My New Idol

"A stranger is a friend I haven't met yet." - Will Rogers

Truer words were never spoken when it comes to me. I love talking to strangers even if I'll never see them again. Airports are great for striking up a conversation. Nothing like a captive audience who is probably bored as well!

I was waiting to board a flight to Seattle a while ago when I noticed the family in front of me. Two kids about eight or so and two parents.

There was no way I couldn't talk to the daughter. She was dressed in a pink t-shirt with a grey cat on it, matching leggings, pink Hello Kitty shoes and, the pièce de résistance, a headband with cat ears. Man, she was styling!

I broke the ice with  a "I really like your outfit." The reaction I got was the shy kid face against the parent's leg move. The Mom said, "What do you say when someone compliments you?" That got a mumble from the pants' leg.

Not deterred from the conversational attempt at all, I followed up with pictures of the #terrors on my phone with descriptions of why they're such terrible children. The son became intrigued and started to tell me about their two cats. (Two boys, not brothers, one always poops outside of the litter box and did I have any ideas how to fix that?)

Ultimately, we were all talking and I learned that they lived in Japan and had been in the Southwest for two months visiting family. I can give you more details if you wish because it was a pretty in depth conversation thanks to United who had us in line for-freaking-ever.

I commented that I would totally wear that cat ear headband and found out that she brought 7 or 8 of them on the trip so she could swap them out each day. What?!?!?! That was some serious dedication to style.

Man, I so wanted to be this little girl, it was not funny. Well, sorta funny.

But, wait, there's more! They started talking about her tail. Yes, a tail. The little girl started rummaging around in her bag while her parents told me about her cat tail that she usually wears (and one time lost on the beach, briefly) when, voila! I looked down to see she was wearing an 8 inch long, curved black and bushy tail.

It was awesome!

I didn't see her put it on so I don't know if it just clipped on to her pants or was on a belt but it jiggled around as she moved and it was so fantastic that I wanted it more than the headbands. The headbands were nothing, the apparel of imposters. The tail was the thing!

I know longer wanted to be this little girl, I wanted to worship her.

I really, really wanted to take a picture but I figured that would move my Creep factor to 11. That was probably a good call on my part.

But, seriously, you should have seen the tail!


Best Buffett Shows

In case you aren't wired into the world of Jimmy Buffett as I am, he announced this week that he's going to slow down next year. Of course, for Jimmy, that might just mean fewer concerts but more books, CDs (I believe they just announced a new Christmas one coming), plane trips and surfing. I don't think the guy will ever "rest".

A few people waxed nostalgic about their love for Jimmy and I was reminded of three Buffett shows I've been to that were awesome in different ways.

Wasted Away Again In Margaritaville

The earliest show was when Jimmy and Mac came to open the Glendale Margaritaville (RIP) in April of 2008. It was an all day event. Mville gave the Arizona Parrot Head Club 500 free passes and invited a group of us for morning cocktails and some TV time on the local news. A parking lot tailgate followed and then they roped off the courtyard area across from the restaurant and put Jimmy and Mac on a stage in front of the Arena.

Can you tell I was a happy camper?

My favorite Muppet and Jimmy
It was a fantastic show. Just the two of them playing and talking and the crowd was so cool. You could mosey up to get close shots of the stage then mosey back. We hung out towards the back but the back was less than 100 feet away.

What was also fantastic is that we had friends from all over join us. Peeps came from Washington, Utah and California and from other cities outside of the Valley. We got to have a fun family reunion plus a show! And, we picked up some great new club members.

The highlight was when the sound system failed and the crowd just picked it up and sang all of the words. Jimmy just looked at Mac and shrugged like, "They don't even need us".

After the show, Jimmy hightailed it out but Mac stuck around. They whisked him through Margaritaville and it was all I could do not to follow. Somehow, I refrained. Who knew I had it in me?

On The Street

It's a perpetual question, "Is Jimmy going to play at Meeting of The Minds this year?" For those that don't know, that's our annual convention in Key West. Jimmy has been there on and off and, in 2011, he surprised us by playing at the Street Festival on Friday. It is what it sounds like. They close off the intersection Duval near Margaritaville, build a huge stage and play music all afternoon. 

