Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 500 and Me



5.28.17
Memorial Weekend Sunday

I live an hour from Indianapolis. That means since as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to the Indy 500 on the radio. When I was young, it was WIBC AM radio. Now it’s a Bluetooth speaker that looks something like a lime green grenade via my cell phone and WIBC online.
 
We’re currently under caution that followed an extensive red due to a crash featuring Scott Dixon among others.
 
I’ve just enjoyed some grilled brats, hotdogs, some quac and a delightful Spanish-influenced salad. And I’ve just cracked my third lo-cal longneck.
 
I’m on the front porch, a cool breeze lingering; Sandra is catering and Alyssa & Slater are inside finally delving into The Godfather. That leaves me alone. With my thoughts. And the 500.
 
No one gets excited like the radio crew at the Indy 500. They’re yelling. It’s exciting. And also, as anyone knows who’s seen the Greatest Spectacle live, it’s flippin’ loud!
 
Rossi still in the lead, now to turn four!!
 
I’m at the 500 but I’m also in the world of 500’s past. I can’t help but think of my parents cranking it up on our hi-fi in the living room on Washington St circa 1972. Even then it was the television era, but not on Memorial Day Sunday. We all dialed it in and listened to the radio much like (I can only imagine) people did before the 1950s ushered in the TV.
 
And so my mind is in the past now. I don’t remember my parents grilling, seemingly like every Hoosier feels obliged to do during the race. But the soundtrack in our house on that day in the ‘70s was never anything but the race.
 
Then later, just out of high school, I was never too far away from my friend, Eric Foust and if you were close to Eric, that meant you were close to his incredible parent, Jack & Carmen. Both of them are now passed, but their memories remain.
 
The race is back under green and those AM radio-sounding DJs are yelling at us through every corner. And if I close my eyes, I’m in Jack & Carmen’s backyard.
 
Carmen always cooked up a storm (she was the kind of grandma everyone would long for) and Jack would man the grill. Oh, and there was always ample amounts of ice cold cans of domestic beer either in an icy cooler or the garage fridge.
 
Carmen would be keeping score: Who’s out, who’s leading, what’s happening. And even though I’d never call Carmen a race fan any other weekend of the year, she seemed so sincerely concerned.
 
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, “THEY GO THREE WIDE INTO THE TURN!!
 
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, their garage was in essence, a barn. The huge door facing the house, slid open. Some years we stood inside the garage watching the drizzle enjoy food and brew. Other years, we were in hiding from the sun. But the food was always inside under cute little bug screen food covers. And Carmen always delivered.
 
The best thing about the race at Jack & Carmen’s was that you felt loved just for being there. Carmen & Jack had a way of making you feel so welcomed. They did everything short of thanking you for eating their food and drinking their beer.
 
I wonder how many 20-somethings would want to have had their own hang-out; they’d want to create their own thing, apart from their parents. But Jack & Carmen’s was always the best picture of two generations doing life together. They loved us and we knew it. We felt it. And we liked it.
 
What a great word for me know, as I creep up in age. If more than anything, my kids and their friends knew that I loved them. More than my so-called wisdom or experience, these younger people crave my love. Love trumps everything and love paves the way for anything else I could ever hope to pass along.
 
Simon Pagenaud comes into pit road!
 
I love the Indy 500 and I suspect I always will, for the backdrop of one’s youth is always sacred. And people like Jack & Carmen and the crew I ran with then, Eric, George & Lisa and so many others, are part of a golden time.
 
Now back to the race.

 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sky Isn't Falling (Thoughts on Retail Closings in America)

Sears recently closed in Kokomo. So did MC Sports. JC Penney has announced more store closings in recent days. And now the negative chatter about America's retail economy escalates. According to who you've overheard or whose posts you've read, "The sky is falling."

For the record, when stores close, it isn't always the economy's fault.

Take Sears for instance. They've been Sears (or Sears & Roebuck) since 1893! They were the original one-stop shop for everything, including: mail order houses, tombstones, minibikes, live chickens, clothing, tools and about anything you can name that we use in and around a home.

If the economy is guilty of killing Sears then the accomplice is Sears itself. You see, the culture keeps changing; it's a moving target. And business models that don't figure out how to adapt to the economy, I suppose, succumb to it.

Sears' business model of being the place for everything hardly fits into a culture that goes to Lowes/HomeDepot for tools, (insert clothing store of your choice) for clothes, Best Buy for appliances and to a Carnival for shoes.

