On Bud Selig.

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Good riddance.

I love baseball. Like, really love baseball. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the Commissioner of Baseball was really an employee of the MLB owners. But Bud Selig took things to an entirely new level. He WAS an owner. He took the Milwaukee Brewers and put them in the sham-custody of his daughter and he became the Commissioner of  Major League Baseball, a position I’d always put one notch below President of the United States.

Bud, you sweet deluded bastard.

At age 80, you’ve stepped down with your odd blondish toupee in hand (or head) and your legacy will be one dimensional: You have lined the coffers of your fellow owners with solid gold. The unlikely story of a Milwaukee used car salesman turned mogul turned weird sports executive is over.

Owners have never been richer. The number of kids playing baseball has plummeted. The beer has never been so expensive. The DH rule is an abomination to be dealt with by your successor. The Oakland A’s situation is being handled by a super-secret blue ribbon commission that’s been “studying” for almost four years. The All-Star game has gone from the only sports All-Star game that mattered to some sort of 72 hour commercial for ESPN.

You are the Richard Nixon of sports. Get yourself some big shorts and a metal detector and scan the shores of Lake WInnebago in your sunset years and let’s hope that new Commissioner Rob Manfred can rebuild Major League Baseball to it’s former greatness.

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On Robin Williams.

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Behold, this list of San Francisco Comedy Competition winners. The first year was 1976 and Robin Williams finished second to a guy who must have been one funny man named Bill Farley. If you Google Farley now, you’ll get a few links to “past winners of the San Francisco Comedy Competition” and a million links to Chris Farley.

Robin finished second and never participated in the competition again. Because he dominated doing stand-up in San Francisco. He may not have won that competition but the number of comedy clubs and open mic nights exploded.  He was famous for doing things like leading the entire audience out of The Boarding House on Bush Street and taking them on tours of the streets. Crazy stuff. Everyone wanted to be him.

Not Bill Farley.

When I started doing stand-up in 1984, Robin had already moved well on to TV and movies and the like. But I’ll always remember him as being a local SF guy who started a comedy revolution. They say that Velvet Underground didn’t sell a lot of records but that everyone who bought one started a band. Robin was THAT to stand-up in the Bay Area and he never forgot those roots and he never forgot where he came from.

I’m sad to see him go and I’m especially sad to see him go that way. Being that depressed is crushing and you always hope that people will find another, better way. That said, that’s not what I’m going to remember.

Before there was “Twitter famous,” there was real stand-up and as far as I’m concerned, it started with Robin Williams.

That’s what I’ll remember.

Don’t just stand there, manage something!

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I was just at my regular Starbucks. When I got there, it was the usual for a Sunday morning. Maybe six people in line at any given time with three baristas working. I sat at my usual perch reading my Kindle and drinking my dopio espresso macchiato. I also treated myself to some oatmeal.

After a while, one of the baristas went on break just as everyone in the entire Tri-Valley area came in for Frapuccinos. The line doubled and then tripled and then quadrupled. Ashley and Jasmine kept their heads down. Ashley ringing, pouring drip coffee and warming food. Jasmine making drinks that became more labor intensive as the weather heated up. Simple lattes became Fraps requiring blending and all those powders and syrups that pump the calorie count through the roof.

I was starting to wonder how this was going to play out. The looks of the folks in line got less happy. A few would-be customers walked in and out when the saw the line. But Ashley kept greeting people by name and asking if they wanted the usual and apologizing for the delay. Jasmine kept baristaing and taking the neverending order fine-tunings from the customers gathered around her station waiting for drinks. Throw in numerous requests for water, trays and bags.

I was thinking, wow, this is a scheduling nightmare. What would I do if I were a manager? Call someone in? Surrender revenue and start giving out free drink coupons as an apology? And then I realized that the employees were doing exactly the right thing. They didn’t start working at an exaggerated panicked pace. They didn’t get short with customers. They kept working quickly and smoothly. They continued asking Little Leaguers how their teams were doing and if drinks were made perfectly.