It was a poorly held secret that Jimmy was going to play with the Coral Reefers (his band) so the street was PACKED! We had decent spot staked out early and had a good view of the stage.

Mr. Utley was in fine form.

Jimmy and Utley joking around, Mac having a great time.

The Man in the middle
What made this show so special, though, was that Jimmy came on stage and said, "We're not going to play anything recorded after 1975!" The crowd went nuts! What a great payoff for the "real" fans who know more than the tunes on Songs You Know By Heart. He stuck to it, too, for the whole set. For their encore, they did It's Five O'Clock Somewhere and I don't think anyone could complain about that deviation.

Holy cow, that was quite the crowd!
As the show wound down, the beers hit me and I knew I was going to be in need of the washroom. I worked my way back through the very tight crowd. So tight that the buttons off my lanyard were pulled off of me. Yikes. I used the facilities at Jack Flats and watched the end of the show from the back. There was no way I was going back in. It was still awesome.

Beach House Concert

Not at all a secret but a last minute reveal was the Jimmy was going to play at Meeting of The Minds again in 2015 but this time at our host hotel. That meant people had to be registered for convention to see him. Man, did we get a lot of last minute folks!

My friend Susan is a long time territory stakerouter (yeah, I made a new word) and she was lined up in front of the stage early Saturday morning even though the show wasn't scheduled until that night. My bestie, Jim, and I were not so dedicated. We still managed to get a good spot to see the stage by only heading out an hour or so before the show.

Well, somewhat good spot. It was actually awesome until two giants got in front of us. I felt worse for the two short ladies right next to us, though. At least I had a great view of Mac and that's what mattered.

Once again, Jimmy said the right thing to start the show. He talked about how difficult it was to do something worthy of his serious fans and announced that they came up with the idea of playing every song from an early album. When he said it was White Sport Coat and Pink Crustacean, I could not have been more thrilled. It's one of my all time favorites

I had it on cassette tape and I think I bought it from a gas station.
What made it extra special was that Jimmy talked about each song before they played it. He went in to the inspiration, who worked on the recording with him and usually threw in an anecdote or two. It was literally like being at a house concert.

At one point, most of the band went off the stage while Jimmy played. A song or two later, he was clearly expecting them to be back and called them out after looking around. It was hilarious watching Doyle Grisham scamper across the stage. 

Just Mac and Jimmy again. It was perfection.
(uncredited photo that I found online somewhere because I took no pictures - blame the giants)
It was a wonderful experience and I really appreciated that Jimmy did an exclusive show for the convention attendees. And, afterwards, I got to fist bump Doyle so that made it a perfect evening.

Well, there you have it. My top three. If I had to pick a top one, it would be the last one thanks to the storytelling. 

For the record, I still didn't follow Mac around after the show.


I Miss Walter Cronkite

I confess, I haven't watched local or national TV news in years.

I bugged out once all of the stations were doing "death" teasers for their broadcasts. "This surprising item in your kitchen will kill you!" "There are unknown predators in your neighborhood!" "Find about the commonplace product under the third step of your stairs that can give you cancer!" "You MUST watch our broadcast or you're doomed!!!!"

You get the gist. It was all about sucking you in to watch and the teaser segment was always buried somewhere in the broadcast so you had to wait through it all.

Here's another thing that turned me off from TV news; reporters standing in front of a building hours after whatever action happened before. Seriously, you could put that reporter in front of a blank green screen and gotten the same amount of relevance. "What you can't see now because it's all cleaned up is that the bus jumped this curb and ran into another vehicle right here behind me." Being on location didn't help those stories.

I also don't watch the cable news stations. The last time I recall doing so in any consistent manner was when CNN reported on the Gulf War. Man, that was a long time ago.

I was on a cruise ship last month and the TV viewing was very limited. Besides watching the live stream from the camera at the front of the boat, the cruise chip channel where they broadcast commercials to get us to buy things we don't need from the onboard stores, there was one sports channel showing mostly Soccer games, MSNBC, Fox News and BBC News World News.

Since my traveling companion always wants the TV on (and I am indifferent), we alternated between the cruise ship channel and Fox News. Oh, yeah, my traveling companion is also a Republican. However, if they'd had CNN we would have met in the middle.

