Jul 21

Sidewalk in the sky

Chris 'Repman, Jr.’ Cody and I just took a stroll along the “Sidewalk in the Sky.” That's the  nickname mountain guide par excellence Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com) gives to the Knife's Edge, a 1.1 mile long section of Maine's rugged, 11-mile long, 5,200 ft. tall Mt. Katahdin. DSCN6511ll

The “sidewalk” is treacherous. At points, it's only 18 inches wide with vertical drops of 2,000 feet on either side. One false step and any concerns about clients, new business or the national debt will come to an immediate and eternal end. But, that's precisely what makes the climb so refreshing. One MUST focus on every single step; ergo, one CANNOT think of anything else.

When I return to the office from one of these forays, I feel totally refreshed in a way that more sedentary vacations simply can't match.

Most people think I'm crazy. But, I'm just living my life. In fact, what I do pales in comparison to what such uber, middle-age athletes as Diana Nyad attempt. In case you missed Tuesday's NY Times Science section, the 61-year-old dynamo is about to swim 60 hours in shark infested waters to cover the 103 miles from Cuba to Key West. If she succeeds, Nyad will shatter every existing long distance swimming record.

Here's the coolest part about what Nyad's doing: she's not alone in her pursuit of athletic excellence at an age when most humans curl up on a couch and zone out to the latest episode of 'Glee’. Fifty-two-year old Jeannie Longo is still an elite cyclist. Gordie Howe played ice hockey in his 50s. George Blanda started as an NFL quarterback in his late 40s. And, Jack LaLane was 60 when he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000 pound boat. And, they call me crazy).

Nyad says she swims to inspire others.”I hope a couple will say I want to live life like that (at the age of 61)." She added that her parent's generation considered 60 to be old. Not Nyad. "I'm in the middle of middle age.”

I like that line: the middle of middle age. I think I'll use it the next time I take a stroll along the Sidewalk in the Sky.

Jun 29

Golden Years

174857103v1_225x225_FrontI'm 57 today. That's old. It sounds old and it looks old. As a matter of fact, 57 only looks good on  the label of a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

Turning 57 is an actuarial wake-up call. There's no denying that, statistically speaking, I'm much closer to the end than the beginning. But, to add insult to injury, there are lots of other signs that Father Time is breathing down my neck. To wit:

– An attractive young lady in a bar smiles at me, walks up and whispers in my ear, 'Excuse me sir. But is anyone using that stool next to you? We'd like to borrow it." (Note: sir = elderly).
– A friend shows my photo to her friend who responds by saying, “My, he's rather distinguished looking, isn't he?” (Note: distinguished looking = dissipated. Sean Connery is distinguished looking. I do NOT want to be called distinguished looking.).
– An otherwise intelligent intern tells me she's never heard of a DeLorean or the 'Back to the Future' movies. (Note: it's no fun to be surrounded by a whole new generation of employees who are clueless about ANYTHING that occurred before 1990).

That carnage aside, I'm absolutely loving 57. In fact, I think I've crammed more living in the past five years than I had in the previous 52.

'They' say experience is one advantage that comes with aging. But, they rarely mention another less obvious, but more important, value-add: freedom.

I'm now totally free to take risks and try things that would have been unthinkable 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. They include performing improvisation and stand-up comedy, as well as rock, ice and mountain climbing. Toss in some long-distance cycling, gyrotonic (www.bodyevolution.com) and devising brand new Peppercom service offerings and you'll have an inkling of just how free I feel at such an advanced age.

I've been blessed. But, I've also embraced risk.

In fact, I now understand what David Bowie meant when he sang in 'Golden Years': 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere.'

There are two ways to go through life: you take life or life takes you. You're either a driver who take risks and isn't afraid to fail or you're a passenger who blames others when your dreams don't come true.

Whether you're 27, 37, 47 or 57, do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel as soon as possible. You never know. It might just end up being a mint condition DeLorean and you might just end up having the time of your life.

Make the most of your golden years. They'll be over before you know it.

Jun 13

Despite BP Disaster, Tourism No Longer “Slip Slidin’ Away” for Gulf Shores

Today's guest post is by Peppercomer Sam Ford.

Would last summer’s daily dose of tragedy from BP and a gulf full of grade A “black gold…Texas  223226_652727826048_709098_34420278_5301955_n tea” keep you from vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico? We didn’t let it, and I couldn’t be happier about our experience.

