I’m retired now, but I have covered my fair share of contract talks between Detroit’s automakers and the UAW and worked for one of them between 1989 and when I retired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2016. That means I’ve seen the meat grinder from both sides of the gristle.
The bottom line is too many reporters are wasting their time calling their sources asking for some indications as to how the talks are going. Oh sure, some may have a pipeline to the bargaining table and others who have been through the process previously, may think they know what’s happening. I’ve found those clandestine quotes make for good stories under even better headlines and broadcast news teasers, but are often off the mark.
Now I’ll share what many longtime auto scribes already know–the truth is in the food. I realize times have changed dramatically since the days of reporters basically living at auto company headquarters waiting for the white smoke of a contract settlement. I even spent my 20th wedding anniversary at Ford’s Glass House fast asleep on a couch hoping for a timely agreement so I could get home in time to celebrate our big occasion.
Back in the day, the automakers fed us ‘round the clock. Catered meals, unending supplies of Dove Bars, midnight snacks. For the first few hours it seemed like the most fun you could have without beer.
Yes, we’d constantly be calling our sources hoping for at least one new lead. I was working at CNN most of the I covered the auto beat, so I was desperate for something new to say on my almost hourly live shots. The producers got pissed if all you had was “GM stuffed our faces with a delicate linguini.”
But the menu was more prescient than less experienced reporters realized. When the fare was suddenly upgraded to include steak, or lobster, or steak and lobster, it was like the big finale at a fireworks show. We’d get on the horn to our editors, breathlessly reporting, “Shit! It won’t be long now. Put me on the air!”
Anchor to Ed: “Ed, what’s the latest from the contract talks?”
Ed: “Well Bernie, all indications are they’re about to shake hands on a new pact.”
Anchor: “How do you know this?”
Ed: “They just fed us surf and turf. There can be no doubt it’s a done deal.”
Anchor: “Thanks for that scoop, Ed! Folks, you just heard it first on CNN. The two sides are just dessert away from inking a new four-year contract!”
Then there was the time a PR guy at one of the Detroit 3 decided to spoon feed me the scoop without actually saying it. This actually happened.
Ed to PR guy: “Hey Tom..what do you hear? Can I step out for a little bit?”
PR guy: “NO! The pizza is coming and it’s gonna be SO GOOD!”
Ed to PR guy: “Aw thanks, Tom, but I’m stuffed”
PR guy: “NO! you don’t understand. The pizza is coming at about 2 a.m. and it’s gonna be awesome. Don’t leave!”
He seemed kinda wound up so I stayed. Good thing. “Pizza” was code word for an agreement and sure enough, at around 2 a.m. word came down they’d reached a deal.
Sure, times have changed. I haven’t been stuck holed up staking out labor talks for several years so I’m sure the automakers aren’t serving up surf, turf or Dove Bars anymore which means today’s journalists are working hard, working their sources, pumping them for any nuggets of news. But it just might be worth it if one enterprising scribe went a little old school and asked the question, “hey, what’re they serving?”
If it’s pizza, fire up your device and prepare to file. It’s gonna be “so good!”
I’ll be blunt. I’m having money troubles. It’s not what you think, so there’s no need to start a GoFundMe page or anything like that. You see, I have enough money to get by, I’m just having trouble spending it. That trouble starts when I attempt to purchase something with actual, folding money, perhaps augmented by some metal coins.
For example, the other day I found a great deal on a humidifier that was priced half-off…$60 down to $30. Who could resist? With 6% tax the total cost would be $31.80. Awesome. I always carry a pocketful of change to make it easier all around, so I presented the 20-something cashier $31 in bills and 80 cents in coins. Exact freakin’ change! But instead of thanking me for making her job so easy, the poor young lady’s eyes grew wide with a combination of confusion and contempt as she hollered to any co-worker within shouting distance, “I need the cash box! Where’s the cash box! Someone is paying in cash! Hurry!”
Me being the unsympathetic wiseass I am asked her if the store was now converting to a barter system. If so, I would be happy to take back my $31.80 and exchange some beaver pelts I happened to have in the trunk of my car for my item. Rather than chide me as a creepy old man she spat back, “what the hell’s a pelt?” When I explained, the horrified cashier resumed her high decibel plea for the “cash box.”
