The Rise of Detroit

Forty-five plus years ago, Detroit began its rapid decline into becoming a real-life Gotham City. With the riots of the late 60’s, middle and upper-class Detroiters began to flee the city for the suburbs. As the suburbs grew and the city’s population declined, businesses also moved to the suburbs to be closer to their target audiences. Coleman Young assumed control of Detroit as its mayor in the 70’s and embarked on a long reign that pillaged the city coffers and bred corruption at all levels. Then in the late-70’s and early-80’s the auto industry struggled. As imported vehicles more aggressively marketed for the American consumer and the country faced recession, sales of American-built automobiles dropped, assembly lines slowed, workers lost their jobs. Entire blocks of the city’s residential neighborhoods became empty, abandoned, or badly run down.

The blight that is stereotypical of most peoples impressions of Detroit.

The blight that is stereotypical of most peoples impressions of Detroit.

Crime increased. Many abandoned homes burned in the infamous “Devil’s night” fires of the late-80’s and early-90’s. The population of this once great city dropped, first below one million, then below 900,000, and then below 800,000. With each population decline, there was a loss of government funding; funding needed to support the city infrastructure. Roads became pot-holed, sidewalks crumbled, empty lots became overgrown, and abandoned houses were left to crumble where they stood. Finally, Detroit filed for bankruptcy; the first major metropolitan city to do so. That case is still working its way through the courts.

Through it all, however, a determined core group of visionary businesspeople and residents fought to bring Detroit back. When the rest of us (myself included) thought that Detroit was deeply into a spiral that it would never break free of, this group held within their hearts three key tenets of motivation:  belief that Detroit could change; commitment to being an active part of that change; and hope that others would witness their efforts, see the benefit, and join the movement.

I was in Detroit this weekend. Those visionaries have much to be proud of. People with names like Karmanos, Ilitch, Gilbert, Hantz, Stroh, Ford…and the list goes on. They had a vision and they persevered over long years. They had ties to the community and refused to see it die. They trod bleak paths and swam difficult waters, but without a doubt Detroit is once again on the rise. Quite literally, a phoenix rising from the ashes.

One of the greatest names behind the resurgence of Detroit is Ilitch; Mike Ilitch to be precise. The founder and patriarch of the Little Caesar’s Pizza empire, Ilitch began his return to Detroit by bringing his company headquarters downtown. Purchasing and lavishly renovating the Fox Theatre on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, Ilitch launched a campaign to revitalize Detroit that continues to surge today.

Detroit may have the famous moniker “the Motor City,” but Detroit is a sports town, and much of its fingernail grip on the edge of the pit of despair and a large part of its climb out has been its sports. Who owns Detroit’s two most-storied sports franchises? The Ilitch Family.

Comerica Park: Home of the Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park: Home of the Detroit Tigers

To look at the story of the Detroit Tigers is to read the names of baseball history. Names like Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, and Denny McClain. Detroit is proud of their Tigers and proud of that history, and in the late-90’s Ilitch constructed Comerica Park, a shrine to that past and a temple to the Tigers’ future.   Built on Woodward, directly across the street from the Fox Theatre and the Little Caesar’s headquarters, Comerica Park became yet another foundation upon which Detroit would grow. Check out the Tigers at:

The Detroit Red Wings, is the second jewel in the Ilitch sports crown. One of the original six NHL hockey teams, the Red Wings currently hold court at Joe Louis Arena on Detroit’s river front. With an equally-storied past that includes the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, and Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings, too, will soon have a new home in what is being called District Detroit. The District Detroit will include a 20,000 seat hockey arena, and encompass 45 blocks of

The District Detroit: the latest sports and entertainment project.

