actions must be taken to remove them from those with a history of violence. Actions must be taken to eliminate the availability to the general public assault weapons and those designed for the military. They have no other purpose than to kill people.

Really, action can be anything that helps make our world just a little bit safer. It’s the least we can do for all the victims and their survivors like Susan Orfanos.

There are five types of rifle actions: bolt action, level action, pump action, semi-automatic action and break action. There must be at least that many versions of positive action to reduce gun violence. If not, then we don’t have a prayer. Think… and pray about that. Amen.

Caught In The Canadian “Feud”

ffcanadaJust got back home from finding myself in the middle of two feuding Canadian families. It’s ok..no one got hurt but at least a few were embarrassed. Yeah..our family buzzed up Hwy 401 to Toronto for a taping of an episode of Family Feud Canada, as the old game show finally arrives in the Great White North.

My son is a game show aficionado and always wanted to see one live. Since he’s not much of a traveler, flying out to the west coast wasn’t an option, but a four-hour drive was.

It’s been many years since I last attended a game show. It was in the early 1970’s. I grew up in NYC so popping over to 30 Rock in Manhattan was an easy bus and subway trip. My friends and I showed up one morning and they happened to be recording a couple of episodes of “Sale of the Century” host by Joe Garagiola. The whole thing took barely 90 minutes…but Family Feud Canada was a whole different bowl of poutine.

They told us to show up at the CBC building at 11:45am. We showed up at 11:30 and there already was a line to check in. Once we did that, we were told to get in another line. Stood there for an hour. Suddenly the line started moving and we were stuffed into padded elevators in small groups and taken to the 10th floor where, we stood in another line.  Must be about time to enter the studio, eh? Naw…we stood for another hour while, we came to learn, the fun folks at Family Feud Canada were still rehearsing. Do you really need to rehearse, “survey SAID!!!!!” Apparently so.

Finally, we were ushered into a very large studio with a sparkling new, modern set. We lucked out and were seated in the second row on an aisle, but since the seats were angled, it was like scoring front row seats.

Nothing happened for awhile but then this chunky, bouncy, balding guy named Marty popped on stage and did the warmup. You know..get the audience happy and peppy and energized. Told us when to applaud and say “awwww” when a contestant gave a wrong answer and useful stuff like that. He also warned us about games we would be subjected to. Ah..the games. Later.

gerrydee.jpgSo the show finally starts and host, Gerry Dee bounds out and does the shtick. Yeah..I hadn’t heard of Gerry Dee either but came to find out he’s a famous Canadian comedian who does a long-running sitcom about a sort of schmucky teacher. It’s called Mr. D. I found some clips on YouTube and it is pretty funny.

Ever wonder what happens during the breaks? Well…our friend Marty pops out with a million watts of energy and orders us to get up and start dancing and when the music stops we’re supposed to freeze. If you don’t freeze, a woman named Tracie, also nicknamed “Madam X” comes by and slaps an X on you and that means you’re out. I swear I froze but Marty seemed to be appalled by my dancing and declared me out. Madam X was apparently also so disgusted by my personal choreography she didn’t even bother to slap the X on me…just said “sit down!” Yay! This went on for 10 minutes. Isn’t a break usually about two?

Next break, Marty comes out again and insists on annoying us with another game this time we all had to stand again. He would yell out things like, “whose favorite movie is Shawshank Redemption?” If you agreed, you sat down. I figured out pretty fast, it would be personally advantageous to agree to something quickly, so I plopped down when he told anyone who shaved in the last week to sit. That break was another 10-15 minutes. Now game shows usually record 5 in a day. These hosers were gonna be lucky to knock out one.

Finally the show proceeded but the producers wanted to review almost the whole thing before they got to the final, “fast money” round. Out came Marty again making us stand  or dance or yell “woo woo!” or some other nonsense to keep our energy up with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry braying over the PA. Maybe another 10-15 minutes goes by and they do the first half of “fast money.” Then it’s time to bring out the second family member to complete the game.