Someone who, I guess, was a supervisor, finally came over with a little gray box with a variety of bills and coins, and explained to the cashier, that this was a cash box and that some people (he kindly didn’t use the adjective, “old”), might be presenting the archaic form of payment popular way back in the 20th century, called “cash,” which is pretty much how the job title “CASHier” was derived. “Heh,” the CASHier replied. “Whatever.” She then took my combination of currency and coins, stashed it in the cash box then hid the thing for fear others might be tempted to pay for their items in a similar manner.
My daughter, who is in her 30’s, explained to me that I should not continue to embarrass myself by shoving actual money in the faces of CASHiers since “who does that anymore?” in lieu of just tapping, sliding or inserting a credit or debit card and having intangible dough just magically disappear from my bank account. I could go online, I was told, to monitor my account’s activity and check its balance. That’s nice, but what the hell would I keep in the part of my wallet where valuable slips of paper with photos of George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton normally go? And no, I’m not stashing my shopping list there. That’s right, she said. No one has shopping lists anymore….they put it in their freakin’ phones! No wonder kids have crappy handwriting. They have no practice.
It reminded me of a story I covered in 1986 for CNN. A group of Cambodians who had assisted members of the U.S. armed services during the Vietnam War, were coming over to live in North Carolina. They hadn’t been exposed to some modern conveniences including an ATM. One of the sponsoring service members showed a mystified Cambodian gentleman how it worked after an account at a local bank was set up. He was told to just insert an envelope with his deposit into the ATM’s slot. The man gave it a little push, and whoosh! It disappeared into the machine. “Where my money!” the man shouted. When he was assured it was safe in the bank, he was not convinced and vowed to return some day soon to reclaim his cash. The service member didn’t have the heart to tell the man his lucky five-dollar bill was gone forever.
But this thing about a cashless society works both ways. In a delicious turnabout, our favorite frozen custard stand only accepts cash. There are plenty of signs warning customers of this, but apparently some, mostly Millennials, refuse to believe it. Whether they’re illiterate, arrogant or one of those people who don’t believe what they read on a sign, they step up to the window to order, whip out their debit cards, then act aghast when told the signs didn’t lie…no cash, no cream…there’s an ATM in the convenience store across the street. They generally just step away, speechless, shell shocked, and return to their cars and leave. In all the years we’ve been going there, I’ve never seen even one chastened Millennial return with actual cash, having made the decision that a luscious, creamy dessert was not worth a quick trip across the street to grab some liquid assets to pay for it.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course I use credit cards for many different purchases. It only makes sense for lots of things, but there are times it makes more sense to me to just pay with cash and be done with it.
And just think of what we lose if we go totally cashless. What are you gonna do, stick your debit card under your kid’s pillow when they lose a tooth? Believe me, the Tooth Fairy doesn’t fly around with a card swiper although I’m a little scared she has a Venmo account. That would be disturbing.
I kinda stick with the way Steve Miller ended his song “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” with the lines: “Your cash ain’t nothin’ but trash…But I’m sure going to get me some more.” Cha-ching!
We moved a couple of miles to a subdivision that’s hooked into the Nextdoor website. Familiar with it? It can be really useful when you need a recommendation for a window washer, a lawn service, a plumber or just looking to form a canasta or golf group.
The other day someone asked for a recommendation for a good, honest place to buy some carpeting. She received a few good tips…and then I came across this response:
“Put in hardwood carpeting seems dated and always needs cleaning!”
My first response was, “heh..what an asshole.” My second response was, “Yeah..a big one.” You see, I’m totally mystified by what seems to be a growing devotion to cold, hard floors.
Oh, we tried. the house we moved into is all hardwood on the first level, with the exception of tile in the kitchen. Keep in mind, I grew up in a small apartment in NYC where every room was covered in wall-to-wall from the looms of Mohawk. After we got married in the early 70’s we grooved out to awesome orange shag carpeting in our first couple of places and graduated to luxurious deep-pile on thick padding.
I found our new house on Zillow and despite the photos that showed wide swaths of varnished hardwood, we loved it too much to pass up. Oh, we tried to get with the current hardwood hard-on that seems to be in vogue. The first night we sat on our couch to watch TV, the thing went flying when I got up for a snack. Hmm..maybe get an area rug to avoid that next time, but we rejected that idea because come winter time, only that little bit of floor would be warm and we’d freeze our footsies padding elsewhere around the place.
Our kids are grown now, but I got to thinking about families with toddler who might launch themselves across the slick surface only to crack their noggins on a sharp corner of the furniture. Not only would the poor kid be hurt, the blood might leave a permanent stain on an end table.
