Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The frustrations of having a very drunk rider in the car

Dealing with a very drunken person can be a challenge, as I learned the other day.

I received a ping on Lyft for a passenger named “Dave,” and that he’d be in the parking lot at the “Roo” in Ellenton.

I drove over there and found a man who claimed to be 65 years old, about 6-feet, 2-inches tall, and who staggered over to the car and said he was Dave.

He got in the car in the front seat, and announced that he was a Vietnam veteran of the Marines, and that he was very drunk and wanted to go to another bar.

I started driving and asked him what his MOS (job) was in the Marines. He got really upset and said he didn’t remember and hated when people asked that question, so he probably wasn’t a veteran at all.

Dave was the first passenger I came very close to ejecting from my car, or stopping a law enforcement officer and asking for help. He was very loud, very belligerent and very disrespectful.

He talked about the size of his “thing,” and then said, “You wanna f— me?”

I said I had zero desire to do any such thing. As we neared his destination, he yelled, “You stupid f—, I said I wanted to go to a bar, not home. Take me to Gator’s.”

I said that his destination was the apartment complex off State Road 64, and he said, “I don’t wanna go there. I’m not drunk enough yet. Take me to the bank so I can take out some money.”

At the drive-through, I let him out to use the ATM, and then let him back in the car.

He continued to curse at me and call me stupid. We stopped at a dive bar in the worst part of Bradenton (14th Street West near the Salvation Army) and he finally exited the car, with a final “F— you.”

I complained to Lyft, but the reply I got back was mostly boilerplate and misidentified Dave’s gender. Since I didn’t give Dave enough stars, I’ll never have him in the car again, but the drivers of Lyft and Uber need to know to avoid him and not give him a ride.

Actions have consequences.

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July 14, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | Leave a comment

Is getting hit in school all it’s cracked up to be?

I have had some contact recently with fellow students from my old Catholic elementary school, Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, Queens, NY, and a recent article in a newspaper made me wonder about how things have changed.

The article noted that a father slapped his children, ages 3 and 5, in front of a police officer who had retrieved them after they had wandered into traffic, and the officer arrested the man.

It made me wonder because I grew up in a time when, supposedly, children were hit regularly by adults, and there are people who swear they are better people for being hit by adults when they were younger.

At our beloved OLH, it was not uncommon for teachers to smack kids around. I was hit by a couple of teachers and was very upset about it all. Mind you, this was a time when you could get into a schoolyard fight and not end up with the police arresting you. Punches were taken and given seemingly without a word.

Look, when the big game before classes was called “Kill the guy with the ball,” getting a shot to the puss wasn’t that big a deal.

The teachers probably didn’t know this, but we students knew who among them tended to resort to hitting when they didn’t get their way. One teacher in particular was feared for her tendency to not only hit but also raise her voice.

The story that went around one year was that at the practice for the veneration of the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the school, she’d hit all the participants after they kept messing up.

One of the most popular teachers was a fellow who I later met again in 1999, at our 25-year reunion. I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought that one day, I had messed up and he had taken me into the hall, chewed me out and slapped me across the face a couple of times. I do remember coming back into the classroom and crying at my desk, and getting sympathy from a female student.

At one point during the 25-year event, we found ourselves standing together and I called him by his first name and asked how his life had gone. He admitted that in our eighth-grade year he was finishing his law degree, and indeed we were his final class. Maybe teaching was a frustrating option for him, I thought, and that’s why he did what he did.

In any case, I didn’t hold it against him.

One time, I was covering a school board meeting and the topic turned to the late 1960s, when pressure was building in Manatee County to desegregate the high schools. Of course, some people thought it was the end of the world, though the elementary schools were already integrated and working OK.

What stunned me was that some of the African Americans in the audience actually felt some nostalgia for the “black” high school. At the time, and at great cost, students from all over the county were bused to the “black” school, which was in Palmetto.

They remembered it as a place where they were taught by dedicated teachers, and also disciplined very harshly, with even the girls remembering being beaten by teachers for minor offenses.

I was shocked. Then again, in reading the minutes of school board meetings at the time, it seemed to be a more physical era. At one point in a school board meeting, a fight broke out, though a few people did apologize for their behavior.

Someone told me there were race riots at the “white” schools when the black kids arrived, and it took years to sort things out.

I remembered that everyone in my elementary school class was white, but that when I went to public high school I went with people of all different races.

Just going though my high school yearbook revealed the diversity of the class of 1978. Maybe we weren’t perfect, but we also were never hit in high school.

Smacking around kids who are smaller than you is not a good idea if you’re an adult, in my view. Maybe because I have so little contact with kids apart from my great-nephews and great-niece, I prefer to be their “cool” uncle than be a disciplinarian.

