Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Honestly, I don't know if I'll still be in the news business then.

I have worked in newsrooms for nearly 24 years. Sooner or later, the time will come for me to say, "I really need to do something else." That will be determined by several factors, not all of which I can talk about on this blog. A friend of mine who has moved on from Tucson to bigger and better things once told me, "Once you stop caring, it's time to leave."

I still care, but maybe not in the same ways I did when I first started working. My business hero Marcus Lemonis likes to break down businesses into three components: people, process, and product. Maybe I once cared the most about the product, but I increasingly feel myself caring more about the people and the process. Care about those things, and the product will benefit.

And yes, getting right with GOD has also changed my perspective. It has happened gradually, not overwhelmingly, but in a matter I can see. Another person told me, "We need a Christian working in the mainstream media!" as he nearly begged me to keep doing what I was doing.

I've got my eyes and nose open for opportunities. When the time is right to make a move, I'll move -- but not before, and not for the wrong reasons.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Do You Have A Pet?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I haven't since childhood. I really don't have the time to care for a pet, and the pets I did have as kid probably suffered more than a little from my lack of attention, with school, computers and other things pulling at my interests.

My first pet was fish. I had an aquarium set up in my room with a couple of mollies (who didn't live long), zebra fish, platties and a pink kisser fish. That kisser was my favorite. It swam up and down along a corner of the tank, making that kissing motion with its mouth. The other fish, a lot smaller and a lot less aggressive, didn't mess with the kisser. The pink bully used to sleep at night on top of a ceramic bucket we put in the tank, the tropical fish equivalent of Snoopy. The Queen Mother let me feed the fish, but I was too young to change the water, so she did that about once a week. You don't realize how dirty fish can get until you clean an aquarium.

After many years of begging, we got our first family dog. Cinnamon was a Brittany Spaniel, back when they were officially considered spaniels. Cinnamon came from a family in Kansas, the product of a backyard litter. We learned that she was quite the jumper, and it took two baby gates stacked on top of each other to keep her from coming upstairs from the playroom, now officially our dog room.

"Donation to the puppy farm!" Grandma Lawson greeted us one day, a stack of newspapers in her hand. "You know, this place is really starting to smell like dog!"

Fortunately, we had a sizable backyard with a five-foot fence on three sides. The neighbor's chain-link fence lined the fourth, where Cinnamon would run and bark at the neighbor's German Shepard, Champ. Cinnamon wore out all the grass along our side of the fence, turning into a muddy pulp. We tried laying sod down, but Cinn quickly wore that out. We had no choice but to put in red concrete tiles.

Cinnamon found creative ways to annoy the Queen Mother, including sleeping in her marigolds and sitting in one of the planters we used for whatever else she was trying to grow. The barking got on her nerves. Digging under the fence got on her nerves. The dog would carry around hedge apples in her mouth, and it's a wonder she didn't get sick from them. But again, dogs develop cast iron stomachs.

I used to take Cinnamon for walks -- or rather, she would walk me. We had Cinn on a "choke chain" to discourage her from pulling the leash too hard, but she did it anyway. That dog dragged me all over the neighborhood, stopping at every other driveway to chew on grass clippings or something else she would find in the dirt that would make a dozen people sick. I managed to train Cinnamon to sit, but I had a hard time disciplining her. She had those sad brown eyes that made me cry.

The Queen Mother used to complain that I wasn't spending enough time playing with the dog. Or feeding her. Or anything else with her. And Mom was left picking up the slack, just like with the fish. Again, other things tugged for my attention. After Cinn left us, the Royal Father got a Springer Spaniel, and again Mom was left with part of the duties for a dog she really didn't want. She won't let him have another one.

And I've put the same restriction on myself. Too many things are still competing for my attention. Somebody suggested I get a cat, but people who own cats will tell you felines expect the world, which they believe revolves around them. I'm just trying to deal with my own world right now.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Have You Ever Feared For Your Life?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I have considered myself blessed not to have seen my life flash before my eyes, but two incidents gave me pause.

