Goodbye to All That

Time brings change. No way around it. Sometimes that change is good. Sometimes it’s not. 2009 has been a very interesting year. Big doings around the world, although I’m a little closer to the things that have been happening around here.

That Way Out

I started the year with one of those “jobs of a lifetime,” but due to one reason or another (depends on what corporate official is doing the explaining and who they’re telling), I was “made redundant,” told my job was “no longer available,” and that it was due to “weakness in the economy.” When you’re less than a year into a 30-year mortgage and two years from giving up a fine position in Atlanta for that “job of a lifetime,” that’s not good news. But, for me and a whole lot of other people, getting used to life without work was a process we had to go through. Heck, it’s the reason I started this blog.

Riding into the Future

For me, the economic recovery began around mid-year, when I was given the opportunity to do exactly what my training and experience qualifies me for (how often does that happen?), when the guys who run Running Pony brought me on board. I’m not even the new guy there anymore – they’ve managed to hire a guy away from one of the local TV stations. Go RPP!

I lost a couple of friends this year. Don’t worry, they didn’t die, they just chose not to associate with me anymore. I think one of them decided I wasn’t in a position to do much for them anymore; the other one got fed up while I was doing something for them. But, I feel like that’s been more than balanced by getting into a stable relationship. If you want to cause conversation among the people you know, change your relationship status on Facebook.

In the Beginning

One friend I haven’t lost is Joe Larkins, although a part of him is going away.  Pal Joey has announced that he’s suspending activity on his blog to spend a little more time doing his real job. I was in Atlanta when Joe started writing (on Blogspot at first, before moving to WordPress).

For me, it was an easy way to maintain some connection to Memphis (hey, you spend 8 years in a town, you may actually want to feel connected). Reading Joe’s blog was a good way to feel like I was still part of the media scene around town. I’d even share the little bit of news I did know about.

Done? Already?

Since I got back in town, Joe and I have been having a semi-regular conversation about whether or not he’d continue working on the blog. It is work. I didn’t used to think that, telling him he should keep up the effort, especially since so many of us enjoyed reading and commenting — he’d get some pretty good conversations going. After starting my own blog, I was able to put something up every day, but after 9 months, it’s gotten pretty tough. So I can imagine that after 4 years, Joe really had run out of things to say.

The First Goodbye

He’s given us proof of that after all. The title of his final WordPress blog is nearly the same as the last one he wrote on Blogspot… Plan, or happy accident? You decide. I’m just impressed he can spell “Auf wiedersehen.” Until we meet again, Joe.



I see where General Motors is getting Microsoft’s departing CFO to take a similar slot at the troubled automaker (sure sign I was in the news business — the use of a hackneyed phrase like “troubled automaker” — if everybody already knows about GM’s problems, then the qualifier is a bit redundant).

Help on the way?

GM & Competition?

While I certainly don’t want to see the company fail, I wonder how they determine who the best people are to rebuild the joint. I mean, this appointment was announced by the company’s interim CEO, who took over for the guy who was there for 6 months after taking over for the guy forced out by the Feds. I’m not questioning Microsoft’s ability to make money — but will GM products take on aspects of what comes out of Microsoft? Updates that don’t work, versions that lock up and crash at any time? Products constantly shown up by nimbler and hipper organizations? Wait — that’s pretty much the deal now.

At least there’s a Memphis connection.  GM’s incoming CFO, Chris Liddell, held that job at International Paper before going to Microsoft in 2005. IP is headquartered here, so I assume that Mr. Liddell lived here at one time.

Sitting & Waiting (no more?)

Let My People Go!

I also see where the Feds want to keep airlines from leaving the paying customers sitting in a cramped plane for hours when something has delayed a flight. I was going from Atlanta to Syracuse a few years ago, and we had to sit for 4 hours because a winter storm hit the ATL. Seems one of the airport’s deicing systems was broken, so one had to cover every departing plane. I slept through most of the delay, so it didn’t completely suck. However, just a few weeks ago, I was shuffled off a plane in Columbus because of a technical problem. It was a situation where they couldn’t even turn on the ventilation system while we sat. It got pretty uncomfortable in the 20 minutes we did wait… I would have tunneled through the bottom of the plane with a plastic spoon if they had made us wait like they’ve done with some delayed flights.

Nice how the Air Transport Association, the trade group for airlines is already complaining, saying the new rules are going to cause more problems than they solve. Is there just no interest in customer service at all? Even if the business is more interested in protecting itself from hassle, at least try not to be that obvious about it.

