How I Met Jerry Coleman

jerry coleman baseball cardJerry Coleman died today. Seven decades in baseball. World Series MVP as a player. Broadcaster. Manager.

I met Jerry in the late 70s. I was working in Philadelphia radio and our helicopter traffic guy, Walt McDonald, knew Jerry from San Diego. Could he arrange for me to watch a Phillies/Padres game from the broadcast booth as Jerry did play-by-play?


I headed to the Vet a few Saturdays later and was escorted into the booth directly behind home plate. I was a little overwhelmed. Jerry Coleman was a big deal former major leaguer with a very distinctive voice. There was no mistaking whose hand I was shaking. He didn’t pass unnoticed in a baseball stadium.

The Padres took an early lead, but between innings Coleman explained how the Phillies looked like they’d figured out the Padres pitcher, who was beginning to tire. I saw none of this, but nodded anyway.

Next inning the Phillies blew it open! The Padres pitcher was chased, just as Coleman predicted and when he predicted it.

Both Jerry Coleman and his broadcast partner, Dave Campbell, were gracious that afternoon. It was my own personal reality show to take in and remember.

Over 35 years later, I still remember. It still makes me smile. I am one of many who will not forget Jerry Coleman.

Our Second Day In Las Vegas

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

mirage-view-from-our-window.jpgGood afternoon from Fabulous Las Vegas. Gobblepalooza ’09 continues! We’ve been here a little over 24 hours and have had a great time so far.

Helaine and I have been to Las Vegas many times. We know the city pretty well and we know how the system works.

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

venetian-gondoliers.jpgWe went for dinner with my cousins last night. The restaurant, right across from the gondoliers, was Zeffirino.

Not only was it Thanksgiving, it was Helaine and my 26th wedding anniversary. We tried to keep it low key, but when the two strolling musicians came to the table Cousin Melissa let them know!

Normally Zeffirino serves very nice Italian food. Last night it was buffet style and it was very good–especially the desserts. OK–especially the desserts and lamb chops. Yum.

Fun pastime in Las Vegas. We people watch.

An older man was sitting nearby at a large table family style. He was much older than everyone else and the family with him was quite exotic looking. I’d like to pick an ethnicity, but I can’t.

One of the women was probably his wife and the two other adult women her daughters. Our game was “Try and guess what they see in him?”

Money was the consensus choice.

With only three hours bed sleep and another hour and a half on the plane I was bushed. I was in bed before 10:00 PST. Very early for me.

This morning the six of us went to breakfast at “First” a new cafe in the hotel. Helaine had read very good things, but the service was indifferent and slow.

donuts.jpgAt one point a manager came to the table and I told him–nicely. He said he did want to know and I believe him. Vegas is built on service.

As we finished the meal a batch of freshly made donuts with amazing dipping sauces was brought to the table . For the cost of the donuts he turned a bad experience into a much happier one.

Our breakfasts were very good and we’ll probably go back to see if the service improves. This manager gets a save.

Helaine, Stef, Michael, Max and Melissa headed to the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s. I went to the Venetian Poker Room for the noon tournament. This is a mid level tournament in a very good poker room.

How are poker rooms different? A good room has comfortable chairs and tables, good dealers and attentive waitress service. Bingo!

I lasted around three and a half hours busting out in 36th place of the original 144. Tonight someone will go home with over $4,900. Not me.

I was very happy with my play. My losing move was an all-in with Ace Jack only to run into an Ace King. Oh well.

I walked back through the casino and put a $20 bill in a slot machine. Within ten minutes I’d (mostly) won back my poker entry fee. Go figure?

We’re having dinner at a Mexican restaurant tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay up a little later than last night.

Phillies Win A Big One In Frigid Colorado

She’s seen too many teams that should have contended but didn’t–too many Septembers that didn’t count. She lives and dies with the Phils.

May I have my kishkes&#185 back, please? What a night with the Phillies.

In case you’re not motivated enough to stay up until 2:15 AM the Phillies just held on to beat the Colorado Rockies in a well played and hard fought game. The game was close the whole way. The final was 6-5.

The game was played in frigid conditions after being snowed out yesterday! Many of the players wore ball caps with ear flaps. Water vapor was visible anytime anyone exhaled.

In the end it all came down to Brad Lidge, who was perfect as a closer last season but now can’t get men out! He’s got a 7.21 ERA. He’s blown 11 saves. Horrendous!

There have been calls to ditch Lidge for much of the late season. Charlie Manuel, the manager, has mostly (not totally) stood by Lidge. He did again tonight.

It was an adventure with two walks after the first out. It looked like he couldn’t find the plate, the usual precursor to a gopher ball for a home run.

Helaine turned off the sound on the TV.

“It’s only a game,” she repeated… maybe chanted is a better word. “It’s only a game.” But she didn’t mean it.

It’s more than a game to Helaine. She still feels the pain from Joe Carter’s World Series killing home run even though it happened in 1993. She’s seen too many teams that should have contended but didn’t–too many Septembers that didn’t count. She lives and dies with the Phils.

Lidge ended the inning with a pop-up stranding two. Game over. We began to breath again.

