If 2020 was a kid we’d never let him/her get away with myriad of misbehaviors it exhibited over the past 366 days. No…we’d first have a long talk with the kid, make sure there’s an understanding of how badly they screwed up, then make the kid go back and correct those mistakes. If that fails, the errant child is grounded..in this case, the naughty year, meaning no new year for, I dunno, a year.
You see, it royally ticks me off that 2020 is allowed to skulk into history without any sort of accounting or retribution. Is it fair to a world that has had to endure a deadly pandemic, loser’s tantrum from a roundly rejected POTUS and an all-too-soon ending to Schitts Creek? Sure…just tear off a page from the calendar, ball it up and toss it in the trash and that’s it?
The parent in me says to order 2020 to think about its utter disregard for the health and well-being of the entire human race, then go back and do it right! No COVID, extend Schitt’s Creek another 10 seasons and send the sulking lame duck home…in silence. But that’s just for starters. Bring back all those lives lost to the pandemic, restore the businesses that went under, reduce Zoom usage to occasional meetings and family reunions or non-contact blind dates, and let our kids go back to school and workers back to the office…safely.
Bring back hugs and visits that aren’t bisected by acrylic or glass barriers. Abolish pandemic-induced loneliness. Don’t bother restoring hand shakes. Those needed to go anyway.
We love our sports, but not without the sounds of fans in stadiums and arenas cheering or booing or vendors hawking beers and peanuts.
No matter how you feel about the presidential election, 2020, you need to go back and teach the loser to take it like a mensch and set an example for our kids that even if you fail, as we all do at some points in our lives, instead of pitching a fit, accept the outcome and move on.
Of course my vision of forcing a major “do over” on 2020 is impractical since time is a one-way process. But I hope while 2021 was waiting to march in, it was watching and learning and listening…because we won’t accept another year like 2020 and there’s no option for a time out.
So let’s hope the next 365 days offer the kind of healing and humility so sorely lacking in the previous 366, and the cast of Schitts Creek blesses us with a reunion, and perhaps a bebe.
Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the best!
Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend.
Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave.
It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me.
Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next?
It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.”
The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural. Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game.
No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.
But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far.
RIP Phil Niekro.
Call it a coincidence but the Detroit Lions embarrassing whitewashing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was exactly 57 years to the day Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thereby ending the idyllic era that became known as Camelot. It was also on that fateful day the franchise came under the sole ownership of the late William Clay Ford, ending the era of hope for Detroit Lions fans.
Since the Ford family took ownership of the team more than a half-century ago, the Detroit Lions, the City of Detroit and the National Football League have suffered unending embarrassment and futility. Indeed, the startlingly inept management of a lucrative franchise over such an extended period of time is more than enough justification for the NFL to invoke Section 8.13 of the league’s constitution and bylaws which states the commissioner can determine if an owner or any other official “has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”
While the rule is generally cited when seeking to punish a franchisee for a serious breach in personal behavior or business ethics, a more liberal construction of the rule would certainly include devaluing the NFL’s brand through an extended period putting forth a grossly inferior product through poor management decisions related to hiring team officers and coaches that led to boneheaded moves both on and off the field that make a mockery of the level of professional football expected by the NFL and Detroit Lions fans.
The closest the Detroit Lions have been to a Super Bowl came in 2006 when the big game was played in its building, featuring two other teams.
It hasn’t mattered which Ford has owned the team. After Mr. Ford passed away in 2013 ownership went to his wife Martha who talked a good winning game but in the tradition of Ford family stewardship hired a coaching staff that’s emulated even less success than another branch of the Ford family did with the Edsel. Martha Ford, in her 90’s, has now put the team in the hands of her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp. In her first year running the hapless show, the Lions suffered its first shutout in 11 years, to a team that had only two wins this season going into Sunday’s horror show.
Think about it. What if, for example, a McDonalds franchisee consistently served up rancid burgers and treated its customers like lepers? McDonalds would summarily pull the franchise and disassociate itself with someone whose actions threatened the company’s good name and reputation.
