Funny, Then Not So Much

So, I’m picking these three guys up at their hotel to take to to the airport. I’m in one of our luxury SUV’s, which are a little more comfortable for three passengers than the sedans. The guys all load up in the SUV, I load their luggage, and off we go.

Apparently, these three are professional colleagues, here in town for some convention, seminar, or something. There’s almost always one of those somewhere in this town, except in summer, when it’s so freakin’ hot, even we don’t want to be here. The guys converse on the way to the airport about what their “takeaways” were from the last few days. Hopefully, that didn’t include hotel towels.

By the way, don’t you just love those business buzzwords like “takeaways”, “bandwidth”, “deep dive”, “robust”, and one of my favorites, “at the end of the day”? Does anyone teach Business as a Second Language?

Anyway, it so happens these fellows are departing on separate flights, on separate airlines, so I’ll be dropping them off at separate gates. No problem; it’s a fairly common situation. I just need to know which flight the gentleman in the very back seat is taking, so I can drop him last and he doesn’t have to finesse his way past the other two guys in the middle seats to get out.

So, after briefly explaining this strategy to my passengers, I ask, “Who’s in the back?” Meaning, of course, which gate was the guy in the back departing from. I thought it was perfectly clear, but…

…the guy in the back makes eye contact with me in the rearview mirror and says, confidently,

“I’m in the back.”

( smack forehead here )

( no, YOUR forehead, not HIS )

( not that he didn’t deserve it )

Needless to say, his colleagues had some fun with that. (I think he already had that part figured out, dude!) Even I politely said,”Yes sir, I was hoping for a little more information than that.”

When what I really wanted to say was, “REALLY??? I could have sworn it was THIS guy! Are you sure it’s you?”

We had a good laugh over it and, after a little more explanation, we finally got it straightened out and I dropped him last at the correct gate. I love happy endings.

There are two morals to this story:

One: Make sure, when you ask for something, you are clear about exactly what information you need.

Two: Don’t say something stupid like, “I’m in the back.”

 

Okay, full disclosure time, because I don’t want to mislead any of you, assuming I haven’t already.

I am currently not a chauffeur. I’m not anything. I’m unemployed. Hopefully, that’s a temporary and brief condition.

The stories I tell you here are absolutely true; they all happened. But nothing is happening now. Again, I dearly hope that doesn’t last too long.

It’s certainly not my first rodeo as a jobless guy. I’ve lived this a few times in my life as, I’m sure, have many of you. Times are tough, let’s face it, and I don’t see them getting any less so anytime soon. Fortunately, my wife still works, so we’re not hurting (yet), but I’m trying to get on somewhere as soon as I can.

The thing is, even with the advent of all the job hunting sites online, it still ain’t that easy to land something. Probably because there are so many other people out there looking, too; most of them, I dare say, younger than me. I know ageism is supposed to be a hiring no-no, but you can’t convince me it never goes on. The cold, hard fact is, a person my age is not usually the first choice when it comes to hiring.

And I get it. You want someone you can invest in for a long-term career, not somebody on the back end of his working life. It’s a sensible business decision.

But I can’t help but wonder how many smart, experienced folks who still have much to contribute to the workforce remain on the sidelines in favor of the young go-getters, who may have more energy, but lack experience and, along with that, hard-earned wisdom.

(OK, pal, off the soapbox. That’s enough.)

Oh, well, time to get back on indeed.com to look for my future. Wish me luck.

 

 

In Praise of a Madman

I grew up listening to what is now affectionately known as “Classic Rock.” Artists like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Band, David Bowie, Steely Dan, on and on and on.

I mean, it was a great time to listen to the FM radio.

There was one person for me, though, who stood head and shoulders above all the rest. (Even though he’s actually quite short.)

This guy…was my rock and roll idol in my adolescence.

 

You all know him. Elton John. Captain Fantastic. The Rocket Man. Or, as a high school classmate so sardonically, yet prophetically put it back then, “the homosexual who sings on stage.”

I played some piano in my younger days, and one of my brothers suggested to me, when I was about 13, 14 years old, that I ought to give Elton John a listen.