One More Switch

Can't Keep It

Okay, I’ve been by Enterprise Rent-a-Car one more time for one more car. The only office open when I got back into town last week was the airport branch. But, little did I know, there’s an airport tax on rental cars that doesn’t get charged at other offices. Because of that, my insurance company asked that I take back the Ford Focus I picked up and switch it for anything else.

Another Biggun

You know you’ve been at car rental counter too much when the woman working there recognizes you. By name. The upside was that the manager at the airport branch did tell me that I could drop the car off anywhere, I just hadn’t expected that it would be in a day and a half. Just as I was getting used to the Focus, which is close to the size of my Celica (which might be out of the repair shop by New Year’s after $4,000 in repairs – keep your fingers crossed!), I ended up leaving the Enterprise on Union in a Chrysler 300. It’s not quite as big as the Buick SUV, but it’s pretty big. No heated seats, Bluetooth or remote start like the Buick, but it does have satellite radio and an aux plug for my iPod. I just want to get back into my own car.

The View From Presque Isle

As I had mentioned earlier in the week, I’ve been doing some traveling.  Got to Erie, Pennsylvania on Sunday, got back to Memphis on Thursday. I don’t mind distance, but taking 4 days worth of stuff anywhere on an airplane is kind of a drag. I’ve got one massive suitcase; one so big, you’d think a small family could live in there. I borrowed something bigger than my usual carryon, but smaller than an “I’m moving there for the rest of my life-size” bag.

Perfect reviews on Urban Spoon... for a reason!

Erie is one of those town that at one time bustled with industry, but, like many places in the Northeast, is navigating its way through tough times after many of those industries moved away or shut down. When you travel for work, you rarely get to pick who you travel with, but I’m pretty lucky in that regard; the guys I’ve gone long distances with are very easy to work with. One turns out to be particularly good at picking out local restaurants. After all, who wants to be stuck with the same chain dining you can get where you live? Will, the same guy who found the Ole Sawmill Cafe in Forrest City, Arkansas a few weeks ago, found “The Breakfast Place” in Erie. Don’t know why a morning-themed restaurant uses a crescent moon in its logo, but the food was pretty good, the service was super fast, and the prices were dirt-cheap. Just don’t order Terry’s Big Breakfast unless you’re really, really hungry.

Ben & Will at Work

Most of my interviewing experience is with news, where you just show up and start asking questions; in the corporate world, things are different because more people and points of view are involved. You have to expect that a corporate client will want input in a video they’re paying for. So we had corporate representatives, people from their ad agency and the people in the local facility to work with. The nice thing on this trip was that the small group of folks in the facility in downtown Erie know each other pretty well and have established a good working routine. And even though we totally disrupted that routine while we were taping over the course of several days, they were incredibly accommodating and a lot of fun.

Getting the job done

The only drawbacks to our visit to the greater Erie area in mid-December was that is was pretty darn cold while we were there and there wasn’t necessarily a lot we could go out and do after spending full days on the shoot. On the morning we left, we did take a quick trip over to Presque Isle State Park, a peninsula that juts into Lake Erie just off Erie. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is over there (the airport is also named after the former governor and Homeland Security secretary; I guess it helps being a big wheel from a small town).

That IS Erie over there

It was less than 20 degrees outside when we got to the edge of the park facing the city (we were getting skyline shots). We passed a few people braving the cold to get their duck hunting on. One of our group grew up in state and says that cold weather does nothing to stop the process of hunting ducks – so watch out Daffy – they’re coming for you!

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love

We’re changing planes in Detroit; where the airport may actually be one of the nicer parts of town – including the weird Light Tunnel you go through to get to Terminal A (the one with the glass walls that change color… you kinda think Pink Floyd should be playing softly in the background).

After landing in Memphis and going back to the office I’ve got to turn around and go back to the airport to get another rental car while my ride is in the shop. It turns out the “fixed by Christmas” estimate was too rosy. I’m being told New Year’s now.

7 Gates (no waiting)

Bye bye Buick!

I had to turn in my honkin’ big rental car on Friday.  I’m on assignment, so didn’t think I needed to pay for the car to sit in my garage while I was on the road. I’m telling you, I’m going to miss that behemoth. The Buick folks are getting good reviews for the 2010 Enclave, and with good reason. Luxurious, well-appointed, nice extras (Bluetooth, heated seats, aux plug for mp3 players, remote start, etc.). I thought the engine had a little more pep than most reviewers were giving it credit for. Of course, I’m used to driving a 10-year old 4-cylinder compact.