There’s still a long way to go before the World Series. I’m not sure we’re strong enough!

&#185 – Like so many other Yiddish words kishke is often used contrary to its actual meaning. Kishke itself is a sausage–there are intestines involved. It’s not a real 21st Century kind of dish.

In this case kishke means my internal organs and even then it’s used as a metaphor.

From The Airport

It was only a few bucks and I didn’t even care about the dollars involved. I just wanted an acknowledgment. He pushed back. “Maybe this car just gets really bad mileage,” he said.

IMG_4365.JPGI’m writing from Gate C4 at McCarren International (and on their WiFi). Why would you name a gate after a a deadly plastic explosive?

Helaine had trouble sleeping and was out of the room before I was awake. I had no trouble sleeping. These beds are firm with a pillow top.

It’s December, but it’s hard to tell out here. I looked out our window when I got up. The pool had guests yesterday. Now it’s drained. Closed for the winter. That’s sad.

As I was getting out of bed Helaine was coming back to the room. I showered and we headed for breakfast at the Carnegie Deli. After my week of poker, I went to see the manager. Maybe they’d like to buy my meal? Within a few seconds I was the proud possessor of a $15 food ticket. The comp has been converted to ‘black and white’ cookies from the Carnegie! Poker is low profit for them. Any food comp is a big deal.

While Helaine finished the paperwork, I waited for the bellman. As with all of Las Vegas, he was chatty. He was working for his tip. Mission accomplished. Ten minutes, ten bucks and we were at the North Valet Parking stand.

If you ever go to the Mirage, here’s my one worthwhile tip. The North Valet is much faster and easier than the man area–especially for auto pickup.

We got in the car and headed up Las Vegas Boulevard for the rental car center. All the rental companies operate under one roof about a half mile from the airport. I had to stop and top off the tank. I’d only gone 90 miles or so. I expected to put in a few gallons at the most.

When the pump got to 5 gallons I started to get upset–then 6 and 7. When we got to Enterprise I said something to the attendant. You are about to get a story about good and bad customer service.

The attendant checking in my car immediately copped an attitude. It was only a few bucks and I didn’t even care about the dollars involved. I just wanted an acknowledgment. He pushed back. “Maybe this car just gets really bad mileage,” he said.

Seriously? Is this guy nuts? He had taken something inconsequential and elevated it. Now it was a matter if principle. I needed a manager.

In stepped Anthony who took control and took responsibility. I told him I didn’t want any money. I just wanted Enterprise to understand my upset. He said all the right things, including a promise to talk to the attendant. He handed me my receipt and I walked away reasonably satisfied.

When I looked at the receipt, he had taken $13 from my bill. I turned around and told him I didn’t want that, but he wanted to do right by me and he did. Good for you Enterprise.

Though I checked in within minutes of our flight’s available time, we were given “B” boarding passes. I think we’ll still sit together, but I was surprised. Probably a lot of others connecting with our Hartford flight at Las Vegas who were able to checking before us.

IMG_4361.jpgWe pushed our bags to the curbside checking where we were told one bag was eight pounds over. Uh oh. Actually, no big deal. The skycap invited Helaine behind the counter to shift some weight to another bag.

And there you have it. Sometime around midnight Eastern we’ll be back at Bradley and home by 2:00 AM.

It seems like we’ve been gone a month!

Financial Talk From Geoff

It’s not just me, is it? Finances are confusing to everyone… right?

Oh please agree! I don’t want to be the Bozo on this bus&#185.

Helaine and I went through some financial papers today. Nothing dreadful, but each was more confusing than the last.

My insurance company sent me a notice saying they weren’t paying as much for recent dental work as the policy allows. My dentist is off network and out-of-state.

Uh, yeah. It’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island. I live in Connecticut. Of course it’s out-of state!

Here’s the funny part. They only said they weren’t paying me full reimbursement. In reality, they were. So, based on their paperwork, some clerk in Rhode Island and I got to spend quality time together that we’ll never get back.

Then Helaine showed me a statement from my 401-K at work. We’ve been participating over 20 years. There’s a significant amount of money in it now. It said one of the mutual funds we’re in went down over the past few months.

It was a time when the market in general was tanking. I saw that with a quick look at the Dow Jones Industrials Average (which I understand is a mainly worthless barometer).

Are we in the right funds? Not only don’t I know, no one knows!

The experts often make bad calls predicting the markets (and, hey, I know a little bit about predicting). You can get lucky, or just have time on your side. We used the latter.

Unfortunately, the difference between being right and being wrong, when stretched over 20+ years, can make a huge difference. Could I have clicked a different box two decades ago and now be set for life? I will never know if my decisions were the right ones.

We’re trying to get Stef on the right track with her finances. I’ve just applied for a credit card for her. She’ll be responsible, though Helaine and I have to guarantee that by co-signing.

I called my local bank office, spoke to the manager and was on my way… or so I thought. I had to return a call from the bank Monday. They needed to verify it was really me on the phone.

I wasn’t asked my birthdate or SSN. The bank’s operator said, “In the past you’ve owned property. I’ll give you a list, you tell me which one is right.” Then she did basically the same thing with cars I’d owned.

