Wednesday, March 29, 2006

New Orlando, Mars

I’m going to Florida for a few days next month. I get on the plane and in less time than it took me to get to the airport during morning rush, I’m hanging out with Mickey and Minnie. Except for the post-9/11 security measures, not much has changed in airborne travel during the latter half of our boomer lives.

But wasn’t travel to Mars supposed to be routine by now? Or at the very least, we expected to have established a couple of bases on the red planet by 2006. During the era of the Apollo missions of 1969-1972, everything seemed possible, and we just assumed Mars was next. It’s been more than 30 years since we last landed on the lunar surface, and no human has yet to take a giant leap or even a small step on Martian soil.

Last year, President Bush spelled out a plan to go to Mars, but the speech outlining his vision didn’t have the same sense of urgency that President Kennedy’s challenge did regarding the moon. Kennedy was willing to spend the bucks, and the psychological competition between the United States and the then Soviet Union fueled the fire.

JFK painted quite a picture during his now-famous speech on the campus of Rice University on September 12, 1962:
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

Fourteen months later he was assassinated. But just six months short of the end of that decade, an American left footprints on the moon.

President Bush’s Martian intentions are good, and I certainly see the value of space exploration, the subsequent science and eventual practical application of that science. But 39 years and 1 day after Kennedy announced his important decision, Bush was faced with ominous events resulting from airplane flights into buildings at the hands of terrorists, and from that point forward dedicated his presidency to the eradication of terrorism. That battle and the Iraq War, just or not, will be the financial focus of the remainder of his presidency and many to come.

I don’t think we’ll see Disney Mars in the boomer era.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another one!

"Sweet Home Alabama" in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial. Aaaaahhhhhh!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More songs in a commercial

It is painful when they try to sell me something with the soundtrack of my youth. Within one 1-hour span last Sunday night, I heard “Daydream Believer” in an Ebay commercial, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” hyping the Lincoln Zephyr and “Time of The Season” selling Fidelity Investments. In an earlier post I mentioned Led Zeppelin for Cadillac and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida for Fidelity.

There are many more, but I don’t remember them at this moment, nor do I remember the products. That, of course, is the big sin in advertising. An ad agency goes through all the trouble of making the commercial and the targeted consumer doesn’t remember the product.

But some boomer like me remembers that the song was in a commercial.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ronnie, Johnny and Jerry

I was channel surfing yesterday, when this part of a song lyric popped into my head:

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

The poetic flashback was inspired by the channel I stopped on for a moment.

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

It was the QVC channel. And what was the inspirational product that gave me pause?

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

The John Lennon Jewelry Collection. The John Freakin’ Lennon JEWELRY collection!!!!! How does the estate of the late groovy millionaire who asked us to imagine no possessions allow this TV mall to entice us to possess items in the one category of belongings a possessionless person would probably never own?

From the mindset that brings us Jerry Garcia ties? Neckwear from the late millionaire singer who never owned a tie.

From the same mindset that named an airport in the Nation’s Capital for the President who fired the air traffic controllers?

All Baby Boomers, no doubt. What has happened to us?

By the way, although John Lennon was an instrument of change during the 60s, he was born 6 years before the boom began. Jerry Garcia was performing in the middle of it all, but was born 4 years before the boom. Ron Reagan was born 7 years, 51 days after the first successful powered, manned flight. But Ron, Junior is a boomer, born in 1958; dropped out of Yale, became a ballet dancer, political commentator and frequent host of dog shows on Animal Planet.

You may say Im a dreamer,

but Im not the only one,

I hope some day you'll join us,

And the world will live as one

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Baahh-baahh-BAAHHdah-dah-dump Dump Dump Dump DahBaahh

The first time I heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was on Mardi Gras day in 1970. A guy visiting from California brought the record to our fraternity rental in the French Quarter. We thought it was cool. In 1970 we thought anything from out of town was cool. The song had been out more than a year, but most of us hadn’t heard it. Information was not as ubiquitous then as it is now; its flow was not as fast. We had one only rock station in New Orleans. Television ignored things like Woodstock until there was trouble. The internet didn’t exist.

