Monday, November 19, 2012

The 7-second Commute


Today marks the beginning of my fifth year of being self-employed.  Four years ago yesterday, my former business partners stabbed me and my friend Glen Gardner in the back and threw us under the bus in a palace coup.  I’d put in a total of 30 years with the company, the last 20 here in Madison;  Glen had 14 years; we were both partners/shareholders in the company; both of us had held senior management positions within the company.  Our lawyers went to work, and Glen and I won separate settlements, which were “sealed” at the request of our former partners, who didn’t want anyone to know how costly a lesson it was for them.  A few days after the lawsuit was settled, my wife and I went to Spring Training in Arizona for 12 days, crossing another item off the bucket list.

The bus moved on, Glen and I remained friends and business partners, we stopped getting up in the middle of the night to go to work doing a morning radio show, became our own bosses in the “gig economy” of 2009, where, like a freelance musician, you stitch together “gigs” (jobs/assignments/engagements) to keep money coming in, create new enterprises (in our case, online enterprises), and if you’re lucky, like we were, you end up running your own show with no one to answer to but yourself.  You’re rewarded appropriately for your hard work, and if you screw up, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.

In my case, during the transition, I had a wonderful safety net and unwavering support from my wife, who had just begun an exciting new career with UW-Health after a couple decades in broadcasting, a position which not only paid the bills but provided the critical element of a health insurance benefit.

A few days ago, Glen was joking about his “four-second commute to work” – from his home in suburban Boston to a client’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, via Skype.  Glen does spend a fair share of his time on airplanes, travelling from Massachusetts to Iowa to be face-to-face with clients in the Hawkeye State, but a lot of business can be handled these days with a dependable and fast internet connection. Both of us do a great deal of work in the virtual world, online.  I’m a producer for a national news service with 24 million weekly users based in Boulder, Colorado, 977 miles from my home in Madison, and do free-lance writing.  Glen figures it took about four seconds for him to establish the Skype connection with one of his clients; I figure it takes me about seven seconds to go down half a flight of stairs (we have a multi-level home with half-staircases) to my office and be “at work”.

It wasn’t always a 7-second commute, that’s for sure.  Years ago when I worked in the Fox Valley, I did morning radio – EARLY morning radio – which for years meant getting up in the middle of the night, at 3 AM, and driving to the studio.  I never lived that far from any of the stations I worked at, but the early commute often happened before the plows were out in the winter.  If the snow was really bad, I’d be picked up by a Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputy and taken to work.  In the days before cell phones, police wanted the radio people on-the-air, to pass along travel information.

During my year-and-a-half stint in New Orleans in the early 80’s, the commute was a breeze – about 10 miles from Metairie to downtown New Orleans, most of it on I-10, which always seemed to move briskly, and weather was never a real issue.

When I lived in southern California in the mid-and late-80’s, my home was in Palmdale and my office was in Woodland Hills – 58 miles down the Antelope Valley Freeway to I-405 to the 101 Freeway, and then up Topanga Canyon Boulevard.  The photo at the top of this post shows a typical morning commute in southern California. On a good day, I could do it in 2 hours and 15 minutes – one way.  On a bad day, 3 hours.  That’s a lot of time in the car every day.  And 4 or 5 days a year, there was snow to deal with, something California drivers are NOT good at.  Palmdale is at about 2,700 feet; but to get to LA, you have to go up and down the Escondido Summit, which is at about 3,200 feet, and it will snow readily at that altitude.  I still have some videotapes of news broadcasts, where the CHiPs (California Highway Patrol) would actually have to drive frightened motorists cars down the Escondido Summit, because they were paralyzed with fear and refused to drive after skidding a few feet.

During my last few years in radio, I lived about 8 miles from the radio station, would rise at 2:20 AM and be at work a little after 3 AM.  6 of the 8 miles were on the Beltline, and many a wintry morning I was on the Belt before the plows.  So I bought an all-wheel-drive SUV and had Tom Holmes put on the best snow/ice tires money could buy.  Never once did I get stuck, and often Pam Jahnke (The Fabulous Farm Babe) and I were the only people who could actually navigate the parking lot at work at 3 AM, which tended to harbor huge drifts.  Back in those days, she had a big, black “Ag-Wagon”, a Chevy Suburban with huge mud/snow tires.  Either one of us could bust through anything mom nature could throw at us.

I don’t miss the commute to work, and now I roll out of bed at the sinfully late hour of 5:30 AM.  Instead of a mad dash through the shower and jumping into my clothes and heading right off to work, I now let the dogs out for a while, have a leisurely cup or three of coffee, have breakfast with my wife, check the morning news on TV, read the paper, and then make the 7-second commute down to my office.  I have disciplined myself to be behind my computer and at work no later than 7 AM.  After 90 minutes or so (depending on what the day’s schedule is), I head off to the health club (4 miles), come home and shower and change, and deal with whatever has to be dealt with.

As far as I’m concerned, the old George Herbert quote is true: living well is the best revenge.  And – Glen got married yesterday, so it’s a whole new reason to remember November 18th!

10 comments:

  1. I love happy endings. Especially when it involves radio vets.

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  2. I love happy endings. Especially when it involves radio vets.

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    1. Thanks, Rob. Not all stories like this have happy endings, and since 2008 there have been an awful lot of them in the biz. Good support at home and an aggressive labor lawyer go a long way toward maintaining sanity while the process plays out. I'm lucky in many ways.

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  3. Yes. The freelance life is remarkably civilized, but you and I both know that however much we praise/appreciate spouses with steady paychecks and health insurance, we can never praise/appreciate them enough. So all hail Toni and Ann and other such spouses everywhere for making it possible to do what we do.

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    1. True dat, JB, true dat. All hail "the other half". I'm still chapped that MidWest tossed me so rudely after 30 years. I would have taken salary reduction. Jolene knew I was going to retire in December of 2010 (13 months after she canned me)because we'd discussed it six months before the whacking and we'd actually set the date - would have been 12-17-10. This was just one of the many HUGE tactical/legal mistakes they made in outright firing me. There were a lot of uncertain moments as the litigation proceeded; my lawyer kept telling me "slam dunk" - but, until you prevail and get the money, you're nervous and unsettled; that's when Toni's support meant so much. We're lucky guys, JB.

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  4. I remember that day vividly! Congrats on your success!
    Ann

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    1. Thanks, Ann. Now, four years later, I can't imagine going back into that building. I appreciate your kind words!

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  5. I wondered what happened to you. I used to listen to you every day when I lived in Wisconsin. I'm now on Long Island and could only listen on the internet when my boss the bandwidth cop was out of the office. It sounds like you've turned lemons into lemonade (to use a really old saying). Now that I've found your blog, I'll visit regularly.
    I suppose you know by now that Sly and all of the WDTY staff have been fired. How very sad. I now have no reason to listen.

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  6. I wondered what happened to you. I used to listen to you every day when I lived in Wisconsin. I'm now on Long Island and could only listen on the internet when my boss the bandwidth cop was out of the office. It sounds like you've turned lemons into lemonade (to use a really old saying). Now that I've found your blog, I'll visit regularly.
    I suppose you know by now that Sly and all of the WDTY staff have been fired. How very sad. I now have no reason to listen.

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  7. As a former WTDY employee, in utter shock at the callousness that has transpired today, I felt compelled to read your blog. I got out before the fall - I was lucky. I was never lied to by an employer as much as I was while working at Midwest Family Broadcasting. The last lie was the final straw, and I'm now working for NBC News Radio in D.C. Today, I understand your upset with the company a bit more.

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