Not too long ago, my family and I decided to take a trip to the beach. My wife and I were married on the beach, a little over 10 years ago, to be exact, in Charleston, SC. But, in all honesty, we hadn't been on much of a vacation since. (Even that wasn't a vacation, since my best man ended up bumming around in our beach house for the first part of the honeymoon, before we could get rid of him.)

So, to say our next beach vacation was a bit overdue is an understatement. Amanda and I are both notoriously bad about having trouble unplugging from work, but we decided to make our trip as device-free as possible, especially to give our 2-year-old daughter (Emma Belle Ford, pictured) some dedicated attention before her little sister arrives in a few months.

The only question was, "Where?" We talked about heading back to South Carolina. But, as we shopped around, we found that the "steal of a deal" was Gulf Shores, Alabama.

I've never been to Gulf Shores. I'd been close by for a basketball team trip to Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., in high school. (My physique might reveal I was a staff member, not a player…) Plenty of family and friends had piled down in years past, including my wife in her youth of summer "extended family vacations." But, given my requirements were really just peace and quiet, it seemed a good fit.

What I wasn't sure of is what the state of Gulf Shores would be. After being hit hard in tourism by the BP oil spill of last season, they'd put some significant effort in convincing people their food was still fresh, their beaches still viable and their town still a destination for your vacation dollars.

And our trip was no disappointment. The people were friendly. Business seemed back up. And there was no shortage of outlet mall shopping, seafood restaurants, and kitschy family activities. We spent most of our time at the pool. (And enjoyed some fine dining at Lambert's Cafe– any place that brings sorghum and fried potatoes by your table for free during dining and aims rolls at your head during the meal is fine by me.)

I ran into a fellow former Kentuckian who helped manage the local donut shop, and she predicted that business would only be down by about a third from two years ago, something to celebrate by standards of the previous summer.

But one sign ensured me that Gulf Shores was "back": when I picked up The Mullet Wrapper, Gulf Shores' local publication of what's happening (and I'm sure the source of much derision from snarky tourists along the way…), staring back at me was Paul Simon.

Now, caveat: I am an ardent Paul Simon fan. His music is the soundtrack of my life. And his latest album was the soundtrack of my vacation, played through I'm sure several dozen times throughout the week. But, according to The Mullet Wrapper, Paul was a sign that the tourist drought had ended for this beach destination. As part of the release of Paul's new album, So Beautiful or So What?, he was headlining their Hangout Music Festival on the beach. (The Foo Fighters were also on the roster of performers, among others.)

Unfortunately, my vacation ended right as the 35,000 people swarmed the beach to see Paul prove he's "still crazy after all these years." But, as I drove back to Kentucky with his new song "Rewrite" playing in the background, I couldn't help but think that Gulf Shores might have just found a rewrite of its own.

Jun 07

Another day, another summit

P60204mmmm80 Some people prefer to lounge on a Caribbean beach. Others play the tables in Vegas. Me? I climb mountains. And, I do it with my best friend, Chris, who doubles as my son.

This past week, we joined a few other good friends to attempt Colorado's formidable, 14,197 ft. Mt. Princeton.

We were dubious of success because, aside from the acclimatization challenges, all of Colorado's 60 something 14k'ers were buried in snow. In fact, locals told us this past winter was the worst in memory, with three times the average amount of snowfall.

So, when we arrived, we heard lots of conflicting reports, such as:

– “There's at least eight feet of snow on top of every 14k'er.”
– “The small stream you see on your way up will be a raging river on your way down.” (Note: as a notoriously weak swimmer, I envisioned myself being dragged under a class five rapid as I struggled for air.)
– “Everything north of Buena Vista (our base) is buried, but you just might find something passable due south.”

It wasn't until we happened on a seasoned local guide by the name of Mike Mays that things began to look up. Mays, who knows Vern Tejas, the legendary guide who took us up Russia's Mt. Elbrus, said there were two or three 14k'ers that could be summited. His words were echoed the very next day by a clerk at the local climbing, biking and kayaking outfitter.

And so, throwing caution to the wind, we decided to give it a go. It turned out to be a brutal slog, replete with few trails, lots of huge boulders and, of course, the requisite snow. At some points, we went in right to our hips. But, the snow was stable and there weren't huge mounds of it directly above, so we continued.

In all, it took 10 hours and 30 minutes to make it to the top and back. But, it was well worth it. In fact, I highly recommend a week of climbing, cycling and running at high altitude as a superb remedy to the stresses of everyday life.

I understand why most people prefer sucking down margaritas in Cancun or playing the roulette wheel at the Mandalay Bay. Me? I'll just keep climbing and smiling.

