It's been a tough year or so for my 60-ish friends.
Last Thanksgiving long-time TurfNet member and one of my best personal friends, Jerry Coldiron, left us way too soon, at 60, of cardiac arrest.
Shortly after Valentine's Day it was an 18-year stalwart on our TurfNet hockey team, Tom Morris CGCS (ret), at 61. They thought it was the flu but turned out to be spinal meningitis, source unknown, four days soup to nuts. Went to bed and didn't wake up. Again, way too young.
We just arrived at our summer place in the Maritimes to find our builder and good friend Mark Calder just spent a week in the hospital for congestive heart failure. He's 60 as well, but thankfully still kicking. Good thing, as I have repairs that need attention. 🙂
The reality check for me is that I am older than all of them.
The good news (for which I'm ever searching these days) is that sometimes good things happen as a result of tragedy or misfortune.
Shortly after Jerry's death we launched the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life! Fund in his memory, and awarded $10,000 at Beer & Pretzels to four individuals who exemplified Jerry's zest for life, positivity and spreading joy to others. The Fund will continue into the foreseeable future, acknowledging positivity in the turfgrass community.
Today I want to talk about Tom Morris. Not THAT Tom Morris (of St. Andrews greenkeeping fame), although we did refer to Tommy as "Old Tom" upon occasion.
Tommy Mo was a classic, a one-of-a-kind, broke-the-mold, do his own thing, dance to his own drummer kind of guy. Originally from Massachusetts, he spent most of his adult life and career in Vermont, my home state for the past ten years. It was a perfect fit for Tom, because Vermont (a long-time bastion of independence) is full of individualists, burned-out hippies, non-conformists and Subaru drivers. Maybe that's why I wound up here and found such a kindred spirit in Tommy.
Point of note: Contrary to popular legend, Vermonters don't wear Birkenstocks. At least I don't know any who do.
Old Tom wore work boots, wool socks, hiking shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. Just about every day, year round, no matter the weather. For variety it might be running shoes and a t-shirt in summer. On bright days he would sport his iconic, appropriately crooked Lennon-esque sunglasses to complete the outfit. In winter he would add his trademark tweed driving cap and barn coat. None of this for show, mind you. That was just him. His style, and his alone.
He was a hockey player, referee and bluegrass musician. Along with Ken Lallier, CGCS, also from Vermont, Tommy was an original 1999 member of Team TurfNet, our first year playing in the Golf Course Hockey Challenge in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, Ontario. He missed only two tournaments among the twenty since. Ken Lallier hasn't missed any. Our goaltender all 20 years. Iron Man. Brick Wall. Vermonter.
Me with Trevor Clark (l) and Tommy Mo at Music in the Meadow, Chester, Vermont, June, 2017. Tommy was playing with The Bondville Boys in a fund-raiser for the Susan G. Komen cancer research fund.
Like a true Yankee (as in New Englander and Bruins/Red Sox fan), Old Tom was frugal. Our first year at the Hockey Challenge, he arrived with his gear in his father's World War II duffel bag. Much of his equipment was almost as old. He had a 1960s-era leather helmet. Gloves with no palms. A t-shirt with more holes than fabric, which he continued to wear for many more years until it completely fell apart.
Post-game refreshment, with Brian Goudey (now with Syngenta), 2010. Nobody was thinking about who won or lost. It's all about the friendship.
Tom was a golf course superintendent for about 25 years at a handful of courses in Vermont. He was certified, and if my memory serves me correctly, he was president of the VtGCSA around the turn of the millennium when GCSAA was pushing it's dual membership program requiring all members of local chapters to also have membership in the national.
Vermonters as a rule don't like to be told what they can and cannot do, or what they have to do. Beyond that, the state has many short-season, low-budget facilities to which the $300 asked for national dues meant doing without something else. So there was a backlash, with Old Tom leading the hue and cry. This of course didn't sit well with some who sip the Kool-Aid.
As fate would have it, Tom lost his job at Sugarbush Golf Course shortly thereafter. His few local detractors pored over the chapter by-laws, cited the clause stating that chapter officers must be currently employed superintendents... and asked him to resign as president. I suspect that after 25 years Tommy had one foot out the golf industry door anyway, but he turned around and told them where they could stick their by-laws and everything else... and quit the business.
Drawing upon his skills learned as a superintendent, Tommy and his Sweetie (as he called Nancy Jean, his partner for many years before and since) started a property maintenance business servicing second homes and condos in the ski areas of southern Vermont. He refereed hockey games at night, and was a founding 30-year member of the Bondville Boys, a popular local bluegrass band with which he played banjo and guitar, wrote songs and sang.
Tom and Nancy Jean, an item for 27 years.
Like many others in rural New England, he cobbled together enough income to get by, played some music, cultivated a little 'Vermont lettuce' for personal use and enjoyed life. That he did.
I don't know how many guys have passed through Team TurfNet over the years, but I'd say somewhere between 50 and 75, maybe even 100. I know that if I were to ask any one of them who their favorite teammate was, every one would say Tom Morris. Was he the best player? No, but nobody played harder, even as he got older and slower. In fact, as coach, I awarded him several casual (and often tongue-in-cheek) team MVP awards to recognize his effort and commitment.
It was in the dressing room that Tommy was in his element. Oh, the stories, the wisecracks, the memories of zany shenanigans that took place over those 20 years when men become boys again for at least a couple of days. Life-long memories were generated every year, even during those early years when we went winless for five years straight.
Tom Morris (r) enjoying a yuck with Joe "Squeak" Kinlin (Bey Lea GC, NJ) in 2005. Must have been the early of the two daily games, judging by the Gatorade. Tom's trademark tweed cap can be seen hanging from the hook at the top of the photo.
When Tommy passed away in February, his Sweetie, Nancy Jean, announced that there would be a celebration of his life later in the year. That turned out to be the first annual town-wide TommyFest, held at their stream-side home in Jamaica, Vermont, on July 7.
Jamaica is a classic small Vermont crossroad town of about a thousand people, white clapboard houses, a restaurant or two and a small grocery store.
The 237 towns in Vermont don't have mayors; they have selectmen. Cities have mayors, but there are only nine in the state, so not much is thought about them. Even so, Tommy Mo was considered by most Jamaica residents to be the defacto mayor of their town. If he wasn't playing music, he was chatting with people at the general store, bicycling through town or waving to passersby.
The entire town was invited to TommyFest, with a simple request from Nancy Jean to bring your love, a dish to share, a perennial to plant in the memorial garden that she had prepared overlooking their stream, and your musical instruments.
By my estimate, about 1/3 of the town showed up. It was only proper that TurfNet sponsor the beer, which I had arranged through D&K's Jamaica Grocery. There was plenty of food (including baskets of hand-picked local strawberries), drink, music and love.
Thirty or forty people brought their acoustic instruments, an eclectic variety of guitars, mandolins, upright basses, fiddles, banjos, ukuleles... and even a guy with a blue clarinet. What started as a group sing-along of "Down on the Corner" soon broke up into smaller groups of musicians and singers spread out around the property. Tommy would have loved it, and been in the middle of it.
Even I answered the call and brought my 12-string to strum a few tunes for Old Tom.
TurfNet was well represented, both hockey players and not. Trevor Clark, Tommy's defense partner on Team TurfNet, and his family drove from Toronto to stay with us for the weekend. Mark Fuller, CGCS ret, came from Connecticut. Ken Lallier, of course, was there, along with Jim Gernander, Joe Charbonneau, Chris Cowan and Tim Madden.
Me with Syd Clark, Nancy Jean Henry (Sweetie, sporting Tom's #3, backwards), Mark Fuller, Ken Lallier, Jim Gernander and his wife Jenn. Foreground, Trevor and Susan Clark.
Many people brought perennials from their garden to help plant Tommy's memorial garden, which was appropriately festooned for the day with some of his instruments and Hawaiian shirts.
The take-home messages in all this are to spend your life doing things that you enjoy, with people you love. Do for others, lend a hand, pay it forward. When it's time for a change, draw on your inner strengths and resources and take the plunge, without regret. Keep busy but reserve time to plant a garden, play music, ride a bike or go for a run, sit and splash in a stream on a hot day. Don't sweat the details; go with the flow.
The satisfaction for me is knowing that Tommy and Trevor and Ken and the other guys would not have been a part of my life (or each others) were it not for TurfNet. That's pretty cool.
We would all do well to live our lives well enough and touch enough others so that so many would want to spend a day honoring our memory. As Tom used to say, "Peace, Love and 3-Part Harmony."
It's Sunday morning, 6:00 AM, Father's Day.
Even though the last round of the US Open will tee off at Shinnecock shortly, I'm not going to carry on about the brown greens that were broadcast around the world yesterday. I do feel sorry for Jon Jennings and his staff who have busted their humps for two years only to have it go to shit at the last minute... at the USGA's behest, I'm fairly sure. I guess they didn't learn anything from the wind-whipped forest fire on the greens there in 2004.
For me, Father's Day has become one of those semi/partly-annual opportunities for pondering the past, reflecting on life and family, what I've done well, maybe not so well, and whether it's time to adjust the rudder for the future. The latter should be a constant exercise, by the way.
It occurred to me recently that unless you're a Michelangelo, McCartney or Gretzky, the half-life of anybody's legacy here on earth is about a generation, maybe a generation and a half. Beyond that, you're one of those old farts hanging on the wall. If, that is, somebody had the foresight to print a hard copy of your photo before it got lost in the succession of hard drive crashes that erases so many digital memories today. (Hint: lesson there.)
As a kid, I remember a sepia-toned portrait hanging on the wall in my grandparents' home in Jenkintown, PA. I thought it was cool because the guy had a big bushy mustache and looked like a neat guy. His name was Joseph Adam Gehres, my great-grandfather on my mother's side, from Waverly, Ohio. Findagrave.com tells me his time on earth was 1855-1945. The photo on the left below is the one I remember. (Not sure about the look of my great-grandmother on the right. Ugh. But such was the fashionable look of the day.)
It's a safe bet that I'm the only person on earth thinking about Joseph Adam Gehres today. Most people today don't know their grandparents' or great-grandparents' names, much less remember them or think about them. That's changing somewhat for those who delve into Ancestry.com or one of its ilk.
About 20 years ago when visiting my parents in suburban Chicago, I sat with my mother and scanned a bunch of old family photos and had her identify those pictured so I could record them digitally for posterity. Hah. Where are those digitized photos and notes now? On some long-lost hard drive somewhere.
So the point here, after beating around the bush and going around the backside of the barn a few times, is that your legacy is today. Don't worry about what the future may think, what the record books will say about you, what you'll look like on findagrave.com. What is important is how you impact and influence those around you now.
The Superintendent Tradition has long dictated that for six months of each year, family is put aside to focus solely on the job. Thankfully that's changing, due in part to the influence of those like Chris Tritabaugh at Hazeltine. Chris recognizes that the job is important but only one segment of life. The golf course will be there tomorrow but kids will be of a certain age only once. Unlike many superintendents of the past, he refuses to miss that just to clock more hours at the golf course under the guise of dedication to the job.
I don't have any regrets in that regard. I wasn't a superintendent, but I worked many long hours building TurfNet... thankfully with the flexibility to work around family activities rather than miss them. I was there. I showed up. No regrets.
That's one reason I don't play golf. I pretended for about ten years, playing six or eight times a year in chapter outings and that type of thing, but I could never justify the six hours or whatever it took door-to-door to play golf on a Saturday or Sunday. Plus I sucked at it. Four hours of frustration and embarrassment for me, so I hung 'em up 18 years ago. No regrets there either.
In just a few hours Patty and I will leave the dogs at home and head north to Mallett's Bay for a day on Daughter B's boat (the best kind of boat to have... someone else's!). It has become a Father's Day tradition.
Investments made then (above, circa 1987) yield dividends later (below).
Long story short: Be a part of your kids' lives during their formative years and chances are they will want you to be part of theirs later on.
So show up. Be there. Do for others. It all comes back to you later.
Oh, and Happy Father's Day to those so blessed.
A few years back my wife and I attended the annual dinner meeting of the Passamaquoddy Yacht Club, of which we were new members. Sounds kind of snooty, doesn't it? Ahhh, names often belie the true nature of things.
The Passamaquoddy Yacht Club is half sailing organization and half social club. Its locale is a triangle of ports (Eastport and Lubec, Maine, and Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, where our summer place is located) near the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay, off the Bay of Fundy, home of the highest tides in the western hemisphere.
Ironically, there are some sailboats but no yachts in the area other than perhaps a "lobster yacht" or "picnic boat" visiting from Mount Desert Island -- home of Acadia National Park, Martha Stewart, the Millikens and the Rockefellers -- about 100 miles to the south. FYI, lobster yachts were originally working lobster boats converted to recreational use so the moneyed gentility of coastal Maine could use them for picnicking on board or on the out islands. The early converted working boats have yielded to custom picnic boats crafted by Maine artisanal boatmakers such as Hinckley or Ellis, and available to anyone with a half million or more in folding cash. That is not us.
A Hinckley picnic boat. As the old saying goes, if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it.
We were encouraged by some friends and neighbors to join the PYC even though we don't own a boat..The joke is, when asked what kind of boat you have, you simply reply "gravy". Everyone understands.
In any case, I was enjoying a beer and snacking on some appys prior to dinner when I turned and came face-to-face with an obviously free-spirited woman ten years younger or so than myself. It was one of those semi-awkward things that occasionally happen at cocktail parties or when browsing the groaning table. She was with a dapper fellow about 30 years her senior.
Since part of the initiative was to meet new people, we both took a half-step back to regain some personal space and said hello.
"So what's your story?" she asked.
Huh? Say what? I guess I gave her a blank stare and 'hominy-homonied' a bit, because she then said, "Yeah, who are you? What do you do? What are you all about?"
I first thought that was a fairly frontal question from a near-bumpee, but recognizing her free-spirit and happy smile, I played along. It was a curious exercise.
Put yourself in that position. On the spot, with no forethought, distill yourself down to a couple of sentences that would capture your essence and convey it to a stranger. I guess I'm still trying to fine-tune what I should have said, since I still remember the incident and reflect from time to time.