The District Detroit: the latest sports and entertainment project.

entertainment and residential space. Also on Woodward Avenue, just across I-375 from Comerica Park, District Detroit will provide a continuous, walkable area tying the downtown sports and entertainment districts together. For more information on District Detroit:  More on the Red Wings here:

Just down Woodward Avenue from District Detroit, Comerica Park, and the Fox Theater lies Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. Opened in 2002, Ford Field brought the Lions back to Detroit from Pontiac, Michigan where they had played in

Ford Field: Home of the Detroit Lions

Ford Field: Home of the Detroit Lions

the Silverdome for several years. With 65,000 seats for football (and expandable to just over 80,000 for other events), this state of the art arena was home to Super Bowl XL in 2006. With the Lions owned by the Ford family – yes, the automotive Ford’s – Ford Motor Corporation purchased the naming rights for the stadium, tying the team and the stadium back to the automotive legacy of the city.

On the water front in downtown Detroit stands a large building constructed of five glass towers. With the center tower clocking in at over 80-stories tall, it is the most visible building on the Detroit skyline. Built in the 1970’s, the Renaissance Center was supposed to be just that: the beginning of Detroit’s renaissance. It was not. The

The Renaissance Center

The Renaissance Center

city’s decline and struggles continued well beyond the construction of the “RenCen” as it is known. Fast forward 30+ years. The RenCen is now the home of General Motors headquarters. The center tower boasts a Marriott Hotel and the 82nd floor is a restaurant and lounge that slowly moves, so that if you spend an hour there, you will have an opportunity to view the 360 degree panorama that encompasses Detroit, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada across the Detroit River. The lower level of the building is home to shops and a food court. You can also walk around and view all the current GM car models that are spaced throughout the lower floor.

General Motors (and others) has also committed to renovating and cleaning up the Detroit water front. A beautiful river walk has been constructed. Along its length you will pass art, murals, natural areas, picnic areas, a carousel, and a marina. It passes through William Milliken State Park and continues on to Belle Isle. While walking, jogging, or biking the path one can watch pleasure boaters as well as great lakes freighters sail that waters of the Detroit River, either headed up to Lake Huron, or down to Lake Erie.

Downbound lakes freighter seen from Detroit river walk

Downbound lakes freighter seen from Detroit river walk

Carousel on Detroit River Walk

Carousel on Detroit River Walk

Three casino’s have made Detroit their home: the MGM Grand, the Greektown Casino, and the Motor City Casino. With their entertainment venues and their hotels, they, like the sports team and river walk, are giving people reasons to again come back to Detroit. People who will find that they just might love the city, and people whose money spent in the city continues to help the climb upward.

General Motors is not the only company to have brought their headquarters back to Detroit.  In 2003, Peter Karmanos, CEO and Founder of Compuware relocated his corporate headquarters downtown. Seven years later in 2010, Dan Gilbert brought his company, QuickenLoans, to Detroit also. Gilbert and QuickenLoans alone have committed over $1 Billion to improving Detroit, as a place to do business, a place to entertain, and a place to live.

Others are making differences in their own ways.  After years of decline, decay, and crime, Detroit now boasts over 45,000 vacant and abandoned buildings and lots. The vast majority of these are old residences. The neighborhoods where these homes stand are blighted. Even though people continue to live on many of the homes, they often live next to abandoned buildings, burned out building, and weedy, overgrown lots. These provide havens for those who would commit crimes and for drug use.  Enter John Hantz, President & CEO of The Hantz Group, a financial planning firm with multiple officers throughout Michigan. Hantz and many of his top executives choose to make Detroit their home. Everyday, they drive past these blighted areas, and from this an idea was born. To purchase vacant lots from the city, tear down abandoned homes if they existed on the lots, and plant trees. This would return vacant land to the tax rolls. It would clean up blight. It would beautify, and it would instill pride in neighborhoods again.

In Spring, 2014, with over 1,000 volunteers, Hantz Woodlands planted over 15,000 hardwood trees on Detroit’s east side.

These examples are only a very few of the dozens of examples being set in Detroit each and every day. Members of the community working toward the purpose of rebuilding the community. They are succeeding. For the naysayers, such as I was until more recently, shame on us. Detroit is resilient and Detroit will overcome. They are proving it every single day.