I could imagine the hell that would break loose if I tried to discipline those kids, since their parents might see it as interference or judgment.

When I read about kids being hit by adults, I do feel the kids’ pain. Yes, discipline is important and there must be punishments for bad behavior, but I don’t think beatings and abuse are the answer.

Resorting to talk of “the good old days” when kids were beaten is the refuge of those who want to just feel superior, I say.

 

July 3, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Florida blows millions for new football facilities so players can walk less

A recent story in the Tampa Bay Times described how the University of Florida has decided that it needs a new football facility, and the reason is probably the first time I’ve ever heard such a reason used.

According to Matt Baker’s story (Florida Gators reveal updated plans for $65 million football complex):

“The most expensive component will be the $65 million football-only facility. UF initially announced its plans for the structure in September 2016, but space limitations confined it to a less-than-ideal plot of land just north of the track stadium.
“The new proposal puts it where McKethan Stadium currently stands, allowing it to be larger (130,000 square feet, as opposed to the initial 100,000) and connected to the indoor practice facility. Instead of three stories, it will be compressed into two to make it even more efficient.
”That last point sounds minor, but it’s not. The NCAA limits coaches’ interactions with players to four hours a day, so every second players spend walking down the hall is one they can’t spend on improving. Players waste 20 minutes walking from the locker room to practice; the new facility will drastically cut that transit time.”

In an nutshell, the university is knocking down its baseball stadium, which is in the way of the new facilities for football, so that football players have a shorter walk and can thus get more coaching, leading to more victories on the field.

Or so the theory goes.

It’s better than the plan from several years ago, which was to end several academic programs, fire the staff in those programs, and hand the cash over to the football team. The thing is that in the “arm’s race” that is college football, every university is spending ever more sums of money on new facilities. The story notes, “Don’t expect Alabama-like opulence. Its focus will be on function, and perhaps fitting the campus’ collegiate gothic look.”
And where’s the money coming from?

From the story:

“The Gators have already identified $73 million in funds ($50 million in bonds, $13 million in philanthropic support and $10 million in the University Athletic Association’s investment earnings). UF hopes to complete the rest of its fundraising by the time football construction begins.”

So the gist of the story is this: After having hired and fired all those head coaches (and at one point paying three coaches, two to not coach college football), the key to future success is to spend – in total — $180 million so football players have a shorter walk.

It makes sense in some form of reality, but not in mine.

But that’s college football in this day and age.

March 24, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bergdahl’s lack of prison time offensive to veterans

It takes all types of people to make a military, and it’s just a fact of life that if you join the armed forces you’re going to run into a very wide variety of attitudes, from those who believe that the military is perfect to those who believe it’s an abomination they must escape immediately, and everything in between.
The recent sentencing of Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl to a dishonorable discharge is the right punishment for what he did, but the failure to attach at least some prison time is a slap in the face to every man and woman who has served honorably in the U.S. military.
When a service member goes AWOL or UA, it means someone who was scheduled to be off duty has to carry out the assignments of the absent service member.
In addition, Bergdahl’s disappearance triggered a massive and costly search for him, and raised fears that perhaps the enemy had infiltrated his base, abducted him and possibly was torturing him for information on the base’s security set future infiltration missions that could have left many more American troops dead.
The anger felt by those who searched for Bergdahl and were injured — as well as their families — is real and heartfelt. Bergdahl deserted his post in the face of the enemy. It wasn’t like he went AWOL from a stateside base and went home to his family or to Las Vegas.
We are told that he felt his mission was to tell high-ranking officers that the unit was not being run properly. There were countless other ways he could have brought his concerns to higher authority; leaving his post in enemy territory was the worst. The belief that he might not have been in his right mind is no excuse. Bergdahl’s actions exposed the whole base to a possible attack.
Bergdahl’s defense used the fact that the enemy captured him and tormented him to try to persuade that military that he had “suffered enough,” but there are plenty of other people still suffering because of that bad decision.
Bergdahl deserves a much more serious punishment. It upsets me that he probably won’t get it.
I served on active duty in the Marines from August 1978 to August 1982, and I spent the first year and a half going through basic training and the schools for my field of service (aviation maintenance). When I arrived at my squadron in Yuma, Ariz, in early 1979, I knew enough to realize that I wanted to be someone who finished his term of service, then returned to civilian life.
One of the first training films I saw soon after arriving at Naval Air Station Memphis for aviation training was about a young Marine who wishes to go on leave to apologize to his father for some verbal abuse, and is advised by a fellow Marine that with the unit about to leave for a few weeks of field training that the sergeant major is bound to reject his leave request.
“You’re better off just taking off and going UA (Unauthorized Absent),” the fellow tells the story’s protagonist, who leaves but is captured soon after, then brought back for disciplinary action that includes a term in the brig.
Training films in the military tend to not be Hollywood productions in terms of acting and quality, but the message was important. It’s all revealed to be a bad dream. The Marine requests his leave, and gets it, and goes home to apologize to his father.

