Tag Archives: Writing

I Meet My Match

Many years ago, we lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. A long ridge rose up on the outskirts of the small town in which we resided. From where it began, the rise to its highest point was around 3 miles in length. There, the ridge abruptly ended with a rocky outcropping, rapidly dropping away several hundred feet to the valley below. Along the ridge, a meandering and relatively steep two lane road led to the top of the ridge.

It goes without saying that any self-respecting town in which such a geophysical feature is found is also the home of a legend relating the sad tale of a young maiden whose true love had gone off to war, or to sea, or on some such quest.

You probably know the rest of the story. When fate, in one form or another kept her true love from returning, the young maiden, overcome with remorse, met her demise by flinging herself headlong off of said geophysical feature.

The ridge in our town was known as Jump Off Rock and the maiden in the legend associated with it; a Cherokee Indian whose warrior soulmate never returned from battle.

It’s interesting to note that over the last few generations, your average young maiden appears to have been made of tougher stuff or to have come up with more constructive strategies for handling any remorse they may feel in relation to absentee true loves. That’s probably a good thing.

That aside, I had taken up cycling as a means of keeping myself fit. I’d been a jogger for several years, but a hip injury had caused me to cut back on running. When I discovered that pedaling a bike didn’t negatively impact my hip, I hung up my running shorts and replaced them with a pair of black spandex cycling pants and away I went.

The ride up to the top of Jump of Rock became one of my favorite cycling routes. From my home, the round trip to the top of the ridge and back was about 15 miles. The climb up to the rocky outcropping wasn’t comparable to climbing the Pyrenees Mountains in the Tour de France, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it would cause one’s thighs to burn before the top was reached.

One spring afternoon, I completed the climb to the top, pulled my bike over to a grassy area near the outcropping, and was sitting there basking in the internal glow of having once again made the 3-mile assault to the top without having to stop anywhere along the route to catch my breath.

It was then that I noticed an old man hobbling toward me from the other side of the road. He was 85 years old, if he was a day, and was relying heavily on a weathered wooden cane which looked like it had been handmade from a crooked tree limb.

He slowly walked over to where I was relaxing in the grass. For some time he stood there silently gazing at my bike as it lay in the grass between us.

Abruptly, he reached out and began hitting the derailleur on the back wheel of my bike with his gnarly wooden cane. For the uninitiated, the derailleur is the device that allows for the multiple gear changes typically found on modern road bikes. For the record, my bike had 12 gears.

Then in a heavy, guttural German accent he shouted, “What’s that? What’s that!

That’s the derailleur. It allows me to change gears on the bike which makes it easier to pedal when riding up steep slopes like this one.” I explained.

He paused for a moment, shook his head slightly from side to side, and shouted, “One gear! One gear! When I was a boy, my schoolmates and I rode our bicycles from Zurich to Lyon, over the Alps, with only one gear!”

He paused momentarily to catch his breath and clear his throat before adding, “One gear!

Believing that he had sufficiently made his point, the old man silently limped back across the road to his car and drove away; all the while shaking his head.

I sat there for a few moments pondering whether or not I should go over to the rocky outcropping and hurl my bike, myself, or both my bike and myself over the edge.

But realizing that I didn’t want to be found laying at the bottom of the cliff in those spandex biker shorts, I got back on my bike and rode home; a more humble man than the one who had just ascended Jump Off Rock.

Principles vs Personalities

In church this morning, our minister asked us a very straight forward question, “Can you name someone who you look up to?”

I’ve been thinking about that question ever since, for the simple reason that I have a difficult time thinking of anyone who I can easily single out for that honor.  It’s not that I haven’t had people in my life who have had a significant impact on me.  It’s just that my life experiences have led me to place more value on the principles which people regularly practice than on the individuals themselves.

During my career, I spent several years working in a long-range planning and development role with the objective of not only ensuring business success by focusing on the things all businesses seek: ensuring product quality, profitability, and customer service for example; but perhaps more importantly on building an organization which would support and sustain long term, on-going world class performance.

Over time, we recognized that we were attempting to develop a Principle Centered organization, rather than one which was Personality Centered.

TeamworkOur model of a Principle Centered organization was one in which all employees knew, understood, practiced, and embraced the values and core principles of the organization; as well participated in the identification and achievement of the organization’s long term goals and objectives.

