Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Traveled but Unraveled

I think I need the official restoration of the Catholic Church's veneration of St. Christopher.

Especially as patron saint of travelers.


St. Christopher's feast day was apparently rescinded -- as far as my 10 minutes' research has been able to find -- because there was some question about his martyrdom. 

 Regardless, I may be investing in a St. Christopher medal, especially given my travel schedule lately.

I've been away from business travel for the past 10 years or so. Earlier in my career, I did a fair amount of it, zipping to Washington D.C. or New York when I was handling communications related to the banking industry. (D.C. for the regulatory front; NY for the money-center front.)

Now that I'm in travel and tourism, I'm on the road a little more.

Business travel hasn't changed all that much. Post-9/11 security measures make things a little more inconvenient, but I'm okay with the trade-off of slipping out of my shoes in exchange for the assurance that nobody's packing napalm in their Nunn Bushes.

My luck with travel started getting sketchy when I flew to Detroit to bring Parker home from his Michigan breeder. It was supposed to be a quick in-and-out trip; I wasn't even going to leave the airport, with the breeder bringing the eight-week-old guy to me, handing him off, and enabling me to zip right back home.

Didn't work out that way.

The transfer went fine. I had borrowed a carry-bag to enable Parker to ride in the cabin with me, rather than in the luggage compartment, something I was insistent on.

But then the flight got delayed. A lot. And I spent about five hours in the Detroit airport with a little puppy.

We played. He napped. And his bathroom needs were met with inventiveness and creativity (luckily, we only had to deal with the liquid end), thanks to some potty-pads I had brought for the lining of the borrowed bag.

And luckier still, I had brought some kibble and some dog cookies for good measure.

We were told the delay was attributable to the flight crew, who couldn't quite be found. The aircraft was right outside the window, but there was nobody to drive!

The real kicker came when said crew arrived (hey, Mr. Co-Pilot, what'd you do, oversleep?), and we finally got on the plane. And then weather in Philadelphia delayed us on the tarmac.

So then Parker became that whining baby on a plane, except instead of caterwauling, he barked and whimpered along the way. Thank you, fellow passengers, for your patience as we sat there an additional two hours waiting to take off.

Eileen texted me mid-wait: "How are you? How is Parker?"

I responded: "Parker is fine; I'm fraying at the edges!"

Thankfully, we made it home. Once I got him off the plane, I rushed Parker to the first available patch of green grass that Philadelphia International Airport had to offer.

He was very glad to see it.

This past May, I was sent to Memphis for a business conference.

I was originally supposed to fly through Atlanta, but at the last minute, my flight was re-routed through Detroit.

Ummm, yeah.

And so it was no surprise when, two years later and on a different carrier, I was again delayed.

Because the flight crew wasn't there.

Okay, so last week I was sent to Washington D.C. No planes this time! I was Amtrak-ing it.

Ride down: No problem.

Ride home: Delayed. First we were set back an hour because our passenger train had gotten stuck behind a slow-moving freight train. Then the delay stretched to 90 minutes.

Finally boarded. Whew.

And there was one more setback along the way when an exiting passenger couldn't find her bag.

St. Christopher! Where are you when I need you?


Friday, June 14, 2013

Pater-nalism

Father's Day is Sunday, and my thoughts have been with my dad.

A lot.

Walking Parker, mostly, when I'm alone in the early mornings.

Or driving by myself to/from work.

I hear his voice; see his smile; remember...

He was a great dad. Not perfect, but definitely above average as far as I'm concerned. Did he make mistakes? Certainly. Were there things about him I would like to have seen him change? Absolutely.

Do I miss him?

Daily.

He gave us all so much. I feel like all the gifts and wisdoms he provided over the years have revealed themselves over time, as if they weren't all there when he left us in 2006 but have come to the surface in the intervening years.

I guess that has more to do with my changing than his...

