Sunday, January 28, 2024

Newspapers & Breaking News

There was a time if you saw “Breaking News” flash across your television screen, the words meant hold onto your hat. Something big has happened. Think Kennedy assassination. The first one. Disrupting American life in the middle of the afternoon. JFK’s death in 1963 was my introduction to breaking news and that news came via television. I had no smart phone to receive the information. No one did. Big stories broke on television.

During the weekend of the Kennedy assassination, people would turn away from their TVs to pour over print coverage. Newspapers retained an important position in the dissemination of information, but movies no longer included montages of bundles of papers with huge headlines being thrown from the back of a truck to a waiting public. More likely, a movie included a scene where crowds gathered outside a shop window to watch a television report. As the years went on, newspapers shared their role as town crier with television news.  

As a kid who never lived in a house without a TV, I only I recall getting breaking news via newspaper on two occasions. 

The last time was when Princess Diana died in 1997. That happened because I was visiting friends whose copies of the New York Times and the Washington Post arrived before they turned on their TV. Once we saw the headlines, we gathered around the television. 

The only other event I learned about through a newspaper was the explosion of the Challenger.

In 1986, I was in Hong Kong on a business trip on January 28th. I’d called our office shortly after 11am, New York time. Around 11:30 I hung up and basically collapsed into sleep. Less than ten minutes later, the Challenger blew up over Florida.

When I awoke in the morning, I stumbled out of bed towards the bathroom. My eyes were barely open but I saw a newspaper had been slipped under my door. I glanced at it and kept going. After a few steps, I stopped. That headline was huge. Something had happened. I reversed direction and saw there was, in fact, breaking news. 

I remember that moment clearly. Yes, because of the tragedy. But, also because of the way I learned about it. I felt as if I’d traveled back into another era. Reacting to that headline—not sure if it said Challenger Disaster or Challenger Explodes—made me nostalgic for an era that my parents had lived through but I had only seen in movies.

I grew up with television but I loved newspapers. Still do. I know that online editions have made it possible to report breaking news twenty-four hours a day, but it isn’t the same. I could go on and on about how valuable back copies of newspapers are when trying to get a full picture of an era, but that is not what I am thinking about. I am not really thinking. I am feeling. I am feeling sentimental. And, in a strange way, grateful that I had an experience that was not of my time.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Hanging with Stalkers

Tony Bennett died a few weeks ago. I had never seen him perform. The only encounter we ever had was in the basement of 30 Rock. I noticed him but didn’t pay too much attention because I had just discovered that I was sitting at a table with two lovely women who had on that day elected to become stalkers. 

Who were they stalking? Arthur Kent, NBC international correspondent and over night sensation dubbed the Scud Stud. At least the two made a good choice when deciding whom to stalk. Did I mention he was very handsome and exceedingly sexy in his brown leather bomber jacket? He also had great hair. I was happy to watch him give me the news from the Middle East during the Gulf War.  That was enough for me.

Apparently not enough for two co-workers. A friend and I had run into our colleagues, aka the potential stalkers, when headed for an after-work drink. They were on their way to the same bar because, as I would soon discover, Arthur Kent had just gone in there. 

We joined them and noticed they had picked a table with a good view of - you guessed it - Arthur Kent. Okay. Not a problem. I assumed they just wanted a look at him. I assumed wrong. I discovered that when they brought out pictures showing pretty much everything Arthur had done that day. (How I now wonder since this was before we had cameras on our phones? But they had photos. One hour film developing? Must have been.)

Anyway, they had shots of Arthur Kent walking up and down the street (Madison Avenue as I recall) and going in and out of his hotel (completely forget which one). All the photos were taken as they shadowed him from across the street. I assured myself that at least they were being discreet. 

Or so I thought. While we were looking at the photos, we failed to notice that Stalker 1 (no names) had sent a drink to Arthur Kent. This was a bridge too far for me. Somehow, I came up with an excuse to get my friend alone outside the bar. “They’re stalking him! What do we do?” What could we do? We returned to the table and finished our drinks. I tried not to notice that Arthur Kent was ten feet away. But it was kind of hard to ignore him. That guy was really hot.  I’m not a stalker and don’t anticipate becoming one. However, I had to admit that by choosing Arthur Kent as the object of their affection, my stalker/colleagues did show good taste.

Arthur threw a smile our way as he passed our table on the way out. The stalkers did not follow. Maybe they were done for the day. Then again, maybe not. They knew where to find him.  

NOTE: Kent often reported standing beside Mile Boettcher a competent reporter who did not have stud qualities. Years later, I got on a flight from New York to London with him. He looked neat and well-groomed. He wore a great looking camel hair coat, Oddly enough, he was also on my return flight a week or so later. He looked beat. Whatever he’d been doing grooming wasn’t a high priority. His beautiful coat appeared to have been through a lot. He might not have been glamorous - at least compared to Arthur Kent - but it appeared he certainly worked hard. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

My father’s $200K Weekend (Adjusted for inflation)

My brother did not want an obituary but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell a few stories about him. This is more of a family story but it explains how he ended up in the hotel business.

My mother loved hotels. So when the family spent the weekend in New York (something else she loved), she preferred to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria. In the Towers. If a place was good enough for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who lived there for the New York Social Season, it was good enough for us. (It was not yet known just how much of a Nazi the Duke was.) 

It was on our first stay there, as I recall, that Rick became interested in how hotels were run. He was a freshman or sophomore in college without much direction but suddenly he had an interest and the next thing I knew he was off to Cornell, to the School of Hotel Management.