A while back I noticed old-timers saying, "Craftsman tools ain't what they used to be." And at the same time I noticed Lowes lifetime warranty on their Kobalt Tools. At that point, I knew the jig was up for Sears. When you're no longer the industry standard in a market you owned, you're in trouble.

The economy didn't kill Sears. Sears closed because it failed to remain attractive to the market.

And MC Sports...When they rolled into town, was I the only one who wondered why we needed two 10,000+ sq ft sporting goods retailers in Kokomo? Sometimes the economy is fine, but we cut the pie into too many pieces. Sometimes, two big dogs is one too many.

And you'd better sit down: Malls. Are. Dying.

2006 was the last time an indoor shopping mall was built in America. Do you know why? Culture changes and the economy goes along for the ride.

In the 1960s the culture shifted. People started to move away from the center of towns, toward the periphery and to the suburbs. Downtown businesses across America started slowly closing up. Why?

Because they could drive to this super-cool new mall, have boat-loads of parking and shop at scads of stores all under one roof! No more trying to find street parking downtown and feeding the parking meter. No more getting wet, chilled or sweaty going from store to store. The mall was the answer. And it was cool.

And the mall will have had a 60+ year run in America, which is pretty amazing! But people are tired of the mall, which is normal, because the culture naturally and seemingly autonomously, seeks change. And this change has been slowly happening--it's just starting to become painfully obvious.

Pardon my cheesy metaphor: Change often comes from deep below the surface of the water, slowly ascending, often taking years. But then one day, it breaches the surface and we're all aghast, "My word, where did this come from?" Change comes slowly over time, yet there comes a moment when we actually see it.

Have you been to Clay Terrace? They basically built a "mall" that looks like what? A downtown!

Guess where millennials are seeking to live in record numbers: downtown. They're migrating from the burbs to the center of the city. And cities like Kokomo are trying to lure businesses downtown because that's the latest cultural trend.

"But Morgan, we'll never have enough businesses downtown to satisfy everyone's demands!"

Since you and I are buying so much of everything-we-need online these days, a downtown doesn't need every kind of store to be a great downtown. Because we don't buy everything from brick and mortar stores any more, a downtown needs some cool shops, a great coffee shop, some cool restaurants--it needs cool spaces that people can connect in. And the reason the spaces need to be cool is because the culture has always liked what's cool. And the downtown needs housing, which isn't available at the mall that people are tiring of trekking to.

The sky isn't falling; the culture is changing. And as culture changes, how retail looks and functions will change along with it. Sometimes a closing is a sign of change. It's a sign that there are new paradigms afoot and new ways of doing things. When we look back at these moments, we call this progress. In real time, it can feel more like growing pains.

One last word to my friends who are in the last half of their life: When we become tired of change, we become old. When we want things to stay just the way they are, we become grumpy, because things are always changing. Young people love and welcome change--the same way that we did. As mentors and elders, we best serve younger people when we help navigate change rather than complain about it.

Peace, my friends.



(editor's note: To those who have lost jobs as stores have closed, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you are able to find gainful employment. As I wrote about business and cultural change, I never wanted you to feel slighted or disrespected. The American worker is the backbone of so much that is great in America. All my respect and best wishes to you.)


Saturday, April 22, 2017

How not to be "That Guy/Girl" in a Coffee Shop


DISCLAIMER: I own a coffee shop, but way before that, I used to hang out in Starbucks. Much of this is about what I've observed from good, well-intentioned people. This isn't written to hand-slap, just to help.

We're very much in the age of public meetings: business meeting, non-profit meetings, personal meetings--we're Americans and we meet ;-)

We meet in coffee shops and places like Panera more than ever before. And honestly, I love to meet in these kinds of places. It's good to get out, have food and drink options and run into people you know. But...

There are times when we're not doing this as well as we could. So as a patron and as a bistro owner, here are some well-intentioned tips:


  • Buy Something

Everyone who's in a seat in a business should have something purchased at that business. This is a pure and simple respect move. The owner (corporate or mom & pop) put that seat there specifically with the intent of generating revenue so that (most people miss this) that seat can continue to be there.
Oh, and don't bring a drink into Panera from Starbucks because you like their frappucino better; it's disrespectful. And it's not like you need to buy a bunch of stuff you don't want. There have been times when I simply ordered a drink I wasn't really in the mood for. Why? Think of it as the most inexpensive rent you'll ever pay for a nice meeting space.