Not this car, but like it

It was a familiar feeling being back in a Buick. After the family Edsel caught fire during our move to New Mexico, Dad got his first of several Buicks, starting with a gray ’61 LeSabre.  The speedometer was rectangular, stretching across the dashboard and was installed pointed straight up, with the numbers in reverse. Drivers actually looked a mirror to see how fast they were going. I was in the car on a Saturday, playing at the steering wheel (Dad was going to let me go to the store with him). Anyway, I gave one of the handles a tug, and the car careened backwards down our very steep driveway and smack into the milk truck parked in the street. In my defense, I was 4, hadn’t started kindergarden yet, and couldn’t read “parking brake.” The milkman was pretty undone, but Dad took it in stride… and still took me to the store later. Our next 3 family cars were Buicks too.

Riding in Style?

I had a Buick of my own a few years later. When I was working in Savannah, Georgia in 1988, I paid $500 for a ’66 Buick with a leaky crankcase. After a few years of driving cars with seat belts and crash-resistant bumpers, it was strange driving on a bench seat and a rock hard steel steering wheel covered in hard plastic. I drove it to Wilmington, North Carolina for a job interview and didn’t make it back without needing another $300 in repairs. The poor thing died when I was driving back to Wilmington after getting the job. So I went without Buicks for a while.

I won’t know for a couple of days, but I should be getting my own car back this week. The original estimate was Christmas, so this week is much better. Still don’t know how many thousands of dollars it’s going to cost — but there’s going to have to be at least a new door on the driver’s side of the car. And I’m still a little spooked about getting back into a really small car. That’ll probably last until the first time I have to squeeze into a tiny parking space.

Out & About

Lake view room

I was in TV news for 20 years, from 1986 through 2006.  Worked in 8 different markets.  Jobs included weather forecaster, assignment desk, shooter, writer, copy editor, reporter, anchor, managing editor, executive producer and news director. And I’ve been on more airplanes headed to out-of-town shoots in the last six months for Running Pony Productions than in all that time in the news business.  I was always the guy who got to drive to stories when I was a reporter… never the one who got the nice trips. Well, between the security, sometimes inclement weather, tight spaces inside planes, travel isn’t the most fun thing in the world. But, even though I tend to be a homebody, it is nice to get away, even if it’s for work. I haven’t started racking up the sweet airline miles and hotel points yet, but they will add up. I can see Presque Isle from my hotel room… how often can you say that? Yes, it’s a small enough place that the airport only has 7 gates, but hey, my car may be fixed by the time I get back.

Random Views

Sometimes you have to wonder what they were thinking. I’m watching the Robin Williams hour on the Biography Channel. They started out with “Mork & Mindy” clips, which makes sense. Funny show, and Pam Dawber is still pretty good looking for a woman who is nearly 60.

He's in the back, in a hat, next to Frank

Of course, they have to show Robin’s first TV job, the remake of “Laugh In” from 1977. I liked the first version, even though it replaced the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on NBC. I guess George Schlatter was eager to see whether lightning would strike twice. It was pretty easy to see that Williams was a pretty funny guy. They showed my favorite clip… Williams as a hayseed meeting Frank Sinatra and noting in his excitement on meeting the singer, “I almost dropped a log!”

He’s still funny, but it sure seems like he’s been riding the same shtick for 30 years.

Does Size Matter?

“That’s what she said.” Seriously though, as I’ve mentioned, I’m riding around in a rental car while the trusty Celica is in the shop for repair work. You get hit in a small car, all of a sudden, you don’t feel too comfortable about not having a little more steel around you.

Big Buick

I’ve been pretty comfortable in the 2010 Buick Enclave I drove off the Enterprise lot last week. They call it a midsize SUV, but as I mentioned last week, it’s pretty honking huge. It’s only got a V6, “sadly underpowered,” according to Motor Trend, but it’s got a buttload of pickup when I compare it to the 10-year old 4-cylinder engine in my Toyota.

The Bluetooth, XM satellite radio, remote start and heated seats are pretty sweet too. However, as nice as it is, I’m not looking for a vehicle with a price range of $35,165 to $40,330. Maybe if that Powerball win comes through…