The answer to the car question was a 1992 Camry. “That’s 15 years old,” I said. “I’m not sure the year’s right.”

But it was Helaine who made the more cogent observation. “They know everything about us.”

Alas, they do. Neither the car nor any piece of property was financed through the bank.

Finally, Helaine showed me a mortgage statement on our house. We’ve been there 17 years and have refinanced twice. Each time, we tried to shorten the term and lower the interest rate.

We can actually see a day in the next few years when the house will really be ours.

Does anyone really think, when they buy a house, some day they’ll own it? I sure didn’t.

&#185 – Firesign Theater reference. Thanks for noticing.

Shopping With Stef

Stef wants to make me look good – or so she says. With that in mind, we made a date to drive to the outlet center in Clinton. This is a place I’ve visited, grudgingly, in the past.

Since she was scheduled to work this evening, we planned on leaving at 11:30 AM. That’s a really early Saturday start for both of us. Obviously, that’s one trait she inherited from me.

It was a beautiful early fall kind of day with sunny skies, cool temperatures and an audible breeze. This time of year you really do hear the breeze in the trees.

With the top down, we headed to Clinton. There was traffic as we approached I-95 and a few stop-and-go spots once we got on it.

The outlets were very busy. School is nearly ready to start. That’s got to be part of the reason.

Stef took me to “Off 5th,” Saks outlet store. Zip, zip, zip – five pair of jeans were in her hands. We headed toward the dressing rooms.

I don’t want to embarrass myself too much, but I got locked out of the dressing room three times! It has been a long time since I went clothes shopping, hasn’t it?

And what’s the deal with button fly? Didn’t that go away in the 1850s? I won’t belabor the point, but life’s too short for button fly pants!

We bought two pairs and headed out. I think Stef was surprised it happened so quickly. She’s used to anguishing over every clothing decision. Not me.

We headed to the Cole Hahn store, where I bought two pairs of shoes. Same thing. Speed shopping.

I am curious how one pair of size 11s is comfortable and another won’t even fit on my feet.

We were almost ready to leave, but Stef had a sweatshirt to return. I forget the name of the store (lucky for them). The only two people working had no idea how to take a return and reverse a credit card charge – none!

We waited 45 minutes while they tried everything, and then finally called a manager at another store. Meanwhile, behind us, a line was forming.

We drove home, uneventfully.

You’ve got to be the parent of a post-teenager to understand, but this was a great trip. I’m not talking about the shopping. I’m talking about the company.

Stef was fun to be with – a good, grownup companion. Even at an outlet center, that still has full retail value.

Car Buying Time

The word is out. It’s time to replace Helaine’s SUV.

Of all the purchase decisions in our lives, this is the one we enjoy the least. Seemingly, there’s no good way to buy a car and guarantee you’re getting something good for a good price. How can you not have buyer’s remorse?

I’ve been pouring through Consumer Reports. Most of their info is good. They seem a little heavy handed in the way they push their own service, which provides the actual price a dealer pays for vehicles. I’ll probably swallow hard and buy it anyway. Isn’t Consumer Reports supposed to be a little less self serving?

We went to two dealers today. At the first we looked around, acted sheepish, looked at a few cars and decided which might do.

We realized, after about thirty seconds, their midsize model was too small and their big model too pricey. A salesman came over as we were deciding to leave. I apologize here for costing you an ‘up’.

We’ve scouted out financing, but there’s a ‘deal’ currently underway from the manufacturer. Zero percent for 36 months. That’s a better price (duh) and there are legal advantages to dealer financing.

I have some rules at a car dealership. If you’re my salesman, we are joined at the hip. You cannot leave my side to consult with your manager. If you go, I go. They never like hearing that.

You may not treat me like a fool. If you lie to me, and believe me it’s happened, I will call you on it before I walk out. Lying infuriates me. I do not suffer fools or liars gladly.

Helaine made me promise not to make anyone at the dealership cry. I get a little nuts during the heat of battle, but it’s their fault. Decisions at the ‘car store’ are stacked in their favor. They have all the info. You have little. And, the salesmen have incentive to make you pay as much as is possible.

In the end, we’ll find the car we want and desperately try to get bids from three dealerships. I did that when we bought Helaine’s first SUV and I think it worked well.

I should probably sell Helaine’s car privately. Do I want to be in the used car business? Of course, you lose a lot when you trade a car in.

During the last shopping cycle, long after I left one dealership, the manager related to a friend of mine who just happened to be there, “Geoff Fox was here. He was shopping on price. He won’t be back.”

You’ve got that right, bucko.

Free Stuff To The Wrong People

Usually, when I wake up, the first thing I do is turn on the TV. The news channels are adjacent to each other on the cable, so I pop between 59 and 63 for a few minutes to see if anything is going on.

Hint: The words “BREAKING NEWS” on the screen do not necessarily mean there is breaking news.

Today, as I got to Channel 60 (CNBC), I caught a man who I believe is the president of the company that makes Ugg boots. Uggs were in, then out, now in again.