And think of poor pooch! What’s the poor thing know except its owner ignorantly might believe it can pull off a double axel. Pathetic there has to be a website with tips to keep pets from spilling their kibble on carpet-less floors.
Now we’re not totally tone deaf. We know that many people swear by the curious desire to live their lives on what amounts to small roller skating rinks so we decided to install carpet on part of the floor and leave some hardwood exposed on another where there isn’t as much traffic. So far this has served us well, although I’m sure those who totally heart hardwoods would be appalled that even one inch of precious oak is suffocating beneath a blanket of warmth and comfort. If and when we decide to sell, we’ll make it plain that if they must, the carpeting can be removed so they can enjoy a life of cold feet and chasing dustballs. Wear slippers you suggest? Oh no, you slat-faced silly! Hardwood people do NOT allow the wearing of footwear on their precious planking!
Walk around in socks? Ha! You’ll fly across the room and punch a Kool-aid Kid hole right through the guest bathroom’s drywall.
The final faux issue regards upkeep. The moron who posted on Nextdoor complained that carpet “always needs cleaning.” Honestly, what doesn’t? I rather enjoy running the Hoover over my carpeting far more than slopping around with a Swiffer or mop across the boards. Then again, I’m a man and I like things you plug in that make noise.
Well, I hope the person who requested recommendations for a good carpet supplier ended up happy with her new flooring. I tip my hat to her for making the smart choice and standing her solid, stable, warm, luxurious ground against the hardwood hard asses…who are probably nursing black and blue from their latest fall.
One great thing about growing up in New York was the chance to pop into Manhattan and grab a seat in the studio audience of a TV show. When I was a Cub Scout, our pack twice scored seats at the Saturday dress rehearsals of the Ed Sullivan Show.
It was before the Beatles, but we did get to see the great comedian Shelley Berman and watch actress Shelley Winters screw up a dramatic reading and do it over a few times. We also saw seals poop on the stage, someone with a puppet and little girl-voiced singer Teresa Brewer.
Sometimes we’d go to the former WNEW studios and score seats at the forerunner of today’s shock talk shows, the Alan Burke Show. One of his guests was a loser who claimed to be able to channel the minds of dead Civil War soldiers.
At NBC, you took your chances by showing up in the morning and sitting in a nice room where some cheeky kid announced what tickets were available for that day’s tapings. We ended up at Sale of the Century hosted by Joe Garagiola. You got to sit through two shows. We saw two and a half shows because something ticked off Joe and he said a bad word. They had to redo part of the show.
And then there was a short-lived, live show called Skitch Henderson’s New York. Also at WNEW. My friends and I went to that one twice when we were home from college. For those of us of a certain age, you might remember Skitch as the band leader when Steve Allen, Jack Parr and Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show. We got to see Redd Foxx, which is scary at a live show, Ethel Mertz herself, Vivian Vance and the folk singer Odetta.
But at each show Skitch would call to the set an impossibly good looking couple. “Let’s bring out Dick and Val!” Dick was Dick Schall and Val was his wife, Valerie Harper. The problem was, Skitch never said their last names. They were just “Dick and Val.” They’d kibbitz with him on a set a little bit, he smiled, they smiled, he chuckled, they chuckled and then they left. I distinctly remember Dick seemed too thin and wore really cool light brown shoes and thin socks. Val was beautiful. Voluminous shoulder-length dark brown hair, lots of TV makeup, big smile, but not nearly enough to do. They both had the look that telegraphed, “it’s a paycheck and a little exposure, I guess.”
That was that for several years. I really didn’t ever think of them again..until. Until I read a story that the kooky neighbor played by Valerie Harper on the Mary Tyler Moore Show was married to a guy named Dick Schall. They later divorced. Instant memory lightning. Hmm..Valerie and Dick..could they be DICK AND VAL?!? All of a sudden they had last names…and she had a real job. I never really saw him in anything but then he popped up in a guest shot on MTM. Holy crap! But I saw HER…in person! The famous Valerie Harper–beautiful, great hair, skinny husband! The audience at the Skitch Henderson Show was tiny so that means she walked right by me..almost close enough to touch, but she was just “Val” back then. But that’s the kind of stuff you have to do when your career is still nascent.
Me and her in the same room..before she was Rhoda..before she was famous…when she was just “Val” of “Dick and Val.” As fleeting and ephemeral as that experience was, it made me appreciate Ms. Harper’s amazing talent and eventual success even more.
Life’s journey is a kick, ain’t it? RIP Ms. Harper. You gave us joy and laughs and the best portrayal of a Jewish yenta by someone not really Jewish. But to me..you’ll always be Val.
