Archive for the ‘Stories I remember’ Category

Retiring from IBM 4: Accident & Emergency at Heathrow Airport

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I am a person of routine and habit. Such surprises some who know me well and most who do not. The devil of routine is travel which I both enjoy and, over the past five years, endure with frequency. I read that the airlines consider charging we passengers for carry-on luggage.

Prior to leaving London recently, I stocked my backpack in the airline lounge with two small cans of pineapple juice, an apple, and packs of crackers and cheese that I would wave away anywhere else. I bring my own pillow, eye shades and entertainment. If I am to be charged for my carry-on luggage, the irony will be that 75% of these items simply replace what the airlines use to offer. Such a charge for carry-on items will be the Tom Sawyer Fence Painting Con at 30,000 feet. “Well, Huck, ya kin hep paint this here fince, but it’ll kost ya $2.” ‘I’m gonna hav ta charge ya for the handbag that I’ma makin ya kerry-an-bord thisa here air-o-plane’.

International flights are long ones. I admit that its fun when heading easterly, usually back to the States, to rewind my watch instantly regaining four hours of my eclipsed life. Kind of like my personal episode of Lost or Groundhog Day. ‘Let’s do noon again. I’ll have that baby portion of faux cheese lasagna instead of the fake chicken pot pie.’

As we know, the body has its own routines guided by its own timing mechanism: a couple of mine are breakfast upon awakening, lunch about 5 hours later, dinner after dark, sleep at 10 pm in addition to other insundry, necessary and not-to-be-mentioned-in-public personal activities, unless one is French. One of my unspeakable routines occurs about 6:30 am daily. Adjusting for British Standard Time, this is about 10 minutes before American Airlines flight 173 departs London’s Heathrow Airport for its 8 hour journey to the USA.

Like a school student, I can usually wait until I get home. Last November, I could not even though I waited too long to calculate my urgency. Be alarmed not, dear reader. This will not be gross.

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As I meandered past the numerous Airline Lounge facilities, all of which seem to elevate the unexceptional to the extraordinary by simply deflating the expected and customary to a variant of a visit to the dentist, I spotted the Air Emirates Lounge on my way to my departure gate. I knew that I could not get into the AE lounge. I did conclude that their departure gates must have excellent personal facilities befitting a high rolling, oil sheik, Airbus flyer. I changed course and headed in that direction. I found the AE gates, but only their gates?! As time was not on my side, I asked the courteous lady at the AE boarding counter for directions to the men’s facilities. She recommended the way back where I came from, near the center of the concourse! Like Columbus, I was not to be deterred by a slight navigational miscalculation on my part and a lack of inspiration on hers. I thanked her and carried-on my initial route.

Spotting the international symbol for personal convenience above a broad door- and this polished portal was configured to handle wheelchairs- I cautiously turned the handle and was granted entrance. All my own. Spotless. Vast. This chamber was the size of the sum what all of the accommodations on my pending airplane flight would equal.

I’ll spare you the details, certainly. Everything proceeded according to plan and habit except for the conclusion. May I be quick to say that I am used to all manners of plumbing actuation, aka flushing: levers, knobs, switches, sensors, manual, semi-automatic, automatic and magic. I could not figure this dude out. Nothing looked like anything that I ever used before. And I needed to get back asap to my own departure gate. Confronted with a cord from the ceiling and a one inch square, illuminated button in the wall, I opted for the bright, shiny button and pushed it in.

This actuated the Call For Help light, at least on my side of the locked door. It was one of those moments when you are so frightened that everything moves slowly and you are aside yourself watching yourself behave. “I wonder what Chris is going to do now?!” Of course, I took some of the precious seconds available to me to wonder what will be the consequences of my greed, deceit, disrespectful and insulting behavior. I wondered if the Emirates had territorial authority in a handicapped bathroom? What language would my attorney need to speak? Would I suffer an incarceration similar to that dope-runner in Midnight Express?  Seriously though, I did envision a SWAT team in desert garb blowing the hinges off of the door to rescue what they had to perceive was the desperate soul pleading for assistance. As I stared at the amber, flashing light and enjoyed the melody of its whirring alarm, my only option was to try what works with computers and computer software. If one click makes it go on, maybe the same click will make it go off. I did. It did. Instant quiet and monochrome illumination.

I like to think that those assigned to rescue the truly needy in such situations don’t alert immediately the airport ambulance as false alarms are a common or not uncommon occurrence. Kind of like the aggravating car and home alarm systems.

Now that order was restored, at least on my side of the door, I squared my shoulders, channeled my best 007 look of aplomb- you know, while the bad guy’s vehicle burns, Bond slips into a taxi initially hailed by a beautiful woman and they head to the casino. Just as Mr. Evil’s car explodes into vicious flames, James quips, ‘that’s one way to be fired from your job’- and pushed open my door.

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To my relief, there were no Balaclava-clad men kneeling with weapons drawn- which I thought might be standard procedure for a false alarm; there was no gurney poised with an Accident and Emergency team; there was no one. I walked away as slowly as my desperate to run legs would allow me.