The last time I heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was yesterday, on TV, in a commercial. I think it is for Fidelity Investments. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing the soundtrack of my youth in commercials. I have nothing against commercials; I make them for a living. But I HATE hearing Led Zeppelin in Cadillac commercials.

I love the internet. As I began to write this post, it occurred to me I didn’t know how to spell In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Google corrected my misspelling and found 425,000 links to information relating to the song, all in less than two seconds. The only thing more Star Trekian would be retrieving the information by voice command instead of keyboard. “Computer, spell In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

One of the 425,000 links provided several pieces of information I did not know: 1) the album sold 8 million copies in its first year, outgrowing the “Gold Album” standard of one million and thus receiving the first-ever “Platinum Album” designation; 2) it stayed on the charts for nearly three years, with 81 weeks of that in the Top Ten; and 3) to date, it has sold more than 30 million copies. Oh, and the group has a website …

Iron Butterfly is still around, by the way. Ron Bushy, the drummer that did that incredible solo, seems to be the only original member. According to one web site he was born in Washington DC on December 23, 1945, making him 7 days older than boomer #1. Other current members have played with other bands from the era. They still tour. Boomers who won’t retire … right on!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Back In The Day, My A**

Baby Boomers seem to think about the past a lot. We long for the good old days. I don’t. But I hear it a lot, especially from boomers at or near the leading edge of the bulge. If we are the generation that changed the world for the better, why would we want to go back to when it was worse?

I hear the phrase “back in the day” often, mostly from 36-year-olds dealing with being closer to 40 than 30. Sometimes 20-somethings say it. But why? C’mon! A 20-year-old doesn’t have a past! Back in their day, they were ten! At least a 36-year-old can long for high school, puberty, their first sexual encounter with someone other than themselves, zits, Top Gun and a time when multi-tasking meant eating a burger while watching The Cosby Show.

Boomers who say “back in the day” sound like they’re trying to sound like Gen-Xers. More often, boomers say “I remember when.” They/we are usually referring to an era when things seemed better. I remember when gas cost 36 cents a gallon. I remember when Jimi Hendrix was alive. I remember hot pants.

I say “seemed” better because I’m not sure 1968 – 1972, for example, is a span of years I’d return to if time travel was possible. Because I remember when my high school class of ’68 was all white because the one black freshman four years earlier got tired of the harassment and quit. I remember the Viet Nam “conflict.” I remember King and Kennedy getting killed. I remember that Dad’s car got 12 miles per gallon. I remember when it was a big deal to have a “gal” in charge of something. I remember when Tricky Dick was president. I remember being paid a 4-figure annual salary for my first full time job.

Don’t get me wrong. Good things came out of that era too. The beginning of equal rights for women and minorities, the end of Viet Nam, greater accountability for public officials, increased caring for planet Earth. Led Zeppelin.

My feeling is that the past is a learning lab, an example of how to do or not do something, a security blanket, a smile or a tear. I drive the streets of my home town and picture what it was like living there, but I always come home to where I live now. My second-favorite radio station plays 60s and 70s pop and rock songs and feels safe, but my favorite station plays simple, contemporary, story-telling country songs and feels safer. I prefer email to letters, XP to Smith-Corona, Rosemont Estates to Boones Farm. A restored ’66 Mustang costs the same as a brand new ’06 – I’ll take the ’06 because it corners better, is more fuel-efficient, and has seat belts. The only thing I really prefer from the past is a slower pace of life; multi-tasking is somewhat overrated. But I think I can learn to make both work in the present by studying the past.

If you hear me say “back in the day,” please acknowledge my sense of irony in that choice of words. If you hear me say “I remember when,” please slap me.

The past is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mom's Birthday

Mom’s birthday is a couple of weeks away. That day will also be the 7 month anniversary of her death day.

Although I only saw her a couple of times a year during her last few years, I miss her. She started to miss me before she died. The last time I visited her in New Orleans, she didn’t remember me. She sort of figured it out on the last day of my stay, but by then the damage was done. The reality had set in. Her mental health was failing, as was her physical health. This situation was inevitable, yet it was still a surprise to me.

The previous visit included a 94th birthday party for her at the nursing home. She was alert then, knew what was going on, who was there, why they were all visiting her on the same day. Her brain moved slowly by then, but it still functioned. I needed no introduction.