Of course I had to return the question, to which she didn't hesitate in responding. "I'm 49, single, a writer, renting for the summer down the road a bit, and my friend here is gay and a lot of fun." Okay. Obviously she had rehearsed.
It has since occurred to me that we go through a similar exercise when deciding what to put on our social media profiles. Are you a spouse/parent first and foremost, or does your career identity take precedent? Dogfather? Foodie?
My Twitter profile states: "TurfNet founder, Boston Bruins fan, bucket list guitarist, family man, dog-father, foodie, craft beer lover, Kubota jockey and man of Stihl."
That has been tweaked a couple of times over the years, and is really in need of further adjustment. I used to have "Golden Retriever snob" in there but since our pack of Goldens has dwindled to one and our most recent canine acquisitions are rescues of other breeds, the snob thing really doesn't apply anymore. We are EODLs, or Equal Opportunity Dog Lovers.
I must have written that profile blurb in the winter or spring due to the prominence of the Boston Bruins fan thing. That would have likely been farther down the list in summer, but it's in prime time right now!
"Foodie" and "craft beer lover" probably wouldn't make the cut if I were to write or revise it today. I still enjoy good food but a real foodie loves to cook, and while I do at times, I simply don't do it that much anymore. It's not as big a part of me as it once was.
Same goes for craft beer. As many craft beers have eclipsed the 8% ABV mark, and given my propensity to consume more than one ("The first is mouthwash," I would say), I have realized that 16 oz 8%+ beers are not my friend. 12 oz cans of Founders All-Day IPA at 4.7% ABV are just fine, and don't blow my head apart should I choose to drink more than a couple... which I also rarely do anymore.
The periodic exercise in introspection is what is important here. Does your career come first, or your family? Dog before spouse? Hobbies? "What hobbies?" you say. Tsk, tsk. Everyone should have a hobby or diversion.
Since Twitter is mostly a business thing or me, "TurfNet founder" takes top placement as there is only one, and that's me. No ambiguity there. "Husband of 40 years to the same woman" and "proud father of two great daughters" should be up at the top, although I somewhat vaguely covered that with "family man".
Bucket-list guitarist has to stay, as I've only been at it less than four years and it has changed my life. We are never too old for a new challenge.
The Kubota/Stihl thing still applies, but to a lesser degree. I enjoy my time in the woods, but after ten years of it and hundreds of trees felled my muscles and joints ache more and my stamina suffers with age.
Mickey McCord also constantly admonishes me to not work alone with a chainsaw. After having a close call with my foot a few years back, and with the guitar causing a newfound appreciation of my fingers, Kubota and Stihl have also taken a step back among my priorities.
I recently realized that "voracious reader" and "Jack Reacher wannabe" never made the list. They should. I average about one novel per week. I don't read non-fiction as there's too much of that in real life these days.
Part of the take-home here is that things change over time. Our lives and priorities change. Our jobs change. Our outlook on life changes.
I often encourage people to look back five or ten years years and see how their lives have changed. Could you have predicted where you are today? Many of us could not.
The flipside of that is to be aware of the rate of change as it accelerates into the future. In my opinion it's naive, if not downright impossible, to plan more than five years ahead, 'cause it's a crapshoot beyond that. I'm not recommending not saving for retirement and things like that. Rather, stay flexible and go with the flow without too much predetermination.
Back to my Twitter persona to close this out. I have been chastised for using salty language about hot-button topics on my @TurfNetMaestro Twitter account. I suppose they are right, to a degree. I should separate that out.
One of my fellow turf media folks referred to me awhile back as a "grumpy old prick". Hey, I like that, I thought. So I went ahead and registered @GrumpyOldPrick as an alter-ego Twitter handle. Seriously. I did.
I haven't resorted to using it yet, partly because I'm working on that 'grumpy' thing. And that's a benefit of this whole introspective, who-am-I, what's-my-story exercise. A problem recognized is half-solved.
Laying the framework for this story requires a bit of background, so bear with me...
About three weeks ago Team TurfNet was headed for Niagara Falls, Ontario, for our 20th appearance at the Golf Course Hockey Challenge. For those unfamiliar, the GCHC is a 2-day event every January that pits 12 teams of superintendents, assistants and suppliers against one another in (usually) good-natured but serious men's-league caliber hockey. With three common threads among players -- playing hockey, working in the golf industry, and drinking beer -- it is the highlight of the winter for most.
But time marches on and players get older, have kids and all that stuff, so as the coach I found myself in mid-December with only 7 or 8 players... only half of the number needed. So I went on the recruiting offensive on Twitter.
I had been threatening for several years to start trading 50s for two 25s each, so it looked like this would be the year.
Understand that this is a low-cost venture for anyone who plays on Team TurfNet, and they are treated well ("Better than we ever were in the AHL," once said Jim Gernander, one of our players on family-hiatus this year).
From Year One back in 1999, I have provided custom uniforms (names and all), fed 'em and beered 'em, paid the team entry fee. Their only responsibility is getting themselves to Niagara Falls and then a shared hotel room for two nights. In Niagara Falls in January, that's cheap.
Within an hour of posting that tweet, I got a response:
"I am a first year Turfgrass management student at the University of Guelph. I have been playing hockey my whole life and and am interested in joining the team. I have heard nothing but good things about this tournament. Look forward to hearing back from you, and appreciate your time!
That's pretty cool. I replied to Scott that he's in, and immediately heard back from him:
"Sounds awesome! My older brother Paul is also a hockey player, is in the Guelph turf program and is interested if there is room. I am a 2XL jersey and will take #53, and my brother will take an XL #71. I really appreciate this and cannot wait!"
Hmmm. Two guys within an hour. Nice. But it grew from there, with the word spreading on the Guelph campus that Team TurfNet was looking for players. By the next day I had seven guys from Guelph, all under 25. In addition to Scott and Paul, the new rookies included Mark Perrin, Matthew Breznikar, Arran Marlow, Dawson Acker and Andrew Radonicich.
By the next day I had seven guys from Guelph, all under 25...
Nicknames are kind of a thing in hockey, so Scott and Paul instantly became "2X" and "1X" due to their jersey sizes. Joining them were Digby, Radar, Brez, Perrin and Marlow.
Since I would be ordering jerseys for everyone, and realizing that these guys were an unknown quantity and young, I was a little cautious about their level of commitment. I sent them all a broadcast email asking them to reply affirming their intent to play, and that they would show up Jan 30/31 in Niagara Falls. Everyone replied. Of course I threatened that if they didn't show I would hunt them down, and they wouldn't want that black mark on their resumes...
They all showed up. The first night we had a team dinner and plenty of beer (on TurfNet, of course), and got to know each other a little bit. I handed everyone a TurfNet hat and their jersey (or "sweater" in Canada). This was their first taste of what it's like to wear the TurfNet red and white.
The Guelph guys had one of the their buddies, Isaac Swanton, with them and he looked a little uncomfortable. Turns out he was on Toronto 2's roster. Wrong team. Before we ordered dinner he stood up and was going to put some money on the table for his beers and take his leave. Seeing that, I ordered him to put his money away, sit his ass back down and have dinner with us. He instantly became known as "Toronto2" for the balance of the tourney. I suspect he may go 'free agent' from the Toronto 2 team before next year.
Before the first game the next morning, the dressing room was a little quiet, or quieter than it would become. With half the team made up of rookies and still an unknown quantity (other than their ability to drink beer and eat), there was a "feeling out" process. But the joking started and balls started to get busted a little as everyone loosened up. We did OK on the ice as well.
Club Car sponsored a "Beer & Pretzels"-type event in the hotel pub that evening, which gave everyone (including "Toronto2") a chance to hang out some more and enjoy the camaraderie.
By the end of our fourth game the next day, all were best buds. The team went 1-1-2 on the scoreboard, which was fine -- better than many years. But that's not what it's all about.
Since several of the Guelph guys would be traveling to San Antonio the following week for the collegiate Turf Bowl at GIS, I invited them to our Beer & Pretzels Gala.
Side note: Unbeknownst to me, the team collected $500 from among themselves to contribute to the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life! fund, and gave it to me after the last game.
OK, that's the background. Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the story.
After everyone got home from Niagara Falls (some of us had 7- or 8-hour drives), I started to receive some emails of thanks for yet another fun mid-winter event. More came in over the next couple of days, and I waited to respond until I saw how many of the Guelph guys sent along an email of thanks.
About half did, some did not. So I sent out this broadcast email (annotated somewhat) to the team:
"Thank you all (again) for the donation to the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life! fund. I understand (assistant player-coach) Trevor Clark twisted your arms on this. As he said I don't normally accept monies from anybody, but in this instance I did and appreciate it very much. Jerry was one of my best friends and led his life in a manner all of us would do well to emulate.
"Here's a homework assignment for you. Listen to this podcast of Dave Wilber and me talking about Jerry. There are many life lessons in there.
"While you're at it, listen to this one too: It's Dave Wilber interviewing me a couple of years ago about the origins of TurfNet almost 25 years ago. I was chatting with Brez at the Club Car party Tuesday night and he had no idea what TurfNet is all about and that I started it. I'm sure others of you don't either. There are many life (and career) lessons in this podcast too. Getting knocked on your ass, dusting yourself off and getting back in the game. Overcoming fear. Listening to your subconscious.
"Lastly, another tidbit of career education. I mentioned above that I've heard from most of you. The ones who haven't bothered to chime in with a short note of thanks know who you are. Now, understand that I don't sponsor the team and treat you guys right for kudos or acclamation of any sort. I do it because I like to do it and enjoy it.
"My point here, for you young guys, is that you have to get in the habit of ALWAYS thanking anybody who does you a solid, in any way. Do it that day or the following day, not a week or two later. If a superintendent comps you a round on his course, thank him. If you play in an outing, send the supt a note of thanks. And the BEST way to do it is with a handwritten thank you note. Email is OK, but handwritten has a much larger impact. Why? Because so few people do it these days.
My point here, for you young guys, is that you have to get in the habit of ALWAYS thanking anybody who does you a solid, in any way. Do it that day...
"Go to a card store and pick up a box of ten simple thank you cards with envelopes. Buy ten stamps and put them in the box, with a pen. Put the box of cards, stamps and pen in the glove compartment of your car or truck. THEN, whenever you need them, they are right there. Write a brief note, put a stamp on it and mail it THEN.
"I still have thank you notes from 20+ years ago in my archives. Why? Because they meant much more to me than an email, or nothing. AND, when someone who receives your card saves it and comes across it again in the future, they will think well of you, again. Who knows where that might lead? It's quick, simple, and inexpensive to do. So do yourselves a favor and get in the habit of doing it. Every time."
Fast forward to San Antonio. I'm standing inside the door at the Quarry Golf Club, where Beer & Pretzels had just gotten underway. A LOT of interns from around the world (part of Mike O'Keeffe's Ohio Program) were there already. Then I saw a bunch of young guys outside heading for the door, and recognized a few of the Guelph boys.
In marched 1X, 2X and Marlow, grinning, with Toronto2 again in tow. The former three proceeded to hand me handwritten thank you cards that they had gone out and purchased somewhere in San Antonio.
The former three proceeded to hand me handwritten thank you cards that they had gone out and purchased somewhere in San Antonio....
I busted out laughing and told them, "At least you guys can READ!". Seriously, each one included a heartfelt note of thanks, and that meant the world to me. I was (and am) very proud of them.
THAT -- along with the new friendships made every year -- is why I have spent the money, made the organizational efforts and the long drive to Niagara for twenty years.
The moral of this long-winded story is that we have many opportunities to get noticed in life for less-than-stellar reasons. When you have a chance to get yourself noticed in a positive manner for very little cost and effort, do it.
Yesterday was Valentine's Day, that Hallmark-perpetuated day of roses, chocolates and mushy greeting cards that gives a nice uptick to the mid-February economy. Sounds kind of cynical, doesn't it?
But no! I went whole-hog yesterday with a $6.99 greeting card (Hallmark, nothing but the best), a dozen roses, a warm cinnamon bun from the bakery, and date night by a roaring fireplace at a favorite "country French" restaurant nearby. All good, voluntary, enjoyable and meaningful.
One thing I can never do is buy one of those sappy "I know I don't tell you often enough how beautiful, sweet, loving you are..." Valentine cards. Because it wouldn't be true. I tell her all the time. Every day in fact. And honestly.
It's also important to show her (or him, whichever the case may be) with more than words.
Show with little things, every day. Make the bed, at least on a day off. Put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not in the sink. If the clothes dryer is beeping, get up before she does to go empty it. Catch her off guard with a full-body-press hug, and maybe a squeeze or two. Perhaps not stereotypical guy stuff, but all easy and cost nothing.
Beyond that, choose your battles. Always gauge how really important your side in a conversation or disagreement is to you, relative to how important their side may be to them. Know when to dig in your heels and when to let go. If you can do the latter more than 50% of the time, you're doing well... and probably haven't given up much in the bargain.
That "conflict evaluation process" always involves listening, another underutilized man-habit. I saw something the other day on Twitter that said, "Listen to understand, not to reply." Wow. Six words to live by.
"Listen to understand, not to reply." Wow. Six words to live by.
You may be wondering who the heck I am to be dispensing relationship advice. I have no qualification other than being married for 40 years, to the same woman no less. I was taken out of circulation 45 years ago this June, at the age of 18. Married at 23. That's a long time.
Much of that success (yes, it is success these days) is due to showing, choosing wisely, and listening to understand. At least I try.
I often marvel at how the "heart" works in matters of love and relationships. Our hearts seem to have an infinite, instantaneous and automatic capacity to expand and embrace when babies and puppies come along.
But at the same time we tend to put up walls around us that keep non-family others at arm's length or at a "comfortable" distance, with fairly strict criteria for letting anyone through. That's too bad.
I recorded a podcast with Dave Wilber just a few days after Jerry Coldiron died last Thanksgiving, and I've gone back and listened to it several times since. I learn more about myself, and about friendship, and relationships, and indeed about love, each time I do.