Well, I went to the local Gibson’s and purchased an Elton John album, the first one I ever bought with my own money. The album was Madman Across the Water.

I’ve been a madman for the Madman ever since. Thanks, bro.

I gotta say, I was really glad there was a lyric sheet included in the album, because I found that British accent of his almost impenetrable in places when he sang. But he had a terrific voice, and he sure could play the youknowwhat out of a piano. (Still does, still can.) I started learning how to play his songs, envisioning myself as a big-time rock star one day. I would put on my Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, start the first track, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, and play right along with it on my baby grand. It felt awesome!!

Back then, I had a peculiar habit (one of several) of playing the first side of an album for days before ever flipping it over to hear the second side. So, it was quite a while after I bought the Madman record before I heard “Indian Sunset”, the first track on Side 2. If you’ve never heard this masterpiece by Elton and his longtime lyricist, the phenomenal Bernie Taupin, do yourself a favor and download it, since that’s how we listen to music nowadays. The melody and lyrics, combined with Paul Buckmaster’s exquisite orchestration, make for a sublime listening experience.

Through the years, I’ve had several such experiences listening to Elton and Bernie’s fabulous work. (And they’re still going strong 49 years later!!) Listen to “Ticking”, off the Caribou album, and see if it doesn’t give you chills when you think about the mass-murder culture we live in now. Listen to “American Triangle”, from Songs From the West Coast, which speaks to the ignorance behind, and the resultant tragedy from, homophobia. Listen to “Home Again”, from The Diving Board, and reminisce about the crazy dreams of youth bringing you full circle. Or just crank up the volume on “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and rock your ass off!

Of course, there was also the sheer spectacle of Elton’s shows in his heyday. Outrageous costumes, outlandish glasses, Hollywood-caliber entrances, handstands on the keyboard, you name it. The man always knew how to give a crowd its money’s worth. Even though he’s toned down the flash in recent years, he still gives you an evening of great music, hit after hit after hit, he and his band firing on all cylinders, making sure everybody who attends has a great time.

But I don’t just like Elton John for his music. I admire him for the way he’s overcome some personal obstacles and is now doing so much to positively impact the world. Go on his website and check out his inspiring work in the battle against AIDS. His foundation has raised over $300 million to combat this disease across the globe, largely due to his indefatigable efforts. See how you can join the fight.

Also, I admire how much Elton values his sobriety. This guy had a serious drug problem back in the day, coupled with some other crippling addictions, but he had the presence of mind to do something about it and get help, and now, with his husband and their two sons, he is a happy, healthy family man.

He still has his flaws, as do we all, and as he will readily admit. Despite them, though, I believe he is a decent, kindhearted man blessed with a monstrous amount of talent. I’ve seen him perform three times in my life, (once with my other piano hero, Billy Joel; talk about awesome!) and I’m ready to go again, anytime.

Sir Elton, you da man. Long may you rock!

 

LMFAO

I love comedians.

There’s something special about people whose mission in life is simply making everybody else laugh. They point out the absurdities in life we all encounter; in our home and family, in our working life, in the society we inhabit. They mine the limitless natural resource that is our government. And, of course, they share their own personal stories, of which we each have our own version, allowing us to laugh at ourselves.

They’re here to remind us to not take this life so damned seriously. If we get bogged down in all the stressful situations we constantly wrestle, coupled with our daily recommended dose of end-of-the-world crises on the news, we’d probably all ball up in a corner and cry ourselves to sleep.

We have to be able to laugh at something, just to maintain sanity. And that’s where the comedians come in. They reintroduce us to the simple, often overlooked hilarity of life on this planet. We laugh our heads off and, for a little while, forget about all the pain, all the tedium, all the BS we cohabitate with the rest of the time.

And that’s why laughter is the best medicine.

 

I got hooked on comedy at an early age. Before I listened to rock and roll, before I listened to country and western music, I was listening to comedy albums.

You readers of a certain age not familiar with the concept of albums, consult your grandparents. And isn’t it amazing vinyl is making a comeback? Everything old is new again, right? What’s next, 8- track tapes? (Again: grandparents.)