Detroit Lions’s customers, aka fans, have been served rancid burgers for almost two generations. Isn’t it time for the NFL to end its association with a perennially poor performing franchisee to protect its reputation and value of a team in a major market? We fans have been more than patient but with Sunday’s utter inability to exhibit even a hint of a professional football product the NFL must make its move.
Honestly, who wants to be served rancid burgers every Sunday?
I’m old enough to remember the very first day Jeopardy debuted with Art Fleming as the host. He was genial, mature and dignified, but there was no way I ever thought he knew the answers without looking at his cards–the way we thought Alex Trebek knew them.
Those who only knew Trebek as Jeopardy host don’t realize the way he convinced us all he was the smarted guy in any world was actually a master display of his genius as a thespian–playing the role of a game show host a million different ways to fit the game itself.
I first became aware of Trebek when he hosted High Rollers. He tossed ran the dice game like a seasoned croupier with his dark, curly bush of hair and suave, flowing mustache. He played the role perfectly, keeping the game moving, encouraging the contestants to go for it all while playing his rakish role in his own TV casino.
At one point he actually ran three shows at once, but it was his time at Classic Concentration where I saw a completely different guy. He ditched the mandatory game show guy suit and tie, exchanging it for a much more casual look–sweaters in the cold weather, golf shirts when it was warm. Sporting a deeper tan and gold bracelet, the guy’s energy level was high, speaking more quickly and running down to the game board to explain each rebus. He’d even cozy up to some of the female players and they swooned at the handsome Canadian so close but lovely parting gifts and a sincere send-off away.
On To Tell the Truth, Trebek did his best Bud Colyer, the show’s original host. Back to game show guy garb to match the mood of the show along with dialed down pacing.
By the time he dropped all other shows in favor of Jeopardy exclusively, Trebek was ready for his greatest role. As he explained in his book “The Answer is…Reflections on My Life” his personal goal was not to call attention to himself but rather to make sure the players shined. He really never said a lot, acting more like a facilitator, keeping the game moving, encouraging players having a rough time and celebrating the successful ones. Yes, he came off a bit professorial conveying the false message that he actually knew the questions to all the answers, but man, that’s just how well he played his role.
If there was one constant about Alex Trebek, no matter what role he was playing for each of the many game shows he hosted, honesty and sincerity were always prime ingredients of his performance. Indeed, those two qualities were who he was…and that wasn’t acting. RIP Alex Trebek.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is being blamed today for making a bonehead move that probably contributed to his team’s loss in the World Series. You see, he pulled the team’s ace pitcher, Blake Snell even though he was tossing a great game…surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics” Cash just didn’t want Dodgers batters to get a third time at the plate against the guy, even though Snell was basically mowing them down.
As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.
I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.
I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.
Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.
The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)
In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.
My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.
That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!
Been reconsidering the hashtag #wfh—“work from home” and it spark something my late, great father always told my brother and I when we were kids. “Whatever you choose as an occupation, don’t choose a job where every morning the first thing you say to yourself is, ‘oh shit.’”
Both of us heeded that admonition and ended up in careers for which we have passion, skills, satisfaction and enjoyment. Since retiring, sort of, four years ago, I’ve been doing a few freelance gigs, for the most part, yep, #WFH. Now, during the pandemic, it’s all #WFH.
But here’s the deal. #WFH isn’t enough. I’m a firm believer those three letters should mean more than simply working from home. You see, if you’re just working from home, it’s just work. So permit me to offer some additional suggestions—ones I’ve been practicing no matter where I happen to earn a paycheck.
Work From the Heart: Love what you do and everything seems a little easier. The results will be a lot more satisfying too.
Work From the Head: That softball size pile of gray matter in your noggin’ isn’t technically a muscle, but if you don’t exercise it the results are the same—it just doesn’t function as well. So allow yourself the luxury of giving your brain a challenging workout and watch the great ideas, more logical reasoning and personal enthusiasm take you into the zone where it all makes sense.