I was in my local big box store the other day looking for some late season garden supplies. But where the fertilizer, hoses and jugs of stuff you spray to kill things had reliably been all spring and summer, perused by guys with guts like me, were replaced by shelves of pens, pencils, paper products, backpacks, moms and whining kids.
Yeah, yeah, back to school time again. Are you telling me the backpack the brat used only a couple of months ago is no longer viable or the pens probably still sitting at the bottom of last semester’s backpack are already out of ink?
I can see maybe getting some new clothes because kids grow but honestly, and I get that some stationary products become depleted but backpacks pretty much remain the same size and style forever.
Of course, when I was a school kid in the 60’s we carried our books in a rubber strap and our writing implements in a pencil case, which you shoved beneath the strap. You lugged your strapped bundle on your hip and by the end of the day you had a nice red, painful welt, somehow proving you gave major flesh to your education.
There also weren’t any big box stores with a billion choices of notebooks. We got all our school supplies and Sol and Lefty’s Candy Store on the corner of 249th Street and Union Turnpike in Queens, a couple of blocks from Glen Oaks Village..the massive apartment complex where we lived.
Sol and Lefty’s was cool. It was our hangout. You bought your candy and comic books there or sidled up to the lunch counter for an egg cream or a fried egg sandwich or a burger birthed in the same ratty aluminum frying pan made long before the advent of no-stick Teflon.
Artie, the skinny, bald short order cook, was not friendly. When you called out your order to Artie, he’d often snarl and invite you to screw off–but in less polite terms. It was part of the charm.
Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister ran the place which was always populated by a New York City cop or two..not for security..but to pop in to lay some wagers on the races at nearby Belmont, Yonkers or Aqueduct. I mean, how much dough can you make selling penny and nickel candy and burnt burgers?
Around school time, they tossed some boxes of supplies they thought the kids would need on the booths no one sat at anyway. Loose leaf binders and paper, memo pads, Bic pens, number 2 pencils, pencil boxes and for a bit, those groovy things called a Nifty–a combo of pencil case and loose leaf binder. I had a brown one.
It was awesome. Kids were jealous. Jealous kids showed their jealousy by punching you in the arm. It was OK. I had the Nifty, they had anger management issues.
We also didn’t buy our school supplies before school because our teachers were very particular. On the first day of classes, especially in elementary school, teachers would give us list of what type of everything they accepted. Some only accepted loose leaf paper with two holes, some accepted three-hole paper, some required paper with five holes. One of my teachers did care how many holes but firmly forbid us to use spiral notebooks because once you tore out the pages to hand them in for grading, there was no way to put them back, leaving you with dozens of loose pages with ratty edges.
One teacher was very adamant about what kind of memo pad we used. The only use for a memo pad was to write down our homework assignments. You couldn’t write down the assignment on loose leaf paper or in a notebook–it had to be on a memo pad. NOT A steno pad–a MEMO PAD. A real memo pad had the word “memo” on the cover.
Now Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister knew all this. They only carried certified memo pads–not a steno pad to be found. They also seemed to know what color binders and rubber book straps kids liked. That’s why they were able to keep a pretty limited stock–no sense in being stuck with stuff kids would reject. If you asked for something they didn’t have, Sol or Lefty or Sol’s sister would give you a snarling look as if to say, “are you questioning our school supply judgement? Get outta here and never return–unless you’re gonna come back for a comic book or egg cream.”
When we’d return to class the next day, our teacher would scan the room making sure we had only sanctioned supplies. Any renegades or losers who showed up with a two-hole instead of three-ring binder or non-certified memo pad, or, worst of all..a number 3 pencil, earned a verbal ass kicking and time in the hall to “think about what you’ve done.” Almost certainly, the chastised school supply offender would be making a return trip to Sol and Lefty’s to make appropriate amends before showing up in class the next day. Noting the proper adjustment the teacher would paste on their puss a complacent look–a personal reward for displaying such paper supply power over a little kid.
Sure, times must change and I imagine it’s a lot easier to schlep one’s books and supplies in a backpack than wedged against your hip strangled in rubber strap, and it’s nice to have choices, but I will argue till my last breath, compared to my time as a school kid, today’s supplies will never, ever, be as Nifty.
I just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do.
That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of spare time.
About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.
A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.
If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.
I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.
It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.
