Monday, May 27, 2013

The Pier ... Unique and Beautiful

Walked to the Pier downtown in St. Pete. For those who don't know the history

 ... The Pier's origins date back to 1889, when the Orange Belt Railway constructed the Railroad Pier on Tampa Bay as a railway-accessible sightseeing and recreational resort for locals and tourists. This was done three years before St. Petersburg’s incorporation as a city in 1892. The Railroad Pier's immediate success led to its replacement in 1906 with the Electric Pier, which extended 3,000 feet into the bay and awed visitors and spectators with its highly dramatic night lighting.

The Electric Pier, in turn, was replaced in 1914 by the Municipal Pier, which was so heavily damaged by the Hurricane of 1921 that the city of St. Petersburg appropriated a $1 million bond for a new structure. This was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1926 as the Million Dollar Pier, a Mediterranean-style casino that included an observation deck, an open-air ballroom, and a spacious interior atrium for card games and community events. The building's entrance portico was later enclosed as WSUN-TV’s studios, from which "Captain Mac" broadcast his children’s show in the 1950s.

By 1967, the Million Dollar Pier was so decrepit it was demolished, and its site was vacant for many years until the current structure was built in 1973. It was designed by William B. Harvard Sr., founder of Harvard Jolly architectural firm in St. Petersburg, with a tubular steel framework to create large windows for full panoramic views of Tampa Bay, and an inverted pyramid form for a larger top floor and observation deck.

Now it's set for demolition. There's another design called the Lens that will apparently take its place but there are protestors who want it to stay.

We love the Pier.

There are so many great memories that we have. I have fished off the side, eaten at the Columbia, drank with friends at Cha Cha Coconuts,

We have fed the pelicans that sit grandly atop the pilings, we have strolled around the approach, saw the laser show (note: Rockne Krebs created a laser sculpture that reflected with mirrors back and forth to the Pier. It never operated for more than a month ... but when it was on, it was pretty cool).

The first floor has special memories for Debbie and I. It was the setting for Holiday Pageantry, a Christmas tree celebration that benefitted All Children's Hospital, Jr. League and Dream Fund. The trees were sponsored decorated and sold by community volunteers. Deb, not yet my wife, and Dennie were Jr. League coordinators and co-chairs. (They were dubbed Evil and Good Twin ... yes, Deb was Good Twin. Sorry Den ... what's in a name?).
The Pier Aquarium was on the second floor and these tubes filled with fish reached up from the lobby.

This place, Just Hats, has been there for years. Giving them a shout out.

The Pier Trolley runs up and down the approach.

Fishermen are everywhere.
People power.
Great parties!

The new design has critics. I have to admit ... I am one.

Better hurry ... visit this week. It may be gone soon.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Surprising Secrets (or maybe not)

Just read an article on LinkedIn (I think it was written by someone half my age ... but lately, everyone seems to be half my age). Okay, truth is I was bored and looking for inner meaning in my life. Isn't that why people read this stuff?

This article was called: "Surprising Secrets of Truly Great Bosses". It completely reverses all the things you have ever learned about good management. Get it? Me either ... except that it gets people to read your article, I guess.

Anyway ... I put my own spin at the end of each poignant statement:

1. They put the customer second.

When managers preach and practice the longstanding axiom to put the customer first, they overlook their employees, who are the people actually responsible for creating and nurturing the customer experience.

Customers can immediately sense when the employees of the firms from which they buy are miserable, overworked, or under trained. Truly great bosses concentrate on making certain that their employees are happy, healthy and can do the work required.

( Therefore ... if your employees are overworked and don't particularly want to wait on customers or they haven't been trained on how to be nice to people, give them a little more time off with pay and make their lives less miserable ... it will ultimately make you a better boss and your customers will love it).

2. They don't manage the bottom line.

The "bottom line"--your quarterly or yearly numbers--only represents the history of what's happened, so focusing on it is like trying to drive a car while looking in the rear-view mirror.

Truly great bosses know that the only way to get good numbers in the future is to keep your attention on what's going on right now in your market and industry and the activities that your employees are undertaking to take advantage of the present reality.

(Who really cares whether you were successful last month? As long as your employees are happy. By the way, the truck that is barreling down on you that you can't see in the rear view mirror will only push you further ahead.)

3. They celebrate the tough times.

It's easy to have great morale when a company is successful, but when times are tough, not so much. Worst case, you can get a "chicken or egg" situation where everyone is waiting for things to improve, with decreasing hope that they actually will.

Ironically, it's when things are difficult that you're most likely to have breakthroughs--but only if people keep their spirits up. That's when truly great bosses figure out how to make work fun and keep their people happy.