Work From Humor: Sure, we are all faced with tasks and situations…and pain in the ass co-workers that can stand in the way of a great workday. Filter it out with a little bit of humor to neutralize the tough stuff. A good laugh, even to yourself, is good for your heart and mind. Your work will turn out better too.
Work From Handling It: You’ve got this. You’re in this job because you have the skills and experience to do it. Regarding of where you are physically, you should go into every task with the confidence you’ll succeed.
Work From Hell Yes!: I once had a boss with a thick accent and quite often had no idea what he was asking me to do. At first I’d say “could you please repeat that?” Well, that pissed him off. So I got in the habit of always saying “sure!” Then I’d run the conversation over and over again in my mind to see if I could divine exactly what my orders were. More often that not, my positive attitude carried the day and the boss was satisfied. Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense to be clear on your marching orders, but sometime just telling yourself “yes!” puts the rest of your mind and body in the right place to do succeed.
So there you go. #WFH all you like. It doesn’t just have to only mean “work from home.” That just happens to be where you’re sitting. Working from different mental and physical venues can keep you from waking every morning, thinking “oh shit.” In fact, you’ll feel better traveling that mental journey from “H” and back.
It’s been a few days but I can’t stop thinking about Brayden Harrington. He’s the brave young man who spoke during the Democratic National Convention despite his stutter. He appeared because he was encouraged, and given the confidence to overcome his speech impediment during an encounter with Joe Biden. The former vice president revealed to young Brayden that he, too, stuttered, and knew, through his own experience, it’s possible to sublimate it.
Brayden has stayed with me because I spent most of my school years in speech clinics and with speech therapists attempting to rid me of my terrible lisp. Ironic, huh? A kid whose tongue couldn’t figure out how to articulate without spraying people with spit ends up in broadcasting…but it’s true.
I didn’t know I had a lisp until a visit to my father’s cousin Doris and her husband Lou when I was about 7 or 8. Lou was a cool guy who always had the latest electronic gadgets. He was the first person I knew that owned a TV with a remote control. He was also the guy to introduce me to what my voice sounded like to others, when he whipped out his shiny new tape recorder.
I was appalled, and embarrassed by what I heard–a toneless drone where every s sounded like a th. The family thought it was funny, tormenting me by saying, “Hey Eddie, what-th goin’ on? It’s a nith thunny day day out thide!” Real funny. No wonder I avoided tape recorders for years.
My grade school teachers quickly detected my problem and assigned me to weekly sessions in speech clinic. Was there really a way to rid myself of this embarrassment? Thanks goodness there was Mrs. Hohensee. Looked like a granny with wire rim glasses and braided gray hair piled on top her head, and an attitude that said, ‘kid, we’re gonna do this..together.” I attended speech clinic with Mrs. Hohensee for three or four years…every week. She’d hand me a little metal mirror so I could see what my tongue was doing. As we went through various exercises I saw my tongue less and less, but I wasn’t yet cured.
I was assigned speech clinic in junior high and high school and then I graduated believing I’d finally learned to properly articulate.
The odd thing was I loved to be in school plays and was not shy about auditioning for lead roles or even singing parts. True. I played the Cowardly Lion in 5th grade and sang all the songs…I had the nerve!
In high school, I had a part-time job as a stock boy in a department store, but when the “bargain broadcaster” quit, I forgot about my lisp and quickly volunteered to make the in-store sale announcements. There were no complaints until I was a wiseass and made the announcement, “Ladies….hop on this in-store sale on bras. If you don’t know your size, come up to the booth and I’ll measure you!” I was dis-invited to make the announcements for a week or so but the manager didn’t hold a grudge for long and some of the shoppers actually laughed…and bought bras…without taking advantage of the service I had offered.