By contrast, a Personality Centered organization was one in which business success was largely a function of the ability of a limited number of key individuals to determine its goals and objectives and then to lead the rest of the organization in achieving them.  The problem with Personality Centered organizations is that it’s not often clear to the rest of the organization what, if any, principles guided the decision making process.

In a nut shell, we recognized that well defined and understood Principles can have an extraordinarily long life, whereas the Personalities within an organization typically change with surprising speed and regularity.

In other words, the goals, objectives, and vision of Principle Centered organizations were more likely to remain in tact in the event of personnel changes, while those of Personality Centered organizations were very likely to change as new leaders exercised their managerial prerogative to take the organization in a different direction.

You might be asking yourself, “Were we successful in building this organization?”  The answer is, “Yes and No.”

We were working within a single division of a very large corporation made up of several other divisions.  The Personality Centered model outlined above was successfully implemented within that division and for a span of 10 or so years it resulted in significant performance and productivity improvements, as well as the development of a workforce which felt very empowered.

the-bossOver time however, key individuals within our division who had participated in the creation of the Principle Centered organization moved on and were replaced with individuals from other divisions who had not.  As they began to implement changes, the focus on our core principles began to erode, productivity and performance began to lag, and the organization slowly shifted back to the Personality Centered model.

So where does that leave me?  Well, if I’m faced with having to make a choice between principles or individuals, I’ll go with the principles that I embrace every time!

(And also with the individuals who practice them!)

Photos by RawPixel on Unsplash and Lukas from Pexels

Give ’em an inch…..

redlightI’m old enough to remember when drivers did not have the freedom to pull up to a traffic light which happened to be red and then make a right turn after coming to a complete stop.

Generally known as “Right on Red”, this rule of the road was legalized in all 50 U.S. states way back in 1980.

I’m curious.  Is there any state in which drivers still routinely come to a complete stop before exercising their prerogative to turn right on red?  I didn’t think so.

It appears that most drivers currently interpret “Right on Red” to mean that it’s totally acceptable for them to cruise, drift, meander, careen, or roll through red traffic lights as long as they meet the minimum requirement of executing a right turn in the process.

stop-signAbout now, someone is probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?”  Admittedly, this may seem like a very minor bending of the “Right on Red” statue.  Except for the fact that many drivers, at least where I live, are now also applying the assumed freedom to cruise, drift, meander, careen, or roll to the act of making right turns at Stop signs.

From there, it’s a very short step to assuming that if one can make right turns when the traffic light is red, why isn’t it also permissible to cruise, drift, meander, careen, or roll straight through red traffic lights as well?  Assuming of course, there are no other cars attempting to make it through the same intersection at the same time under the auspices of a green light.

Based on my own casual observations while driving locally, it appears that most drivers have long ago deemed the yellow caution traffic lights to be a nothing more than a nuisance and the need to pay attention to them to be completely optional.  Gradually, that same mindset is being applied to red lights.

Just the other day, I observed three cars driving back-to-back through the red light at a very busy intersection near my home.  To be clear, they were not attempting to sneak through the yellow light only to be a bit late in doing so.  No, all three cars drove straight through the traffic light clearly after it had already changed from yellow to red.

Seeing one car zip through a red light has unfortunately become commonplace, but to witness three at the same time left me utterly dumbfounded.  It’s one thing to care so little for your own safety and well-being, but to rashly jeopardize that of other people is totally unacceptable.

I’ll complete the well known axiom that I used in the title of this post, “Give ’em an inch, and they’ll take a mile.”  Or maybe it’s two.

Human nature is alive and well and, often to our detriment, being generously applied in the interpretation of the rules of the road.

Be safe out there and remember to drive defensively!

Whiskers vs Beards

Is there a distinction between whiskers and beards?

I’m not sure I would have ever thought so, but for an article I read many years ago which pointed out that men sporting facial hair who happened to have the reputation for being ne’er do wells, villainous, or simply in disrepute were more often than not described as wearing whiskers.  Whereas, men with facial hair who were admired, of high character, and just all around good guys were adorned with beards.

On October 15, 1860, 11 year old Grace Bedell of Westfield, NY wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, who at the time was running for the office of President of the United States.  In it, she wrote:

I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.

Within a month, Lincoln had grown a full beard, softened his visage, and shortly became the 16th President.  It’s interesting to note that after assuming the office, his “whiskers” were thereafter most often referred to as a beard.  At least by those residing above the Mason-Dixon Line.