One happened about a decade ago, when I was on my way to a wedding in southeast Tucson. The venue was located in the mountains, and while trying to find my way, I was stopped on the side of the road which I thought had little traffic. I nearly pulled out right into the path of an oncoming SUV. Fortunately, I caught myself before hitting the gas pedal. On the way back, I nearly hit a coyote in the darkness.

Another time, I was on my way to a home in Flagstaff located along a dirt and gravel road. This was in my old green Kia, which did not have a lot going for it in terms of suspension and traction. While taking a curve a wee bit too fast, I hit a skid and spun out, whirling completely around. The car stayed on the road, but I ended up facing the wrong direction. Traffic was nonexistent, sparing me from the danger of an oncoming car.

I have learned to cut my driving risks; many times for events in Phoenix, I have gotten a cheap motel room rather than make Paul Revere's midnight ride back to Tucson. I'm driving a lot slower at night as well, although the Queen Mother still thinks I drive too fast during night runs from Tucson to Los Angeles. The drive should take about 7 hours by the book, but I can do it in 6.5, not including the time for the traditional gas-and-grub stop in Quartzite.

As I've told you here, I've also learned the benefits of having a car with cruise control after getting popped for zooming north on U.S. 89 outside Las Vegas at more than 100 MPH.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Why Didn't You Go Into Acting?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Somebody asked me that once after seeing me all dressed up like an 18th Century nobleman. To put it simply: I didn't want to be stuck in a dead-end job while trying to find my first big break. I simply didn't want a drama career badly enough to put up with the drama of endless auditions, constant rejections, and the potential for ripoffs, shady agents and bad deals.

A line from August Wilson's play Fences sticks in my mind: "Get yourself a trade. That way you have something nobody can take away."

So I got a trade: journalism. But the acting bug would come back to bite again in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet commercials (which I've discussed previously), and also in my living history. Being a person of the past allows me to make my own rules on my own terms -- even if it doesn't make money. You can only do so many costume dramas.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Whatever Happened To Swap Meet Sid?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
About 5 years ago, your servant did three commercials for the Tanque Verde Swap Meet here in Tucson. The basic premise was that I was some nerdy swap meet fanboy who enjoyed buying and selling. I did it to help out some old friends from Channel 13 who are now thriving in their own production company, Epic Productions. I had to get clearance from my bosses at work and waive any financial interests. Essentially, they got my services for free.

So why do it, then, besides good friendship? To put a stake in the ground for something that could lead to bigger and better things later on.

Bigger certainly came quickly, in the form of billboards all over Tucson.

I even popped up on the radio, to my surprise. I suddenly heard my own voice coming over the speakers, and I realized my TV spots had been re-edited for radio.

Alex, one of my producers, envisioned the campaign as a starting point for a model that could be used with other flea markets in other states. Under his idea, I could be pitching for swap shops in Missouri or New York or Indiana. We would just have to tweak some things here and there.

I had bigger pipe dreams. I could be the new Flo from Progressive and make mad money.

That would've worked, if the Swap Meet had been interested in continuing the campaign. But they weren't. Six months on the air and they let it run its course, reverting back to some of the south-side vibe ads they'd done before. But they kept the new logo we made for them. I can't point a finger because I'm not privy to all the specifics, but I wish we would've gotten at least a year out of it. At least with newscasts, that's about the time you need to really see if major changes in direction have taken hold.

So I haven't been able to quit my day job. And my face isn't on any billboard anymore.

But I did become kinda-sorta famous. The morning show folks on Mix-FM here in Tucson openly chatted and speculated about who I was. And I got a shout-out at church when I walked in before service during band rehearsal.

"Hey, it's Christopher, that guy from the Swap Meet ads!"

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How Come You Don't Talk About What You Do In The News Business On Your Blog?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I have two simple reasons for this. The first is contractual. Under the terms of my employment agreement, I can't get into a lot of nitty-gritty about what happens on the job. A compatriot for my company at another station used to blog a lot about work; that blog eventually vanished. Even though I avoid work topics, my corporate advisers have said it's still a good idea to put a these-thoughts-do-not-reflect-us disclaimer into the boilerplate you see on the right of this page. I don't see that as particularly controlling. It's more a fact of life in these days where people will pounce on journalists for the slightest mistake and amplify it to the highest degree.