One thing I had always known how to do was hide my New Yawk accent. I was brought in Queen and tawked like every New Yawkuh. During my freshman year at SUNY Oswego, in Central New York, I joined the campus radio station and wiped off my accent when I was on the air. But when I had to give a speech during my public speaking class, I got a little lazy and my prof…Kansas-bred Dora Lee Dauma, busted me and said I had to meet with the speech clinician until I got rid of my accent. Still a wiseass I shot back at her, “Ms. Dauma, there at 18 million people in New York State and 15 million of them (accounting for NYC and Long Island) speak like me…so who has the accent?” She wasn’t impressed. I’d get an incomplete in public speaking until any verbal vestiges of my home town were erased.
When I met with the speech clinician I put on a show for him. Speaking naturally in New Yawkese, then the same passage without my accent. He sighed, then signed my release and Dora Lee Dauma had to admit defeat. I went on to a successful broadcasting career in radio and at CNN as a correspondent and anchor and was never once told I had an accent or a lisp.
In fact, the geniuses at CNN once took me off the air for a short while not because of how I spoke, but because I simply looked young for my age. Fake News!
The fact is, a speech impediment is brutal. It can sap you of your confidence an self-worth, if you let it. Thank goodness for Mrs. Hohensee for her wisdom, encouragement and her little metal mirrors. I’m sure my future would have been much different without her. Just as I’m sure Brayden Harrington might not have had the courage to speak on the biggest public platform without the encouragement of his family..and Joe Biden.
It’s so important to speak with a strong voice, even if it’s technically flawed. As I’ve learned through my own experience, in the end it’s not how you say it, it’s what you say that matters the motht…er…most.
This is me in my closet with the dozen suits and sport coats that helped create “the uniform.” Remember, all the way back to February or January, before the pandemic hit and people still schlepped into the office wearing this stuff? Since semi-retiring four years ago, my uniform pretty much has been put out to pasture except to infrequent forays to business meetings or funerals.
Oh, they served me well over the years. Especially the one Brooks Brothers suit I splurged on when I was still a TV reporter. It pains me that BB, like other men’s clothing chains is going bankrupt, because, in the era of Zoom meetings, we not only don’t wear the uniform, we barely wear pants.
I have a lot of ties. See them whipping around on the little merry go round in my closet? Some, I’ve never actually worn. They are instruments of torture but pre-pandemic, they represented an often-compulsory punishment to our respiratory system in the name of adhering to a “dress code.”
Ah…the dress code. I also kinda got that wrong. When I joined CNN in 1981 I had come from a TV station in Tucson, Arizona where I was producing newscasts. Since I wasn’t on the air, I could dress like shit. I was joining CNN in a similar capacity and assumed “dressing like shit” was the dress code there too. On my first day I showed up in corduroy jeans, a buttoned-down sport shirt and scruffy shoes. I made an instant first impression because everyone else was wearing “the uniform.” My boss, who wore his own version of the uniform, featuring a crumpled white shirt and suspenders, kindly took me aside, smiled and informed me “we kinda have a dress code here.” Would have been nice to know in advance but with most of my wardrobe back in Arizona, I had to do some fast shopping.
Many years later it worked the other way. When I made the jump from journalism to corporate communications at then DaimlerChrysler, which is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, I show up the first day in a pressed blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Damn! Missed again! Sure, there were a couple of guys with a shirt and tie and sport coat hanging on hooks, but I looked more like one of the German taskmasters looking to take over the company.
A couple of years later, the company was sold by the Germans to a U.S. capital management slumlord company from New York City. They all dressed up while they fired a large percentage of our staff as the company headed towards bankruptcy. I suppose it’s appropriate for the executioner to at least show some respect for the condemned by throwing on a decent tie.
It all changed again when the late, great Sergio Marchionne and Fiat took over the company. He never work a tie and rarely a jacket. His uniform was a black sweater or golf shirt, depending on the season and dark pants. He once explained it made his busy life less complicated by not burdening himself with daily wardrobe decisions.