At Parris Island, the drill instructors of my platoon warned us about being wary of the “‘birds,” who will try to persuade new arrivals that the unit is in disarray and the NCOs and officers in charge are inept and not worthy of respect and obedience.
“You’ll notice that they’re all privates even though they’ve been in the Corps for several years,” one drill instructor said.
“That should be warning enough. They’ve been in trouble and punished for it before. Don’t join in with their negativity.”
One Marine in my squadron was an example of someone whose career had gone off track. He had, over the course of four years, advanced all the way to sergeant (E-5) and re-enlisted for six more years. He got a nice five-figure cash bonus (serious money in 1979), a bump to staff sergeant (E-6) and a room in the Staff NCO barracks. He had a good job without heavy lifting and no more dirty mess duty or boring guard duty details in addition to his regular work.
According to a fellow Marine, this guy then went UA for several months and was caught, demoted and returned to the regular barracks. He kept going UA, kept getting caught, kept getting punished and finally was demoted to private and restricted to barracks all day except for work, worship services, visits to the chow hall or medical, and visits to the PX for health and comfort items.
He had a room to himself to keep his bad attitude from infecting everyone else. I was the Duty NCO on the night when two military police officers and the officer of the day came to the barracks and took him away for good.
No one was sad to see him go.
For when he wasn’t present to do his job, someone else had to pick up the slack. That’s something the media never tells in its stories about a military deserter: the impact on those in the unit who are left behind and have to take on extra duties.
There are two sides to every story, I’ve always been told. Unusually, we’ve been able to hear from those who did their duty and paid the price for Bergdahl’s disloyalty and misbehavior.
It’s time for Bergdahl to pay.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

Need a lift? Call me at Lyft

If it’s Thursday or Friday and you’re heading somewhere in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Tampa Bay area, now you can call on me and I’ll give you a “Lyft.”

I recently became a driver for Lyft to make some extra money (not to write a book, though that might happen), and on March 30-31, did my first drives for Lyft.

I’ll share my experiences and the tips I learned the hard way here.

Stay tuned.

April 1, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wildest Times of My Life: Catholic School Bazaars in the 1970s

For many people, Catholic school is nuns, confession, communion, getting rapped on the knuckles and being terrorized into submission by adults who have an all-powerful invisible friend that confers on them the ultimate superiority.

As someone who began to question the whole religion thing early on but kept conforming, I suppose I was part of the problem. Later, I would condemn superiors who I felt “pretended to be religious” out of the desire for personal gain – going to the same church as the boss in order to suck up to him or her – but I have to confess I did it, too, for a while.

Where I grew up on 80th Street in what was then called Elmhurst in the Queens borough of New York City (a Zip code change much later resulted in the area being relocated into Middle Village) there were three big Catholic parishes: Our Lady of Hope (OLH), on Eliot Avenue; Resurrection-Ascension (known to all as RA); at Eliot Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard; and St. Adalbert’s (known as St. A’s), on 83rd Street in Elmhurst.

I went to OLH, my friend John across the street went to St. A’s and some of the other kids on the block went to RA.

Catholics might have seem repressed, but their fundraising bazaars have to be the stuff of legend. I still recall being taken as a child to the “Feast” in Brooklyn, where you could eat Italian food, bet on horse races (in the days before OTB) and gaze with fear and wonder at the guys in see-through socks on the street corners.

Closer to home, all three parishes mentioned above ran their own fundraising bazaars, and in contrast to the image of the Church as strait-laced and repressive, they could and did literally turn into bacchanals of food, fun and frivolity for all ages.

I didn’t lose my virginity at a Catholic school bazaar, but I bet there are plenty of my peers who did. I did have my first – and last – bad experience with alcohol at the RA bazaar, though, in which I actually blacked out. I experienced fun, disappointment and a lot more, and regret sometimes not being back there to experience them again.

Let’s just say that people really cut loose back then, and maybe the pope wouldn’t have approved.

Fun and games – and a surprise – at OLH
At Our Lady of Hope, the bazaar’s preparations would begin and we students would lose access to the schoolyard, which is where the bazaar’s attractions were located. Workers would assemble the tents’ frames, then put up the tents, and the students in grades one to three who sat in classrooms that overlooked the schoolyard would lose much of their sunlight.

No one cared because the bazaar was coming and that meant seeing friends outside of school, fun food and rides, as well as the possibility of prizes.