May 18

We need the Navy Seals to take down the bin Laden of Burgers

Some 55Presentation10 leading health care professionals and organizations have signed their names to a  full-page advertisement running today in six national newspapers. It's a call to action pleading with McDonald's to stop its sleazy, subversive marketing to kids and to retire their damnable corporate icon, Ronald McDonald.

Fuggedaboutit! The ad won't work because McDonald's won't stop marketing to kids. They can't. The impact on future sales would be too horrible to contemplate. (Could you imagine life without plus-sized families wolfing down Big Macs five times a week? How positively un-American.)

Instead, America's health groups should get serious, mobilize their monies, marshal their troops, and declare war on McDonald's. And, public enemy number one of what I'm calling 'Operation: Waistline' should be Ronald McDonald himself.

In my mind, Ronald's the bin Laden of Burgers, the Pol Pot of Poor Diets and the Hitler of Healthy Living.

And, I'd engage the same elite Seal 6 team that took out bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound for this surgical strike. Why not? They've got a proven plan and are ready to roll.

I'd have the Seals initiate a midnight raid on Mickey D's Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters. I'll bet they'd catch Ronald watching the tube (hopefully nothing worse than PG-13 content). I picture him lying in bed, wearing just his red overalls. He'll have an arm draped around one or more of his morbidly obese wives while puffing on a cigarette and scarfing down some fries and a chocolate shake.

As was the case with bin Laden, I'd tell the Seals to take him down ASAP. Who knows what a cornered corporate icon might do in a moment of desperation? Waste him. Plus, no one wants Ronald McDonald alive and put on trial. The guy's a real charmer and that red and yellow costume might just sway a jurist or two. No, I'd tell the Seals to put one bullet just above Ronald's eye.

Then, let's bury him in an undisclosed location in Lake Michigan. We don't want McDonald's fanatics making a shrine out of Ronald's final resting spot.

The Mob likes to say if you 'cut off the head, the body will die.' I think health care professionals need to adopt the same strategy with McDonald's. Whack Ronald and watch our nation's obesity epidemic (and waistlines) slowly, but surely, contract.

One caveat to the Seals, though. Do yourselves a public relations favor and don't adopt an American Indian code word such as Geronimo for Ronald. There's no need to undermine the results by alienating an important minority.

So, let's get to work. Let's infiltrate Ronald's inner circle, use some advanced terror techniques to determine his daily habits, get some spy satellites to focus their cameras on his compound and get this deed done. If Obama doesn't want to issue the final execute command, I will.

Ronald McDonald must die if America is to live. It's go time!!!!

May 05

Krispy Kreme is pleased to announce we’ll be awarding special prizes to any runners suffering strokes or heart attacks during today’s run

Polls_KrispyKremeCake2_1755_385816_answer_3_xlargeThere’s gross. There’s negligent. There’s just plain stupid. And, then there’s the Norcross High  School Relay for Life.

Intended to raise money for charity (which is always a good, wise and noble thing), this particular race is underwritten by Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And, if there’s one foodstuff that makes a Big Mac seem healthy in comparison, it has to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut. In fact, I have to believe the average KK doughnut packs more calories than an AK-47 does bullets. And, I can only imagine the immediate and profound damage inhaling one, if not six, of these caloric-laden mounds of mush must have on the cardiovascular system.

But, why should a runner’s health, nutrition and wellness concerns stop Norcross High School and Krispy Kreme from staging a race that requires competitors to eat a half dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts halfway through!  Are they serious? Never mind the long-term damage. Ever try running on a full stomach? It’s not fun. Ever see The Office episode in which Dwight and Michael conspire to ensure the latter wins the Dundler-Mifflin 5k race by having Michael load up on carbohydrates by consuming a plate of pasta just before race time? It wasn’t pretty.

Krispy Kreme’s race sponsorship deserves immediate enshrinement in the Repman Marketing Hall of Shame. It also belongs on Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks segment (if such a segment existed).

On the other hand, if Krispy Kreme can sponsor runs, why can’t Lucky Strike cigarettes sponsor long-distance cycling races? And, how about Absolut Vodka awarding cash prizes to mountaineers who can consume a fifth of vodka en route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro? The possibilities are endless.

So, how about it, Rep readers. Gimme some of your suggestions on corporate sponsorship ideas from hell. We did well with the recent soy industry re-positioning taglines. But, that was a walk in the park compared to this atrocity. So, let’s have at it. And, if possible, please consume six doughnuts before posting your ideas. Distended stomachs can produce a lot of hot air.