From then on we felt we had permission to dress down a bit, but didn’t take it to extremes. I may not have always worn a tie but at least had a jacket handy in case we had an important meeting. I’d wear it into the office, then immediately take it off and hang it up until it was needed, or it was time to go home. You could always tell who the visitors were in the building–they were the suckers who were wearing suits and ties.
In my semi-retirement I’ve been working from home since I walked out of FCA for the last time on July 28, 2016, so there was basically no adjustment for me when the pandemic hit. I don’t mind Zoom or Google Meet meetings, and the only concession I make sartorially is wearing a decent shirt, but don’t ask me what’s covering my lower regions. To put your mind at ease, it’s, um, something, but I assure you it’s not the pants from that abandoned Brooks Brothers suit, nor is it a pair of pressed Dockers. It’s just something, okay?
Once this is all over and we’re compelled to meet in person again, I’m not so sure many folks will revert to a version of the uniform, having gotten used to being dressed more comfortably, and probably less expensively.
I do feel sorry for the abandonment my old work wardrobe must be experiencing. That’s why every once in awhile, I’ll go to the section of my closet where they suits and jackets and pants are hanging, thank ’em for their service, then hit the switch, watch the ties go round and round and round and round, hoping those now-useless instruments of torture are starting to feel a little nauseous. Payback is sweet.
I didn’t watch John Lewis’s funeral. I didn’t go back to view any of the eulogies. That’s because I have my own. One that’s haunted me for decades. Oh yes, as a young reporter for CNN in Atlanta I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Rep. Lewis shortly after he was elected. But this story reaches further back.
I was a school kid on Bloody Sunday. The images of John Lewis and the other brave souls who were violently stopped by the thugs who masqueraded as law enforcement officers flickered on our 19-inch Zenith black and white TV. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a town called Selma, Alabama. Indeed, for most of us, these are scenes that seem remote—something you see on TV or read about in the paper but certainly well out of our sheltered sphere.
Push the clock ahead to 1986. Working out of CNN’s Southeast Bureau in Atlanta, I covered the Deep South, as well as any other place I was sent. But on this day I was assigned to a story in Selma. Those past images played back in fast-forward as we neared the town. Indeed, our entire crew was tense. We knew the history.
Our assignment was to profile Lutheree Reese a Black woman who had lived for 16 years in a fetid slum known as Slave City. No electricity, no running water. Basically…one-story garrets. Concrete block shacks. The news was Slave City was finally being shut down and the remaining few residents would be moved to living quarters at a closed Air Force base.
Without the benefit of today’s navigation tools, we got lost and stopped to ask someone on the street to direct us to Slave City. The slack-jawed redneck just stared at us, then twisted his pasty face into a shit-eating smile and responded in his big ol’ drawl, “y’all wanna know wheah Slave City eeees? Just follow the (love juices.)” He used a much more graphic term. We rolled up the window and worked it out ourselves. Had Selma really changed since the 60’s? Did the efforts of John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson and all the others fighting for basic civil rights go in vain?
When we met Lutheree at her Slave City shack she was gathering a few remaining items. She almost seemed wistful about leaving. It’s all she knew. Within 15 minutes we arrived at her new home. A tidy apartment. We captured her tentative entry through the door. She wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Lutheree took a slow look around. When she found the first light switch she didn’t really know what it was for. After being told she flipped the switch on and off and on and off and on and off and watched the table lamp’s correspondent actions.
But the best was yet to come.
She found her way to the bathroom. After being told how the hot and cold faucets worked on the sink Lutheree twisted them a couple of times. Then came the toilet. Oh my, the toilet. We had to explain how that worked. She’d never used one of those before after a lifetime of squatting over holes in an outhouse. Lutheree lifted the lid on the toilet seat so she could see the bowl, and then she found the flush lever. She pulled it down once and stared at the action it triggered. Then she looked at us and asked if she could do it again. Of course. And she did. One, two, three, ten times she pulled that lever and every time her smile grew broader and broader and tears came to her eyes….and ours too. Such a simple thing, but so monumental when you’ve lived your life to that point deprived of even the most basic convenience.