The second reason is personal. I spend about seven hours writing and updating scripts on the news of the day. By the time my day is over, I feel like a squeezed-out toothpaste tube. Nearly nothing is left. The last thing I want to do is go home and write more about those things.

Let me put it another way. Parents, have you ever wondered why, when you ask your kids what they did at school that day, they say, "Nothing much?" What you don't know, and what your kids aren't telling you, is that "nothing much" is shorthand for, "I just spent eight hours in front of a boring teacher, doing hard work and not understanding everything, and probably having to put up with garbage on the side -- and now you want me to relive it for you?"

If you are fortunate enough to have a job where you don't have to take your work home with you, leave it there. I know when I learned to define that boundary, I felt better. I adjusted better. I will still ingest news in my off-time, but on my own terms, not somebody else's.

Some of you may scoff at the concept of "work-life balance," thinking it's one of those terms spoiled people invented in order to justify slacking. Not so. I see it as not letting work define your life outside your working hours. Unfortunately, that doesn't work out as reliably as it should in breaking news situations. But you do the best with what you have.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How Come You Don't Publish "The Lightning Round" Anymore?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
For those of you new to this blog, "The Lightning Round" was my once-a-week news satire feature, where I would take a bunch of odd stories from around the world of the wires and riff on them. I recently went back through some of them and thought, "Wow, this was some cheeky stuff." (Which begs this question, do you know anybody who actually uses the word "cheeky?")
I discontinued the feature -- except for some occasional revivals -- in 2010, feeling I had gone as far as I wanted to go with it. I also thought Facebook and other sites were doing a better job of contributing to the virility of weird news. Still, I miss taking some parody punches every so often. I will be thinking about whether I want to revive some form of "The Lightning Round" in the new year, but it cannot occupy the time and effort it did during previous years, where it was taking more out of my schedule than I really thought it was worth.

Until I make up my mind, you can enjoy the past episodes here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Does It Ever Bother You When Somebody Calls One Of Your Historic Outfits A "Costume?"

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
This is an interesting question because it can reflect the attitude of the person answering the question. I know some historic re-enactors who will ruffle their jabots and tricorn feathers even more if you call it a "costume." It's "period attire" or "historic clothing" or "kit." "Costume" is reserved for the theatre, and it usually involves a zipper.

I read one person describe it this way: "Costume" is what you want to be. "Uniform" is what you are. But under those definitions, I shouldn't be wearing a Revolutionary War uniform. I know I'm not a Colonial soldier. But I am trying to convey the life of a Colonial soldier to young people in my historic interpretations -- even if I don't act as if I'm living in the 18th Century.

The leader of our group gave us some advice on how we could approach interpretation. We could choose either first-person -- where you live as a person in the past, using only the words and descriptions and knowledge base they would have used -- or third-person, where you act more like a docent, somebody who just happens to be wearing the garb of the past but knows the present and can connect the two. I tend to enjoy third-person a lot more having done both. It allows me to get through to people, here and now, and make them care about their history. I couldn't really do that when I was acting as someone still living in 1776. I have heard about one living-history museum that believes in "still-living history," where their historic characters live as they have been around for 200-some years and know all about what happened after them, yet they're still living in the past. It's an intriguing method of having it both ways, but I haven't really tried it.

I don't get upset if somebody calls it a "costume." That's a word people use, and for me, chafing at that term is kind of like insisting somebody say "graphic novel" instead of "comic book." Just don't call my 18th-century persona an "act." I've danced at too many beautiful balls to allow that description.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Who Are Your Biggest Influences As A Journalist?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Although many influences have guided and nudged your servant over the years, I would narrow it down to three people. First, I have to give props to Walter Cronkite, who I remember watching on the evening news as a kid. Uncle Walter, whether I realized it or not at the time, turned me on to how TV news could be an unfolding history book if the writing and storytelling was up to snuff. It's a skill I'm trying to reconnect with now more as all of us in our newsroom are thinking about how to reach audiences.