Several years ago when I was an auto writer for The Detroit News and attending a media ride and drive program in Arizona, I was joined for 60-70 miles by a high ranking executive. I would drive, so I could learn about, and evaluate the new vehicle, while running a voice recorder so I could capture my interview with the executive. First thing, the executive says, “Ed, please turn off your recorder for a moment. I have something to say, that, if you associate it with my name, we’re through..forever.” Sure. I stop the recording and the guy asks me for a favor. “Could you please write a story with a simple angle but leave me out of it? That angle would be, ‘IQS is pure bullshit!” He then went on to elaborate complaining about the criteria for a “problem” and how automakers are screwed when operator error or failure to properly research a vehicle before purchasing may really be the culprits. Seeing I had only limited time with the guy I made no promises and quickly moved on to areas where he would go on the record so I could come away from my time with him with a story we could publish.
If you’re not familiar with it, IQS is the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Each year the J.D. Power sends surveys out to several thousand folks who are asked to cite what they would consider problems with their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership.
Based on the responses, the analytics company publishes a study ranking each brand by how many problems are reported per 100 vehicles as well as enumerating specific problems reported by consumers.The most recent study results were released a few weeks ago.
Sounds good, right?
Over the years, IQS has been criticized and questioned to the point where J.D. Power actually made wholesale changes to the survey some years ago.
Arguably, one of the breaking points was when owners of gas hog Hummers complained they weren’t getting very good fuel economy from the beasts. Ya think? Was that a problem with the vehicle or a problem with customers not doing some basic research before buying?
Oh, over the years respondents would whine that the ride in a Jeep Wrangler was rough. Yes. That’s correct. The Jeep Wrangler is not a family land yacht, minivan or cushy crossover. It’s a vehicle designed to go off-road, climb rocks, take you places that have no roads. All one has to do is take a few minutes to research the Wrangler AND….take a sufficient test drive over less than perfect pavement. It’s not the Wrangler’s fault! A lot of people buy Wranglers just because they look cool and find out what they’re really all about later…then complain about the vehicle doing what it was designed to do. I owned one for 6 years and loved it because I kayak and the Wrangler had no problem navigating some of the iffy dirt and rocky two-tracks that led to the water. I only got rid of it when the transmission smoked up and died. It had a lot of miles on it and I figured I’d take advantage of its high trade-in value.
It all further hit home when I covered this year’s IQS and we were told many people complained about several automakers’ infotainment systems. Oh..they cried about them being too complicated or whatever. So during the question and answer period I asked whether there’s really a problem with these systems or are owners just being too freakin’ lazy to read the manual to learn how to use the systems.
Here’s the answer I got: “People won’t read the manual. They just won’t. The true solution is to fix it upstream and get it right the first time.”
But what’s actually wrong? OK..yes..some systems are unduly complicated, but generally modern infotainment and connectivity systems are not necessarily so intuitive you can just sit down and operate them as you could in the old days when the most complicated electronics was an AM/FM radio with an 8-track, cassette or CD player. There is a learning curve. But you have to take the time to learn. Personally, I spent a couple of hours with the owner’s manual of my Subaru Ascent learning how its electronics work and what all the buttons and lights mean. Now I’m happy. It was easy. No complaints.
Some dealerships, like my Subaru store, offer what’s known as “second deliveries” where, after owning the vehicle for a week or so, you come back and there’s someone to answer any question you have and demonstrate how things work. If the instructions in the manual weren’t clear enough, the person conducting the second delivery is likely to help you figure it out. I know, I know…who wants to schlep back to the dealership? Well..my dealer dangled a 25 buck gas card as an added incentive, on top of, you know, learning how to use the cool stuff I paid for.
To be fair, IQS offers some valuable insight, especially when it comes to fit, finish and ergonomic issues a customer might not detect during a quick test drive, or do not become apparent until you’ve lived with the vehicle for a bit. If it’s really a quality issue, then the automaker deserves to take the heat. But if the issue is a failure by the customer to adequately research the vehicle and simply buys it because of appearance or brand cache’ or is simply too lazy to breeze through the owner’s manual..then it’s too damned bad. You don’t have to read the manual cover to cover…target the sections that pertain to items you’re not familiar with and return to it as needed. There are also plenty of instructional videos and customer support sites on the web. Jeez…make the effort!
But every year when I’m covering IQS I’ll think back to that long ago conversation with the auto executive and his invective aimed at the closely followed study. When I break it down I really have to believe what he really meant was don’t report something as a problem with the vehicle, when often, the real issue is with the person driving it.