Culture, Government, Politics, Thank You

Small Town Choices

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The bridge in the park at Butler Lake. Early freeze.

You know you live in a small town when people drop by without calling first.

Tuesday morning a smiling lady appeared at our door presenting a mardi gras King Cake. She explained it was thanks for speaking up at our town hall meeting.

A couple days before that we found a handwritten note in our mailbox from a gentleman a couple blocks away wishing for good luck.

This morning another note came the same way, saying thanks.

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148 “lock and leave” homes for those just passing through.

The cause of these overt gestures is the disturbing proposal to plop 148 homes on 15 acres of a 40-acre parcel of recently cleared land at the edge of our pretty little town.

We call it a Village, which is kind of habit in these parts, but it’s a real town, not a little collection of thatched roof cottages with small people running around in leggings and buckled shoes.  Over 20,000 people live here.

Anyway, because of the collective rejection of the idea, we formed a group of residents in the Village to make our case for stopping the development.

I won’t bore you with the politics.

What I do want you to appreciate though is the essential goodwill of the people who live here, and who love our little town.

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Lunch in the park, on a sunny Friday.

We moved here 27 years ago.  It was a corporate move, and we had the benefit of shopping around the far north suburbs of Chicagoland.  Our first obligation was interviewing three school principals, each who presented their school’s achievements.   One school had computers in every room, which was pretty special in 1990.  Carpeted hallways.    Another school was brand new, and shiny.

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School’s out and the midway comes to town.

The third, was older, but in the center of our little town, bordered by a ball field, festooned with flags, and shaded by ancient maples and oaks.  As the vice principal marched me around the classrooms, the students all smiled and helloed.  It was a very warm May morning, and as we marched through the heat of the second floor, I offered, “Guess there’s no air conditioning?”  He bounced back, “Nope.  Isn’t it great?”  Rugged, smiling enthusiasm.

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Canopied streets and open space set the tone.

I have for years thereafter said that moving here was the best decision we ever made.  On the July 4th weekend when the moving trucks pulled away from our new home, two of the neighbors’ kids brought over a plate of cookies to welcome us.

A couple of years ago, after a car demolished half of our house, a lady from blocks away appeared at our door one day with a gift card from Panera’s.  She said, “I just wanted you to have this, and hope that you are okay.”  A complete stranger, but not really, in the greater sense.

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One very dog-friendly town, these two await their family in the Homecoming Parade.

For sure, the schools are great.  Top-tier nationwide, the high school is launch pad for our next generation of leaders.  The junior schools are our pride and joy.

But beyond that, our little town is a hive of busy optimism, set on a picturesque palette of heritage buildings, generous parks, a network of lakes, streams and wetlands, and threaded with neat roads and lanes through open, treed neighborhoods.

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Two young parade watchers celebrate the downtown alley.

In the summer the town square is thronged with picnickers and market vendors.  In the days leading up to Christmas, Santa is taking last minute orders, and come the end of school, there’s a pretty spectacular fairground set up with horrendously noisy and garish rides.  A great venue for kids to escape for a while as summer approaches.

Even though there are 5-lane roads quartering the Village, its geography exudes community: a oneness of safety, children, exceptional schools, careful planning, well-being and promise.

I mentioned the goodwill of the folks who live here.  Many came to the town hall meeting last week and in front of a couple hundred neighbors, gave passionate testimony in defense of their small town.

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The village’s architecture is preserved and treasured.

One lady made a simple statement, but with profound meaning.  Before her, the discussion had recalled the past,  and how developers had walked away from our village to build their shopping mall in a neighboring community.  Another developer took its plans for a millionaire’s subdivision complete with golf course to another neighboring village.

Clutching the mike with both hands, she said, “We chose this village to live in because of its character.   We didn’t lose the shopping mall.  We didn’t lose the golf community.  We simply chose not to develop, and not to have them.  They aren’t what our Village is about.”

The debate on whether the 148 dwellings will materialize will continue.  They are described as low maintenance, “lock and leave” buildings for the travel and retirement set.

In the mean time, we’ll still be here, and the front door is open.

 

Thanks for reading!  I hope you will share this with your friends who also treasure the small town.

 

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Culture, Thank You

Really, thanks!

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A time of civility…

What is it about people today that writing to say “thanks” is too much work?  It seems the least one can do in return for a gift, a dinner, a night out, or a visit.   Here is the story of one thank you worth noting.

