The Ex-Pat Life, or Farrell Meisel – Man Of Mystery

He called me to offer me a job. It was August 1980. It was the same day I met Helaine. We’re still friends. Helaine and me too.

My first contact with Farrell Meisel was on the phone. He called me to offer me a job, in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. It was August 1980. It was the same day I met Helaine.

We’re still friends. Helaine and me too.

Farrell’s no longer in US TV. Nowadays he brings his TV expertise to foreign station owners.

He launched the first commercial channel in Russia, for Ted Turner, following the fall of the USSR in 1992, has done consulting in Turkey, ran a huge cluster of radio and TV networks in Singapore, inaugurated Alhurra, the US government funded Arab language TV station for the Mideast, and ran a TV station in Warsaw, Poland. I’m sure I’ve left something out.

At the moment, his consulting hat is on again. He’s in Bucharest, Romania.

Farrell is an ex-pat, the slang term for a foreign national abroad. He seems most comfortable in that role.

To me, the ex-pat life is a throwback to the 50s, with more structure and formality than modern day America. It is a life where there is still customer service and where men are addressed as “sir.”

Obviously, this is all a guess. I don’t even have a valid passport.

Yesterday, Farrell sent me some observations from Romania. I asked him if I could share?

Every city I’ve visited or worked in is unique, special and odd in its own way. It’s not a criticism, but a simple observation. You’d think, with all the traveling, I would have seen it all.

Bucharest has surprised me, too.

There aren’t enough parking spaces and lots in the city, so drivers create their own parking places!

For example: they just park in the middle of the street. That’s right, why park on the side when they can just park their car in the middle of the street or in front of another car, blocking a car?

They also park on side walks. Not just one or two cars, but several. Last night, there were three rows of cars parking on a side street, horizontally around the corner from my apart-hotel. Not in an assigned spot, but on the street.

I found it amazing that my driver, Nelu, could squeeze the company’s VW Passat through the narrow space between cars.

It is simply brilliant. Now I know why Romania is in the EU!

I laughed in amazement and had to explain to to Nelu why I was laughing. He said, “but, sir, this is Bucharest. Since the revolution we have no rules”.

Bucharest has a tram system like many classic European cities. Many of the routes are over unruly green grounds (the grass not cut due to underfunding by the government), but several parts of the routes are on pavement. Since traffic is so bad, and there are only 2 lanes on each side of the main streets, what do drivers do? Simple: They drive on the rails in front of or behind the trams!

This morning was the best. There must have been at least a dozen cars naturally driving on the center medium on one of the main lines in the center in the city . And the trams could not go anywhere.

I must have my camera ready later today or in tomorrow’s rush hour. Simply perfect.

Bucharest, Romania traffic

Bucharest, Romania traffic

Bucharest, Romania traffic

The Long Journey Ends

This is it. Today is my last ‘in-a-row’ day at the TV station.

It’s funny. I love my job, but after working 20 of 21 days, I’m ready to leave it for a little while. My short term goal is to lay back and do nothing. I’m not sure that’s in the cards.

When you forecast the weather, it’s tough to get away from it. This afternoon I got calls from my friend Farrell, flying from Palm Springs, CA to Warsaw, Poland via Chicago.

Chicago… December… Doh!

He made his connection and is sipping champagne somewhere over the murky Atlantic on LOT Airlines Flight 2.

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and her husband weren’t so lucky. They called from DTW (Detroit Wayne County), on their way from Ft. Lauderdale to Milwaukee.

Again: Detroit… December… hello!

MKE was closed for plowing and their flight was cancelled! Later, Detroit would get a taste of winter.

While I was answering some weather question, my niece (who I easily could have dropped as an infant) made a snide comment about my forecasting abilities.

God is good. She’s stuck in Detroit atoning for her sins.

Snow is coming here Sunday night. I intend on observing while wearing pajamas.

Blogger’s addendum: Farrell, upon arrival at Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, sent this correction:

Thank you for including me in your blog entry. It’s always fun to see my name in print!

I’d like to make one small correction, while commending you on your PinPoint (TM) forecast. Over the “murky Atlantic,” I was sipping Chateauneuf du Pape, which is the most famous Cotes du Rhone wine in France. It was delicious.

