Turkey On The Road

With Thanksgiving only two days away, many Americans are bracing themselves.  They know that, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or maybe — God forbid! — on Thanksgiving itself, they will hop into a car and try to drive to Grandma’s house through the gnarliest, most soul-crushing gridlock imaginable.

1009114412-turkey-klein-14-1260x800The venerable American Automobile Association is predicting that this will be the worst Thanksgiving travel week ever — which is really saying something.  The AAA forecasts that 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes this Thanksgiving, which is almost five percent higher than last year.  And if you’re one of those lucky  travelers who lives in a select American city, the AAA is even offering guidance on which route at which time will encounter the heaviest traffic and the longest delays.  According to the AAA, for example, if you leave San Francisco between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday and take I-680 north, you can expect 4 times the normal travel time between exits 8 and 21.  In most cities, the worst delays are expected to occur today, between 5:30 and 7 p.m.

Over the years Kish and I have occasionally traveled around the Thanksgiving holidays, and we’ve always deeply regretted it.  The worst incident occurred when we tried to drive from Columbus to Vermilion one Thanksgiving Day and got stuck in a massive traffic jam on I-71, which was like a parking lot.  It took hours to inch along, and when we finally arrived nobody had the placid, Pilgrim-like calm you hope to achieve on Thanksgiving.  If I recall correctly, the pre-meal backyard football game that year was a tad more aggressive than usual.

This year, I’m extremely thankful that I’m not driving anywhere outside of Columbus.  For those of you who will be on the road — well, good luck.

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Blue Chip Gone Bad

In the not too distant past, General Electric was one of the most valuable companies in the world.  GE was the bluest of the blue chips, the maker of light bulbs and everyday appliances, a company so solid and trusted and reliable that it was a standard holding for retirees who bought it because it paid an old-fashioned quarterly dividend.

ge-led-bulbs-led11da19-870-h-64_1000Now, GE’s stock price has plummeted to less than $10 per share, its its renowned quarterly dividend has been reduced to a penny per share, and there’s actually talk on Wall Street that GE debt — which is now rated at BBB — could be reduced to junk bond status.

What happened? Many things have contributed to GE’s abrupt fall.  The company has a lot of debt, some of it generated back when GE had a AAA rating.  The debt has put GE into an increasingly leveraged position as the company’s stock price has fallen, which in turn has put pressure on the trading price of GE bonds.  The company’s lines of business have experienced some down years, and prior management was viewed as too slow to respond to the challenges facing the company.  To address the problem, GE has shifted to new management, which is trying to sell off assets to improve the company’s capital structure, boost the stock price, and keep the company off the junk heap.  And, as GE sheds assets, new management will have to figure out what the company is and where it is going, long term.  GE can no longer get by on its reputation.

GE’s current plight is another example of how the American economy moves quickly, and if companies don’t move with it they can be left behind.  As recently as 2005, GE’s stock market price made it the most valuable company in America.  Now, it’s fighting for survival.  And in boardrooms throughout the corporate world, CEOs should considering this cautionary tale and asking themselves:  “What should I do to keep my company from becoming the next GE?”

Now Comes Michigan Week

Most Americans think of this as Thanksgiving week, when it’s time to give thanks, embrace our common humanity, and be generous to our fellow man.

Not so in Buckeye Nation. As soon as Ohio State eked out an overtime win over a feisty Maryland team yesterday, Ohio State fans breathed a sigh of relief, wondered what in the hell happened to the Ohio State defense this year, and then immediately thought: “It’s Michigan Week.”

Michigan Week used to be the week before Thanksgiving week, but a few years ago the Big Ten changed the schedule and moved The Game to the Saturday after Turkey Day. I wish they hadn’t, because bloodthirsty thoughts don’t fit comfortably into the expected Thanksgiving mindset. Before, Buckeye fans could hope to kick the ass of That Team Up North, watch The Game, and then after the violent clash ended shift gradually into pleasant, huggy Thanksgiving mode. Now we think about breaking Michigan hearts right up to the point the turkey gets carved, piously give thanks while we’re really pondering crushing tackles and Statue of Liberty plays, and then after the plates have been cleared abruptly return to full Michihate mode for the remaining hours leading up to the tilt with the Maize and Blue.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But hey — it’s Michigan Week!

Memory Lane

We were up in Akron today for a funeral service for an old and dear family friend.  It gave Kish, Cath and me a chance to visit the Webner clan lived in before we moved to Columbus, see some fondly remembered acquaintances again, and visit Portage Country Club, the Tudor-style building where we had countless family gatherings — including weddings, showers, and birthday celebrations — over the years.

I had to take a look at the “Board Room,” pictured above, where Grandpa Neal hosted annual luncheons that featured lots of revelry, Baked Alaska for dessert, and Grandpa’s remarks in which he gave a recap of the year and, speaking totally from memory, recounted the highlights for everyone in attendance.  I looked at the table and thought that, if we were to try to convene that gathering now, many of the chairs would be empty and those of us still around would look a lot grayer and more bowed than we once did.  As we left Portage Country Club, I wondered if this was the last time I would pass through its big wooden doors.