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Factory district abandoned in Detroit

My frustration is really a hat tip and compliment to NBC’s Today Show host Matt Lauer. You may have seen his visit to the blooming Shinola factory in Detroit.

There, dedicated folks are building a little industry in journals, greeting cards, thank you notes, day planners and personal calendars.

Mr. Lauer’s interest in Shinola is twofold. First he is supporting entrepreneurial growth in one of the toughest and long abandoned districts of Detroit.

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Detroit Edison Academy students

The streets are bordered by broken homes and derelict factory buildings. Homeless denizens still occupy the corners of doorways.

Despite that, there is The Detroit Edison Academy, an elementary school nearby where uniformed children are taking on the challenges of learning and self reliance with optimism.

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Matt Lauer cheers on the D-E kids.

Lauer’s gift to the school are the profits derived from Shinola’s sale of his personalized product line.

All part of the comeback process for urban Detroit.

Lauer’s other pursuit is the rebirth of the hand written note.

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Technician building the Shinola watch

“Everything today is digital. I like to live in an analog world, which takes one back to a time of civility when people took out a piece of paper and a pen to say “thank you.”

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Matt and the Today Show crew viewing his personal line of Shinola journals. Profits go to Detroit Edison Academy.

Shinola’s Detroit product line extends beyond leather and linen covered booklets to precision watches. The combination of the two products appeals to an array of sophisticated and enlightened consumers.

The production lines are the breeding ground for devoted, and motivated workers clad in smocks and dust free head covers.

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The D-E students present Matt with their hand written cards of thanks.

Lauer is hooked on the booklets and journals. Clutching one he testifies, “There is the joy of hanging onto something that doesn’t ring, beep, or send you a tone.”

Detroit Edison Academy looks like an oasis in the middle of an urban desert. Its hallways are clean and bright, and teeming with good looking, tidy kids on their way to a better future.

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“Let’s never forget the personal touch! Thanks for helping,”

They cheer Matt later for his support, and in a presentation, thank him with a bounty of hand written cards.

Lauer is overcome. “Thank you. This means so much to me. I am one of those believers who still write someone a little note… when was the last time you went to a mail box and found a letter that was addressed to you? Isn’t it a special feeling?

 

Thanks for sharing!  You can watch this really cool video of Matt’s visit here.

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Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 2

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The marquee at The Packard Music Hall


How We Came To See America

Forty-six years after their first concert, we finally saw America, that classic rock band that formed the soundtrack for many of us in the 70s.

Had it not been for the accidental bump into Bill Worrell, their genius lead guitar, we may have still missed an unforgettable concert, just this week, in historic Warren Ohio.

After meeting Worrell, we followed America’s tour schedule and targeted the closest drive to see them. We bought two seats at the Packard Music Hall for June 15 in Warren, Ohio, an hour outside of Cleveland.   This venue was a small, old, yellow brick auditorium which seemed an unlikely spot for a famous group to appear.  But with some reassurance from the folks at our hotel, we headed into town.

W.D. Packard, builder of the Packard automobile provided for a music hall in his estate.   That building didn’t materialize for some years, but eventually, in 1955 it opened, and became the home of the W.D. Packard Concert Band.   The hall since then has attained renown for its regular hosting of concerts for all tastes.  It is the go-to place for music in Trumbull County.  You would liken it to a small Ryman Auditorium.

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70s– life is good and easy.

Our image of America consists of three young faces with lots of hair.  But neat.  Their album covers telegraph thoughtful rock melody, with some leather and tie-dye.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but given that they graduated from high school in 1969, a quick look in our mirror would set the tone.

Driving down Mahoning Street in Warren, we sense an event about to take off.  Warren is a grand old city, but it has endured some devastating challenges with the collapse of the Ohio steel industry.    Our earlier drive across West Market Street coming into town is heartbreaking and disturbing.  Urban decay in full bloom.

But here, on Mahoning, the cars–all new, all shiny, SUVs and hobby convertibles– signify that money has arrived.   The parking security wave us in like ground control, and we are placed within bumper distance of a classic 80s Corvette.  The crowds are moving to the doors, and after scanning our online tickets, we are admitted to the front room.

Our Crowd Packs In

The Packard only seats 2,500 fans.  So this event will be close, and if not intimate, still friendly, unlike the massive takes at the United Center in Chicago.

