Friday, November 22, 2013

My generation's lost innocence

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, our nation's 35th president. And, unless you have gone on a personal boycott of consuming any form of media, the various outlets--from networks to cable channels to print to all things in between--are re-hashing the events of that fateful day.

I was nine on November 22, 1963 and in fourth grade at Salt Creek Valley elementary school.  A very serene, lovely lady--Mrs. Smith--was our class' teacher and we dutifully sat in her classroom after lunch on that seemingly normal fall day the week before Thanksgiving.  I immediately knew something was wrong when Mrs. Smith opened the door to our room and entered with our school's principal.  It was obvious that she was crying and struggled to speak--I can't remember her exact words but she uttered that "something terrible" had happened to our country and that our president was dead.

What happened next is cloudy--I know that we were excused and sent home with parents fetching us, all of which I'm sure struck us as odd but an unexpected benefit of the events of the day.  I do know that my realization of something terribly wrong was later that day when my father and uncle huddled in a corner of our home's living room, talking quietly with concern etched on their faces.  It was a rare moment of very serious, private talk for these two and it hit me that something truly was not right.

On Sunday, our normal routine of church in the morning was maintained.  However, on the way home we learned via a news radio broadcast that Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's accused assassin, had been shot and killed in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters.  I remember my Mom gasping and saying "what is going on!?"

Just as my parents had Pearl Harbor and my children 9/11, I and my Baby Boomer brethren had Dallas.  Watching the retrospectives this week and last, I've been mesmerized by the grainy black-and-white footage and photography that attempts to piece together the events of that day.  And, the memories of that time have flooded back, reminding me of how three gunshots forever altered the course of our country and our generation.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Social media: The picture window to TMI

You know the ones--the social media "friends" you have who seem to think that you and others can't wait to hear what they are preparing for dinner, what astonishing acts of virtuosity their children have accomplished, and where they are headed for their next dream vacation.  Or, the ones on Twitter who can't squeeze their musings into 140 characters so thus create rambling, run-on tweets because their world just can't be contained to a few words.

I must admit that I'm more frequently having conversations with myself about all of the snarky things I could post in response to this self-absorbed blathering.  Here's a random sample:

Post:  For dinner, I'm preparing almondine trout with a dash of freshly grown thyme, complemented with fingerling potatoes glazed just right.  My hubby just arrived home with a 2008 Pinot--one of our favorites from our most recent trip to Sonoma.  It'll pair up nicely with what I'm serving!

Response:  Yeah, that sounds pretty tasty.  My wife's got some Spam in the frying pan and is planning to serve that over a bed of Rice-A-Roni.  Now...that's good eatin'!

Post:  I'm so proud of my Carter.  We had our parent-teacher conference today and learned that he's well on his way to another semester of perfect A's even though he's the starting QB for the varsity and works weekends at the local homeless shelter.  How much prouder could a Mom be?

Response:  It sure must be nice to have a child who's *#%! don't stink.  Our young 'un just interviewed to be a Tilt-A-Whirl operator at the upcoming Boone County Fair.  We're pretty stoked.

Post:  If you've never been to Aruba, you simply have to go!  Hubby and I just got back from two weeks there and were in awe of the pristine beaches and the local cultural offerings.  Our beachside bungalow allowed the nice ocean breeze to keep us comfortable.

Response:  Ar-u-who?  Is that the name of that big lake up in Iowa 'cause I hear the go-kart tracks there are world class.  The missus and I would love to make it a couples getaway but the kids won't hear of it--go karts, bumper cars and tubin' is their idea of the perfect three-fer!

You get my point--while social media is a perfect way to reconnect, stay in touch and share family updates, it's also the picture window into a world of T-M-I.  Yes, I know I can block these posts but how satisfying is that?  The vindictive side of me wants to alert the offender and yell "enough!"

There's occasionally social media chatter about the need for an "unlike" button.  Maybe we should change that to a "gag me" button.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Endless summers

A story in this morning's Wall Street Journal coupled with our family vacation of last week put me in a reminiscing mood--thoughts of summers long past and how different those summers were compared to today's summers as an adult, father and grandfather.

This morning's Journal article lamented the difference between those long-ago summers for we Baby Boomers and the summers of today's youth, and how we made those summers of the '60s seemingly last forever.