All of this long intro leads into my main point (you had to know I'd get there eventually) which is that our broadcast journalists have been replaced with pundits. Instead of reciting the facts of a news story then leaving you with "And that's the way it is" a la Cronkite, the pundits read off a couple of details then give their opinion on the story.

I can only imagine what he would think about today's "News".
But, that's not the only opinion you get. They then throw it to Pundits A, B and C who all also give their opinions. Not facts, mind you. Just opinions. To preserve the notion of fair and balanced, Pundit B might actually believe something different than the others. Or, at least say that he/she does.

The story that set me on the path to writing this lament was Trump's rally in Costa Mesa, CA. In case you somehow missed it, protestors pushed through barriers, got in some scuffles with police and Trump and crew slipped out a back way of a hotel and had to hoof down the side of the road to get in to their vehicles.

Fox News had an in studio pundit lead with the story then they threw it to a reporter on site. He described the barricade rupture and then gave out several speculations as to who the protesters were and the reason they were there. The next segment on Fox News was a regular show led by some dude I don't know who talked about the event, gave his opinion, then asked Pundits A, B and C their opinions.

To this day, I don't know exactly who the protestors were, what they were specifically protesting and what their end goal was. They could have been hired by some Dem group to stir things up, they could have been hired by some Trump group to make other protestors look bad, they could have been an organic collection of people who got caught up in the heat of the moment.

Why don't I know?

Because NONE of the alleged journalists asked them. Not even the dude right there on the scene.

Instead, we got a lot of "Well, I don't know for sure what their motivations are but I suspect..." From all of the talking heads.

It drove me crazy. To be fair, my traveling companion thought it was just as ridiculous. And, I'm not just bashing Fox News here. I've no doubt they all do the same.

Not once in the week that we watched did I hear any pundit say, "Hey, that's a great point you bring up there. I need to rethink my opinion." It was just repeated, "Here's what I believe and you're right, Pundit A and C and you're wrong, Pundit B."

Why have we gotten to this? I believe it's ratings and the need for people to hear someone else validate their opinions. If you think everyone who shows up to protest Trump is an illegal hooligan living off welfare, you can find someone to agree with you on Fox News. If you think that all Republicans are waging a war on women, you can find validation on MSNBC.

Of course, that's what I believe but I don't know for sure. Holy crap, I'm a talking head, too! I'm clearly qualified for my own segment on MSNBC.

I referenced Walter Cronkite's tag line earlier. He usually ended his broadcasts with "And that's the way it is" followed by the date.

You know when he didn't end that way? When the last story was an editorial or a commentary.

Because editorials aren't news. Editorials are what Pundit A, B and C tell you.

I miss Walter Cronkite and I miss the News.


Artwork Complete!

Our wall of tiles is complete! I wrote about the creative process a while back where we all had an opportunity to make the tiles. A lot of work by Kim, our resident artist (and VP), later and the wall is done.

Careful placement with spacers for the grout.
We hired some people to affix the tiles to the wall and do the grout work. They were at it for quite a while.
Supply of tiles to be affixed to the wall. 
So, yeah, we thought we had made enough tiles... Kim had to make some more as the space was bigger than what we already had for our supply. She did all the stain and kiln work and most of the final design determinations.
Kim overseeing the placement work.
There was careful consideration to placement to make sure the pattern of colors and tile designs flowed well.
Grout work.
After a few of the rows had grout put around them we found that the grout stain was also staining the tiles. So, they had to tape off each tile before putting in the grout. And, we had to clean the already stained tiles. (By we, I mean someone else. I just observed.)
Close up of a few tiles.
I have no idea which ones I made. They're all a far cry from the gray clay that they used to be but they're all gorgeous.
Close up of a few tiles.

The final product!
It's huge! And, it's impressive. I find myself stopping and staring at it as I go in and out the front door. Between the designs and the colors, there's always something to catch the eye.

Kudos to Kim and everyone involved for their efforts. I love that our team project will be a permanent fixture of our office.


Cologne Cathedral

We took a little site seeing trip while in Germany last week. My colleague wanted to show me the Cologne Cathedral or, as we almost locals like to call it, the Dom. According to Wikipedia (which wouldn't lie), it's the most visited landmark in Germany.