  • It's a Cell Phone Not a Yell Phone

I get it. Sometimes we have to speak up when that call comes in. But, here's your script:
"Maude, please hold on just a second while I step outside."

When we speak up to take our business call, we turn the whole restaurant into our office and that's not cool. I've lost my religion so many times when I was startled in Starbucks by,
"OK, GREAT FRANK. THAT BURGHDORF DEAL IS KEY FOR US. GIVE ME THE LATEST RUNDOWN!"
I wanted to run his phone down his throat ;-) Again, this is a pure and simple respect move -- respecting others in a shared space.


  • Know When to Say Goodbye

Every eatery has peak business times, typically lunch and dinner. These are the times when the proprietor counts on filling and turning tables. This is usually when they generate 80% (or more) of their sales for the day. When you start to notice seats filling up, it's time to move on. Or...order lunch like a normal person and take a break.
As a coffee shop owner we welcome and love to have people hanging out individually or having meetings in our off-peak times, seriously--we love people hanging out--just not when it's lunch time when every seat counts. Have I mentioned this is all pure and simple a respect move?


We Love to Have People Hang Out ;-)


Again, places like our Main Street Cafe love, love, love having people hang out and meet in our place--it's part of our design and we love people! And the places I've mentioned in this post probably feel the same. On behalf of bistros everywhere, we just ask and remind you to be like Aretha: R-e-s-p-e-c-t ;-)



Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Absence of this Word is Eroding our Culture


I’ll never forget the first time I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read bitch.

What?! Why would that woman…?! She put that on her own car?!

I couldn’t understand why a woman would take a colossal slur and turn it into a trophy. And just so we’re clear, the only people who think the term bitch is positive are other women with the same bumper sticker. I’ll show you:

“Hey, why don’t you come over tonight? I’m grilling and I’ve got some new micro brews and a couple women from my office will be there; they’re real bitches.”

“Uh, no. No thanks, I think I’ll pass.”

Something started happening a few years ago. We started settling. We masked it in proclaiming that we’re tired of being politically correct. But somewhere along the way, instead of seeing opportunities to grow, instead of working on our temper and social skills, we decided to camp out on our less-than-positive traits and even proudly proclaimed them.

And it’s easy to see why: It’s easier to put a bitch sticker on one’s car than it is to learn how to turn a mean-spirited, volatile temper into something kinder and more respectful of others.

And bump stickers like My kid beat up your honor student are funny, but it’s easier to make excuses or defend our child than it is to walk with them through the quagmire of wise decisions, humility, work ethic, respect and the like.

When I was growing up through my teens and early twenties, I was so cocky, so full of myself, trying to compensate for an upbringing that wasn’t up to my snuff. I was full of pride and full of me, at the expense of you.

And somehow, mysteriously or spiritually or both, I began to see my arrogance as the character flaw that it was. And so I aspired to be a person who was more humble than arrogant.

The truth is, it would have been easier to put a Cocky SOB bumper sticker on my car. It would have been easier to settle into a lesser version of myself.

Listen, it’s always harder to aspire than it is to settle. (And for the record, it’s not like I’m arrogance-free at this point. It’s still an aspiration.)

I’m concerned that we are much less of an ASPIRE culture and much more of a Popeye culture: “I am what I am!”

The word ASPIRE is desperately missing from our culture.

History has been forged by people who aspired for better and many of those people shaped our lives. 

We don’t know any of the Popeye people by name. People who settled didn’t move themselves or anyone else forward.

But history is full of people who aspired. Our lives reap the benefit of people who aspired:

Joan of Arc, even though an illiterate peasant girl, aspired to make a difference beyond her station in life.

Beethoven aspired to compose music even through the challenge of deafness.

Nelson Mandela aspired to be a lawyer amid the South African apartheid system.

Rosa Parks aspired to do something as simple and profound as sit in the white part of a bus in the racial segregation of the deep south.

People pushing, grinding, aspiring for better, is what has made people and countries great.

And please get this: this happens at the micro level—this happens when arrogant guys like me aspire for something better. It happens when you decide to not be a Popeye person, “Well, I am what I am!

It happens when women take the energy and strength of their bitchiness and channel it into civility and lead and influence in ways that move things forward instead of just tearing people down.

So many times our character flaw is just the bad expression of a positive trait.

My positive trait is that I can take a hill, take people with me and help them grow in the process. 

The same fire that fuels that, is the same fire that can make me arrogant and pushy on a bad day or when I’m tired.