Access to the schoolyard had to be severely limited, and security obtained, especially after the prizes for the games of chance were distributed in the tents.

I remember one opening day as a small child, and I was waiting outside and watching as some misguided eighth-grader was dared to climb the fence before the bazaar opened. I recall that he climbed the chain-link fence and came down on the other side, but when he tried to come back his friends kept preventing him. Eventually, he was caught, brought back through the gate and released with a chewing-out.

In addition to the games of chance, there was gambling and kids my age were allowed to bet. There also was a ferris wheel and a couple of other rides.

I still remember that great year when, on the final night of the bazaar, a grand prize drawing was held for a bicycle. My brother Patrick won the bicycle.

The thing was, we thought we’d get the bicycle they showed in the tent, but my father instead received a boxed and disassembled bicycle. I think dad paid a local bicycle store $25 to assemble the bike, and I know Patrick got a lot of use out of it.

Disappointment at St. A’s
St. Adalbert’s had its bazaar after OLH and RA, when it held one, but it was a disappointment. In any case, we were bazaar’d out by this time, and because St. A’s had such a small outside area, nearly all of it was indoors.

Going all the way at RA
There were some wild times at OLH’s bazaars, but the biggest of them all was at Resurrection-Ascension. RA had a huge land footprint, including a gigantic schoolyard, and the rides were pretty extensive. The gambling operation was in a recreation building and down a flight of stairs, which protected it from the elements, and whenever I think of the RA bazaar I can remember it being packed with people.

As a teenager, I can recall some pretty brutal disappointments with girls, including finding out that the girl I had a crush on was a smoker, but there were fun times.

On one occasion, a girl got on this ride where you basically were on the end of a line and spun around. I was standing near her friends and she got on the ride and realized that she was losing her shoes. She was wearing these chunky wooden platform sandals that girls wore back then, and I guess she decided that she’d better take them off and toss them before they landed in traffic in the street.

One shoe landed near her friends, but the other whizzed past my head and hit someone in the crowd behind me.

One of my fondest memories is the walk down the tree-lined Eliot Avenue to the bazaar, and sometimes running into school friends on the way.

But as my crowd got older, we began to get a little crazier. My last memory of the RA bazaar must have been in 1977 when me and my friends went to a liquor store up Woodhaven Boulevard and bought a bottle of some concoction called “Rock and Rye.”

We had beer, and passed around the “Rock,” and were having a great time. My memory starts to fade in and out. I remember being on the Woodhaven Boulevard side, then somehow we were on the Eliot Avenue side.

I was lying on the sidewalk, and I heard one of my friends say, “He’s really drunk. We have to get him home.”

I then sat up and announced, “Let’s go.”

The next thing I knew, I was in my bed and I had a fat lip.

As it turned out, I had tried to bite the curb and my father had not smacked me in the face.

He opened the door to my room, saw me awake, and said, “Boy, you put on one hell of a performance last night.”

I remembered none of it.

Now it’s nearly 40 years later and I live in Florida. But I’ll never forget those times.

Memories
I posed a question on the Facebook group “You Must Have Lived in Middle Village if You Remember …” and got a ton of responses. Here they are, unedited:

Frank Nagy OLH had the Bazaars, I remember Puking on the “Tilt a Hurl” ride

Frank Nagy And the rickety Ferris wheel ride..

Vincent F. Safuto At the last RA bazaar I attended (1977, I think), I got so drunk I blacked out. Good thing my friends got me home.

Marty Muller I remember all the fights at the RA bazaar! Every year same shit ! Lol

Lawrence Burns My Dad worked the gambling tent and the poker games in the brothers house on Eliot ave..Those games went on all night till the early morning…..R.A. good times….

Teresa Grogan You could hear the shouts from the other end of the block “UNDER!!!!!” “It’s UNDER!!!!” LOL

Tony Marine My uncle also dealt poker there!

Jay Scahill Remember the ones at RA. Wish I had pictures

Christine Blondel Maddalena Lots of beer pot and fights lol

Maria Puglisi Definitely “Here comes the rollllll …Under!” lol & the Swinging Gym.

Lydia Bellafiore Best times of my life with my gramps

Debbie Hoffman-Silvagni RA bazaars, the best! Looked forward to it every year!

Doris Tavella I took all my allowance savings ($40 +) and gambled it away at over- under tables. Dang… my Dad was annoyed by my irresponsibility! That was odd, however in the 70’s that minors could gamble at RA ?
All good memories and my losses were like tithes to the church 🙏🏻

Vincent F. Safuto Back then I liked to gamble at the tables, but I had slightly better luck. I know that you could gamble at OLH and no one even bothered to stop you.