Take A Walk

The world is moving faster and faster. Every day we are introduced to a new piece of technology that on one hand simplifies a task, but at the same time simply adds an element of increased need for speed and efficiency.  In many regards the glut of technology breeds anxiety.

I hate technology. Why?! Because I so love technology. That’s right; the ultimate love/hate relationship. I spend far too much time on Facebook, keeping up with family and friends. I spend too much time on LinkedIn reading posts on business, researching opportunities, and endorsing others skills. I read too much email. I read too much news. I follow too much hockey. Even when I am not at the computer it still reaches me. My email is tied to my smart phone. So is my Facebook, and my LinkedIn. I get calls, and texts. It’s relentless.

I am probably so attached because truth be told I am so fascinated. At its very core, technology fascinates me. It blows my mind. Even the concept of the telephone amazes me. That I can pick up a device, punch in a series of numbers, and in moments talk in real-time with someone 10,000 miles away amazes me!

So, why do I hate technology? Well, I don’t really hate the technology. I hate what we allow technology to do to us if we fail to manage our use of it. It eats away at our time. It creates the expectation that we should always be doing more and doing it faster. It disconnects us from the world around us. It creates an artificial world in which we engage with the technology and not with people.

My solution: take a walk. Step out from behind the computer screen. Turn off the phone or leave it at home. Stick your mp3 player in a drawer. Get out!

The benefits to taking a few minutes every day to slow down and get out are innumerable, and with all the time and efficiency you are gaining from the technology, you should be able to carve a few minutes out to slow down.


Whether a peaceful country lane or a busy city neighborhood, walking allows you to explore and expand your mind.

Slowing down, even if only for 45 minutes or an hour a day, lets us reconnect with the world around us. My wife and I walk regularly, usually after dinner (some evenings we ride our bikes). We have two dogs, so they come along and get their exercise as well. What I find when we walk however, is that I am able to simply slow down the pace of my mind for a short while. I see things that I never notice when I speed by in a car. I really smell the fresh air, flowers, trees. As it is getting to be Fall here in the north where we live, I am enjoying the changing color of the leaves, the crispness of the air, and the smell of wood smoke. My wife and I have great talks while we walk. We laugh. We point things out we never noticed before. We talk about our kids, their futures, our future, what we should do on the weekend. Sometimes we talk about our worries, too, but the slow pace allows for our minds to expand. It allows us to think more deeply and create solutions. We see neighbors and say hello or catch up on their news. We stop and pet other people’s dogs or smile at kids learning to ride their bikes or take their first steps. Every single walk is a brand new experience, never repeated, never quite the same.

Walking simply frees up your mind to be a more valuable tool. The exercise on your body is certainly part of this effect also. Regardless, it is, as I said, an opportunity to allow your mind to “expand.” I use that word because when I walk that is quite literally what I feel – like my mind is expanding. That I am stretching it to new proportions. I am tapping into the creative side that we all have but that goes dormant when we allow our computers to do all the heavy lifting for us throughout most of the day. Walking is freedom. Freedom from worries, freedom from technology, freedom to think and explore.

Perhaps you’re not a walker. That’s okay, too. Just get out. Ride a bike, run, ski, Rollerblade, or simply go stroll around the mall. It is my promise to you that you will, in a very short matter of time, feel a reconnection with the world around you and the people within it, and that this reconnection will have a positive impact on all aspects of your life. Don’t worry. All the techno-gadgets will be waiting for you when you get home.

News From Out on the Pond, September 10, 2014

pond hockey

“You should have seen the lake today…it was like a sheet of glass.”

We are officially at the one month mark before my favorite team hits the ice in  the first home game of the season, so I think it high time that I add a hockey post. It is also appropriate because there has been a lot of hockey-related news of late.

Death of Bob Suter

I want to start by officially acknowledging the death of Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic gold medal hockey team. Suter died yesterday, September 9, 2014 of a heart attack at the age of 57.

