Tuesday, July 14, 2020

BREAKING OVERNIGHT!





My displeasure with what’s come to be known in many corners as “NewsSpeak” has been registered here frequently over the years.

I realize that my personal war against NewsSpeak is a lost cause.

NewsSpeak is a dialect found mainly in broadcast news, where the remnants of consultant-driven news writing still flourish. Hardly any broadcast operation can afford consultants any more, but when they traveled from market to market, most of them would try to get news writers to inject “excitement” and “immediacy” into their writing.

Never mind that nobody ever talks that way, in forced present tense, or distorting time to give the illusion that what the audience is getting is so hot off the presses (see what I did there?) that they’re truly getting the latest stuff.



I was saddened this morning when the above item appeared on my phone. Although we moved to coastal Connecticut a few months ago, my wife and I still try to keep up on news from our old stomping ground in Madison.

See the word “overnight”? That’s a TV news thing, where all news is either breaking, breaking now, breaking overnight, or some similar variant. The Supreme Court didn’t make that ruling overnight. It made the ruling yesterday.

But NewsSpeak almost never allows the word “yesterday” to be written in copy. The consumer would get the impression that it’s stale news if it happened yesterday.

I’m sad to see that the virus has crept into my former hometown newspaper. Overnight, my butt.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Living In The Nation’s #1 Media Market



The New York TV news market is staffed by people who are really good at what they do. There are no beginners fresh out of college. The anchors are polished, the reporters are veterans, and the production values are through the roof. The pace is quick and mistakes are rare, which is really saying something since so many of the anchors take turns working from home during the plague.

WABC-TV7 is the most-watched TV station in the nation, and while my wife and I have sampled the newscasts on WNBC-TV4, WCBS-TV2, and WNYW-TV (Fox 5), we find ourselves watching more WABC-TV Ch 7 news than any of the many others.
The writing is crisp, sharp, grammatically correct, and seldom if ever will you hear any “news-speak.” Phrases like “fled on foot,” “the incident remains under investigation,” “officials say,” and similar cop-talk or officialese are absent from scripted copy and live ad-lib reports.

I’d expected WABC-TV would sound and look a lot like ABC-TV’s morning show, Good Morning America, but it does not. To me, GMA is largely unwatchable because the language their reporters speak is a horrible bastardization of standard English. Auxiliary verbs (is, are, was, were, has, have, had, and the 16 others) are almost never used. (Example: “Arizona authorities (are) looking for suspects…”)

GMA begins almost every story with “overnight” or “breaking now” or “this morning.” Everything is written and delivered in what news consultants call “forced present tense” which supposedly gives immediacy to the content, but in actual practice is quite difficult to listen to. Subjective adjectives like “shocking,” “amazing,” “terrifying,” “stunning” and others are frequently sprinkled in.

But you won’t hear any of that on the network flagship TV news operations. They speak conversational English without the newswriting clichés so often heard on network news presentations.

The weekend presentations aren’t quite as good as the weekday product. You’re likely to hear some news-speak, and some tortured usages like “ten-year anniversary” and outmoded descriptors like “wheelchair-bound.”

Because we live in Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut, 40-some miles from midtown Manhattan, all the New York City stations treat us as local. They include Bridgeport news and weather in all their newscasts. Our New York City-headquartered cable company, Optimum, also gives us several Connecticut TV stations from Hartford and New Haven. There, you’re more likely to hear fractured grammar, news-speak, and silly usages.

Sitting through a TV newscast with me is no picnic, but my wife, who’s accustomed to my constant commentary, puts up with it.



For those who don’t know, my wife was an on-camera TV reporter for many years in the 90’s and early 2000’s for the Madison CBS TV affiliate. Above is a screen-grab from one of her many live reports from the Chicago Bears Training Camp in Platteville in the summer of 2001.

For many years, I lived and worked in the nation’s second-largest TV market, Los Angeles, where the ABC flagship station there, KABC-TV 7 was my choice. I can still hear the late Jerry Dunphy’s famous opening line, “From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California, this is KABC-TV news.” Dunphy was born in Milwaukee and after paying his dues at smaller markets all over the country, became the lead anchor at KABC-TV and an icon of Los Angeles TV.