Eventually, another employee came on shift and took the register. Ashley then cleaned like a madwoman and asked Jasmine about stocking levels. Milk, cups, lids, syrups and powders got restocked. And just like that, it was over and order was restored.

While the manager-mind in me was racing to figure out what could be done to improve the situation, Ash and Jasmine were working the issue. They knew what they were doing and they did it. They trusted each other and went about their business in a way that I think would have made Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz proud. Had Howard been there (or some other “suit”), I’m sure it would have been a disaster of making moves for the sake of making them because that’s how the management mind is wired.

Do something. Improve. Suggest. Take command.

As a manager who manages in a completely different business that has nothing to do with coffee or retail, I learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing other than trust the team, trust the process and shut the hell up.

It Has Been Zero Days: The Important Lesson of Casey Fury.

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In May of 2012, a shipyard worker aptly named Casey Fury wanted to leave work early so he did what anybody would have done.

He set a box of rags on fire.

The thing is, Casey Fury was working on a nuclear submarine. He thought there’d be a little smoke, he’d cough dramatically a couple of times and they’d send his sorry ass home. Instead, the fire got a teensy weensy bit out of control. Over 100 firefighters fought Casey’s fire for 12 hours but alas, the USS Miami was a mess.

The original estimate for repairs was $450,000,000. Yes. Fourhundredandfiftymilliondollars. You could burn Detroit to the ground and not cause that much damage on a dollar basis.

As it turns out with most government estimates, $450 million was a pipe dream.

On further review, as they say in the NFL, it was decided that Casey Fury’s ruse to get to the Dew Drop Inn a little early one Friday had a final price tag of $700 million. But the USS Miami was already 24 years old and while $450 million is just the cost of doing business, $700 million was deemed too steep.

The decision was made to give up the ghost and spend a paltry $54 million to bury the nuclear innards in the cool depths of the Idaho countryside, decommission the old girl and cut her up for scrap which is what they’re doing as you read this.

So, when you feel like the dumbest person at the office for making “a massive error in judgement,” think of Casey Fury. He’s cooling his fuzzy jets in Federal Prison for 17 years, the entire time hoping that no one asks him what he’s in for.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: Why The Beatles will never happen again.

beatlesI do remember seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan because I’m old. And yes, I do shudder to think that all of these 50th anniversaries (and they’re just starting…yikes!) are happening so now I know what it must have felt like to be the last surviving soldier from the Civil War. Fun fact: The last verified Civil War participant died a mere 6 months before I was born. I digress.

The Beatles. I remember the anticipation of their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s difficult to explain to a young person today what TV was like in 1964. Try this. Go to your cable TV listing and look at the 200 or so channels you have available. Now, pick your favorite 4. Not so fast. One of them has to be the local PBS affiliate. There! That’s TV in 1964. Of course that’s not completely accurate because we didn’t get to pick our “favorites.” There were just a handful of stations and you got what you got. And in my little white, suburban Wonder Years-like existence, it was only a few years earlier that not everyone even had a television set at all. So in 1964, TV was entrenched but it also had the newish novelty factor.

Sports was on TV but only sporadically…a couple of games a season if you were lucky. Of course there was no internet, VCR or anything that could deliver moving pictures to you on demand. There were two ways to see a sports or entertainment performance: Live and in person or on television. Fandom lived on the radio and in the printed word and picture.

I do remember getting my own copy of Meet the Beatles. I remember the shiny cellophane with the four stonefaced yet slightly bemused guys looking out at me. I remember reading the notes on the back of the album over and over again and of course listening to the music that had previously only poured out of the tiny speaker in the dashboard of our Buick. I remember seeing pictures in magazines of Beatles, screaming girls and wondered why no boys went to see them and whether it was the kind of thing I should be listening to.