My summers, growing up, were spent outside.  What was there to do inside?  Absolutely nothing given three (count 'em, three) television channels and absolutely no distractions that even sniffed at the pull of today's computer-tablet-gaming consoles.  Being inside also offered little relief from the heat given the lack of air conditioning throughout homes of that time--room air-conditioners were a luxury usually reserved for bedrooms.

If I wasn't playing "war" with kids in the neighborhood, then I was throwing a ball up in the air as high as I could, trying to emulate the tall fly balls seen on the Baseball Game of the Week on Saturdays.  (Yes, kids, back in the day there was only ONE televised game per week.)  My weapon of choice in the games of reconstructing World War II battles was a fake Thompson submachine gun as that was the equipment used by the squad in Combat!, a much-watched TV series of the time.

On the weekends, time was spent helping my father or grandfather pick fruit in our orchards with the soundtrack of baseball playing in the background on the portable AM radio.  The ubiquity of Harry Caray was a part of the audio memories of my youth, supplemented by Merle Harmon, the radio voice for the lowly Kansas City Athletics.  My dad was a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan and our radio in the yard, or in the car, was permanently tuned to a station that picked up Caray's voice doing play-by-play, in between plugs for Budweiser, "the King of Beers."

As I aged and we moved "into town," my summers were spent on my bike, constantly peddling to the municipal swimming pool or over to my best buddy's house where countless games of whiffle ball were played in his side yard. He was a Baltimore Orioles fan and our games featured the starting lineups of the Cards and Orioles with each of us batting lefty or righty, depending upon the player and his hitting style.  If I had no friend available, I'd head to the public library where I would actually check out a book and read it, for summers were the time of reading programs and emulating my mother's voracious appetite for good books.

Each year, for one week out of the summer, we would pack up the family vehicle and head north--windows open, no air conditioning--up Highway 71 or 59, into northern Missouri and through Iowa to go to a Minnesota lake.  The town names still stick with me--Maryville, Clarinda, Denison, Alexandria, Shenandoah, Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Bemidji and Park Rapids.  We would stay in cabins at lakes named Itasca, Mantrap and Fishhook.

I now know that our family vacations weren't much of a vacation for my mother.  I cannot recall a meal that occurred outside our cabin--Mom would pack up a box of vegetables and gear from home in order to feed us out of the spartan kitchen in a remote lake cabin.

I contrast the summers of my youth with our recently completed beach vacation that featured airline and rental car as the travel of choice.  Our beach home was air-conditioned and most every dinner was taken at a local restaurant.  TVs in every room captured dozens of cable channels.

There's something I miss about those summers of long ago--car travel and two lane roads and restaurants with signs that simply said "Good Food;" pedaling furiously with my swim towel dangling dangerously close to the pedals; sunburned neck and arms and peach juice running down my hands from the fresh fruit both picked and immediately consumed; punks and firecrackers and bottle rockets; being with family and being...outside.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Once again people, it's "Independence Day!"

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following entry is reprinted from this blog on July 4, 2010.

I have an axe to grind, America. Can we please stop commonly referring to this week's holiday as the "Fourth of July," and refer to it as "Independence Day?"

For a quick history lesson, on July 2 (yes, 2nd), 1776, the American colonies legally separated from Great Britain. This was accomplished when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution offered up by one of our Founding Fathers, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. After voting for our country's independence, Congress then focused on the Declaration of Independence. This statement explained the decision of our forefathers and had been prepared by a committee of five men with Thomas Jefferson as the principal author. The wording was debated and reviewed by Congress and ultimately approved on July 4.

A day earlier, John Adams, another one of the five authors, wrote this to his wife Abigail:

- The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

The suggestion that Adams offered up, in this letter to his wife, turned out to be two days off from the ultimate date used for celebrating America's independence. While resolution of our independence occurred on July 2, the date on the Declaration of Independence is July 4.

To further complicate our history's calendar, the signing of the Declaration of Independence did NOT occur on July 4--rather, it was signed on August 2, 1776. So enduring was the myth that signing occurred on July 4 that both Jefferson and Adams, late in their lives, recalled the signing occurring on that date. And, as we all know, both men died on that very day--July 4, 1826--our country's 50th anniversary.

So, when observing our country's independence this weekend, and carrying out Adams' vision of how we should celebrate, let's do just that--honor our "independence"...not the "4th of July."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Is that sun I see!?

It's been awhile kids, perhaps because of the horrid, gloomy weather, so let's get back in the groove and kick it around a bit, shall we?

- Don't you worry about a world where someone can bear the moniker of "reality TV show star?"