After leaving Lutheree and still crying/smiling about her first, triumphant flush toilet experience, we ventured downtown to interview Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman. The same Joe Smitherman who was in office on Bloody Sunday—a then segregationist who later came around and appointed African-American citizens to various positions in city government.
The way to city hall took us over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We drove slowly, taking in the significance of an infamous historic venue and imagined the horrific scene that took place on the span 20 years earlier.
Smitherman welcomed us, very comfortable with TV crews, and couldn’t help mentioning he’d once tangled with Dan Rather so a 34 year old kid like me wasn’t going to intimidate him. That wasn’t the point. I just wanted to know why—why was a place like Slave City allowed to last that long? He just sort of smiled, and with a straight face said Slave City just perpetuated the city’s infamous reputation but that “Blacks have made more social progress here than elsewhere in Alabama.”
On the ride back to Atlanta things were quiet for a bit as we let it all sink in. Now it’s risen to the top of my mind again as I think about the late, wonderful, brave John Lewis.
He gave everything…his body, his freedom, his life’s work fighting for the simple concept of equality for all of us, for someone like Lutheree Reese. Oh, Lutheree. That giant smile, those wide eyes, those appreciative tears…as she flicked on an electric light, turned the faucet for running water and flushed a toilet for the first time. The opportunity to finally live in simple, human decency…isn’t that what John Lewis was fighting for during his magnificent life?
That’s my eulogy to him.
I spent last night in a little box. I was in one of a thousand little boxes filled with faces of people with whom I once worked or who had worked in the same place as me at some point. It was billed as the CNN 40th Anniversary Virtual Reunion. Five years ago for the network’s 35th, we gathered in person and snacked on premium hors d’oeuvres in an Atlanta hotel ballroom while getting an up close look at how everyone’s aged, been preserved, thickened, thinned, dyed, dried, shrunk, grew, lost a step or lost their hair.
On this night, through the miracle of Zoom and a Herculean effort by selfless CNN alumni who wouldn’t let a silly little pandemic spoil the party, we celebrated the network’s fourth decade.
In the “gallery view” on Zoom it appeared as if this was the Brady Bunch open gone mad. I swiped through pages and pages of these little boxes trying to pick out familiar names with faces, in some cases, no longer familiar looking, but I was relieved to see my fellow relics still alive.
I honestly don’t have much of a taste for reunions. I’ve never attended any for my high school or colleges, but I make an exception for CNN. You can say what you want about the network’s current programming, but as our former CNN president Tom Johnson implored us in one of the breakout chat room last night, “don’t bash the network in public.” But why would I? My 20 years there made everything possible after my employ there ended in 2001. The standards we held concerning accuracy, ethics, teamwork and unselfishness define who I am today. I’ve brought all those tenets to each of my subsequent jobs and to my life.
We always say CNN is a family. Dysfunctional at times, chaotic at others, but always supportive, even after we’ve moved on. That’s because we know what we created. Before the media landscape changed with the advent of the internet, social media and the move by news networks to largely opinion and bullshit machines, we were all about telling stories…not just talking about them. I took great pride in my writing…still do. I wasn’t ever much of a TV personality and that was fine. But sending crews out to shoot, report and feed stories is expensive. Talking heads on a set to blab about stories is cheap and today cheap is good. The cost is the future of journalism–fairly and responsibly informing the public skillfully and effectively.
So it was fun to see old friends, even in little boxes, reminisce and trade some old war stories. For me, it wasn’t so much, though, to remember and embrace the “good old days,” but for us also trade the knowledge gained through our years at CNN and beyond, at some point you celebrate what we’ve accomplished together, knowing all that thinking outside the box brought us together inside them on this glorious night.