The Dom is a Roman Catholic cathedral and it took 800 years to build. Construction started in 1248 and ended in 1880. Well, there was a break in there from 1473 to the 1840s.

It's a very impressive structure. At one point, it was the tallest building in the world at 516 feet. The Washington Monument took that title from it in 1884.
So tall I couldn't get it all in the picture.
(I could have if I had walked further away but my ankles told me not to try it.)

Look at all the carving work!

One of the entrance doors.
The main entrance with a bunch of Saints (I'm assuming) watching it.
These were close to life size from the perspective I saw them.
You can't be called the "Hight Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary" without Mary being there.
There was an incredible amount of stained glass work.
We tried to imagine living in the construction era. I suspect generation after generation was born with designated professions as skills were passed down. This family was the stone cutters, this family built scaffolding, this family did the tile work, etc.

The columns were HUGE!
This built in the Gothic style so the structure is supported with large columns and has many arches. It's also super ornate. I mean every where you look there's a curlicue of some sort.

The church was built to house the reliquary (a word I cannot successfully pronounce for some reason) of the Three Kings. Yeah, the dudes who visited Baby Jesus. Their actual bones are supposed to be in the church.

The Shrine of the Three Kings - fancy structure to store some bones.
In the courtyard of the Dom, there's a bonus historical site, evidence of a Roman gate built in 50 AD.

Hanging at the portal, thinking about all the Romans who'd been through there.
Layout of the Roman gate throughout the area.

Random sign on the ground - oh, those funny Germans!
I'm grateful we took the time for this side trip but not so grateful about the fact that I think this is where I lost my wallet. Sigh.


Kathy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

I never want to leave home again after the week I just had. Oy. Let's recap, shall we? And, by recap, I mean that even though I'm trying to keep it short there was... Just. So. Much.


I arrived in Germany at 7:20 in the morning and spent the day in the sales office. My only sleep was maybe an hour in the car on the way from Hamburg to Muenster. I had a Parrot Head conference call scheduled for what was midnight my time. I debated trying to sleep first but decided to tough it out.

I'm the Moderator of the calls. I dialed in a few minutes before midnight and it said my PIN wasn't valid to start the call. I tried again, thinking my sleep deprived brain just mistyped. No success. I then sent a text to the person who sets up the calls. She gave me some other PINs to try. By this time, people were emailing - "Are we still doing this? I'm on the call and it hasn't started."

We finally found a successful PIN and started the call late. I hate that. While on the phone, I forwarded an email to another BOD member. It bounced back from Yahoo with a message:

Error code 475: Suspicious activity was detected on your account.

What the what? I looked up the message and it says that Yahoo thinks you've either sent too many messages in a short period of time or that you sent to too many recipients and suggested using Yahoo Groups instead. Well, I sent 10 messages the entire day and the one with multiple recipients was indeed to a Yahoo Group.

I called shenanigans but decided to see if I was good to go in the morning as I needed to crash.


We had a good day at the office with our colleagues. That was the only good part of the day. As we were winding down in the afternoon, I got on a chat with Yahoo Support as my emails were still bouncing. The rep said it looked like my problem was solved and that she was able to send an email from my account with success. Of course, she sent it TO my account so I'm not sure that was a valid test. Sure enough, when I tried to send an email to someone else, I got hit with the error again. While I was shut down, I was in the middle of working on setting up a bunch of concert announcements. To say this was bad timing was an understatement.

Yahoo was still bad later in the day. I contacted them again in the afternoon and got the same "I was able to send from your account" BS that I challenged. This time, the Rep acknowledged there was still a problem and said the issue had to be escalated to Second Level Support who would only contact me via email. I gave her my gmail address and waited.

We worked until after 6 PM and headed out to meet back at our hotel and go to dinner with our colleagues. I was focused on looking forward, literally, and I missed the bottom step of the stairs.

Like, really missed. Like, I launched myself into the air. It probably didn't help my balance that I had my backpack with my computer thrown over my shoulder but I hit the ground hard and twisted both my ankles.

I scared the crap out of my colleagues and visions of an emergency room visit entered my American buddy, Mike's, head. It wouldn't be the first for a Germany trip, unfortunately.