- I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the term "lean in."

- Mad Men recovered its mojo in last night's episode.  Perhaps part of the reason was that it was an episode devoid of Don sleeping with his downstairs, same-apartment-building mistress and more about the machinations of the advertising world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

- Speaking of mergers, what of the season ending episode of The Good Wife?  This particular cliffhanger was handled in the quality that we've come to expect from this CBS drama.

- The curmudgeon in me is getting less and less patient with the "look at how great my kid is" posts on Facebook.  And, speaking of Facebook, can we please have an "unlike" button?

- In the wake of last night's killer episode of Mad Men, a higher-than-normal number of media outlets ran opinion pieces on the show, including one referencing "Alpha Romeo."  Italian motorcar enthusiasts everywhere are gnashing their teeth--it's "Alfa."

- A recent story in Fast Company highlighted a "cadre of digital pioneers...rebooting the entertainment industry."  The list includes Tom Hanks, for his Electric City animated noir that was released on Yahoo and as an app that enhanced its graphic-novelesque vibe; Steve Martin, for his "absurdist talents on Twitter; Jessica Alba, the "world's most famous mompreneur" for her baby products e-commerce business, The Honest Company; to Neil Patrick Harris' Neil's Puppet Dreams on YouTube's Nerdist Channel.

- Keith Urban joined the Rolling Stones onstage at the first show of their new tour, which opened at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

- And, finally, the Big 12 conference is well represented on The Voice.  A student from Baylor University and one from the University of Kansas are among the show's 16 finalists.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mad Men--where we left off

"Are you alone?"

Those last words uttered on Season Five of Mad Men, a show with minimalist dialogue, left viewers wondering what that question portended for Season Six, premiering tonight on AMC.  In just a few hours, we'll get a chance to find out on the opening, two-hour first episode of this new season.

Here's where we left the main characters after Season Five's conclusion.

Don Draper:  Don heard the question "Are you alone?" from a beautiful woman while sitting in a bar.  In seasons past, we all know what would have happened next.  In the new world of married life with Megan, we're left to guess Don's response.

Megan Draper:  While Don was left to ponder the "alone" question in a bar, Megan was preparing to shoot a commercial that Don helped her to secure.

Betty Francis:  Bloated Betty, struggling with weight gain, was last seen in a moment of tenderness with her daughter, Sally Draper.

Peggy Olson:  Peggy left Sterling Cooper last season for a larger firm and more money, but will return this season, according to founder Matthew Weiner.

Joan Harris:  Last year was an eventful season for Joan--she split with her husband, slept with a client and became a partner at the agency.

Roger Sterling:  When last seen, Roger was tripping on LSD and seemed determined not to fade away in the brave new world of the reconfigured agency.

Pete Campbell:  Pete brazenly conducted an affair with the wife of a colleague.  She later had electroshock therapy and couldn't remember him.

Sally Draper:  Puberty has started for Sally, offering a moment to bond with her mother in contrast to the girlfriend relationship she seems to have with Megan.

Tune in tonight at 8:00 CT/9:00 ET for the premiere.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The best shows for dudes

A well-known sports columnist, who used to reside in Kansas City, tweeted out his top ten list of all-time favorite TV shows.  His list inspired me to think about which shows are the best for guys, in a television environment where programming focused on men is limited given the impact that sports has against this crowd.

Here's my top 10 list:

1.  Sons of Anarchy.  Are there better shows on TV?  For sure--but no show is as consistently violent as this one, yet based in complex male-male and mother-son relationships that have been termed "Shakespearean."

2.  Justified.  This FX drama is better than its cable brother in the number one spot but is a little less of a pure dude drama given the female appeal of Timothy Olyphant (U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.)

3.  Mad Men.  What guy doesn't, at some level, want to be Don Draper?

4.  Homeland.  Yeah, I know, there is the complicated relationship between Nicholas Brody and Carrie Matthison but what is more masculine than the CIA trying to find then capture or kill terrorists?

5.  The Sopranos.  You can't keep what may have been the best serial drama ever off of this list, can you?

6.  Game of Thrones.  Season three of this award-winning drama begins tomorrow night--it's the darkest show on television.

7.  24.  Jack Bauer...need I say more?