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Some happy fans, these sisters and cousins are here to hear their band.

Around us, pony tails, tees, shorts, and sandals abound.  And those are the men.   Beside them are women outfitted in jewelry, dresses, capris and well made up.  This crowd is the picture of the Boomer: under 50, over 70, need not apply.  They are a happy, satisfied bunch who are eagerly looking for a reminder of just how good and innocent those raucous 60s and 70s really were, compared to now.

The Lights Go Down.

The host of the Packard appears and welcomes us all.  He thanks us for being in this hallowed hall, and introduces Brennin Hunt, who opens for America.

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Brennin Hunt, from Oklahoma by way of Nashville

Hunt, aka, Brennin is a smart guitarist/writer who finds a melody and picks it over repeatedly until it is glued into your head.   He has a vocal range that hits Vince Gill highs, and with whom he has co-written songs.

“I have some CDs out front, and I’ll be there to sign ’em for ya.  I’m a nobody so I have time to talk with you too.  Thanks!”

He has fronted for America for only a couple of weeks, but he is the perfect appetizer.  His music is calculated to attract and articulated with a free range across his Martin D-28.   Lots of passion in his tenor voice, he delivers a strong melody.   His best, and most phenomenal delivery is a cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.   He was brave enough to take on this iconic piece, and he serves it beautifully, acoustic guitar booming out the hypnotic bass line.  Quincy Jones would applaud.

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Brennan and Billy The Kid Worrell render New Kid In Town

Closing his act, Brennin invites our personal hero, Bill Worrell to the stage.  It turns out that Worrell, aka “Billy The Kid” also played guitar for a tribute concert tour  for The Eagles.   To acknowledge that, Brennin and Worrell duet on New Kid In Town.   Worrell’s smiling addition is effortless, and before the crowd can reseat themselves, America romps onto the stage.

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A 70s light show entertains. Easy to set up and take down for the next show in Detroit, tomorrow night.

Dewey Bunnell sports wire frames tucked in beneath neatly combed back silver hair.   He may be seasoned, but he is in good shape, and with a confident, upright pose launches into Tin Man.  He is playing a beautiful black, mother of pearl inlay Taylor acoustic.

To his side, Gerry Beckley is likewise be-spectacled, and strums his six string, tucked under his arm.  Behind them, Worrell plays a third acoustic.  To his right, Ryland Steen, a mere youngster is on drums, and to his right, Rich Campbell nimbly fingers a five string Spector bass.

I mention the band’s gear because the electrified acoustics give a full body of sound.  You think you are listening to an orchestra, but it’s just five guys and a powerful amp.

Just then, I asked myself, why do guys like this keep at it?  This is work, big time.

The crowd is on its feet.   We have been waiting for this sound since 1976.  For a moment, tonight it’s all music and light.

With hardly a pause, the group turns over “You Can Do Magic”, “Don’t Cross The River”, and “Daisy Jane” .   We are enraptured, and a spotlight on the audience would show a sea of pasty, wrinkled faces with wide grins singing back at the band.

The guys perform their hits flawlessly like shooting bottles off a fence rail, one after another.  They introduce Billy The Kid, and he takes off on an instrumental break, one of many in the show.

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America’s classic logo sustains and endures, like the band.

Meanwhile, the back stage screen flashes an encyclopedia of America images.  From album covers to Peyote Indian meetings to Viet Nam gunboats and helicopters.

What is enchanting about this 70s light show, is that it is a 70s light show.  No fireworks.   No pedestals or trapeze work.  No swinging microphone stands and no dance groups.

In all, America played 20 of their tunes.  They were all good, and fresh.

You might expect that like other vintage groups, a back up team of vocalists would deliver the high notes.

Instead, Gerry Beckley hits them, if like climbing out on a drooping limb at the top of a tall tree, he was careful, and plucked the peach he was after, every time.  A fearless display of singing.

The group soaked up several standing ovations, and only then did they turn over “Ventura Highway”.  Beckley fingered that one on his Taylor acoustic and made it look devilishly simple.

In a quiet moment, Bunnell smiles and thanks us for listening, and remarks that they have been performing over 100 concerts a year, for 46 years.

“People ask why?  Well, as long as you keep coming, we’ll keep playing.”

Asked and answered.