I give honourable mention to John Chancellor on NBC.

My second influence would be reporter Bob Dotson, who filed a number of feature pieces for NBC, all with superb storytelling.

Honourable mention goes to Steve Hartman of CBS. He can turn nearly any subject into an engaging piece, and he used to prove it by letting people throwing a dart at a map and finding a story where it landed.

My third influence would be CNN's Jeanne Moos, whom I consider to be a master of weaving writing and sound. She mainly constrains herself to a news commentary/parody role these days, but during the 1990's, I would love running her stories on the weekend newscasts. I couldn't find one of those, but I found one that comes close.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

What Is The Worst Gift Anyone Ever Gave You?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I know we're well beyond Christmas, but I gather some people out there are still wondering what they're going to do with certain white elephants they got under the tree. Only one dud gift stands out in my mind -- a certain white and blue sweater jacket that came from one set of grandparents, who got it from Norway.

I don't have a picture of the actual item, but it looked something like this. It would have been a sure-fire winner in some ugly-sweater contest. My grandparents innocently bought it for me when I was 10 years old (or younger), having seen all the children in Norway wearing them. I politely accepted it and thanked them, but I never wore it. Neither did my brother Michael, who got one in a red-and-black version. I knew the realities of bullying should I put it on and put a target on my back.

I don't know what happened to that jacket. Maybe the moths ate it. Maybe we sold it at a garage sale. Maybe somebody bought it and burned it. Who knows? Granted, it's not on the level of Ralphie's bunny suit. Michael's coat found a new home on a willing participant.

I give my relatives major props for steering clear of obvious tackiness. Still, sometimes, a miss is a miss.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

If You Were Still Programming, What Software Would You Like To Engineer?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I would love to design a newsroom computer system that's more producer-friendly and built for speed. I can type faster than my work computers can keep up with. I don't know if it's a software issue or a hardware issue, but it's still an issue.

Any system I would design would have to come with these specifications:

  • I need a way to put in graphics quickly, without having to open some other window or program to put them in.  I would like to just type some special character followed by a short instruction, and then the graphic:  "-CG 2line:  John Doe/Resident."  The more things I can do on the keyboard, without having to drag something with a mouse, the faster I work.
  • I need a system that will let me track changes on a story coming in over the wires without me having to search several times a day.  I would like to be able to put the headline up in the corner of my screen and have it change colors if the AP, CNN, CBS or Fox sends out an update.
  • I want to customize the way I type in scripts so I can see how they're going to look on paper as I put them in.
  • I want to have multiple rundowns open without the system slowing down.
  • I want to be able to merge Twitter and Facebook feeds into the system like they're a wire source.
  • I want the system to intelligently scrape websites for information and put them in like a wire source.
Generally, I need one integrated system to be even more integrated and flexible.  But it can't be so heavy it weighs things down.  I once told a college professor about my vision of designing newsroom software.  She said:  "Go for it!"  But, for better or for worse, that dream had to go on the back burner while I started my career.  

I did some amateur IT work every so often at KRGV after we got our first computer system, and somebody suggested I could do it for real, full-time.  It sounded too good to be true and too above what I knew, and I didn't even have an A+ certificate or anything resembling a Computer Science degree except for minoring at it at Mizzou.  That meant I had to keep my hands to myself on the tough problems and let our engineering crew solve them -- even if they couldn't solve a few problems.  That's where I came in.  I was able to fix an issue with one of our servers by testing a theory on one of the machines without wrecking the system, with the permission of management.

That was back in 1999, when it seemed IT support was less critical in a newsroom.  Now with internet and all sorts of other nets, the system is your lifeline.  And heaven help you if it crashes.  So your software needs to be great, not merely good.

Friday, January 19, 2018

What Was The Best Part Of Living In The Rio Grande Valley?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I only miss one thing about it, besides the people I worked with. I lived only one hour's drive from South Padre Island. I could jump in the car in the morning from McAllen and be on the beach sooner than you might imagine.