Jerry was my best friend. I looked forward to spending time with him and Susan at our summer place, or getting together at GIS, at their "Casa de Coldiron" down in Boca Raton after Orlando shows, or on the phone in between.
We understood each other. Appreciated and learned from each other. We had many raucous, laughable episodes, but many moments of quiet conversation as well. Those are the things that great, loving relationships are made of, whether with a spouse or, if one is lucky, a long-time best friend.
One thing Patty and I learned when we moved to Vermont ten years ago -- in our early 50s without benefit of kids in school or on sports teams -- is that making friends is difficult. Some new acquaintances that we thought would become friends didn't happen, for one reason or another. Others did. But we quickly realized that friends who are meant to be will be, and can't be forced.
We have rescued two dogs within the past year, and often marvel at how much we have grown to love them over the relatively brief time they have been with us. And they came along in addition to Rosie, our ten-year old Golden Retriever (the last in a line of four). We have grown very quickly into one big, happy pack.
When deciding to add a third dog this past December, we acknowledged that we have room in our home(s), a little room in our vehicle, and certainly room in our hearts. So we went for it, and our hearts auto-expanded to accommodate yet another.
Too bad deep, meaningful friendships and loving relationships don't happen as easily. But recognize them when you have them, and work at them.
Another late friend of mine, Canadian superintendent Gordon Witteveen, used to tell me, "If you don't work at relationships, they soon go away."
Gordon called me frequently from Toronto. Jerry called me frequently from Florida. I'm ashamed to say they called me more often than I called them. Now I don't have the opportunity to correct that shortcoming.
So make the call. Buy the flowers. Have a date night. And do it from the heart, because you want to. Both hearts will be better off for it.
The Golf Industry Show is a few weeks away and I thought it time to assess the event in advance, at least in my mind's eye from my perch in the cheap seats. For what that's worth.
Nobody I've spoken with is anything more than underwhelmed with San Antonio as host city. Bad memories of travel experiences three years ago -- both to and from the iced-over state of Texas -- still linger.
I never made it at all. My Monday afternoon flight was waylaid and the best the airlines could do was get me into SAT on Wednesday night, missing Beer & Pretzels on Tuesday as well as the first day of the show. Thank you but no, I'm going back home.
That may have been a blessing. Many others trying to get out of SAT on Friday after the show didn't get home until Monday. Not fun, no matter how one slices and dices it. And unnecessary.
San Antonio needs to go, even if it means bouncing back and forth biannually between San Diego and Orlando.
Registration numbers I've heard are below 3,000 superintendents this year, about half of the norm a few years back. The 20,000+ total attendees figure that was touted in the past has shrunk to 13,600 last year in Orlando.
Let's look at that number of superintendents for a second. GCSAA pitches the show to exhibitors on the basis of "qualified buyers", promising 6000 this year. What is a "qualified buyer"? According to golfindustryshow.com, qualified buyers include:
So only 58% of the promised 6000 are superintendents. There's your 3000 or so.
Well, 3000 is a lot of people if you put them all in one room. But divide an average exhibitor's investment in the show -- with increasing costs of booth space, carpet, shipping/setup, travel, hotel, meals -- by a declining number of potential customers and it continues to get evermore expensive.
Not only for exhibitors, but for attendees too. Can a superintendent get in and out of GIS for less than $2000, all in? More if one plays in the golf tournament.
After putting numbers to paper and comparison shopping, 16 guys from across the country are with Jon Kiger over in England right now for the BIGGA show (BTME) starting this weekend, for pretty much even dollars.
The package Jon negotiated and is hosting was $1850 (double occupancy) plus airfare... for 8 days, transportation, lodging, a few course visits, 13 hours of education and BIGGA membership. Six guys decided to go over early this week and visit St. Andrews, and all got to play the Old Course.
Rather than same-old-same-old, they're getting a new experience, international exposure, new contact, new friends among the group on the trip. All indications are that Jon will host another trip next year. (Me? I'm not real big on traveling, if you couldn't tell...)
So I missed San Antonio three years ago. I was delayed getting to San Diego the following year (walking into Beer and Pretzels at 8:00 with my luggage, direct from the airport). And I voluntarily skipped Orlando last year due to some personal issues.
The thing is, for those two shows that I missed, I actually found them much easier and more efficiently covered remotely, from home. Our guys (Kiger, Reitman, Ross, Wilber et al) emailed me items of interest, and I monitored the #GIS201x hashtag on Twitter to discover and then research products that others found of interest. So from the new product standpoint, no big deal, really. For our purposes, of course.
But I did miss the people, and therein lies the rub.
I am admittedly looking forward to certain things in San Antonio this year. Beer & Pretzels, of course, after missing two of the last three.
We are dedicating this year's B&P Gala to our late friend and TurfNet enthusiast/cheerleader, Jerry Coldiron. His wife Susan will be there, and we will be announcing the first Jerry Coldiron Positivity Awards from monies donated in Jerry's memory to the Jerry Coldiron Embrace Life! fund.
As always, I am also looking forward to the Superintendent of the Year presentation at the Syngenta booth on Thursday afternoon. Having the TurfNet logo right up there with one of the preeminent suppliers to the industry is one of my proudest moments of the year. And it's always great to shake hands with the finalists and the winner. There is, once again, a slate of great superintendents going to be honored.
Most years GIS is the only time during the year that Jon Kiger, John Reitman and I are in the same place, the group occasionally (and nicely) augmented by Eleanor Geddes. It's always fun to pause for a moment or a meal and reconnect, in person.
The TurfNet Trio, circa 2014
One of the gauges I use to assess the overall health of the industry is the number of parties at GIS. Rumor has it that several of the extravaganzas put on by the biggies in recent years have fallen by the wayside. That happens cyclically, it seems, but we always forge ahead with Beer & Pretzels. This year will be our 22nd, I believe.
If you're going to San Antonio and you see one of us on the show floor or elsewhere, say hey and introduce yourself (if we've never met). It's great to associate a face with a name.
Stay tuned for our show coverage during GIS week, and a likely recap here after the travel and show fatigue have subsided afterward. We'll see how San Antonio as a host location and GIS in general hold up to further scrutiny this year.
After writing a monthly column in our now-retired print newsletter (TurfNet Monthly, for those not around then) for 17 or 18 years, I sort of ran out of things of import to say on a regular basis. No sense contributing to more milquetoast, editorial drivel or fill-up-space pontification... there's plenty of that elsewhere.
Occasionally something starts the gears whirring and prompts me to sit down and write. Yesterday was one of those occasions.
I finally caught up by phone with an old TurfNet friend (now retired) who I had been meaning to reconnect with for some time. Ah, what the heck, I'll blow his cool here. It was Matt Shaffer, of Merion Golf Club and the (rainy) 2013 US Open fame. You all remember.
Since retiring earlier this year after 43 years in the business, Matt is now Director of Golf Course Operations Emeritus at Merion. Nice. Good for him.
I consider Matt Shaffer to be one of the large handful of iconic superintendents who epitomize what all should aspire to. Certainly qualified and technically capable, but also professional, friendly and humble. His televised interviews during the 'Monsoon Open' gave the entire superintendent profession a huge boost image-wise.
I first connected with Matt back in the mid-'90s when he was at The Country Club in Ohio and thought he'd take a flier and join TurfNet. I recall meeting him for the first time at a Masters practice round in the same time frame, '96 or so. He was volunteering there and I was walking around in the crowd as a guest of Ed Nash.
"I just love TurfNet," he said with a huge smile. Hmm... I didn't recall ever hearing that before, certainly not with such passion or conviction. And I still remember it today, 20-some years later.
Other than seeing him at GIS or an occasional phone chat during the ensuing years, our communication was limited to me receiving the odd cryptic email from him with "YES!" or "ATTABOY!" or something of that ilk, with a brief reference to topic.
In any case, we chatted about many things. Retirement... his current renovation project on his parents' old (now his new) home near State College, PA... his other place on Lake Okeechobee in Florida... his career... the industry at large..... future plans for both of us.
Toward the end of the conversation, Matt said, "Hey buddy, you changed the industry." And he went on to cite some examples.
Hey buddy, you changed the industry."
Catching me off-guard, that REALLY gave me pause for introspection. I shared his comment with Jon Kiger and John Reitman, my cohorts for the past ten years or so. And from a flurry of emails back and forth came a list of things that... well, I guess did change the industry in varying ways and extents.
TurfNet Monthly diverted from the model of how information was disseminated in print (and it was not provided free of charge). The TurfNet Forum, as the first web-based discussion group, changed the way information was shared. The 'TurfNet Bomb' gave frustrated consumers a loud voice among suppliers. Free job listings created a 'monster' job board. Free webinars forced others to ultimately follow suit. Superintendent of the Year and Technician of the Year awards... the first dog calendar... video channel... Hector... Beer & Pretzels... a hockey team... Randy Wilson poking fun at the industry and providing an oft-needed chuckle.
I stopped by a golf course the other day and the superintendent was out on the course, blowing out the irrigation system. So I chatted with the equipment tech. After I identified myself, he said, "I got this job through TurfNet," and then added, "Everyone I know got their jobs through TurfNet." That's pretty cool.
Writing this on the day before Thanksgiving, when we should all be taking stock of our lives, the thing of which I am most proud is the way we have been able to impact people's lives. By helping them get better jobs... by creating a platform where friendships are made and problems (often well beyond turf) are aired out. The personal stuff. The good stuff.
All of us have the ability to contribute to the greater good, often well beyond the obvious...
All of us have the ability to contribute to the greater good, often well beyond the obvious. Superintendents won't be remembered for how fast the greens were, but they will be remembered by those they mentored and helped get a leg up on life. By setting examples of leadership, fairness, conduct, work ethic, positive motivation and shared reward... if only an earnest 'thank you' or an ice pop on a hot day. All that applies to raising kids as well.
Opportunities for new friends and personal growth...
My wife occasionally laments not having a high-profile, highly-paid business career. She was a schoolteacher. I remind her that no other profession has the opportunity to reach, teach and mold so many. And she was great at it, still running across former students (or parents of students) on Facebook or in person and getting thanks for having impacted them in a positive way. A lot of people in the business world can't say that.
I don't know about you, but I can still remember the names of all of my grade school teachers. Many now-anonymous people have passed through my life since then, but I still remember the teachers.
I was watching a few Player's Tribune videos this morning, including one about David Ortiz, aka Big Papi. It occurred to me that I have no idea how many home runs he hit for the Boston Red Sox, but I will remember him for his huge smile.
I won't remember Matt Shaffer for his 43 years in the biz, but I will remember his cryptic emails of encouragement, his kind words, his smiling appearances on TV when his golf course was under water, and his friendship over the years.
When all is said and done, few are remembered for how well they fulfilled their job description. It's the other stuff.
I hope you take the opportunity this Thanksgiving to reflect on your life, take stock of where you are and where you want to go, what you have done and are going to do for others. What you're going to pay forward, asking nothing in return. How you're going to impact the lives of others, as it's own reward. And that's not a bad exercise to do periodically, more often than once a year at Thanksgiving.
Back in the day when Daughter B was in the college application mode, envelopes in the mail were opened with a combination of anticipation, excitement and trepidation. Unlike many of her peers who threw a dozen or more applications against the wall hoping that at least one of choice would stick, she had applied to a mere four or five.
When the letter arrived from Middlebury College here in Vermont, the opening yielded a somewhat confusing result: "We are pleased to offer you a place in the Middlebury College Class of 2008.5, commencing February 1, 2005." Okay...
After a bit of research, we discovered that Middlebury accepts 20% of its freshman class as "Febs", reporting in February instead of September to fill the dorm spaces vacated by juniors leaving for their semester abroad. Makes sense. And it gives the Febs the fall semester off for adventure.
DB was excited to accept and enroll in February.
We assumed that the college deemed her qualifications not quite good enough to be accepted for September, but they would take her for February. Quite a bit later we discovered our assumption was incorrect. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Turns out that the admissions people earmark certain applicants -- the movers and shakers, class presidents, newspaper editors and the like -- for admission in February to give the snow-laden campus a mid-winter jolt of energy. A week prior to most of campus returning from J-term, Febs arrive for orientation to a rowdy and raucous welcome from a group of prior year Febs.
Sophomore Febs welcoming the new freshman group at Middlebury College.
Matters on the home front prevailed this year and I didn't make it to GIS... but I worked the show via social media and couldn't help but feel a similar mid-winter energy emanating from Orlando. Most of the attendees had had a few months off to come down off of last season, kick back and regroup. The palpable jolt of energy from GIS obviously recharged many to do battle again in the spring.
I am usually too busy when attending the show to pay much attention to the education sessions, but the vantage point "from away" gave me new insight this year. Kudos and high fives to GCSAA (yep, I'm saying that) for injecting new energy with the Lightning Round Learning sessions on Tuesday morning. A smorgasbord of presenters (11 total, moderated by the always entertaining Dr. Frank Wong) had five minutes each to present a maximum of 20 slides that automatically advanced every 15 seconds. Hey, I got charged up and I wasn't even there!
Really, how many multi-hour-long presentations of charts and research stuff can one tolerate without going brain dead? The Lightning Round thing is EXACTLY what GIS needs to reinvent and reenergize itself.
I was also tickled to see some "alternative" (in a good way, as opposed to "alternative facts") presenters on the docket. Witness Jason Haines, a progressive "think without a box" superintendent from a small, low budget club in coastal British Columbia. I have watched Jason's Turf Hacker blog and occasionally selected a post for our Turf Blog Aggregator. I also follow him as @PenderSuper on Twitter, and simply get a kick out of his no-fear, old-school-be-damned, question-everything, who-cares-what-others-think approach to minimalist turf management. Hey, he rides his bike to work as well.
This was Jason's first GIS, traveling on GCSAA's nickel. I can picture his head just about exploding from trying to get his bearings and make sense of the scope and scale of the conference and show, sort of like a kid from the sticks walking onto the streets of Manhattan. But more kudos and high fives to him for making the trip, sharing his experiences and proselytizing his ideas on fertility, disease management and fiscal responsibility for others to evaluate.