Another one of my favorites from my SoCal days is Ann Martin, who worked for nearly two decades at KABC-TV before KCBS-TV lured her away. There was absolutely nothing flashy about her style and delivery. She spoke plain English and never used any of the many horrible news-speak clichés. I remember one particular evening in 1988 that encapsulated her style for me. I had the TV on in the living room and was doing something in the kitchen, when I heard her say “if you’re somewhere else in your home listening to this broadcast but not in front of the TV screen, I’ll give you a moment to get in front of your TV because there’s some video here you’re going to want to see.” Although I don’t remember what the video was, I remember her lead-in.



Because of my job at the time, I was privileged to meet a lot of the Southern California TV news people. And I got to see first-hand the inner workings of the nightly newscasts on several of the Los Angeles TV stations, including KABC-TV, KNBC-TV, and KCBS-TV, where I met sports anchor Jim Hill, who played for the Packers in the mid-70’s.

Like most of Southern California, the atmosphere in these newsrooms and studios was laid back. You can’t be wound too tight and expect to get along well in SoCal. There was a sense of urgency, as there always is in TV news, but folks were seldom hyper. That seems to contrast with the prevailing vibe I’m getting here in the New York City metro, where people can be brusque and impatient.

Back in the mid-90’s I did a 10-minute Monday morning feature for WISC-TV in Madison called “The Week Ahead.” They had a TV camera in my radio newsroom on the other side of town, and I’d chat live on the air with WISC-TV news anchor Cheryl Schubert Hartung. We’d talk back and forth, previewing the major news stories we expected to cover during the week ahead.

Last week Cheryl and I were visiting on social media, talking about the higher intensity level on the east coast. Earlier in her TV career Cheryl was a reporter for a station in Albany, NY, and she told me a story about what that newsroom was like. She said a lot of the producers and anchors were refugees from the New York City TV market, and they were wound pretty tight. They didn’t want to raise their kids in NYC so they migrated to more family-friendly environs.

She told me one day, the news assignment manager was pitching a fit about something, ranting and hollering. He unplugged the phone that was on his desk and threw it into the newsroom, barely missing her head. She said after the storm calmed down, the News Director called her into his office and told her she was “too nice” and needed to “toughen up.”

I suspect a New York City TV newsroom is probably not the kind of place I’d like to visit in my advanced age. I can’t dodge flying telephones as quickly as I could have when I was younger.

RADIO

Since I spent so many years programming and anchoring news radio stations, I’m compelled to give my two-cents-worth. There are several really top-notch radio news operations in New York City. The station I have on the most in the car is 1010 WINS. “Ten-ten WINS: WINS wins New York” is one of their many slogans, along with the evergreen “where the news never stops,” and their heritage slogan “Ten-ten-WINS: you give us 22 minutes, and we’ll give you the world.”

Fox News Radio actually plays it pretty much right down the middle, not like the Fox TV news product. But they often write sentences without auxiliary verbs, the most prominent form of news-speak, and force present tense. My wife’s ex-husband, Rich Denison, is one of the principal anchors at Fox News Radio in New York City, although since the onset of the plague he’s been delivering newscasts from his home studio in New Jersey.



And then there’s the most listened-to news-talk radio station in the nation, WABC-AM. Like WINS, WOR, and the other major New York City AM stations, it sounds like a million bucks: tight and bright, forward motion galore, and flawless execution.

The signature element for every AM radio station is what we broadcasters call the “top of the hour ID” or “legal ID.” (“Legal,” because the FCC used to require all stations to identify at the top of the hour, with the station’s call sign and city of license.) The Legal ID is the ten or fifteen second production element that serves as the audible logo of the station, the element that’s the station’s unique identifier.

Hearing WABC-AM at the top of the hour is a joy. I’ve simply got to go full radio geek on this one. Just before the end of the hour, you hear the jingle begin. And it’s a dandy – written by the late Mr. TM himself, Tom Merriman. More than a hundred musicians were used on the session to create the WABC top-of-hour jingle, and a small chorus of singers with Merriman’s signature tight harmonies.

You hear the jingle start to play, and Mr. Deep Voiced Announcer says, “reaching more Americans than any other news-talk station in the nation!” Immediately, the jingle singers come up to full volume singing “NewsTalk Radio 77, WABC” -and suddenly the key changes dramatically as the singers intone “New York City!”

Suddenly a voice comes in over the jingle, giving the time, saying “In the greatest city in the world, it’s five o’clock!” The jingle comes to a cold musical ending, immediately followed by the beginning of the ABC Radio Network News sounder and the start of the network newscast.

It’s the kind of thing that makes us old-time veteran AM radio guys giddy – that big, orchestral jingle, the deep-voiced announcer, perfect timing – it never fails to get me when I hear it.