8.  The Wire.  Gritty, raw, authentic, profane--an unbelievable show.

9.  Southland.  This TNT police drama, set in Los Angeles, is one of the best shows no one knows.

10.  Entourage.  Don't forget, this show was appointment viewing among young males when it was on the air.

Yes, there are shows who deserve to be on this list, e.g., Breaking Bad, but aren't here simply because I haven't seen enough to grade them versus these 10.

There you have it--the ten best recent shows for away!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A primer for hoops fans coming to K.C.

Once again, Kansas City is the center, or at least in the primary solar system, of college basketball this week as the second and third round of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament comes to Sprint Center on Friday and Sunday.  Kansas and Kansas State fans will dominate the crowds, given those two teams' games at Sprint Center, but we should expect decent numbers coming to the ol' Cowtown from Wisconsin, North Carolina, Mississippi and either Boise State or LaSalle.

Here is a visitor's primer for our out-of-town guests:

Barbecue:  How can one start any list for out-of-towners with a topic other than Kansas City barbecue? Don't look around downtown for the best 'cue in K.C.--head 1.5 miles east to the original Arthur Bryant's at 18th and Brooklyn.  If vinegary sauce isn't your thing, then your second best bet is to cab it to Oklahoma Joe's at 44th and Mission Road on the Kansas side, where you'll find a national treasure--the Z Man sandwich.  And, finally, another closer-in option is Danny Edward's Barbecue on Southwest Boulevard.  Listen up, Carolina fans--this list only scratches the surface of what real 'cue is about, as Kansas City has a long list of mouth-watering venues ready for barbecue sampling.

Bar:  The best bar in town is a short walk south from Sprint Center--Manifesto, a speakeasy-type establishment below the Rieger Hotel restaurant that, simply put, makes the best cocktails in town.

Beer:  Kansas City is home to one of the best craft beer makers in the U.S.--Boulevard Brewing.  If you get a chance, head to Boulevard for a tour and sampling of the Smokestack Series.

Burgers:  The options are plenty but, if you want to walk, then go to one of the downtown locations of Town Topic.  If it's good enough for Anthony Bourdain, it's good enough for you.

Dive:  Don't head to the P&L District in-between tournament sessions--go a block south from Sprint Center to The Cigar Box.  This dive offers up quality grub, cold beer and cocktails, all in an atmosphere that all but requires a flashlight.

Pizza:  The best pizza downtown is at Grinder's, another short walk from Sprint Center.  But, my advice is to skip the pizza and get Grinder's meatball grinder accompanied by a hearty order of Tater Tots.  Now, that's good eatin'!

Tex Mex:  Where to start?  Manny's, Ponak's and the small establishments along Southwest Boulevard are all quality stops but my advice is to cab it to Rudy's Taqueria on Westport Road for the best tacos in town.

Steak:  Red meat, you say?  Downtown offers The Majestic Steakhouse but my suggested best steak in town resides at The Capital Grille on the Country Club Plaza.  Yeah, I know it's a chain but it's still, in my opinion, the best meal in town.  And, the wine list is first rate.

Culture and History:  Oh, okay, if you need something to do on Saturday besides watching hoops at some sports bar establishment, then go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the same vicinity at Arthur Bryant's (see above.)  The Museum commemorates the forming of the Negro Leagues, which started in Kansas City, and honors the greats of the game, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Kansas City's own Buck O'Neil.  If art is your thing, then check out the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, just east of the Plaza area of town, where the art inside is perhaps only overshadowed by the sculptures outside combined with the architectural magnificence of this museum.

Enjoy your time, visitors, in this city that has "more boulevards than Rome" and "more fountains than Paris."  And, do us a favor--let those Jayhawks and Wildcats move on to the Sweet 16, will ya?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Creative critics

I recently had a creative solution I was proposing to a client and heard the dreaded, "we need to take this in front of (insert some sort of nicer name for a committee.)"  I dropped my what I thought witty, "You know, a camel is a horse designed by a committee" and laughed, but only got a blank look in return, thus sealing my fate--I had to make a creative presentation to a conference room full of people.  It's every agency person's nightmare--the dreaded "let's gain a consensus" on something that, ultimately, is much more art than science.

There's a well-known cartoon in the ad biz by labeled "The 8 Types of Bad Creative Critics."  Take a look and pick out your favorite--haven't we all encountered one of these at some time or another?

The Blender:  "Can we just merge them all together?" when presented with various options.

The Hidden Agenda:  "It doesn't meet our objectives."  "What objectives?"  "You'll just have to guess."

The Micro-Manager:  "Change the font to Times New Roman."