Jason presented on a variety of topics, including a panel discussion with Chris Tritabaugh and Matt Crowther on low input turf management; a Lightning Round spot on why he loves his job at Pender Harbour Golf Club; a four-hour seminar with Larry Stowell of PACE Turf on his MLSN fertility regimen, and a presentation on digital job boards. From what I could see, all were well received and Jason made a lot of new friends at GIS.
"For a greenkeeper from a 9 hole course that most people have probably never heard of it was mind blowing to be presenting my thoughts and experience to those who I have looked up to my entire career." -- Jason Haines
Promulgating alternative thought is not the type of thing that GIS education has been known for in the past... but it is precisely what is needed to propel golf turf management forward in this "contracting" golf climate... and to give superintendents something to chew on as they return home to tackle whatever another golf season throws at them.
No, not the 15 Minutes of Fame. I'm talking about the 15 minutes that create discipline in a young employee, camaraderie in a crew, a few moments of bonding with the staff for a superintendent or other supervisor.
It's the 15 minutes before work starts at the beginning of the day.
The time around the coffeepot when the games last night get reviewed, balls get busted, shit gets shot. A few moments of relaxation and anticipation before the horn sounds and the mower parade heads out.
Full disclosure here: Back in my 20s and 30s, I was the absolute worst employee regarding punctuality. ALWAYS late to work. A few minutes, ten minutes, sometimes 20 minutes. Snuck out early when I could, too. No doubt the resulting black mark in my bosses' minds contributed in some measure to me getting fired, twice. Perhaps not cause for said terminations, but sure didn't help when the scales tipped away from my favor.
I realize that now, given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and 40 years of sometimes hard-knocks-acquired wisdom. It's one of the (many) things I would change about those years. BUT... it's also telling.
There are 96 15-minute segments in a 24-hour day. Surely one -- just one -- can be dedicated to...
If you're late to work it's usually because you can't get out of bed, don't want to get out of bed, dread getting out of bed... roll over, pillow over your head for just another 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes that coulda/woulda be better spent getting to work early, being part of the early-morning shenanigans and ready to lead the mower parade.
The telling part is that IF you can't get out of bed, don't want to get out of bed, dread getting out of bed... it usually means you don't like your job, you're not where you want to be. That's unfair to you and your employer. Make a change before somebody makes one for you.
There are 96 15-minute segments in a 24-hour day. Surely one -- just one -- can be dedicated to punctuality and being a better team member and employee. For you younger guys out there climbing the ladder, that might be something to put into practice for not only this year but the rest of your life.
I don't get inspired by life events too much anymore to pick up the pen and scribe a column for the "Cheap Seats" but I can't let my Monday past go without comment. It was a day (morning, actually) of irritation, resignation, conflicting feelings, awe, pride and wonderment. It was my day in court.
The story starts about six weeks ago when I received an envelope in the mail from the United States District Court, District of Vermont, with JUROR SUMMONS showing through the window. Ah, shit, I thought to myself, here we go again. I had been called for county court four times back in New Jersey, but never actually sat on a jury. By contrast, my wife has never been called. Why me?
So I opened the envelope to read the news, starting with the report date of December 19, 2016, through December 23. Yagottafrigginbekiddinme. The week before Christmas? Furthermore, I was to report to the courthouse in Rutland, an hour's drive away. Huh? The county court is four miles away. I didn't quite get the US District vs County thing at first.
I did a little research and found that the county courts are for civil lawsuits and criminal trials for violations of state and local laws, whereas US District Court is The Feds, the big guns. Violations of Federal law. Hijacking, tax evasion, counterfeiting, bank robbery, conspiracy to distribute across state lines, kidnapping, and of course damaging or destroying public mailboxes.
Somewhat under protest, I cleared my calendar of mostly catching up on some video and podcast editing and wrapping gifts, and off I went to Rutland.
I thought I had left with plenty of time for the 8:45 reporting time, but found myself running a little late in unfamiliar territory. The Court is on the second floor of the massive columned Post Office building, so I hustled into the lobby only to find a security line reminiscent of many airport experiences -- only slower. At least my few minutes of tardiness would not subject me to a contempt citation.
After running my jacket with keys, wallet etc through the x-ray machine (I knew enough not to bring a cellphone), one of the three blue-blazered security guys (all obviously retired cops) flagged me down. "Uh, sir, what's in this pocket of your jacket?" Keys. "No, I mean this little thing right HERE." Oh, that's my little 2" Swiss Army knife for those Times When You Need It. "Nuh-uh," he said, shaking his finger. Suddenly remembering the no-weapons-in-court thing, in a flush of embarrassment I muttered "honest mistake." He checked in my keys so I could pick them up later. "You'll need them to go home anyway," he said. Duh. But he was very nice and polite about it. This is Vermont, of course, where the a-hole factor is pretty low.
Oh, that's my little 2" Swiss Army knife for those Times When You Need It. "Nuh-uh," he said, shaking his finger...
Turns out there were 70 prospective jurors milling about upstairs, outside the closed doors of the courtroom. 70. A lot of people...
We were soon shepherded into the cavernous, intentionally intimidating courtroom and told to sit anywhere for our video instruction and initial comments from the judge, who entered ceremoniously 30 minutes later as we All Rose. Seemed like a nice guy, someone I could have a few beers with under different circumstances.
During his 20-minute instruction to us, he told of the gravity and solemnity of our duty as jurors, one of "the two civic responsibilities as citizens of this great country... the other being military service, which we won't get into today." Titter runs through the courtroom. (I always found that saying odd, for some reason. The visual is a little weird.)
As the titter was running, I was tempted to jump to my feet and holler "Objection! What about voting?" Upon further thought, I realized that maybe he was simply acknowledging that voting isn't what it used to be.
As the titter was running, I was tempted to jump to my feet and holler "Objection!..."
All joking aside, the judge's chat with us was inspiring. His explanation of the oft-heard terms "innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" as the foundations of our legal system added to the gravitas and inspired an unexpected sense of pride in simply being an American citizen.
Shortly thereafter two dark-suited US Attorneys and a grey-suited FBI agent entered and took their seats at the prosecutors table. Whoa. Two defense attorneys sat either side of an empty chair at the defendant's table.
I was sitting directly behind the prosector's table. A clerk rolled in front of me four double-stacked carts full of binders, folders and miscellaneous paper and positioned them within reach of the prosecutors and FBI guy. Four carts. My internal calculator started whirring.
Let's see, Federal judge and clerk, two US Attorneys, Court Clerk and staff, FBI guy, two defense attorneys, stenographer, four carts of documents, the three blue-blazered security guys who were now upstairs, and 70 prospective jurors. Whatever this case was, the trial was already costing a ton of money on top of the tons already spent developing the case.
We were all ushered back into the hallway as the attorneys and judge had a five-minute conference, then back into the courtroom. There was a slight African American guy sitting in the defendant's seat, puffy white shirt obviously just taken out of it's packaging, dark necktie, close cut hair, black-rimmed glasses. He put me immediately in mind of Steve Urkel of the old sitcom Family Matters. Not exactly your typical intimidating criminal.
He was the only person of color in the entire room. No great surprise, Vermont being least diverse state in the country.
Twenty-four people, randomly selected from among the 70, were called to sit in the (expanded by temporary seats) jury box for interviewing by the judge and attorneys. I was not among them.
The judge addressed them and indicated that the defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin across state lines and other attendant Federal misdeeds. Can't say I was surprised by that either. He introduced the defendant, the attorneys, the FBI guy and then read a list of about 25 or 30 witnesses that may be called. This list included more FBI and DEA agents, local and state police who had been involved, and plea-bargained turncoats among others. The judge asked if any of the prospective jurors knew or had personal knowledge of any of them. He asked about any criminal records (even within immediate family) and a litany of other things, taking notes from the jurors' responses and occasionally asking for clarification.
He introduced the defendant, the attorneys, the FBI guy and then read a list of about 25 or 30 witnesses that may be called...
All of the prospective jurors had to previously submit a brief questionnaire which the attorneys used to flag items of potential conflict with their client's best interests. Prosecutors and defense attorneys both rose to address individual jurors to inquire about specific issues from either the questionnaire or their responses to the judge's questions.
Eleven of the 24 were then excused for unspecified reasons, leaving 13, one short of the required 12 plus two alternates to fill a criminal case jury. The judge asked the clerk to call up three additional prospective jurors to be subjected to the same. I escaped this round as well. Then the judge said to make it four, no, five from which to select to fill out the jury box.
I gulped and swallowed hard, fully expecting to be the last one called up. That would be just my luck, but not to be.
I was among the remaining non-called, for which I was surprisingly conflicted. While the biggest chunk of me was gleeful to be "rejected" of sorts and get the balance of my pre-Christmas week back, there was a tiny part that was disappointed to not fully experience the entire process and procedure. Approaching noon by that point, the judge adjourned for lunch and the rejects like me were dismissed. The trial was to start immediately after lunch.
I checked the court calendar this morning (Thursday) and the trial is still in process.
As it turns out, I haven't completely escaped this call to duty. Before we were dismissed from court that day, we were told that we are still in the "winter pool" of potential jurors and may be called again through March.
Oh joy. But at least it won't be the week before Christmas. And now I can return to my video and podcast editing, and wrapping gifts.
My parents used to drill into my siblings and me, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything." I've taken that a step further lately with the adage, "If I don't have something meaningful to say, don't say anything." -- hence my hiatus from the Cheap Seats blog of late. But I'm back.
I was reading a book over the Easter weekend entitled When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Not my usual reading fare (I lean toward murder mysteries, legal and police procedurals), but we were away for the weekend and I found myself with some rare idle time. Having finished the book I was reading, I picked up this one that my wife had just finished.
It's a memoir of Kalanithi's too-short life as a gifted Stanford neurosurgical resident and cancer victim, mostly written before he passed away at age 35. I hoped for some takeaway lessons ala' Tuesdays with Morrie.
What immediately struck me was that the workload and resultant lifestyle (or lack thereof) of a surgical resident is one of the few careers that are way worse than a golf course superintendent's in terms of hours and workload. Sixteen hour days are often the norm. Thirty hours straight in the OR is not unusual, but is beyond ridiculous when one thinks about it, particularly from the standpoint of the patient being operated on. This goes on for seven years for a neurosurgery resident. I guess the old adage of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" must apply.
...the workload and resultant lifestyle (or lack thereof) of a surgical resident is one of the few careers that are way worse than a golf course superintendent's in terms of hours and workload."
With a terminal illness, the author reflected on the many phases of his life to that point. He assessed his accomplishments, his perceived failures or shortcomings, and what remained on his evermore urgent bucket list.
While not specifically addressed, the concept of being a net consumer or producer during one's lifetime came to my mind. In a nutshell, do you produce more for others (family, industry, community, society at large) than you consume from them, or the opposite?
As a method of self-assessment, I thought of the plus/minus (+/-) statistics that are used to rate professional hockey players, both during an individual season and cumulatively over their entire careers. If you are on the ice when your team scores (produces), that's a +1 for you. Conversely, if the opposing team scores while you're on the ice (consumes), you get a -1. Pretty simple.
So, one could divvy up one's life into chunks of time and dole out some plusses and minuses for each.
As children, we naturally take (-) from our parents more than we can give. But children do return inestimable enjoyment, satisfaction and pride (+) to their parents, enough to sway at least the infancy and toddler periods into the plus column for most. Now, maybe a colicky infant (as our Daughter A was) or a period of the Terrible Twos (as our Daughter B was -- or perhaps more accurately, the "Terrible Twos to Teens") might temporarily offset some of the plusses, but the net result for most would be a pretty good positive. Otherwise, the birth rate would be in serious decline over time.
Teen years? Not much argument that most teenagers are in serious net consumption mode. High minus.
College/young adult era: This is when most people, if they are going to do it at all, start to turn things around.
Career mode: While most measure career success in terms of salary (consumptive), the truly successful are actually net producers, at least over most of their careers. They give to their employers more value than they receive in compensation. Savvy, attentive employers recognize that and reward for it with increased promotion and longevity. Sadly, not all do, but the +/- balance between employer and employee tends to even out over time.
While most measure career success in terms of salary (consumptive), the truly successful are actually net producers, at least over most of their careers. They give to their employers more value than they receive in compensation..."
Parenting era (birth of children to whenever?): This is arguably the flipside ratio of the infant-toddler-adolescent-teen-young adult years. While we're going through it, most haggard parents would likely assess this period as net productive, i.e., we give much more than we consume in return. But in hindsight, as all things tend to pass, we remember the highs and not-so-much the lows. The +/- moves toward neutral (or better) as we age and our memories become foggier.
"Mature" adult: I'm not sure I will ever really fit into this, as my mantra has always been, "I don't mind getting older but I never want to grow up!"... to the chagrin of my wife at times. But this is the era (if ever) when one realizes how little one really needs to be happy and stay productive. We purge of excess baggage and belongings and move toward "right-sizing" our lives. With children grown (albeit never completely free of the occasional need for guidance or counsel), careers hopefully stable and acquisition of material goods in steep decline, we can focus again on net production and moving our lifetime +/- rating well into the positive.
We volunteer as our skills, interests and time permit. Now retired from teaching, my wife is as close to a "librarian" as our little town library has, and helps with the local food bank and literacy program. Nowhere near retired, I nonetheless found time to upgrade and continue to maintain the town website. All in low-profile mode, well under the radar.
Behind the TurfNet scenes, I counsel many of those who find themselves recently disassociated from their employment (having been there, twice). I try to mentor and guide some of the fledgling entrepreneurs among you. I like to help guys put their best feet forward with a custom look for their blog or maybe a signature graphic for their email. None of which goes on my resume, as it were (and of which I thankfully have no need), but which quietly bolsters my personal plus column... not that I'm really counting. One doesn't need to; you just feel it.
Those of you who mentor assistants as they come through on their way to positions as head superintendents on their own know what I mean.