You know how on cartoons they show stars and birds floating around someone's head when they get hit? Well, I saw spots. I think I was actually in shock, definitely had the wind knocked out of me and had internal visions of broken bones. Fortunately, I was able to get up and rest in a chair which cleared my head and I was able to rotate my ankles and, most importantly, there were no protruding bones. I Tim Conway shuffled my way out the door to the car and my teeth started chattering on the way back to the hotel. I think it was more shock than cold. (And just writing Tim Conway shuffle means that I'm old. Sigh.)

I passed on dinner and Mike had room service send up a bucket of ice. I took a bunch of Ibuprofen and spent the next hour and a half icing my feet and ankles before going to bed at 8:30. I didn't even have the energy to order room service. 


I was able to continue to shuffle and my feet hurt less than the night before so I counted that as a win. We stopped to pick up a snack on the way to the office and Mike brought me a much needed Diet Coke. Which I opened in the car and it immediately overflowed and spilled all over my leg. Not the ideal way to start the day.

The work day was again good. Yahoo was still bad. Once more on Chat with Support with the added complaint that it had been over 24 hours and I hadn't heard from Second Level Support. This time, she sent me a bunch of "don't do this so you can prevent the problem" propaganda, none of which I had done. I asked her how long the hold was and she said 24 hours. I told her it had been going on for several days. Her response was it started 9 hours prior (my test that morning to see if it was working). She would not confirm but I suspect that the 24 hour hold restarted with every failed message. Man, I was unhappy but technology miracles do happen and nearly 48 hours after it all started, I was able to email again.


Hey, what do you know, Thursday was pretty good except I still was limping pretty heavily and making Mike walk in baby steps with me. 


Time to check out of the hotel and head to the airport. I asked if they needed to see my credit card again and the answer was yes. One slight problem. My wallet was MIA. For sure MIA. I went through my very small purse, my backpack, searched my room, Mike searched the car and it was nowhere to be found. What was in it? About $300 in cash, my Driver's License, my medical insurance card, my debit card and one of my credit cards. 

Yes, the credit card was the one I only had for two weeks since the account got hacked as I was trying to book my flights.

Son of a...

The last time I saw my wallet was when I checked into the hotel on Monday night. Mike had been in country for a week with an expense report already started so he'd been picking up the tabs. I had no need to use any of my cards nor the cash. My only purchase was ,90 for a post card that I paid out of my random European change. (They don't take British coins in Germany, BTW, no matter how similar they look to Euro coins)

The hotel let me check out without it with an additional signature and they also checked their lost and found. I suspect that the wallet came out when I pulled my camera out on Thursday in the square by the Dom in Cologne and that I didn't see it fall. It's also possible that it fell out when I was in the office while I was digging for a pen but the office was closed for Good Friday and closed today for Easter Monday.

As we were driving to the airport in Frankfurt, Mike kept coming up with all these happy endings. "I get you're going to find it in your bag when you unpack." "Maybe it's in one of your jeans pockets." When he got to "Did you give it to me for safekeeping?", I just wanted him to stop. Seriously stop. While the thought of punching him in the head didn't actually enter my mind, it was about to. I know he was trying to put a positive spin on it all but it wasn't helping.

We got on our flight from Frankfurt to Chicago without any issues. At the first round of drink service I asked for a Diet Coke and the attendant gave me the can with a glass of ice. I poured some then looked away for a minute. When I looked back, my seat tray was rapidly filling with soda. There was a crack in my glass. Are you kidding me? The flight attendant said he'd never had that happen before and Mike and I had to laugh as it was just my luck. We gave him a summary of my misadventures and he suggested I should be drinking.

He was right. I ordered some red wine. Why I hadn't thought of that on my own, I'll never know.

Safely on the ground in Chicago and I used the washroom before going through customs. I had my passport in my back pocket. You may be able to guess what happened next. Yep, it fell into the toilet. I rescued it as quickly as possible and did my best to wash and dry it but it ended up pretty soggy from the washing part. Really, it was from the washing.

If I worked TSA, I would always wear gloves. This has to happen to more people than me.

At this point it was no longer surprising that things were amiss.