I’ve grown a few beards in my time, at least five that I can recall.  I’m referring to them as beards because I’m presuming that I don’t qualify as a ne’er do well.  Two were grown during my college days, two during my working career, and the last being the one I’m now maintaining.

my-beardDue to my Scottish highland ancestry, the two college era beards were of a reddish, auburn hue, while the two grown during my middle years slowly morphed into shades of light brown.  As you can see, my current effort has taken on a somewhat more philosophical shade of white.

gabby-hayes-4I seem to think much more deeply about things since I began to let it grow a few weeks ago.  As such, I can’t decide whether the beard makes me look more like Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, or Sigmund Freud.  Others have suggested that perhaps Gabby Hayes would be the better comparison.

As a footnote, the mustache adorning my upper lip has been in place without interruption since 1973.  Beards, and/or whiskers, may come and go, but the ‘stache is here to stay.

But back to whiskers vs beards.  Facial hair on men is quite common these days, but I rarely if ever hear it described as whiskers.  I’m quite confident that this is not due to a general decline in the numbers of ne’er do wells and villains.  On the contrary, those numbers are decidedly on the increase.  I can only assume that the term whiskers has fallen out of use due to the never ending evolution of language and the words we choose to use.

A decent beard has long been
the number one must-have
fashion item for any

fugitive from justice.

–  Craig Brown

Sleep with Honor

HammockI’m a fairly pragmatic individual, so when I find that my eyelids are growing heavy, regardless of the time of day, I’ll say to myself and to anyone else within earshot, “It’s time for a bit of sleep with honor.”  Invariably, this will lead me to the nearest sofa, recliner, bed, or other comfortable flat surface for a few moments of repose and restoration.

I began using the phrase, sleep with honor, during my Junior year of college.  Thankfully, the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down and the Paris Peace Accord had been signed.  Then President Richard Nixon gave a speech on January 23, 1973 in which he described the accord as providing the means for the U.S. to obtain “Peace with Honor” which had been a campaign promise he’d made way back in 1968.

The Vietnam War had been a hot topic on college campuses all across America since the mid-60’s and squarely on the mind of all military draft eligible male college students.  For that reason, the phrase Peace with Honor resonated with me, and many others, as representing something which I could and would heartily embrace.

Even as a college student, I was never a believer in late nights or burning the candle at both ends.  Whenever I found myself growing weary, I assumed that my body was attempting to tell me something and that I’d be wise to pay attention.  As I referenced earlier, I’ve always been a bit pragmatic.

Consequently, I never hesitated to call it a night and head to bed when the mood struck, regardless of the fervor with which I had been studying or (perhaps more likely) the intensity of the party that was rolling along in the apartment next door.

In response to the inevitable inquiries shouted in my direction by apartment mates and friends as I left in search of peace and quiet in my own apartment, I’d simply reply, “It’s time for a bit of sleep with honor.”

And I’d then go softly into that good night.

 

Photo by Mateusz Dach from Pexels

In Praise of Peanut Butter

You possibly may recall that in my last post, my wife had sent me to the store in search of, among other things, peanut butter.  Hold that thought for a moment.

I’m a child of the 50’s, the 1950’s to be specific. Compared to the culture and society that we have decided to saddle ourselves with in the 20-teens, the 50’s were a simpler and more innocent time.

Today happens to be the first day of the new school year in my neck of the woods.  As such, traffic conditions have gone from simply being atrocious to approaching near gridlock in many areas.  This is largely due to the fact that today’s school age child requires transportation to school with the preferred method being catching a ride with Mom or Dad in the family car. There are some children who ride the school buses which add to the traffic snarl, but almost no students simply find their way to their school of their own accord.

Mother seeing children off to schoolThere were school buses in the 50’s, but the predominant method for kids to get to their school was on foot, as in walking, or on a self-powered bicycle.  Personally, I alternated between these two methods.  From the 1st through 6th grades, it was a rare occurrence for either of my parents to drive my brother and I to school.  When I reached junior high school, commonly known as middle school today, I had no choice but to ride in a school bus because of the distance involved.

I completely understand the reasons why kids are chauffeured to school in such great numbers these days.  It gets back to that culture and society that we have decided to saddle ourselves with.  So, enough said.

Gastronomically speaking, school lunches were similarly simple and innocent back in the 50’s.  Our school year was roughly 9 months in length.  Assuming a 5 day school week for 9 months, there were approximately 200 days per year on which I took my lunch to school in a brown paper bag.