At my tender age, I was basically listening to nothing but the Mary Poppins soundtrack so The Beatles were a big jump. I don’t remember my mother being upset by it. The hair, which was only thing that was remotely counterculture about the boys (they wore suits to work ferchristsake) was a novelty rather than something to be afraid of. Other than that, they made girls scream and sang in perfect harmonies. A case could be made that Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis seemed more dangerous at the time. The Beatles were packaged, huggable sex appeal and you could not fault the catchiness of the songs.

By the time of the The Ed Sullivan Show appearance, we’d heard all about them, read all about them but had not seen them. The pent up pressure to actually see them play music in front of our eyes had built to the point that WHAT they performed or HOW they performed was immaterial. We wanted to see the energy and we wanted screaming girls and that’s what we got.

After the appearance, The Beatles were absolutely a big deal. The biggest. But the average Joe on the street saw what the fuss was about and went back about his business. Other bands got popular immediately and over the next few years (The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, Dave Clark Five even The Monkees) so the The Beatles as the sole standard bearers for white rock and roll waned just a bit.

But on Sunday, February 9, 1964 on live TV (if you were in the east), all of that energy and curiosity was funneled through one medium and event that anyone in America would have had to work very hard to avoid.

And few did.

It was a time when the country could have a shared experience orchestrated and unveiled in a way that 200 channels, youtube and social networking would not allow today.

Throw in the jadedness that we wear like a badge of courage nowadays and it’s easy to see why The Beatles could not happen now and will never happen again.

Our cultural phenomena now happen in quick hits. They are reported live and unfiltered and are dismissed as quickly as they come because there are so many ways for them to come at us.

This isn’t necessarily bad but it’s not nearly as much fun.

On Being Bob Dylan.

Sharing a laugh with Jeff Tweedy.
Sharing a laugh with Jeff Tweedy.

This article in the current Esquire magazine (http://www.esquire.com/features/who-is-this-bob-dylan-interview-0214) about Bob Dylan got me thinking. The article is about being Bob Dylan. Not about songwriting or influence. About being. I mean, the guy’s gotta be somewhere doing something every minute. We all do. So what does he do? Where does he go? Give it a read.

I’ve talked about it before but I’ve been to over 200 Bob Dylan concerts and have spent way too much money on all things Dylan. If you include money spent traveling to some of those concerts, food, etc., it’s probably extra scary to think about. I was lucky that many of them came on business trips. These trips were always bona fide business trips with real objectives. They weren’t boondoggles. But the fact remains, they were planned with great forethought around Dylan’s touring schedule. The fact that I didn’t see him until 1976 and that I’ve only seen him twice in the last five years leads to a mathematical exercise that boggles the mind as to what 1979-2002 must have looked like. My biggest year was probably 1999 with approximately 25 shows including my best ever weekend, four shows in three days. I’ve never seen him outside of the United States but inside our borders, I’ve seen him in at least seven states.

The closest I’ve come to having the chance to meet him were some backstage passes in Oakland in ‘78 that went unclaimed because my mother didn’t relay a phone message she thought was a cruel joke. Had I gotten the message, I would have gone to a party at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco that Dylan actually attended. Of all the things I’ve missed in my life, this is my favorite. Because I have no interest in meeting Bob Dylan.

Our relationship is pretty perfect as it is. He writes music, performs it and does weird and quirky stuff. I consume the music and, depending on my mood, acknowledge or ignore the weird and quirky stuff. I really don’t want to screw this up. The chances that we’d meet and, what? Hang out? Become BFFs? Those are pretty slim. I could do without some oddball awkward moment or scribbled line on a piece of paper. I don’t do fanboy very well. I don’t buy or sell collectibles. I don’t actually have all that much dignity left at this point in my life but one bit I do have is that I don’t feel the need to pander to celebrities.

Bob seems to have settled into a nice groove on the whole “being Bob Dylan” thing and that makes me happy. If you can believe what you read, he has homes all over the world that he never goes to and friends who he considers close that he never sees. I couldn’t cope with the hassle of being Bob Dylan. Not a bit. It seems to work for him.

