Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

7:36 - the door opens and a passenger climbs down. The door closes quickly.

…in the CSX Rail yard just north of Lafayette, IN.  

The Rail Yard in the morning fog.

The worker warming himself against the damp morning in his van saw something strange.  The 7:30 Amtrak to Chicago suddely stopped in the middle of the yard.


The train leaves.

7:35 am in the Lafayette, IN rail yard, looking South. Amtrak for Chicago stops…
The worker saw the door to the last car open, and down the stairs came a tall business-looking guy in a black cashmere topcoat, a fedora and shiny shoes.
The door slams behind the passenger, who walks a short distance away from the train and takes a picture.

The Rail worker walks over to the ex-passenger and says…”Hey, mister – you aren’t supposed to be here.”
You got that right.  The passenger was me…
So, here’s what happened.
Dad and Sue were heading for Alburquerque on Amtrak for Christmas.  They were ticketed on the 7:30 from Lafayette to Chicago, then on to New Mexico in a sleeper car.  I decided to surprise them with a gift bag of snacks and a hug as they left.  Fine so far.
 They were nicely surprised, and we all trooped out to the platform and the train pulled in on time.  There was a crowd at the door, and the stairs were steep.  I approached the conductor and said “I am not a ticketed passenger – may I help my folks to their seat and get their bags up?”  The conductor said “Fine”
Dad and Sue on the platform

As I swung Dad’s bag up, I was jolted a little as the train started moving.  I was on my way with them!

I excused myself, and approached the conductor.  “What is the next stop?”  He shrugged and said it was two hours away.  I reminded him that I was not a ticketed passenger.  He slapped his forehad, said a few choice words, and said he remembered me…
The conductors held a brief powwow , with one of them asking me an important question.  “If we drop you in the rail yard, can you provide your own transportation from there?”
“You bet.  Just get me off this train.”
Therefore, I was quickly standing in the middle of the North lafayette CSX yard, watching a the south end of a northbound train leave in the fog.
The rail worker came over and asked if I knew where I was.  I said yes.  He asked if I needed a ride.  I said yes.  He got a nice Christmas tip.
I called the folks when I was back at the depot, and they said they were quite famous on the train for being the people with the son who got trapped…

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I’m always on the lookout for tools or websites that can give me an advantage in life. Here is a new one that appeared in my inbox today.

www.sickweather.com is a self-reported site of illness and infections yuck that appears like a weather map. Using it, you can see what diseases are floating around your home town, and prepare yourself for a business trip to, say, New York or wherever. A good reminder to wash your hands in airports.

I noted that it had some interesting categories beyond the usual cold and flu. Whooping cough? Chicken Pox? Fine. But Stess? Depression? Interesting. To test the accuracy, I selected Stress. The only city in the Midwest that popped up was Chicago. Fair enough. Then, I selected Depression. The results are below:

Looks accurate to me…

So, Cleveland and Detroit came back positive for Depression.

Seems accurate. I’ll keep an eye on this one.

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Used to be that we were really touchy about nationalism, especially here in the Midwest.  I think it was mostly driven by the auto industry, but it was pretty pervasive.  I recall sign demanding that any foreign car not be parked in a particular plant parking lot.  My favorite was at the Connersville  Ford plant, specifying that all “Non-Ford” cars be parked across the street.  I happily parked my Volvo fight by the front door, only to be directed to the punishment corner…they did not care that Ford owned Volvo, at that moment.  (Now the Chinese own the Swedes…)

Kokomo, Indiana was a hot spot of this thinking, at least until Chrysler went through two European owners…

What percentage of American made is permitted?

So, it was a twinge of nostalgia that I felt when I drove past this sign at a company that recently went out of business.

How about cars from Canadian or Mexican assembly plants – all are in the Americas…
Face it.  We’ve all become global – and while there are good and bad effects, it’s the way the economy is.  Capitalism rewards and punishes all…

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A sign has to be clever to get me to pull over…


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Watching the royals, I went into the storage room and found my mom’s box of souvenirs from the last wedding of this type.

I’m sipping tea from a Charles and Di cup. The closest we could get to crumpets were some english muffins. Feeling the love.


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As the health insurance debate continues, I get occasional reminders about how it is human nature to enjoy a retro thought every now and then.

Remember how HMOs were structured? The new ACO structure is eerily similar.

Everything cycles around. Lapel widths on suits. Paisley patterns. Madras shorts. (in again, by the way…) Instamatic cameras.

Just downloaded an app for my cell phone that turns it into a blurry, fixed focus, square print camera. I love it. Samples attached.


I’ll be posting them on my wall at http://tinyurl.com/3sxk8da

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A year and a day ago, I was smarting from Butler’s last second loss in the NCAA Championship game.  I wrote a column for the local paper about what I hoped would be the positive result of the loss, written from my viewpoint as a student of motivational theory.

Simply put, I got it right.  Here is what I wrote:

Butler’s loss was ideal.

Butler’s loss was the best possible outcome for the team, the school and Indiana as a whole.  Yes, I said their loss was ideal.  Let me explain.  I work in Risk Management and Health Insurance, and I am expert in the motivation behind high performing teams

Simply put, when a high performing team meets a goal, it often disbands fairly quickly.  The work is done. If a climbing team summits a peak, that goal has been met and the team looks for other challenges.   Tony Dungy’s coaching desire appeared to end after the Super Bowl. After this close loss, coach Stevens ran, not walked, to sign the contract that was offered by Butler.   The lesson?  When they fail, high performing teams try again.  If they fail by a very slight amount, they redouble their efforts and try much harder.    However, if they fail by a huge amount, they often give up on that challenge and lose heart.  