This is way out of my expertise. I had to look up how Ugg was spelled before I wrote this.

As it turns out (and this has been confirmed by Steffie, with a post graduate level education in footwear) Ugg boots became popular because of this photo. In case you’re not clicking, it’s Pamela Anderson on the beach in a skin tight red bathing suit, wearing Ugg boots.

Hey – come back. It’s only a photo. OK – I’ll wait.

The guy from Ugg admitted they give their product to celebs. Tonight at dinner, Steffie expanded on that.

If I’m reading our conversation correctly, once you’ve made it in Hollywood, purchases of any kind of apparel are unnecessary. Clothes come to you for free!

This must seem reasonable in a world where goody bags, worth tens of thousands of dollars, are given out at the Oscars and Emmys. Stop it. It’s not. You’re moochers.

These people are already rich. Why must the rich continue to be on the dole? In football these actions, the well to do accepting gratuities, would draw a flag for piling on.

I have similar experiences and they make me uncomfortable at best. Mine concern food, not clothing.

If you’re reading this from outside Connecticut, a little background is in order. I have been on TV here every night for over 20 years. In my little world, I am known. When you’re known, people tend to be nice.

Tonight, Helaine, Stef and I went to dinner together. Halfway through the meal the manager came to the table with a beautiful platter – compliments of the house. This happened at our last family dinner too.

I try and be gracious. After all, these people are only trying to be nice. How can that be a fault? Still, I try and explain, they shouldn’t do this… at least not for me.

In some cases, where a restaurateur wanted to comp my meal or greatly reduce the cost, I’ve told them that’s the best way to keep me from coming back! I mean that. There are nice places I no longer eat at.

Afterward, Helaine and I always have the same discussion. Where were these people when we were struggling financially? Right now, it’s my good fortune to make enough to pay my own way.

Maybe I’m the one who’s naive? Maybe Pam Anderson and Paris Hilton and dozens of other celebs are right?

I am honored that people think enough of me to make this offer. But that’s as far as it should go. And I don’t make a fraction of what these ‘real’ celebrities make.

They should just be ashamed of themselves.

Blogger’s addendum: When food has already been prepared and sent to my table, I do not send it back. In this uncomfortable situation, that would be rude. I try and make sure it won’t happen again without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Beakman’s World Returns!

The New York Times says Beakman’s World is back!

OK – maybe I’m a little old to be excited about the return of a kids show, but this is Beakman’s World! My DVR is already set for next Saturday.

I came downstairs to tell Helaine and Steffie. Nothing. Blank stares.

Beakman’s World was a science program feautring Paul Zaloom&#185 as Beakman. It ran on CBS in the 90s. It’s back now in syndication.

Beakman is like Bill Nye on acid!

The show was more than Beakman. There was also Lester D. Rat, an obviously rattily rat suited Mark Ritts. It’s tough to describe this character other than to say Lester was reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy – but funny.

There was also a succession of female sidekicks. The mold was cast early on with Allana Ubach as Josie. She could not have been more condescending toward Beakman… it really worked. The other two were OK, but I couldn’t watch them without wondering what happened to Josie?

In Beakman’s World, it was OK to be silly and smart. In fact, it was encouraged. How can you not love a show like that?

&#185 – Interestingly enough, Zaloom is listed as two clients on his manager’s website – Paul Zaloom and Beakman. They also represent my favorite movie villain, Eric Bogosian.
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Customer Service Redux

Just before we left for vacation, I wrote about the helpful customer service people at Southwest&#185. Friends of mine, frequent fliers, were surprised by this proper treatment.

I’ve got another story to tell. Last night after work, as usual, I sat in front of the TV (Boston Legal, Daily Show, Colbert Report) and played poker online. I’m a crazy multitasking fool.

I did well in my first little $5 tournament, so decided to step up to the $10 version. I played a few minutes and then… nothing.

The software attempted to contact the mothership, but to no avail. The rest of the Internet was fine. I just couldn’t get to the poker site, where my tournament chips were being blinded off.

There is a diagnostic tool within the Pokerstars directory and I ran it, keeping the log.

When I was, once again, able to hit the site, my tournament was over. My money was gone. I was out $11.

I wrote to Pokerstars, telling them what happened. When I woke this morning, there was an email reply (he used the word “whilst”). No one else was affected, just me. It probably wasn’t their fault. But, because I’m a good customer, they refunded my $11.

After I received the email, I revisited my diagnostic files and found the problem was in a router owned by Comcast. It had put my Pokerstars packets into a loop, going back and forth between two routers, never letting them out!

I re-wrote Pokerstars saying I had found the problem, it wasn’t them, and if they wanted their $11 back – please take it.

Another email reply (and another use of whilst) came quickly to say, it was nice of me to be so forthcoming, but as a good customer, they wanted me happy. The money was mine.

I am.

So, is there something to be learned here? I think there is. Both Southwest and Pokerstars treated me nicely. Neither really spent a lot of money to make me happy. For Southwest there was no incremental cost to move me to an earlier flight. For Pokerstars it was a drop in the bucket compared to what they make from my play (paid out of the losings of my opponents).