Doris Tavella Yes, I recall the tables and probably gambled at OLH. Got it out of my system before I turned 18 and as an Adult in Vegas, I usually go to the shows instead. Thanks RA and OLH… you taught me at a young age that I did not like to loose $

Ken Lenczewski Man, I was young but I remember the OLH bazaars. Lots of fighting and I heard someone was stabbed there

Doris Tavella PS…. I also puked after tilt a whirl and told my Mom it was because I ate belly bombers from White Castle on Queens Blvd. uhhh, oops, did I forget to tell her what I drank that night before the rides….LOL !

Vincent F. Safuto I heard about the dances at OLH that ended in fights and drug ODs, etc.

Ken Lenczewski There was some serious gambling going on in the cafeteria.

Vincent F. Safuto I remember at the RA bazaar one year a girl went on one of the rides and realized she was about to lose her shoes, so she reached down and tried to toss them to her friends.

One shoe landed nearby, but the other whizzed past my head and hit someone in the crowd. And remember, this was when teenage girls wore clunky platform sandals, not flip-flops like today.

Doris Tavella Ha ha, those platforms and clogs are back in style … especially the hard wooden ones like Dr. Scholls.

Vincent F. Safuto Doris Tavella All I can say is I was glad I wasn’t the one who stopped the shoe with my head.

Jeannie Opitz Hernandez Always went to RA

Carolyn Specker Cerrito Not the 70s, but the early 80s

Chris Kiernan Sure do
Worked them for years OLH

Tony Marine My family and neighbors worked the RA bazaar for years. My mom and aunt worked the stuffed animal booth, my grandmother used to sell paper chances that you would peel and read to see if you won. My uncle dealt poker. So many great memories. My cousin and I would buy a bag of zeppoli’s (sp?) and eat them behind the booth my mom worked in. I have a special memory too – my friend and I were riding the ferris wheel. It stopped at the top and we had a great view of the whole bazaar. We looked over across Woodhaven blvd, and there was a large, naked young woman walking across the street. She was wasted. She made her way across the street and started to mingle with the crowd until she was finally grabbed by the cops! True story.

Vincent F. Safuto Love these stories and they’re all great. Doesn’t anyone have photos?

Ken Lenczewski I love these stories, brings back so many memories

Joanne Stankovic Sorry, I would go to St. Margaret’s.

Maureen Zahn Scotch OLH bazaars were the best. I was young when we moved but it seemed like we would get a bag of zeppolis??, lots of powdered sugar!!

John Camilleri My Dad ran a lot of the OLH bazaars for years. I would work in the change booth. All everyone has commented is true, the rickety Ferris wheel, the gambling and what not. The big prize in one of the booths was a 12 inch BW TV!

Jeri Calvaruso Knobloch I went to OLH and I remember the carnivals well but don’t have any pics.

Denise Orphal Baietto I went yo the RA bizzare and won a bottle of wine when

Denise Orphal Baietto I was 16 lol

Martha Tambini I went to RA and just remember having to sell those chances for the bazaar.

 

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | 1 Comment

The ever-forgetful Publishers Clearing House

They keep forgetting how to get to my house.

They fail to move online stickers.

They forget my prize choices.

They even lose my address and need to have it confirmed. Over and over.

They are the Publishers Clearing House.

For decades, and even after tons of legal action, the Publishers Clearing House has persevered. Its famous (or infamous) “Prize Patrol” is nearly legendary for its supposed surprise arrivals at people’s houses, presenting them with giant cardboard checks and life-changing sums of money.

Like the Reader’s Digest and Time-Life contests, which used direct mail, the Publishers Clearing House was a legendary user of “junk mail,” filling mailboxes with notices that the recipient was about to lose his or her “special status” because of failure to return an entry, and hey, an order would be appreciated even though ordering something did not improve your (massively low) chances of winning anything.

The movie “Nebraska” shows how seniors could be fooled by their clever language into thinking they had won the big money. Bruce Dern plays a sadly deluded man determined to walk to the headquarters of a company, letter in hand, to collect a non-existent prize.

I remember that people would show up at the Tampa airport, expecting to be presented with a big check for the Time-Life contest.

I once read that a big reason why the Reader’s Digest’s parent company is now a shadow of its former self was that it had to stop running its contest, which brought in tons of revenue, but also lawsuits over the wording of its mailings.

Publishers Clearing House has stopped sending me mailings, but I still get email, and the “official” certificates and other palaver have migrated online. I still recall, though, getting mailings telling me to sit down and then saying that my number was in the final run on the computer, and I might want to consider what I would do with several million dollars. I actually thought I might really have a shot, but noticed that the envelope it came in was mass-mailed third-class mail. Probably everyone on the mailing list got that one.