I learned much about being a husband and a father. About being a dog lover and an Eagles fan. About being a man devoted to his family and his faith. About the importance of good citizenship and a good shine on dress shoes. About the restorative power of the sea and the magic in a sky full of dazzling constellations. About the fun of whistling a tune or playing mumbletypeg. Kite flying. Pinewood derby racers. Lionel trains. New York Times crossword puzzles. Shoveling snow and cutting grass.

So many lessons.

Among my favorites of his lessons are these top five:

  • Do what you have to do. This one wasn't so much preached by him as lived by him. As his career with the U.S. Navy was entering its final stages (about 10-15 years before he could retire), Dad's position was relocated from the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. In one stroke of a pen from a commanding officer, his commute went from about 40 minutes to about 90. He and his colleagues organized a bus to take him to and from work, but the commute must have been grueling. He seldom complained. It was just part of his overall philosophy: You can't change it; you can't fix it; so there's no use bellyaching about it.
  • Make music part of your life. I experienced this lesson two ways: one familialy and one personally. On the family front, there was the giant Fisher console stereo that he wanted in the living room. The purchase of this monstrosity of a music machine was at his direction, I learned later. The household budget at the time forced a decision between a state-of-the-art hi-fi or a color television. Choosing music over the Mickey Mouse Club, Dad opted for the stereo. A color TV wouldn't come into the house for several years later. But the idea that music was important was driven home. The second aspect had to do with my church work and choir participation. Singing next to him in the adult choir of church -- our voices intertwining in intricate harmonies -- remains one of my warmest memories of him. What I wouldn't give to re-live one of those Christmas Eve Masses with him next to me.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well. Both Mom and Dad had good senses of humor that often came out in the stories they told, but Dad had a much more magical approach. Whether he was relating a tale from his own youth (pranking fellow Boy Scouts as they used the outhouse) or his courtship with Mom (replacing Grandpop Cloney's stolen Christmas tree, taken from atop the car during a Yuletide tipple at a local tavern), Dad could keep a listener rapt. I know he inherited it from his father, who could blarney with the best of 'em.
  • Love your children a lot and your wife more. Mom and Dad never had cross words in front of us. Never. When they would argue (and this was rare, but I remember some of it associated with the Nixon years and their opposite political views), they would take the heated discussion to the basement and spar in front of the roaring clothes dryer, assuming that its roar would drown out their harsh words. (The technique was only semi-successful, as we'd listen by the heat registers.) But when it was over, it was over, and there was no lingering resentment in the aftermath.
  • Be a great father and an even better grandfather. On this last point, the picture below says it all:

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Miss you...



Monday, June 10, 2013

Marathon-on, Mr. Movie

Steve Friedman was an on-air radio personality with The Big Talker WCAU (1210 AM, and prior to that, WWDB), back when WCAU featured local talent talking about local issues.

He also became a friend, much to my surprise and delight.

Steve Friedman went by the title "Mr. Movie." His Saturday night shows -- frequently from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- were known as "Mr. Movie Marathons," eight hours behind the mic, fielding calls from young and old, local and far away.

I happened on Steve's show by accident. This must have been around 1989 or so; I know Eileen and I were married and living in Jeffersonville at the time. We were driving home one Saturday night from some event or movie, and the weather forecast was threatening snow for the following morning. Being a church organist, I habitually tune my ear to potential bad weather on Sunday mornings, so I turned on the radio to hear the latest predictions.

Instead of news, I heard a gentleman on the airwaves talking movies. A passion of mine, for sure, and I zeroed in on his discussion.

It was interesting and engaging and entertaining from the start: What impressed me right off the bat were two things:

  1. His extensive knowledge
  2. His willingness to let callers discuss their points of view.
Unlike some of his political on-air contemporaries, he was eager to engage callers in discussions and was just as much interested in their opinions and expertise as they were in his.

He discussed the merits of Citizen Kane with the same fervor as he did Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And he respected fans of both.

"Be your own movie critic," he advised. "Don't let anyone talk you out of loving a movie you love or hating a movie you hate."

