I remember where I was

Last November there was hardly a mention but this year, probably starting in late summer, we no doubt will go wall to wall with the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  All the familiar facts and information and players will be there: Dallas, Dealey Plaza, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit, Jack Ruby, the riderless horse with the boots reversed in the stirrups, muffled funeral drums, John-John’s salute, conspiracies, the Warren Commission and it will seem, to those who were alive at that time, like it was yesterday.  To the children of those who remember it will seem familiar from past anniversaries and recollections that they have heard.  But then, without any big new anniversaries to be observed November 22, 1963 will move back a page or two in the history books and the people who remember that Friday will disappear with it like Pearl Harbor and the members of the World War Two generation.  In its place will be 9/11 and the “I remember where I was…” and the “can you believe it’s been…? torch will be handed to a new generation.


Highest and steepest and fastest

I love the summer and I love amusement parks and I really love roller coasters, as high and as steep and as fast as possible.  Every year there seems to be some kind of new “Screaming” this or “Monster” that and every year that’s where I want to be, riding and last week I got my wish.  A ticket that I bought on-line (as low as $44.99) got me a chance to join the other coaster enthusiasts waiting to ride the highest, steepest and fastest roller coaster ever built. It’s really something to see.

Watching the coaster shoot down the first hill and hearing the terrified riders scream their heads off made me even more excited as I stood there.  Each time it shot over us everyone in that line that snaked back and forth and back and forth looked up and thought about the thrill that would soon be theirs in the short time it takes to move about half a mile 10 inches at a time.  I looked to my left and saw the coaster entrance, right over there, not very far really and then realized that the line that snaked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to get there was probably close to being about as long as the highest, steepest and fastest coaster in the world itself.  While I just shuffled along in a line that went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth I glanced the other way at the smiling faces who were walking past going from ride to ride and actually getting to ride something for the price of their ticket (as low as $44.99).  They’re riding alright but not on the highest, steepest and fastest—amateurs.

Every year the same music plays, the same guys kiss their girlfriends (Mr. Funny blue t-shirt had a cuter girlfriend last year) and the same calculations are made figuring that when I get off the highest, steepest and faster coaster in the world I’ll have just enough time to run and get back in line for another ride before the park closes.

I stand and wait and wait and wait as the roar of the highest and steepest and fastest coaster in the world and the screams of the idiots who wasted their whole day standing in line ahead of me become just so much annoying noise.  My ticket (as low as $44.99) has done nothing but make me angry as I stand there and wait and wait but then when I am just about to scream at my hopeless situation I am sitting down and pulling down the safety harness.  Up and up and up and down and down and down and faster and faster and then out of the seat, down the exit and around the sidewalk and back in line and the same song is playing and Mr. Funny blue t-shirt is still kissing his girlfriend.  I grin at the guy in front of me who like me has spent his whole day waiting and waiting and waiting and say, “I can’t wait to see what they build next year.”

If only

I was coming back from Home Depot last Saturday and stopped at a garage sale to see if I needed someone else’s junk for my future garage sale.  I was looking around (I found a hose, nozzle and a rake for $6.00 after I had just paid nearly $40.00 for a hose, nozzle and rake at Home Depot) and saw a stack of cookbooks including an interesting one titled, Eating Right and Living Long, which had some great healthy recipes including one that I’m sure the kids will just love, crunchy kale bars (they’re supposed to be a lot like collard bars but maybe a little more mulchy).  Looking through the recipes in all the healthy cooking cookbooks the lady was selling it struck me just how easy and delicious it should be and can be to stay fit and healthy and live a long and really wonderful life.