I’d get scripts I’d have to read, telling me that the last winner had not been enthusiastic enough.

I’d get maps and itineraries, showing nearby florists where the Prize Patrol would buy flowers for my wife (I’m single) and all I had to do was confirm the directions to my house.

Now it’s all online, and I’ve confirmed my address, confirmed the itinerary and “transferred” enough virtual stickers to make me want to hurl.

I read somewhere that in some states, Publishers Clearing House is enjoined legally from many of these activities. Not in Florida, apparently.

But before they finally “process” your entry, there’s the last thing. You click through all the sales pitches for all the goodies you don’t need, and “Wonderful Children’s Stories from the Bible” and so forth, and there’s the reminder that you haven’t ordered anything.

But you can pass that and then you are shown a fake progress bar and finally you’re done. You’re entered yet again in their contest, several months from now, to win the big grand prize.

Tomorrow you’ll get another email telling you the Prize Patrol lost your address, or the directions to your house or you need to transfer more stickers.

Sometimes, people actually win.

One time, out of a mailpiece, I was asked to write why I hadn’t ordered anything. The answer was pretty simple. I didn’t have the money to buy anything. Give me the big prize, I said, and I’ll order everything.

They never responded.

I never ordered. And won’t, until that check lands in my bank account.

In the meantime, I have to again confirm my address.

The Prize Patrol is so forgetful.

March 11, 2017 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | Leave a comment

Another economic development scam falls apart

When times are tough and you have millions in grant money sitting around for economic development, it’s easy to fall for the lure of the economic development con man.

He rolls into town and promises everything to everybody.

Want jobs? You’ll have them.

Need a tenant? I’ll sign a long-term lease.

Got cash to give to me? I’ll take a check.

I don’t seem to have enough cash to get started? Fear not, I have investors in Minnesota, oh, I mean, investors in Singapore, or maybe it’s Albania?, whose identity I can’t disclose who’ll lend me $20 million.

You insist that I meet your requirements before you disburse the money? Oh, if you want to be “that way” about it, I’ll still do the deal.

I think the word is getting out about the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, and it’s that they’re the biggest bunch of suckers since that lollipop truck overturned on I-75.

Sharon Hillstrom, CEO of the EDC, gushed like mad over the wonders that Major League Football would bring to the area. As I mentioned before, and before, and before, this bankrupt pseudo-football league is run by people who are adept at making economic development jumps to different parts of the country, making wild and vague promises, and then walking away, leaving vendors and lenders in a pinch and seeking legal relief.

It was hardly a surprise when the league, after holding tryouts, canceled its inaugural season and then announced that it was all part of the big strategy, and then this past week it was revealed that the league has been living “on the arm” at Lakewood Ranch, and the landlord decided to make a move and file eviction papers.

(You can follow the story at the newspaper where I work, the Bradenton Herald.)

The Bradenton EDC managed to avoid being taken in the Sanborn Studios scam, but remember that they fell for the Gulf Coast Swords hockey team deal, the rowing competition and now Major League Football.

What’s next? Cat racing?

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Postal Service’s incompetent management can’t even train its employees

My comments are not statistically valid in any way, since they are based on experiences that happened more than 22 years ago, but maybe they’ll shed some light on what the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General is trying to do, which is discover why the Postal Service is spending tens of thousands of dollars for each new hire and why they are nearly all quitting soon after starting work, and why the IG will write a report that’s ultimately ignored.

I was a mailhandler in the Postal Service from January 1983 to June 1994. I was eager at the start, as most postal employees are, to become good at my job and to advance my career. I had heard that the Postal Service was a bad place to be an ambitious worker but was determined to be different. Even when I discovered that the mailhandler craft was disdained as “the strong backs and weak minds” of the system, I was determined to prove everyone wrong.

Having worked for United Parcel Service, I had few fears of the prospect of postal privatization, which I saw as a steppingstone to advancement opportunity. I had thrived at UPS, where I was a Christmas-temp, and had even been advanced from unloading large trailers to pre-loading the famous brown trucks that drivers took on their routes. I worked in a facility that had 40 workers on the night shift and one supervisor, and the workers pushed hard to get the job done because they were paid for a full night even if they got done early.

After I was assigned to the pre-loading, a second manager was brought in for the holiday rush, and part of her job was to help me learn ways to become more efficient in my work. Through her, I learned the importance of putting items in the truck in the correct order so the driver could deliver them. On a few occasions, I’d see a box with the dreaded “OOP” notation, meaning “out of place.” That meant that the driver had found the box but had passed the package’s destination and could not backtrack. I would have “made my book” at UPS but for the bad economy in early 1983. Still, I learned that it was important to train everyone fully in their jobs.