So, what about you?

In what area, in what way do you need to aspire to something more or something better?

Greatness happens when you and I aspire to be the best with whatever was given to us.
All of us have been given a toolbox of heredity, abilities, personality, natural wirings and physical capacity.

Given what you have and what’s going on in your neck of the world, what do you need to aspire to?

A marriage gets better, when I aspire for more and I get better.

A family gets better when a member aspires to bring more healthy interaction to the table.

A city gets better every time a person aspires to figure out how they can make even a small difference.

And a country gets better every time one of us aspires to maximize whatever’s been given to us in our toolbox.


So, tell me: What are your aspirations?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why the Third Party isn't Taken Seriously


Why aren’t Libertarians, aka the Third Party, taken seriously during presidential elections? In large part, it’s because they haven’t taken it seriously.

Exhibit A:

First, in early Sept of this year, Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, didn’t know that Aleppo, Syria was the epicenter of one of the biggest refugee crises in the world. Watch video.

Secondly, a few weeks later, he couldn’t name the leader of a foreign country that he respects. He actually said, somewhat dejectedly,

I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment…” Watch video.

You may not think this is a big deal because perhaps you would fail one or both of these questions, or you assume he was just caught off guard. But in both cases, he was being interviewed on television—a situation in which any serious candidate would and should be well prepared to answer questions both domestic or international in scope.

In these two examples, Johnson gave us a narrative of a candidate who didn’t seriously expect to answer real questions during a very real presidential election cycle.

Exhibit B:

The Third Party shows up once every four years on the national stage and expects to be taken seriously.

They are like some strange insect that only surfaces every four years. On off election years, we never see them in the public spotlight nor do we hear of their off election year accomplishments. They seem to be about dialogue more so than action. They appear to have no three-year strategy for ramping into an election.

Let me put this in perspective: If I wanted to break into auto racing and I told you I was going to head to the Indy 500 in May hoping to qualify—hoping to be taken seriously, you’d call me crazy.

You’d call me crazy because there’s no part of life that works that way. Be it sports, academia, business, the arts, etc.—everyone works their way to the top.

Everyone who’s at the pinnacle of what they do can tell you the story of how they started somewhere, then worked up to the next level and so on and so on. This is common sense; this is how life works. No one gets to the top by touting theories (well ok, maybe philosophers); we get there through bona fide experiences and successes.

If the Third Party were serious, they’d intentionally work at being successful at lower levels, generating a string of successful mayors, successful congressmen and the like.

If they would show they can win and be successful on smaller stages, to the point that people took note and to the point where Libertarians could earn public respect based on resume versus aspirations— then the Third Party would greatly increase the chances of being taken seriously at the presidential level.

And now back to my metaphor:

If I show up at the Indy 500 next May with some fresh new revolutionary ideas about open wheel racing—without having won any races, I’d never be taken seriously--nor should I. And so it is for a Third Party candidate on the biggest political stage in our country.

By the way, I'm very open to a third party, I've just yet to see it be compelling.

See you at the race track ;-)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Six Reasons Why Democrats & Republicans Should Hate Each Other


1. Sorry, but there aren't any reasons why Dems & Repubs should hate each other. Instead, how about some fresh ways to interact with the current culture.

2. Compromise required.
Hating each other comes from an unrealistic expectation that our side should win or get whatever we want. That's not the way the system was designed nor the way it is supposed to work.

The two-party system is about compromise. You give some. I give some. It's like recess on the playground when you were in elementary school: share, trade, give in, now you go first.

The idea that "we're not going to compromise" is an idea that's directly responsible for why people are so fed-up with government right now. So you can keep on sticking to your immovable principles that only further moves all of us into the unhappiness zone, or you can be open to compromise

3. For atheists.
Please stopping acting as if there is a moral truth that everyone can naturally agree upon. If there's no god, no higher power, then I'm not sure where one gets the idea there's a common sense of right & wrong running through humans.

Nature demonstrates that if one is hungry, eat the next edible creature or thing regardless if it's a mommy-something nursing-baby somethings or endangered.

So if there's no moral truth that we can all cling to, let's be ready to compromise and agree to disagree.

4. For People of Faith.
Be nice. Politics isn't an excuse to treat people rudely or disrespectfully. Your God/god hasn't endorsed a political party. So if your faith is a real thing for you, be that first and a dem/repub second.