I made my first trek out there shortly after starting my KRGV job in August of 1994. That's when I learned Los Fresnos is a notorious speed trap. I couldn't figure out why people were plodding along on the road until I got pulled over by the local fuzz. The officer cut me a break since this was my first time rolling through.

I remember looking out over the water and thinking of my future. I'd come so far. What was ahead of me?

I'd return to SPI several times over the years -- by myself, with my brother and his wife, with my family, and as part of a work assignment. That last visit, in August of 1999, was the most memorable for all the wrong reasons.

KRGV was producing its annual half-hour show on the Texas International Fishing Tournament. I went out there to learn the ropes of producing it in the field, with the understanding I would take the reins next year. (Little did anyone know at the time -- including myself -- that plan would go sideways. I left the station four months later.) I joined the crew in the truck and watched how the producer operated and worked with everyone to get the results and commentary and late-arriving fish on the air. We had to troubleshoot various problems with cameras and wires and the like. But we pulled it off, like we did every year.

After we wrapped, I said my goodbyes to the cast and crew and told them I was headed to Blackbeard's down the road for dinner. They had this great BBQ sandwich I liked called "Hot Stuff," and it was good stuff. But my system didn't seem to cope well with the stuff.

I don't know if it was the heat, or the slimy fish, or too much soda, but something disrupted my digestive process. So while I was enjoying a sunset stroll through the surf, I experienced a blast of what I will politely call "Tenacious D."

Now I'm in trouble. My first instinct was to wade deeper into the water and let the waves wash away the foulness from my unmentionables. That didn't work very well. I had to find a stall -- quickly. As things would have it though, this public beach had no public facilities as I wandered around awkwardly, a walking Immodium A-D commerical.

I got back in the car and scouted out the nearest Circle K. That's where I was able to clean myself up and control the biohazard in my shorts, which I was glad were brown. And fortunately, so was the interior of my car. The hour-long drive home seemed a lot longer with my undies full of paper towels and an embarrassed countenance -- kind of like having to deal with that obnoxious redhead in the Viberzi commercials:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Is Your Favorite TV Show?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I watch very little television outside of work at the station, which may surprise you. It goes back to wanting a life outside of the business. So I'm not following Game Of Thrones, among other things.

I do have a few shows I'm hooked on. At the top of the list is The Profit on CNBC. Camping World CEO and venture capitalist Marcus Lemonis puts his own money and wisdom into struggling small businesses to turn them around. It's part MBA class, part reality show.

Marcus breaks down a business into three components: people, process and product. From there he can diagnose problems. Usually, the product isn't the problem; it's the process or the people. Marcus will find great workers with inept leadership or lousy work environments. From here, The Profit treads the line between a business-oriented reality show and a soap opera. Sometimes it spends too much time on personal issues and not enough time on business fundamentals, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. I want hear more of Marcus the business coach and less of Marcus the life coach.

Another favorite of mine is Bar Rescue. Each week, Jon Taffer renovates a failing bar while trying to shout some sense into its failing management. Not every rescue is successful, and many rescued bars have closed their doors because their operators didn't learn from their mistakes. It's brutal and profane at times. But Jon keeps coming up with fun concepts and exposing nightmarish owners. According to what I have read about him, he told the Spike network to give him the absolute worst bars they could find, knowing it would make great TV. Seeing how the program has become the biggest hit on Spike (now Paramount Network), he was right.

I've also read Jon's book, Raise The Bar. It's primarily for those in the restaurant, bar and hospitality business, but I gleaned a lot of business insights from reading it. One is that you're not just selling booze -- you're selling an experience. Another is that most job resumes are worthless in the bar industry. Jon says he can teach people how to tend bar; he can't teach people personality. I can think of so many jobs like that, where people who need personality on the job are hired mostly for what's on a piece of paper.

My other favourites include Hell's Kitchen, and American Chopper (which is coming back to TV in 2018).

Do you notice a thread through all these shows, other than they're all reality shows? They all deal with people either fixing or creating things. One of my best friends has told me that I'm a "fixer." Another has told me that I'm an "artist" -- a type of creator. Is it any surprise these shows should suit me so well?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

After All These Years In The News Business, Why Aren't You A News Director Or Executive Producer By Now?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Because I don't want to be. That's the short answer.