Back to parenting for a moment. One of things a "dad" continues to do in the plus column is pick up the check when the kids are in town, or when we are visiting them. I recently made an exception to that during a weekend visit with Colleen and Matt (Daughter A and Hubby) in Boston. I had sprung for four ridiculously expensive resale tickets to a Bruins matinee game (fourth row, behind the visitors' bench), figuring that at least once in our lives we need to be down near the glass (we're all Bruins fans, my wife arguably the biggest of all) rather than up in the relatively cheap seats. Factor in a couple of hotel nights in a notoriously expensive city and I was well into the ++++ column, at least financially.
An epic weekend, down by the glass...
Colleen and Matt live in Boston's famous North End of mostly Italian restaurants, so we ate well. To his credit, Matt always tries to pick up the check, even to the point of faking going to the restroom when in fact he stops by the host to pre-arrange payment. If we catch him, we always say that we're happy to pick up the check while we can. That implies, of course, that some day we might not be able to... in which case we would defer.
In this instance, when the check arrived he grabbed it and said, "Look, you bought the tickets... let us pick this up." My quick mental calculus told me to agree, figuring that sometimes it's good for them to have some skin in the game, so to speak. And that contributes to their + column as well.
All told it was one of those epic weekends that those "priceless" commercials are made of. Matt attends a lot of sporting events (Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox in addition to the Bruins) and he later said it was the best event he had ever been to. Visualize my chest puffing out a bit. Patty spent most of the first period on the edge of her seat, taking it all in. Going out on a limb for those tickets and risking some spousal blowback paid huge dividends for all, way beyond whatever investment was incurred.
I have come to like that term "skin in the game". It's good for everyone, at most stages of life, to have skin in the game. it signifies involvement, commitment, contribution, personal investment... all of which are positives that will ultimately come back to roost.
Lastly, a thought about +- with your spouse. Chances are that most golf course superintendents and assistants rely pretty heavily on their spouses during the bulk of the year to manage the family and domestic stuff, often in addition to their own career. There may come a time when you have to shift that balance back toward taking more or better care of your spouse rather than them taking care of you.
The take-home messages here: First, read. It opens your eyes. Second, take time to assess your personal +/- rating, whatever stage of life you're in. You will likely have more plusses than you realize. And if a slight correction in the rudder is evident, so be it. Do it.
Here's one from the TurfNet Archives, a reflection I wrote back in December of 1997 during the era when I still pretended to be a golfer... before the "four hours of frustration and embarrassment" got the best of me and I parked my sticks forever. Memory tells me it was after a trip to Alabama to visit with David Pursell and family to view the early plans for what would become Farmlinks. I can't recall the name of the golf course we played that day, but reading this again reminded me that aside from the shanked shots, forearm shivvers and lost golf balls, there were many times that I did have fun playing golf.
"We were walking up the first fairway to strategize our second shots, wary of the pond that snuggled up to the right edge of the green and swept behind it to the second tee. (I tend to take particular note of water hazards, for if they are 10 yards or 150 yards away, I'm there, like a magnet.) While gazing over the pond, I noticed two black objects moving through the water. Muskrats? Beavers? Nope, just the heads of two Black Labradors enjoying a swim on a sunny fall day.
Our host mentioned, "There's a third one over there, staring at something in the bank of the pond. Probably a water moccasin in there." I made a mental note to bag my ball retriever for the day.
The two groups behind us were from the local college golf team. Part of the routine during their rounds was throwing sticks to the dogs, who dutifully followed them around the course, having a ball.
After putting out on the fifth or sixth green, we walked back to our cart to find a small dog sitting on the floorboard, patiently waiting for a lift. Hmmm... who's this little guy? A mixed Terrier of sorts, fairly well groomed, with a collar and flea collar. Obviously not a stray, but there weren't any homes nearby either, so we figured he was just a golf course dog, doing his thing. He seemed OK with hitching a ride to the next tee with us, so off we went, dog in tow, for the next several holes.
Stopping by the maintenance facility on 9, we saw the superintendent had another dog with him, a 3-legged Chocolate Lab who didn't seem to know the difference. "Truck ran over her leg," he advised. "She's my buddy."
"Who's the little one riding with us?" we inquired. "Oh, that's Gus. He's a good guy, too."
Gus didn't seem motivated by much, content just to squeeze between us and get his head scratched.
Gus didn't seem motivated by much, content just to squeeze between us and get his head scratched...
Thirsty, Gus? How 'bout a sip of beer?
"No, thanks," which simply amazed me. I had a dog once who could get her tongue about three inches down the neck of a dead soldier.
"How about a potato chip?" Nope. Gus wasn't thirsty or hungry. At least not for beer and chips. Probably didnt smoke cigars, either.
The only thing that seemed to motivate Gus was an opportunity to tree a squirrel, which he did rather noisily, and with abandon.
I had never seen a ten pound dog leap four feet in the air before, but Gus could do it. A couple times when Gus was off squirreling, we moved on and thought we left him behind, only to find him back on the cart after the next hole or so. Cool dog.
The back nine meandered along the lakefront, which was spectacular as the sun was getting low in the sky that day. Darkness was approaching as we arrived at the 18th tee. Gus was doing his squirrel thing off to the left. His golf etiquette at that point could have used some polishing up, knowing well enough to settle down when there were golfers on the tee and a wager hanging in the balance.
Heading up the 18th fairway, we noticed the three Black Labradors walking up the cart path toward the clubhouse, their swimming and stick-chasing done for another day. After the last putt dropped and the grill room beckoned us, there they were, stretched out on the clubhouse deck: three Labradors and Gus, patiently waiting for their dinner.
After the last putt dropped and the grill room beckoned us, there they were, stretched out on the clubhouse deck: three Labradors and Gus, patiently waiting for their dinner...
We hear so much about woodpeckers, bluebirds, foxes and other exotic wildlife on the golf course, sometimes we don't have to look that far to find animals enhancing the golf experience.
At one point during the day, I asked Gus what his full name was, not really expecting an answer. We decided it must be Augusta... because he's a golf course dog."
Father of the Bride is undoubtedly the best gig to have on wedding day: all pride and no pressure. August 1 of this year was one of the two proudest days of my life, as I walked Daughter A down the aisle at Old North Church (of "one if by land, two if by sea" fame) in Boston. The other proudest day was when I did the same with Daughter B in Vermont, back in October, 2013.
Prouder than my own wedding... births of the girls... graduations... starting TurfNet*? Yes. I'll explain in a bit.
One of the privileges of the Father of the Bride (along with writing large checks) is the opportunity to welcome the guests and toast the new couple at dinner during the reception. I warned them that giving me a microphone would be like dancing with the devil, as I'm prone to pontification... but they knew that.
Among my ramblings I mentioned that this type of event gives one pause to reflect and review the defining moments of one's life to that point. High points for me were obviously my own wedding and the births of our daughters. The low points were, well, learning experiences.
Our own wedding was fun, although a long time ago. This was better because it involved a larger sphere of people, those of one's own creation. It was in many ways the culmination of years of leading, guiding, advising and molding.
I went on to mention that Patty (my wife of almost 38 years) and I didn't have any biological sons but now have two due to the wonderful institution of marriage. And it can be wonderful if one has chosen well.
On the other hand, I can see how it could be less than wonderful if due diligence has not been done... but I didn't dwell on that.
I finished up by stating very truthfully and unabashedly that I am very proud of the adults Colleen (A) and Erin (B) have become and the husbands (HDA and HDB) they have chosen, and that I love them all. All true and from the heart. I don't say things like that casually.
"Sweet Child O' Mine", indeed... for the Father/Daughter dance.
Weddings aren't singular events any more; they're weekend-long mini-marathons, from Friday night receptions for out-of-town guests to Sunday brunch. This particular weekend was magical. Couldn't have been better. Well worth whatever the cost.
I was on cloud nine for most of the next week, basking in the afterglow. I had this incredible feeling of satisfaction, of a parenting job well done. And there's nothing more important, because your children are your legacies in life. Nobody remembers your job or money you might have made. Your kids endure, along with small differences you might have made in the lives of others along the way.
So we packed up the dogs and hightailed it up to our summer place in the Canadian Maritimes a month or so later than normal, post-wedding, ready for some R&R. A week into it we got a call that Patty's mother (almost 93) had a mini-stroke. This came after breaking her hip back in February and launching herself through the rehab process because the one thing, the only thing she still wanted out of life, was to go to Colleen's wedding, which she did (her first stay in a hotel since she got married in 1942, for real).
Oh, great, I thought, the wedding is over and Nanny's going to check out two weeks later. I anticipated the spousal directive that we should go back to NJ to care for her, but it didn't come. Patty has spent a month there earlier in the year and that was enough. Let her brothers handle it.
Then a week after that the bombshell arrived via email. DB and HDB were splitting up, victims of the proverbial "irreconcilable differences" that were completely unbeknownst to us (and we live eight miles away and see them all the time). Apparently due diligence had not been completely done.
Well pop my bubble. Kick me in the Jimmy. That's exactly what it felt like.
We dropped everything, packed the dogs up again and headed back to Vermont to see if we could mediate, advise or offer any guidance. Nope, done deal. Over. Kaput. Fini. A few days later they signed the papers so back north we went, tails somewhat between our legs, the euphoria of three weeks earlier replaced by a surreal melancholy that still hangs over us.
Quite a month. Quite a year.
I guess the lesson to be learned here is to enjoy the hell out of the high points because one never knows what's around the corner. DB will be fine eventually, and kudos to her for waiting until after the wedding so to not spoil the event for her sister. They are good kids, and I'm still proud of them. All four of them...
# # #
Addendum: I thought of some additional "lessons" that might be of value to someone.
1. What you see in a person is pretty much what you get. You can't change someone's character or personality very much... and you certainly can't "fix" them.
2. Don't say "f-u" to someone with whom you have stood at the altar (so to speak). It's not good form.
3. Don't throw or break things. When given the option (and there's always an option), take the high road.
4. If help is earnestly and honestly offered, avail yourself of it. At least listen and then judge its merit. Some people have been around the block a few more times than you.
5. Vow, n. a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment. These should not be undertaken casually, as they should map out at least one part of the rest of your life.
# # #
* Prouder than starting and fostering TurfNet to success? Well, that didn't happen in a day, so it doesn't qualify... but still, yes.
This is a career case study of two individuals in very different circumstances but with one thing in common: they know what they want out of life and career.
Those of you who have hung around TurfNet for any length of time either know or know of John Colo. Passionate golf course superintendent, long-time TurfNet member who organized and orchestrated the around-the-world "Where's TurfNet" banner campaign a few years back, twin brother of a golf course superintendent (Jim, at Naples National).
I first met John when he was assistant to Jim Loke, CGCS, at Bent Creek Country Club near Lancaster, PA, back in 1994 when TurfNet was just in lift-off mode. He impressed me at the time. Professional, well-mannered, hard working, a good guy.
He spent three years working for Nick Brodziak (also a long-time TN member) at Rockaway Hunt Club on Long Island. As the saying goes, if you can make it in NY -- particularly on Long Island -- you can make it anywhere.
Back to Bent Creek for another three years, then hopscotched to the Country Club of York (PA), where he served as superintendent for ten years.
Sometime along the way he met and married Peggy, a native of Ireland, and they had two sons. John also accompanied us on several of our TurfNet Members Trips, to Ireland and Bandon Dunes. He's the only guy I've ever seen stick to drinking his favorite beer (Budweiser) while in Ireland, taking all manner of abuse in the process. As I said, he knows what he likes.
Three or four years ago the political waters started to swirl in the bowl at CCY, and ultimately John was out of a job. Hey, it happens. He's surely not alone. Nothing to be ashamed of; dust yourself off, put your helmet back on and get back in the game.
Sometimes that's easier said than done, especially for one in his mid-forties.
John stayed in touch, stayed active on TurfNet, went to chapter meetings, networked. I helped him with his resume and website. He applied for jobs, and more jobs. Did what he had to do to make ends meet. Worked as a spray tech at a nearby course, drove a limousine for a while.
John stayed in touch, stayed active on TurfNet, went to chapter meetings, networked...
Not too long into this process, his wife Peggy was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, requiring surgery, chemo, radiation, the whole package. Talk about kicking a family when they're down.
The silver lining of unemployment was being able to help care for Peggy and the boys, and manage the household while she recuperated (and she has, and is now cancer free). Local chapters and Wee One stepped up to help financially.
Believers in divine providence might say his job loss was intended to allow him to stay at home when he was needed there. I'll stick with my grandmother's old maxim that things always work out for the best in the end.
I received many phone calls and emails from John, often with news of a hopeful opportunity and interview. Too many were followed with rejection. I began to think I was jinxing him.
Then a couple of weeks ago John called again, with the news of a job offer and his acceptance of it. Ironically, at Little Mountain Country Club in his home town of Painesville, Ohio, where many of his family still live. He started the next week.
The punch line here is that it took John two years and 160+ applications to get another superintendent job. That's not to say he didn't have other opportunities, in sales or grounds management. He did. We talked about many of them, but he always stayed true to his gut: he simply wanted to stay on the golf course, plain and simple, and would accept no substitutes.
Congrats, John, for staying the course and getting what you wanted.
* * *
Part Two of this story involves an "anonymous" post in the TurfNet Forum back in December asking for opinions on the pros and cons of a young superintendent at a low-budget course potentially taking a step back to an assistant position at a name-brand club to further his career.
I posted that upon request of a TN member who, frustrated with the "better superintendent job" application experience, didn't want to jeopardize his existing position while contemplating a change. The discussion generated 22 replies and over 1700 views. The replies were heartfelt, well thought out and from personal experience. They made good arguments for both staying and going.
With his permission, I'm going to "out" the individual in question and tell a bit of his story. His name is Nate Jordan, 29, formerly golf course superintendent at Saratoga Lake Golf Club in upstate New York, now an assistant superintendent at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club under Jon Jennings, CGCS.
Point of note/reminder: Shinnecock will be hosting the US Open again in 2018.
Nate first came on my radar seven or eight years ago, I would say, when I met him at a couple of Beer & Pretzels events. He was working as an assistant to Kevin Ross at the Country Club of the Rockies at the time, and would always seek me out, introduce himself and say hello.