Anyway, I digress. When I was about six or seven, my parents gave me a record player for my birthday, and started a record collection for me consisting of some comedy albums and old 45’s. (Jeez, I am so dating myself here!) I was listening to guys like Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory, Brother Dave Gardner, Jonathan Winters, and my all-time favorite, Bill Cosby.

(I don’t care to get into Mr. Cosby’s current situation here, sordid and shameful as it is, which isn’t to say I’m ignoring it. The man still made me laugh more than any human being ever did, and whatever pall these latest headlines undoubtably cast, that will not change for me.)

I listened to those records over and over and over. And over. I memorized every line, every word, every vocal inflection. And whenever I had myself a captive audience, whether friends or family, I would recite these comics’ routines verbatim.

And when I say a captive audience, I mean it. Whether these poor people wanted to hear this stuff or not, I just steamrolled ahead. There was no escape ha HA HA HAAAAAA……

Sorry.

I couldn’t help it. These guys made me laugh so much, I just wanted to share their comedy with everyone else. Plus, I discovered the incredibly addictive rush of making other people laugh, and I’m telling you, there ain’t nuthin’ like it.

And I’ve enjoyed good comedy ever since, from so many talented people. Bob Newhart. Richard Pryor. George Carlin. Joan Rivers. Steve Martin. Stephen Wright. Ellen DeGeneres. Eddie Murphy. Robin Williams. (I so miss that guy.) Steve Harvey. Jeff Foxworthy. Heather McDonald. I could go on and on. A really funny guy out there now is Alonzo Bodden; check him out.

Do yourself a big favor. Block out some time to listen to some inspired comedy by one of these masters, or to anyone who cracks you up, and get yourself a good, hearty dose of laugh! Forget about whatever else is going on in your life right now, just for a little while, and give yourself permission to laugh ’til you cry. You’ve earned it; trust me.

Also, tune your eyes and ears to the comedy going on around you. As a chauffeur, people have got in my car and said the funniest things without even realizing it. You can pick up on it, too, if you pay attention.

Or just throw a pie in someone’s face. (Just kidding!)

 

Note: I hope you’ve enjoyed this little four-pack I’ve presented as a way of introducing myself. Be assured, though, this blog-a-day pace is going to cease. See you again in a week or so. Thanks for stopping by!

 

Consider the Ostrich

Ostriches are cool.

According to nationalgeographic.com:

“The flightless ostrich is the world’s largest bird. They roam African savanna and desert lands and get most of their water from the plants they eat.

“Though they cannot fly, ostriches are fleet, strong runners. They can sprint up to 43 miles (70 kilometers) an hour and run over distance at 31 miles (50 kilometers) an hour. They may use their wings as “rudders” to help them change direction while running. An ostrich’s powerful, long legs can cover 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) in a single stride. These legs can also be formidable weapons. Ostrich kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a lion. Each two-toed foot has a long, sharp claw…

“Ostriches typically eat plants, roots, and seeds but will also eat insects, lizards, or other creatures available in their sometimes harsh habitat.”

Oh, also this:

“Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. The old saw probably originates with one of the bird’s defensive behaviors. At the approach of trouble, ostriches will lie low and press their long necks to the ground in an attempt to become less visible. Their plumage blends well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gives the appearance that they have buried their heads in the sand.”

Really?

Now, how many of you were like me and thought they really did bury their heads in the sand? That’s what I’d always heard. I don’t know who starts these nasty rumors, but really, folks, it’s just gotta stop!

Actually, I can think of a situation where actual head burial would be advantageous:

During any Presidential Candidates’ Debate.

 

I have to confess, I can’t think of a time I was ever embarrassed to admit I was an American.

Until this election year.

I mean, is this really the best this country has to offer for assuming the role of its President? In either major party? These people??

I swear, it has me looking for a nice, sandy spot somewhere.

Also, I want to sic some ostriches, two-toed clawed feet and all, on these losers.

To be fair, though, I’ve always had a pretty dim view of politics and politicians. After all, when I was a teenager, I watched President Richard Nixon resign. No, seriously; a United States President resigned from office, the only one ever to do so. (Not quite a year after the Vice President resigned!)