Here's the longer one: I have seen what these jobs do the people who work them, and it's not pretty. I have seen their shoulders burdened with more work and worry and responsibility, some of which they shouldn't have. You might think this job would come with more control and ability to delegate. That's only partially true.

Let's take the News Director position. As I have learned and observed from others who have held this job, it involves more management than journalism. You get to set editorial policy and guide the newsroom's direction, but you're also dealing with budgets (which are never as much as you want), hiring and firing decisions (which are more frequent than you would probably like to make), and corporate types who are in the picture to make sure you are executing their strategy and not just yours. That last one leads to decisions you don't make but are made for you from High Command, whether they serve the purpose of better news coverage or not.

Executive producers have not just one newscast to oversee, but several for one daypart -- either morning or night. They are tweaking, correcting and making sure the programs get on the air not just technically clean but journalistically solid. They get to step back and ask, "are we doing enough on this?" or "are we finding the real story in this story?" or "are we really getting to why people should care about this?" They are focused on the big picture. At the same time, they are taking directives from the news director. And they do jump in and help write and arrange like a line producer does, sometimes more often than expected. I got a taste of what an EP does when I helped train an EP on line producing at our station some years ago. We essentially reversed roles. I was the seasoned producer, and this person was the rookie who knew how to put a newscast together -- just not on our computer system or with our equipment. I gave pointers where I needed, but I stepped back and let this person quickly get familiarized with everything. I found the role boring and a little unsettling. I didn't feel hands-on enough.

I remember The Peter Principle: everybody eventually rises to the level of their incompetence. I decided I would throw humility into that principle and realize where my boundaries were instead of trying to always push them. Some folks out there believe you're a failure in the news business if you don't make it to New York or Los Angeles or the networks. What garbage. I have told aspiring journalists not to let conventional wisdom and careerism guide their paths: if you're happy doing news in Kearney, Nebraska, by all means enjoy it and put down roots!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Encounter With A Celebrity?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Number one on the list would be meeting Drew Carey on The Price Is Right just a few weeks after began his hosting job. He was real where he didn't need to be, and honest in ways that surprised me. He's going to have a long run on the show, and with good reason.

Second on my list is a chance encounter I had at 2005 at the Palms casino in Las Vegas. I had gone up there for a long weekend, and the Palms was my first stop because it had a reputation for loose slots. After several hours on the road, I ended up pulling slot handles around 11am.

Gaming companies are continuously coming out with new variants of computerized one-armed bandits, ones with multiple reels and paylines and bonus rounds. They're more like arcade games than gambling games. One such slot was themed around the classic TV game show Password. I sat down at one and gave it a try. It felt eerie to hear Allen Ludden's voice come through that machine, knowing he's been gone for 20 years at that point.

Password, as you will recall, featured numerous celebrity players -- Betty White (who later became Ludden's wife), Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jamie Farr, Marty Allen, and scores of others.

A young lady comes over to me while I'm playing and says, "You remember Marty Allen from Password? Well here he is!"

Well, Hello 'Dere!

Sure enough, it was him, older and a little wrinkled, but proudly wearing a 9/11 tribute cap. I only had a faint memory of him, but it didn't matter -- I was excited to meet a celebrity in Vegas. He was happy to find somebody who could explain a slot machine based on a game he'd played but never seen in a slot version.

So for the next 45 minutes, I’m helped Marty understand video slots. He got three of himself on the reels his first play and four of himself in a little while. But he still had trouble understanding the paylines -- and the concept.

"I thought Password was about words," he puzzled.

In the end, he let me keep $4 on the machine he didn’t play. I never thought to ask him about his time on Password. I was just glad to meet a star.

Happily, Marty is still with us, and he's still making people laugh.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What's The Biggest Mistake You've Ever Made In Your Work?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
A job recruiter asked me this question as she quizzed me on my work experience. She had an offer. I heard her out. I ended up giving her an oral resume. I had rehearsed my answers to the obvious trap-door questions people like to ask, such as "Why should we hire you?" But this one caught me slightly vulnerable.