The media mix is one of the fun things about living in the New York metro for me. Hopefully my long-suffering wife will continue to put up with my running commentary during the broadcasts.

Friday, May 15, 2020


THE GREAT ADVENTURE: Part 3, The New Place


We decided that when it was time to sell the Compound and move east, we’d lease a “luxury” apartment rather than buy a house or a condo. No maintenance, no mowing, no shoveling, no HOA fees, no hassles. In January, my wife bought a ticket to fly to Connecticut and spend the first week of March with our daughter and her family. She'd go apartment-hunting during the day. Or so we thought.

By mid-February, we were concerned about the feasibility – and, the possibility – of her actually making the trip. To avoid the incredible hassles of flying to LaGuardia or JFK airport in NYC, we’ve always chosen to spend a few bucks more and fly to the Westchester County Airport in New York, which is about a 20-minute drive from our daughter’s home in Fairfield, CT. By the second week of February, we were seeing news reports that Westchester County was rapidly becoming a Coronavirus hot-spot.

By the first week of March, we knew that the trip was off. New Rochelle, NY, a short distance from the airport, had been declared the hottest Coronavirus hot-spot in the nation. The mayor had closed the city. So, my wife began her search for a new place for us, relying completely and exclusively on the internet and a lot of phone conversations. For weeks, we evaluated properties she’d deemed viable. In April, we pulled the trigger on a luxury apartment in the very nice Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport, which is the largest city in Connecticut. We’d be about 10 minutes away from our daughter’s home in neighboring Fairfield.

We did the deal sight unseen, having reviewed a lot of photos of the inside and outside of the place, and relying on our daughter’s assurance that it was a nice place. She said it was just a few blocks from the office building where she and several other psychotherapists had established their practice.



The little blue ‘x’ on the photo above marks the spot where we now live. That big body of water a few blocks south of us is Long Island Sound, i.e., the Atlantic Ocean. We’d checked out the place, from the outside only, when we first arrived in Connecticut early in the evening on April 29th. We held our breath as we turned off Fairfield Avenue onto Ellsworth Street, and took a deep breath of relief when we first saw the exterior of the place in person. It looked very well-maintained and quite nice.

We got our first peek inside on April 30th. The management company said they’d have a representative meet us at 5 PM at the building to give us the keys. We made the short trip from our hotel in Norwalk to Bridgeport and waited in the lobby at the appointed hour. The representative from the realty management company showed up, appropriately attired (as were we) in mask and gloves. She handed us a large envelope and said, “here’s your keys and stuff; if they don’t work, let me know. Take the elevator to the fourth floor and turn left.” And with that, she turned on her heel and went back to her car.

We didn’t expect to have a long, guided tour of the building and all the amenities. And we were starting to get used to the brusque style of people in the NYC metro. But to just hand us the keys and walk off, without even a “so sorry that because of the plague I can’t give you a fully guided tour, but I know you’ll love the place” – even by New York City metro standards, that was not much of a “welcome to your new home” speech.

We took the elevator to the 4th floor, turned left, discovered that at least one of the sets of keys worked, drew a deep breath, and unlocked the door. Thank heaven, we loved the place. It was even bigger and more spacious than it looked in the photos. Brand new coat of paint in every room; brand new, never-been-used high-tech appliances; woodgrain floors throughout; and tons of closets and storage space.

I hugged my wife and said, “you done good, dear!”

During the next few days, waiting for the moving van to arrive with our furniture, we made several trips from our hotel in Norwalk to the new place in Bridgeport. We stocked the new, hi-tech fridge and the pantry. We talked about which things would go where, once the furniture arrived.



On Sunday, May 3rd, we finally got to see our daughter, her husband, and their two kids. While none of us put on masks or gloves, we were careful to observe the social distancing guidelines. My wife and I stayed in the car with the windows down, visiting with them. Among other things, we talked about what we were going to do once the plague had been mitigated and the rules had been relaxed.

Even though it had only been a few days since we started “living” in the hotel in Norwalk, we’d sort of fallen into a routine. Days were spent doing preliminary set-up work in our new apartment, breaking for a burger or chicken sandwich at noon, and learning the streets around our new home. Our evening meals consisted of either stopping at a drive-though on the way back from Bridgeport to Norwalk, or having food delivered to our hotel. It’s truly contactless delivery – they call you when they’re in the hotel lobby; you go meet them and they place the food somewhere that you can pick it up while maintaining social distancing.

