Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hunkering In A Hallway With My Two Grandmothers During Hurricane Andrew

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

When Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida a quarter century ago, I was an upcoming college junior spending the summer at home. My parents had traveled to take my younger brother to start college in California.

Because recent hurricanes at the time had delivered some false alarms, I remember hearing conversations about whether people would take Andrew seriously. I did.

A friend and I stood in line for hours at a grocery store to stock up on supplies. We treated ourselves to snacks while the line weaved through aisles. 

Instead of weathering the storm home alone with our dog, I decided to hunker down with my two grandmas at one of their homes.

Before leaving my own home, I corralled the family’s outdoor cats and locked them in a bathroom, hoping they could co-exist despite their previous differences. I tried to catch a feral cat which considered our property his home. He escaped my clutches and I wished him luck.

After arriving at grandma’s house, I began lowering the home’s old hurricane shutters. The one hanging over the front porch wouldn’t budge.

When the electricity went out that night, I moved my grandmothers into a hallway without windows. I captured the moment, shooting video of my grandmothers and the dog in the hallway. One of my grandmothers squinted as the camera’s light pierced the darkness. (Today, the video tape still sits on a dresser at home.) On the radio, we listened to Bryan Norcross, a local TV weatherman. He provided a play-by-play as Andrew approached and plowed his way through.

I listened as rain and wind, in sporadic sheets, pressed hard against the big, unprotected window in front. I waited to hear shattering glass. Eventually, one of the grandmothers, who had spent four decades dealing with such storms, decided to disobey her 20-year-old grandson. Sitting in a chair in the hallway was not comfortable. She left and laid down in her bedroom beneath two windows.

When the storm ended, I looked outside. The storm had dismantled the overhead screen covering grandma’s pool. One of the hurricane shutters had ripped off the house and landed down the street. We were lucky. Grandma’s home, built in the 1950s, stood up to Mother Nature. But an uncle’s home took a direct hit. And debris flew into the window of a family friend’s home. Wind invaded their home and, with no exit plan, moved room to room, delivering significant damage.

The telephone lines survived the night. In the early morning hours, I called my brother’s college searching for my parents. Someone explained school policy prevented her from providing me personal information such as the telephone number to my brother’s dorm room. After I explained the situation, she received authority to break the rules.

Grandma’s house remained dark for days. I hadn’t realized how much we depend on artificial light until none existed, not even a single street light or the glow of a neighbor’s television. At night, I heard voices in the neighborhood but saw no one. I called a friend. He explained when his family evacuated their home on Miami Beach, it was the first time he saw fear in his father’s eyes. My friend and I spoke for three hours on the phone to occupy our time.

The electricity turned on at my grandma’s home before other locations. An uncle, aunt and cousins started sleeping over to take advantage of the air conditioning. My grandma welcomed the extra company but was not accustomed to the crowd. At one point, she lost her cool. I remember yelling.

I eventually transferred myself to my other grandma’s apartment, which still lacked electricity. One night, she and I sat on her upstairs balcony, talking for hours and listening to mysterious voices and noises below. That time together, the two of us alone with nothing but our words and stories, was my most memorable moment with her.

My parents flew back from California. We drove to our home. Street lights had crashed on to pavement. Debris punctured holes into the tires of cars attempting to navigate the streets. Fallen trees devoured the street I grew up on. We climbed through the woods to get home. The house, built by my father the architect, stood proudly defiant. A tree had toppled on it but split in two without damaging the home. We opened the backdoor and freed the cats. They gingerly stepped outside, sniffing the ground, confused by a different-looking world that changed within hours. The feral cat showed up, safe and looking as if I should have never doubted him.

Landmarks we had taken for granted, such as an otherwise undistinguished tree that reminded drivers where to turn, went missing. Neighborhoods changed.

A grocery store welcomed us inside. Their electric registers and scanners were useless. Someone handed us a black marker. The store employee told us to shop and write on the items the price listed on shelves. Cashiers would take us at our word.