I started making a weekly habit of listening. When my eyes couldn't be propped open anymore because of the lateness of the hour, I slid in a cassette tape (remember those?) and recorded as much of the show as was technologically possible. Driving to and from church Sunday mornings, I caught up on the discussions I'd missed the prior night by going to bed. 

The first podcast!

I learned a ton listening to this show. I had a relatively expansive background in movies before then, but he took what was akin to an elementary school knowledge and led me to doctorate-level. All while being gentle and encouraging and warm.

His favorite film was Forbidden Planet. He laid claim to the bragging rights of having seen more films than Roger Ebert, a fact that Ebert himself (begrudgingly) admitted. The film Steve listed as most important of all time was It's a Wonderful Life, a stance that confirmed to me that he and I were kindred spirits.

And most impressively, he exhibited an encyclopedic knowledge of movies. If he had seen one feature one time, he had instantaneous recall about its every detail.

The most common callers, which I thoroughly enjoyed, were those frantic souls wracking their brains to remember the title of a film they had seen decades ago. And Steve was uniformly able to help.

"I saw this picture once about two lovers stuck on a desert island, but it wasn't Blue Lagoon because it was in black and white and nobody was naked..."

We're Not Dressing (1934) with Bing Crosby.

"There was this movie on late one night about a tree that grows dollar bills, but I can't remember the title."

It Grows on Trees (1952) with Irene Dunne.

"My dad used to talk about a movie where a guy captures Death up in an apple tree. But I never got the title."

On Borrowed Time (1939) with Lionel Barrymore

And on and on. He never failed.

Turns out his photographic memory for film was a gift he had been given as the result of a childhood accident. As he told it, he was leaning over a kitchen toaster, trying to pry a piece of bread from the coils with a knife. The cutlery connected with the heating element, and as he pushed forward, his abdomen came in contact with the aluminum rim of the countertop. The resulting shock knocked him to the floor, and his parents flew into a panic that he had electrocuted himself. 

No. He was fine. But after that incident, he had instant recall for imagery -- limited, it turned out, to only imagery. For although he knew a lot about history and science as well, his total recall was pretty much confined to movies and television. He even submitted to study by the University of Pennsylvania, I recall him saying, to test the limits of his abilities.

He loved telling this story: He was once asked about the actress who played the first victim in the movie blockbuster Jaws. He quieted himself for a moment and eventually came up with the name: Susan Backlinie.

When asked how he summoned that obscure name, his answer was both amazing and a little frightening.

"I ran the credits in my head," he said.

That vast knowledge was at his fingertips. He routinely logged eight hours of airtime about the movies, not using a single print resource. No encyclopedias, no books, no internet (didn't exist back then).

Nothing.

I started calling in. I became a regular. I was "Dan from Jeffersonville."

Soon, Steve began recognizing my voice and respecting my insights, such that they were. He started talking to me off-air, in the queue, before I'd go live. What was I seeing? What did I think? What was I looking forward to?

I talk often of the movies he "gave" me, the films that he recommended that I'd never seen (or, in some cases, heard of) that he loved: The Court Jester (1955), for example. Go Tell the Spartans (1978). The Haunting (1963).

Our friendship grew. Steve gave me the extreme honor of asking me into the studio to watch him work, so one Saturday night, I drove to the WCAU studios on City Line Avenue, met Steve in the parking lot, and accompanied him to his booth to watch him work.

One of the biggest thrills of my life.

Steve once helped me out of a professional jam as well, coming to my rescue when I needed a big-name speaker for a work-related event. Without charge, he attended, presented, and was captivating.

The photo below is from that evening.

Sadly, ill health drew the curtain down on the life of Steve Friedman. In 2009, he succumbed to kidney disease. 

I miss him.
 

Rest well, Mr. Movie. I hope where you are, the screens are clean, the crushed-velvet seats are comfortable and the popcorn is warm and fresh.