All because of a little thing known as Watergate.

If you weren’t around for the utter calamity that was Watergate, do a little research on it and see just what a disgraceful chapter in American history that is. Whatever trust Americans may have had in their elected officials was all but obliterated during the Nixon administration. Hardly anyone remembers the great strides he made in relations with China and what was then the Soviet Union. Watergate is his ultimate legacy.

I don’t believe we’ve ever recovered, to be truthful.

I distinctly remember one official who, during the Watergate hearings, was asked what advice he had for young people who wanted to get into politics, and his answer, essentially, was, “Stay away”.

Funny how I still remember that.

I wish this year’s Presidential candidates had listened to him.

I am convinced that politicians these days care about only two things:

  1. Getting elected.
  2. Getting re-elected.

And everything they say and do is geared toward one of those two things. People don’t matter; only their votes.

Besides that, there is no longer even an illusion of compromise in Washington. Everyone just wants to tell you how utterly wrong the other guys are. And civil discourse is a steadily vanishing memory in politics, just as in society in general. (another discussion for another time, I promise)

I mean, did you ever think you would ever hear a Presidential candidate reassure us about the adequacy of his penis? (At least Clinton didn’t brag about it; cheap shot, I know.)

Do I sound bitter and cynical? Well, I am. I’d really rather not be. I want to believe that the people we vote into office sincerely want to work together to solve the problems we face and lead us to a brighter future.

I’m just not seeing much evidence of that lately.

But, then, on the other hand, I think…

How much of this is my fault?

How seriously have I taken (or not taken) my responsibilities as an informed, educated American voter? How accountable have I held any of my elected officials for doing what was right and not just politically expedient? Do I just leave it all up to them and then whine about the results?

And do I deserve the candidates I have from which to choose?

I hate those questions. But I have to ask them.

I sincerely hope you don’t.

But maybe a lot of us need to get our heads out of the sand.

Look Around

I pick this lady up at the airport to drive to her hotel.

She settles into the backseat, and starts working; answering emails, looking at data, catching up on phone calls, whatever. Point is, she’s not paying one iota of attention to where I’m going.

Which is fine. Many business clients don’t; they just trust me to get them to their destinations safely and on time, and I do.

As I exit off the freeway, however, she happens to look up from what she’s been doing back there, looks around and sees where we actually are.

At which point, she says, and I quote:

“Where the fuck are we?”

If you ever plan to become a chauffeur, here’s a tip from a professional, free of charge: You never want to hear your passenger say that.

Somewhat startled by the question, I nervously reply, “Um, I’m getting off at the exit to your hotel, ma’am. Is that not where you need to go?”

Turns out, naturally, it isn’t. Her admin (formerly known as secretary; what ever happened to that word?) had given our company incorrect information regarding her destination. Instead of going east of the airport to this hotel, I was supposed to go west to a different hotel where her car was, so she could drive it to this hotel for an important meeting. Which, of course, she was now going to miss.

Poor admin.

 

Now for the analogy you all knew was coming.

When was the last time you stopped what you were doing in the frenzied activity of a typical day to look around and see where the f you are?

We all get busy; that’s the truth. Take care of your responsibilities on the job, go to all those totally time-wasting meetings, correspond by phone or email with a million people a day. Put in some overtime, not because you love your job so much, but just so you don’t get so far behind! Commiserate with co-workers over how this job absolutely sucks. Then go back the next day and repeat the entire process.

Maybe you’re involved with your community, or your church, or some charity that demands some of your time and effort. Or you participate in some sports league. Maybe you’re on a bowling team. (Is anybody on one of those anymore?)

If you’re a parent, which I’m not, it really gets nuts. Your day, no doubt, is crammed with Things To Do: Make sure the kids are fed, dressed, at school on time with all homework completed, clean and in bed on time on school nights. Get them to soccer/football/band/martial arts/diesel mechanic practice and back home again.

And I know I’m leaving a lot of stuff out.

Wow. I got worn out just listing all that.

Parents, I salute you. I honestly don’t know how you do it. Especially if you’re single; you deserve a medal.