Without electricity, I missed most of the national coverage of the storm. But I watched it a different way. Hurricane Andrew served as a defining moment for the community I grew up in. The only neighborhood I knew, where I had ridden my bike, where my dog had chased me around, never looked the same. The visual transformation was so striking, I felt I had lost a link to the past.

My family has since moved away from Florida. For one, hurricanes have a way of spiking insurance premiums. But home is never too far away. I regularly text the friend who spoke with me on the phone for more than three hours in the dark. He still lives near the beach in Florida. Now Irma is approaching. He evacuated with his family.

Hurricanes are nature’s fully clenched fist. They also demonstrate the compassion society can show for strangers down the street or states away. They remind us how determined we are to stand up when something knocks us down. They teach us to rebuild our communities stronger than before. They show us friends will keep us company in the dark. And they ensure we cherish family even when generations apart.

This hurricane season will eventually no longer dominate headlines. But the impact can last a lifetime. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

Noticing Sunsets And Mountains

Friday, January 13th, 2017

We’ve been listening more frequently to 1940s music on satellite radio. This surprises us. We’re not even fans of what artists produced in the 1990s. But the sounds of what our grandparents’ listened to suddenly captivate our ears.

Most strikingly, this music is relaxing. It doesn’t fuel our adrenaline while driving and that’s OK. Slowing down, actually enjoying the drive and more frequently noticing sunsets and passing mountains are pleasant alternatives to a world of smartphones constantly demanding our attention.

We recognize some of the musicians such as the great Louis Armstrong. We’re familiar with the Andrews Sisters or is it the Andrew Sisters? We couldn’t discuss them without peeking at Wikipedia. Ironically, much of the music sounds similar, ironic because we’ve characterized much of today’s tunes in a similar fashion. Some of the lyrics make us laugh and understand how language changes with generations. One song appears to happily discuss jerks in a car. Another song delves into a detailed discussion about chicken.

The music naturally leads us to daydream about those who listened in the 1940s, a decade we so often define by a generation experiencing world war. We travel through a subconscious time warp and better understand why rock and roll dealt such a shock to the system.

Except for our distaste for what the 90s offered and the nostalgia we feel for the 80s, we won’t proclaim one decade’s tunes superior to another. But different decades take us different places on different paces.

Lowering Standards of Genuine Friendship and Personal Communication

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

We watched a film called Snowpiercer, one of a handful of movies portraying a morally corrupt future where the privileged live a lifestyle of absurdity and rule over what remains of the populace and humanity once bent on self-destruction. For us, films such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogy fall into this genre.

For a while, we have been reluctant to automatically dismiss such stories as merely dark science fiction where a hero among the disenfranchised rises up to lead a revolt against the arrogance in power. Especially as Americans, it is difficult for us to imagine a reality when we fall susceptible to one line of obedient thinking that borders on a form of government mind control.

However certain aspects of today’s society offer glimpses of how disconnected we can become from each other. Ironically, social media, in our view, plays a significant role. While social media provides an important voice for people, organizations and social causes, it also appears to lower the standard of genuine friendship and personal communication. Couples sit at restaurant tables fixated on smartphones instead of each other. People walk across parking lots focused on those small screens instead of the vehicles swirling around them. Walk into a waiting lobby and roughly half those in the room are lost in an electronic world originating elsewhere.

Combine this with neighbors who don’t consider welcoming the new people who moved in next door. There are the emails and phone calls that inexplicably go unanswered. Others turn the concept of scheduling a simple meeting into a complex endeavor. While we passionately complain about our politicians, their red tape and bureaucratic lives, they may actually be a public reflection of how so many of us live our lives.