The 1980 USA Men's Olympic Gold Medal winning hockey team celebrates. Bob Suter, #20, is in the foreground. Suter died September 9 at the age of 57.

The 1980 USA Men’s Olympic Gold Medal winning hockey team celebrates. Bob Suter, #20, is in the foreground. Suter died September 9 at the age of 57.

Prior to becoming part of the young and inexperienced Team USA, Suter was a star player for the University of Wisconsin, playing from 1975-1979. At 5′ 10″ and 170 pounds, Suter was by no stretch of the imagination the biggest of hockey players but he was credited by his teammates as always being tough and ready to deliver a hit. When he left the University of Wisconsin in 1979, he held the school record for penalty minutes. Despite such a record, he was remembered off-the-ice as a kind, humble, and soft-spoken man.

Suter did not actually play in the famed game against the Soviets on February 22, 1980. A few short weeks before the Olympics began, Suter broke his ankle, and while he was able to make an amazing comeback and play in the games, Coach Herb Brooks did not feel that he was still back at his best level. Knowing that he needed 110% from all his players if Team USA was going to beat the older, faster, more experienced, and quite honestly – professional – Soviet team, Suter was benched, though he played in several of the other key games of the Olympics.

Bob Suter was also father of Ryan Suter, a highly skilled player in his own right who currently plays for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. Suter is the first player of the 1980 team to pass away. Coach Herb Brooks died in an auto accident in August, 2003.

Two Arrested in Connection with Drug Overdose Death of Derek Boogaard

While the issue of fighting in the hockey remains a hot topic with strong opinions on both sides, the role of “The Enforcer” certainly has a page in the history of the sport, and Derek Boogaard certainly was among the toughest and the strongest of the NHL’s enforcers.

Boogaard died on May 13, 2011 in Minnesota. While Boogaard was a New York Ranger, he had until the previous season played for the Minnesota Wild and still had an apartment there. Like most players whose true skills lies in their ability to protect their team’s top players and seek revenge on those who attempt to cause them harm, Boogaard had suffered repeated injuries. From broken bones and noses, to knocked out teeth, stitches, and concussions, Boogaard lived in almost constant pain. Addicted to prescription pain killers, in 2009 he entered the NHL’s substance abuse program. Like most who suffer from addiction however, it takes more than one round of rehab to kick the habit, and Boogaard was no different. He relapsed, and that relapse ultimately led to the fatal combination of alcohol and pain killers on that May night in 2011.

Jordan Hart, son of former NHL’er Gerry Hart, is accused of providing the oxycodone on which Boogaard overdosed. Oscar Johnson, a former Physician’s Assistant who worked with Hart when he was with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, is accused of writing prescriptions for painkillers for Boogaard despite not examining him.

An autopsy on Boogaard after he died showed he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a brain disease brought on by repeated blows to the head. With so much attention being given to the risks associated with concussions these days, Boogaard’s issues just stand to reinforce those dangers.

Steve Moore Lawsuit Against Todd Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks Settled


Steve Moore

Steve Moore was a promising young forward with Colorado Avalanche in 2004.  On the night of March 8, 2004, in what was already a particularly rough and aggressive game with the Vancouver Canucks, Moore saw his dreams of a future in the NHL, quite literally, crushed.

The Canucks already had issues with Moore. In a game just three weeks prior in Colorado, Moore delivered a hard check to Canucks captain Markus Naslund. Members of the Canucks felt that the hit was dirty and went unpunished. Somewhere within the Canucks organization (it is a subject of debate if it was at team level or higher up in management) the decision was made to target Moore and make him pay for the hit. When the two teams met again on March 8th, the stage was set.