At the check-in process for my own flight, I was especially polite and thoughtful in answering the questions related to my journey and personal details. I was prepared for the Columbo retort,” thank you sir; have a good flight.” “Oh! By the way, where you the one in the handicapped restroom near the Air Emirates gates?” I would try to run and would be tackled by a dozen plain-clothes Bobbies and MI-6 types meandering nearby in disguise as fellow passengers.

I boarded alone and seemingly unobserved. I sat in my window seat. I ate and drank everything offered to me. I complimented the flight attendant on the quality and quantity of food. I paid for in-flight WiFi service so that I could email the Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines with a list of members of the flight crew that I felt should be immediately promoted. While online, I donated my frequent flyer account balance to charity. I purchased 4 bottles of Duty-Free scotch. I’ve learned to change my habits.

You Don’t Want It, Monsieur; It Wants You.

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

No longer permitted business-class air travel, even to Australia, India or a morning client meeting after an overnight flight to Europe. Since the 2008 financial crisis, employees have had to absorb ever more of our own business-related expenses. We pay for our own Internet access from home; our mobile phone allowances are capped. The company suspended the Thanks Award program where an employee could grant a nominally valued gift to a fellow employee. Instead, we can send e-cards.

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I had a premonition of what would be because I played tennis in 2002-2004 with a veteran employee. He began in the heyday of the mainframe when Miss Connecticut, the beauty pageant winner, was automatically offered the receptionist job at the branch office in Hartford. This afforded last year’s Pageant winner a promotion to Assistant Marketing Manager. Don Draper would understand. As my tennis pal plotted carefully his retirement, “seven years and counting” (at that time, I wondered who worked anywhere for 7 years), he offered me some poignant career advice: “I never argue with women managers; I never argue with accountants; and I never, ever argue with a female accountant.”

Early in 2008, I travelled to Belgium to meet with the executives of a Brussels-based bank who wanted to spread the aura of innovation from their personal offices down the halls and around the building to those eager to think for themselves. I visited in June for two workshops. My first meeting was in their executive building, 11th floor, manned by two women attired in the blue company uniforms complete with Hermes scarves. The walls hung recognizable art; it was the largest office space I’d ever seen for so few occupants. I learned that these guys were the bank of record for a European government agency. After the bust later that October, the government rescued the bank, sold the art work and co-located all of the employees, except for these executives as they were no longer employees.

June weather in Belgium can be warm; absent air-conditioning, it can be hot. After the bank briefings and before spending the next week in London, I toured Brussels. The food is delicious, the architecture is interesting and there are battlefield monuments nearby ranging from Waterloo to Bastogne.

On a Sunday, I meandered about the the Grand Place in search of simple souvenirs that I could afford. At the chocolate boutique, I asked if the milk chocolate pralines would travel well. “Of course, sir” was the reply. “If you will keep them in the packaging on the floor of your car, they should be fine when you arrive at your hotel.” I asked, “how about the flight back to America?” Heathen-alert! I received the retail store version of the Terminator’s stare whenever they conclude that you don’t have what it takes to either appreciate or afford their goods. “Non, Monsieur.” End of pitch, conversation, dialogue and meeting. Au Revoir, Monsieur Mars Bar.

I am compelled to return with souvenirs when I am away from home for more than a few days. I feel that this helps to include the family in the journey and procures a measure of good will for the next extended trip. Although I do notice that the days of my departures are met with upbeat, hearty well-wishes from my son and wife as they make a list of places where they plan to eat-out in my absence.

Amidst the stone buildings and sea of outdoor cafes in the Old Town, I spotted a jewelry shop on a rounded corner of sturdy fortress-like building. I’m willing to buy dishes, linen, coats and even shoes for my wife. Jewelry is out of my comfort zone as I’m not confident that I understand the relationship between price and quality. I fall prey to the shiny object syndrome and am unsure of neck length, ear lobe size, width of brow, subtle eye color when queried by the sales clerk. I usually say, “she likes blue and green. Gold is good, too.” Then I ask for directions to the shoe department.

The windows of this particular jewerly shop, aka boutique, were decorated, as these upscale sort all are with the the tasteful, overt message that EU Ministers, Foxcom Moguls and Kim Kardashian welcomed.

The door was ajar. I peeked in to see a handsome woman; a small, rotating fan; and a bottle of champagne. Immediately, she beckoned me with a sincere wave and an entreaty to enter. “Entrez Vous, Monsieur, Entrez Vous.” As I ventured across the threshold, she switched to English because she recognized immediately Mr. Hershey Kisses.

She apologized for the warm air in the shop explaining that the air conditioning unit was ‘out of function.’ “Please join me in a glass of champagne” – the bottle in silver bucket on the counter. I guess that she was in her mid-50s, dressed as someone who not only purveys jewelry but also knows how to wear the rocks too. I am not sure about other men on the road, but I’m easy prey when afar for a glass of champagne, decolletage with a french accent, in a spot where Lady Gaga might stop-by.