I remembered him among the many at B&P because he did that (not all that many do), and always sent me a note or email of thanks afterwards. I knew that one of the required courses at kevinross.edu (so to speak) is the proper use of thank-you notes. Another point of note: it works.
Nate came on my radar again when he took the position at Saratoga Lake, a couple hours south of me here in Vermont. As a new superintendent, Nate utilized the TurfNet Forum in exactly the manner I had been proselytizing for many years: Ask for guidance when making a decision, use it as a sounding board. He did that, repeatedly.
As a new superintendent, Nate utilized the TurfNet Forum in exactly the manner I had been proselytizing for many years: Ask for guidance when making a decision, use it as a sounding board. He did that, repeatedly...
Among the various comments in the "anonymous" Forum discussion was one that said, and I paraphrase, "Hey, so-and-so who recently hosted a US Open took a step back many years ago to take an assistant position at Augusta National..."
I had forgotten that, and when I saw the post I sent an email to Nate, encouraging him to call "so-and-so" (I'll keep him semi-anonymous so he doesn't get inundated with similar requests). I also sent an email to so-and-so, a good friend and long-term TurfNet member as well, simply advising him of Nate's situation and that he might receive a call from him.
Nate made the call and they spoke at length.
That ignited a flurry of emails among a below-the-radar private subnetwork of top-tier superintendents across the country, coast to coast. So-and-so simply alerted his peers that if anyone was looking for a good assistant, here's one. Boom.
Several contacts were made, a couple of in-person interviews and Nate was offered an assistant position at Shinnecock, which he accepted. A bold move on one hand, a no-brainer on the other. He would have to uproot his wife and St. Bernard and move with sticker shock (even for rentals) from the Saratoga area to the Hamptons on Long Island. He would be relinquishing his superintendent status. On the other hand, it's no secret that assistants at US Open venues can write their own ticket post-event.
Nate attended GIS with the Shinnecock group and officially started there March 1. He has stayed in touch, breathlessly as I expected. I know Jon Jennings to be totally focused and committed, and expects the same of his troops.
No doubt Nate is running hard at his new job, absorbing and learning. He will likely work harder over the next two years prior to the Open than he ever has or likely will have to again. But it's the experience of a lifetime, and he made it happen.
Just like John Colo, Nate knew what he wanted and went after it. Good for him.
I didn't make it to GIS this year, a victim of two powers greater than I -- the weather and the airlines -- who consorted and conspired to befoul and befuddle my life yet again.
No, this will not be another travel rant. I have given up, raised the white flag; can't and won't fight it any more. But a word or two of explanation might be in order.
In nutshell, I arrived at Burlington (VT) airport on Monday afternoon full of expectation of another week of camaraderie and the latest in golf maintenance gear. Bright, sunny afternoon, not a care in the world. Stepped up to the counter to check my bag and the friendly USAir representative asked me to step over there and they would rebook me, as my outbound flight was delayed and I would miss my connection in PHL.
Bright, sunny afternoon, not a care in the world. Stepped up to the counter to check my bag and the friendly USAir representative asked me to step over there...
Here we go again, I thought.
My rebooking would have gone like this: I had to leave on that flight because otherwise they couldn't get me out of BTV until mid-week. It was spring break for the Burlington colleges, and between that and spillover cancellations from the weather-disrupted weekend, everything was booked two days out.
So I could get to PHL, but the connection I would miss was the last flight to SAT for the day. Grab a hotel room. By then it was snowing and icy in Dallas, which threw all of Texas into tumult. Nothing available going into anywhere in TX until Wednesday. But they could get me to Chicago on Tuesday, overnight there and I could get into SAT at 5:41 PM on Wednesday.
I would miss our Emerald Challenge golf event with Irish superintendents on Tuesday, Beer & Pretzels on Tuesday night and all of the show on Wednesday. Great plan.
That was when I raised the white flag. I didn't get pissed off (well, ...), just calmly declined their offer of rerouting and two overnights along the way. I arranged for a refund, went back to my car and drove home.
Not going to fight it. Can't fight it. Won't fight it any more.
But the show goes on. First one I've missed since my first in '82. I would be working this one remotely via Twitter, keeping in cell and Skype contact with Jon Kiger, John Reitman and Eleanor Geddes, who ably carried the TurfNet flag at The Challenge, B&P and the show.
It was a little weird. I don't think I missed all that much product-wise on the show floor, but I did miss the camaraderie and seeing people I only get to see once a year. I REALLY missed shaking hands on Thursday with Fred Gehrisch, our newly crowned Superintendent of the Year.
It was a little weird. I don't think I missed all that much product-wise on the show floor, but I did miss the camaraderie...
And I missed yet another opportunity for a face-to-face with Hector Velazquez, this after our first meet and greet earlier this year in Providence was snowed out. Yep, that's right... Hector and I have never met in person.
Hector and his two sons, in fact, drove all the way to San Antonio from Michigan, and he was like a kid in a candy shop at his first GIS. Check out his Twitter feed @HectorsShop. In many ways I lived the show vicariously through Hector. Good stuff.
Kevin Ross kept sending me pics of himself with my various buddies, all with the caption, "Where's the Maestro?" At least somebody missed me. Or maybe he was just rubbing it in...
So that was it. You can work around seeing the new products but you can't work around missing the people.
And that's what this industry is all about.
Reading Paul MacCormack's recent blog post about the concept of intention got me thinking... as good blog posts do. In this case, it prompted me to think of the popular concepts of luck and good fortune, and how each may or may not be related to intention.
I come from a long line of wordsmiths (writers, editors, a photojournalist, newspaper people, even a dictionary editor) who instilled in me a love of language and its various nuances. My maternal grandmother, an author of children's first readers back in the early 1900s, told me early on that the "best thing you can ever do for yourself is to learn the King's English". Hence my interest in words, and accompanying irritation at (among other things) the popular use of apostrophes to pluralize something (yes, I've read Eats, Shoots & Leaves). But I digress...
If one looks up the dictionary definitions of luck and fortune, one might get the sense that they have the same meaning. According to Webster's, luck is "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause".
If one looks up the dictionary definitions of luck and fortune, one might get the sense that they have the same meaning...
The historical concept of fortune comes from Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck and fate who was deemed the personification of chance events (good and bad).
In modern usage the concepts of luck and fortune have diverged a bit. Luck is more closely identified with chance or other random factors beyond one's control, where fortune is often used to denote the result of intention, as Paul described in his blog post.
I often hear people in this industry exclaim how lucky they are to be able to work in it. I agree that it's a great industry, but would also counter and say that, no, they aren't lucky... they are fortunate. Chances are they intentionally chose an agronomy track in college and their career followed, each step a result of planning, intention and hard work.
Chances are they
intentionally chose an agronomy track in college and their career followed, each step a result of planning,
intention and hard work...
Luck means winning the lottery... missing an airport connection where the plane ultimately crashed... being born into a favorable situation... or randomly choosing the correct answer on a multiple choice question when you really had no clue (ring a bell, anyone?).
People often tell me I am lucky to be able to live and earn a good living in a nice place like Vermont. Well, not really. I am able to live in Vermont because 20+ years ago I intentionally started a business that allowed me to intentionally work from home (wherever that is) and after the kids flew the coop would allow me to intentionally move wherever I chose to be. So, I feel very fortunate to live here, but luck doesn't have a lot to do with it. Intention has everything to do with it.
So, if you haven't done it yet, read Paul's blog post and think about how directed, focused intention can indeed play a big role in good fortune.
Good blog post last week, Dave. Resonated with a lot of people (over 18,000 as I write this), and I'm sure it was therapeutic for you.
Dave, we need to talk.
As we get older we look back on our lives and tend to remember the defining moments: the first girlfriend, first car, first garage band, sports triumphs (and losses), graduations, jobs, marriage and divorce, kids, dogs, grandkids, granddogs, and yes -- the death of friends and loved ones. You get the picture.
In many ways our lives are like sine waves, the ups and downs of the defining moments hovering around and ultimately returning to neutral. Great things cause highs; shit happens and lows ensue. Those of above-average intelligence (of which you are no doubt one) often have higher-amplitude highs and yes, lower lows. More often than not, unfortunately, the highs are fleeting and the lows stick around.
In many ways our lives are like sine waves, the ups and downs of the defining moments hovering around and ultimately returning to neutral...
Really brilliant people -- the geniuses of history -- people like Lincoln, Churchill, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Dickens, Darwin, Newton, Tolstoy -- had lows so low that they qualified as mental illness (depression, bipolar disorder), madness or insanity. Google it and you'll see.
You are one of the smartest turf guys I know. Brilliant, for sure. Genius? I dunno, maybe.
So, the deep lows are to be almost expected; certainly no surprise. Not fun, but not unexpected.
I speak from experience, having been every place you have been recently. Yep, every one. And I struggle to manage it every day.
One of the three triggers that pushed me off the emotional ledge almost 15 years ago was the death of my father. Ripped a hole in me that you could drive a truck through. I got past it... but still think about him almost every day. For better or worse, I see a lot of myself in my memories of him.
One way or another you've got to get yourself back to neutral. Gotta let it go. I remember a quote I heard in a movie years ago, when I was a teenager. "Live for today and what comes next. Bury the dead and move on." That's harsh, but it's also sound, simple advice.
"Live for today and what comes next. Bury the dead and move on." That's harsh, but it's also sound, simple advice...
Dave, it's time. Time to climb out of the hole. If she could, your mother would be under you, giving your big arse a push up the ladder.
In one way, you have a clean slate in front of you -- a book of blank pages waiting to be written. Not everyone is that lucky. Drill down deep within yourself and decide what you REALLY want to do with the rest of your life. I hope it's something to do with turf. It would be a shame to waste (and lose) all you have up there in that oft-troubled brilliant brain of yours.
You have the choice of where to live. Stay in Colorado, go back to California or somewhere else. Technology continues to create opportunities to earn a living wherever you are.
You have a legion of loyal friends and followers, both former consulting customers of yours and TurfNet friends across the country. Ring them up and talk to them. I'm sure every one of them would enjoy a phone chat with you.
Visit with them. Go on tour for a bit and pick their brains. Find out what they need, and then see how that aligns or crosses paths with what you have to offer.
Force yourself out of the house or home, wherever it is. Just as writing is therapeutic, so is face time with friends. Get yourself to GIS next month. Hold court at Beer & Pretzels. Visit with people on the show floor. I can almost guarantee that you'll come home with direction, and motivation to move on.
Force yourself out of the house or home, wherever it is. Just as writing is therapeutic, so is face time with friends...
I know you like the holistic and spiritual stuff, but don't pooh-pooh the value of good old medication. It's what keeps me steady on the balance beam of life, every day. It's not easy to find the right meds, dosages and/or combinations, but the end game is worth the effort. At the very least it will give you a safety net well above where you are now.
Pick up the bass guitar again. Go to yoga. Get yourself a dog. Blow glass, whatever makes you happy and helps you find neutral again.
This is a wonderful industry full of great people. You have hundreds of friends among them. We hurt with you right now, but are also cheering you on to rally.
Let's get going. Time to rally.
A favorite conversational topic of mine among my graying peers is whether or not they have a Bucket List, and if so, what's on it. I ask because I'm interested in them (the person), but also because I don't have one (Bucket List), and wonder if I might be missing something.
How can one not have a Bucket List? I touched on this in a post about a year ago, but in review, I have already checked off the major bullet points that would populate most lists:
I've been happily married to my best friend for 37 years, an item for 41 (since I was 19). I still chase her around the house, and catch her occasionally (yeah, I know, TMI).
We've raised two good kids, sent them off into the world well educated and debt-free. Both are well adjusted, have good careers, have found soul mates and are happy.
I started a successful business that provided for my family, a challenging career for me, and a service to an industry while enriching the lives of others.
I've seen enough of the world to not have any great desire for more.
We have homes in two places, by the sea and by the mountains. Both inspire and delight me. I can think of no place I'd rather be.
One might say, OK, what's left? A mantra I've hung my hat on for years is to learn something new every day. There's an old saying that when you stop learning you start dying. Technology has filled that bill easily over the past couple of decades, but I also keep my eyes and ears open and read a lot. That's mostly superficial stuff, however.
What about true personal growth, the deep-down, inner core, enrich-my-life type of thing that starts with a defining moment or decision and leads to a new facet of your self? I found one: the guitar.
What about true personal growth, the deep-down, inner core, enrich-my-life type of thing...
Well big friggin' deal, one might say; millions of people play the guitar. True, but millions don't start to learn at age 60.
I've been a music junkie almost my entire life. Dicked around with the drums and bass back in high school, the piano when the girls were taking lessons. But I was never willing to put in the effort to learn the theory from the ground up and invest in the requisite practice. Consequently, I never got past mediocre.
Ironically, I was an insatiable, avid student of rock and roll and music gear. I knew who used Rickenbacker 12-strings, Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Strats or Telecasters, Hammond B-3s, Leslie cabinets, Zildjian cymbals, Marshall stacks and all that.
I had rationalized my musical failings by telling myself I didn't understand theory, didn't have it in me, wasn't cut out for it.
But this whole Bucket List thing made me realize that not playing music was the one gaping hole in my life, the only major regret I'd have if I never tackled it.
This revelation came to a head this past summer at our home in the Canadian Maritimes. A group of neighbors and friends got together at a coffeehouse on Friday nights and played, with an 'open mike' invitation for others to join in. As a vacation area, the mix of people changed but there was one constant: it was obvious that every one of them was having great fun, and I envied that.
I asked one neighbor, Jennifer-with-the-beautiful-voice, 50-ish and a basic guitar strummer, how long she had been playing. "About two years," she said. Really? C'mon. "Seriously." That lit the light in my head.
As the summer progressed I mulled over the concept, realizing that many Guitar Heroes have less on the ball than I do (cue Money for Nothing by Dire Straits). So I finally threw down the gauntlet and told my friends I'd be joining them next year.
As the summer progressed I mulled over the concept, realizing that many Guitar Heroes have less on the ball than I do. So I finally threw down the gauntlet...
I had bought a decent beginner guitar (a Seagull S-6 dreadnought acoustic, for you gearheads) 20 years ago for the girls to learn on. Both attempted and didn't last, something I wrote off as a genetic defect. But the guitar was still in the basement.