Friends, can you see how easy it is to just get sucked down into that merciless vortex of busy, and never come to the surface for air? Despite all best intentions, it can still happen to anyone. And it’s up to you to conciously make the time to just hit that pause button, and simply be in the moment. Life goes by at an alarming rate of speed, increasing exponentially the older you get. Things come into your life, then quickly disappear.

Appreciate what surrounds you right now. Pay some attention to the people, places, things in your life right now. They could all vanish before you even realize what happened.

I know this all sounds like so much Zen/Hallmark philosophy, but it’s actually true.

Look up from what you’re doing once in a while, and see where you are.

Not doing it soon enough cost that lady her attendance at a meeting. What will it cost you?

 

 

Start ‘er Up

Yeah, I know. I can hear y’all out there.

Just what the world needs, another freakin’ blogger. Can’t spit in any direction without hittin’ one now.

Believe me, I get it.

According to scientific research, there are approximately 936 billion bloggers out there. So what makes me think anybody’s gonna read mine?  That’s something that was definitely on my mind long before I decided to type a single word.

What have I got to offer that nobody else out there does? Do I actually have anything of value to add to the conversation? Will anybody be interested in what I say? Do I ask too many stupid questions? Who’s got the cheapest gasoline near my house today?

Okay, I veered off course there. Sorry.

Then, the light bulb clicked on. What I have to offer is me. There are no other me’s out there. (At least, I sure hope not, for everyone’s sake.) That’s the beauty; every one of us 936 billion and one bloggers looks at life through a unique prism that no one else owns, so there’s room for everybody’s voice in this immense choir of humanity.

So I’ll tell you about how life looks through my prism, and you’re very much welcome to read along, and you can decide for yourself about the value/interest of my little essays. If you enjoy them, maybe you’ll send me some positive feedback. If you don’t, well…

…I can always drive.

 

Three years ago, I was a contented blue-collar manufacturing worker, for a company where I had spent the past 26 years. Things were going just fine; I enjoyed the work, the pay and the camaraderie with my co-workers.

Then, due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, many of my own making, I made a somewhat…ungraceful exit from that career, and suddenly found myself searching for a new one.

(Word of advice: If you’re fifty-something and still have a job, you better not lose it. Finding another one ain’t easy.)

So my older brother suggested I go apply for a chauffeur position for a limo service where he worked a few years. I thought, Well, I’ve always liked driving, why not do it for money? Long story short, I got hired, and I have found it to be enjoyable work.

For the most part. You know no job’s perfect. The hours get a bit crazy sometimes; you can be picking someone up at 4:30 A.M. or dropping someone off sometime past midnight. (Hopefully, not in the same day, but I won’t say it never happens) You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to flights you’re waiting on arriving on time. And sometimes, the client you’re waiting for doesn’t show up, for whatever reason, so you just spent all this time waiting on nobody. Oh, and sometimes you get stuck in some enormous traffic jam on the freeway, or you have to change your route due to some unforeseen detour, or any number of fun adventures to liven up your day.

Still, I like driving around all day, not being stuck in one place somewhere. Even with bad traffic, I still enjoy being out on the road. Not in a bus or a truck, though; too big for my comfort.

And I’ve liked the people I met and drove to different destinations. Nearly all of them were nice to me, some were very interesting, and some made me laugh, intentionally or otherwise. Some sat quietly, catching up on email or tending to other business, or just catching a quick nap. Some wanted to carry on a conversation with me, about all sorts of topics.

And sometimes, I’d get the guy who’d obviously had a really long day, and when he’d get in the car, the conversation would go something like this:

Sir, would you like a bottle of water to have on the way to your hotel?

(wearily) No, thank you.

Is there something you’d like to hear on the radio on the way?

(still wearily) Just drive, will you?

Yes, sir, we’ll get going right away.

So that’s just one story. I’ll tell you some other stories about people I’ve met and driven, in addition to all the other things I may feel like sharing at some point or other. I may by turns inspire you, depress you, anger you, amuse you, or provoke some other reaction entirely. I just really hope I don’t bore you. That would be unforgivable.

So, let’s get going. Right away.

You want a bottle of water?