Saturday, February 28, 2015

Friday the 13th - February 2015

      Friday the 13th of February. It was a day of lovely highs sandwiched between the parts of life we are not so fond of experiencing.  It reminded me of another such day thirteen years ago.  
     I knew it was Friday the 13th but I had not even given the superstitious interpretation of the day a thought. It was to be a busy day leading into a busy weekend there was no time for superstition. It was to be a full day.
  • 8 - 9:30 am: Emcee a networking breakfast at the Greater Waukegan Develop Council (GWDC)
    My friend Dave Roberts and
    Marian Hoskins were to speak about a sailing event, Scoop the Lake, that started a few years ago with the expressed mission to bring the boating community and City of Waukegan closer together.
  • 9:30 - 12:30: Meeting of the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management Excellent Emerging Organization Judging committee
  • 1 - 3:30: Teach Operations Management and Microeconomics courses
  • 3:30 - 4:30 Office Hours
  • 6 - 11: Perform at the All Saints Armenian Churuch Poon Pari Genton (Mardi Gras) Party.
     This was to be a prelude to a weekend with my son, daughter in-law,and 7 month old grandson visiting from Washington DC. Amid all this other activity this is what I was looking forward to. 
     The day started our kind of scary. Just before they were to serve breakfast at the GWDC event. Dave Roberts had some kind of seizure. It was quite scary.  Minutes before we were chatting and jaoking with each other. He was unconscious and it looked like a heart attack. Immediately 911 was called and Linda Keith, another attendee with some EMT skills, jumped in and took over the immediate care. By the time the real EMT arrived Dave was conscious and talking. They put him on a gurney and took him to the hospital. On his way out the door, he was joking that he could not leave as he had to give his presentation. We were all feeling good about his prospects and continued on with our meeting.  Marian did a wonderful job.
       After the presentation, I hit the road for North Park University.  The Axelson meeting and my classes went well and as expected.  When my last class ended at 3:30, I went to my office and organized a few things for the next day.  About 4:30, when I was sure the traffic had intensified, I left to get to All Saints Armenian Church in Glenview for the Poon Pari Gentan.
      It turned out to be a wonderful event. In recent years, our church has a adopted a very tradition for Poon Pari Gentan. The various church groups each cooked old time Armenian meals. There were kebabs, meatballs in yogurt soup, lamb stew, and fish and pilaf. One was better than the other. It costs $5 at the door and each of the dinners cost $5.  Many had more than one dinner.
     As they had old time Armenian food, the committee asked us to play some old time Armenian music. Jim Hardy was in charge of the band and assembled a unique group. He played clarinet, I was on oud and vocals, and Shahan Alexanian was our keyboardist. Jim had a great idea to ask 18 year old Alek Surenian to play the dumbeg. It was a brilliant idea on two counts. First, we have heard Alek play a bit. He shows a lot of promise. He loves the music and was way cool that we offered him his first official gig. It felt great to support and nurture the next generation of musicians. Secondly, Alek is well known and well liked in the church community. People would come out just to see his debut. It did not hurt that his mother is an Alexanian, first cousin to Shahan, and that, seemingly, every other person in the community is either an Alexanian or related to one.  The event was well attended by family and fans of Alek as we were.
     It was to Alek’s debut. It was his night and his gig. We were delighted to be part of it. 
     It ended up being a lovely evening. As the foods were from all different regions of historical Armenia, we played a variety of folk songs from the same regions. It was not a real dancing crowd but they stayed and listened. It was really really nice. I left the church feeling pretty good about things.  I left the church feeling on top of the world. The band was great, the food even better, and everyone in attendance enjoyed the evening. I like that feeling. It is a mixture of happiness, contentment, feeling quite Armenian, and something else, that je ne sais quoi, there might not even be a word for. 
     By the time I got home it was about 12:30 am. I want to check on Dave’s status which was to be updated on the GWDC Facebook page. I learned that Dave had a brain aneurysm and was air evacuated down to the University of Chicago where he had surgery. (As of this writing, two weeks after the fact, he discharged from the hospital.  On Saturday the 28th, his wife posted photos of the two of them out for dinner.  What great news.) 
            Since I had my phone out, I decided to check my email before turning in for the night.  When I was checking my North Park mail, there was an email from the Dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management with the ominous title:  very sad news.  I hate to open emails with such subjects... but I did.  I learned that, Crendalyn McMath Fitzgerald, my colleague and fellow professor in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management had suddenly passed away earlier that day.  Click here for the North Park announcement of Cren's passing.
     I just sat there.  I read the email again.  I was in disbelief.  I was stunned.  The shock began to slowly subside only to be replaced with grief.
     This all reminded me of another day:  Sunday, September 29, 2002.  I will never forget that day.  I was living in Connecticut at the time and had played at a church in New Jersey that day.  It was a spectacular, perfect, kind of early fall day.  The sky clear and blue.  The weather was perfect.  The food was delicious and the people were all in a great mood.  We had a great time playing the music we loved.  We felt like we were on fire and as group played above our individual capabilities.  
      On the way home, crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge, I recall thinking "This was a pretty perfect day."  I am not sure what made me think that except that
it was that same "mixture of happiness, contentment, feeling quite Armenian, and something else, that je ne sais quoi, there might not even be a word for."  But it was not only this feeling that will link these two days.  
     When I got home that lovely September Sunday in 2002, I sat down and was basking in what I thought was a perfect day.  Then the phone rang.  It was my mother.  She said they were at the hospital.  I assumed it was my grandmother who was  97 at the time.  Nope.  It was my sister Laura Ani.  She had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.  They were to do a procedure the next morning.  
     The procedure did not work.  Laura passed away in the early hours of October 1, 2002.
      When one is at the North Pole, any step front, back, left, or right is south.  When you think a day or a portion of it is perfect, the next moment or next day has to be something not so perfect.  Sunday September 29, 2002 was quite perfect.  The step south?  It was surreal and a deep dive into grief and loss.  The opposites were extreme.  The contrast taught me, out of some kind of superstition, to never really feel any day or moment as perfect.  Because of this experience, I tempered my feelings of the very nice night on Friday, February 13.  I even thought NOT to use the word perfect on my basking riding home.  I get home to news of an aneurysm and a passing of someone I knew.  It was not the same and yet there were similarities that might be called eerie.  
      There is probably nothing to change or manage.  The highs come with the lows.  There is no way to predict when.  There is no way to predict how high or how low.  Sometimes they come at extremes on the same day.  Thankfully, those are rare occurrences.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Radio Shack Bankruptcy