In both cases their employees had the ability to bend the rules. I sense that’s not often the case.

My opinion is, allowing your employees to bend the rules to help a customer is good for business. Customers appreciate it and are loyal because of it. Yet most companies seem to avoid anything that lets their employees divert from the ‘script.’

Do they need trust their own employees to do the right thing? How sad is that?

Are they that interested in each short term penny that they totally miss the long term? That would be sad too.

I was once a manager – not a very good one. I’m probably not the right person to question management style and policy. Yet as a consumer, the businesses that please me the most and have me as a loyal customer, are those where I feel my patronage trumps hard and fast policy.

When I look at the legacy airlines, cellphone companies, or other hard pressed businesses pinching every penny to stay alive, I seriously wonder they’re on the right track or just saving themselves right into bankruptcy?

Maybe I’m too innocent to understand big business?

&#185 – I don’t know if they’re all helpful – but these folks were.

The Meisels Go Home To New Orleans

Back when Hurricane Katrina was threatening the Gulf Coast, I did my best to get Ruth Meisel out. The day she drove to safety up north was the last time she saw her home, until yesterday.

With her two adult children in tow, Ruth Meisel returned to New Orleans to see what could be salvaged and tie up loose ends. She will be among the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, who will leave their homes and move elsewhere.

New Orleans is being abandoned, wholesale.

I asked her son, my friend, Farrell to type some of his thoughts so I could put them here in the blog. I’ll sprinkle a few of his photos here, though the best way to see them is in this slideshow.

Clean up goes on. 80% of the city was affected. Some parts of the city have begun to function, albeit at half speed. This area is still without electricity and is deemed unsafe. It’s expected that electricity won’t be restored in New Orleans East for six to nine months. My mother returned for the first time since the hurricane and subsequent floods, to survey the damage and see if anything could be saved. She’s suited up and ready to go inside. In the background, my sister, Cheri, ready to suit up, as well.

It’s nice… no, it’s amazing to see Ruth smiling.

Here’s my read. She could be distressed with what she’s about to see, or she could be happy to see she raised her children right, and they are accompanying and supporting her. She chose the latter.

My mother knew from earlier reports and a prior visit by my sister, that things didn’t look so good. She’s been very optimistic and hopeful, looking forward and giving us much encouragement. My mother’s house survived the storm on the outside, but the inside looked and smelled awful and was a total disaster. Entering the front door we were greeted by a living room chair that wasn’t there when my mother left in August. That gives you an idea of how we were greeted.

From the marks on the wall it looks like 4-5 feet of water made it into the house. From the ‘bunny suits’ the Meisel’s wore, you can assume it wasn’t spring water.

Nearly everything was ruined.

One of the things that struck Farrell when we spoke on the phone was the proliferation of signs advertising Katrina related services. There are also markings, scrawled on homes with spray paint.

This house has been FEMA’d. FEMA is not an acronym here. It’s a four-letter word. BTW, so is Bush.
One of the city’s synagogues, Beth Israel, an Orthodox house of worship…Also one of the city’s oldest, which used to be in the historic uptown area until the late 1960s. Also on Canal Blvd, note the watermarks. Reportedly, the head Rabbi fled town, leaving the Torah scrolls to flood and be rescued from religious volunteers. The Rabbi has since been fired. My sister spotted prayer books and prayer shawls on the ground in front of the now-deserted synagogue….a sin in the Jewish religion.

Here’s how Farrell ended his note, and I’ll leave it pretty much intact:

As I visit here, for the first time in several years, 3 months after the devastation that has been chronicled worldwide, I have now discovered: A Missing City. Parts of the city and neighboring parish (Jefferson) we have seen are beginning to function, but it’s slow and without spirit.

In our many conversations with New Orleanians and Jeffersonians, one hears a great deal of anger leveled at Government. I could only find one person with a nice thing to say about President Bush. I asked why? The waitress at the seafood restaurant said it was the Louisiana Governor’s fault for not letting Bush send FEMA and the troops in. I then asked, out of curiosity, did she know that Bush was on a fundraising trip in California for three days before he did a “fly-over”, VP Cheney was buying a vacation house and the Secretary of State was shopping in Manhattan, while her home state, Alabama, was flooded. The waitress hadn’t heard that.

A newspaper stand owner or manager clearly vented his anger towards Bush, but didn’t spare either the local, regional and state governments, but felt, the US Government let Louisiana down.

Most of the Greater New Orleans area, (Orleans and neighboring parishes), as it’s known, with some 1 million people once living there, don’t have electricity, a home, assistance from FEMA, insurance companies, and they feel forgotten just three months after the hurricane and floods.. As is the case with crises the world over, once the cameras leave, the sense of urgency goes with the camera crews.

The stores and shops that are open are operating for limited hours due to two factors: limited shoppers and limited staff.

It’s quite unusual to be driving in one part of the area, say neighboring Metairie, where the shops and malls have reopened, only to continue on Interstate 10 to downtown New Orleans, and pass through darkness because whole areas have no power.

There were some signs of life downtown and in the French Quarter. The beautiful St. Charles Avenue historic areas seemed to be untouched and lit, yet, just a few blocks away, one would have thought we could have been in a war zone.