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In front of a U.S. gunboat we get “Sandman”.

The band unloads a solid “Sandman”, heavily enhanced by Bill Worrell against a grey tone backdrop of Huey helicopters in flight over Viet Nam.  They goose us up with “Sister Golden Hair”  and then leave the stage.

We cheered them back, and then, like Christmas, they unleashed “A Horse With No Name” which made the evening complete.

Watching this enduring 70s band do its best stuff with cheerful ease awakened some dormant yearnings and memories.   School.  College.  First love.  First job.   Money and independence.

It made me imagine the high times on West Market Street in Warren, when the steel industry was in its heyday, and wealth and the plans for future wealth were effervescent in everyone’s imaginations.   Those days are long gone here, but as the town continues to remake itself, and this music plays on at Packard Hall, they will come back.

That is the joy of America.

 

Thanks for reading!  Here’s some websites you might value:

America Concert Tour Dates

Brennin Hunt

Bill Worrell

Warren Ohio

Warren Photo Tour

 

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Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 1

How We Nearly Missed A Classic Rock Band, Again

I_need_you_-_AmericaAt the time we first were raising kids we managed to survive without a television, stereo, or car radio.  Only occasionally did we hear those magnetic tunes of America by Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek.   In the background, George Martin produced.

Years later, the kids now have kids of their own, and we have lots of sound equipment.  And a collection of America’s Greatest Hits which are an irreplaceable soundtrack of the 70s, and still captivating today for their lyrics and melodies.

On a flight back from LAX last spring we sat beside a polite young gentleman who stared at his laptop, ears plugged in, for most of the trip.   Coming into O’Hare, we all powered down, and said hello.  A casual, perfunctory conversation followed:

“So, what do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a musician.”

“Really?  In a band?”

“Unhunh.  I play in a classic rock band called America. My name’s Bill Worrell.”

“Oh, cool. Well, nice to meetcha.  We’re Phil and Jane. Safe trip home.”

The plane landed and we all scrambled for our bags, got onto our feet and into the aisle to get off the plane.  The guy walked out ahead of us and disappeared into the crowds at Terminal 3.

“Do you know who that is??” my wife asked, incredulous.

“Uh, Bill somebody.  Nice guy.”

“You twit!!  He’s with America.  You know, the band.  Ventura Highway?  Horse With No Name?  Tin Man?  Sister Golden Hair?  Daisy Jane???”  By now she is dragging her bag ahead of me straining to spot Bill Worrell in the crowd.

We never found him, but the enormity of my density hung over my head the entire ride home in the car.

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A Steve Gaglio Photography image of our seat mate, Bill Worrell.

I felt badly.  On the one hand, this kid is looking for fame and recognition, and I crush him with indifference.  On the other hand, he sees me as a wizened old goof probably humming Dion tunes.

I made things up by contacting him on his website and blaming my doziness to jet lag.  He immediately responded, and graciously gave me a pass with a chuckle.  I wrote back adding that anyone who could play the opening riff to Ventura Highway was a hero in my books.

Ever since then we have tracked America, and a few months ago booked tickets to see them last weekend at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio.  It’s a 450-mile drive but we have the time.

A Wrong Turn, And A Crisis

Warren is southeast of Cleveland.  We approach this historic city from I-8o and a solid line on the map entices us to skip the beltway outside the city to our hotel, and instead, drive through town on West Market Street.

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Great expectations, questionable today.

Just off the interstate, our first introduction is to the hamlet, Center of the World.   It is distinguished by a few small roadside stores and the shell of a burnt out, collapsed garage.  We drive on.

Getting closer to Warren on West Market street we drive past closed shops, discount stores, pawn shops and unkempt properties.  We see a couple walking toward the Superpawn Shop, him with bareback in shorts, festooned in tattoos.  She shuffles by his side in tee and flip flops.

Our trip to downtown continues dismally.  The ruin continues with no cease.

“How could they book a gig here?”

“An aggressive agent, I guess.  Wow. What an eye opener.”

Deflated by the west side, we head up to Packard Music Hall to check out the venue, look for safe parking and quick getaways if we need them.

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Warren’s City Hall, a beautiful building decked out in petunias.

Along the way we see the greatness of Warren.  Founded in 1798, this city has some of the most stunning architecture in its public buildings we have ever seen.  Along the wealthy streets there are some enormous, and beautifully built antebellum homes.  Flowers are everywhere.