They say that funerals are a time for remembering, and our visit to Akron today certainly set me to thinking back to old times.  It was a wistful experience, but I enjoyed taking a little trip down memory lane.

“Wintry Mix”

The new preferred phrase for describing the combination of ice, rain, and snow that occasionally bedevils the Midwest during the winter is “wintry mix.”  You might hear a cheerful, overly tanned weather forecaster say something like this:  “Tomorrow we’re expecting to see wintry mix during the morning rush hour, so get ready for a long, ugly commute that will get your day off to an especially nerve-wracking start.”  Apparently “sleet” or “freezing rain” are no longer in vogue.

wintry20weather20returnsI was thinking about how much I hate the “wintry mix” as I was slogging through slushy, slippery sidewalks on my way to work the other day when I suddenly realized that “wintry mix” could have an alternative meaning — i.e., a mix of songs about crappy winter weather, rather than the dreaded, appalling weather condition itself.  So, for the rest of the dismal, cold, wet walk I mentally assembled the start of a “wintry mix” playlist:

Cold As Ice — Foreigner

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out — Bruce Springsteen

Ain’t No Sunshine — Bill Withers

Blue Wind — Jeff Beck

Ice Cold Daydream — Shuggie Otis

In The Cold Cold Night — The White Stripes

Ice Ice Baby — Vanilla Ice

Shiver — Coldplay

Beyond The Gray Sky — 311

Winterlong — Neil Young and Crazy Horse

The Sun Doesn’t Like You — Norah Jones

I’m sure I’m missing some songs, but the whole exercise made my trip through the “wintry mix” and the gray skies a little more tolerable.

Power Naps

The President Of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has come under fire recently for his behavior during the Association for South East Asian Nations summit.  Duterte is a controversial figure for a lot of reasons, but the latest kerfuffle arises from his decision to skip some of the ASEAN meetings and take a “power nap” instead.

When he was questioned about it, the 73-year-old Duterte responded:  “What’s wrong with my nap?”

That’s an entirely valid question in my book. ASEAN meetings probably aren’t the most thrilling events, and not every meeting with a group of world leaders is a life and death occasion.  Is it really so bad if a world leader plops on a couch and dozes off now and then? I don’t know if President Trump enjoys a refreshing afternoon siesta, but if he doesn’t I think it couldn’t hurt if he adopted that practice.  He’d probably feel better about catching up on some shut-eye, and we might even avoid a few of those ill-advised tweets as a result.

Many of us of a certain age brought towels to our full-day kindergarten and, when the teacher told us to roll them out on the floor after lunch, we stretched out and took a short nap on command.  I don’t know about you, but I really liked kindergarten, and I think the afternoon nap probably had something to do with it.  Unfortunately, we don’t continue with the nap as part of the school routine post-kindergarten, and we certainly don’t build it into the average American workday — as opposed to Latin countries, where the siesta is a key part of the culture, is perfectly timed to coincide with the lull in human biorhythms, and allows for recharge and replenishment.

So President Duterte missed a few meetings?  So what?  ASEAN will soldier along somehow, despite his brief absence, and as long as he didn’t oversleep to the point of grogginess I bet he felt a lot better — and was a lot easier to deal with — after he woke up, stretched, appreciated his chance to rest, and moved forward with his day.

I repeat:  What’s wrong with a nap?

Too Cold Too Soon

Yesterday I walked to and from the office with temperatures in the 20s and a sharp, cutting wind reddening my face and sending my suddenly flimsy raincoat flapping around my legs.

This morning I woke up and, as I stood in our warm kitchen sipping a blessedly hot cup of coffee, I heard rain on the roof.  I looked out into the backyard in the pre-dawn darkness and saw the glittering evidence of the Queen Mother of Crappy Weather on every plant, tree, shrub, and fencepost.  Yes, that’s right — a dreaded onslaught of freezing rain has coated every object in ice.  Freezing rain, for those lucky people who’ve never experienced it, means that it’s not quite cold enough for precipitation to fall as snow, but just cold enough for the rain to turn to ice once it hits the ground.  It’s the worst winter weather of all because it’s cold, and wet, and frozen all at once, and it means the commute this morning will be slick and treacherous for drivers and pedestrians alike.  There’s a breeze, too, and the weather page helpfully reports that it feels like 22 degrees out there.

It’s the kind of weather that makes February in Columbus inarguably the worst weather month of the year.  But, it’s only November 15.  Hey, Mother Nature!  What gives?

We’ve once again experienced an abrupt mash-up of the seasons here in the Midwest.  True fall weather has been fleeting, and it seems like we’ve moved directly and too quickly into winter.  For those people, like me, who think autumn is the best season of the year — well, we feel cheated.  We know Old Man Winter is going to arrive sooner or later, but can’t he at least wait until after we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner before he hits us with freezing rain and another round of “wintry mix”?

If you’re in the Midwest, brace yourself, because it’s too cold too soon . . . again.