Rumors of price gouging exist. Household stores are reportedly charging double for goods consumers can buy in the middle of the state or in Mississippi for less. Gasoline is 30 cents a gallon more expensive than in the center of Mississippi or Louisiana reportedly.

Residents feel abandoned now. From the newspaper shop owner to restaurateur, residents don’t feel the city of N.O. census will approach even half of it’s close to 461,000 registered residents.

Employers are looking for employees. Potential employees are looking for housing, assistance from FEMA and the insurance companies, and those are the few, who have returned.

The Times-Picayune reported today that the New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, rumored to be in Washington on business, actually wasn’t there on business, but took his family on vacation to Jamaica. While I’m sure he’s deserving of a break, there are several hundred thousand to one million people, who’d love to take that break, if only they could get some help from the various government agencies so they could get on with their lives and rebuild. And I haven’t even begun to discuss the levee system.

As I write this at 2am Central Standard Time, I was trying to think, after only two days here, how could I best describe what I have seen and heard? The word that comes to mind is “abyss.”

New Orleans, which had once been described as the “city that care forgot,” from an old Mardi Gras tale, has become the bottomless gulf or pit. There are only a handful of truly unique cities in the U.S. with some history and character. When tourists think of those cities, New Orleans had always been in the same company with San Francisco, Boston, New York, Savannah, and perhaps one or two other cities or towns.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest, if there is no sense of urgency, New Orleans could drop off that list in my lifetime.

Please, look at the pictures. It is so sad… so tragic.

Stuffed At Oak Lane

Originally uploaded by geoff_fox.

Every year, just before Thanksgiving, Oak Lane Country Club throws a party for kids from New Haven, Bridgeport and The Valley. It’s a lot of fun. The club hires a disk jockey and the members act as waiters. Everyone eats as though food will never be seen again.

The kids have the best time, but everyone there feels good about it.

In the past there have been sports celebs and players. Tonight it was George Foster, former Met, and from my thirty seconds with him – nice guy.

I was there with Keith Kountz, one of our anchors. We went through the crowd, shaking hands and saying hello. I’m not sure how many 8-13 year olds watch the news, but I know they like me when it snows and school is closed.

I started doing this because Alex, manager of the club, had been very nice to me. Tonight I found out Alex wasn’t doing very well. That was not good news. I hope and pray, but I’m worried.

Like I said, I do it every year… and feel good doing it every time.

Not My Idea of Comedy

There are eight of us here in Las Vegas with the arrival of my sister and brother-in-law. We do lots of stuff on our own, and some things we do together.

We thought it would be fun to do something together tonight, specifically go to the Improv at Harrah’s.

Everything went wrong. Even after it went right, it went wrong!

Helaine (Queen of Vegas) had found a, a website that specializes in half price coupons and tickets for Vegas shows. She had four coupons good for eight tickets to the Improv at Harrah’s.

We all walked across the street to Harrah’s then up the escalator to the box office. We walked up to Yoko who looked at the coupons and said, “I’ve been warned about these,” and refused to take them.

We wanted a manager to speak to, but she said no one would be there until 4:00 PM. I left my card and asked to be called. We headed back across the street.

Meanwhile, Helaine was quite upset. We checked’s website, and sure enough these coupons were still available from Bill. I sent him and email.

With no message from the manager at Harrah’s ticket office by 4:30, I headed back again. This time Stephanie, the manager was there. She too told me they wouldn’t accept the coupon.

I asked them to look at BillHere’s website. If they weren’t accepting these, I wanted them to force him to stop. It wasn’t fair to me or anyone else.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, I got Bill on my cellphone (As it turns out, Bill too didn’t return my call). Bill said the folks at the box office were wrong, didn’t know what they were doing and should call Brooke in the production office.

The Harrah’s people didn’t want to have anything to do with Bill… or call Brooke.

Finally, after a long consultation with her boss, Stephanie accepted our coupons. This saved us about $100 on a $200 purchase.

Everything seemed fine until we got to the Improv. We sat at the side of the stage a few rows back. It’s not a very large place and the sight lines were fine. The sound was not!

From the time the emcee came on stage it was obvious the sound system wasn’t putting anything but bass in our section. We could hear some words, but often at the punchline we’d all be scrambling for a simultaneous English-to-English translation.

My mom and dad, sitting in front of all of us, understood nothing. Nothing!

It was very disappointing. I can’t believe the Improv or Harrah’s doesn’t know about this problem with the sound system.

We heard other people laughing. There must have been parts of the room that heard fine, but not us.

We came back to the Mirage. My sister and brother-in-law, still bushed from their flight, went to bed. The rest of us had a late dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen.

I had the five cheese and tomato pizza – excellent. Helaine had Split Pea Soup and Key Lime Pie. That’s an esoteric combo, but she said they were both great.

Before I leave for the night, a quick word about poker – awful. I did poorly this afternoon and it went downhill later tonight. It was only a late rush that kept me from being creamed.

This was a night when luck really entered in. I just didn’t have the cards. There was only one hand all night that I wish I’d have played differently. One hand would have been the difference between winning and losing!