(If your numbers are down ... it's time to celebrate. What better way to celebrate than have a party ... with the money that you don't have! I think your staff will totally understand when there is nothing left to give them when times are better.)

4. They have more questions than answers.

Many managers think that their job is to know all the answers--and provide them to their employees as frequently as possible. However, when managers provide all the answers, they rob their employees of the opportunity to think and grow.

While experience has value, people can't learn when that wisdom is presented on a platter or forced down their throat. That's why great bosses ask questions that will spark, in the employee's own mind, the thought processes that will make that employee successful.

(Personally I like a manager who has questions ... just not crazy about the ones that have no answers.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Way Down Yonder ... Finale

Parting shots of New Orleans (My artsy side):

Love these tall balcony window/doorways.

Chartres Street

By the Square

St Louie's

Royal Street

$16 for 30 minutes

Famous doorway

Don't see this every day

Cemetery shot 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Way Down Yonder ... Continued

Question: What is pictured to the left?

Hint: This is one of the major food groups in New Orleans.

Answer: If you said beignets .. you are not a native. My people just call them donuts. Order this at Morning Call in Metairie and say ... "Order of donuts and coffee". That means café au lait and beignets.

By the way, it only costs about $4.

Is there anything in the world more delicious?

Deb and I started there this morning. It was a grey day with scattered showers and  not one you'd want to spend walking the streets of the French Quarter so we drove to my old haunts.

This is my favorite. Morning Call (as I've written about before in my blog: "How you know if someone grew up in New Orleans") is the best place to have coffee and donuts. It used to be down the street from Café Du Monde in the Quarter and all the locals ate there. It moved some years back to Metairie and still has the original furnishings and still is the best!

It was such a dreary day that I thought a tour of the cemeteries in Metairie would be appropriate. As you might know, bodies are buried above ground here. The city is built on a swamp ... bodies "move around a lot" if they are buried in the conventional way. So the cemeteries which look like stone cities are filled with crypts and mausoleums. There are famous ones in the Quarter, but my favorites are the ones that line Metairie Road.

The stark contrast of the flowers placed by families in front of these massive stone structures is striking.

After our brief tour of the dead, we looked at the houses of the living (high living).

Old Metairie has incredible estates that rival those you would see on St. Charles Avenue. The massive oak trees frame these beautiful homes nestled in the older neighborhoods that the casual onlooker never really know about. (Wow ... I sound like a travel guide or a realtor or ... pretentious ... huh?)

Anyway, this was Debbie's tour and I knew that she would love the real estate insight. These homes didn't appear to have any lingering damage from Katrina. I always loved this neighborhood ... I knew some kids that lived here and they allowed me to visit if I promised not to make it a habit. Last time I showed you my old neighborhoods. Easy to see why I spent a lot of time visiting OTHER neighborhoods.

So ... for contrast ... we travelled uptown to visit my favorite and one of the last surviving neighborhood bookstores: Maple Street Book Shops. Located near the corner of Maple and Hillary, this place has charm, elegance, old air conditioners, the smell of a well worn bookstore ... even a roach or two. It actually resides in two houses. One has new books and one has old books. Bought the latest book, "Shoot the Moon" from Chris Wiltz (a high school buddy and terrific writer).

Maple and Hillary was also once the destination of our favorite hang outs. The Raven was our bar when I was ... drinking age (that meant I was tall enough to reach the bar in New Orleans). Everybody knew Percy the bartender.

Maple Hill was the restaurant across the street. After a night at the Raven, we'd discuss politics and the arts (translation: football and girls) and eat chicken fried steak sandwiches (or was that College Inn?)

Speaking of food, since we hadn't eaten in two hours, Deb and I decided to head over to ACME Oyster House. Still one of the best even though it's now a popular tourist destination and jacked its prices up by 200%. We sat at the oyster bar and ate po boys while the shuckers threw me an errant oyster or two.

 It was heaven.

Way Down Yonder (The Prequel)


A weekend we can actually get away. And where better to get away? You guessed it ... New Orleans!

This morning we packed our bags, jumped in the car (well not exactly jumped ... more like dragged our butts) and headed to the airport. No stand by flights for us. We had actual tickets on Southwest. It's the only airline with direct flights to New Orleans. We can, of course, pick our own seats (lovely visual huh?) We had numbers A43 and A44 because Debbie got Early Bird Check-in for only $16,000 which allowed us to be in the A line without calling at 2AM ... I guess.

