Tagged: observations

On the Mustang’s 54th…me and my Mustang II

mustangIIstockThis week marked 54 years since the Ford Mustang was introduced to the world, appropriately, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. I lived about 20 minutes, or two bus rides, from the fair, and went often, whenever I could scrounge up the buck fifty it cost to get in. 

One of my favorite attractions was the Ford pavilion which featured a ride  in a convertible Galaxie 500 through tubes and tracks that took you through time. You often had to wait a couple of hours to get in, but it was worth it. When you got off the ride, they handed you a green plastic badge embossed with a likeness of the pavilion and a state. You never knew which state you’d get. I got New Jersey. I still have it. If you hold it up to a light for about 30 seconds then go in a dark space, it’ll glow bright green. fordbadgeAll these years later mine still glows.  What also glowed was the cool new sporty car on a turntable they called the Mustang. The badge on the grille was a horse, but the Mustang name was really derived from the World War II P-51 fighter jet, which Mustang stylist John Najjar admired.

Since I was only 12 at the time, I wasn’t ready to buy a Mustang. Besides, my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. In fact, I never really thought about owning a Mustang even though I admired it. But things can change quickly in life. After I graduated college in 1973 and got married, I had a very limited budget since the radio station where I worked paid only minimum wage. Except for a used car, the only new ones I could afford were either an AMC Gremlin or Chevy Vega. I went for the Vega..a nice bright red one with sporty fake black leather seats.

Anyone familiar with the ill-fated Vega knows it was a complete failure. I went through 3 transmissions in three years. Many years later as an automotive reporter for The Detroit News, I visited the Lordstown, Ohio Assembly Plant where the Vega was built. One old codger who had worked on the car looked at me sadly and asked, “you owned a Vega? On behalf of the men and women here in Lordstown, I APOLOGIZE!”

Then one day a guy I worked with at radio station WMBO in Auburn, N.Y., outside Syracuse, came up to me and begged me to go down to the parking lot with him, where he showed me a shiny silver new Mustang II. “They’re having a big sale on Mustangs at the Ford dealer in Skaneateles! Dump that Vega!” he said.

It was, indeed a cool car so that night my wife and I drove the five miles east to Skaneateles and instantly fell in love with an emerald green Mustang II with white, fake leather seats.  The soft-spoken salesman actually offered us money for our Vega and we picked up the Mustang the next day. It wasn’t a good start. No sooner had we pulled out of the lot it started raining and flipped the switch to turn on the wipers. Nothing happened. Made a quick u-turn back to the dealership where the embarrassed salesman said, “oh, sometimes the wiper arms on the new ones have to be tightened.” Right.

But after that we felt cool as crap riding in the green machine. Took great care of it and it never failed us. We ended up taking it across the country when we moved to Tucson, Arizona and across again when we moved to Atlanta. That’s where it was time to say “goodbye” to it.  Oh, I forgot to mention the car had no air conditioning which was a big negative living in the desert in Tucson where we’d often have 10 days or more above 100 degrees. I had to drive to work in shorts and a t-shirt and then change when I arrived. Before figuring this out, I’d drive in my suit then have to ask someone to pry me out of the car because my clothes were stuck to the fake leather seats.

I was working overnights at CNN in 1986 and on my way home on I-85 I felt the car failing. I managed to get it off the freeway, about halfway up the Druid Hills Road exit, where it died. A few minutes later the traffic reporter on WSB warned morning commuters, “a green Mustang is blocking the northbound exit ramp at Druid Hills Road off I-85!”  After I had the car towed to a nearby gas station, my wife came and picked me up in our other car….a two-tone blue Chevy Chevette. Yeah..we had strange taste in cars.  By the time I got home a guy who worked at the Ford plant in Hapeville, Ga., near the Atlanta airport, called and said he’d give me 150 bucks for the car and pay my towing fee, then fix it up for his 16 year old daughter. Deal!

For a year or so after that I would run into the old car. I knew it was mine because I had a Newscenter 9 bumper sticker on it–the TV station I worked at in Tucson. I was glad to see the old green Mustang got a second life. It certainly served us well during its first one.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday and I had the privilege of covering the Mustang’s 54th birthday at Ford World Headquarters for Automotive News. Here’s my story which was the latest edition of my weekly feature, The Closer. Enjoy.