One has to pass the time when sipping fine wine. Madame showed me a few baubles, asked me a few questions, slid open a couple of concealed drawers, re-filled my glass. She introduced me to her friend of the same profile who dropped-by to complain of the heat – maybe she was summoned by a we’ve-got-one-on-the-hook button beneath the counter. They asked about my wife’s interests and qualities. Is she tall? Does she have fair skin? How does she dress?

The more they spoke, the more I realized that women have many facets. Or it could have been the 2:30 pm champagne buzz. At any rate, it was revealed to me by my new BFFs (Belgium Friends Forever) that the purchase of a bracelet designed in Austria would restore to my marriage an element of joy and mystery that I did not even realize was either relevant or missing.

I felt like a Beaux-Arts dandy amidst their well wishes of Au Revoir, Bon Voyage, Merci with hands waving their golden bracelets. Yep, got the cheek kisses before I left, too.

The lacquered, outsized shopping bag with the gold threaded, blue crinoline ribbons was probably worth more than most of the other downmarket souvenirs that I’d purchased on prior adventures. I still have the branded, telescopic pen that Madame gave to me after I signed the credit card statement impressing my investment with the gravity of an international treaty ceremony.

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There are ways to save money and there are ways to make money. What Madame understood is that the best way to turn a few Euros is to have the customer feel as though he is part of a singular, lifetime achievement. I didn’t buy an expensive bracelet in Brussels; my wife possesses a souvenir of an experience that I never want to forgot. A Votre Sante’.

Steve, Cher & Daycare: a memory upon retirement

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

We live in an academic community in the small city of Durham, North Carolina; could be named Dukeham for the significance of Duke University to our local economy. Sometimes referred to with the “New Jersey of the South” moniker, but I’ve heard that as many students come from Florida. I don’t believe it.

As a consequence of the influx of these out of state, private tuition sources, Jersey or Miami, $58k per year per student including room and board, high achieving professors are recruited. Throw into the pot the doctors and scientists from the Medical Centers (only two cities have two such large and renown medical centers, ours with Duke and UNC, and the Bay Area with Stanford and Cal Berkeley) and pre-school for infants and toddlers costs plenty around town.

In the beginning, we carted our infant son to the other side of Chapel Hill, a 90 minute round trip twice per day, because that’s where the best-we-could-find pre-school was. Foolishly, we had waited until he was born to solicit invitations for our son’s attendance and our related funds. This is like trying-out for the middle school soccer team in order to get some exercise, have some fun and learn an internationally popular sport. One would be lucky to get an orange slice as a booby prize before a squadron of mini-vans with insulted parents escorted you from the field.

For awhile, we enjoyed the variety from routine and the car-time with the Howard Stern radio program. Then the call came that Our Child (OC) fell from his high chair, cut his head and ‘needed us to pick him up.” “Can’t we meet you at the doctors office?”, Mother implored. “Uh, no. We don’t have a car seat for a baby.” Quite the memorable occasion was the next hour as we motored over to the school then to the Emergency Room. Turns out, OC was ok – a few stitches now hidden by an eyebrow. Mother recovered also.

We dug out the phone book (remember? still had those in 1997) as well as the related tip sheets so that we could renew the begging of day-care directors. We found a sincere program at a Catholic school that was well managed and very diverse, although nobody was like us. Couldn’t enroll OC until he was 2, three months from now / then, and as spots in the “program” were going fast, our chances of securing one later were kind of like walking-on to that aforementioned middle school soccer team.

Luckily, I attended Holy Name of Jesus, a Catholic school in New Orleans, and felt that I should employ this ADMG connection. Knowing the lingo of the Vatican, I asked, “can we start paying now and send our child later, after his second birthday?” Our request was processed up the chain of command or being. By the time we got home, we had a positive reply, i.e. acceptance, with address for the check, recorded on our answering machine (still had those in 1997).

Alas, not enough natural light, the diversity was too diverse – gratefully, no high chair flights- so, with much guilt (Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic), we met with Miss Rosa, the school’s Director, to confess and to accept the blame (O a C, A a C). She understood, suggesting that we contact The Lakewood Avenue Children’s School as that program seemed to be more like us. Our kind of market regulated diversity as we were about to learn.

We followed this advice, met that Director who became a dear friend, and enrolled. $900 per month in 1998 dollars moving to $1,200 over three years. We later learned that we were given a Disney-like Golden Entrance Pass bypassing the application queue as the wait list exceeded 100. Maybe she was moved by the sight of a begging mother and her clueless to the ways of the world husband.

LACS was quite the set-up: in a renovated home, large back yard, vegetable garden, rabbit hut, fox predators :( 6 teachers, 32 children in 3 grade levels and parents ranging from big time science prize winners; plenty of doctors; former and current lovers; trust fund hippies; the mayor. Once for a party game, we counted how many different last names identified the kids. I recall circa 18 and there were twins and siblings in the program. It was the kind of pre-school that you wish your college had been like.