Arguing that all this is leading us to a path of some entity gaining monolithic control over us would be a melodramatic exaggeration. But everyday routines offer us flashes of lost community, with individual thinking falling prey to a world of templates. For this reason, we recommend exercises such as taking time away from smartphones or actually meeting with friends and family instead of replacing such experiences with a click of a mouse. Look up and witness the world around you instead of the one from afar reaching you through a handheld device. Technology is wonderful and allows new worlds of communication. Technology also can harden humanity, ensuring we remain inside our own boxes with little need or desire to reach out. When society walls itself off, it can become vulnerable to concepts normally reserved only for science fiction films.

Opportunities To Peer Into The Future

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

In 2006, Keith and Loren visiting Keith's grandmother, affectionately known as "Grandma One."

In 2006, Keith and Loren visiting Keith’s grandmother, affectionately known as “Grandma One.”

During editorial meetings, when I pitched stories impacting senior citizens, producers and managers often dismissed me like the elite might turn away from a commoner who walked into the wrong room. Someone might sarcastically snap back, “We know. Everyone has a grandmother,” a snarky rebuttal to previous arguments that younger viewers actually care about older people.

I inferred sales, and in turn the newsroom, obsessed over stories that might pique the interest of younger viewers, the ones advertisers reach for like a crowd fighting to snatch the last blockbuster sale item on the morning of Black Friday. However, managers, despite their desires for minion disciples, never persuaded me to buy into their positions about seniors. It seemed to me, especially during the Great Recession, that Baby Boomers carried more disposable wealth for the upgraded items younger generations never considered purchasing. During a station meeting, I once asked the general manager if we needed to shift our traditional thinking about demographics. His answer seemed to mostly reflect surprise that one of the minions actually tried to ask a substantive question.

Watching a brief moment of Bernie Sanders endorsing Hillary Clinton reminded me again of those managers and producers mockingly responding to my senior citizen story pitches. How could an old man fascinate whippersnappers? How could grandpa persuade millennials to stray away from their smartphones and pay attention to politics? You don’t need to endorse Sanders’ views to acknowledge he connected with the very demographic which supposedly wouldn’t want to watch a story about those of elder generations.

When I need advice about life, I turn to my parents. When I need advice about business, I turn to our mentor, a man in his 70s. When a realtor and grandfather wearing a hearing aid handed us his business card, I assumed his experience in years would translate into an excellent knowledge of his trade. I did not assume he stood disconnected from a contemporary world.

Those who patronize our elders with sweet, dismissive smiles are missing opportunities to peer into the future and acquire understandings we normally need decades to grasp. There’s no need to always abide by an older generation’s rules and recommendations. However, we should listen and we will more often than not learn something to at least consider.

The fool assumes he can learn nothing from those who made their living before gadgets, software and today’s technology dominated our landscape. However, every generation had gadgets and innovations in its own time. The script changes with each generation but the story of business and people generally stays the same.

Journalists, like many people, try too hard to simplify what others want and believe. If we decide to dismiss anything, then let’s dismiss conventional wisdom. 

How Had I Not Heard This Before?

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Keith and Mike

My Dad and I in the 1970s

My Dad is not a public speaker. However, you don’t need the skill of talking eloquently before crowds to ensure words carry weight and wield influence.

Many times when life’s building frustrations pushed me closer to whichever metaphorical edge that might have applied at the time, my Dad’s slower delivery of wisdom successfully provided the type of safety valve I needed when free falling. And during these very personal motivational speeches, he frequently shared a personal failure to reinforce how he can relate and the lessons he learned.

During these moments, the stories he shared from his life strike me like an unforeseen left jab I didn’t see coming and didn’t know existed. How had I not heard before of such a watershed moment in his life?

Generally, the world of stereotypes tell us men are not the strongest communicators with each other. However, I propose a lack of personal sharing also is symbolic of a generational gap.

While my generation and the one that followed might consider spilling their guts on social media more routine than risk, those who grew up before me tend to not proactively crack open their books until a moment desperately cries for crucial perspective.

Loren never successfully persuaded her grandmother to share mysteries about Loren’s grandfather. And my adventures into Ancestry.com only recently unlocked information that prior generations never cooperated to pass along.