We headed to Chili's to get dinner and I called to cancel my debit card. It's not so easy to do when you don't have the card or your account number. As she was taking me through the security checks all was matching up until she asked for the information on my last deposit. I was able to say it was my paycheck that day but I couldn't give her my amount. The reimbursement for my flight and hotel was included and my "a lot more than usual" guess wasn't good enough. We eventually found a way and I am in no way dogging their process. I'd rather they err on the side of caution.

As I was sitting there drinking my Sam Adams, I tried to focus on the positives:

I didn't lose my passport which would have made getting home a challenge.
I was with a companion who paid for me and would have given me cash if I needed it.
I hadn't tacked on some personal travel at the end of this trip where I would have been screwed without my cards and money.
No one had used my cards.
The $300 I lost was a bummer but its loss wasn't going to prevent me from paying my mortgage.
I needed to update my Driver's License picture anyway.
My injuries were improving (though I did finally see some bruising).

None of that really helped, though. I could feel the emotions ready to fly. I told Mike, "One more thing, no matter how minor, and I think I'm going to burst into tears." I meant it.

Poor guy. He spent the rest of our way home praying that our flight was good and that my luggage made it and that just nothing at all hiccuped along the way. Fortunately, it all went well and I was home with my #terrors by 10:30 Friday night.

I just want to stay home for a while.


Random Happy Hour

My friend and work colleague, Steve, moved away for a few years but is now back and working with us again. I'm happy because he's a great human, a pleasure to work with but, most importantly, he's a social butterfly like me. (Well, I guess the great human part is more important, but not for this story.) The difference between us in the latter category is that he's much better at following through with events.

A few months ago, we set up an event called Random Happy Hour. The idea was to invite a bunch of different people within the organization, hang out in a relaxed setting and get to know each other better. We called it "Random" but it wasn't entirely. We invited our "usual" suspects, people we wanted to get to know better, people we wanted to introduce to each other and people with well developed internal networks. We then told everyone to invite whomever else they wanted to.

The first Random Happy Hour was fairly small but went well. We had good conversations and introduced some people to each other that hadn't had a chance to meet. Oh, and our CFO picked up the tab. Bonus! Oh, and Steve got caught in a work meeting and couldn't make it. Bummer!

We just had our second Random Happy Hour last week and it was much bigger and also quite fun. I won't say better than the first one because they each were great but it was a busier time. I was struck by how our random technique managed to gather such a diverse group of colleagues.

The group represented:
Two different countries.
All of the business units in the company (we have a lot).
The gamut of experience from one person who had just done New Hire Training that day to a Senior Manager who has been with the company longer than the new hire has been alive.
Ten different departments.

Just some of the gang.
(Next time, I'll get the group pic earlier and maybe even get in it.)
We went to a The Lodge - Sasquatch Kitchen in Tempe. It was a 10 minute drive from the office so no one had to go too far out of the way. They reserved an area for us that was next to the corn hole game, right outside the door from the pool tables and also near a Belgium outdoor game that was something like horseshoes and shuffleboard combined. Good food, great service and nice drink specials.

These four were willing to let their corn hole match end at 1-1.
Who knew I worked with so many Socialists? ;)
My heart overflowed at watching the mingling, discussions both light and deep and interactions within the group. There were personal tales, anecdotes about the colleagues in attendance and shared tribal lore. I truly believe that developing relationships between colleagues that go beyond just work relations make us a better organization and events such as these contribute to bringing us closer together.

I was nearly verklempt when we said we would plan a Random Happy Hour every quarter and there was a clamoring for one every month. Which was followed by restrictions on what day, what week and where which immediately decreased the level of verklemptness. (Yes, I'm making that a word.) To all of the special requests, I'll just say "You can't always get what you want unless you're the planner." :)

I'm grateful to have these times to remind me how lucky I am to work with these people and for our company. I'm also grateful to have Steve back and making these events happen.

A final tidbit on a personal highlight that really stood out. My friend T was telling a group of us how he and his wife moved to Arizona after college and that this was his first "real" job and that he's been here 25 years. The new hire was suitably impressed. Then, someone asked me how long I've been with the company and I replied "Seventeen years". The new hire exclaimed, "What, were you twelve?"

That was awesome in itself. The cherry on the sundae was that T is chronologically several years younger than I and she didn't even blink at his story.

Hearing stuff like that never gets old. Just like I will never get old.