Culture, Thank You, Thanks

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, a sales order, or a visit.   Here is the story of one thank you worth noting.

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, Thanks

Tom Rush, Master

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A Charles Giuliano Photos image of Tom Rush at work.

Occasionally a simple action sets a need in motion.

A couple years ago a college friend sent me a CD of folksinger Tom Rush.  This entertainer’s music first broke into our lives back in  1966, hung in there until graduation, and then evaporated as we moved on.

Competition with job, kids and new directions pretty much locked Tom Rush out of our daily routines.

But fifty years later, the brand new CD woke me up.   Not only was our musical hero from university days still alive, but he was also, still, at the the top of his game.

We decided to go see him again.

On stage, Rush is a quiet conversationalist.  He talks to the audience, and snares them into the context of his next song with the finesse of a master salesman.   His modesty hides his greatness in the genre.

Launching his career along with icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Eric Von Schmidt, Jim Kweskin, Richie Havens, Fred Neil today his body of work reaches across decades of accomplishment, from early blues to contemporary ballads.

If “ballads” sounds corny, think stories, worries and wishes put to music and rhyme, about things and events on our plates every day.

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Isis Restaurant & Music Hall occupies a renovated theater from 1937 in the heart of West Asheville.

Last Sunday Tom Rush performed at the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall in Asheville, NC.   Contrary to the those of many small cities across America, Asheville’s downtown is booming.

In the west end, also known as the West Village, the Isis theatre is a fixture built in the 1930s, and renovated to its current appealing look with bar, restaurant and stage.  Outside, the original marquee showcases the night’s act.  Across the street is a guitar shop, with nearby pawn shop, grocery, village market, cafe’s and gas stations.

The street is filled with cyclists and people enjoying their particular pursuits.  While there was plenty of curb parking we chose to park in the grocery lot.   There was a sign pointing to a steel box into which I folded eight dollar bills to keep my place.

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Across Haywood Road a guitar store stands ready to fulfill the next musician’s dream.

Seated at our table up front, we looked at our hopeful neighbors, ordering dinner.  The Isis is delightfully small.  It seats about 50 diners and another 100 or so listeners on the main floor and in an upper gallery.   It is a cool place, good food, with a restaurant out front which was packed when we arrived, 90 minutes before the show.  Louise, the show scheduler came by our table to welcome us– a nice touch.

Up on the stage, a young fellow is tuning instruments: pianos and guitar.   He looks like a stage hand but in fact is Matt Nakoa who opens for Rush.   I shake his hand, and ask him to pass a note to his partner, requesting a song.

I can’t believe I am doing this but the opportunity can’t be lost to communicate with this giant.

It helps when I add, “We saw you last September in Minneapolis.  You guys were just great, thanks!”  He got my name and finished his tuning, and left the stage.

A few minutes later after Louise opens the show, Nakoa reappeared and delivered a virtuoso performance.   His songs are rich, thoughtful and complex, with a voice that adds a layer of honesty to the words.

At the keyboard, he is incredibly efficient.  Not that he uses only one or two notes per bar, but rather that he uses all his fingers every second.  I was reminded of the Bruce Hornsby sound: full barreled piano, active and melodic.  Matt Nakoa could choose to be a powerful classic concert pianist, but he opted for the folk and jazz club scene, much to our good fortune.

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A Neale Eckstein image of Matt Nakoa unwinding a tune.

Nakoa also played guitar, with a light and intriguing touch.   He is left handed, playing a left handed guitar, but strung for a right hander.

This forces an inverted chord formation which for most people would be like tying their shoes using a mirror.  I am guessing he had to borrow someone else’s guitar in his learning, and the habit stuck.  The result is golden: a unique and magical delivery.

He delivered a half dozen songs, each original and lush in melody.  You want to hear “Ballad of Jenny Kane”.  Just as enchanting however was his patter between numbers.  He plays while he speaks, reminiscent of  60s entertainer Mauri Hadyn who also spoke with the audience while she produced a continuous soundtrack of riffs.

Tom Rush walks on after Matt’s introduction, and the crowd cheers for both singers.

Two figures could not look less likely to work together, and that is the magic of this duo.   We are faced with mop-headed Gen-x musical prodigy standing beside a crusty, smiling, white haired, git-picking balladeer.  Unbelievable combination.

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Early on Tom Rush started a following that just won’t quit. His ’72 Columbia Records release.

Our fascination is soon overcome by the quality of their product.   Rush commands the room with his good nature and low-key, self deprecating introductions.  He opens up his act with the confidence of a master woodworker unwrapping his blades, choosing one to carve a unique keepsake for the audience.

Launching into “It’s Gonna Get Hot Tonight” the crowd responds enthusiastically to Rush, encouraged by his beat and voice, both strong and happy.  In the background Nakoa has shelved the concert hall vibes to provide a wood-floor honky tonk sound that fills out the song perfectly.

The audience tonight is a following that has grown organically over 5o years of performances.   We drove 750 miles to see him.  True to his brand, Tom Rush delivers amusement and satisfaction by way of his story telling, singing and playing.

We know these songs, and they have legs.   The lyrics are his, in perfect measure, with stories we want to hear.   They are delivered by a voice that is both raucous and contemplative.   He can change our mood in line or two, all the while polishing that finished piece of work for presentation.

There is a side to Tom Rush which is remarkable, and it points to his generosity.   Yes, Matt Nakoa adds a dimension to his music, but it is the reciprocal nature of Rush’s partnership that is giving a younger generation the benefit of his experience.

He is hardly looking at the final days of his stellar career, with over 25 engagements scheduled in the coming months.  Despite that, he has taken on the onus of sharing what he knows with a new, younger talent.

Matt Nakoa has his own music and his own story, but he is following in the footsteps of a legend with full support.   In big business, the CEOs always say to hire people smarter than we are, but it’s scary.  Rush took that dare on Nakoa.   Our kids should all be so lucky.

A look at Tom Rush’s website unveils another gift.   While he has the usual display of story, news and events, he also has a page of FAQs .  What’s with that?   Countless questions from fans about how to play his songs, complete with guitar tunings.   In our world, it would be like a master vintner unveiling his secret recipe for a knockout wine.

Which leads to another puzzle in the Tom Rush narrative.  Why does a self respecting folk icon tour New England and the west coast playing in small venues for only the price of a good steak?  Celebrity has its costs, but modest ticket fees aren’t among them.

I think the answer is that the man loves what he does, and he wants to share it.   His audience loves him back. That is remuneration enough.

And by the way, he called me out, and played my request.

Thanks for reading!   This show is what coffee house music and jazz clubs are all about.   Who needs an auditorium for 20,000?  I pass on some websites for your interest, and feel free to share!

Tom Rush Show Schedule

His CD “What I Know”

Matt Nakoa’s Home Page

 

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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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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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