I just want the music that’s like a huge tapestry woven just loosely enough so that if you pull a thread, you don’t know where it will take you. So I keep pulling threads and finding new music, new thoughts and new states of mind.

It’s nice to think that they’re out there, thoughts and states. I owe Bob a debt of gratitude for the ones he’s shown me but he has no desire to hear about it and I have no desire to tell him.

It’s working for both of us just fine.

The Paperboy.

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When I was a kid, until you could drive, one of the best jobs you could have was to be a paperboy. The term might seem sexist but I’d never seen a papergirl. I’m sure they existed. But the paperboy was iconic.

Back then, everyone got the paper delivered to their door. Or at least their driveway. Every decent sized city had a morning paper and an evening paper. In San Jose and the surround areas, it was the San Jose Mercury in the morning and the San Jose News in the evening. We were evening paper people. On our entire block there were, maybe, two houses that did not get a paper. The rest of us assumed that they had access to a free paper at work or that they just plain hated America. We hoped for the former but secretly assumed the latter.

 

The paper was delivered by a boy on a bicycle. The bike had two large canvas bags usually emblazoned with the name of the paper on the side. They were stuffed with papers that the paperboy had picked up in bales and then swiftly rubber banded each one. If the paperboy was the morning guy, he had to get up at 4 am or so to get the papers, band them, stuff them into the bags and ride street by street, reaching back for a paper and then limberly tossing the it onto the driveway or walkway of the house of the subscriber. He knew which were his houses and would develop a rhythm to pedal and toss. Occassionally, a paper would end up in bushes or on a roof and the diligent paperboy would circle back and toss another. A really diligent paperboy would retrieve the errant paper. Most would pedal on pretending not to notice, weighing the time lost versus a mild rebuke at collection time.

Yes, if you were a paperboy, you had to collect. Certainly, the paper could have given the customers envelopes to mail their money in and eventually they did. But in the heyday of paperdom, the paperboy collected. Once a month, he’d go door to door with a receipt book and gaze at the homeowner with doe-like eyes hoping for a tip. Yes, the tip. You worked for peanuts but the tips added up quite nicely. Most subscribers would wait all month for collection day to scold the paperboy for missed or poorly thrown papers. The really good paperboys knew how to disarm the situation in less than a second with the eyes, an ‘aw shucks’ smile and quickly greeting the soon-to-be buttery soft customer by name. Always with Mr or Mrs before and always with a nod of thanks after the customary ‘keep the change’.

Back in those days, the news was the news. You read the paper. You watched the evening news. The idea of having your news tailored to your point of view? Well, that’s what magazines were for. Newspapers were born to do no such thing. It was news and you read it. Generally, you read all of it. From what Lyndon Johnson said about the war and stopping the Communists, to the Governor talking about cutting an amazing new freeway through the hills of the peninsula in Los Altos to something that might be going on right on your street. World, national, state and local news, sports, weather, the classified ads and the crossword…The paper came every day and every day it was picked clean. Fully exhausted.

Fast forward to today. My paperboy is a bitter Vietnamese paperman in an oxidized Toyota Tercel with no hubcaps. He gives the paper a weak flick of the wrist that may or may not send the tiny paper (a mere shadow of what papers were back in the day) to the curb in front of the intended house. There is only a morning paper and he delivers to every eighth house or so. There is no collecting. You pay in advance by credit card and since you have never seen the bitter paperdude, you feel no compunction to tip so you don’t.

Aside from the whole other story about the decline of the daily newspaper, people saying they get their news online (which means they read six words and look at a picture or a piechart), the paperboy strengthened neighborhoods, gave kids a first job that was really like running their own business. It entailed some physical work, some customer service, some money-handling experience and dedication.

A lot of the old ways have been replaced by other better things. But not the paperboy. He’s just gone and the fabric of neighborhood life is thinner because of it.