The music hall is small.  Which means a cozy concert, and that’s good.  But beyond it is a park with groups of people milling about, not so much picnicking, but lazing about, because there is nothing else to do on a Wednesday afternoon.  The view among the ancient oaks and green lawns is strangely unsettling.

We drive back through the city center amid vacant store and office buildings, out along East Market Street where the real estate improves.

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Trumbull County Court House in downtown Warren is majestic.

But it doesn’t improve enough to lift a feeling of dread about going downtown at night to see America.

By the time we reach our posh hotel in the suburbs we have decided to go home.  I inform the front desk folks, and with that, we elect to have a lunch in the mall, and start the 450-mile return trip, extremely disappointed.

The Turning Point

We sit at the bar of an Outback Steakhouse.  Bar sitting is great when you are splitting a meal.  It also gives license to speak with neighbors.

Lynn is running the bar.  I opened:

“Hi Lynn.   We just got into town, but I made a huge mistake driving in on West Market.  It’s pretty scary.  What happened?”

She paused before answering, maybe wondering if I was worth explaining to.

“Well, we used to have about six steel mills in the area.  They all went out of business in the 80s and it’s been a struggle for many.  All the people and business who supported the economy went away. Welcome to another country.”

With that I started to synchronize the news of Ohio’s past with my sheltered life in Illinois. But concerns persisted.

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Our first look at the concert hall.

“We’re going to the Packard Music Hall to see America.  It looks kinda rundown.  Are we crazy?”

“Oh no.  You’re perfectly safe there.  It’ll be a good show.  The east side is quite different than the west side.”

With that, a lady came up to us from behind.

“Are you going to see America tonight?”

She wore a black and white summer dress.  Bracelets on her tanned arms telegraphed upscale success.  Her 20s-something daughter hung back at their dining table.

“We are going.   It will be great.  You’ll love it.  We are having dinner at Leo’s first, and then drive in.  The Packard is perfect, and the place will be packed.  You’ll feel right at home.”

Her name was Diane, and she unloaded a ton of dining advice, hotels, and sights to see.  Had I asked, she may have admitted to being a real estate sales rep.  Regardless, she was good.

With that, we decided to rebook our hotel room.

More tomorrow, and I tell you how this trek to see America ended up.

 

 

 

 

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Culture, Media, Thank You, Thanks

Running Off The Cliff

wile-e-coyote-2You know the Wiley Coyote scene where he runs off the cliff in hot pursuit of the Roadrunner. There, hung in blind suspension of disbelief, he looks at the camera before reality sinks in.

Then he falls with a vviipp or a boink. We chuckle happily at his dusty, bruised remains in the canyon below.

So it is that I now admit to a similar, sad and painful realization.

Last December 6 I advised you that despite the falling volumes of the post office, one thing blossomed like a fresh spring crocus on a sunny hill… our continued, warm-hearted custom of sending greeting cards.

Stamps 965 copy (1)Christmas, Hannukah, Thanksgiving, Halloween were all good reasons to pick up our pens and write.

I detailed in colorful charts how “Single Piece Cards and Letters” sky-rocketed in the last quarter of the year, from October to December. Poring over the figures from the regular USPS reports, I found that the numbers went up, even while general mail volumes went down.

It was, as I said, revealing our brighter side.

Mail may be an antiquity, but by golly, we are sending a card anyway.

wiley's canyonRevisiting that article, I discovered to my shock and dismay, that I had reported on revenues, not pieces. Aaarrrggghh!

Yes, patient reader, I misled you, big time.

The truth is, Cards and Letters for Q4, October 1-December 31, remain virtually the same share of the total, for the years 2004 and 2014— 27.5% to 27.7%.  Meanwhile the whole category tumbled 55% over ten years.

Do they jump up in the last quarter as our good intentions begin to materialize?

Yes, as always.  In 2004, an uptick of 18%, and 2014, up 22%, just in time to make delivery by Christmas.

But who’s going to calibrate a blip…a minor swelling…a mild burp in goodwill based on these numbers?  The fact is, we have laid down our pens.