We got the bad news from our moving van driver on Monday, May 4th, that he wouldn’t be in Bridgeport with our furniture until early Wednesday afternoon. Something about a delay with a load he was dropping off in Lake Placid, NY. Nothing we could do about it – United Van Lines had an 8-day window to deliver, and they were still in the middle of the time window.
We checked out of the hotel in Norwalk late Wednesday morning and drove to the new place. We were excited about actually moving in!



To kill time while waiting for the van driver to call, my wife stretched out on the bare floor and caught a quick nap. Finally, the phone rang and Mike, our van driver, said he’d be backing in with our stuff in a few minutes. His crew of three hard-working young men made short work of lugging 5,100 pounds of our stuff up three flights in a tight stairwell. 

The property management company had warned us – and United Van Lines – that using the elevator to move furniture was strictly verboten. They pointed out that one of the many cameras surveilling the interior and exterior of our secure building was inside the elevator and was being monitored to make sure the movers didn’t use the elevator.

The crew helped us set up the huge sectional, my overstuffed recliner, our king-size bed, and the other big, bulky stuff. My wife carefully checked off every box and item as the movers brought it in, to make sure all our stuff was unloaded.

As we signed the Bill of Lading, Mike told us that in the past two days he’d had four cancellations. People were re-thinking their plan to move in the middle of the plague. He wished us happiness in our new home, and we thanked him and wished him safe travels.



There were boxes piled high in every room. Now we faced the task of opening the sixty-odd boxes of stuff we’d packed in Madison, and starting to find the right place for everything.

But, we’re retired, and with the tight restrictions in the New York City metro because of the plague, there’s not much else for us to do. We’re tackling it in bits and pieces, and before too long, we’ll have everything where it’s supposed to be.

Meantime, two weeks in, we’re enjoying life in our new digs, as the last great adventure continues.We look forward to the day when we can explore the museums, restaurants, and other attractions around here. Most of all, we're anticipating the day when we can actually hug our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

                         THE GREAT ADVENTURE, Part Two: ROAD TRIP!






The van was loaded with our possessions – 5,100 pounds, according to the United Van Lines people. We made good time on the road to our new home in coastal Connecticut. Going around Chicago was a breeze, although there was a bit more traffic than we expected. The Indiana Turnpike has to be one of the most boring drives imaginable. Nothing but flat land and no scenery.

We stopped for gas somewhere in eastern Indiana and figured we could make it to Toledo before dark. We pulled off the turnpike at the first Toledo exit around 7 PM, filled up with gas to be ready to roll in the morning, and then joined the line of cars at a Taco Bell for dinner. There was a nice hotel a few hundred feet from the Taco Bell so we just drove up, put on our plague masks, went in, and got a room. Easy-peasy.

The only thing on our mind was a good night’s sleep and an early morning departure, and that’s exactly what we got. It was just after 7 when we got back on the Turnpike and headed east again. I took the first shift driving and set the cruise control at 71 MPH. There was hardly any traffic. Somewhere just west of Cleveland my bride spotted a Schneider truck ahead of us, pulled out her camera, and documented it. A sign of home - Schneider National is headquartered in Green Bay. Sconnies call these trucks "pumpkins" because of their orange paint job.



To pass the time, we told stories. I first met the woman who would become my wife at work in 1988. I was 39 years old and she was just shy of 35 years old at the time. I’d had a career in music performance long before I met her – a career she knew very little about. She knew me more as a broadcaster than as a musician. So I regaled her with stories from my years in Los Angeles and tales from my international tours, recording sessions, and TV shows I was on. She shared with me stories from her formative years, her days as a "salad girl" at her parents' restaurant, her college days, and other aspects of her earlier life that I didn’t know about. It really helped pass the time.

For every "oh my lord, you did THAT in college?" that her stories elicited from me, there was a "you played with THAT band (or on that record)?" from her. 

Somewhere near Clarion, PA we stopped to fill an empty gas tank and each had a Quarter-Pounder at the McDonald’s across the street. We were making good time. We got back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and by early afternoon were pretty sure we could make it to Bridgeport before nightfall. Hammer down!

The next gas stop was, according to the receipt from the gas station, at a place called Drums, PA. The most memorable thing about that stop was the Mexican restaurant across from the gas station. The signboard proclaimed, “Mexican food so good Trump wants to build a wall around us!”