So I dug it out of storage, hauled it to the local Guitar Center (40 miles away, as local as one often gets in Vermont) to get set up properly, and started filtering through the myriad lessons and lesson plans on the Web. Now this is the really cool part of how technology has changed things. Back in the day you packed up your stuff and hopped into Mom's station wagon to go to the music store for your 30-minute lesson. During the ensuing week you'd try to decipher the notes and remember what you went over in your lesson.
Fast-forward to today. Online lessons are videos that you can start, stop, rewind, pause, go over, repeat any time of day and as many times as you want. That's a HUGE benefit.
I settled on two paid lesson programs, jamplay.com and guitarsystem.com. This is where I get the step-by-step progression of hands-on stuff while learning the theory along the way. I also found two Brits (justinguitar.com and andyguitar.co.uk) who are great fun and teach the songs, techniques and nuances. These are free but also take donations and sell songbooks and stuff. I donated to both because, in the same vein as public television and radio, I enjoy them and they would go away if people didn't support them. (Keep that in mind, all of you out there who only use the free parts of TurfNet!)
It has been two months now, and the journey so far has been immensely satisfying. I practice probably an hour total a day, when I feel like it and of my own volition. This is another big difference of learning as an adult vs as a kid: you do it because you WANT to do it, not because your parents are hollering at you to do it.
I'm amazed at how far I've come in those two months, well beyond anything I'd ever imagined in this short a time. Not Clapton or Knopfler yet, but I'm getting my open chords, changes and strumming patterns down and am gaining on the big, bad F barre chord, that rite of passage between guitar kindergarten and first grade. And I'm slowly assimilating the theory that helps it all make sense.
While gratifying, this process is also very humbling. Imagine yourself in a classroom of 8, 10 and 12 year-olds. That's where you are, in effect. At times you're also like an infant learning to pick up a Cheerio or eat soup with a spoon. It looks easy, your brain is telling your hand what to do, but there's a disconnect that only slow, methodical, repeated practice will cure.
At times you're also like an infant learning to pick up a Cheerio or eat with a spoon. It looks easy, your brain is telling your hand what to do, but there's a disconnect...
I have also discovered a corollary to golf, believe it or not. Everyone knows that sweet spot stroke where the clubface hits the ball perfectly and it sounds right, feels great up the club shaft and through your hands, up your arms, through your shoulders to your brain. It's what keeps most everyone coming back for more. Unfortunately, for me, those were so few and far between that the skulled shots, shanks and forearm shivvers to the funnybone took over and led me to lay down my sticks forever... but at least I had experienced it to know it.
The very beginning of learning guitar chords involves a lot of buzzed, dead and off-key notes, enough to make you cringe at times. But with an acoustic guitar, when you get it right, you take a full strum and all the notes ring clear, the guitar body resonates against your chest in the same sweet way as that perfect golf stroke goes up your arm.
And it does feel good, indeed.
(Addendum: I thought of something else. An acoustic guitar is completely unplugged. The power can go out, you can be out of wifi range, 'no bars', indoors or out and you can still play away. That's rare enough these days for me to notice it...)
Here's a holiday chuckle for you:
It's no secret that I really, really don't like to travel. I don't mind being elsewhere (although home is always the best place), I just don't like the process of getting there and back. And every trip, it seems, has a story. This one has a Real Slap-Me-Upside-the-Head WTF Moment in it.
I'm not one of those who fixate on frequent flyer miles, affinity programs and all that. The LAST thing I want is a free ticket anywhere, although on second thought seat upgrades would be nice. I've actually never had the pleasure of sitting in the fat seats up front. I always wonder how some of the people I see up there get those seats.
I do have my preferences in "travel partners" (JetBlue, Budget and Hampton Inn) but if there's a more convenient/cheaper/faster way, I usually go that route. As a result, my travel receipts are a mish-mosh of lots of different brands, colors and flavors.
I tend to book through Travelocity, and when buying a plane ticket their deals on hotels and rental cars booked at the same time can be pretty good. For this particular trip, Enterprise had the best deal on rental cars, so I booked an economy model. I usually do this because I've never actually been given an econocar, so why pay more? Plus I'd only be driving about 50 miles total so who cares.
...if there's a more convenient/cheaper/faster way, I usually go that route. As a result, my travel receipts are a mish-mosh of lots of different brands, colors and flavors.
On travel days (it's almost always a full day to get from Vermont to anywhere), I put up my defenses, dull my senses and just say to myself, "This day is gonna suck, let's just do it." But wandering around in this desensitized state can sometimes rise up and bite me on the arse.
Last week I had to travel to Orlando for a meeting at the Mother Ship, flying from BTV through LGA to MCO. I left home at 10:00AM, drove an hour to BTV, did the flying thing and staggered out of the plane in Orlando around 7:00PM. All told, not a bad experience.
OK, rental car. Which agency did I use? Whipped out my new iPhone (yeah!) and checked my Travelocity app (yeah, baby!). Enterprise, that's right. OK, they have green in their sign, so I wandered down the 1000 yard rental counter at MCO looking for green. There's National, also green, but I'm looking for Enterprise, which is less green. OK, there it is way down there (of course).
Stand in line, notice the self-serve kiosk and try that. Didn't recognize me. Back in line. Heard the (one) agent telling the customer ahead of me that they were overloaded on minivans so they'd hug him if he took one of them instead of the scarce econocars he had reserved. Hmmm, I'm gonna get me a minivan.
Got up to the counter (it was the middle initial that screwed up the kiosk ID), did the paperwork, told me the same drill about minivans. "Just go across to the garage, make a quick right and we're right there. They'll give you your paperwork and let you pick out a vehicle."
So I walk across, take a quick right and look for green. Guy Smiley comes out and welcomes me, says he'll walk me to my car. "Do you have paperwork?" Nope, the guy inside at the counter said you'd give it to me out here, and that a minivan wouldn't be a problem.
So I walk across, take a quick right and look for green. Guy Smiley comes out and welcomes me, says he'll walk me to my car...
He walked me over to a row of Dodge Caravans, so I picked me out a nice new red one, threw my stuff in, figured out how the key worked, and drove to the exit gate to check out.
The woman there asked for my paperwork. "The guy inside said I'd get it out here." OK, what's your name. McCormick. After a few keystrokes she asks me to spell it for her. By this time there are about five cars behind me and I could sense them all getting pissed.
"I don't see you in here." Has to be, I said, the guy at the counter just checked me in. "Not here. Do you have a confirmation number?" Sh*t, I thought, lemme get out my 'reservation'. Of course there's hardly any cell signal in the bowels of this garage, so it took about five minutes for me to pull up my Travelocity confirmation. By then I could see steam coming out of the windows of the cars behind me.
"OK, here it is. Enterprise, Confirmation # blah blah blah."
She looked at me with a "you moron" on her face. "This is National. Enterprise is over there."
My forehead hit the top of the steering wheel as I melted down into my seat and broke into an embarrassed sweat. WTF, I muttered to myself. Yagottabekiddinme.
Of course I'm looking at the tire-puncturing Jaws of Death ahead of me and five or six cars behind. No problem, she said, I'll wave them all back so your can get out of here.
Guess I wasn't the first idiot she had ever checked out.
Moral of the story, if there is one: If you're gonna zone out when you travel, zone back in far enough in advance to avoid exposing yourself as the idiot that you sometimes can be.
And, all greens are not the same.
I listened for years (albeit with one ear) to the adulation of the MacIntosh devotees, singing the praises of the computing system on which most of the software applications I used wouldn't work.
Every three years or so when my PC died (or was on life support), I would briefly toy with the idea of taking that plunge. But nah, couldn't justify the 3x cost compared to a PC, not to mention the learning curve and aforementioned software incompatibilities.
Not that I was ever a huge fan of Microsoft. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was a silent sufferer, resigned to put up with the quirks, shortcomings and stuff-that-just plain-didn't-work-right because That Was The Way It Was. Deal with it.
I was a silent sufferer, resigned to put up with the quirks, shortcomings and stuff-that-just plain-didn't-work-right because That Was The Way It Was...
All the while I had to scratch my head at how and why a company as big and dominating as Microsoft just couldn't get it right. On so many levels.
For starters, the HomeGroup networking thing never networked, try as I might to get it to. So my wife and I, working alongside each other, had to email files to each other.
My new Bluetooth headset never bluetoothed, so I put up with the USB cable on my old headset.
Our wireless printer/scanner never wirelessed, so, Patty, please pass me the USB cable.
MSWord? Don't get me started. Anathema. The single most exasperating piece of software I ever tried to use. Frustration in a box.
Both daughters requested MacBooks for their high school and college years, and I obliged, even though they were double+ the cost of a PC. "Dad, you gotta get one of these," I would hear frequently, more vociferously from Daughter B than Daughter A. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But DA's Macbook is just dying now after ten years of use.
My first hands-on experience with Apple products was an iPod. I loved unwrapping it (as I do all Apple products, gold star for packaging) but was less than enthused about using it. Frustrating on it's own level. (How do you reset this thing?) And then there was the near-annual replacement of those of my daughters after theirs would methodically STB after an almost predetermined period of time.
When iPads came on the scene and I realized website design had to accommodate them, I bought one to see what it was all about. Loved unwrapping it. Figured out swiping and tapping, and got used to the fingerprints. Loaded some pretty cool apps, including ones for stargazing and bird identification. The screen was also viewable outdoors, which I liked in the summertime when my office occasionally moves down into the Adirondack chairs by the water, within wi-fi range.
In or about that timeframe a friend gave us an AppleTV. Loved unwrapping that. Pretty cool "little black box". The little silver remote had an addicting, almost-sensual feel to it (how many of you roll that thing around in your hand the entire time you're watching AppleTV?). Discovered the beauty of AirPlay, mirroring stuff off the iPad onto the TV screen. Since we don't have TV at our summer place, I found I could access my Dish DVR remotely and stream it from the iPad to the AppleTV. Pretty cool.
Sometime during that era my wife and I decided to upgrade our not-that-often-used flip phones for smartphones. We opted for the Android OS and Motorola Razr-M hardware because the iPhones were that-much-more-expensive and we-really-don't-use-them-that-much.
Upon first launch, when that obnoxious Dddrrrroiiiid tone came on, I muttered a very simple WTF to myself. Seemed like that interface was designed more for gamers than old farts like us. And as we got them set up and began to use them, we also started experiencing those things-that-should-work-but-don't. More frustration in a box. Almost like Google engineers interned at Microsoft. Surprising and disappointing, as on most points I'm a big fan of Google. But we suffered in silence.
More frustration in a box. Almost like Google engineers interned at Microsoft...
A few months ago my three-year old, $699 Dell laptop-from-Best-Buy (I have to buy hands-on as I'm wicked particular about touchy-feely stuff like keyboards) starting acting funny. The fan ran constantly, like a hair dryer, and was driving me crazy.
I decided that I would pre-empt the Blue Screen of Death this time. As this was in- or around my 21st or 22nd year of Microsoft Suffering, and since so many of the PC applications I used to be married to now had web or Mac versions, I realized I was Free-to-Consider-A-Mac. I also figured that after those two decades of suffering, I had earned the right to splurge and indulge myself. So I went to Small Dog Electronics in Burlington, touched and felt, and then bought my first MacBook Pro -- with Retina screen and solid-state drive (no cooling fan needed).
I could barely wait to get it home and experience the assuredly near-orgasmic unwrapping. It didn't disappoint. A study in less-is-more. The entire package was only about two inches thick.
I fired it up (the battery even came charged) and started on The Curve. Not too bad. Had to Google a few things like "why does the delete key work more like a backspace key and doesn't really delete like I'm used to?" (oh, you have to "send to trash"... OK).
I basically liked it but didn't at first get all the hysteria. It felt great in the hand, was silent, and the display was incredibly crisp. As it should be for a couple grand.
Then I realized that my Bluetooth headset worked. The wireless printer wirelessed. The MacBook networked and synced seamlessly with my iPad. Loved the backlit keyboard.
Then I realized that my Bluetooth headset worked. The wireless printer wirelessed. The MacBook networked and synced seamlessly with my iPad...
As things that are meant-to-be often happen, the iPhone 6 came out around then amidst more hype and hysteria. Coincidentally, we got an email from Verizon stating that our much-hated Android phones qualified for an upgrade. My wife and I had about a three-second glance at each other and headed for the Verizon store, where the iPhone 6 was on pre-order but the 5s was in stock and half the cost of the 6. Bingo. I figured it was state of the art two weeks ago, so it would still be fine for us.
All the stuff we grappled and wrestled with on our Androids suddenly worked fine on the iPhones. It also synced right up (even the passwords via Keychain) with my iPad and MacBook. Hey, this is pretty cool. And the interface was clean, spare and logical. Very un-Android. Phew, such a relief it was.
The saga continued. Apple released OS X Yosemite, a new version of the Mac operating system. Figuring it would be like a typical Windows upgrade ($ and hassle), I was delighted to see it free, easily downloaded and installed. Seamless, hassle-free.
The next day I was toodling along on my MacBook when a Messages alert popped up. WTH is this?, I wondered. A text coming in from Daughter B. Huh? Turns out Yosemite is fully integrated with iOS (iPhone and iPad) to the point where you can receive calls on your MacBook or start an email on one device and finish it on one of the others. Share files wirelessly via AirDrop or save to iCloud. Use the phone as a mobile hotspot (great for those overnights at my mother-in-law's, a desert of connectivity).
Needless to say, this has been a revelation. The monkey is off my back. I now Understand. It's not perfect -- I still struggle a bit with the position of the command key for keyboard shortcuts, and I often find my hands lining up one-key-off so the last line or so of text I write is in Klingon -- but for the most part it's No-Looking-Back.
This is not meant as a Newbie-MacGuy-Beating-My-Chest thing, just an explanation of how my tech life got a pleasant upgrade.
If the smoke signals are there, evaluate them within current circumstances and respond.
I had fun last week. That's not an ENTIRELY unusual situation, but it was notable because it happened outside my traditional milieu.