sucker punch

The Bertuzzi Sucker Punch

Throughout the game, Canucks players harassed Moore, attempting to incite him to fight. Moore, aware that he was persona non grata in Vancouver, refused to rise to the bait. At 11:39 in the third period Sean Pronger again began to hit and push on Moore. Moore still refuses to rise to the challenge.  Then, at 11:25, Todd Bertuzzi picks up right where Pronger left off by grabbing Moore’s jersey. When Moore again ignores the challenge, and with his back to Bertuzzi, Bertuzzi sucker punches Moore in the back of the head. This was no subtle “jab you and see if I get away with it,” this was a full on, closed fist punch to the back of another players head.  Moore went down and Bertuzzi and several other players dog-piled on Moore. A flurry of other fights broke out on the ice as well. Within a very short period of time however, it was very evident that Steve Moore was badly hurt. He was face down on the ice, not moving, and athletic trainers who responded quickly signaled that they needed doctors on the ice.

Steve Moore suffered three broken vertebrae that night as well as a concussion. Despite his best attempts to rehabilitate and return to the game, he was never able to – a young man’s dream ended forever.


Todd Bertuzzi tearfully apologizes to Steve Moore the day after his actions ended the NHL rookies career.

For Bertuzzi, he plead guilty to criminal assault causing bodily injury. He received one year probation, 80 hours of community service, and a 15-month suspension from the NHL. Considering that he continued to play in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings until last year, I think he made out pretty well. While I believe his tearful apology the day after the incident was sincere, it was too late, the damage was done. All over a perceived wrong in a past game.

In his lawsuit, Moore asked Canadian courts to award him $68 million dollars. This was to compensate for lost future earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering caused by Bertuzzi’s hit. Not only was Bertuzzi named, but also the Canucks organization and upper management. The amount of the final agreement was not disclosed and I am sure that both sides agreed as part of the deal to not disclose it. Does that mean we will never know? Maybe, but somehow these things always seem to find their way into the light, so only time will tell.

Lamenting Another Time (aka “Things were better back then.”)

The other evening, my wife and I went for a bike ride around the small lake that is near our house. I love these bike rides, not only for the exercise and the ability to be out and active on a beautiful evening, but also because it gives us a chance to talk. The talks don’t have to be deep discussions about world peace, fixing the gutters or buying a car; they can be about anything.

On this particular ride, I was bemoaning the fact that things have gotten so expensive but it didn’t seem to me that incomes had really risen to compensate for this increased cost of living. I cited the examples of my having grown up in Orange County, CA in the late 60’s and 70’s. Until the mid-70’s my mother was a stay-at-home mom and we lived entirely on my fathers income. Now my father is an engineer by education and at the time was a Sales and Marketing Director for a manufacturing company, so we were by no means “poor,” but my parents did own a large home and were raising a family of nine children, so you couldn’t really say we were “flush with cash” either.

By comparison, I used our current quality of life, noting that despite the fact that both my wife and I work and make a good combined income our house still cost more, was considerably smaller than the house I grew up in, and despite raising only three children, we always seem tight for money for “perks” or “extras.” In my own mind I tried to allot for certain increases in the cost of living, inflation, new technology, and that fact that I AM NOT an engineer, but I still had a hard time believing that costs today were anywhere near comparable to in the past. It left me in one of those “Things were better back then” kind of moods. We’ve all had them. So for today’s blog, I decided to do a little informal research and see what I found out.

1950s-kitchenNow I want to make some clear and early statements about my research. I am choosing, for the most part, to compare 1950 to today, or as close to today as I could get. Sometimes I found one statistic on one website and the comparable on another. If I happened to find one site that compared both, that was the number I used so the data was somewhat consistent from whomever the original researcher was. I was looking for just some general numbers to show trends, nothing more. I am sure we could get very detailed and specific in the numbers, but that was not my intent. I just “wanted an idea” of whether things were as disproportionate as I felt.

Here are the areas that I included: average median household income, average cost of a home, average cost of an automobile, certain staple food average costs, average cost of a movie ticket, and the average cost of a four-year college education.