I was about done looking through the cookbooks when I came across a 1939 edition of The American Woman’s Cook Book just like the one my mother and grandmother used (I remember as a kid I would look through that book at the pictures of desserts like I had never seen come out of my mother’s kitchen). I noticed that whether it was for cookies or cakes or beef stew or apple sauce or strawberry jam each recipe seemed to start with half a cup of lard.  The recipes all seemed so primitive: a good, healthy breakfast was described as consisting of two fried eggs, bacon or ham, fried potatoes, toast with butter or jam, coffee and some type of juice—really. I was standing there smiling at just how backward our parents and grandparents were but then I started to get angry about all the people I loved who were no longer with us because of the kinds of foods and meat-based diets shown in that cookbook.

My grandmother made what I am sure she thought were wholesome meals for her family and then gave that same cookbook to my mother as a wedding gift and Mom carried on the same way.  If only instead of those old recipes they’d had our modern healthy recipes available. If only they had been as enlightened as their children and grandchildren instead of dying at 98 and 97 my grandparents would still be here today.

I can just see grandma behind the wheel of their green 1951 Chrysler Windsor four door sedan (after I slap on some Coexist, Free Tibet and Happy to be Vegan bumper stickers) heading out to the Super Senior (120-130 years old) tennis tournament.  I’ll just bet she would have come home with a trophy or two.  If only.

Me and Alexander Graham

I’ve known since grade school that Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone but I did not know that Elisha Gray had worked independently on the telephone, developed it but then was beaten to the patent by Bell.  Gray invented a telephone, was as much of an inventor as Bell but never received the credit for his invention because he was number two to the patent office.

Now nothing that I have ever invented was as revolutionary as the telephone but I did invent a chip-o-matic vegetable chopper, a clapper-type switch to turn off the lights, a fishing rod that folds up so you can carry it in your pocket and a cell phone app that allows you to take pictures with your phone. I invented them all but guess what, they already had them and I was nothing but a sort of modern day Elisha Gray. The story of my life.  Although I was disappointed it made me realize that it’s just been timing that has gotten in my way of making it to the inventor’s hall of fame and that if I keep plugging away my day will come.  If I keep my eye on the opportunities and keep focusing on how to manage and then make the most of those opportunities I can’t lose and that’s where I found myself recently when our dealership general sales manager told us to look for what makes the customer smile.  I smiled at that directive because that is what I am good at.

When I see a young guy come in to look at one of the new models I pretty much know that he’s not looking for a mini-van.  When I see an older lady come in to the dealership I know that she’s most likely not looking for a little red convertible.  You have to size up the customer, focus and then make the sale by meeting the real (or imagined) needs and wants of the customer.  I know that I am on the right track because those techniques have been used forever but then I go an extra step and combine my abilities to zero in on what’s important to the customer with my abilities as inventor. 

About two weeks ago a lady came in to look at a new mini-van.  She said that she had seen her friend’s van and she realized the mini-van was just what she needed to haul around her three kids and her dogs.  She loved the mini-van XL with its luggage rack and audio/DVD system, front/rear air conditioning/heater controls and back-up camera that lets you see behind the car electronically on a screen in the middle of the dashboard. We talked about van’s features, went for a test drive and came back to work on financing but I could sense that she was resisting.  She was just about ready to buy but was still running the price of our van against the competition.  I needed to separate our van, dealership and myself from the competition and help her see she should choose us and buy our van. 

So I said to her, “Let’s get serious here.  What do I have to do to put you behind the wheel of this fine vehicle?”

She hemmed and hawed, and this is where my observation and inventor skills came to the front.  Did I mention that the lady was, I believe the term is, a “full figured gal”?

Then I said, “You know a lot of people not only want to like the car they drive they also want to know that the car they drive makes them look good.  What would you say if I can work with our people to make a few adjustments on the back-up camera so that if someone else is driving your van and you’re standing behind it your rear end looks 30 pounds smaller?”

I start next week at Dairy Queen and am thinking about an ice cream product that will include not only M&Ms but also crushed aspirin in case you eat it too fast and get an ice cream headache.  I don’t think that’s been invented yet. 