With that, Wiley Coyote looks down into the abyss.  In his descent, he contemplates what went wrong.

wile-e-coyote-off-cliff-largeYes, email for sure.  Good grief, why send a thank you card for a dinner when a two-liner on Gmail will tick that off the list?  Want to bang off a birthday greeting fast?  Hit “send” and it’s done.   And is there any need to spin post card carousels in some tourist trap when you can celebrate your vacation on Facebook?   Hardly.  And so much for mailing pics of the Grandkids when there’s Instagram.

“Ahhh, to heck with it,” Wiley concludes as the ground rises before him, except… there is one factor to consider…

The physical delivery of the letter made a big, personal-brand impact.   When someone took the time to compose, and write, in ink, on a nice card, address and lick an envelope, buy a pretty stamp, and find a mail box, it communicated in ways far beyond digital.

It’s a nice thought.

~Splat.

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Marketing, Thank You

How To Save Your Brand

AA TicketerThe most successful companies are those that everyone can place in a good story with a happy ending.

So it is that I can report to you that American Airlines gave us back our money, no questions asked.

It is a seemingly daunting challenge to get money out of a mega-giant company.  $45 billion in sales, 339,000 employees, protected by walls of service teams separated by deep moats of phone boards, websites, fax numbers, procedures and protocol.

Still, it only took two phone calls and a personal letter to initiate a resolution that delivered two valuable e-vouchers which we will use by January, 2017.

The Customer Relations Department looked at our problem and said, “Yes!”

Ironically, the same day we received the prized e-vouchers we also received an email from an earnest worker in the “Refunds Department” saying, “No.”  That was a belated response from our website submission of the original request, over three weeks ago.

We were delighted and satisfied with the turn of events, on many levels. First, we got our money back, no small deal in itself.   Second, American did the right thing quickly, within 4 days.  Third, and most important, American had recognized the value of a happy customer.

This last accomplishment is a twofer: of course, we will advocate on AA’s behalf, contributing to that word-of-mouth phenomenon wherein reputations are defined for good or bad.  But on top of that, American reinforced our belief in the goodness of the relationship, and that is the ultimate customer satisfaction, knowing we haven’t been ripped off by someone we thought was our friend.

I can’t stress this last point enough.  Brands live by their customer relationships.  The better a customer knows a business, the more profitable the relationship.  That’s because we buy more, we come back often, we cost less to service, and we bring our friends.

American Airlines’ Refunds Department, inappropriately named, failed on this test, but kudos to the Customer Relations Department that got it right.

Thanks for reading!  Please share, and to the readers who wished me luck in this venture, I can say it all worked out just as I hoped, and expected, that it would.

 

 

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Thank You, Thanks

What You Do When Disaster Strikes

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Last minute arrival.

March 31, at 6:10pm central time a 2006 black Acura sped out of control on Butterfield Road next to our house. Witnesses in front of the car saw it weave across three lanes from their rear view mirror.

Abruptly the car turned hard to the right and side-slipped 75 feet across our lawn hitting the back corner of our bedroom. It did not come to a halt. Rather, the vehicle and occupants continued through the brick wall, spun 90 degrees in the bedroom, and drove through the bathroom, grinding to a stop half way through our living room.

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Perfect targeting avoided the fence and the stop sign.

Moments before that we had sat down in the living room to watch the new springtime sun set over the row of budding trees beyond our bay window. It would be the last peaceful scene we would see for weeks.

At the moment of impact, we were stunned by the deafening explosion. Our first thought was a falling plane, or perhaps a meteorite had crushed the house. Then the wall of the living room imploded before us, pushing couch and armoire ahead of it, and blasting a framed picture across the wall to land on our other couch. Glass, plaster, wood and dust everywhere.

Running down the hallway to the bedroom, we looked in, and there was a clear view of the highway. The entire wall was gone.

I could have written about this incident months ago, but decided to hold off until the dust had settled, and not just literally. While I don’t recommend this approach to understanding the role of first responders, I can say we learned a lot about what to do when disaster strikes you, or someone else.

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Passengers were extracted by Libertyville’s first responders. The child in the back seat only had a scratch over her eye.

So this is what you do when you are the object of the disaster.

1. Are you okay? Apparently we were, because we both jumped from our seats and looked around. No pain, no numbness, and no bleeding. The fact was, we weren’t touched, but certainly shocked.

2. Anybody else around? Once we saw the rear of the car in our bathroom, it was pretty clear we weren’t alone, but there was no way to get near the car with the tangle of rubble, conduits, joists and furniture blocking the path.