Household Income

To have a baseline with which to begin, I had to look at income. In 1950, the average median U.S. household income was $3,300 per year. To date in 2014, the average median U.S. household income was $53,891. That represents an overall increase in the average median household income that is 16.8 times higher than it was 64 years prior. In fact, household income has actually dropped in the past 5 years. It has gained some ground back, but has not reached $55,589 where it peaked in 2009. For the purpose of my “study” I used the average median household income. This number represents the point at which an equal number of the population is both above and below the line.

Cost of a Home

Home ownership is still the hallmark of the “American Dream,” and is also still the single largest purchase and source of debt for Americans. In 1950, the average U.S. home price was $8,450. So in 1950, a new home cost the consumer 2.6 times their annual income. In 2013, the average U.S. home price was $289,500 or 5.4 times greater than the average American income. That is a fairly large increase when you think about the actual dollar amount that this represents.

Cost of a New Car

Certainly car costs have increased, and with more and more American’s living in suburbs or rural settings but working in larger urban areas, cars are most assuredly a necessity for most of us. The average price of a new car on 1950 was $1,510. So the cost of new car in 1950 was 45% (or just under half) of the wage earners annual income. In 2013, the average car cost $31,352. This represents 58% of the average annual income (or just over half).

Cost of Gasoline

So, we have the new car, but we can’t go anywhere if we don’t keep gas in it! Now given the rate at which gas prices have risen in the past several years, you may think, like I did, that this would be the area that saw the largest increase since 1950. Statistically, no! Note that I said statistically. It is the second largest increase, but compared to what represents the largest increase (which I will get to shortly), gasoline is far and away the largest increase, by no other fact than we need to purchase gasoline on a regular basis.

Cost of gasoline in 1950: 18 cents per gallon. Cost of gasoline in 2014: $3.80 per gallon. Gasoline is 21.1 times most expensive than in 1950. So let’s extrapolate this by filling our gas tank: 15 gallons of gas in 1950 would have cost you $2.70. That same 15 gallons in 2014, $57. Add to that the fact that we have become a much more mobile and transportation-dependent society and gasoline actually represents a major cost increase.

Cost of Food

Well, folks, we have to eat. I am sure if I took apart the grocery store item by item, I could find things that have increased in price astronomically and things that really have hardly moved at all, but for this chart I chose four basic household staples to compare. Milk, bread, eggs, and hamburger. Items that can probably still be found in the vast majority of American kitchens.

Here is how they compare, 1950 versus 2014.




Increase in Price

Milk .82/gallon 3.69/gallon 4.5 times more
Bread .12/loaf 1.98/loaf 16.5 times more
Eggs .79/dozen 1.88/dozen 2.4 times more
Hamburger 0.30/lb 4.68/lb 15.6 times more

I did not research the increase in the costs of dining out, or the difference between dining patterns in 1950 vs. today.

Cost of a Movie Ticket

So the cost of a movie ticket weighed in as the single largest increase in price between 1950 and today. It was an increase of 22.2 times across those 64 years. Now I do think the cost of a movie has become ridiculous, and I think the costs of concessions are even worse, but my wife and I are not huge moviegoers, so I am simply not as affected by this increase as others might be. Nonetheless, in 1950 that ticket you bought so you could make out in the back row was 37 cents. Today, that same ticket will cost our teens $8.20. Hopefully they’re paying more attention to the movie!

The Cost of a Four Year College Education

For many of us, this one hits too close to home. With one daughter in college and another set to go next year, I definitely feel the pain of the costs of college. College costs have truly increased radically. When I visit my daughter at college and see the quality of education, the quality of facilities, and all the extra things that she gets that I did not, I can justify some of the increased expense, but by no means all, not even near all. The salaries that are paid to sports coaches alone astound me. The expenses associated with some of the new arena’s and sporting offices that are built on campuses are staggering. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE college football, basketball and hockey. I think athletics have a very important place in our colleges, but we seem to have forgotten sometimes that college is about EDUCATION before athletics. Coaches making more than Deans? I think that is distorted.