Now for the good part. The teachers were smart, kind and capable. Turn-over was slight as they paid above the average with health benefits. LACS won a national recognition award and a citation in the Wall St Journal, pre-Murdoch the Fox.

Of our six teachers, Steve was the sole male. Fit in well with the rest of the teaching team and was especially popular on the days that he brought Mr. Happy, his pet snake, to school. I was content because mom was happy and OC was buckled in.

One spring day, Steve announced his resignation from LACS. Selected parents in the know, yours truly excluded, were atwitter- meant something different then. OC’s mother had seen Steve perform in Raleigh, the state capital on the other side of the Research Triangle Park. His celebrity impersonations were so good that Las Vegas made him an offer that he could not refuse. With minimum fanfare and less explanation, he cordially and, in high regard, headed West to what I’ve come to classify as that hell-hole in the desert.

About the same time that Steve arrived in LV, I did, too, as IBM negotiated a multi-year contract for thousands of off-season room-nights. Consequently, seemingly every sales conference and many client events were hosted in The Venetian, at Treasure Island or The MGM Grand. A couple of times it made sense for me to stay the weekend there because I was due back the following week. After 6 or 8 seemingly surreal, week-long trips there, I shaped my own Rat Pack world of dinners at Brennan’s, exercise at the Canyon Ranch Spa and roaming the Frontier Mall. I never managed to feel like James Bond at the baccarat table. “I bet $15.00, Goldfinger” doesn’t have the requisite aplomb.

Somewhere in the middle of this period of professional purgatory, I stood in the long, incredibly long taxi line at the Vegas airport for the short ride to The Strip. Arrival at that airport is like being sent down a chute into a perverse wonderland of big luggage, odd people, glittering advertisements, exits without identity.

Anonymity amidst the chaos begins upon airport exit with thousands of riders queuing for hundreds of taxis. Oddly or maybe perversely, for Vegas, the dispatcher solicited passengers headed to the same locations. Bellagio? Mandarin? IBM conference? were examples of his sorting pattern. Things happened fast at this point. Two of us were paired and pointed to taxi down the queue. “Which one did he say,” asked my newly assigned companion. I replied, “the one with Cher on top, that’s was my son’s pre-school teacher.” I think he replied “nice ass” as this was him/Steve/Cher in her Bob Mackie outfit. Arm in arm with Steve in the mobile billboard atop the taxi were Judy Garland, Joan Rivers and Mariah Carey. How’s Mr. Happy, I wondered.

I caught Steve’s act three or four times during my Vegas incarcerations, usually joined by an adventurous or equally desperate IBM colleague. He always provided me with front row seats, once next to the bejeweled and bewigged Joan Collins. Astounding and fun were the impersonations and at every visit I was invited after the show to have a drink with Steve-Cher-Celine (he did her too) and “Michael Jackson” from Greensboro, NC. Just guys making a buck.

Steve and his partner lived away from The Strip, a necessary survival technique it seems. By day, Steve had resumed his work in pre-school education. Vegas, Baby!

It worked out for us, too, back in Durham, especially when OC entered kindergarten in the public school system. We added the former Lakewood tuition to the mortgage payment for our small home in Forest Hills- the mortgage payment was the smaller of the two- enabling the purchase of a much bigger place in Duke Forest adjacent to – irony alert – Duke University’s West Campus. Actually, next to their golf course and their Inn which is next to their West Campus.

Steve is still out there with the same gig at a different venue. I hope that Cherilyn Sarkisian,The Other Cher, finds a program for eternal life, or lifts, so long as it’s good for Steve. Owen will be off to college soon; I’m retiring from IBM at the end of the month. The beat goes on.

Since you ask:

cher2 StevenWayne

15 Rounds with IBM: Proposals, Prom-Mobiles and Phones

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

I wrote this on my 15th anniversary with IBM, November 30th. There will not be a 16th as I / we agreed to an 18 month separation process in June of 2012 cleverly titled Transition to Retirement (TTR). Our contract stipulated a 3 day work-week with a reduction in pay and the agreement that I, and others in the program, would not be subject to possible ensuing Reductions in Force (RIF), aka lay-offs. I kind of expected to receive a jar of blue blood that I would dab in the doorposts so that the RIF-Wraiths would know to pass me by.

Honestly, it feels good to go with a handshake and the semblance of a healthcare plan and not with a box and security guard escort, although I work from home. Maybe there is a business opportunity similar to the common working space / rent an office locations where one would just go to meet the actual boss and then be walked-out to the car. Might create employment opportunities for sad-seeming colleagues with the looks of shock and schadenfreude; the impassive security guard just doing his duty; the potted plant vendors and cardboard box suppliers; the gossip-around-the-coffee-mess distributor.

Isn’t it true that relationships can often be characterized by the way that they started?! Here’s how ours did.

In mid-summer of 1999, after traveling anywhere at any time to see nearly any customer, I was informed that I was the employee in the division with the second highest travel expenses. For a second, I thought that I was being encouraged to go for #1. This notion was dashed by the phrase, “And nobody wants to be known for that.” After 8 months, the team that I signed-on with, was organized out of existence as the cost could not be justified (n.b. trend developing). While scrambling to find a new team, I was assigned to manage a proposal process (RFP) for a promising deal with a German telecommunications company in Lake Mary, Florida.