Steffie Goes To College

Every life has milepost days. Yesterday was certainly one of them, as we took Steffie to college and helped her move into the dorm.

Make no mistake about it. This has affected me. But whatever I’m feeling pales in comparison to what Helaine and Steffie are feeling. I can claim to understand, but I can’t.

Our day started very early. It was supposed to start just early, but Helaine couldn’t sleep. When I woke up, a few hours before my scheduled time, she was already out of the shower.

We planned to leave the house at 7:30 and were pretty much on schedule.

If you’re reading this, waiting for the moment when the wheels fell off the wagon, you might as well stop now. This day went exceptionally smoothly. Nearly everything went as planned and the college was shockingly prepared and organized.

Is this my life we’re talking about?

The trip to Long Island took around two hours. There is a ferry available, but it only makes sense if you are going to far Eastern Long Island – not us. We headed down the Connecticut Turnpike which becomes the New England Thruway at the New York State line.

As we passed over the Throgs Neck Bridge, I realized that at some time Steffie would be making this trip on her own. I wanted to let her know about some tricky exiting.

An hour and a half into a two hour trip is too late to start. The best way is to let her drive it some time, with me in the passenger’s seat.

As we pulled on campus, a uniformed guard moved toward the car. Before Steffie went to her dorm, did she have her 700 number?

Sure, it was under a room and a half’s worth of stuff!

Steffie and I set out for the Student Center. This was actually a good thing, because she was able to get her student ID, which she would need for virtually everything else.

Next stop, the dorm. Steffie’s room is on the 6th floor of a 13 floor tower. The building is poured concrete, with some brick and cinder block. I would suppose if you’re going to build a structure to hold hundreds of 18-22 year olds, you’d want to make as little of it flammable as is possible.

The concrete looks like it was poured into wooden molds, so the grain pattern of the wood is still visible on the building’s exterior. I’m sure some architect somewhere will wince when he reads this, but I like that look. At least dull, drab concrete is given some modicum of texture.

Another campus cop, dressed like a park ranger, was near the dorm, directing traffic. He asked me if I could squeeze into a spot, which I did. The rear hatch of the Explorer was poised at the edge of the sidewalk. Perfect.

We walked inside where Steffie registered for the dorm, got a sticker added to her ID and a key for her room (don’t lose it – replacements are $150). Then we moved back outside for the surprise of the day.

The college had a small fleet of wheeled bright orange carts. Instead of hand carrying a car’s worth of stuff, we filled up the cart (twice) and rolled it to the elevator and then the sixth floor.

Steffie’s room was ‘prison modern’. It’s small room, with large window. The floors are some sort of easily cleaned, plastic derivative. There were two desks, each with a hutch, two dressers and two large standing hanging closets.

Near the door was the outlet for high speed Internet and telephone access. It, and the cable TV/phone jack, were the only real mistakes of the room. In order to bring the Internet to the desk across the room, you’d need to run the school supplied Ethernet cable across the floor… or go out and buy a fifty foot cable (which is what I did).

I thought Steffie had overpacked… and maybe she did… but she managed to squeeze everything into her half of the room. Once she put some photo montages and other personal touches on the wall, the room began to look homey.

While Helaine and Steffie fixed the living space, I tackled the electronics. Her computer quickly connected to the school’s network. Her two speakers and subwoofer sounded great on her desk.

At one time a student would pack up a small stereo system for a dorm room. There’s really no reason to do that anymore. Steffie’s laptop will serve as her stereo. It’s loaded with all the MP3’s that are in her iPod, and then some. Plus, it will play CDs.

All this time, while the unpacking and set up was going on, Steffie was alone. Her roommate, coming from Kansas, had not yet arrived. Half the room was warm and fuzzy. The other half was Cellblock-G sterile.

Being on the sixth floor and facing west, the room has a great view. The building in the center of this photo is North Shore Towers (where my friend Peter’s parents once lived), about eight miles away.

As the afternoon moved along, we realized there were a few items we had forgotten, so we headed out, looking for a ‘big box’ store to load up.

When I went to college, there was an old black and white TV in the common area in the basement. With its rabbit ears antenna, we could only get a few fuzzy signals. The was Boston’s Back Bay, where even a rooftop antenna brought ghostly signals and where cable wouldn’t be introduced for at least a decade or more.

Today, there is cable TV in each room! Steffie has multiple channels of HBO. Hey, we don’t have that at home!

We had decided to wait on getting her a TV until we got there. And, quite honestly, there wouldn’t have been room in the car.

First stop was Best Buy. It must have been a cold day in hell for me to walk in there, because Best Buy and I just don’t get along. I don’t want to go into the whole story, but my last trip to a Best Buy, much closer to home, ended with me screaming at the manager, “OK then, call the cops.”

We found an off brand 20″ TV for… Oh, go ahead, guess. I’m waiting.

The TV was $87.99. How is that humanly possible?

Forget the labor and parts. How can you ship a weighty box halfway around the world and build a Best Buy on the profit from this thing? I’m not sure how is possible. The TV has remote control and input jacks for a DVD and/or VCR.