For college costs I was only able to find data as far back as 1966, and the latest data found was 2007, but I think it provides enough to figure out where these costs are going. Also, the data is provided in a different form than dollars and cents, but still paints the picture. In 1966, a four-year college education cost just under 20% of the average American income. By the late 80’s, it had reached about 70% of annual income. In 2007, a college education clocked in at just under 160% of an average American income. To put that into a more real sense of numbers. I went to a state university. My daughter also goes to a state university. We both were/are in-state students paying the lowest tuition rate. My cost for tuition-only in the mid- to late-80’s was approximately $7,080 for a four-year degree. My daughter’s tuition-only? It will exceed $40,000 by the time she graduates, and she is planning on going on to Graduate school. She pays more per year than I paid for my entire education. Add in room and board and those numbers double. Many kids are walking out with student loan debt that is greater than a mortgage.


So what did I learn from my little, very-less-than-scientific research project?

Am I right to think “things were better back then?” Yes and no. While I do believe that our dollars probably don’t go as far as they once did, the numbers did not stagger me the way I thought they would. Also, technology has improved a lot of things. While gas has gotten expensive, our cars are more fuel-efficient and new forms of powering those cars (hybrids, electric, hydrogen) are advancing. Healthcare has gotten better. It, too, has become much more expensive, but many more of us also have insurance to offset those costs. I do hope for the future of our children, that we find better ways of controlling the costs of education while not compromising quality. That one area more than any probably concerns me the most.

Thank you to my beautiful wife for having a great conversation with me that led to this post. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I wish everyone well in their endeavors.

First Day of the Rest of our Lives

We all know that old saying, and truth be told, for the most part it is true. Each day is a new beginning, a chance to venture out with a fresh start. The past is always behind us and the future is always ahead.

I make this my topic today for one simple reason: today, my youngest daughter started her Senior year of high school. With a son living in Los Angeles and another daughter away at college, it just really struck me today how much life has changed in the past few years and how much more it will change in the next few years to come. It’s an odd feeling of nostalgia and some melancholy and wrapped tightly in a blanket of pride and optimism.

M98I am far from alone in this feeling today. The day after Labor day is not the exclusive, but is the traditional start of the new school year in the United States. Tens of thousands of parents are in the same boat as I am, and many, like me, watched their last child walk out the door for their first day of their last year of high school.

The nostalgia and the melancholy are wrapped together. Like the roots of a large tree we cannot untangle them. They are permanently and completely intertwined. The nostalgia is the memory of all that has gone past. The first smile, the first step, learning to ride a bicycle, the first day of school. It was the skinned knee that we kissed and made all better and the broken heart that we couldn’t, and how our own heart broke because we – the parents – were supposed to be able to fix everything. All the times we laughed, smiled, cried, hoped, dreamed, and prayed. All the times we grabbed a quick photo, and all the times we wished we’d had a camera with us but instead committed the image to our memories where over time is softens and becomes slightly fuzzy and changed.

Likewise, our pride in our children and our optimism at what the future holds for them are folded over upon one another. So many of the things that created the nostalgia were also moments of pride. Watching them grow into good people. People you wished you could have been yourself. Trophies, awards, prizes, but also the times when the only reward was knowing that they tried their very best. Watching them pick themselves up after failing and moving right along as if nothing happened or will stop them. What we have witnessed as our children have grown into young adults also gives us the optimism for their futures. Regardless of what they endeavor to do, don’t we as parents all wish they will be just a little better then us? A little more successful? Successful on their terms, not ours.

I think that we, as adults, sometimes need to reflect on our children, on all children, and remember what a joy it was to be a kid. We were so creative and original. We held no prejudices, no stereotypes, and we loved everyone and everything unconditionally (except perhaps for lima beans). We get to relive that through moments with our own children and the children of friends and loved ones, but we need to try and hold on to it longer, and maybe remember that feeling even when we are not around children. Wouldn’t we all be just a little better for that?

To all the kids who started a new school year today, have a great year. Learn new things and continue to grow as the fine young people you are. To the parents, like myself, revel in all that you have accomplished and the lessons you have taught. Remember that when your heart breaks because it swollen beyond its capacity with nostalgia, melancholy, pride, and optimism, it’s really not such a bad thing.