I here learned that the support of your 6 degrees-of separation colleagues is related directly to the depth and width of the charge code or budget that you are able to offer them. We established a command center in the Atlanta Innovation Center- now gone which indicates who has the mightier sword, Accounting or Innovating. RFP support came from everywhere and in every form, including a software sales rep from Dallas in 5 inch powder blue heels. She relayed that her boyfriend played in an Atlanta rock band. I guess to stop the ‘what are your dinner plans?’ inquiries.

Encouraging was the wealth of information that each team, unit and division supplied to ensure that their product was specified as an essential element of the proposed solution. Less attractive was that nearly none of this information was directed towards the requirements of the client’s published requirements. Kind of like being tossed the dictionary and told to find the novel of choice. We cobbled together six binders of facts; factoids; paragraphs from other proposals; bios of experts, including many still with the company; graphs; architecture maps; web site addresses; and executive statements of commitment to partnership. Then they all caught the next flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (note this location) leaving the entire RFP package, including printing, assembly and shipment in the custody of one individual whom I recall was a former National 10k Walking Champion (cue the organ music).

In our favor was our status as a major client of this customer. Helpful may be for you to know that once upon a time, in a land far away, IBM itself got into the telecommunications business. There are still Rolm phones on desks at the RTP facility, usually next to the skeleton of the COBOL guy whom we thought retired prior to the last facilities consolidation. IBM sold this telecom division to these guys in Florida. Can you spell Quid Pro Quo? We couldn’t.

After reviewing our 40 pound proposal, the client informed us that of the 3 competing companies, they would have ranked us 4 of 3 if the laws of arithmetic permitted.

As you would expect, how the helping hands from Corporate HQ descended upon us now that they were poised to renew a contract for a warehouse of this client’s phone equipment, switching gear and PBXs, while the client’s sister division was poised to toss us off the bus of brotherhood!

Our corporate support earned us a reprieve or Your Final Last Chance which came in the form of a mandatory meeting to better explain our proposal. This meeting would occur nearly immediately at the Atlanta Customer Innovation Center with the stipulation that another customer had to join this meeting to offer an in-person reference for our self-described relevant talents, skills and experience.

Who better to supply a reference to business executives from a German company based in Florida than an IT executive from a Japanese company based in New Jersey. He flew down in exchange for travel expenses and a company logo jacket.

Young, new to the company Dan flew from California to join the briefing as the German Telco in Florida was his account to manage. At dinner the night before the reference-infused briefing and after an afternoon of prep where we orchestrated the color, gender, charts, projectors and seat assignments, I asked Dan “have we arranged for transportation tomorrow from the airport to the briefing center for the visitors from New Jersey and Florida.” “No,” he replied, “and two additional guests will visit from California, so we have three flights to meet.”

This was one of those innocuous moments in the movies when attention is paid to the wrong clue or ignoring the thrown-away statement. I took the action to figure-out how to meet three sets of executives at different times at a large, busy airport while Dan reserved transportation with the agreement that an executive limo would do. We agreed to meet after breakfast and with plenty of time to arrive at the distant airport to corral all of our guests.

I stepped from the lobby into the 9am morning summer sun of Atlanta looking for our limo. As I walked in the direction of the expected and presently parked black Lincoln Town Car, it drove away revealing a 120 inch (10 feet of interior space), white in color, dated in age, what my sons would take to the high school prom limousine. Standing next to the prom-mobile was Dan. No comment. No explanation. No apology. Off we went in the Anytime Anywhere Limo.

Our driver was an older chauffeur, Quido (I swear) in a checked jacket, vintage 1970s, with a not Gone With The Wind accent. The back of limo could accommodate an entire wedding or prom party as it included bar, fridge and television. With just Dan and me, it seemed as though we sat in an empty swimming pool as we bounced along I-85. The shock absorbers on the car needed replacement and had so since the early 1990s.

We arrive at the airport, parked in the limo lot and were informed by Quido that another driver would relieve him for our journey back to the Windy Hill Innovation Center.

Inside the Airport

The German executives from Florida arrived first. Dan met them. The New Jersey American customer reference arrived second; I met him. While waiting for team three from California, we 5 sat around a table for 4 enjoying styrofoam-flavored cups of coffee and looks-like-bagels. The conversation was sparse and awkward, mainly me conversing and no one taking the bait. Finally, at long last, thank heaven, team 3 arrived. I didn’t offer a coffee and bagel break. As we paddled our way through the crowds and their luggage to the limo, no one said much beyond introductions and grunting about the quality of their flights. Funny, though, was how similar the three teams of visitors looked as if we’d chosen a uniform of the day: black trousers, white shirts, no jackets, black computer bags and brief cases decorating an assortment of head shapes, facial hair, ages and heights. Could have been an Oceans Eleven promo.