The remote came with batteries!

We also picked up a little DVD player. Sure, the computer can play DVDs, but this is what she wanted… and again, it was dirt cheap. The DVD player was $31.99.

Here’s what I can’t figure out. How can this TV/DVD combination sell for less than the frames for my eyeglasses? There’s some disconnect here… or the ability to make a boatload of money producing cheap frames.

The TV fit nicely on top of Steffie’s dresser. The DVD player needed to be turned into one corner. It’s not optimal, but it will do. It’s a dorm room, after all.

Next stop for us was the theater for a lecture on fire safety. I had already given Steffie my own cautionary tale about fire alarms and dorms. It will go off often. She still needs to leave. She can’t take the chance it will always be a false alarm.

There was another paragraph here about the lecturer, his demeanor and his warmth. I have removed it because I don’t want to be sued. ‘Nuff said.

Evening was approaching and Steffie’s roommate was still a no show.

At the lobby of the dorm there was a short list of who wasn’t there. The list grew shorter as names were crossed off. Not this one. She was top of the list and still missing in action.

We went to a barbecue on the intramural field. There were previously warm hot dogs and cheeseburgers (with unmelted cheese on the burgers) and we ate away.

Time was running short. Helaine and I had to return to Connecticut. We didn’t want to leave Steffie before the roommate arrived, but we had no choice.

Our goodbyes were tearful. Steffie put on wide sunglasses, but tears still poured out. Helaine was no less emotional.

After being with Steffie virtually every day for 18 years, we would be separated. Helaine will be seeing her in a month. It will be longer for me.

If you would have asked me how Steffie would fare in college a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a ready, positive answer. It’s different now. This last year has seen her mature a lot.

She has said, and I believe her, that she’s ready for college and the college experience. I think she is.

It will be interesting to see how she ‘plays with others’. As an only child, Steffie has had her own bedroom, bathroom and playroom. Now she’ll be sharing a room with one girl and a bathroom with a floor of them.

There are so many things to learn in college. Classroom work is only one part of a very large experience.

Blogger’s note: Steffie’s roommate arrived, alone, right after we left. She had packed light with more being shipped over the next few days.

Comedy Central Good and Bad and Bad

Recently, three shows on Comedy Central left an impression with me. Talking about my impressions is this blog’s reason for being, so here we go.

Somehow I was enticed to watch the Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson. I never watched Baywatch. I did see her over-the-top private detective show, “VIP,” more than once.

I was impressed by Pamela, not because of her acting (because I didn’t really think there was acting involved in that show) but because of her ability to make fun of herself and do it in a way I felt was attractive.

It’s not a physical attraction I’m talking about. She just made herself seem like she was having a good time.

With all this in mind, I DVR’ed the roast. Awful. Terrible. Disappointing. Filthy too.

There were too many comics reading their material. There was too much that wasn’t funny. And, if Courtney Love has really been off drugs for a year… wow, it’s just very sad.

Next up on the hit parade is the new show, “Too Late with Adam Corolla.” Like Pam, Adam is someone I’ve found funny. Not all the time, but often enough that I’d tune in.

I’d better make a confession here. At one time, one of my best friends was his manager. That relationship won’t affect what I write, but you certainly should know about it.

Within the first fifteen seconds of this show, I began to smell the giblet gravy. This was a major turkey unfolding!

The first, then second, then third joke bombed. I’m talking about deathly silence from a studio audience that came to have fun.

Less than a minute in and I was breaking out in a sweat!

It was just unbearable to watch. The smart alec persona that drives so much of what Adam Carolla does began to seem smarmy and mean spirited.

I hit the buttons and erased the show. Then I unset the auto record function.

Maybe I did rush to judgment in the first minute or so, but it seemed so unsalvagable. If somehow I hear a good buzz, I’ll try again… but that seems so unlikely right now.

OK – that’s two bad. Now the good.

I am a huge Jon Stewart fan. He is the funniest man on television and has the only show I watch religiously. On top of that, he’s really smart. I value that above nearly everything else.

Of all the things Stewart does, what impresses me most and what I’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere, is his ability to be a straight man. This is one of the most difficult things a comedian can do and certainly one of the most valuable.

A good straight man must hold a moment. The natural reaction for a comedian, after someone else tells a joke, is to move on to the next laugh or try and top it. Not Jon Stewart.

Often Stewart can extend the laugh for one of his supporting players, making that person even funnier. And, to climb this comedic pinnacle, he has done little more than look into the camera. But, he has intensified what preceded him.

He is of George Burns or Bud Abbot quality.

Overall, the power of The Daily Show is to shine a light on the absurd, even if it didn’t seem absurd at the time. What people say… what they do… often seems comical once you step back and take a closer look.

Of the secondary players, the best by far is Steven Colbert. He is consistently funny. Coming on strong is Rob Corddry, a modern day, hipper, edgier, Fred Willard type.

What I don’t like about The Daily Show are the majority of their ‘field pieces.’ Often, they take advantage of people who are too innocent to realize they’re being made fun of. The Daily Show staff is too smart to need to do this. I just hit fast forward.