I have worked at home for 20 years now and I like it -- to a fault sometimes -- in that I almost have to be pried loose to get me away from here (particularly if there are airports involved... but that's a whole 'nother conversation).
What's not to like? Get up when I want (usually 5-ish), work the morning in my shorts or flannel PJ bottoms and a T-shirt, "office shoes", dogs underfoot. Coffee pot is nearby, stoke the fireplace when needed in season.
We had occasion to drive back to NJ last week for my mother-in-law's 92nd birthday. Jon Kiger was going to be in the NY/Phila area making sales calls, so I thought maybe we'd extend for a couple days so I could ride with him. We usually don't see each other more than two or three times a year, so this would increase our "engagement rate" (to use a current social media term) by about 30%.
We headed north to White Plains to visit with Ryan Kneapler at Growth Products, someone we had email contact with but had never met. After an hour or so, I think it's fair to say the three of us can put another checkmark in the "friend" column.
From there it was off to lunch with Tony Girardi at Rockrimmon Country Club. Tony signed up for TurfNet in his first year at Rockrimmon, which was 20 years ago now. He and I served on the MetGCSA board together years ago, and he played on our hockey team a year or two. I also wanted to witness his 50# weight loss in person ('cause he's not that big a guy). As often is the case when friends reunite, it was like we picked up where we left off. And he wears his new look well (as does the newly-svelte JK).
The next day we had appointments in South Jersey, so heading down 295 from Trenton we couldn't NOT stop in and see John Slade at Laurel Creek Country Club. I first met John when he and Joe Owsik were growing in Laurel Creek and bought several Kawasaki Mules from me back in another life. Another 20 year TN guy, John was also the one who originally suggested the concept of our "Beer and Pretzels Gala". So either thank or blame him!
Greeting us at John's office was Mr. July 2015, Thor. A "knucklehead" German Shepherd, Thor goes nuts when John shakes his key ring, knowing that they might be headed to an irrigation controller to turn on a few heads for some recreation.
So much for sales calls. Oh yeah, we also stopped to visit Colleen Clifford and Michael Hanisco at Aquatrols, where at the end of our visit Kiger spied the Aquatrols "Wettie" costume sitting in a corner, just waiting for me to put it on. Not one to back down from a challenge, I did put it on (with some help from Michael).
We did have a couple other productive visits and we booked some advertising, so the day was a positive all around. But the big plus was the people... new friends and old... and having some fun in the process.
I'm back. Not baaaaaack... just back, from my self-imposed six-month-or-so sabbatical-of-sorts. 'Sabbatical' meaning no new projects or learning curves for awhile, sleep in (past 5:00) on occasion, take a couple hours to read a book or an afternoon snooze if the spirit moves. Take a few deep breaths... look around, regain one's bearings... hopefully emerge renewed and refreshed.
I have long said that our society should allow everyone a sabbatical at some point in their life. From Wikipedia:
Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a "ceasing") is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year). In the strict sense, therefore, a sabbatical lasts a year.
In recent times, "sabbatical" has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. In the modern sense, one takes sabbatical typically to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling extensively for research. Some universities and other institutional employers of scientists, physicians, and/or academics offer the opportunity to qualify for paid sabbatical as an employee benefit, called sabbatical leave. Some companies offer unpaid sabbatical for people wanting to take career breaks; this is a growing trend in the United Kingdom, with 20% of companies having a career break policy, and a further 10% considering introducing one.
I realized late last year that I was, frankly, exhausted. Maybe it was the "20 years for TurfNet, 60 years for me" anniversary syndrome, maybe just getting old(er), but it was time to push back for a bit and catch my breath. Ya gotta take care of #1.
Using a golf course analogy, the past twenty years for me has gone sort of like this:
Come up with an idea and build a few holes to try it out. The concept takes hold (albeit slowly) so add a few more holes.
Once the front nine is completed, go back in and fix all the little stuff that needs attention. Take out a few trees, add some drainage here and there, widen a fairway or two, tweak some tee alignment.
Things are rolling along nicely -- not according to plan, because there wasn't and still isn't a plan, just watching and listening -- so you build the back nine.
By that time, you know even more drainage is needed and a few bunkers need to be rebuilt on the original holes. Add a few irrigation heads here and there. Upgrade the central. Enlarge the pond.
Rinse and repeat. You get the idea...
So I put any/all new projects on hold and went into pure maintenance mode. I read a couple dozen books. Put myself on ice (so to speak) for two months this summer after nicking my foot with a chain saw (just a little meat, thankfully no bones or tendons) and spending the summer in bedroom slippers... but in a place with a nice view.
I don't recommend the chain saw thing. One of those split seconds of inattention I'd like to have back for a re-do. "Stupid is as stupid does", as Forrest Gump said.
No doubt I jinxed myself by posting the following on Twitter (literally) the day before my "emergency". The slipper thing was prescient, indeed.
But hey, live and learn, I suppose. Hopefully, anyway. With so many stupid things to do or new mistakes to be had, I've never seen the sense in repeating any.
So I'm back at it, full bore. As evidence, I started writing this at 5:15 this morning, and a beautiful Vermont autumn sunrise it was. Self-induced learning curves are back too, as just last week I ditched my 22-year series of PCs and my Android in favor of a Macbook Pro and an iPhone. Late to the party, admittedly, but I'm all in now. A much less frustrating experience, all around.
And we have some cool new stuff going on at TurfNet. Frank Rossi kicked off TurfNet RADIO with a couple of Frankly Speaking segments (presented by DryJect and Aquatrols) with Dr. Brian Horgan (Minnesota) and Dr. Doug Soldat (Wisconsin-Madison), talking turf nutrition. If you haven't listened yet, check them out. Some fascinating things going on in turf research, with no holds barred in turning the status quo inside out and upside down. These podcasts can be downloaded for listening in the truck or during mower miles as well.
These "radio" events interfaced nicely with our recent Turf Nutrition Week webinar series, presented by Grigg Bros., featuring presentations by Dr. Jim Murphy (Rutgers), Dr. Gordon Kauffman (Grigg Bros.) and Dr. Thom Nikolai (Michigan State).
Dave Wilber is going to have his own Turfgrass Zealot show on TurfNet RADIO, and I'll probably host a few myself. I know some people I'd like to interview... and this Blogtalkradio format allows for call-ins as well, so we can take your questions.
True to Rossi and Wilber form, these will likely be on a sporadic and impromptu schedule, so watch the Forum and Twitter for announcements.
The process of listening and watching, evaluating, adding and subtracting continues. And I think I'll fire up that chain saw again this weekend. Ya gotta get back on the horse that threw ya...
I am still haunted by some aspects of my college years -- yes, even 35 years later -- but maybe not by those things that might first come to mind.
I have occasional recurrent dreams (that border on nightmares) about going into exams completely unprepared. Weird, for sure, but so it is. There's no worse feeling than when you open up a test booklet and get that hard lump in your throat, thinking, "Oh, sh*t -- I'm screwed."
Ecology and Calculus for the Life Sciences were the two major culprits. My ecology class was scheduled for 5:00, across town, thus requiring a campus bus trip (I warned my daughters much later, when touring colleges, that if they saw a campus bus, keep on looking). The instructor was a monotonic bore. Factoring the 5:00, bus trip and bore together often convinced me to not bother. And I paid the price at exam time, even though I was able to BS my way through it.
There's no worse feeling than when you open up a test booklet and get that hard lump in your throat, thinking, "Oh, sh*t -- I'm screwed."
Calculus was just a whole 'nother animal, something I couldn't begin to make hide nor hair of. Derivatives, theorems, functions, thetas (the TA was Indian or Pakistani or something and pronounced theta as 'tayta') and the like left me totally, irreversibly confused. I hated it. Got a D first semester freshman year, flagged it completely second semester (which I had to take over in order to graduate). Of course I procrastinated until senior year to take it again, and got a D the second time. It completely sucked. In a nutshell. And no BS-ing through it.
The flipside of that type of helpless, dire experience are the situations in which you know the topic inside out and upside down. You have it down pat. You're confident, self-assured, relaxed, poised. Bring it on... because you're ready.
It could be an exam. Maybe it's a job interview, a presentation at a seminar, a pitch for new equipment at a board meeting. Or you might simply have to make a decision about a course of action when 'stuff' inevitably happens on the golf course. No panic, no cold sweat. A great feeling.
This type of situation generally comes about more often in one's later years' because you have gathered the experience and the street smarts by then.
As the years move on and life experience accumulates, I've found one also tends to better differentiate between those things you are cut out for and those you're not. This helps increase the probability of a confident, self-assured, enjoyable situation and diminish the potential for uneasiness, despair or discomfort.
Take playing golf, for instance. I didn't pick up a golf club until I was about 35, and never played more than six or eight times a year, always in business situations. So, I'd suffer through my 100 shots or so, but enjoy the company and the beauty of the course. At the end of the day it boiled down to four hours of embarrassment and frustration for me, mitigated by (very) few moments of glory. It simply wasn't fun.
I had always been a decent athlete, and a fair hockey player through college. Hockey players typically make an easy transition to golf, but not for me. So, after about 15 years of pretending to be a golfer, I just said the hell with it, parked my clubs and extracted myself from my misery.
I had always wanted to be a musician as well. I tried my hand at guitar, bass, drums and piano and never got very far. I discovered I didn't understand music theory. I wasn't cut out for it. It was like forcing the proverbial square peg into the round hole. But once I realized that and accepted it, I was OK with it. No more regrets or disappointment.
Side B of discovering the things you can't do well or aren't good at is finding those things that you ARE.
Side B of discovering the things you can't do well or aren't good at is finding those things that you ARE. I am a good writer (it's hereditary). I have a knack for computers (definitely not hereditary) and rise to the challenge of learning new things'as long as they don't have derivatives or theorems attached. And I'm a good cook, partly because I understand ingredients, flavors, acids/bases, sweets/sours.
There's no forcing the stuff you come naturally to. Realizing which is which and making the adjustments is the challenge. And that, per Robert Frost, can make all the difference.
(originally published in the May 2011 issue of TurfNet Monthly... and that makes it 38 years since college, now)
Back when I supported and shepherded salespeople for a living and they would tell me they were working on a big deal they felt positive about happening, I would counsel them to keep it quiet for the time being.
"If you make a big deal about it now but something happens and the deal falls through, you'll look like a jerk. On the other hand, if you keep it quiet and then it DOES happen, you're a hero."
Pretty simple. I recall something about counting chickens that would be applicable here.
Now, on the other hand, if you have the slightest inkling that something BAD might be impending -- such as the winter damage scenario that may unfold across the snow belt in the coming month -- you'd better get WAY out in front of it and tell EVERYONE who will listen that there MAY be a problem.
Unleash every private communication avenue you have at your disposal -- but best keep it off the public channels. Cite relevant publications. Gather data, the more the better.
Everyone likes good surprises. NOBODY likes bad ones.
From the TurfNet Archives, Jan 2001:
Some people get really hung up on image, whether personal or professional. If you have teenage kids, you know what I mean. I am generally secure enough to avoid that, but do admit to having one image to uphold. You can't be the TurfNet guy and have a lousy lawn.
While all of our neighbors hire out their lawn maintenance, I stubbornly resist. Not only is it good exercise, but it's good for the mind. I do much of my best thinking while mowing the lawn, and the smell keeps me connected to my craft. I wouldn't feel right watching someone else do it.
As the season winds down and winter approaches, I like to bring the height of cut down a bit, partly because the leaves from my neighbors' trees don't stick as much. They just blow on by and stick to my other neighbor's lawn.
But this year, the lower heights of late September exposed an ugly underbelly of the turf. A little dead stuff here, some brown stuff there. Even my wife noticed, and commented. That did it.
At my first opportunity I went out and rented a flail-type dethatcher. After about four passes, leaving a 4" deep layer of thatch and dead grass in my wake, I was stopped by the old man who walks his dog by here each morning. "What in the hell are you doing? You have the best lawn within five miles, and you're tearing it up!"
I was stopped by the old man who walks his dog by here each morning. "What in the hell are you doing? You have the best lawn within five miles, and you're tearing it up!"
"Trust me", I said, with a lump in my throat. "The best time for surgery is when you're healthy. Check back in two weeks and you won't know I ever did it." But I found myself needing reassurance as well.
On I went, back and forth, over the acre of turf here at the TurfNet World Headquarters, making a monumental mess. I scalped the remains down to an inch, and then had to clean it all up. Mountains of it. Three days worth. The place looked like hell warmed over. I applied some winter blend fertilizer and hoped for the best.
When my wife got home from work she echoed the old man's comments. Time for me to shift the blame. "Uh, don't you remember your suggestion that I get rid of that brown stuff?" Of course she didn't think it would look like THAT...
"Trust me. Just give it a couple of weeks." Gulp.
Then the warm weather and timely rains stopped cold. Nighttime temps dropped to the mid-30s. I looked upon my neighbors' lush lawns with envy as mine sat there, cold and ugly, surely destined to be so the entire winter long. Cars slowed as they passed. People stared. I knew they were wondering what in the hell that guy did to his lawn.
I looked upon my neighbors' lush lawns with envy as mine sat there, cold and ugly, surely destined to be so the entire winter long.
But when the going gets tough, the tough put it in gear. I fired up the irrigation system that sat unused this wet summer. And I figured another 3/4 lb. of N wouldn't hurt either, so on it went. Very quietly.
"The grass isn't growing much," I was reminded each evening. Trust me.
After a nervous week the weather warmed again and the turf showed signs of life. I pumped on the water at night, my fingers crossed. Ugly gradually turned green. The first mowing revealed hope and promise. A beautiful Indian Summer fell over us in October, and I could hear the turf thickening.
As the first frosts came, the neighbors' lawns suddenly looked a bit shabby in comparison. Theirs had brown stuff in it. Mine was pure, thick and green.
And even now, in mid-winter, when cars slow down as they pass by, I can't help but think they are still staring and wondering, "What in the hell did that guy do to his lawn?"
This was written while I still lived in New Jersey and worried about how straight the stripes on my lawn were. Living in Vermont now, we don't fret over that type of thing...