People Continue To Die

My friend Farrell, currently winning hearts and minds in Warsaw, Poland, just sent me the news – Joey Bishop is dead.

Bishop was a fixture of late night television in the late 60s, often subbing for Johnny Carson, then hosting his own talk show on ABC (where Regis Philbin got his network start… and nearly his end).

Hosting on the very weak ABC, versus the well established Johnny Carson, Bishop was an immediate underdog. His status as a member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack was a small mitigating factor, but in the end not enough.

Originially a standup comic (Comedy Central says he’s #96 on the all time 100 best), everything I’ve heard in the last decade or so said Joey Bishop was a very bitter, angry and not very nice guy. I’ve got a list of people like that, performers who felt they deserved more success than they got and couldn’t get over it. It seems like an awful way to live out your life.

Bishop was know for the phrase, “Son of a gun.” It was said in an almost question-like way. Typing the letters doesn’t have the same impact as hearing him say them.

Also entering the ‘file footage’ category yesterday was Teresa Brewer. Her top-40 hits, Ricochet and Music!, Music!, Music!, came too early for me to care about.

She’s important in my life, because she was the first ‘act’ I saw in Las Vegas. It was 1975, I was traveling the west with my friend Bob, and we went to Caesar’s Palace to see her open for Rowan and Martin.

The stage was large and full of people. We sat where the maitre’d sat losers and bumpkins – far from the action.

Rowan and Martin were hosting Laugh In at the time. It was one of the hottest shows on TV. They were OK. Teresa Brewer was dynamite.

I’d never seen a show like that before, with a polished performer and big band. This was old school Vegas, still extremely glitzy and moneyed. In the midst of her act, she brought on John Bubbles&#185, someone I knew nothing about. When they tap danced, I was blown away.

She was tiny, but her voice was huge. I remember thinking how close her performance was to the original records I’d heard on the radio.

If, before I went, you would have asked if I wanted to see Teresa Brewer, I would have said, “No.” I left as a fan.

I’m sorry I never got to meet her to tell her that. A performer can never hear enough praise.

&#185 – From Wikipedia: In 1978, John Bubbles spoke at the Variety Arts Theatre in Los Angeles as a participant in a seminar on vaudeville. Someone asked him who the best tap dancer was. Bubbles answered, “You’re looking at him.”

Calling France – Bonjour Farrell

How much does it cost to call France? Don’t answer yet.

Stef has an assignment for a journalism course. She has to compare media in the United States with media in another country. I know two people who’ve worked in media in Singapore. I suggested she choose that. Contacts are invaluable.

My friend Farrell, who now runs a TV network in Poland, used to run stations in Singapore. Usually we talk on the computer, using IM or email. To ask some questions for Stef, I figured I’d call.

It’s not that easy.

There’s a broadcasters’ convention currently underway in Cannes, France. Farrell is there.

He gave me his phone number, tapping it out on his Blackberry via IM and I called the hotel… but instead of getting it, I got a recording telling me my call couldn’t go through and I should check with my system administrator.

That’s me! I hate when that happens.

A quick call to my VOIP phone provider, Broadvoice (where tech support answered on the FIRST RING!!!) brought an equally quick answer. Buried two menus deep on their website was a checkbox allowing international calls on my account. The box was unchecked.

When you call a hotel in France, they answer in French. I don’t know enough to ask for a room, so I panicked and blurted out my request in English. The operator totally understood.

“Merci,” I said… though probably too late for her to hear. Farrell picked up a second later.

I have to say, the quality of this call was very impressive. Because I was typing notes, I had him on the speakerphone. Helaine commented he sounded better than if he were on my cellphone.

So, how much for the call? My plan, Broadvoice’s least expensive, is $9.95 per month for unlimited calls to Connecticut. International is extra.

Ready?

Each minute to France was 3&#162! That’s crazy.

I remember, in 1967, when AT&T totally overhauled its rate structure for domesticlong distance calls. Station-to-station, direct dial calls within the United States went down to 10&#162 per minute as long as the call was placed after 11:00 PM or on the weekend.

We live in amazing times for technology.

My Grandfather

My grandfather, Sol Drelich at work in his Brooklyn lunchenonette

My folks are doing some minor redecorating down in Florida. They had a closet rebuilt with shelves.