I can't give you any one big mistake. I've made lots of little to moderate ones on the job. We all do. I consider myself blessed not to have made some potentially career-ending blunder that would end up getting somebody killed or sued.

So what did I tell this recruiter? I hearkened back to my days at that station in Texas, where I got caught in too much drama and didn't know how to handle it. My mistake wasn't managing enough. Or I let people manage me. Either way, I didn't learn how to get control of the situation. That's an answer my previous boss would have probably called "namby-pamby," but it ultimately led to my departure -- on my own terms, not anybody else's.

I'm not haunted by that mistake, so I don't consider it big. I'm haunted by other worries in the future, but not my past. When I left the Texas station, I had absolutely no regrets. I left for the right reasons and the right money. I left on good terms with the rest of the newsroom and the mentor who helped me get ready to leave the nest. I had grown up as a journalist and producer over five years, learning all sorts of things I should've learned in college. That's the learning curve of the real world. It comes with mistakes, big and little.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Disco Album?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
This question came from Princess Sherri, obviously because she's seen a chunk of disco as part of my playlist (some of which I featured last summer here on 30/30). I don't have a favorite disco album. In fact, I don't have one period. But if you're talking singles, let me vote for this smash by Yvonne Elliman. Here she is performing it on "American Bandstand" in 1977.

Of course, it turned up in the epic movie Saturday Night Fever, penned by the Bee Gees. Originally, the Brothers Gibb were going to record it with Elliman singing "How Deep Is Your Love." But RSO records topper Robert Stigwood insisted on switching things up -- resulting in a smash for the Bee Gees and the biggest hit of Elliman's career.

If you insist on something more disco-y, I gotta go with this smash from The Trammps. Here's the promotional film for "Disco Inferno."

Watching this, I can't help but roll my eyes back at least a tinge. We wore that? The 18th Century fop didn't vanish; he just reinvented himself about 200 years later.

I also have to give honourable mention to this scene in Saturday Night Fever, set to the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing." John Travolta just owns the floor, and he gets bonus points for Cossack moves.

According to Hollywood legend, director John Badham originally put this sequence in the film with tighter shots. Travolta was upset you couldn't see his feet -- as he would be after having to run and dance for several hours a day to train for the picture. He told the editor to stay on the wide shots, emulating the style of the Fred Astaire pictures, and the result is classic.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Are You A Morning Person?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
Ask me after I have my coffee. For as long as I can remember, I have never been one eager to rise early and often. I relish those times when I can sleep in, not having to get up by the clock. That didn't help me in my grade-school years, when the Queen Mother used to complain about how I piddled around and didn't get up and at 'em.

When I started working nights and weekends in my first TV job, sleeping in wasn't a problem. Neither was getting up. Getting to sleep could be challenging, though, with my adrenaline still pumping from getting a newscast on the air. I would get done with work at 10:30, get home around 11, and not really get to bed until after midnight. Having an internet connection only made my night-owl habits worse. I could spend hours in front of the computer screen, reading all sorts of things online before finally going to bed. It went on this way for nearly two decades.

Now that I'm back to a dayside shift, I have to draw some lines on my night surfing. That line sometimes looks like a curve, and I'll break my deadline more times than I would like to admit. I'm told the blue light from LCD screens doesn't help with sleep. But I get rested enough, and the coffee takes care of what the sleep didn't.

I don't miss working nights. Nights came with other challenges and fears. I'm not working banker's hours, but a 9 to 6 job is about the closest I'll get. Just keep that coffee coming.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Have You Ever Considered Forming Your Own Historic Dance Troupe?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
It sounds fun at first glance. You might think getting to be a colonial dancing master in present day would fulfill one of my fantasies. To tell you the truth, it's not something I'm interested in.

I have a day job, one that consumes most of my day, leaving me little slack to deal with other things. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to do most nights is work some more. Running an organization is work, especially if you decided to run it yourself.