I found the correct exit to the limo parking lot. No small feat if you know me. Then the real party started. The prom-mobile was even easier to spot than might be thought because a Fulton County police car was parked at 90 degrees to and 3 inches from our white whale’s front bumper blocking the vehicle from exit. This tactic reminded me of crossing the tee in the age Admiral Nelson: “Give ‘em the full broadside, lads.”

As our party approached the T-boned cars, we enjoyed the theatre of a short, round, anglican, female police officer – gun, mace, cuffs, nightstick, radio – the works – conversing with a tall, well proportioned, male, African-American limo driver. If for no other attribute, he was notable for the pigtail, rattail in the vernacular, that extended from its usual inception point, his head, to the middle of the back of his white shirt. They did not seem to be either high classmates catching-up or just two of us trying to make a living at the airport. I could tell this by the way she pointed her finger at him and the sound of his voice which you’d probably call shouting.

Team Calif-Fla-Jersey stopped so as not to get closer. After a couple of minutes in the heating sun, they looked about, spotted shade beneath a meager parking lot tree and sort of back-peddled towards this oasis. “Where do you think you’re going?”, asked the officer declaratively. I guess that she wondered if George Clooney’s pals were fixin’ to bolt.

I seized the opportunity to quell any misunderstanding by approaching our warring couple. Identifying myself as an IBM employee, hoping that she would think Executive and not ‘man whose role is prom-mobile coordinator’, I asked if anything was wrong?

I wanted to ask if now would be a good time to run for it. She replied that ‘this driver AND vehicle are not authorized on airport property, Fulton County or in the state of Georgia.‘ Me: “what should we do?” She: “Are they with you?” pointing at the trifecta in the shade. Me: “Yes, Officer.” She: “All of you, get into your car.” Us:
I motioned; they came; we did.

We splayed about the 10 foot cabin in silence without even the hum of the air conditioning unit. I thought to myself that I had figured I would, at least, be with IBM for one year before the company figured me out. Other visions and thoughts went through my mind mainly because nobody was talking to me or to anybody else. We occupied ourselves watching the officer deliver a sheaf of tickets to the guy with the pirate hairdo. Kind of like tv with no sound and a failing picture tube.

Prom Mobile

After a couple of hundred hours, probably 15 minutes, the officer and the driver separated. She motored off in her patrol car. The new driver fired-up the prom-mobile and away we bounced, just like a noble galleon on the high seas.

I stared at the empty faux-crystal liquor bottles on the side-board at my end of the entertainment cabin lamenting their dry condition. Not even I knew what to say about anything.

Unfortunately, our limo helmsman punctuated the silence with the his analysis of recent events by saying, “she’s lucky that I didn’t have my gun with me.” He might have used a vulgar substitution for ‘she’, but this is close enough.

Right on cue, all heads snapped in my direction as I was seated in the back seat at the back of cabin. Mustering all of my naval leadership training and bridge officer watching-standing command presence, I spoke for the group in reply, “I wish that you hadn’t said that.” Of course, I really wanted to scream for my mother, but fear makes cowards of us all.

We fought the seas of Atlanta traffic for about an hour back to Windy Hill. At one point near the end, the white, stretch prom-mobile, after bouncing on its former shock absorbers, so struggled up the hills of Windy just as our harbor was in sight that I would swear that we were passed regularly by joggers and moms pushing those jogging strollers.

We disembarked at the revolving door to the briefing center. I walked directly to front desk to order rides back to the airport at the end of the meetings. I received a longish look from the receptionist when I asked for a description of the ordered transportation.

Rolm Phone

This briefing went well and we were invited back into the ‘competition.’ I’m not sure who was awarded what or how many phones equal how many computers in a corporate horse trade. Ultimately, the Germans got out of the telecom game and sold their Florida facilities. The Japanese firm outsourced its IT department; Dan left the company and California.

My employment will conclude in ten days. I wonder what I could trade for a Rolm phone as a retirement souvenir.

Politics, Sausage and…suits?

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I read yesterday that the founder of Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer, was booted from the board of directors where he served as Executive Chairman. One never knows the real ‘why?’ in such matters. Doesn’t much matter in this case as GZ cashed-out several years ago continuing aboard to remain as the face of the company. USA Today described the dismissal as “Men’s Wearhouse no longer likes the way that George Zimmer looks.” A reminder to get it while you can for fame is ephemeral.

I met George at a Duke Business School (Fuqua) function in 199X, Pre-Internet, where he was the keynote speaker. My story has two parts: 1) he arrived so late on Friday evening, the night before the Entrepreneurial Conference sponsored by our local CED, that the Director of CED, Monica Doss, offered me his room at the Washington Duke Inn. One man’s loss etc. Unfortunately, George did arrive very late that night becoming displeased that someone else was sleeping in his bed. I guarantee it. I learned of his furor the next morning at the pre-conference speaker’s breakfast which is part (2) of my story.