Of course rebuilding a closet also means cleaning a closet. Everything came out and my folks started to sift through things they hadn’t seen in years. That’s what takes the most time, because you really want to savor every bit of history you find.

As is so often the case, my mom kept a lot of memorabilia┬╣. I’m glad she did. The picture attached to this entry is part of the haul. It’s my grandfather, Sol Drelich, taken in the restaurant he owned, probably sometime in the pre-war 1940s.

The prices jump out first. Imagine paying that today!

What’s not so obvious is my grandfather. He came here from Poland. He chose to leave Poland rather than serve in the army.

When he came to the United States he had nothing. He spoke no English, only Polish and Yiddish. In New York City, that was OK. There were thriving communities where Polish or Yiddish were all you needed.

He worked hard as a waiter, learned English, met my grandmother, Rose, and started a family – my mother, Betty, and her sister, Norma.

As time went on, Grandpa bought his own restaurants. With his partner Nat (always referred to simply as “Spiegel” – his last name), he owned a series of luncheonettes. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, they owned a little place right at the foot of the stairs of the Rutland Road Station of the IRT.

I loved that little restaurant. When I’d go, taking the subway all the way from Queens, Grandpa would show me off like a trophy. I didn’t realize that at the time – though I do now.

He also let me work behind the counter, where I’d pour coffee, get Cokes and generally slow things down. From time-to-time I also worked the register.

I remember being at the cash register, at the front of the store, when a policeman came to pay his bill. There were always policemen there. Grandpa ran to move me out of the way.

It was only later I found out, police officers ate for half price. Captains, lieutenants and other supervisors ate free. Coffee was always free for anyone in uniform, police or fire.

Was that illegal? I’m sure it was.

I know why Grandpa did that. Having cops in his restaurant in this very tough neighborhood was good for business. If it were my business, I might do the same thing.

There’s a lot of me that comes from Grandpa. My quick temper – unfortunately – is one part.

He always talked to me as if he knew I would be a success, even though he didn’t know at what. There was never any doubt that I’d go to college and make something of myself. He wanted me to be more successful than he was.

As a little kid Grandpa took me aside more than once to tell me about the Nazis and their concentration camps. That’s where his entire family was killed. He knew his stories scared me, but that was the point.

I can close my eyes right now and see him, in front of his little Cape Cod in Laurelton, Queens, telling me. We stood face-to-face as he went through it piece-by-piece; how the Nazis would herd the Jews and send them to “take a shower.”

Grandpa has been gone a long time now. He never got to see me on TV. I wish he had. I know he would have been very proud, even though he would have preferred me becoming a doctor.

I wish you could have met my grandfather. You would have liked him.

┬╣ – As long as I’m mentioning my parents memories, I should give a plug to the little video I produced about how my parents met.

Going to the Candidates Debate

I am poised for tonight’s presidential debate from Coral Gables. Like hurricane coverage that starts two days before the storm arrives, the TV pundits have run out of valuable things to say.

Here’s my point: Debates can affect elections.

As close as it was, Al Gore’s horrendously stiff show in the last election debates probably cost him the presidency. Remember ‘lock box,’ a phrase he obviously wanted to get in no matter what was asked?

There was Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” to Walter Mondale, Gerald Ford’s premature freeing of Poland from communist rule, and Richard Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.

Tonight I hope it’s not a gaffe that eliminates one man from the presidency, but a realization by the voters of where they stand vis a vis the other.

I recently watched an entire George Bush campaign stop on ABC World Now. There was no commentary and no cut aways. Bush was masterful. I was extremely impressed at his warm, folksy style. To see it used so effectively was unexpected, to say the least. If he can pull that off in this debate (of course in a campaign appearance he never faces critical commentary or questions from his audience as he will tonight), Kerry might as well start wind surfing tomorrow.

On the other hand, for the first time, Kerry gets seen in context with the president. Will he look presidential, compared to the man who currently defines that role? If he does, that goes a long way to calming some fears.

How will he handle the charge of flip flop? If John Kerry changes that perception, Bush has a much tougher opponent for the next 33 or so days.

Will either candidate attack the other? If so, how will the voters react? It can be looked at as a sign of strength, or the trait of a desperate man, depending on how the attack is wielded.

This will be very interesting to watch. I’ll be glued to my seat.