I was watching the prompter, having had many years of reading off prompters and all Gerry Dee had to say was, “OK, you need 22 points to get to 200 to win 10-thousand dollars!” Easy, right? Poor Gerry Dee. This was only his second show but he made the mistake of trying to put the words on the prompter into his own words. He wasn’t close. Family member #2 has to go backstage and run out again, then Gerry Dee would give it another try. No good. Rewind. Family to backstage, run out again, Gerry botches it again. Gerry Dee finally decides there are too many numbers and orders “200” be deleted. Family member #2 slogs off backstage, and, almost out of breath, runs out on stage again while Gerry Dee attempts the truncated version of the line. Aw..it only too three more times!

Finally nails it, the guy does get 22 points, the family from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories wins 10-grand and the game is over…right? Naw….we’re going to overtime! Marty’s out rousting us from our seats to jump and dance and woo-woo to still one more Taylor Swift song and we’re all trying to shake off what’s now become an ordeal. We find out the producers didn’t like how the show opened so they have to do it over and we have to stand, and clap and woo-woo! with the same energy we had at the start. Meanwhile the losing family is skulking just off camera watching this and while awaiting the cue to record, Gerry Dee cracks to them, “you’re thinking, can we fuckin’ go yet?” Biggest laugh of the day so far.

The open is re-recorded, the show is over and we get to leave, four hours after we first arrived. The actual recording of what will amount to 22 minutes of television took about 90 minutes.

It’ ok! My son had the time of his life, we got to jump up, dance, say woo-woo! a lot and have a cool experience. Survey SAID! “FUN, EH?”

When Push Comes To Blow

snowblowerI never owned a snow blower…until yesterday. That means I lived almost 25-thousand days without one. I never once wished I owned one, because that would mean I’d have to be out in the cold snow…well…blowing it.

For 11 years, when we lived in Arizona and Georgia, there wasn’t really any snow to blow, so that’s more than 4-thousand days right there. When we moved up to Michigan from Georgia back in 1989 the house we lived in for 25 years had a long, straight, double-wide driveway as well as a circle drive. Didn’t need to blow the snow away because the people who sold us the house had employed an excellent plow service and we kept them. They never let us down.

A little over two years ago we moved to a bigger house with a much smaller driveway. So small, we couldn’t get a plow service to accept us. So my wife and I figured we could shovel the stuff. Oh, that worked out until this past Monday night when we got hit with an early blast of snow…about 9 inches of it. We went out after dinner and started shoveling. But it wasn’t as easy as it once seemed. After half the driveway was reasonably cleared, we hung up our shovels for good. We made a solemn pact before turning out the lights that night that we’d finally have to concede to reality and buy a stupid snow blower.

Snow blowers fly off the shelves once the first flakes fly, so I got up early and was the first person at the nearest Menards when it opened at 6:30 a.m. I had already chosen which blower I wanted and confirmed on the store’s app they had a few in stock. It said they had five. When I got there they had two. Whew! After I quickly grabbed the giant box containing the blower they only had one. Another guy was next to me who wanted something more beefy. All they had left was the floor sample. He snatched it off the shelf and hightailed it to the cashier.  We gave each other that knowing look that said, “ha! we’re badass early risers who beat the other losers to the last snow blowers! Shovel THAT!” Yes, men are often morons.

As soon as I got home I couldn’t wait to extract the machine from its box and assemble it. It was easy. No tools required! The operating instructions were also easy. Then…the big moment. I fired up that snow eatin’ machine and commenced to blowin’! Having never before operated such a device, I thought it would be a drag. It wasn’t. I discovered the wonder of the chute that shoots the snow you just blew to somewhere it wasn’t. You could grab this handy rod and rotate the chute in any direction. Suddenly I had created a game where I could imagine aiming the chute at annoying pickup truck drivers and blowing them off the road with SNOW FORCE!  I’d reach the next level by picking off poodles piddling on my lawn and giving door-to-door salesmen snowy face washes. Bam! Whoosh! Freeze! My snow blower had become the most awesome game console this side of my Atari 2600.

Then I came back from my Frigid Fantasy and realized my driveway was clear. I sulked like a six-year with no smartphone as I wheeled the blower back into the garage. For the rest of the day I would check the Weather Channel app in hopes more snow was on the way. It looks like we may get a dusting tomorrow. That’s fine. That’s plenty. That’s more than enough.

This boy’s pumped and ready to blow. That otherwise mundane appliance is now my force, my power, all I need to conquer the coolest and coldest….First Person Chuter.

The Car Brand I Can Never Buy

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

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

dadstars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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