3. Call 911. Did that immediately. First item: name and address. Closest intersection. Phone number. Bring a couple of ambulances, a car crashed through the house. Stay on the line. Literally within two minutes the Libertyville police were knocking at our door, and the fire department appeared moments later. It turned out that an officer had just driven past our house on the highway when he heard an explosion. Looking in his rear view mirror a plume of white smoke blossomed over our yard, and he knew something was up.

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Road repairs this summer–check the new boulders as our first line of defense.

4. Shut everything down. It became obvious to us pretty quickly that professional first responders know the routine, and we were the lucky beneficiaries of their experience.

In the next ten minutes, the gas was turned off. The power was cut. It took a little longer to get to the water, but that was turned off too.

5. Follow orders. Despite our own assessment, we really were more shook up and addled than we knew. That’s when the police and fire fighters stepped up. They kept us away from the house, pending a careful review of its structure. It could cave in. Or blow up. As things turned out, the building was stable despite missing one corner, and the presence of a 3,600 pound car resting on the main floor.  Kudos to the architect who designed this house.

6. Call insurance. Quite amazing… the fire department chief asked for our carrier and he had their speed dial on his phone. We were hooked up with our “good neighbor” State Farm, in seconds. A few moments later, our fire chief also provided a list of company names to manage the board-up of our house. After picking one from a list of ten, a truck of workers arrived 30 minutes later with a load of plywood to board up the missing wall of our house.

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The business side of the Acura. Our CDs were found under the dashboard.

7. Take pictures. Thank goodness for digital photography. We took over 100 pictures on our own from every angle. These became invaluable later on for filing claims, identifying lost articles, piecing objects together.

The insurance claims adjusters request a digital picture of everything lost or damaged. My advice to you now is to photograph your entire house and contents, wall by wall, ceiling to floor.  It’s easy, and effective.

8. Think big. When it comes to placing a value on that couch you bought 25 years ago, it’s worth a trip to the furniture store first. Our homeowner’s policy provided for replacement value. But something that cost $1,000 in 1990 probably costs $3,000 now. Take your time filing your claims, and get the numbers right first.

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Home renos on the horizon. The wall imploded around us.

9. Rationalize. When fate strikes a blow, there is an urge to blame someone, especially when other people are involved. The fact is, the driver had blanked out due to an attack. Nobody’s fault to speak of.

Looked at another way, the car could have left the road ten yards earlier, or later, with no serious consequences to anyone.  Let it go.  If you have retribution beyond repair compensation on your mind, get your legal gown out, because you will be in court for a long time.

10. Keep notes. We kept a diary of daily developments during the recovery from the crash. Six months of hand written notes recording names of workers, dates, what happened. These can be useful for insurance purposes but just as important, it telegraphs to the hundreds of people who are in your home that you know them, and care about what they are doing.

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Masterful repairs by the contractors. We saved and re-used over 1,300 bricks.

11. Be private. Within 30 minutes of the big boom, we had a Channel 5 helicopter hovering over our home. Reporters were lined up across the street interviewing neighbors. That was because the police chief asked if we wanted the media on the property. No thanks, not tonight, actually.

Next day, the newspaper crew came by, and in the light of day, it was easier to tell the story, complete with pictures. The resulting publicity is electric, with news feeds delivering your story to people nationwide.

12. Be gracious. Human nature is that we all like to stand on our own feet. Accepting help is a weakness.

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A subtle return to the old look with new bricks.

But the fact is, help is the best medicine for the giver and the recipient alike.

Our neighbors demanded we use their spare bedroom, We took it. Others demanded we come to dinner. We did. Strangers came up to us in town and asked after our well being. Hugs and handshakes.

One very concerned and generous lady–whom we did not know–came by to give us a Panera gift card. The meal was excellent. Another thoughtful neighbor counseled us on insurance claims. We needed it.

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Libertyville’s first responders performed flawlessly, and quickly.

The lesson we learned over six months is that people want and need to help. Our job as the injured party is to take it, and treasure it, which we did.

The fact is, every time someone extended a hand, we were flushed with encouragement, and I think they felt better themselves too.

Now, everything is just about back to normal, eight months later.  We don’t recommend this experience to anyone, but for all of that, we are thankful for the way things turned out.

Never ignore the opportunity to help someone, or to make the effort to check them out.  There’s no downside to it! 

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