And  a big starter’s gun shoutout to Greg Schmalz for this post idea.

Apr 25

Dear Prudence

A recently published book entitled, The Longevity Project puts the lie to conventional wisdom  about the keys to a long and healthy life. Authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, picked up on an original study that began in 1921 with 1,528 San Francisco 11-year-olds and analyzed what personality traits and lifestyle choices made some members of the original cohort far outlive their peers.

Happy-old-folksGuess what? Things such as optimism, happiness, a good marriage and the ability to handle stress didn’t rate very highly. Instead, the “…best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness. The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person wins out every time.” And, that has to be very bad news for those of you who double and triple book meetings and/or maintain sloppy cubicles.

he exhaustive study also confirmed what I’d always read and believed: “Genes constitute about one-third of the factors leading to a long life. The other two-thirds have to do with lifestyle and chance.”

When one looks beneath the surface, it’s easy to see why prudence and persistence are so important to longevity say the authors. Conscientious people are more likely to live healthy lifestyles, to not smoke or drink to excess, wear seat belts and follow doctors’ orders. Prudent and persistent people also tend to find themselves in healthier, happier workplaces and personal relationships. They also understand the importance of stress. “There’s a misconception about stress,” says Dr., Friedman. “People think everyone should take it easy. Rather, he says, “a hard job that is also stressful, but which enables people to eventually succeed, leads to a longer life.” So much for retiring to Del Boca Vista and playing golf every day.

One finding really struck home with me. Optimism has a huge downside. “If you’re cheerful, very optimistic, especially in the face of illness and recovery, if you don’t consider the possibility that you might have setbacks, than those setbacks are harder to deal with.” says Dr. Martin. “If you’re one of those people who think everything’s fine–the stress of failure, because you haven’t been more careful, is harmful. You almost set yourself up for more problems.”

I may die tomorrow, but I have to say The longevity Project made me smile for a number of reasons. First, because by recognizing that I was working in a toxic environment in the mid-1990s, I walked away from it and, along with Ed, created a workplace I knew I’d enjoy. Second, and this sentence is aimed directly at our firm’s management committee, I have always considered myself a ‘realist’ when it comes to such things as new business presentations, employee issues, economic downturns or other fundamental challenges.  As a result, I never expect to win a big, new piece of business, retain an important employee who’s being wooed away by a competitor or change the mindset of a clique within Peppercom who take exception to a particular management decision. My peers call me a pessimist. Rather, I’m doing exactly what the authors suggest is a key ingredient to longevity: I’m not setting myself up for more problems by being overly optimistic.

Anyway, that’s my take on The Longevity Project. What’s yours? Sorry, but I’ve got to run. I have another 40 years to live.

Mar 09

Standing Room Only

This is the first of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Ann Barlow.

Until now, one of the few complaints that I've had about BART, San Francisco's commuter and city  train service, is the lack of adequate seating to accommodate all the passengers. But after reading a report shared by Peppercom friend Greg Schmalz, I'm starting to feel grateful for the many times when overcrowding has forced me to stand. 

Bacteria_cartoonIt seems that some testing conducted by a supervisor with San Francisco State University's biology lab revealed that the cushioned, upholstered seats contain a lot more than the behinds of passengers. Drug-resistant bacteria and fecal matter (among my favorite euphemisms) were discovered, and attempts to clean them with wipes doused in alcohol failed to adequately remove the disgusting and potentially dangerous organisms.

When I moved to the Bay Area from the New York area five-plus years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the commuter train service. Like RepMan, I suffered for years from NJT's utter indifference to passenger comfort and customer service. Contrast that with the BART experience, which begins with joining an orderly queue to wait for the train at designated points in the stations. If the train you are riding is delayed, you can expect frequent updates and apologies from the conductor. The trains seldom break down and are normally on time. Sure, there are occasional problems, and the system managers don't seem to have cottoned onto the idea that if a line goes down, they should provide an alternative means of getting you to your destination. You're on your own.   But all in all, as commutes go, it's a pretty pleasant experience.  Or it was.

I admit to often having eyed at the teal-colored seats with suspicion.  They're comfortable, but can anything with that much fabric be hygienic?  Apparently not.  BART says plans are in the works to change out the seats, which were installed decades ago when comfortable seats were thought to encourage ridership.  In the meantime, it does clean the seats nightly and spend hundreds of thousands on yearly dry cleaning.  It plans to survey riders on preferences.  Really?  I think you can bet that riders want safe, hygienic conditions.  If that means cold, plastic, hard seats, so be it.