Tom Keller, the accountant who elevated Fuqua Business School from a name to a brand, was Dean at that time. He and I and Jill greeted GZ and his assistant on the Saturday morning of Conference. I introduced myself; GZ replied, not gracefully nor with humor, “I know who you are; you’re the guy who slept in my room.” Mildly befuddled, Dean Keller reviewed the events of the day describing in detail the keynote role that GZ was asked (I think hired or, at least, paid) to play.

A lull ensued between the end of this speaker briefing and the time for GZ to head to the auditorium. Well mannered Tom K. asked New Jersey George what advice would he give to business school students as they consider individual post graduate careers? In so many and not many words, the son of the tailor from New Jersey replied that they ‘should quit business school and get real jobs where they could learn something about something.’ Not a quote and not far from the actual and intended message. A moment or two lasting an eternity or two passed then Dean Keller led our party of bed-snatchers and clothing moguls to the auditorium.

Mr. Zimmer impressed the audience with the candid tale of his entrepreneurial path encouraging perseverance and concentration of purpose. He was a hit even if the moment didn’t suit him.

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Saul Steinberg, Alfred E. Newman, Amelia Earhart and the Joseph Strauss

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I just didn’t want to lose these.

Mad Magazine and Johnny Carson supplied my irreverent laughs in those late grammar school and early high school years. In the modern time of Kindles and digital newspapers, it’s a charming memory to recall riding my bicycle with Spencer Hayman to the venerable New Orleans drug store, Katz&Besthoff, on Tuesdays, to purchase, I think for 12 cents, the latest edition of Sgt. Rock and Superman comics. How we would pore over each page. Oddly, I was never attracted to the offers of drawing lessons or Charles Atlas muscle building programs in the back of each issue. It’s a pleasant and comforting trip to the past to learn that Mad retains its singular, clever point of view even when its siblings such as The Onion appear faster and more hip.

At first, I thought that my connection to Ms. Earhart was my recollection of Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign of the late 90s. Much is expected of those to whom much is given; as well, I suppose, from those who achieve much. I think that the Mapgate furor is alot about a little, yet so seldom does Apple seem to stumble, stumble it does.

Now that I think about it, I do have tangential connection to Amelia Earhart. The proud ship, Joseph Strauss, DDG-16, anchored in Saipan in 1978 with yours truly as the navigating officer. In preparing for this visit, I became acquainted with a young lieutenant who commanded our Coast Guard station on this former battlefield of an island. His hobby was searching for and often finding artifacts of World War 2 including complete underground hospitals, rusted tanks and cases of 45 caliber pistols still coated in Cosmoline, MIL-C-11796C Class 3 for those in the market. He even established a decent sized museum for these artifacts all about the Loran Station’s grounds. One evening, as I asked for details about his discoveries – “I never go into the jungle without finding something,” he said- he offered that a persistent rumor about the island is that the Japanese kept Amelia Earhart prisoner here at the local jail. Of course, You Tube substantiates this supposition.

Having seen where 25,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide rather than surrender to our Marines, I can believe nearly any story about that island at that time.

There I was at the IBM Centennial on 16 June 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Quite the achievement to have begun prior to the First World War remaining a well established brand in Barack Obama’s presidency. I believe that IBM is among our national treasures if not for its potential and if only for its heroic contributions to our country over the past ten decades. As with all champions, within its strength lies the seeds of its demise as it wrestles with the unsettling premonitions of the prevailing global economy. There is certainly much to admire in its people as there is much reason for concern as its own customers struggle mightily in adapting to and adopting the changes wrought by technology, particularly the speed at which markets gather information and make their own decisions. In my own professional lifetime, the corporation journeyed from market advantage by virtue of its access to business machines of various sizes and designs, typewriters to computers, office buildings and medical benefits, to the present where its seems that the average business enterprise struggles to understand the popular tools readily accessed by its customers, and even, employees, which are often superior to those provided at work.

The luncheon on the 100th recalled my first encounter with IBM. I was a customer in the Material Control Department of Bath Iron Works, circa 1984. We successfully upgraded our mainframe, from DOS to MVS as I recall, and implemented a suite of packaged software that was the rage of consultants at the time, MRPII. My role within the Department expanded to include traveling around talking to clients and partners, especially the Navy and Littons Industries, our construction partner, about the lessons-learned of our project. After a while, I thought that maybe I had a chance to apply for a position with IBM as wearing a nice suit seemed preferable to work boots and winters in the shipyard. I arranged for an interview with the Branch Manager in Portland, Maine (Branch Offices and their Managers were the fiefdoms and lords of its marketplace empire in those days. Today, nearly 50% of the 425,000 international employees work from home). I dressed-up, drove to Portland after hours. I remember the time of day because every single desk in the Branch was cleared and locked with numerous signs reminding employees to clear their desks and to lock the contents. Entered Wally’s office; we met a couple of times before. Look on his face told me that this was a courtesy interview and not an inspection of my potential contribution to his company. We chatted politely and briefly, very briefly. He began with the opener as I recall, ‘so it seems that you’re interested in working for IBM.’ ‘Yes!’ I nearly exclaimed as I seized the chance to describe how my MRPII experience might suit me well for a role in sales or systems engineering. He nodded and related a personal story of how competitive was the prevailing computer marketplace where customers sought the low-cost provider more than the very best solution. Loooong pause with head nodding; eye contact; staring; me nodding; me staring. ‘You know,” he continued, ‘I have a friend who makes $150,000.00 selling shoes to department stores around New England. There are lots of ways to make money.’ Me nodding, me staring in absolute bewilderment at that remark. Wally rose, offered a handshake and thanked me for coming over. ‘See you around the shipyard,’ he said.