By the way, where I went to school in the 50’s, there were no teacher work days and the concept of a spring and/or winter break from classes had not even been sighted on long-range radar.

200 brown bag lunches per school year meant the preparation and consumption of somewhere close to 150 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Those were prepared using only creamy peanut butter.  My Mother considered crunchy peanut butter to be too exotic for general consumption.  Likewise, only white bread was eaten in my family. Whole grain breads, or any bread exhibiting even the slightest tinge of color, were never consumed in my house.

Peanutbuttersandwich

Before spreading the peanut butter on the bread, my Mother would first apply a healthy amount of butter.  It was probably margarine, but no peanut butter sandwich I consumed between the ages of 5 and 15 was considered to be complete without a slathering of butter separating the bread from the peanut butter.  It’s just the way it was done.

The remaining 50 or so of my brown bag sandwiches typically consisted of a slice of bologna (we knew that it was really called baloney) layered between two slices of the same lily white bread, each of which had been generously coated with mayonnaise.

Keep in mind that those brown bags were not insulated and the schools I attended were not air conditioned.  Likewise, these were the days before zip lock plastic bags.  Loose fitting waxed paper was the preferred method of wrapping up a sandwich for later consumption.  Depending on the weather, there were times when the mayonnaise would take on a sort of yellowish transparency by the time our lunch period rolled around.

In any event, my Mom’s homemade sandwiches were head and shoulders above those made by the lunchroom ladies.  Those often featured stale bread which had been lightly misted with water in order to soften them up a bit.

We had never heard of gluten, GMO’s, monosodium glutamate, or the concept of “healthy eating”.  Somehow, we managed to survive childhood in spite of that.

Which inexplicably brings me back to yesterday’s trip to the grocery store to get, among other things, peanut butter.  As I was scanning the multiple varieties of peanut butters being offered up for purchase, I came across one that I had never seen before.  Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter.  Now I love peanuts; especially the salted-in-the-shell kind you can get at baseball games, so I threw all caution to the wind and bought a jar of the extra crunchy variety.

It’s been a real game changer for me.  Eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with the extra crunchy stuff is the culinary equivalent to walking barefoot over a gravel driveway.  I may never go back to plain ol’ creamy.

Back in the day, if my Mother had had access to extra crunchy peanut butter, I would have never needed the token variety in lunchtime fare offered up by those baloney sandwiches with their transparent mayonnaise.

Bon Appétit!

 

The Epitome of Slothfulness

An otherwise nondescript, lazy Sunday afternoon was interrupted by my spouse’s sudden and totally out of character desire for a peanut butter sandwich.

The fact that we were out of bread, not to mention peanut butter, resulted in my launching a hasty excursion to the local supermarket with her final suggestion ringing in my ears, “You know, some Pralines & Cream ice cream would be good too – and make it crunchy peanut butter!

Upon arriving at the store, I found the parking lot jammed to near overflowing with cars, reminding me that this was the last day before the beginning of the new school year. I knew then that I was about to pit myself against a thundering herd of young Mom’s frantic to get their hands on that last ream of notebook paper, package of #2 pencils, and/or tube of Elmer’s glue.

I serpentined through the congested aisles with the ease of an Olympic skier negotiating the Giant Slalom. Making short work of the peanut butter and ice cream, I decided that a bag of chocolate chip cookies would not go unappreciated. My timing was impeccable as I found the “10 items or fewer” checkout line was at that very moment empty of shoppers.

Moments later, I was crossing the parking lot to my car, mission nearly completed.

It was as I was putting my bag into the backseat that I noticed the shopping cart that had been left unattended in the empty parking space on the other side of my car. The cart was perfectly positioned to be rammed into another parked car by an inattentive driver hastily pulling in to one of the few open parking spaces available in a nearly full parking lot. To make matters worse, a shopping cart return corral was no more than 20 feet away.

I walked around my car and began to push the cart toward the return area while muttering something to myself on the subject of the short sightedness of inconsiderate, self-absorbed SOBs when I noticed the woman who had just then cranked up her obscenely super-sized Cadillac SUV in the parking spot next to the one in which the cart had been left.

While I can’t confirm that she was guilty of leaving the shopping cart unattended, I can say that the expression on her face immediately reminded me of the biblical admonition, “The guilty flee, where none pursue.