The Waffler:  "Let's just go back to option 18D from the first round."

The Pet Peeved:  "I can't stand the color yellow."  "But, that's the brand color!"  "Then change it..."

The Wannabe:  "How about this instead?" (holding up a hand-drawn design on a cocktail napkin)

The Wet Blanket:  "It just sucks."  "Can you be more specific?"  "No."

The Crammer:  "Add this list of benefits" (displaying a toilet roll sized list of copy points)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Oh, the joys of air travel

Perhaps it's the curmudgeon in me but, seriously, can the world of business travel get much worse?  It wasn't that long ago that one actually was offered a meal on a plane--a bad meal, mind you, but a meal nonetheless.  Now, airlines begrudgingly offer drinks and perish the thought of bartering for a small bag of stale pretzels or peanuts that no one eats unless they fly more than three hours one way.

So here, once again, are some of my idle observations and musings about the world of business travel, given recent experience.

- Have you ever wondered what the guy running the carry-on luggage, x-ray machine is really looking for?  I mean, why does it take so much time to look at the innards of a Kirkwood carry-on roller bag, retail price $100?  On a recent journey, travelers were actually queued up as we all waited for our bags, laptops, and shampoos and gels (all neatly packed in a ziploc bag, as per TSA requirements), watching the agent who ran a machine that doesn't seem that hard to operate.  Speed it up, for cryin' out loud!

- The TSA agent who recently checked my license and boarding pass, before allowing me to enter security at Kansas City's airport, actually sounded like one of those World War II German train stewards--"May I see your papers, please?"  She grilled me on where I was going, whether it was business or pleasure, and if I had anything to declare.  (Okay, maybe she didn't ask me that last part but she was incredibly intimidating--I felt like if I said the wrong thing I'd be whisked into the closet detention area with the single light bulb hanging down.)

- On the positive side, I'm very appreciative of the US Airways flight attendant who purposely was getting military personnel upgraded to first class.

- I couldn't help but snicker yesterday when entering terminal C at DFW Airport and spying a Salt Lick Barbeque, Popeye's and Dickey's Barbecue, all within 100 feet of one another, with a McDonald's sandwiched in between.  Cholesterol overload, anyone?

- And, finally, we are all captive on these small and smaller tubes of flying metal.  Is it really necessary to lean your seat back as if you're in your Barcalounger at home watching the big screen?  Suck it up like the rest of us...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Super Bowl advertising peek

Dear readers, how could I have ignored you?  I looked at my blog recently and realized that it's been a month--a month--since I have posted here.  Oh, the horror and embarrassment--please, please give me a mulligan and let me make it up to you!

In an effort to get back into your good graces, I give you today a peek under the advertising tent--a look-see at what advertisers are planning to fork over $3.5M-4.5M for a 30-second ad spot on the February 3 Super Bowl.  Let's take a look, shall we?

Audi:  The German automaker is back for a sixth straight year with one :30.  The account is handled by Venables, Bell and Partners, a San Francisco-based independent shop who has done great work in energizing the Audi brand.

Frito-Lay:  Another consistent advertiser is Doritos, who plans a seventh straight "Crash the Super Bowl" contest.  Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is the involved agency.

Taco Bell:  The quick-service restaurant chain has a :60 planned for the big game.

Volkswagen:  Deutsch, Los Angeles, handles the creative for VW, who plans one :60 during the game.  Last year, VW's spot aired in the second quarter of the Super Bowl.

Walt Disney Pictures:  Disney will promote Oz, the Great and Powerful, Iron Man 3, or The Lone Ranger with their in-game spot.

Coca-Cola:  Coke has purchased three :30's with no word on whether the iconic white bears will be used in the advertising.

Chrysler:  The Detroit auto manufacturer is back again after two years of much-hyped and much-discussed spots.

Kia:  Last year's spot featured Adriana Lima and Motley Crue--what will Kia do this year to top that effort?

Oreo:  Weiden and Kennedy was named to lead the Super Bowl creative efforts for this brand.

Mercedes Benz:  The Super Bowl is being played in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.  Perhaps naturally we'll then hear the sound of Jon Hamm's voice-over in one Mercedes spot in the game's fourth quarter.

Other involved brands include:  Anheuser-Busch, Axe, Best Buy,, Century 21, Lincoln, M&M's, Samsung, Skechers, Universal Pictures and Toyota.

(Source:  Advertising Age)