I guess that is really the tale of how I ended-up in North Carolina and spent most of fifteen years in software start-ups of one type or another. Not finding a sales job in Maine gave my wife a chance to study landscape architecture in North Carolina where the move south suited us both.

As I looked around the cafeteria on Thursday’s Centennial after the multitudes side-stepped through the bbq chow-line, I wondered how many of those present, especially the 600+ retirees, sat in a Branch Office. Many, I surmised. Even though we were connected by the path of IBM’s 100 year journey, I recognized that in some curious and necessary way, IBM probably has changed more since 1984 than I have. At any rate, despite the very casual attire for the occasion, out of respect for the moment and my amazement at my inclusion (when I really think about it), I wore my best suit with my best pair of shoes, Wally.

Missing George Carlin: rift on pols & language

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Lent: just past the 1/2way point. Hang in there.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A new friend and I discovered that we’re both Catholics. She asked, insightfully, “are you a practicing Catholic?” I smiled as I shook my head. Occassionally attended mass at Saint Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter when I was younger. My sisters and I liked to go because of the Cafe’ du Monde coffee and beignets afterwards. Pint of chocolate milk and 3 powdered sugar, deep-fried, French pasteries for twenty five cents. LeRoy was our favorite waiter. He talked about the track alot.

From the pulpit back in the 1960s, a visiting pastor classified most Catholics as coming to church on but three occasions: to be hatched, to be matched and to be dispatched. I guess that I’m now part of that club or majority. Should this be an identifier at Linked-In? Never gave-up much for Lent. We did follow the no-meat on Fridays rule. No problem, seafood was always the better dish in New Orleans anyway. 428865460_6b2be9c1edThink about NOLA (New Orleans, LA) frequently of late. Hurricane Katrina and our absence of preparation, fumbling by the government agencies that our tax dollars funded to mind such matters and the resultant expectation that somehow the same government would make it all fine after the fact has, of course, a disappointing parallel to how one might characterize the Wall Street and Banking mess that we’re in. Who woulda thought?!

If you’re a practicing and / or good Catholic and keeping score at home, Easter is but 26 days away. I just learned from WikiAnswers that Lent is a 40 day season over a 47 day period because Sundays do not count?! So, we’re about half of the distance from Mardi Gras and another 1/2 to Easter. image1
At any rate, I just wanted a reason to show you this woman’s body-paint costume. I didn’t have the courage to show it alone. Having received the Octo-mom costume photo yesterday provides a good excuse. In addition to sharing its too often self-destructive habits and behavior, maybe the rest of us can also cultivate the New Orleans sense of humor and its fondness for the human condition and its packaging.

Cardinals vs Steelers or Federer vs Nadal: who’s really super?

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

We all awoke at 3:30 EST to watch the finals of the Australian Open. Entertaining and agonizing from the first game until the last. Deflated all day when reliving the tears of Roger; pleased when recalling the grit and achievement of Raphael. I think that we all know that the torch has indeed been passed to a new champion.
Such an exhibition of talent and generous competitiveness! I recommend that Roger find a coach to change his thinking about how to play with Nadal, mainly because I want to see many more matches between them of this caliber.

I’ve seen my share of Super Bowls, namely all of them! First one was shown on both NBC and CBS. No one thought that the AFL was for real. Then Joe Namath and the Jets showed them; followed by the Chiefs knocking-out the Vikings. My highlights:
biggest disappointment: Jets defeating my Colts. Why didn’t Moral throw that flea flicker to Orr?!
most fun: all of the 49er victories
most lopsided: da Bears over New England. Much worse than the score.
most startling: my flower power ‘I’ll go for you’ date in Hawaii in 1977 who fell in love with the game when she won the 4th quarter and final score pools, c.$250 in cash. She may still be rooting for the Raiders.
most unusual location for me: in Guam watching the game on Monday morning with Carmen Cruz who cheered on every play never having seen a game before.
best play: the pass by Garo Yepremian nearly costing Miami the game and its perfect season. He was the place-kicker btw.
most memorable moment: I worked as an usher at #4, Chiefs & Vikings. After taking tickets in the first half, I was stationed behind Viking bench to keep the fans off the field
(135 lbs in an ill-fitting uniform!)
I still recall the crash of the tackles, the bleeding ear of the fullback, Bill Brown, and the smelling salts provided to Joe Kapp as he wobbled around the bench after a car-wreck of a tackle. Today’s running backs are the size of those tackles. Ugh. The pain! At any rate, I’m for Warner.