These are basic motivational truths.  As Herzberg defined in his two factor theory of 1959, unmet needs can be motivators, and when needs are met they stop motivating.  Good managers know this.  Butler had the best possible outcome – a great run, lots of national attention, a team that is a class act, and 40 minutes on a national stage with a cliffhanger ending.

What do we want as an ideal outcome?  We want many things.  We want Butler basketball to continue to build on “The Butler Way”.  We want the nation to remember what Butler and Central Indiana stands for – a mix of values, academics, sports, herbicide ads and the arts.  We want Coach Stevens to remain in his office at Hinkle Fieldhouse for 12 years.  We want everything.

Clearly, Butler missed by about 2 inches in the last nanosecond.  I was there.   Aaargh.  But, from a motivational point of view, they scored big.  Huge.  The nation knows and will long remember our Bulldogs, and the loss will go a long way in keeping a high performing team assembled at 510 West 49th Street, making another run at the ultimate win.  That is the Butler Way.

Motivation, properly applied, is a great thing.  I love studying the masters – John Wooden, Henry V (Shakespeare’s version), and now Brad Stevens.  Butler has another shot at it, tonight.  I intend to be a part of it, cheering from the stands at Hinkle.

Gound Zero for good motivational theory

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It really is improbable that the Final Four would kick off with a game between two small schools – VCU and Butler. 

It is even more improbable that I work with the wonderful Ed Matthews – who not only played basketball for VCU back in the day, but he still fits into his letter jacket. 

I'll root for both teams...

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I’m a guy, so I’m somewhat “under accesorized”  A pen, a watch, a cell phone and a wedding ring – that’s about it.  I have always known that people pay attention to small things to rate you as a person, so today’s advice involves appearing to have the latest technology.  All of us judge each other by the appropriate use of technology, and we should be properly accessorized with our tools.

But first, a word about being frugal.  I’m careful with my purchases, and want the best “bang for the buck”. 

This year, the big deal will be carrying a visible Apple device.  iPhones are certainly cool, but are not the “big deal” they were last year.  I’m talking iPad.  You don’t need to use it, just carry it.  They project that 30 Million of the new ones will be sold in the next 12 months, so it’s time.

Ah, I know what you’re thinking.  You don’t want to learn a new device, don’t think you need it, and can’t get the CFO to spring for one because you work in HR?  You have 2 answers.  

Idea 1 – Buy the trendy iPad case and put a pad of paper inside it for taking notes.  Carrying it gives you all of the coolness and first impression power of the real thing, and you never have to charge it.

Idea 2 – Buy a fake iPad for pennies and never turn it on – just have it as an accessory.  The company that makes the store display ones is selling them here for not much money.

Looks real, costs only a few dollars…

The fake will have all of the cachet, and brand you as keeping up without you having to invest in the time and effort of learning Angry Birds or whatever game you were going to get hooked on.

Or, see it as training wheels for the move to the real thing – and now that iPad 2.0 is out, you can pick up the first version for cents on the dollar on eBay.
Happy accessorizing!

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The first frame

This week, I rekindled several very old friendships.  I was on the phone with two old college pals named Rick, and I put a roll of film through a camera.  The camera part of this needs some explaining…

In 1971, I was a geeky high school kid with no artistic or athletic abilities.  I had a beginning interest in photography and earned a few hundred bucks and found a used Nikon F, the ultimate press camera of the time.  I added a few more bucks and found a used copy of the widest angle lens Nikon made, a 20mm f3.5 masterpiece of glass and brass…  Imagine a square edged brick with an exposure needle and a shutter release.  An ergonomic nightmare.  I loved it for what the lens could do – it helped me see artistically.  My first big photo trip was to Chicago on a field trip, and I still remember how on fire I was to take photos. Of everything.  The challenge was that the lens meant I had to work within 2 feet of most subjects – an issue when working with strangers in a big city.

The old Nikon was on the shelf for the last 20 years, abandoned as I moved up through the ranks – F2, n90, d70, d90. 

When Barbara said she wanted to go to Chicago for our anniversary trip, my chats with old friends resonated with the memories of that early photo trip.  On the way out the door, I grabbed the original Nikon off the shelf.  I rummaged and found one roll of film in an old camera bag, and felt the old reflexes take over.  Pull the back off, pull the film leader out, thread the slot, fire a shot and wind it.  Just like riding a bicycle – you never forget.  Felt good.

The first photo was of my dad at lunch that day.  When I set the exposure, focused and fired, it felt odd.  So mechanical in a digital world.  No indication of what the photo was, except for a memory of what I saw in the viewfinder.

On to Chicago.  When we walked the streets, I was back in photography mode.

Frame 2


The shops, the skies, the theater.  It was a challenge because I had forgotten how tough it is to fly blind with film – no feedback from a digital screen.

Chicago Theater

With only 24 shots, no overshooting.  More often than not, I looked, composed, set the exposure, then did not shoot – I waited for the good ones.  Again, very different from the digital photo experience.

The trip was over – and I ran to the local CVS for processing. Want to see what I got?   The results are here.

I will be doing this again.

You can never go home again – Thomas Wolfe.  (…but you can rekindle an old passion with the right camera and lens)

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