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Today’s Five & Dime is A Buck or Five

woolworthsOh how inflation has changed our perception of cool, cheap stuff. When we were kids, it was Woolworth’s..the five and dime store. Of course, that was a cruel come-on since there wasn’t much that actually cost a nickel or a dime, except a candy bar or a pack of gum. If I was a good boy while my mother spent hours shopping for clothes at the neighborhood department store, we could walk a few doors down to Woolworths and I was allowed to choose anything less than a dollar. Inevitably, I’d find a toy that cost 98 cents, but my mother always rounded up and that was too close to a buck to make the cut.

dollar-tree-officeToday a dollar is the magic minimum. People swarm into the dollar stores and spend money like it grows on trees. Maybe that’s why the number two dollar store is the Dollar Tree. It’s only outranked, sales-wise, by Dollar General. dollargeneral5_600x400Today, my son and I visited the Dollar Star.  Not sure it’s part of a chain, but a nice old guy runs the place and he carries everything from picture hangers to oddball brands of candy to birthday and playing  cards to rather large images of Jesus. For those of faith, you can’t beat a buck to pay homage. I found a package of two little bottles of hand sanitizer. The label says the scent is “original.” I took a whiff. Yes..the scent is, indeed, original. In fact I’ve never smelled anything like it, although it reminded me a bit of my last visit to a slaughterhouse. At least I know my hands will not only be clean, but will smell like either raw sirloin or a butcher’s severed thumb.handsanitizer

The dollar store is also a good place to pick up the local newspaper. The Detroit Free Press costs $1.50 but only a buck at the dollar store. The paper sometimes feel a little thin, so maybe for 50 cents less we’re not getting all the obits.

Over the years I’ve bypassed the well-known big box discount stores for the dollar store when I’ve needed a water bottle, book of crossword puzzles, a bag of Fiddle Faddle or mechanic’s rags.

When I’m feeling flush, I visit a Five Below store where everything is FIVE dollars or below. That’s 500 percent more but the stuff they carry is usually many percent less expensive than other stores. For instance, when I got a new cell phone I looked for a case at a discount store. Some discount. The cases ranged from $25-$45. At Five Below I had a fairly decent choice of cases all priced at five bucks.  Same for Bluetooth ear buds, USB cables and Pickleball paddles.  I’m not sure I’d buy clothes there, though since I’d be afraid to wear them in the rain. fivebelowtech

What this whole cheapo store phenomenon tells me is you can find a lot of life’s little needs for next to nothing. I mean, why pay 4 dollars for picture hangers when you can pay one little George Washington for the same thing? So what if you don’t recognize the brand–they all probably come from the same factory in Shanghai anyway.

I often wonder what my childhood would have been like if they had dollar stores back in the 60’s. Probably not that much different…since a dollar is still more than 98 cents.      

Intra-office Nomad

workspaceI have a new perspective at work today. That’s because I moved to my third different cube since starting here about 18 months ago. That’s because we’ve had to shuffle while our company renovates its offices.  I’m not really too particular about my workspace as long as it’s fairly clean, has a drawer for my coffee cup, headphones, a couple of pens and some paper. Oh, another requirement is a decent chair. The chair I had at my last two cubes had stains I can only guess came from a previous owner’s losing bout with incontinence. On the upside, the stains did have a remarkable resemblance to the shape of Latvia, which at least provided a conversation starter with those touring the office. “Hi! that’s an interesting stain on your chair!”  “For sure! It’s the shape of Latvia!” “Uh, nice. Where do you keep your medical supplies?”

It’s also important to me to have what they call good ergonomics. That means your knees don’t hit the counter when you pull your chair up to the work surface. In the L-shaped space, one generally places their computer monitor and keyboard at the intersections of the two legs. Unfortunately, the counter is too low and the arms on my chair are too high, so my fingers can barely scrape the edge of my keyboard, making my job as a writer somewhat more challenging, but not impossible. I’ve figured out how to blow enough air through a straw to depress the keys. It’s takes a little while longer than touch typing but if I add a little sound, I can pretty much hum any song I like.  My co-workers are not amused but I did bring a full box of straws and have invited them to form a blow-typers band. Not have yet accepted and I fear I’m being blown off.

Before I retired I was senior manager at a car company and had an office enclosed in glass. It was more room than I needed and way too isolated from my teammates but our HR department said it would “send a bad message” if I worked from a more modest, and sensible space. I actually think it sends a great message when you take up only as much space as you actually need. In fact, I can fit all of my personal items in a small Trader Joes shopping bag and be out the door in 12 seconds when it’s time for me to move on.

One thing I noticed by moving three times is the difference in background sound. At my first spot our team was fairly isolated and I mainly heard conversations that pertained to our piece of the puzzle. Then we moved into the main newsroom and I liked being there because there was a nice view of Ford Field and Comerica Park, but that was offset by the woman across the divider from me who sneezed no fewer than 75 times every hour. When I was new in that space I attempted a “Bless you” and a “gesundheit” but after the first dozen sneezes I no longer wished this person good health, praying instead for death by Kleenex.

My new, and I’m told, permanent cube, is in what can only be called a mixed neighborhood. I’ve been placed between two people who aren’t on my team and they’ve yet to acknowledge me. I suppose I could take the initiative but as someone who mainly works from home, only coming in to the office every few weeks, it seems like an unnecessary burden. They’ll forget my name, I’ll forget theirs and I don’t want to become so familiar that one of them hits me up to borrow a pen I’ll never see again, or asks about my weekend because then I’d have to ask about their weekend and the small talk quotient would simply be far beyond my level of toleration.  I do enjoy that sort of chatting with my teammates because I already know their names so half the work is already done.

Meanwhile, my knees are getting sore bumping into the counter so I’m moving things around a bit. I have five drawers and only three possessions so it may be entertaining to switch their locations from time to time then play a game with myself to see if I remember where I put everything, since I have no idea when I’m scheduled to return to the office.  Plus, it will take me only 12 seconds to pack up….when it’s time to move…again.

 

 

Happy EastOver (plus podcast)

EggsMatzoh

Too busy to read? Link to podcast at the end of this post

It’s like this. I’ve got a stack of matzo, wine glasses, six colored eggs and a bunny on my dining room table. Add a Hagaddah and a hymnal and the picture of our ecclesiastical schizophrenia is complete.  It’s a condition my daughter aptly named EastOver–that confluence of Easter and Passover where it’s OK to eat Peeps but not bread. That’s our family. As Marisa Tomei memorably squawked in “My Cousin Vinny,” “like you blend!” We do.

Most years each holiday gets its own due. Typically Passover starts before Easter and we do the traditional seder. My Episcopalian wife makes her sublime matzoball soup..a fact that royally ticked off my late, Jewish, mother who demanded her secret. “Just follow the directions  on the box,” my wife deadpanned. I always feared that once Protestants figured this out, beyond my kitchen, they would co-opt the dish, the holiday and take credit for conjuring up the potent agent of constipation.

I always enjoyed the seder, even when I was very young and Passover tradition was held at my maternal grandparent’s apartment in Flatbush. My grandmother Perlberg was calm and gracious and made these killer french fries in the oven that were joyously greasy and crunchy.  My grandfather insisted on reading the Passover story in Hebrew even though he spoke not a word. Indeed, every passage came out as “zummmmmzummmzummmcha!”” Sometimes he would nod off in the middle of the story which didn’t please us because it only delayed getting to the big meal, which was generally roast turkey and those rock-hard fries. We often were told the Last Supper, noted by Christians was probably what we were served because we were convinced Jesus actually died choking on a hard, greasy fry. The cross thing was just to cover up for the cook.

EggsLampWhich brings us to Easter. My wife has a deft touch when decorating the house for every holiday. For the Resurrection she exhumes a host of colorful, sparkling eggs and they rise to hover over us from various light fixtures. This not only adds the bright hues of Spring and hope to the house, it provides a reminder that between Easter and Passover ….eggs suffer from a high mortality rate.

We always enjoyed creating fun Easter baskets for the kids, stuffing them with toys and candy, which invariably led to the question, “hey mommy and daddy, what’s this stuff have to do with a guy going down then coming back up and what does the word ‘Easter’ mean?” Our explanation centered on the joy of the season and happiness that a very important person got a second chance… and our awesome dental insurance. No, I do not know what the word “Easter” means although I suspect it’s a Welsh interpretation of the word “Cadbury.”

The way we handle the confluence of Easter and Passover pretty much mirrors our even-handed approach to the intersection of Christmas and Chanukah, as I explained in  the 2016 post “Holiday Turf War.”

It’s nice to see how our now, adult kids respect the different celebrations and beliefs, while hedging their spiritual bets. After all, you don’t want to put all your eggs.. matzoh or Easter, in one basket.

Closing Shots on Opening Day

Opening Day at Tiger Stadiumopeningday I’ve never attended an opening day as a spectator, but I do have some clear memories of a couple that I was compelled to cover as a correspondent for CNN. I remember them because one involved almost being beheaded by a ball thrown by a Cleveland Indian, and the second involved mayhem at the old Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium when I covered the banning of Pete Rose from baseball.

I was sent to Tiger Stadium for their home opener in 1995, which occurred only players suspended the strike that began the previous August, wiping out the end of the season and post-season. The fans were angry and tossed beer bottles, baseballs and other debris on the field.

fielderSuspecting the fans would be pissed, I was sent to get some comments from Tigers players before the game. I walked up to giant Cecil Fielder who mumbled some gibberish only decipherable by a code breaker. As I attempted to get the slugger to form actual words, Indians outfield Kenny Lofton decided to take advantage of my vulnerable position and whizzed a ball by my noggin’ so close I saw Sparky Anderson’s life before my eyes. kenny-lofton-bobbleheadLofton’s asshole move sparked a chuckle from Fielder who then mumbled something like “igotnuthintosay.” I only know that because a drunk guy in the front row listening to my attempt at an interview was annoyed when I persisted in trying to get the beef slab to give me just ten good seconds of wisdom I could use. He shouted at me, “hesayhegotnuthintosay!” Oh.

Pete-Rose.0.0I covered the entire arc of Pete Roses’s banning from baseball and that’s worth an entire blog post by itself. But I’ll tell you about the first opening day after Rose was bounced, replaced by Lou Pinella as Reds manager.

We get on the field before the game, which was artificial turf. Not good artificial turf. I’ve been on trampolines with less bounce. Anyway, our first target was team owner Marge Schott. schottanddogShe was not a nice person..banned from managing the team from 1996 to 98 for spewing garbage supporting policies by that great baseball figure Adolph Hitler.  Her constant companion, aside from her bigotry, was her dog Schottzie, which she brought to the game. I both the dog and the cur in a front row box seat and I attempt to get some obnoxious comments. Schottzie decides he doesn’t like reporters, hops over the rails and takes a dump at my foot. Marge says she agrees with that comment then goes on to blab blab blab about what a good boy Pete Rose is.

pinellaMy next quarry was manager Lou Pinella. It was a kick to try to talk to him since I’m a native New Yorker and a big Yankee fan and Looouuuuuuuu was a favorite when he wore pinstripes. Now he wore the scarlet letter R but I didn’t hold it against him. What I did hold against him was that he was a ton taller than I imagined and I was barely able to get the mic up to his mouth. I was glad he turned out to be a cool guy and didn’t let any animals take a crap on my crappy shoes.

And then there was reliever Rob Dibble. robdibbleCan’t help it. Every time I heard his name I thought of Office Dibble on the old Top Cat cartoon show. officerdibbleWhen I ask about his feeling about Pete Rose he goes completely bonkers to the point of incoherance in his support of his former manager. Everyone picked up our soundbite which may have been ESPN’s Play of the Day that day.

In the end, between the dog shit and the bullshit our story came out just fine.  However, thinking about that distant memory I’m not going to be able to resist, at least once today, hollering, “Hey Officer Dibble!”

 

 

 

Toy (Store) Story + podcast

(link to podcast version at bottom)

1516812375-toys-r-us-store-closing-listNo, this has nothing to do with Woody or Buzz. It has everything to do with red ink, Chapter 11 and the loss of places parents could rely on to be tortured by their children.

In other words, it’s sort of sad, but not in an Old Yeller way. The only guns shoot water or air and nothing dies but mom and dad’s sanity.

What’s sparked this HO-sized train of thought is the news that Toys R Us is liquidating. Yes..every Barbie, Monopoly set, pop gun, billion-pack of Pampers, two-wheeler, three-wheeler, Big Wheeler, doll house, swing set, bouncy ball, battery and jump rope..out the door at deep discounts before the giant toy chain closest its doors forever.

Doll Hospital_AF_iThat news comes in the wake of the closing recently of beloved Detroit-area Doll Hospital and Toy Soldier Shop and who knows how many other independent toy stores around the country.

Yeah, sure, it’s cool for parents to find something their kids want by searching online or prowling the neighborhood Walmart, and probably spending less money, but what’s missing here is the chance for children..and sometimes adults… to be children. To explore the shelves of cool stuff, pick up a doll or ball or Super Soaker or puzzle and feel it, imagine what it would be like to actually own it and play with it and show it to your friends then beg your parents to buy it, pleading you just HAVE to have this or your life will instantly become meaningless.

mitchellsareaMy first recollection of going into a toy store was a little place in the line of stores pictured above on Union Turnpike and 248th Street in Queens, where I grew up. Stuck in a strip near a bar, booze shop and deli, It was called Mitchells. Yup. Owned by a guy named Mitchell. Wasn’t sure if it was his first or last name and didn’t care as long as the names he carried included Mattel and Remco and Parker Brothers and Hasbro, Lionel and Ideal and Gilbert. Mitchells wasn’t a big place. It was about the size of a small deli, only instead of pickles and pastrami his shelves were stuffed with toys of every kind.  I hardly had more than a buck on me, a week’s allowance, when I’d pop into Mitchells. He knew all I could probably buy was a Tootsie Roll or some tiny water gun he sold for a nickel. Sometimes I’d buy a box containing a couple of rolls of caps for my toy Matt Dillon six-shooter. Bang! Bang! Bang! Those caps were awesome because most anything that made noise was awesome.

Mitchells lasted only a few years before he was bought out by a dry cleaner. How boring is that! But all wasn’t lost. A mile or two down Union Turnpike, just over the city line in Nassau County, was a cool place called Hush-a-Bye. It sold lots of furniture for children’s rooms, but the lower level was all toys. The coolest toys. Toys that wouldn’t fit in Mitchells’s small space. Knock hockey tables, elaborate electric train sets, all sorts of bikes, pogo sticks and Hula hoops. All it took was 20 cents to get on the bus, take it to the City Line stop and walk about three block to Hush-a-Bye. When you’re talking cool toys, that’s a small journey. My friends and I were almost always too broke to actually buy anything, but just plying the aisles of this new wonderland was entertainment in itself.

faoschwartzFast forward to a time my older brother and I were in college. We decided to go into Manhattan and the flagship FAO Schwartz store where Tom Hanks jumped around on a giant keyboard in “Big.” BigWe needed to buy a special toy for one of our cousin’s birthday. But we became hopelessly lost in the giant store, forgot our mission and started tossing around a football my brother picked up from one of the shelves. The other customers were smart enough to realize neither of us were adept at passing accurately…or catching the ball, for that matter and got the hell out of the way. The nonsense finally ended when a smartly suited salesman suggested we remove our sorry selves from the esteemed purveyor of playthings. Ha! We never did get around to buying that gift. The poor kid received a nice card and our best wishes.

By the time my two kids were born in the 1980’s  my wife and I never forgot the wonder of exploring toy stores and let our son and daughter take all the time they wanted when we hit the neighborhood Toys R Us.
THE-LITTLE-TIKES-NATURAL-PLAYHOUSE-sideThe stores sold these big plastic playhouses and had the samples lined up like little Levittowns in a center aisle. Our kids would check out every one of them and, like adult lookie-loos, would advise us of which one best suited their dreams. One year we actually bought on of them. It sat in a special corner of our basement and the kids filled it with balloons…naming the plastic cottage the Balloony Goony House. They had a lot of fun in it until they outgrew the three-foot high doorway and we sold it to our neighbors at one of our garage sales.  


kid1Maybe it’s true today’s kids would rather bang on a keyboard, fry their eyes gaping at one screen or another or perform every task on their little phones…just like adults. As Joni Mitchell wrote, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” but I hate to think of a time when kids never know of places where fun, exploration, surprise and discovery were were right out there. Not online on a screen. But right there…to touch and see…sitting on shelf..and shipping was always free..because it came home with you, in your parent’s car. 

kids2

https://soundcloud.com/user-768810181/toy-store-story