The condition of the roads around Scranton, PA, where we took a quick jog north to catch Interstate 84, is generously described as abominable. The pavement is so rough you need to keep both hands on the steering wheel. Disgraceful. We crossed the Hudson River just north of Newburgh, NY. Shortly thereafter we were in Connecticut. In Danbury, we picked up Highway 7 South to Interstate 95 in Norwalk, and suddenly we were about 10 minutes from our destination, Bridgeport.

During one of my wife’s driving shifts that afternoon, I got on the phone and made hotel reservations for us. We knew we’d be spending several days in a hotel, waiting for our furniture to arrive, so we wanted to stay at a place that had decent amenities. The one that looked best to me was a Holiday Inn in downtown Bridgeport, so I made the call. After we’d gone through the long process of name, credit card number, blah blah blah, the guy paused for a long time. “I’m sorry; I now see that the hotel is actually closed because of Corona Virus.”

This would be our first real awakening of what it’s like to live in the New York City metro in the time of Covid-19.

The man on the phone said they had a “sister hotel” nearby that he could book us at; a Best Western a few blocks away. I asked how he could book for both Holiday Inn and Best Western, and got some mumbo-jumbo about how the number that I called – which was the number listed on the homepage of the Holiday Inn on Main Street in Bridgeport – was actually the number for a second-party booking service.

We decided to book the Best Western for two nights, which would give us a place to land while we surveyed the territory. If we liked it, we’d extend our stay; if we didn’t; we’d find a better hotel. So, we committed to $298. It was about 7:30, overcast with sprinkles, and we got in line at a Wendy’s and had burgers for dinner. Then we entered the address of the Best Western into the Waze app, and in a few minutes, we arrived.

And thus began a nightmare of epic proportion.

The first clue was the empty parking lot. The second clue was the sign on the front door of the hotel, listing a number to call for information – a number that rang and rang, and was never answered. By now it was dark, it was raining, and we had nowhere to stay. We realized that the Best Western, like the Holiday Inn, was closed because of the plague.

I called the number I’d called to make the reservation and got the royal runaround. Meanwhile my wife was on the phone to our daughter, who lived a few miles from where we were, asking for advice in finding a hotel. Bingo! The Hi-Ho Hotel (who could possibly make up a name like that?) was indeed accepting reservations from “personnel involved in essential services.” Thank heaven, moving across the county is considered an essential activity.

The rigmarole to get into this hotel was daunting. The Hi-Ho is an automated facility. There are no employees on site. You make your reservation online, and when you arrive at the Hi-Ho, there’s a number you call to get your room number and the access code for the lock on the room door. The room we got was 317, which meant lugging several thousand pounds of suitcases up two flights of concrete stairs.


The room was bare-bones. Bed, TV, bathroom, and an eclectic lounge chair straight out of 1968. Hippy chic. The TV allowed limited choices, and we wound up watching a recording of that evening’s 6 PM news on WABC-TV New York, followed by a recorded newscast from Permian, TX (???) so we called it a night and went to sleep, thankful that we had a roof over our heads but with a firm resolve to find a better hotel for tomorrow.

We awoke around 7, showered, and set about the task of finding lodging. I theorized that we might have better luck looking for a hotel in Norwalk, which we’d gone through on the way to Bridgeport. I seemed to remember there were a bunch of national-chain hotels visible from the highway as we rolled past Norwalk early last evening.

The first call was to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Main Avenue in Norwalk, and the young woman who answered, Miranda, was a friendly and competent young woman. After we determined that they were in fact open, and were in fact accepting reservations from “personnel involved in essential activities,” I hit her with the key question. “Miranda, are you actually in Norwalk, actually in the hotel?” She paused and said, “yes, I’m on the phone at the check-in counter at the hotel in Norwalk.” Just had to be sure we weren't being led down the primrose path again.

A half-hour later, following another tortuous session of lugging suitcases down two flights of concrete stairs at the Hi-Ho and a quick jaunt west on the Merritt Parkway, we met Miranda in the lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott in Norwalk. "So you're the folks moving here from Wisconsin" she said. "Nice to meet you!"



The room was nice, clean, and had all we needed: a King-size bed, a big TV, a nice couch and chair, a refrigerator, and a coffee maker. Nirvana. This would be our base of operations for the next four days as we waited for the moving van to arrive in Bridgeport.
As we’d learned the evening before, things are locked down pretty tight in the New York City metro. Hundreds of people were dying of the plague every day in New York City at that time, and everybody was wearing masks and gloves.