“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Happy Labor Day!

September 1, 2014. Labor Day.  It’s hard to believe that it could already be September. With all the rain and cool weather of the past several months it feels like Summer has practically passed us by. Except for mowing the lawn…that has faithfully returned as often as twice a week, thanks to all the natural water and cool days and nights.

Labor Day was the first nationally recognized holiday specifically for the American worker. Harkening back to a time of 12 – 16 hours days, often times 7 days a week in frequently brutal workplaces – factories, mines, steel mills, stock yards – Labor day became the “working man’s” holiday. That rare occasion to have a work free day, enjoy time with family, and relax.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s page on Labor Day,

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

So, what has happened to the labor movement in America as we have progressed through the 20th Century and into the 21st? Is the labor movement still as strong as it once was? Is there still a need for organized labor representation – Unions?

Well these are just my ramblings, but then again, this is my blog. As someone who spent half of their career in the private, non-union sector, and the other half as a union member, I think I do have some knowledge on which I can base my musings.

Without any doubt whatsoever, the organized labor movement has lost steam and thus power,  in the U.S.

Union’s were borne of the need to protect the American worker. As noted before, the hours were long, the conditions deplorable, the pay abysmal, and there were no protections for worker’s health and safety, or for their families if they became disabled or killed on the job. Unions stepped in and through organizing workers into groups, allowed the worker to have a stronger voice in demanding


An illustration of the first Labor Day parade, held on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The holiday was organized by the Central Labor Union to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, and to host a festival for the workers and their families.

better pay and benefits. The threat of having their entire workforce strike and halt production made many large companies find true benefit in valuing their workers more.

The effects of organized labor’s efforts have spilled over into other non-organized area’s also. Workers in most fields in the U.S. today  – unions  and non-union – enjoy benefits that were derived directly by the working class demanding better pay, benefits, and treatment. These actions led directly to the creation of the great “middle class.”

So why have Unions lost so much of their power and influence?  Because of what I would simply call Entitlement. Unions and their members have gone from being thankful for what they fought so hard for and rightly earned, to believing they are entitled to it. They believe that they no longer have to work to maintain those benefits, that they should simply be granted for life. Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way, and truth be told, the world has a short memory.

As example, the American auto industry suffered greatly, and to some extent still does, because Japan (and now Korea) turned out cheaper cars that were higher quality than the Big 3. Why? They used cheaper labor and demanded higher quality. Meanwhile in the U.S., we had workers on assembly lines turning out a lower quality product while earning more money per year than teachers, firefighters, police officers, and many, many office workers. Adding insult to injury, American’s were expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an inferior product based on the marketing concept of “American-made.” In fact, consumers were made to feel un-American if they didn’t buy American when, in fact, they simply wanted a higher quality car. It pleases me, that today, we are reassuming control of that market again based on quality and not cajoling.

There are still many facets of the union mindset at play today that must be overcome. Horrible employees who companies find next to impossible to fire because they made it past their first year on the job and now benefit from unreasonable and extraordinary protections. Quality workers within the union itself, who suffer as lower quality and less productive employees invoke their “seniority” status for better shifts, opportunities, and work-free holidays – an entitlement based not on work quality but simply time on-the-job.

Well, as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changin…”  Union’s went from garnering much needed benefits for workers to being the purveyor of sloth, laziness, and poor quality. Union’s now suffer as American businesses and politician’s work to pass “right-to-work” laws all over the nation. Laws that say that just because a job once required an employee to join the union, that is no longer a must. The employee is now able to state, “No. I am not paying unions dues while my rights are eroded. I will simply go it on my own.” In time, this too will backfire, and there will be a rise of a new labor movement. Until that happens however, continue to expect quality in many products to lack, while costs go up and we continue to see imports from overseas eat away American market share.

For more information of Labor Day, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s site at: