Thursday, June 24, 2010

Behind the times

I had a George Bush moment the other day.

No, no, not that George Bush. The first one. George H.W. Bush.

Remember when he was baffled when he saw a barcode scanner at a grocery store checkout counter? He’d never seen one before. That moment became a symbol of his being behind the times and out of touch, and may have contributed to his defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992.

Well, so far my George H.W. Bush moment hasn’t cost me the presidency, but it was a big “aha” moment for me, anyway.

I was listening to the radio and an ad came on for a barbecue specialty chain that sells high end grills. “Father’s Day special,” the ad said. “We’ve knocked off $300 on our top grill.”


$300 off? Wow, what do those things cost? Are they giving them away for Father’s Day?

Well, next day I happened to be close to one of the stores in that particular chain, so I stopped in.

Whoa. And wow again.

The minute I walked in, I realized that I had completely missed out on the upscaling of backyard cooking. The first model I saw had a price tag of over $3,500. It was a beauty, all right. Shiny stainless steel and a huge lid that opened to reveal a cooking surface big enough for a side of beef. And a double decker grill.

I asked a salesman if this was his most expensive grill.

“Oh, no,” he said. “There’s our top of the line.”

He pointed to a monstrous SUV of a grill with about eight burner knobs, mounted on a faux stone pedestal. “That one goes for $7,350.”

I was relieved to see that, in addition to the super-high end models, they also had a lineup of three basic black Weber kettle grills – large, medium and small. The one I use at home is a small. I also have an even smaller Smoky Joe, which retails for around $35, I think. So they haven’t forgotten about the average guy.

When my Smoky Joe wears out, I can consider upgrading to the $7,350 model.

Or I can buy 210 new Smoky Joes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What were they thinking?

A lot has been written about Chevrolet’s boneheaded attempt to kill the word Chevy, including a very good column today by Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I didn’t think there was much more to say about the memo until tonight I heard a Chevrolet commercial on the radio. The last words were, “Go to”

Hmm, I thought, didn’t whoever wrote that memo even go to his own website?

When I got home I typed into the address bar and hit enter. The words immediately changed to and opened up the Chevrolet site.

In the top navigation bar there was a big link to “EXPERIENCE CHEVY.” So I tried it and found a sub-link, “History and Heritage.” On that page the company displays photos of significant models, innovation and milestones from 1911 to 2008. In 15 of the captions, the car (or the company) is described as a “Chevy.”

Then I went to the search bar – this is still on the Chevrolet site – and typed in “chevy.” Up came a page with RESULTS 1-10 OF ABOUT 13,900 FOR CHEVY.

All righty, then. Didn’t exactly think that one through, did they?

Well, as Jon points out, they’ve now backtracked and said they really like the word Chevy, after all.

But I’m filing that in my “What were they thinking?” file, along with subprime mortgages, credit default swaps, drilling for oil a mile under the Gulf of Mexico with no emergency shutoff plan, and telling your staff you’re going hiking on the Appalachian Trail when you’re really headed to Argentina to see your secret lover.

More Montgomery baseball

(Please see previous post dated June 11 for context)
We’re going back to Montgomery to visit family in July and we plan to go see the Montgomery baseball team play. Once known as the Rebels, they are now called the Biscuits, for reasons I hope to find out. And they play in a new park called Riverwalk Stadium. We’re really looking forward to the game.

But no hill, no train smoke, and a team called the Biscuits – will it really be Montgomery baseball? We’ll find out!

I have fond memories of the old Montgomery Rebels, and I can name almost the whole lineup from those teams of the 40s:
  • Pitchers: Stan Coulling, Marty Arrante, Chester “The Great” Covington, among others
  • Catcher: “Mop” Brown, who whistled three quick times every few minutes. I don’t remember Mop’s real first name, but it may have been Charles.
  • 1b: Al Brightman or Mac MacWhorter (Mac was a utility player who once played every position in the field in one game – one per inning – and was the winning pitcher!)
  • 2b: Roy Carlin
  • SS: Billy Spears
  • 3b: Ray Wilson (A hometown boy. Ray’s dad, who always sat behind the Montgomery dugout on the third base side, was his biggest fan and would cheer him on with a loud “GoRay, GoRay, GoRay” whenever he came to bat)
  • LF: Johnny Creel, who stuck his bubble gum on the button of his cap when he came to bat (there were no batting helmets in those days).
  • CF: Billy Martin, a speedster who was the stolen base leader (and center field mountain climber).
  • RF: Art Rebel, clearly the most appropriately named player on the team.
  • Manager: Frank Skaff, and later Charlie Metro

The radio broadcasts were done by an announcer named Dave Manners. Like all broadcasters back in the day, for out-of-town games he would sit in the station studio in Montgomery and re-create the action from ticker tape messages. The message that would actually come across was something like, “Spears grounds out to short.” Dave would describe a whole imaginary at bat, pitch by pitch, sometimes running the count to 3 and 2, and add made-up color as if he were at the game. When Dave would pause, you could hear the tickertape clattering away in the background.

They don’t make ‘em (up) like that anymore.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The sounds of silence

(With a bow to Simon and Garfunkel)

“You will hear some silence while you wait.”

That’s part of the conference call recorded message that plays when you dial in before the call has officially started. The whole phrase goes like this:

“The leader has not yet arrived. Please stand by. You will hear some silence while you wait.”

It always intrigues me. How do you “hear” silence?

Whoa. Pretty deep thought there. Maybe a philosophy class topic. One hand clapping, and all that.

In my brain it connected to another thought: On the radio, you never hear silence. “Dead air” is what the broadcasters call it. When dead air happens, it’s because somebody forgot to throw a switch or turn a knob or activate something. And for the radio people it’s a bad thing.

But moving on to the next thought, there is a time when you hear silence on the radio. On purpose. And nobody gets fired for it.

It’s in a broadcast of a baseball game. There are frequent lulls in the action on the field, so there are frequent pauses in the announcers’ talk. Those silences – when the announcers go quiet and all you hear is the faint murmuring of the crowd and the occasional shout of a vendor – are one of the endearing attributes of a baseball broadcast that makes it so pleasant, so accessible, so – well, listenable.

I grew up listening to broadcasts of baseball in Montgomery, Alabama. Our team’s name, of course, was the Rebels (Forget, hell) and they played in a ballpark named Cramton Bowl.

They don’t make parks like that anymore. It was used for both baseball and football, so it had a funny shape. There were grandstands behind the plate and along both baselines, but then on the first base/right field side there was a much larger extension of stands for football games. The right field line in baseball was also approximately one sideline of the football field.

When configured for baseball, there was this hill in center field. It was not a small rise, it was a serious hill. A center fielder in this park had to have mountain goat skills to catch long flies hit anywhere between left center and deep straightaway center.

And just beyond the left field fence, behind a big row of trees, there was a ravine with a railroad track running through it. In the days when there were still steam engines, a train would go by, chugging and puffing away, and if the wind was right, huge clouds of black coal smoke would roll up from the ravine and blow into the playing field. The left fielder would disappear in the smoke.

You had to be tough to be a Montgomery Rebel.

More in the next post.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stayin' alive

I got a letter – an “official e-mail,” no less – from a “Mr. Adams Williams,” who identified himself as “Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

Mr. Williams advised me that “one Mr. David Woodruff, who claim to be your business associate/partner here in Africa,” was further claiming that I was dead and that “all relevant documentation/Informations regarding your Payment/Transfer be changed to him as the beneficiary of the payment” of $1,850,000 which, Mr. Williams said, the government of Nigeria owed me.

“We need to confirm from you if it’s really true that you are dead as made mention by your associate. You should note that, if we do not hear from you, it automatically means that you are actually dead and the information passed to us by David Woodruff is correct.”

If I was not dead, the letter went on, I was to “respond to this e-mail immediately” with my name, address, and other identification information, plus a copy of either my driver’s license or my passport.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have not had great success in responding to these “help me collect millions of dollars for you” e-mails. So I decided, with some reluctance, not to answer.

Several weeks later I got to thinking about it – “Mr. Adams Williams” didn’t hear from me, so to his mind I am “actually dead” and “David Woodruff” has probably collected all the money that was rightfully mine.

That Woodruff. He’s always doing something like this. And to think he used to be my “associate/partner” in Africa. Why I ever trusted that guy in the first place I’ll never know.

And what can you say about the government of Nigeria? They’ve owed me money for years and have stiffed me time and again.

But back to my being “actually dead.” I suppose I should let my insurance company know so the life policy will pay off. And probably Social Security, too, so they can forward my checks to my wife. I mean my surviving spouse.

But there’s a silver lining. Since I’m “actually dead,” I no longer have to floss. Better yet, I won’t have to go the DMV later this month and renew my driver’s license.

I’ll just join all those other bad drivers on the road who really need to get a life.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Don't be inactive!

You gotta hand it to those bankers.

When it comes to separating you from your money, they’re creative geniuses.

Most recent case in point: On my most recent statement for by business charge card, there was a $20 item. The description: “INACTIVE ACCOUNT FEE.”

Well, now! They want to charge me $20 for not using my charge card? Come on! I agree it’s legitimate for them to charge me interest when I charge something, because I am in effect borrowing money from the bank to pay for something. No problem there.

But a $20 clip for doing nothing?

I protested. The young banker where I do business professed to be surprised by the charge, and called someone somewhere out there in call center land to see about getting it removed. After surprisingly little persuasion on his part, the answer came back, OK. The charge was removed.

(I can envision what was going through the mind of the person on the other end of the call: “Darn, another one caught on. Oh well, there are millions more who will just pay it and not complain.”)

You have to look for life lessons wherever you can find them, and I found one here:

Don’t be inactive. Stay active.

I don’t mean to necessarily go out and charge something. I mean keep moving, stay actively engaged in life, don’t sit around and do nothing.

If you’re recently retired or fired or laid off, don’t sit there and bemoan your fate. Get off your chair and reinvent yourself. In fact, go to and look around. You’ll find all kind of resources there to help you.

Either that, or send me $20.