Although we’d left Madison on April 28, the close of escrow on the Compound was on May 6th. If you’re the seller, you need not be present at the close, but you have to sign documents in front of a notary. Our closing agent back in Madison made an appointment for us to meet a notary at the hotel at 10 AM on Monday,  May 4th. We’d sign the requisite paperwork, the notary would witness, and then overnight the paperwork back to Madison.

A short time after I spoke with our closing agent, the notary called. Her name was Dorothy, she’d be coming down to Norwalk from her home a few miles away in Danbury with the appropriate papers. After we confirmed time and place, Dorothy said “and, even though it goes without saying, I’ll expect both of you to be wearing masks and gloves.”

During the plague, hotels operate quite differently. You become your own housekeeper. They drop off clean linens and towels in front of your door early in the morning; you change the bed and towels and put them back in the plastic bag and set it outside your door. Hotel staff, such as it is, does not enter your room. Small price to pay for good lodging.



The little blue “x” at the top of this photo marks our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott. The main drag of Norwalk is, like most other streets everywhere in the vast NYC metro, largely deserted. Norwalk is a city of about a hundred thousand. It’s home to some huge multi-national corporations, like Xerox, Pepperidge Farms, Frontier Communications, and many others. There are huge new corporate office buildings lining the streets – some of which you can see in the photo above – but they are now vacant.

Going out for lunch or dinner means driving to one of the few restaurants still open, waiting in line behind a whole lot of other cars, and choosing from a limited menu. Very limited. And prices? Welcome to the New York Metro. Two burgers, medium fries, large diet cola – fifteen dollars, please. We stopped once at a Dunkin Donuts to get breakfast for the next morning. Three donuts, five dollars.

We’d expected our furniture to arrive on Tuesday morning, May 5th, but our van driver called Monday night and said he’d been delayed and would be there early Wednesday afternoon.
Nothing we could do about it. We booked another night at the hotel and crossed our fingers that we’d see our stuff and officially move in, in Bridgeport, on Wednesday. And that’s what happened.

(Stay tuned for the final installment, The New Place, which will be posted tomorrow.)


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

THE GREAT ADVENTURE, Part One: SELLING THE COMPOUND





We knew, when we bought the house in 1998, that the day would come when we’d sell it. We raised a family in that house. Five pets lived with us throughout the years – three dogs and two cats, not counting three years of hosting the guest cat – our son and daughter-in-law’s devil kitty, Zelda – while our son spent three years overseas as an international auditor for the firm that employed him.

We celebrated birthdays, high school graduations, college graduations, and anniversaries in the home which we dubbed “The Morrissey Compound.” (OK, I gave it that name, but it stuck. The genesis of the nickname is a story for another day, and, not surprisingly, it involves alcohol.) We had lots of family gatherings, parties, and get-togethers with friends at the Compound. My wife and I spent a lot of memorable evenings lounging in the hot tub on the upper-level deck off the master suite. We loved our beautiful home.

Now, it’s someone else’s house, and my bride and I have decamped to a “luxury apartment” in Bridgeport, Connecticut, eight blocks from the ocean. Well, Long Island Sound, to be exact.

For a long span, from 2009 until 2018, the Compound was also my workplace. I built a radio studio in my huge office space and did news reports for a national online news service for 9 of those 10 years. Like many others, I stitched together a combination of gigs to keep the money rolling in, and served my clients with writing and editing services, voicing news reports, and managing social media. On the last day of September, 2018, I allowed my last contract expire, and I pulled the plug on work.

As anyone who’s lived long enough can tell you, things don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. My bride planned to retire on her 65th birthday, in July of 2019, and she did. Our daughter plotted and schemed with her mother to lure us to coastal Connecticut after our retirement, so she could keep an eye on us in our “old age.”

With that in mind, we figured the sale of the Compound and move to the east coast would happen probably in the summer of 2022. How did we arrive at that estimation? It was loosely based on what we thought would be the life span of our younger collie.

In 2006, after our faithful Sheltie crossed the rainbow bridge, we got a purebred collie puppy which I named “Shadow.” She turned out to be the best dog ever. Smart, energetic, obedient, loyal and loving, Shadow patrolled the vast expanse of the back yard at the Compound, keeping the squirrels, deer, and wild turkeys at bay.

In 2010, we got Shadow a companion: another purebred collie, which my wife named Sunny (see what she did there? Shadow – and Sunny).



In the picture above, Sunny is on the left and Shadow is on the right. The two were best friends, inseparable, literally living their lives shoulder-to-shoulder. Shadow passed away three days after New Year’s Day 2019, having lived a full and wonderful life. Since Sunny was two years Shadow’s junior, we figured she’d have a similar lifespan and would likely be with us until late 2021 or early 2022.