Let all your words and actions reflect the God/god you've entrusted your life to. Love and humility are fairly standard in the faith game, so give yourself allowance to not be right all the time, and love your enemy enough to cut him/her some slack. Again, be nice.

5. Realize that you are the media.
Ever notice that Sean Hannity and Rachel Madow aren't the ones whipping you into a lather when you're on Facebook? They aren't sharing their posts with you; it's your friends, it's you.

Did you also notice that the preponderance of "news articles" that you share that tell people how horrible Hillary/Donald is aren't bona fide news sources?

They look like NBC or CNN but look closer at the web address; it's probably a website that's hugely political, far from impartial, will have the kind of articles you love and will be a source you haven't heard of before.

So please know that we are whipping us into a frenzy. Sure, MSNBC and Fox News are helping, but it's you and me and all of our friends who have the social media power. Sharing kitten pictures would probably help our great divide more than any political article.

6. Run a New Play
Aren't you tired of the great divide? Aren't you tired of being mad at the other side? Aren't you tired of how it's been politically for far too long? You and I can stop being part of the hate at any time.

I didn't say you had to agree. Just try not hating the other side. Just so you know, hating the other side takes a toll on your insides. Try getting to know some people from the other side; get to know their stories. Do what politicians are doing a poor job of lately: value and befriend people despite their political views.

If you don't like how it is, choose to be how you wish it were and it very well may come to be.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bathrooms and Me


So in Kokomo there's a heck-of-a hullabaloo about the flood of lewd crime that will ensue in public restrooms if a LGBT ordinance passes.

Christian people are seriously freaked out about this. What I've mostly heard is they're ok with the LGBT community having their rights protected, they're just not ready for the crime spree of public restroom unspeakablness that they say will surely follow.

This is my personal response to that supposition.

I don't know about you, but from the time I was a little kid, we always heard that public restrooms were sketchy. Statistically, whether they were or not, we took care and were cautious. For instance, my brother and I were instructed to go together if we had to go to the restroom in a public park.

(For the record, growing up I never had a scary incident in a public restroom, nor did any of my friends or acquaintances.)

Much later, as a dad raising a family, my wife and I always escorted our kids into public restrooms, stood in front of their stall--you know, all that good protective parenting stuff. We did this in the mall, in town, out of town, wherever.

So my question is, if they pass that LGBT thing, would my behavior in a public restroom as a parent be any different now? No. I'd run the same play. My kids would be as safe as before.

Isn't that true for all of us? Do any of us send our kids into public restrooms alone now? No.

Here's where I'm at: I live in a world that has sketchy people in it. Sketchy people doing sketchy things includes all kinds of people. It's life. It's not a new phenomenon. Sketchy goes back to the beginning of time.

So do you know what I do? Every day I try to be careful and observant. When I'm in a parking lot, a restaurant, anywhere there are people, I pay attention. Why? Sketchy people exist. And do you know where the sketchy people are? Potentially, everywhere.

That's right. Sketchy people are everywhere, but we keep doing life.

It doesn't keep us from driving our cars even though sketchy people might drink too much and crash into nice people like us.

It doesn't keep us from going to the mall, even though sketchy people might try to make off with your wallet or purse.

It doesn't keep us from going to the bank even though sketchy people occasionally show up there with a gun to hold it up.

Do you know why we risk sketchy things happening to us?

Because there's way more nice people than sketchy people. We watch the news and know things like car accidents, purse-snatchings and bank robberies are rare occurrences and they aren't worth us obsessing over.

I'd guess right about now, someone reading this has pulled up a story about some guy who's done something bad in a restroom and that person's now feeling victorious.

If that's so, let's have a contest: you pull up all the bathroom crimes you can and I'll pull up all the people killed in America yesterday by drunk drivers.

In light of the grim statistics, I bet that doesn't keep you or me from driving tomorrow. (By the way that was 27.5 people a day in 2013.) My point is, let's not make bathroom crime a spree when it's far from it.

(By the way, if you Google "Crime in public restrooms" you won't get stories and statistics from credible news sources like CNN, Fox, etc, you'll get websites that look like news pages that are really propaganda either for or against this issue. Be leery of stats and stories on websites you've never heard of.)

As a pastor I am aware that our world isn't safe. Since we left the garden, it hasn't been. At some point, either at a national, state or local level, the LGBT community will be protected from discrimination, it seems inevitable. Whenever that happens, we need not fear taking our chances in the public restrooms, our cars, the malls, parking lots...everywhere. Since we left the garden, we're all risk-takers.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7