Sunday, May 28, 2006

Teachers Rock

My circle of current friends I’ve known 25 years or more numbers only five. Two of them are teachers, which I consider a high percentage and a significant number. Family members of boomer age who are teachers include a cousin and my sister. My first wife was a teacher.

I believe that one of the biggest dreams of a teacher is to make a difference in a child’s life. Yet how often does that happen? How often do we remember our teachers? Did any teacher make a difference in our lives?

I have more to say about that later, but in this post I want to share part of an email from a teacher friend. She has been teaching for almost 30 years and often wonders whether or not it is worth the effort of having to deal with the day-to-day bullshit of faculty politics, out-of-touch school board policy and parents who just don’t get it.

Then she has an experience like this:

I survived another school year that ended with an unexpected surprise. A call from the office said I had visitors … one of my 8th grade girls and her mom with a very personalized gift basket. The contents were specific to things Olivia remembered during her 3 yrs with me: chocolate (all my jokes about losing my memories when I'm "old" and visiting me in "the home" with chocolate even though I won't remember them or that I like chocolate) with the sincere promise to visit me monthly in "the home" ; a Hot Wheels miniature of a Mustang with the wish that it could be a life-size one for my "love of speed and Mustangs"; a misting fan for all my hot flashes when the AC is insufficient; Motrin to help me through the headaches for the next two years with my sixth graders; a pack of Sharpies in multi-colors so I can help "the next group pass with flying colors".

As I walked Olivia and her mom to the office with gratitude all the way for her raising such a wonderful child, mom told me there was also a gift certificate in the basket. When I returned to the room, I was blasted away to find a $100 certificate to the Mall. Mom told me that the only reason Olivia has remained at this school is because of ME! I teased her and said, "Please put that in writing!"

But the best was waiting for me when I got home Friday evening: A card with a letter tucked inside from Olivia. She told me how I helped change her life, how I was her favorite teacher, how much they always enjoyed my stories and appreciated how I shared my life and stories of my sons with them. But then she wrote me that I had been one of the biggest impacts on her life; how much she had learned from me, how she found herself in my class, and how I did what all teachers dream of: I made a difference in her life. I taught her more than academics, but about character too. I was one of the few people who actually wanted their opinions and made them unafraid to express them; that I respected and cared for them, and that I really don't know how much I have done for her.

She's right: I didn't know what an effect I'd had on her. I just knew that she is a fine young lady who will do whatever she dreams of because she has always had the fortitude to persevere while remaining calm and caring and a good influence on me. I could always count on her to help me through a bad day!

Needless to say, I will remember this to my grave.

How may of us can say we have made that kind of impression on someone as part of doing our job? Teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals in the country; yet what teachers do, or can do, ranks at the top when it comes to the importance of their profession and the impact they have on our lives.

Shouldn’t our teachers be paid like doctors? Maybe boomers can add this to our legacy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Air Show at Andrews

The Jet Age, the Space Age and the Boomer Age are almost one and the same. Jet bombers and jet airliners came of age in the 50s and 60s, space flight in the 60s and 70s and all forms of flight have been refined through the 80s, 90s and now in ways that defy imagination.

I have always loved flying devices. As a kid, I flew kites. My love of reading took off with books about Sikorsky helicopters and an autobiographical account of Charles Lindberg’s solo flight across the Atlantic. Dad took us to a public tour of an aircraft carrier once. I was glued to the TV during Gemini and Apollo launches in the 1960s, and watched Armstrong walk on the moon live.

As an adult I have narrated skydiver shows, filled in for an airborne traffic reporter and was a passenger in a hot air balloon race. I interviewed a Shuttle astronaut on the radio in the 90s. I have visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum eight or ten times and the first IMAX film I saw was “To Fly.”

In December, 2003 I went to the First Flight Centennial Celebration in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and felt like a kid in a candy store as I climbed on and photographed planes from every era of powered flight.

Today, after hearing about this annual event for more than a decade, I finally went to the Joint Service Open House at Andrews Air Force base near Washington DC.


Big planes, little planes, old planes, new planes.

A former Air Force One, a medical helicopter from the Viet Nam era, a DC-3, giant cargo planes, Homeland Security planes, a stealth bomber. I climbed aboard some, photographed others.

During my four-hour visit, there were non-stop aerial displays featuring everything from bi-planes to F16s to the Golden Knights parachute unit to rescue helicopters.

Many people in my half of the boomer age range have a love-hate attitude about the military. I protested the Viet Nam War but also served in the Army near the end of the conflict, stationed safely in Texas. At the time my feeling was mostly hatred toward anything military.

During the decades since, my attitude has change to one of understanding and respect. The men and women who serve in the armed forces believe in their missions and I appreciate that they put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. I disagree with the Iraq war but I fully support the individual servicemen and women who are fighting there.