A historic dance troupe -- at least my idea of one -- involves performances and balls and educational functions. It involves planning and practicing and procuring time and space. It involves money for rentals and insurance and travel and music. It's not something I would like to handle by myself.

"Then delegate! Get a board of directors!"

Easier said than done. Finding people who can share your vision and bring new ideas that fit with it can be a demanding task. Again, it goes back to time -- not just my time putting everybody together, but everybody else's time as well. Sometimes groups evolve organically, just from being together so much they decide to get more organized and raise the bar. That's the way I would like it to work. I know I'm asking a lot.

I would rather focus on the one part I think I do well: instructing and demonstrating the actual dances rather than planning the event containing them. I have found it more enjoyable to team up with homeschooling groups, educational organizations and other folks who have wanted to put on a ball. I don't consider myself very skilled at promotion or managing ticket sales.

I have told people that their dreams and their abilities have to meet up in the middle. I'm following that guideline out of necessity and reality.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Is Your Favorite Car That You've Owned?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I would name my present ride: a 2009 Kia Spectra, mainly because it has had the lowest cost of ownership among the three cars I've owned. I've only had one major repair job on it that wasn't covered by a warranty: an air-conditioner compressor replacement. Everything else has been either standard maintenance or low-cost fixes -- even including batteries, which always seem to go bad here in Arizona after two years of intense summers, no matter what kind you buy. Fortunately, I get the replacements at a pro-rated rate. I get my oil changes for free as long as I own the car, thanks to a perk from the dealer. I think I've cost them at least $500 worth of oil changes over the years.

The Spectra came at the right time, after my 2001 Kia Rio bit the dust nearly 10 years after I bought it new off the lot. After putting about 174,000 miles on it (which was probably double its lifespan), the Rio threw the timing belt, leading to a broken piston and all sorts of nastiness inside the motor. The garage wanted $3000 to fix it, but I figured for that kind of money, I might as well buy a new car -- or some nice pre-owned model. That's when I came across the Spectra after going by a dealer on a whim one night after work, while driving a rental and doing some casual car-shopping. The Spectra was a Manager's Special, with only about 40,000 miles, and it was going for about $11,000. After some haggling with the salesperson, we made the deal.

"What will it take for you to drive off with this car tonight?" he asked.

I knew exactly what it would take: I quoted my down payment, my interest rate, and no longer than a 3-year note. I didn't want to get hosed on the deal like I did with the Rio, where the salespeople used "money factor" instead of a percentage to do the financing, which stuck me with an 11 percent loan. Fortunately, I found a way to pay off the car quickly without the interest taking too much bite. I did it again with the Spectra. That 3-year note was burned in about a year and a half. The auto finance companies have to hate me because they don't make enough interest off my business.

On my first ride, I let the Royal Father do most of the talking. Through his efforts in 1993, I bought a used 1989 Chevy Celebrity from a private owner in the St. Louis area. It already had several thousand miles on it, but we got it for around $3000. This would have to be my second-favorite ride, as it made the long trip from St. Louis to the Rio Grande Valley in 1994, and the trip from there to Tucson in 1999. The car had a knack for going the distance and then some. It originally came from Elliott-Roberts Motors in Plattsmouth, Nebraska.

I'm not completely sure, but I think the place is under a new name and ownership:

The Chevy ran like a tank, but I ended up replacing the mass airflow sensor, some belts and hoses. The air conditioning went in for work several times, and the job became trickier each time because it used refrigerant being phased out by the EPA -- unless I wanted to find some shadetree mechanic who could sneak it in from Mexico. The paint started peeling. The lining on ceiling started caving in. The knob on the shift lever came off. The tape deck in the radio died, along with the fuse on the radio itself when I plugged a power cord for a CD player into the cigarette lighter. It already had a patch on the grille from where a bird flew into it -- at least that was what I was told. The car was turning into My Hooptie.

When the air conditioning died again, I finally decided it was time to move on up to the Rio. Kia made it for about as cheaply as they could, and I knew it when plastic parts on the interior started to break. Then hoses started wearing. At least the ceiling stayed up.