Baseball memories

“They’ll walk out to the bleachers and sit in shirtsleeves in the perfect evening, or they’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere in the grandstand or along one of the baselines — wherever they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. They’ll watch the game, and it will be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”—Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

The memories will be so thick and they are. I’ve been to hundreds of Major League games and oh, the memories I have of baseball: Willie Mays back-to-the-infield basket catch in the 1954 World Series, Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell speech (“…today-day, I consider myself-self, the luckiest man-man, on the face of the earth-earth…”), Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” homer that won the pennant for the New York Giants, Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981 and “10 cent beer night” at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (it is now estimated that over a quarter million people attended that game second only to Len Barker’s perfect game).

Of all of those great moments in baseball the only one that I actually saw was 10 cent beer night. Sure, I’ve seen some great games and some great plays and some great players but they all seem to blend together in a kind of fuzzy super game where Mickey Mantle and Bob Feller and Jim Thome and Minnie Minoso and Nellie Fox all play in the same game.  My clearest baseball memories are way on the edges of the game like:

Walking down to the stadium and having a photographer take our picture and hand us a card to mail in for a copy,

The guy selling peanuts outside the stadium, “Pea-nuts, four bags for a quarter”, and that’s about all you got was four bags, 4”x4” each with two peanuts in each bag,

“PRO-grams, PRO-grams” and you got a pencil too,

Walking to our seats and if we were lucky enough to have box seats we would hand our tickets to the uniformed usher at the top of the section who would lead us to our seats, wipe them off and hold out his hand for a tip,

The men’s rooms which had been maybe painted once since 1932,

The hot dog vendor, “HOT-dogs” who would set down his big metal box, pull out a bun and place it in a wrapper, drive a dirty thumb into the bun to open it, reach in with a pair of tongs to pull out a hot dog from the warm greenish water, pop it into the bun, cover it with Stadium Mustard (whether you wanted it or not) and send it down the row from person to person with the money going the other way and then the change coming back.

The heavy, bald guy in the short sleeve sport shirt with the cigar in the corner of his mouth keeping score (he was in the row in front of you no matter where you sat).

“Coming in to pitch for the Indians and riding in a new Joe O’Brien Chevrolet Bel Air, number six, Joey Saver” and then the bullpen fence would open and out would come a shiny Chevy convertible with the Indians relief pitcher riding from the outfield bullpen around the warning track to home plate,

Heading out of the stadium after the game and finding a guy selling big balloons, “Two for a dollar on the big balloons, hey, two for a dollar now” because when you think of baseball you think of balloons.

Sure the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes and the grass was emerald green and the fans came to their feet as one when a home run was hit but those are part of the many memories of baseball that I can’t really remember if they were my own memories or something I saw on TV or maybe scenes from a movie.  I do know that the guy in the short sleeve shirt comes charging back to life when I smell a cigar, the hot dog vendor is there when I see a piece of paper flying by just like those hot dog wrappers that used to swirl around the stadium and I think of the “four bags for quarter” guy when I now see the peanut vendors at Progressive Field. Those are my baseball memories, they’re all there, those memories so thick I have to brush them away from my face.

NKP 765

And then it started to pull that long train away from the station without a jerk, just a smooth movement forward.  The crowd along the tracks moved back a step or two as the huge locomotive barked and shot its exhaust straight up out of the stack and up and around the highway bridge passing over the tracks.  A machine built in 1944 thrilled people on its Ohio Mother’s Day trip.  A locomotive that has not been in regular revenue service since 1958 pulled that train down the tracks and made huge crowds wave and applaud as it passed with its whistle screaming and steam rolling behind it.

Was it the size of the engine?  Was it the noise and the power? Was it the memories that it touched?  Was is it all of those things and the wish that they had a ticket to ride behind that black locomotive pulling those 17 cars?

In a world where nobody even looks up anymore when a jet flies overhead people will drive long distances and wait for hours to see a steam locomotive at speed heading toward them, pass and disappear with its whistle trailing off.

There is definitely something there that will bring out the crowds and the riders the next time Nickel Plate Road 765 heads out.