This event is a powerful example of how proud military people are of their mission and their tools. All service branches were represented there, but I mostly went for the planes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thinking About Mom Again

This is probably the most personal thing I’ll ever post here and I understand if you choose not to read it.

Death is part of life. Facing the death of a loved one, or even our own death, is not unique to boomers, but we are at an age where this piece of reality stares back more often. Death is a bigger part of our lives than when we were younger. Obviously.

I had the best mother a son could ever want, and I don’t think I realized it till the last few years of her life. I left my hometown more than 25 years ago and my entire contact with Mom over that period was phone calls on holidays, 5 or 6 letters a year, a similar number of visits home, and messages back and forth via my sister.

Mom was a bit judgmental and didn’t approve of or understand many of my life choices. Yet she tried hard to accept things just because I was her son.

I’ve lived in five cities since leaving New Orleans and she marveled over each of my relocations. She found a way to visit me in three of those places and regularly asked about life in each.

My serial marrying was a disappointment to her (my quote for nine years has been: “third time’s a charm” or “three strikes, you’re out”). I don’t know how to spell that Cajun French half-grunt, half-snort word she uttered upon hearing of each breakup. Yet each time I would marry again, she wanted to meet my wife. She would ask about her and expected updates.

Mom lived her last five years in a nursing home. We had little choice. She hated every minute but grew to understand the lack of options. She made it clear how grateful she was for visits from family and friends. Her brain power was decent till the last year, and my best last memory of her was the 94th birthday party we gave her. My worst last memory was 8 months later when she didn’t know who I was.

The thought of what she went through during her last 4 days makes me ill. The nursing home did not evacuate till after Hurricane Katrina had passed. The idiots who staffed that place realized the electricity wasn’t coming back on and four inches of water IN the place wasn’t such a good thing. First they moved across the street to a hospital, then across the state to another nursing home. She survived the storm and the evacuation but died the next day. Her death could have happened that day with or without Katrina, but that doesn’t give me any comfort.

Six week later we were finally able to give her the kind of funeral she would have wanted, in a church with family and friends. One of our favorite pictures of her was placed on the casket and the three of her paintings that survived the storm were displayed in the lobby.

I talk for a living, yet delivering that eulogy was the most difficult 3-minute speech I’ve ever delivered. Here is what I said:

When we met with Father Ralph a few days ago, he pointed us in a wonderful direction for today. He said this should be a celebration of Mom’s life.

Ann Marie and I are so lucky to have had her as our mother, and there are so many things we could say about her. But in my mind, four things stand out above the rest:

1) She had a great sense of humor. She loved a good laugh. One of Ann Marie’s last memories of her was a few days before Katrina. Mom was sitting there at the nursing home laughing. Ann Marie doesn’t really know what she was laughing at, but she was having a good ole laugh.

2) Mom loved to travel. And with the evacuation to north Louisiana and her return here in this casket, she traveled more during her last three days of life and the weeks since her death than she had traveled in decades. She is probably having a good laugh about that right now.

3) Mom paid me and Ann Marie the greatest compliment a mother could pay a child … many times. She married late in life, especially for her generation, at age 39. She told us many times, including at her 94th birthday party, that her life really didn’t begin till she was in her 40s, when she had us.

4) One of the most important things in life is family. Up until the last year or so, she kept up with what was going on in your lives … the cousins, your kids, your grandkids. The Mary Kay sisters, the red car ... she even got to ride in the red Mary Kay car and she was aware of things that day.

And it means a lot to Ann Marie and I that you are here sharing this day with us.

Mom, we love you.

You made it to the end of this post. Thanks for letting me share this with you. The next post will probably be about cars or television again. See you next time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I’m relatively new to blogging and definitely a meme virgin. I found this term on a blog I just started reading.

Before I get to this meme, I’ll admit I didn’t know how this works. So I did some research and found the following on a site called The Daily Meme.

People often ask, "What is a Meme?" so here's a more than a little information on that. I pronounce it so it's rhymes with dream; some pronounce it so it sounds like mem (from mem-ory).
In the context of web logs / 'blogs / blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it's some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on.
Eventually some people decided they were going to creating weekly questionnaires (memes) and post them every week. Some are monthly, a few are daily and some are always there. Some suggest that you get five other people to do the same meme and they have to get five people (and so on), which sometimes increases their propagation. This probably stunts their mutated growth, having a permanent storage place where people go to find them but many people copy them from the site where they see it and they'll still change a bit.

After reading this, I still don’t really know how it works, but the blog author explained his particular meme … Pick a letter and write ten words that begin with that letter along with an explanation of what that word means to you.

His used the letter P. In response to a Comment I posted on his blog he “assigned” me the letter M. Here is what I came up with.

1. Music
Music is a major part of my entire life … from my 4th grade choir to high school band, from records to cassettes to CDs to a hard drive, from Motown to Mozart to Springsteen to Garth Brooks, from making tapes for a cousin’s wedding reception to playing songs on the radio.