The Radio Shack location near
North Park University
     On February 5th, Radio Shack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The company and brand have been struggling for years for a variety of reasons. 
     I am sorry to see them go. I am part of the reason they are going under. I used to be a customer.  I was never a great customer but I was a more frequent customer than I have been this century.  I would go there to by cords or wires for playing music.  Back in the day, music stores did not carry everything.  As I played the oud, the pickups we used to use did not always have the standard guitar quarter inch jack system.  Thus, there was a need to by adapters and odd cords.  Where did you go for such things?  Radio Shack of course.  Even our amplifies had small fuses in them.  Radio Shack carried those too.  They pretty much had anything I needed in terms of wiring up any instruments to amps and any kind of "patch" cord I might need for my various vintages of home stereos.  
     How often did I go?  A few times a year.  No matter where I was, there was always a Radio Shack near by.  Often this came in handy as we would be setting up for a gig and we would need to seek out a Radio Shack to buy a particular doohickey or thingamabob.  This century I went to a Radio Shack three times.  I made an emergency run to buy a patch cord to play an iPod through a sound system at my cousin's daughters wedding.  I bought a remote headphone set.  The last time I went was to buy a USB microphone to better record youtube lecture videos. 
     These days, I rarely go.  The cords have all been standardized and almost everything I need can be found at music stores.  Or... they can be bought online.  For most odd things, Amazon has it.  Oh that USB microphone?  Radio Shack didn't have it, so I bought it online.
     So, I am sorry to see them go.  But, this is nostalgia.  People feel a nostalgic loss when a store that was important to them goes out of business.  People in Detroit still lament the loss of J. L. Hudson's especially the downtown store.  Folks in Chicago do the same with Marshall Fields.  In New York, it is B. Altman's.  There will be many that will miss Radio Shack.  There is one thing in common about all these examples.  When we talk about them and how we are sorry to see them go, we always relate our experiences in the past tense.  I used to go.  I remember when, as a kid, we used to go there and...
     Stores close for many reasons.  It could be bad management.  It could be changes in the market place that renders a place or product useless.  In all cases, something happened to cause people to stop frequenting the business.  It is not necessarily abrupt but the erosion is relentless and deadly.  When it finally comes, we feel bad and move on.  I imagine I will write about Sears in the same way one day.  Actually, I cannot believe they are still operating.
     Of the many reasons Radio Shack going away, we have to first consider their name:  Radio Shack.  Both words are anachronistic i.e. words, as says, that are "chronologically out of place".  Radio?  Shack?  Both words alone speak of things that don't fit in the America of today.
     We only have radios in our cars these days.  I cannot remember the last I even thought about listening to the radio anyplace but in the car.  If I wanted to listen to a radio in my house, I would have to stream the station via the internet because I am not sure there is even a radio in the house.  Sure, satellite radio is really popular.  Most who use satellite radios have them in their cars, a few buy devices that they can carry around with them but I doubt they bought them at Radio Shack.
     Radio Shack started to support ham radio enthusiasts.  Please would build or buy these ham systems and communicate with others around the world in Morse Code or voice.  Yes, Morse Code.  Ham radio was the Facebook and chatroom of yore.  Radio Shack helped the ham operators keep their sets running because they were tube based and tubes wore out all the time.  They were there to assist ham operators upgrade their systems from antennas to Morse code keys. Today, we have cell phones that allow us to text and Skype people anywhere in the world.  There is no need for radios.  They are a thing of the past too.
     How about the word shack?  What are we sharecroppers?  Who wants to go to any kind of shack.  A radio shack is probably what the Army called them in WWII.  It was good then, but not evoking quality and high tech electronics these days.  OK, the word shack still works for restaurants.  Think about going to a rib shack.  There was a well publicized IPO this year of a fast food burger restaurant called Shake Shack.  
      An Op Ed piece in the February 8, 2015 Wall Street Journal, Radio Shack Suffered as Time Evaporated:  

In 1963, the year his company bought a nine-store chain then known by the two-word name Radio Shack, Charles D. Tandy explained to the New York Times why it made perfect sense for a retailer of do-it-yourself leather handicrafts to buy an electronics distributor.
“Leisure time is opening markets to us,” he told the Times. “The shorter workweek, human curiosity, idle hands—all offer opportunities in this business. Everyone’s spare time is our challenge.”
     Maybe the demise of leisure time is partly to blame here.  This will have to be the subject of another blog. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Parking Dibs

     Every city has its customs and quirks. These might include cuisine, music, or pastimes. Chicago is certainly no different. We have Chicago deep dish pizza, Chicago Blues, and Chicago 16 inch softball. One of the more unique customs in this city happens at this time of year after significant snow falls. It is called Parking Dibs and it is a phenomena that happens in the city proper, mostly on side streets.
     With the proliferation of autos, with most households having one or two, parking is not always easy to find on city streets. Certainly other cities have this issue; certainly New York and Boston in my experience. When is snows it gets worse. The city of Chicago is slow or plain old remiss when it comes to plowing the side streets. With cars parked on both sides, the one way streets get narrower with the snow. The big city plows cannot even get down these streets with all the cars parked there. So, the roads remain icy, snowy, slushy, and, hence, not easy to navigate. If a smaller private plow comes down the street, there is nowhere to put the snow except to bury the parked cars even more. It can be quite a mess.
     So, Joe Average Citizen comes out of his house the morning after a big snow and, whether his work is closed or open, he has to dig out his car. Depending on the amount of snow, this can be a sizable job to clean off the car and remove the snow all around it so it can maneuver out of the tight parallel parking. It can take twenty, thirty, or up to forty-five minutes to clear the spot. When the job is done there is a great sense of satisfaction and ownership for the parking spot just cleared. Yes, ownership. Many people think that, even though it is an open and public parking space, they have some ownership and feel some entitlement to that spot. Think of it as the parking spot equivalent of squatting or homesteading wrapped together.
     Yet, when one drives away from “their” just cleared parking spot, no one else knows or cares who cleared it let alone know that the person who cleared it feels like they own that spot. A passing neighbor or visitor is just happy to find a parking spot and even happier that is it clean; so they would, naturally, take it.
     The Chicago solution for this is called Parking Dibs. The guy that cleaned and cleared the spot puts something there to hold the spot while they are gone. What do they put there? Any household thing that is big enough to put their to indicate the squatters right to the spot. People use lawn chairs from resin to aluminum, old ironing boards, small stools, garbage cans, small tables, and almost anything that is handy. Some people even have invested in parking cones for this purpose. So, after a big snow like today, when you drive around the city you see lots of Dibs Parking with a wide array of household junk holding the spot.
      Of course, it is completely illegal to do this. But, the police don’t bother trying to enforce things. Maybe they think that it is a reasonably self-managed and benign thing. But more so, I am guessing that they don’t bother enforcing the law because they do not know who to ticket. Without a revenue stream involved, the city lets this one go.
      For the most part, there is an honor system involved which makes this Parking Dibs system work. People generally do not disturb the makeshift barriers. They probably just shrug it off and move one. When parking is really tight and the driver is really frustrated, he or she may move the barriers while quoting how they believe the law reads and take the parking spot. Most of the time the homestead owner of the spot curses the new squatter and moves on. But, there are cases of keyed cars, broken windows, and certainly shouting matches.
      This morning there was a great spot right in front of the house on N. Spaulding that is the offices for the School of Business and Nonprofit Management. Could I be that lucky? Nope. In the photo you can see the resin chairs reserving the spot for whoever cleaned the place. Across the street you can see a couple cars that need to be dug out.
      What did I do? It was a primo parking space, but I shrugged it off and moved to a school parking lot… and decided to blog about it.

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Here are some other articles with other photos on the subject:

  1. First The Snow, Now The Crazy Battle Over ‘Dibs’.  This link features a great photo of someone using a stop sign, post and all, that, I am guessing a plow dislodged, to hold their parking spot.  Thanks to Carol Koloian for this one.
  2. Dibs on parking spaces after snow is the Chicago Way. This Chicago Tribune article features a photo of someone using an ironing board to hoard a spot.