That week she told me many stories about her life I had heard numerous times, but she also told tales that were new to me. Like how she got the job where she met my dad. The incredible, it-almost-didn’t-happen story. That amazing example of fate – she bumped into a friend while walking down Canal Street, the friend said she had just been turned down for a job but “hey, you’d be perfect for it.”

Mom never thought she’d live into her 90s. People of her generation had a life expectancy of 60-something. I’m certain I’ll see 90. I actually want to see my 100th birthday. But can I tell you I’m a little scared about that?


Because I am afraid of failing health, failing mental capacity, diminished mobility. None of this has happened yet in my f-f-fifties, but the fear is real. OK, I’m not the only person with this phobia, but that doesn’t make the fear any less real.

Do you ever think that far ahead, to your 80s or 90s, and try to picture it? In the mid 21st century, we’ll laugh at our primitive I-pods. “Did you really have a telephone, Bernie? And you had to push buttons with numbers on them to talk to someone?” “Welcome to the Smithsonian. Over here is our currency collection, featuring the very last Reagan five-dollar bill.”

Mom saw some amazing things in her life. When she was born early in the 20th century, there weren’t many cars, phones or indoor bathrooms where she lived. Arizona and New Mexico weren’t states yet. Forget TV, there wasn’t even radio! Airplanes … a novel idea first successfully used a half dozen years earlier. Motion pictures, men walking on the moon, computers … all science fiction. Two World Wars? What sick individual imagined that?

I wonder if she feared getting old. I know she feared dying. She feared being alone in the nursing home. She got worked up over things that might happen even though they weren’t likely to happen. (Hmm, so that’s where I get that). I have similar fears. And for years I feared losing her and Dad. Death is part of life, but I’m afraid that idea doesn’t always sink in.

My fear of being alone as I grow older is real, but as I close in on what would have been Mom’s 96th birthday, I realize that she is in my heart and my thoughts. So I guess I didn’t really lose her after all.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Re-connecting With People

Since turning 50, I have been on a mini-mission: finding old friends and family members. I'm not sure why, other than I want to see how they turned out after all these years of no contact. I left my home state Louisiana 29 years ago and didn't do a very good job of keeping in touch. Guess I thought I could always do that. Maybe I thought I'd move back there some day.

So how did they all turn out?

One old friend from high school is a teacher with two sons in college. A high school and college friend is about to retire from the Post Office. A post-college friend is also a teacher whose whose son lives in France. The cousin who lives closest to me (in Virginia) is semi-retired and has two grandkids. He was the first re-connect in this series. I saw his sister for the first time in more than 30 years back in September. She and her husband live a wonderful life in California and Washington state.

Back in October I spent a week with another cousin near New Orleans who I had only seen once in 30-something years and we've become friends. I tracked down former co-workers and bosses spanning my 30-year career. Most of them are still in the radio business and one is doing some kind of computer thing. I have no contact with my first wife.

I am also running a parallel search for purpose and meaning in my life. Maybe this reconnection business is connected to my reconnecting. Connecting the dots to see if the disjointedness of my life actually has any pattern.

Is this a boomer thing? Or just my thing?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Watch What You Eat

I do watch what I eat. My eyes followed a Krispy Kreme donut from the plate where it began its journey all the way to the point where it faded from view under my nose as it reached its destination, my mouth. I watched a pizza travel from the Boboli bag to the middle shelf of the oven. Earlier today my eyes took in a less interesting scene … a lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad with a whole-wheat bagel chaser.

Four or five years ago, my then new doctor suggested I lose some weight and exercise more. Didn’t he know I was a skinny kid? And I was a skinny adult till about ten years ago. As a self-respecting boomer, I chose not to call this middle age spread, as my parents had done during their weightier days. For one thing, I’m not in middle age – that’s sixty-something, isn’t it? For another, I did not believe I had gained weight. I was always skinny. Forget that I permanently abandoned my previous waist size for the second time. I was in denial. I had recently purchased a pair of pants in the next size up.

OK, so he was right. So I watched fewer bowls of ice cream find their way to my table. Fewer meals at McDonalds. Less pasta. More exercise … 15 minutes on the treadmill instead of 10. The next doctor visit was the one with the high blood pressure scare. It scared me enough that I finally followed some of his specific advice. A lot less pasta, a lot less ice cream, cereal instead of eggs for most breakfasts, more salads. Thirty minutes on the treadmill, minimum.