When my Dad shares stories of personal struggle I never knew existed, I’m grateful. His stories build a bridge of understanding and strength that convince me to start stepping backward from the edge. This is when you realize your heroes are very human and faced the same darkness that only experience can help clearly explain. However, I also begin to wonder what other stories might exist and whether they will ever reveal themselves in the future. Must we wait to turn the page on another chapter before hearing the latest twist?

If my Dad proactively shared the private successes and failures that shaped him, I wonder what I might learn. TMI, too much information, is a reality. However, better and more open communication between generations, and perhaps specifically among men and fathers and sons, might help us find our path sooner and better navigate those ugly turns we didn’t see approaching.

A Free Phone Plan To Help Turn You Off

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Smart Phone With Blue Screen Isolated

A number of science fiction films have portrayed a future when a government or private enterprise has instilled the shackles of group think on society. And in this world where nearly everyone wears gray, a hero or small band of revolutionaries take the first steps to breaking the stranglehold. The script is one of Hollywood’s most recycled.

The reality of this occurring seems somewhat ludicrous especially in democratic societies emphasizing individualism and free speech. Yet I often wonder, if in a subtler way, we already reached that place depicted on screen.

In nearly all aspects of life where friends and strangers congregate, we see groups of people staring down at smartphone screens. In restaurants. In waiting rooms. In movie theater lines. People risk safely walking through parking lots to stare down at their phones. After people park their cars, they must check their email, texts, alerts and notifications as if they were CEOs who may have missed the beginning of a blockbuster deal within the last 15 minutes. If society actually worked as hard and efficiently as our interaction with smartphones suggests, the global economy would likely be far less volatile.

Frequently, the makers and marketers of these devices tell us these phones are for our own good, a gateway to greater communication and organization. (Sound like a familiar rationalization?) And yet I feel probably less connected with friends than ever before. Those who once called on birthdays now text or post on Facebook. Generally, people set up barriers to real conversation by hiding behind carefully written emails protecting them from genuine interaction. This in particular leads us to adopt silly phrases such as, “Thank you for reaching out.”

To the horror of those on the other end of the line, I’ve tried to break the cycle by taking my own small step: more often picking up the phone to place a call. I hear the uneasiness of those accepting my calls, knowing they must now respond in real time without the luxury of having 30 minutes to construct an email as if it were a thesis. The awkwardness is compounded when someone has repeatedly ignored my emails and must, again in real time, explain how their busy lives prevented them from taking less than 30 seconds to acknowledge one of my messages.

But my one-man revolution extends beyond the rudimentary concept of picking up a phone and using it to actually make a call. The second phase is resisting the allure of these devices after regular business hours and during weekends. Place your smartphone on the opposite side of the house during these times and the temptation is surreal. What if a client is reaching out? What if we’re falling behind by not reading the latest industry news? What if that notification is not another ESPN alert reminding us about the next College Game Day or the status of a controversial player?

I imagine the possibility of a day when one more app maker, one more over-the-top smartphone ad pushes us to the tipping point and people revolt, returning to days of more frequent face-to-face verbal communication. Let’s keep it real: We’re not all swamped CEOs. Half the time, we’re checking our phones not for important information but for something to pass the time. And disappointment too often stares back. No one is retweeting our play on words. Only your mom Liked the picture you posted. The person you really want to hear from didn’t write you back.

You are not alone in a world of grey and silver smartphones. Look up at the world passing you by. Use your words. Talk to someone whose voice you haven’t recently heard. If you’re going to follow Hollywood’s script, be the one who breaks the pattern not the mental zombie who follows it. Take your first steps. Your phone is not your best friend.