You know, even though I am always excited about going home, I must admit I always start out in a rotten mood before every flight. I can't stand Security. I'm usually the guy getting pulled out of line and patted down. This time I really did everything I was supposed to. I even put my dangerous deodorant and toothpaste in a quart size baggie.

But alas ... I knew it was too good to be true.

I heard TSA agent #1 say,"Step this way sir and talk to ... him." ("Him" was TSA agent #2 who had a gleam in his eye when I exited the naked scan booth).

"Anything in your back pocket sir?" He asked.

"Nothing," I said (I wanted to say "just my ass" but held back.)

"Sir, I'm going to have to pat you down. OKAY?"

Sure ... fine. He grabbed each cheek and checked the rest of my body until he was satisfied and then wiped my hands with a cloth. He told me to wait there while he checked it (for traces of explosive deodorant bottles no doubt). I was clean.

Fortunately, we had plenty of time to spare after security clearance (hah) ... 15 minutes to be exact. So I made a beeline to our terminal and Debbie made a beeline to Starbuck's. Let me just say that this is a routine that makes me nuts. Debbie ... who I love dearly ... will be late to her own funeral. I knew as I stood dutifully in my assigned A43 spot that A44 would be late ... and sure enough ... as we boarded the plane and I saw the people behind me pushed aside by my wife proudly holding her coffee and her 236 pound suitcase.

A cute little lady from Turkey was sitting next to Debbie looking out the window with tears streaming down her cheek. We were both touched by this. Debbie struck up a conversation and found out that she was travelling alone to her son's wedding in New Orleans and was a little scared.

I thought at first that she was sad that the stewardess made her put her tiny handbag under the seat in front of her during takeoff (a common safety measure to protect her and others from being hit by the 2 pound bag in case we crashed and imploded).

Debbie worried about her all day. I guess I shouldn't have asked her to get the 236 pound bag down for me when we left.

Oh well. It gave her something to do and focused her on more important things.

Landed in NEW ORLEANS, finally. Unfortunately it's raining and we will have to stay in Harrah's all night ... gambling (I guess). Shucks.

Tune in tomorrow.   

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Forty Years Ago Today

Tom and Dennie celebrated 40 years of marriage last night. It was kinda like a sequel to Tony n' Tina's Wedding hosted by long time friends Debbie and Wally.

Dennie arrived at the house wearing her original wedding dress trailed by twin sister Debbie holding the train (yes ... my Debbie) just like she did on her wedding day. I was impressed that Dennie wore the original dress she wore 40 years ago. (Anything that I wore 40 years ago won't go past my knees.)

The girlfriends squealed with delight (all night) and took tons of pictures.

We had dinner around a long table as friends toasted to their long relationship.

Debbie read a sweet speech she did in 5 minutes last night, Doug talked about marital bliss (he's been married twice ... this time for less than a year), Betty F___ Crocker (inside joke) gave the most inspirational speech thatmay have been in tongues, Phyllis knocked down the candles in the middle of my speech and Denise needed a translator to explain most of what was going on. Joe guessed most of the answers to the quiz Debbie put together like how many pets did they have over 40 years.

Aldo, as usual, created most of the humor of the night. He represented the New Jersey/New York contingent (a la Tony n' Tina). He and Joe and Richard talked most of the night about diesel engines and outboard motors. I didn't know there were so many different types. Joe and Aldo sounded like Mona Lisa Vito (from My Cousin Vinny).

He also noted that the room was divided into groups ... there were the tall girls, the short people ,,, and us ... the guys who have giant .... well ... I'll skip that one.

Best quote of the night: Denise ate a big bite of wedding cake and said "Mmmmm this is almost as good as Dennie's crack." (Explanation: Dennie makes a delicious dessert that the girls call "crack" because you keep eating more.)

Denise had no idea why the whole room started laughing.

Funny night. Here's what I toasted:

40 years ago today ...
Tom and Dennie vowed to stay
His hair was black now it's grey
Dennie hair was black one day
 … blonde and red and curly too ...
every year another do.
The wedding price was very low
Over 40 years ago
If they were getting hitched today
Tom would still still not want to pay.
Dennie's a good Catholic girl
Church on Sunday's in her world
Tom is busy every day
Lawyers don't have time to pray.
Dennie never is alone
Unless she loses her cell phone.
Three kids later we agree
It's a special family
Courtney was the first to marry
Four kids aren't a lot to carry.
Colby's got his hands full too
Ella tells him what to do.
Kyle is next to tie the knot
He's the planner … I forgot
40 years you're just beginning
40 more you'll keep on winning!

Ballad of the Big Prostate

Here’s a little country tune I wrote just yesterday to commemorate a dark day in my history. I don’t have a tune but realized you can use an...