2. Mustang
My favorite car. Especially the first 4 years and the brand new version. I owned one once and hope to own one again one day.

3. Momentum
A philosophy. Pick a goal, make a plan, take the first step, then another and another and another. Build momentum. Reach the goal. Start again.

4. Milwaukee
A very interesting city I lived in for four years. The city of my first drive in the snow, a great summer romance, significant career advancement and my first apartment in a high-rise building.

5. Maryland
My adopted home state, where I have lived, voted, married, divorced, married again, owned three homes and eaten great quantities of steamed crabs. I live less than 60 minutes from a bay, rivers, mountains, valleys, forests and the Nation’s Capital; less than 4 hours from the Atlantic Ocean, Philadelphia and New York City.

6. Maps
I have a hundred or more, new ones, old ones. Maps from AAA, maps from National Geographic. History maps. Mapquest maps.

7. Moonwalk
Not the Michael Jackson dance. Not the sidewalk along the river levee in New Orleans (although that holds some meaning for me also). The Moon walk taken by Neil Armstrong one summer night in 1969. I’ve been a space travel geek since the first Americans launched, and I watched Armstrong on TV as he took that first step and “one giant leap for mankind.”

8. Minolta
The brand of my first 35mm camera. My photography passion began with this camera. I carried it with me everywhere and shot thousands of photos. Eventually traded up to Canon, then Nikon. I still shoot film, but all my Nikon lenses will fit the digital camera I’ll buy some day.

9. Marilyn
My wife. She is one of a kind. Defies description on so many levels.

10. Mom
This past Mother’s Day was my first without her. She was caring, loving, curious, dedicated. Defied the odds of her generation by starting her family in her 40s and living into her 90s. A great story-teller with a great sense of humor. She’s telling her Katrina evacuation story right now, and angels are falling over laughing.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mustang Charger Camaro

OK, I'm writing about cars again! Here goes:

You can add DaimlerChrysler to the list of automakers marketing to baby boomer nostalgia. Their Dodge brand has re-introduced the Charger nameplate and, like the Mustang, they have designed a car with styling cues that relate to the original muscle car of that name.

Let me point out that this Dodge Charger is a FOUR-DOOR car. Puh-leeez!!

My guess is that they feel today’s boomer buyer is looking for a sport sedan with the feel of the muscle car era. Maybe they think this will compete with a BMW, Acura or their own Mercedes.

My preference is and always was the Mustang (see earlier post). And that was the heart of the muscle car debate back to the late 60s: Mustang vs. Charger vs. Camaro.

One of my favorite movies from the era illustrates the point.

“Bullitt” features an action-packed chase scene between a Mustang Fastback, driven by San Francisco Police Lt. Frank Bullitt (played by Steve McQueen) and a Charger driven by the bad guys.

The chase ends as the Charger careens out of control into a gas station and explodes

A gas station flashback: in 1969, gasoline sold for around 35 cents a gallon. There was no self-serve; TWO guys in uniforms came to your car, one pumped the gas while the other washed the windows. You paid one of them right there, without getting out of your car. Unleaded? What’s that?

Mustangs led the way for muscle car production too. The first models were billed as 1964 ½. Chargers began production in 1966. Chevrolet (always last in my opinion) introduced the Camaro in September, 1966 as a 1967 model. At launch date, General Motors still hadn’t decided on a name … front-runners included Panther, Chaparral, Nova (later used on another Chevrolet) and Wildcat (later used by Buick). At the last possible minute, they chose Camaro.

And yes, they plan to re-introduce the brand. Here is a shot of the concept car version:

Mustang still wins!!

Sunday, May 07, 2006


One nice aspect of aging is the confidence that often comes with it.

Several years ago I began to notice that I am more comfortable in my own skin than I was in my 30s or early 40s. This became more apparent to me at a recent company conference during which I had great conversations with attendees ranging from beginners in the business to a couple of our corporate Vice Presidents. Some people develop this kind of confidence early in their lives; I didn’t. But I’ve got it now.

This brand of confidence comes without arrogance. I know what I’m doing and it shows, yet I don’t believe I know all there is to know and I’m not afraid to learn new things or new ways to do what I already know how to do. I credit the aging process for this new-found confidence.

I also realized I am less susceptible to peer pressure. Earlier in my career, for example, I tended to follow the crowd. If the “cool” people at a convention stayed up late drinking, I stayed up late drinking. Now, I have one drink, or no drink, and turn in when I’m tired. These conferences provide great networking opportunities and the usual style seems to be a “work the room” technique, in which you meet as many people as possible and hand out a lot of business cards. That doesn’t work for me. My strength is to have extended one-on-one conversations with just a few people. I now have the confidence to chart my own path in these situations.

This personal discovery may seem silly to someone who has always been self-assured, but I suspect I’m not the only boomer who learned self-assurance at this point in life.

Some may call this aging gracefully. I am not very graceful, so I will name this aging confidently.