How To Stop Someone’s Butt From Starring In Videos

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Video Production

We’re not talking about butts you want to see. We’re talking about investing significant time in setting up a shot and then sacrificing soundbites because someone’s grandma strolled so slowly through the background, her butt became the star attraction. Butts are just one of several things to consider when choosing a good interview location. Here are six tips on choosing interview locations:

  1. Pick a visual background. Offices with bookcases or conference rooms with plants are not visual backgrounds.
  2. Select a visual background related to the topic. A ferris wheel is visual, but it doesn’t relate to an interview about a company creating cool corn dogs.
  3. Choose a big area to shoot the interview. You need to fit in the space camera equipment, the interviewee, the interviewer, micromanaging executives, their support staff and nosey co-workers who want to make distracting faces behind the camera. And people providing interviews while pressed up against walls is often unattractive.
  4. Pick a quiet place with little to no background traffic. Too often, a person’s awesome answer to an interview question doesn’t work because an oblivious co-worker slowly strolled into the background, making their butt the star attraction.
  5. When shooting indoors, avoid locations with lots of outside light streaming indoors. Mixing indoor and outdoor lights can create havoc and harsh shadows.
  6. Select an indoor location where you can turn off overhead lights. In some office complexes, you can’t easily shut off overhead lighting without also shutting down half the city’s power grid. Overhead lights can create unflattering shadows or hinder attempts at artistic lighting. Several times, we asked people to unscrew light bulbs with no obvious, corresponding light switches. Yes, someone may need to climb a ladder. We’ve also covered unwanted light with heat-absorbent material.

 

Watch Video Production Tip 12: If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

Monday, January 12th, 2015


Here’s What Chris Christie Needs To Do

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Here’s what Chris Christie needs to do:

The governor needs to hold a news conference where he can tell us who knew what about the Fort Lee lane closures. If he doesn’t know that answer, he needs to tell us that his top priority is to find out. He then needs to fire anyone who took part in closing down these lanes.

Christie said in a statement, “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”

He needs to ask himself two genuine questions: Can he effectively govern considering the circumstances? And can he make a realistic argument that he can accomplish good things for his constituents despite the situation?

If he knows in his heart that he cannot govern effectively, he needs to resign. If he thinks he can govern effectively and believes the media are blowing things out of proportion, for example, he needs to say that knowing it’s going to come with a lot of skepticism and tough questions.

Christie needs to apologize, explain what his thinking was, say he’s learned a valuable lesson and then we’ll move on. He’s basically asking for a second chance.

Would his political career be over in either case? Heck no!

People do drugs and get re-elected to office later. They cheat on their wives and get re-elected to office later. People are willing to forgive politicians, especially politicians they ideologically support. Sure, constituents will discredit politicians they don’t like, calling them immoral or whatever other word they want to pick out of the thesaurus. But I’ve heard interviews with people who vote for constituents who were morally questionable and they always rationalize their vote. No matter how morally questionable someone might be, they still would rather vote for the guy who will pass the laws they believe in. They almost don’t expect morals anyway when it comes to politics.

Now, why would someone pay me for such advice? What I’m basically saying is to tell the truth, get rid of the people who screwed up, say you’re sorry and acknowledge your flaws. Many people in crisis communications would never offer this advice. The knee jerk reaction is to circumvent the truth and skirt around the edges of reality. It’s called damage control. In their minds, damage control means surviving. The problem is that they’re the only ones who buy into it. It may work to some extent, but reputations are still tarnished, reporters don’t believe you, constituents know you’re full of it and even your supporters suddenly roll their eyes. So most people in crisis communications just don’t think that way. That’s not how they were taught to do things. It wouldn’t even cross their minds.

How refreshing would it be if someone just told the truth and took action? People are willing to forgive. They choose not to forgive people who they feel continue to lie or do not come forward with all of the facts.

That’s why a lot of people out there would consider what I’m offering to be crazy advice, but I think it’s the advice a lot of people would like to see someone take to heart. And sometimes when you acknowledge that you’re a flawed man or woman, in the long run, people might have more respect for you than they did to begin with.

Video Production: Track And Field

Friday, November 15th, 2013

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