We wanted Sunny, who had never slept a night anywhere other than at the Compound since the day we brought her home, to live out her days with us, free to roam the expansive back yard and end her days at the Compound.

But that was not to be.

Scant weeks after Shadow passed on, Sunny fell victim to an extremely aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, and she drew her last breath literally at my feet in the living room of the Compound in early February, 2019.

At this time, my bride was fewer than six months from joining me in retirement, and suddenly our retirement plans changed. With Sunny gone, there was no longer a reason for us to keep living in the spacious home we’d owned for 20 years. We adjusted the timetable and decided to sell the home and move east in the spring of 2020.

After my wife’s retirement party on August 1, we set about preparing the Compound for sale in the spring market. We hired tradesmen to spruce things up, to put a fresh coat of paint on all the interior walls, to replace many of the fixtures to give the Compound a more modern feel. We replaced the entire kitchen and dining room floor. We donated tons of furniture we wouldn’t need after the move to Habitat for Humanity. We had electricians come in and make sure everything was code-correct. We spent 25 grand bringing everything up to snuff. Or so we thought.



The place looked good; almost like new. In November, we hired the realtor who’d sold our neighbor’s home the prior summer and had earned rave reviews from our erstwhile neighbors. We thought maybe we’d put the home up for sale in April, but his advice – which turned out to be prescient – was to list it for sale ASAP, which turned out to be the first week of March.

He advised us to price the home at the low end of the spectrum to create a bidding war, and that’s exactly what happened. Within 48 hours we had five offers – all substantially above asking price. We countered what we considered the best three of the five offers. All three came back with an even higher bid. We accepted an offer that was three thousand dollars below the highest offer. That was because this particular offer contained two of the most powerful words in real estate: ALL CASH. On March 6th the deal, for all intents and purposes, was done.

And then the plague hit.

Suddenly, restaurants and bars were closed. We were told to shelter in place. And suddenly, our ALL CASH buyer had a lot more leverage. Real estate sales fell through the cellar. The father of our buyer is a real estate agent in Chicago, and he went to work on us with a chain saw. He hired the most picky inspector in the world. After the inspection report, it was a litany of “replace this, repair that, fix this thing, fix that thing”. The cost of this unnecessary repair/replace BS was twenty thousand dollars. On top of the 25 grand we'd already spent.

Our realtor said, in essence, bend over. He told us if we didn’t acquiesce to this jerk’s unreasonable demand, daddy – the man with the money - would tell his son to back out of the offer and it might take as long as a year to find another buyer, at a lower price, because of the horribly unfair inspection and the ever-worsening pandemic.

What had been an easy, quick sale had become a nightmare. We clenched our jaws, took the additional 20-thousand-dollar hit, and moved on with our lives. The close was on May 6th, a week after we’d left Madison for good. We signed the papers in front of a notary in our hotel on May 5th and the money was in the bank on May 7th. The nightmare was finally over.

For months, we thought we’d cry like babies when we pulled out of the driveway at the Compound for the last time. We feared the many wonderful memories we’d made there with our children and pets would cascade through our minds and we’d be sobbing. 

But, at the end, at high noon on April 28th, after the moving van was packed and headed east and we’d done the final walk-through to make sure nothing we wanted was left behind, we loaded our suitcases into our car, rolled slowly down the driveway, and stopped in front of the house.

Neither of us was crying. My wife took a photo with her iPhone, posted it to Facebook with the caption “Bye, old friend. We’re off to Connecticut.”

I hit the gas and we headed east.

(To be continued in the next post, coming soon, titled “Road Trip.”)



Friday, February 1, 2019

We Have To Do Better Than This




The guy on the left is Robin Vos, the Republican leader of the state assembly. On the right is Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader of the state senate. When Scott Walker was governor, the trio ran the state just like Tony Soprano and his crew ran north Jersey. They made the rules, they drew the maps, they ruled the roost.

Unlike the Soprano crime family, Vos and Fitzgerald were duly elected by the voters. And I think it’s high time the voters in their districts un-elected them.