After graduation (and a brief stop in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania) he was next off to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Marco Island before moving north to ski resorts like Mount Snow and Mount Washington. I was generally close behind. He and his wife, Beth, graciously made room for me and my friends. We took full advantage.

My father liked to say that one weekend at the Waldorf cost him $20,000 which, even with lower tuition rates adjusted to 2023 dollars, comes out to roughly $200,000.  Shortly after doing that calculation, he convinced my mother that the Taft Hotel was more convenient. To what I am not sure.

I got some career training at the Waldorf myself. In the age of manually run elevators, the operator let me drive the car. It required skill in those days. There was a handle to be manipulated to make sure the elevator stopped even with the floor. I got pretty good at hitting the mark although looking back I might have been allowed to operate the car only when my family members were the sole passengers. None of them were maimed or injured exiting the conveyance on my watch although I do not believe I was authorized to open the door. 

Sadly while my brother found a home in the hospitality business, my career dreams were dashed by the advent of self-operated elevators. Technology, not a uniformed operator in white gloves, decided where to stop the car. My expertise was no longer valued. In the wider world, I was replaced by a button.

My father told me not to be too upset. After all being an elevator operator had its ups and downs. I thought that was hysterical. I was nine.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

A Baseball Memory

Baseball posts tonight reminded me of what I was doing during the 10th inning of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series: flying into LaGuardia (neighbor to Shea Stadium) where the Mets were hosting Game 6. 

New Yorkers watching on the plane were feeling sad when the pilot turned off the screens for landing. The end of the game was a forgone conclusion. Boston would win. Not just the game, the Series. So, I was surprised to deplane into a concourse filled with jubilant New Yorkers. 

Why? Two words: Bill Buckner. He didn’t make the play Boston needed to clinch the series. There would be a Game 7 which New York would win.

The other day I saw an article “celebrating” the occasion. I still feel sad that flubbing one play at first base was the defining moment of Buckner’s career. 

I could never be an athlete. I could not have shown up on the field again. I lack the mental stamina. And, I have no talent.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Gary Oldman Was Nice

“Are you a big Sean Penn fan?”

I liked the actor just fine but not enough to stand in an empty lot waiting for a glimpse of him. I explained to the man who asked that I was waiting for a friend. I did not know that the Old Town Bar and Grill (actually Restaurant not Grill but I don’t care - it feels like a bar and grill) was closed for filming (State of Grace 1990). This was pre-cell phone so my only choice was to wait in the adjoining empty lot for her to arrive. 

I was alone on the lot when Gary Oldman came out to have a cigarette. At that point I assumed that the actor could feel free to walk the streets of the US uninterrupted. I, however, recognized him right away. I had seen and admired him in Sid and Nancy. You would think I might want to tell him that. But, I didn’t. I, who loved to talking to strangers and would talk to a street lamp if I found myself standing next to one, did not say a thing. I never speak to a celebrity. 

How would the conversation go anyway? So, tell me Mr. Springsteen, what do you do for a living? What brought you to New York, Mr. Jeter? So, Mrs. Onassis, have you always lived in New York? The usual conversation starters just don’t seem to work.

So, as is my custom, after we acknowledged each other (maybe a nod) I ignored Gary Oldman. Little by little, he moved closer to me and glanced over. Not crowding me. Just making himself available. I got the impression that he was sending a message that if I wanted to ask him any questions, he would be happy to answer. But I lived by my rules. No talking to celebrities. 

Maybe I misread him completely but I got a very friendly vibe. Maybe he liked to talk to strangers and I was a stranger to him. Maybe he wanted to tell me to get lost, but I don’t think so.

I realize this isn’t much of a story but whenever I see the actor e.g. winning an Oscar or hear about him e.g. people love Slow Horses, I want to say that I think he is very nice or, at least, I suspect he is. I don’t really know. I don’t speak to celebrities.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Lexington 1-2-3

A Puerto Rican Day Parade Memory. East side downtown bus. Driver having trouble dealing with traffic. So he got off.

Not a classic story but what elevates the tale is that, as far as I know, he never came back. 

This story does raise three questions:  

1) How long does it take a busload of New Yorkers to figure out the driver is not coming back for them. (In the early 90s about five minutes.) 

2) What percentage of the passengers know how to open the doors on those models? (Zero)  

3) How long does it take a busload of New Yorkers to figure out how to open the doors?  (A lot longer than you think.)

Lesson learned: if traveling on a popular parade day, take the subway,

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Cops Dropped Her Off

Sometime in the 1990s, I did consulting that had me visiting libraries across the US and Canada. One of the things I liked to do on these trips was try out the local public transportation.

“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor hail” or, more frequently cold, kept me off the local trains and buses. I was intrepid. So even on a cold February morning in Edmonton, Alberta, I waited on the platform to take the light rail to my session. The trip went well until I got to the other end of my ride and had to find my way to my final destination. 

For some reason, I was particularly confused in Edmonton. I wasn’t going to arrive on time without help. I guess I approached the policeman. He put down his right front window and I leaned in to explain my predicament. He was very nice.

As he launched into the directions, I realized there was a reason I was confused. He’d start, stop and correct himself. Finally, he just told me to climb in. 

He cleared his front seat which I believe was covered with his breakfast and I settled into the police cruiser. Front seat. Not where the criminals ride. However, I wondered if anyone watching me pull up at the meeting site in a cop car made the distinction. 

If they noticed that I arrived in a police cruiser, they were too polite to ask. No one mentioned it. I guess it would have been more suspicious if he came back to pick me up.

I am adding him to my list of very kind strangers who have no recollection I ever existed but whom I’ll never forget.