If a lot of other riders read the study today, I suspect we may go from 'standing room only' to 'sitting room only.'

Feb 03

Sorry kids. But, you can’t blame genes for those tight jeans

A just-released study conducted by the University of Michigan of some 1,000 sixth graders in Obese_boy the state showed proper diet, regular exercise and less television viewing had a dramatic effect on lessening childhood obesity. The study is among the first to prove that even if obesity is linked to one's genetics, it can be combated with a little common sense. In other words, obese kids and their parents will need to find other excuses to explain their bulging waistlines.

Michigan is faring poorly in its battle of the bulge. The state ranks 41st in the nation for highest childhood obesity rates, and a staggering 21 percent of Detroit's kids qualify as obese. That means one in five is likely to suffer weight-related health problems, placing a further strain on our nation's already beleaguered health care system.

U.S. childhood obesity also reinforces a global perspective that America is a lazy, bloated, self-centered superpower whose best days are past.

We still have time to change our wanton ways, though:

– First, we need to stop blaming obesity on genetics. Statements such as: “Why bother dieting and exercising when my DNA has already determined I'll be morbidly obese by the age of 21?” should be countered with the Michigan study facts.

– Second, the government needs to push our nation's public schools to do a better job of educating kids about the importance of exercise and diet.

– Third, parents need to step up to the plate (figuratively, not literally) and better manage their kids' lifestyles (two hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen is unacceptable).

– Last, and certainly not least, fast food makers need to stop marketing their mega-whopper, calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in friendly, wholesome ways (replete with smiling clowns). I think the surgeon general should insist these bacchanalian feasts carry warning labels to the effect: 'This Happy Meal will make you and your body unhappy. It will add empty calories, help raise cholesterol levels and lead to a host of diseases, including diabetes.'

It pains me to see what's happening to our nation's youth. At least, they no longer have the genes/jeans excuse. I guess that's a step in the right direction. Now, kids, it's time to put down the Cheetos, turn off the tube and start getting the old ticker pumping away. You may be saving your own, and the nation's, health and well-being in the process.

Jan 05

Be still my heart

Every now and then something positive occurs that renews my faith in the basic intelligence of  mankind.

Quiet-CarYesterday, I was struck by two such rare occurrences.

The first came while boarding NJ Transit's infamous 6:01pm to Long Branch. I say infamous because this particular train can rival LaGuardia for the number of indefinite delays.

But, no sooner do I board the dreaded Scoliosis Express than I hear the conductor announce the first and last cars had both been designated as 'silent'. He went on to say the use of cellphones and loud talking would be strictly prohibited.

Wow! There'd be no more Jersey Shore housewives screaming into their phones, 'But, Paulie, I told yous this morning to pick somethin' up for the kids!' No more groups of rowdy, Foster Beer-quaffing businessmen bragging about the world-class talents of their soccer-playing offspring. Not even a gaggle of old world garment district buyers lamenting the latest price cuts. Nothing. Not a peep. Just silence. Sweet, beautiful silence. Be still my heart. And, thank you, NJ Transit (did I actually just write those words?).

The second revelation came while scanning the pages of Ad Age on the now quiet-as-a-church mouse 6:01 (and, what's with church mice keeping quiet? Are they the only mice who do so? Are they in fact mute? I doubt it. In fact, I can't recall a single instance of bumping into a loudmouthed mouse. Church mice need to hire a PR firm).

Anyway, an Ad Age editorial informed me someone is finally doing something about impossible-to-open, atom bomb proof, skin-tearing product packaging.

Product packaging is one of the other true banes of my existence. I've spilled enough blood ripping open packages of Gillette Mach 3, Purina Cat Chow and Nature's Path Flax-Plus Granola to supply Haiti's needs for a  fortnight (actually, I'm not sure of Haiti's current need for blood, so the actual time frame may be more or less). But, man, have I ever bled as a direct result of some foolish package designer's intent to make these products more impregnable than Fort Knox.

But, wait! There's actually someone listening. Walmart (ugh) is challenging vendors to reduce the amount of packaging to cut carbon footprints. And, Amazon is launching 'frustration-free packaging.' Talk about an oxymoron.

Now, if only someone could create frustration-free commuting, I'd literally be home free. And, Paulie, yous really did drop the ball on getting dinner for the kids."

A quiet ride home and injury-free package opening experience may not seem like much to you but, in these days of 24×7 doom-and-gloom news, they're bright, shining lights for this battered and bruised consumer.