Needless to say, the Postal Service was a culture shock for me. I had taken the test for several crafts shortly after my discharge from the military, but was not betting on getting hired anytime soon. Indeed, I was beginning to pursue educational opportunities and when the Postal Service did hire me, I spent a couple of days wondering what I should do, as I had just started school and the schedule was going to be impossible for me to do both. At the time, I made the least bad choice and took the postal job.

Unlike the UPS facility, the postal facility had a horde of supervisors and managers, and training was not a priority. You learned as you went – if someone wanted to teach you – and while I was criticized for being to eager to learn outside my immediate work area I soon became good at my job. I was working in the Long Island area, where the union was pretty strong and management pretty laid-back.

But I couldn’t afford to live in that area, and eventually moved to Florida. Here I could see the challenge of massive growth – part of the reason I moved there – and the desperate need for change. Supervisors were less tolerant of new-hires and some were very abusive toward workers. Sexual harassment of female employees was rampant and, despite the promises made at orientation, usually accusations were dealt with through threats and extreme abuse and retaliation.

Again, training was never conducted for mailhandlers or casuals. (There was training for LSM operators, and that had to go continually because management seemed to have a goal of 100 percent turnover on the LSMs. They came close, especially with new-hires, very few of whom made their probation.)

I made it clear to my bosses that I wanted training to advance into management, and was basically shot down. Still, I managed to learn that there were correspondence courses I could take, including an introduction to postal management. I was warned that taking correspondence courses could actually hurt my advancement chances, but decided to take them nonetheless, figuring I’d learn skills that I could use outside the Postal Service.

The basic postal supervisors’ course, which no one else took in my facility, was an eye-opener. I really worked that course hard, learning how to deal with people and how to talk to them. Needless to say, reality was quite different but I have always found theory to be a good place to start. I was advised to stay away from the local community college but found that some of the bosses were teaching classes there in postal operations, so I took them and was not afraid to express my views. I probably destroyed my advancement chances in the Postal Service but it was worth it.

The funny thing was that – especially after the violence that broke out in facilities – I was mainly parroting what the postmaster general had been saying. Employees were reporting abusive work environments and often paying the price in severe retaliation despite promises of no retaliation. I learned that postal management was a good place if you were a liar, a sex harasser, an abuser, a practitioner of “creative postal math” and an all-around bad person.

When I finally got a chance to put theory into practice, the reality was that I was a terrible postal manager, as bad or worse than those I criticized. I was relieved and sent back to the mailhandler craft.

At this point, I had a decision to make. My first instinct was to quit. I have always been a deliberative person, though, and in my late 20s was too mature to act impulsively.

So I decided that the Postal Service was not the career for me, but decided to stay and use it to further my own goals. Despite the warnings, I trekked to the community college and began the long process of applying to become a student there. It was a lot of paperwork, and I had to take the ACT, but in the summer of 1988 I began my first course, Introduction to the Social Sciences.

I was advised repeatedly by people in and out of the Postal Service that college was a waste of time, and everyone had a Cousin Harvey who had a fancy degree and was working the drive-through at McD’s but I also learned that when people are afraid of your ambition, they’ll do anything and tell any lies to try and stop you from achieving.

College was like a dream come true for me. Not needing to take out loans or use Pell grants, I eagerly took classes and in three years had a two-year degree. I transferred to the state university and finished my college degree there in April 1994.

I was unusual. The Postal Service had then and has now very, very few college graduates, especially in its management and executive ranks. The facility I worked at in West Palm Beach had almost no college graduates in management, several high school dropouts in management and even a person with just a seventh-grade education in a management position. I had stopped even applying for postal management jobs, knowing I’d be rejected out of hand, and was soon searching for a new job outside the Postal Service.

I was gaining work experience through volunteer work and soon I realized that the best way to escape the postal handcuffs was simple: quit, then I’d have to be more aggressive in my job search.

To make a long story short, I did just that and soon was landing jobs. The confidence gained was immeasurable, and I feel sorry for those who are having a hard time and lack that confidence. I hear “no” a lot more, but that’s age discrimination, sadly. Too bad. I’ve been working and improving my skills and it saddens me that I might soon have no place where they will be wanted. The skills will be needed, but by someone younger than me.

The Postal Service has again abandoned the idea of training, from what I hear. New hires are thrown into work and fired if they cannot figure out the job. It’s a waste of money to hire people just so you can fire them, but as I saw 22 years ago, it’s the only way the Postal Service knows.

I still remember one holiday season when we had a mass of temporary employees milling around, and a supervisor who reprimanded me for showing them how to do their job. “It’s a waste of time to train these stupid assholes,” she said. “They were looking for a job here, so I know they’re idiots. We shouldn’t train people who are just going to quit or be fired.”