Not too long ago, a UW Professor, Kathy Cramer, researched and wrote a book about the huge political division in Wisconsin. She called the book The Politics of Resentment. It’s full of actual interviews with Wisconsin voters, and the opinions and comments of rural ‘sconnies reveal their resentment of people who live in Madison and Milwaukee. Government bureaucrats or librul college profs, all of them, or so the falsehood goes
.
Cramer’s research revealed that rural Wisconsinites by and large believe a broad and false narrative that government workers are incompetent, lazy, and undeserving of their paychecks. Scott Walker seized that falsehood, amplified it, weaponized it, and won three statewide elections – two for Governor, one beating a recall.

After the last election, when ‘sconnies voted for a change of leadership, Vos and Fitzgerald immediately played that old resentment/division song again the next morning, whining that if it wasn’t for Madison and Milwaukee, their man Walker would have won.

If it wasn’t for Madison and Milwaukee, there wouldn’t BE a Wisconsin, boys.

So Vos and Fitz cooked up a special session to try and take away as much power as possible from the office of Governor of Wisconsin, and to try once again – and fail once again – to disenfranchise as many ‘sconnie voters as they could.

Now comes news that the Foxconn people are backing even farther away from the promises they made about what they’re going to do for Wisconsin. They haven’t come close to hitting their job creation promises and have announced fundamental changes to their plans for the state. Respected financial journals are now universally casting a gimlet eye on the Foxconn deal.

A few days ago, news broke that Foxconn isn’t going to build hi-tech flat screen devices in Wisconsin, and instead of a manufacturing facility, they’re thinking about a “technology hub” or some sort of think-tank campus-like development.

Gee, technology is a rapidly changing business? Who knew?

Hours after the grim announcement from Foxconn’s Taiwan headquarters, Vos and Fitz were out with a statement saying the reason for this retrenchment is the election of our new governor. Tony Evers’ election has brought economic uncertainty to the state, say Vos and Fitz, and that’s their reason why the Foxconn deal is on the verge of becoming the biggest taxpayer swindle in American history.

Moments after Vos and Fitz released their statement blaming Tony Evers, the politics of division/resentment kicked in, and Walker loyalists were Tweeting and re-Tweeting the blame on Evers, and posting snarky stuff on Facebook.

Sooner or later – and I hope it’s sooner – the voters who elect Vos and Fitz are going to tire of the constant resentment and division preached by Vos, Fitz, and their ilk. They’ll look for and support a different kind of politician, one whose stock-in-trade is not fear, hatred, and division.

We have to do better. We deserve better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Modest Proposal (Which Would Probably Never Work)



With all the technology that exists today, there must be some way to provide TV viewers who don’t care to sit through marathon local TV coverage of severe weather and would rather see the program being pre-empted by the live storm coverage.

Many of the local TV stations that provide live severe weather coverage have at their disposal auxiliary channels – which usually have far lower viewership than their main channel – to which the interrupted programming could be switched. Viewers could be told, either by a “crawl” on the bottom of the screen or by mentions during the severe weather coverage by the meteorologists and news people who are providing the live coverage, that the interrupted programming could be seen on their alternate channel.

Case on point: yesterday afternoon’s bout of severe storms which hit north and west of Madison. The local live coverage pre-empted the popular game show “Jeopardy” on WMTV-15 in Madison, and the folks at Channel 15 got an earful of complaints from callers and on the station’s social media platforms.

Listen, friends: as a retired broadcaster, I can tell you that you’re not going to change the minds of the news managers and meteorologists at these stations. They’re going to interrupt programming to do live severe weather coverage, period, end of sentence. They see it as a critical mission to keep their viewers informed when there’s dangerous weather around, and they’re not going to be dissuaded.

I just wish that for those of us who don’t care to sit through the extended weather coverage, there would be a method whereby we could continue watching Jeopardy. Or whichever show is being interrupted.

But, I suspect my proposal is fraught with all sorts of legal issues. In the specific case of yesterday afternoon, I’m guessing that Channel 15 couldn’t just switch Jeopardy over to CW, another local channel owned by the same company that owns Channel 15. And I suppose the lawyers would holler if NBC-15 would say “during this live severe weather coverage, Jeopardy is being streamed live on our website, NBC15-dot-com.”

We’re fortunate in Madison to have a great collection of seasoned professional meteorologists providing excellent, knowledgeable, authoritative severe weather coverage. I’m honored to say that some of these folks – like Gary Cannalte at Channel 3 – have been personal friends for decades. They're very, very good at what they do.

But when the severe weather is 50 miles away and not headed toward me, I selfishly wish that there was a way I could see the program being interrupted, instead of the radar-indicated tornadoes.

I’ll take “Alternative TV Coverage” for 400 dollars, Alex…….