My blood pressure has been back to normal for every visit since, so that scary one might have been a false alarm. Who cares? It worked. I’ve lost 20 pounds since then, gained some of it back last fall between Katrina and Christmas, but have lost some more since then.

Tonight I watched a pizza, but this morning my view was of Wheaties and yogurt. Lunch today was the afore-mentioned salad. The Boomer Diet. I Plan to live well into old age, which by then should be called middle age. I will continue to watch what I eat.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

F-f-fifty Something

The oldest baby boomers turn 60 this year. I’m only a few years behind them, yet I have only just begun to admit that to anyone other than blood relatives and my wife. I am trying to get comfortable with saying f-f-fifty f-f … (this is the only time I stutter).

Like many boomers my age, I don’t look, act or feel like I’m (the number would go here if I were to say it). The few co-workers who know the number can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.

I recently recorded the first Boomer Talk segment of a radio show I host in Washington DC. Boomer Talk is a 15-minute panel discussion by boomers about boomers. We range in age from 43 to 59. I promised my three cohorts before the show that if they said their ages, I’d say mine. Midway through the program I asked if they were sensitive about their age, and asked each one if they would state their age. The almost-60 guy answered first. Each of them said they are not especially sensitive about their age and said the number. Out loud! I lived up to my promise when asked and said I am (the number I get when I subtract the year of my birth from the current year).

OK, yes, I’m sensitive about my age. I said the number on the radio but I won’t say it here – at least not yet.

What does it mean to be a baby boomer?

The technical answer, according to demographers, is that to be a boomer means you were born between 1946 and 1964. That’s it. No application form, no dues, no initiation ceremony. Just a 4-digit number on your birth certificate.

But dig deeper and you realize it means a whole lot more. We rule the world. There are about 85 million of us in the United States alone. We’re the big bulge on the demographic charts, the folks with the money and the power (Clinton and Bush were both born in 1946), the generation that changed the world. We fought racism, sexism and now ageism. We married later and more often. We’re living longer and healthier lives than our parents did. We were and are idealistic dreamers who lived out our dreams.

Boomers with kids sometimes look at their offspring with that same “I don’t get it” look our parents gave us in the 60s. I don’t get rap; my parents didn’t get Zeppelin. Many boomer parents tossed discipline out the window when raising their kids, maybe as a reaction to the rigidness of their own parents.

I’m in that apparently small percentage of boomers who never had kids. Three wives but no kids. No medical problem here. Don’t need Viagra. It just never worked out. The first two marriages didn’t last very long, and my current marriage started too late for both of us to start a family. Having kids after age 45 seems to be a growing trend, but not for my wife and I. We have dogs. That’s enough at this age.

Of course I will regret not having kids when I’m 80 or 90. My sister and I (mostly my sister) became like parents to our parents, taking care of them during their unhealthy years. Both parents lived much longer than the average life expectancy of people in their generation, in part because of generally healthy lifestyle habits and in part because of miraculous genetics. My mother and her 3 siblings all made it into their 90s, dad and his into their 80s. I think I’m only halfway down the field. I’m sure I will outlive my wife and my friends. In fact, I’m so worried about the unexpected parts of my future that I’m intentionally trying to cultivate younger friends.

So what is the point of this blog?

Hell if I know. As I grow older, I have a greater need to communicate than I did at a younger age. This mostly one-way style suits me fine. I welcome feedback and an exchange of ideas, but I’ll be happy if I’m the only reader of this material.

I have many opportunities for communication and expression in my job in broadcasting. My full time job basically involves producing commercials. The third title on my business card names what I do from the heart more than from the practical matter of making a living ... I produce and sometimes host the Sunday morning programs on several radio stations. In that role, I mostly ask the questions and keep the opinions to myself (with the possible exception of the Boomer Talk segment). This blog might turn into a place where I express my opinion, for no particular reason other than that I can. This represents my opinion and has absolutely nothing to do with the views of my employer.

That’s all for the first post. It’s actually a warm and sunny Saturday in March, so I will now shut off the computer and start up a noisy chain saw to trim some trees.