I tried to explain that part of the reason the new hires were having problems was because no one was explaining how to do the job, but she was a postal supervisor and I was a worker. I mentioned the postmaster general’s comments, and she said, “Fuck him. The supervisors run the Postal Service and not the postmaster general. Listen to us and not him.”

That attitude is alive and well in today’s Postal Service, and why its grand strategies will always fail.

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

When committing astronomy can get you killed

Get a bunch of amateur astronomers together and eventually, after the tall tales of seeing the Horsehead Nebula and the wisps of the Veil Nebula, you’ll get to the strange encounters we’ve had.

It’s hard not to notice an amateur astronomer, alone or in a pack. We have this weird looking object that may or may not look like everyone’s definition of a telescope; we perform weird rituals around it, peering through a smaller scope or looking at a book or magazine; and we might be seen punching numbers into a handheld device, smartphone or laptop and then watching as the telescope mount points the telescope.

There’s the weird language, too. “Go from Enif in Pegasus and then across the Great Square, and you’ll see M31.”

Or, “I swear, I saw a star flare up in the Double Cluster. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

We in the U.S. might meet up with bad guys while observing the stars – though a look through the telescope might mollify them – or even law enforcement.

A story steeped in legend is about the time a group of amateur astronomers gathers on a hill overlooking their city on a dark, clear night, and soon had their array of telescopes set up.

Most telescopes of that time, and today, bear quite a resemblance to mortar tubes. It’s not intentional. The Schmidt-Cassegrain design is compact and easy to transport, and offers some pretty good-sized apertures up to 14 inches. They do look like mortars in the dark and at a distance.

The group noticed that there were several cars of law enforcement racing on the road up the hill, with lights flashing and sirens wailing. They felt a sense of relief. At least someone was out there protecting them.

Soon, though, the police arrived and cautiously approached. It turned out that someone had called 911, thinking that a group was assembling mortars and about to start raining shells on the town. A few minutes later, after the police were shown that the telescopes were for extracting secrets from the sky and not harming anyone, the officers left and the amateurs resumed their work.

That story had a happy ending, but for some people the very act of not only looking at the sky but knowing about it can be a death sentence.

Carl Sagan once said that you never know where the seed of knowledge will sprout. Sometimes, in the most unexpected places, you will find people with a driving desire to know how the universe works, he said.

We know of Afghanistan as a place of endless war and tumult, murderous religious fanaticism and where young Americans have died to protect a government that seems incapable of supplying toilet paper.

And yet, among all that, there is a dedicated group of amateur astronomers. According to a story in Newsweek and other sources, the Afghanistan Astronomy Association has an 11-inch telescope and other gear supplied by Astronomers Without Borders. Its members try to find locations to observe and often are harassed by the local police, religious leaders and military troops who all believe they are up to no good.

In a society where the only knowledge worth having seems to be religious or military, and the only skill you should show is how to plant an IED, these men want to learn about the sky and teach others.

Here’s an excerpt from the start of the story:

“In most of the world, an amateur astronomer can drive to a dark place, set up a telescope and enjoy the beauty of the sky above.

“But in Afghanistan, a country plagued by 36 years of war, a few men gathered around a telescope pointing toward the sky, in the middle of nowhere, looks pretty suspicious.

“From a distance, the police thought the telescope might be a rocket launcher.

“After careful inspection, the police still couldn’t comprehend why anyone would sit in a field, in the cold, to look at stars. Although they’d never seen a telescope before, they conceded that this probably wasn’t a weapon.

“Calling the astronomers halfwits, the police left. Spooked, most of the stargazers took off too, leaving Bakhshi and two others.”

Religious leaders aren’t helpful, spreading wild stories about eclipses and other superstitions.

But the amateurs keep at it.

“On another late afternoon, as the sun disappears and the evening call to prayer echoes across the city below, Bakhshi, Amiri and a small group of men gather on the outskirts of Kabul.

“As he sets up a large telescope, cigarette dangling from his lip, Amiri recalls the first time he saw the moon up close. In an old schoolbook, he had discovered a guide to making a telescope and managed to fashion one out of an old chimney pipe.

‘I couldn’t move my eye away from the telescope that night,’ he says.

“One by one, the men peer at the moon through the telescope. The clarity is remarkable; the moon luminous and rugged with craters and mountains.

“For those who are looking through the telescope for the first time that night, each has the same reaction: astonishment and wonder, followed by a barrage of questions.”

Maybe there will be a time when amateur astronomers the world over can live and work in peace. In the meantime, there are those who are willing to risk it all for a glimpse of the moon or Saturn. It definitely makes you appreciate what we have here.

 

 

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment