Thrills in Sports for a Non-Jock

An old, old story tells of a young man rushing down the street in New York. He sees an older, more mature man and excitedly asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”  The older man slowly answers, “Practice. Practice.”

The question could also apply to AT&T Park, Levi Stadium, Oracle Arena or any other sports venue. The answer could also include, “Dedication and discipline.”  Of course, a little natural talent also helps.

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

When I was young I loved participating in sports, especially basketball, softball, table tennis, baseball, badminton, and tennis. I loved participating, but discipline, dedication, and practice were not in my vocabulary or my personality. Do not worry, this will not be about my triumphs and great moments in sports, but rather about lessons I learned, my enjoyment, and some defeats. Whatever skills I had can now be found in my personal rear view mirror and getting up from the couch and walking across the room require Herculean effort–well, almost Herculean.

DISCRETION:  When I was a senior at Washington High School in Los Angeles, then a virtually all white school, some buddies and I drove over to Fremont High, a virtually all black school that kept its gym open well into the evening. We went to shoot a few hoops. I was guarding a young black man and he was guarding me, but he kept doing little tricks that got beyond annoying rather quickly. He would pinch, poke with his fingers and open hands, and pretend to spit at me. I lost my temper and used an old trick involving my rather strong hips to knock him to the floor. He quite loudly accused my mother of having four legs, a tail, and being quite hairy. The entire gym suddenly quieted and all eyes were on the black guy on the floor and the white guy who put him there. The tension was palpable.

I did not want an evening of fun to develop into a race riot, especially when I was in a distinct minority. I had to act and act quickly, so I went over to my nemesis, put out my hand, and said loud enough for most everybody to hear, “Sorry, it was my fault,” and I helped him up. The tension immediately dissipated and the usual gym noise returned. We both continued playing hard, but there were no more incidents.

A quick word about the man who taught me how to use my elbows, knees and hips as both offensive and defensive weapons. When I was thirteen my family moved to Atlantic City, NJ. I had never played basketball prior to moving there. For some reason one of the NBA players who worked out there decided to help this stranger to a basketball court. He taught me how to protect myself, with sometimes a good offense being the best defense. He was a little man, about 5’ 7” but as fast and cool a player as I have ever seen. I never saw him off the court, and why he taught me so thoroughly I will never know. Some of you may have heard of him:  Red Klotz. He became the most losing coach in the history of sports because for over thirty years he was the playing coach for the Washington Generals who played against the Harlem Globetrotters. According to Wikipedia he played until he was 68 years old, won two games against the Globetrotters, but he lost over 14,000.

KNOW WHEN TO SHUT UP:  As a theater student who also loved sports, I was chosen to be the public address announcer at my community college, then called junior college, football games. We had a miserable team and had won one game all season. In the closing minutes of the final game we were behind, but down to the opponent’s 16 yard line with time running out. The quarterback threw a pass which was intercepted and run back 84 yards for a touchdown. Over the loud speaker I stupidly and hurtfully said, “Oh, well, you can’t win them all.”  At which point our entire bench turned to face the booth as if they had been choreographed and some sixty players saluted me–with one finger. The band director who was also an assistant dean suggested that I might want to stay home the following Monday. I still have not fully mastered the lesson of knowing when to keep my mouth closed.

HUMILITY:  Although I never had any coaching or formal training, I was always a fast runner. While at a special school in the Army at Ft. Benning, GA, our barracks were about 150-200 yards from the “Beer Garden.”  Several men in my company had run track in high school or college, and when we visited the “Beer Garden,” they would challenge me to a race. I have tried beer several times and just do not like it, so winning would get a beer for the others, a pint of ice cream for me. In the four months we were there, I never bought a beer, and I had a lot of ice cream.

One Saturday, however, one the trackmen and I were running just for fun. A young soldier came up to me and said, “You’re fast. Want to race?”  Confidently I agreed. We both were wearing green fatigues, and when the starter yelled, “Go!”, he exploded as if shot from a rocket launcher. All I saw was the back of his uniform. When the rest of our group got to us, one of his friends asked if I knew whom I had just raced. I did not. “Oh, he’s Curtis Cooksey and he holds the world’s high school record for the hundred yard dash.”  Mr. Cooksey and I shook hands, and I had a small dose, albeit temporary, of humility.

HISTORICAL DRAMA:  In October of 1957 I was on the public address system at a high school basketball game at the school where I was enjoying my first teaching experience. During the game one of my students came over to me, held up a portable radio, and said, “Listen.”  All I heard was a strange “Beep–beep–beep.”  The student explained what it was, and I in turn asked everyone to listen during a time out. It was, of course, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik, the first human made satellite in space marking the beginning of the “Space Age.”  Who won the game?  I have no idea.

THE BIG THRILL:  Perhaps the most exciting time I ever had connected  with sports occurred when I was not a participant, not an announcer, but simply one of 35,000 spectators at Dodger Stadium to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the first year New York Mets. Better actors learn quickly to “feel an audience” and respond to the audience’s responses. It is a lesson he or she carries over into being a member of the audience. On June 30, 1962, those of us among the spectators all began to notice that the Mets had put up a lot of goose eggs by the fifth inning. By the sixth or seventh the throng was unusually quiet and anticipatory, yet few would discuss it. The crowd hushed by the end of the eighth and everyone wanted to get to the top of the ninth when the Mets would bat. The hometown Dodgers had a comfortable lead, but few cared about that.

As those of you who know baseball probably realize, Koufax was on the verge of his first no-hitter. 35,000 of us began breathing as one body. With each pitch we inhaled as the ball left Sandy’s hand; we then held our collective breaths until the pitch was called a ball or a strike or foul,  Twice the ball was put into play and resulted in an out.  If I remember correctly some fifty-five years later, I think Koufax issued one walk in the ninth. When pinch hitter Gene Woodling came to bat, each pitch had all 35,000 standing and inhaling together, holding our breath together, then exhaling a sigh together. On the final pitch,  it was inhale, hold, and then explode as one body.  Johnny Roseboro, the catcher, raced to the mound and threw his arms around the beaming pitcher. We all wanted to do the same, but it was a quieter, more sedate time.

On the shelf above the computer desk where I am writing this, there is a gold (not real gold), small picture frame with a fifty-four year old ticket stub in it. The stub reads “Dodger Stadium/June 30, 1962, RESERVED $2.50.” No, that is not a typo:  the reserved seat cost $2.50 back in 1962.

Exciting? Good? Please do not tell any of my former English students, but It don’t get no better than that.”

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

I could have used a number of different titles for this article, no doubt many of them clichés, such as; “When the Genie’s out of the Bottle…” or, “Wrong Time, Wrong Place,” or, “Yes, You Can, but Maybe Your Shouldn’t,” or, “You Can’t Fix ___,” Okay, we won’t go there.

As wannabes all over the country now appear to have been infected with “Take-a-Knee-itis,” I feel an obligation to offer some advice that I am ashamed to say I should have offered to Mr. Kaepernick, way back when.

Before offering my advice however, I must say that I am perplexed by much of the discussion and apparent confusion on the part of team owners and NFL executives about team players’ “rights.” Because these are paid employees with contracts that specify standards of behavior, both on and off the playing field, based upon previous actions by the NFL, I believe that modification of the players’ rights of free speech and expression are within the bounds of employer policy.

For example, the NFL said “no,” when the Dallas Cowboys wanted to wear small decals on their helmets to honor the police officers murdered in July 2016. Cowboy owner Jerry Jones concurred, stating, “There are tons of things out there that need to be recognized. Once you open that Pandora’s Box, how do you ever stop?” Were the players’ intentions noble? Sure. But do they have the freedom to express themselves, even when they’re at work? Apparently, in some cases, no.

It’s much like in any business. An unhappy customer may stomp in and call an employee every name under the Sun—“Idiot,” “Nitwit,” “Useless Piece of Garbage.” But the employer won’t (if they plan to remain in business) tolerate an employee being disrespectful of that same customer—regardless of whether or not they “deserved” the same comments in return.

So, back to the exercise of free speech during professional sports events. Will the league and team owners fall in line and support players if they decide to “make a statement” by temporarily donning t-shirts over their jerseys (when they’re not actually playing), with a giant, emblazoned message on both sides proclaiming, “JESUS SAVES?” Come on! At least this is a positive message with a suggested solution for all that ails humanity.

Many voice their support for the kneelers’ rights to express themselves at these events. But what about messages we may not agree with? The ACLU says that Nazi symbols and Confederate flags are in bounds when it comes to free speech. Or how about a big, black ISIS flag? This is America, after all—surely there are people who support these causes too.

I am old enough to recall the raised black fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. Are all hand gestures protected?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. When the “I won’t stand for our flag” thing began, I believe Kaepernick acted solely on emotion with little thought of the long term ramifications. Maybe he should have consulted with a PR firm before launch! As soon as it was revealed that he had never even bothered to register to vote, his credibility was, as they say, “toast.”

Beyond that, when he justified his protests by referring to the September 2016 police shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, by saying, “This is a perfect example of what this is about,” he merely dug his lack-of-credibility-hole deeper. In both cases, Kaepernick accused the police of murder, but the investigations in both case by both local law enforcement and the United States Justice Department, exonerated the officers in both cases.

I won’t get into lots of facts and figures about racism in America today, because in truth, that isn’t really the point here. This is more about the perception and impact of “Taking a Knee.” Is it having a positive effect on professional football? No. Ratings, viewership and attendance are down. There is even a movement now circulating among veterans groups to boycott all football games—in person and on TV—on Veteran’s Day. The vast majority of American’s are clearly saying, “I support his right to do it… but I think it’s disrespectful.”   

Now for the Advice

If you’re goal is to draw attention to inequity or injustice, be certain that what you’re offering as evidence truly exists somewhere beyond the social media universe. And don’t accuse anyone, police or otherwise, of being a “murderer,” until you hear a judge and jury foreman say it first.

Think long term. Does your action really encourage the response you’re hoping for? Kaepernick drew attention to his point by doing it once or twice. Now that has become some kind of “in your face whether you like it or not conga-line spectacle,” it has no real meaning other than division.      

Where Do You Stand (Or Kneel)?

There is an even larger issue here also having to do with perception, but in a different way. What does the American flag and the National Anthem represent? What do they stand for? How does Kaepernick see America? How do the “kneelers” see America? How do you see America?

I don’t deny that there is work to be done. There always will be, so long as human beings are running the show. It seems there will always be plenty of reminders of our flaws, but is this the right place and time to be reminded? Does this protest draw us together to address a real problem, or does it mainly serve to divide, foster resentment, and make people dislike the messenger(s)?

Certainly, one of the things that makes America great is our right to differ. I tend to lean toward seeing the glass as always half full. I don’t deny the empty part; I just think it’s more productive to count our blessings and recognize those who enabled us to have the “water” in this glass that is America, in the first place.

To that end, I happen to believe, strongly, in standing at attention and saluting our flag; in singing along with the Star Spangled Banner and saying the pledge, because these are ways to say “thank you” to the patriots who have given so much so that I can live here, today, in this time, in this America. These are actions I am inspired to do. To my way of thinking, these are the things I can do. These are the things I should do.

Whatever Happened to Customer Service? The Sequel

Back in March of 2008, I wrote an article for Alive entitled Whatever Happened to Customer Service? After years of dealing with rude, arrogant, selfish, distracted and hopelessly ambivalent front line employees, I decided to voice my displeasure to corporate America. Like many of my friends, I was so tired of feeling unimportant, unappreciated and invisible to those who were taking my money that I spoke out for the masses. The masses may be a bit of an overstatement; maybe just a few friends, my sister, and a second cousin on my dad’s side.

 As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of “Customer Service,” I am constantly rating my “CS” experiences at restaurants, financial institutions and retail stores. My wife and kids will tell you that I’ve been known to rate the customer service I get from our spa service technician, my dentist and the people who work at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum/Arena. Just for the record, I love my dentist! (A big shout-out to Melanie Koehler, DDS, and her staff, in Danville.) I’m also known to regularly assess the service I get from the various airlines, rent-a-car agencies and hotels when I travel.I’m one of those old school guys (because I’m old) who believes if I’m spending my hard earned money to pay for a good, service or experience, then I should be treated well by the employees working for my business, unless I’m being a tool, which I try not to be, for whatever that’s worth. However, that brings up a good point. Let’s face it, the customer is not always right. There are more than a fair share of malcontents, scammers and “Grifters” out there trying to get over on unsuspecting businesses. Additionally, we live in a very litigious society. Therefore, while there should always be a high priority placed on customer service, I’ll understand if there’s a “once burned twice shy” underlying edict at work. I would just hate to see anything undermine a company’s CS based corporate culture.

While I was beginning to feel that customer service was becoming a lost art when my original article came out nine years ago, I’m here to tell you that I’m encouraged by the resurgence in customer care and the fine art of servicing your customers with respect and appreciation. Somewhere (Alive Magazine – March 2008), the word got out that the buying public was sick of being ignored, shunned and minimalized and the time was right to turn that ship around. In this Millennial “Me Generation” it’s good to see the more sophisticated executive management teams from a good number of companies are prioritizing customer service again.

Customer Service is something that I feel should be addressed at every level of an organization. If I ran a company such as Copeland Tech, Copeland’s Pet Emporium or McCopeland’s Irish Pub, once I hired a new employee I would enroll him or her in our Customer Service University (Go CSU). Before they could interact with my customers, they would have to complete their degree. Promotions would require an advanced degree. On day one, phrases such as “Hello, we’ll be with you in just a minute,” “Thank you for waiting,” “We appreciate your business,” and, “Please come again’” would be built into the culture. We would likely also add, “If you like us on FB or post a positive review on YELP you’ll receive a discount coupon for your next visit.”

I would periodically send in shills to rate their customer experience so that I could weed out the flunkies. Every organization has its share of flunkies or non conformers and they need to be purged. Not from the planet, just from a front line position of working with customers.

Ownership encourages us to think of our customers as guests. Our goal is to ensure our guests are treated like family. At the start of every season, part of our staff development is to instill trust in each other and trust from our guests.” Johanna Wilson, Guest Relations Director – Bridge Bay at Shasta Lake

In my original article, being so much younger and impetuous, I had no reservations about throwing a company under the bus if their employees displayed poor or non- existent customer service habits. That included Circuit City, AT&T, Abercrombie & Fitch and American Express. While some of those companies are still in business, other’s that disappointed me, such as Sports Authority, Washington Mutual Bank, Macaroni Grill and Radio Shack seem to have had trouble surviving. Is there any direct correlation? Me doeth think so. Don’t even get me started on the DMV or US Postal Service.

In that article, I also complimented numerous large companies that had placed an emphasis on training their employees to treat the customer with respect and gratitude. That included Safeway, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, San Francisco Giants/AT&T Park and Wells Fargo Bank. This was obviously before Wells opened millions of fake accounts for their unsuspecting customers. That’s “No Bueno” in the customer service world.

Needless to say, an emphasis on serving the customer starts at the top. Every successful CEO knows the importance of maintaining customer loyalty through exemplary customer service. Titans of industry such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Tim Cook may not have returned any of my calls for this article, but that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize that need for their front-line employees to be nice to me and make me feel appreciated and smart and special. Virgin, Tesla and Apple all do a wonderful job of training their personnel and my experiences have been great with these companies, although to date all I’ve done at Tesla is waste their sales peoples time, but (fingers crossed) one of these days I’ll be an actual buyer.

Recognition goes out to the following local companies/people who make customer service a priority everyday. Greg Meier of Diablo Motors and his staff go out of the way to make a prospective car buyer feel important and appreciated. Kurt Chambliss at TMC Financing and Matt Cheeseman at City National Bank should both win awards for how well they interface withclientsand how they lead by example with their respective teams.Both Greg Vella at Alpine Awards and Karen Cordeiro of Danville Bakery are to be commended for their willingness to go above and beyond at every turn and their commitment to the community. Finally, Jennifer Burton at Interior Motions(a workplace workspace company) could teach a graduate class in customer service at CS University. She may be the best I’ve ever seen at showing appreciation and taking care of her clients. Finally, Gotta Eat a Pita, AutoTech and Dublin Jewelers have all shown that they know the meaning of good customer service.

If we go with the basic definition of customer service, that being that it is the art of taking care of the customer’s needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high quality service and assistance before, during, and after the customer’s requirements are met, then I’m happy to report that apparently it’s an additional core value that’s been added to a lot more company’s mission statements and that makes this customer feels like he was heard, “way back when.”

ALIVE & Lookin’ Good In Danville

When I go into The Rouge Cosmetics in Danville I think, “effortless beauty.” They not only have superior nutrient based anti-aging skin care, but they have amazing cosmetics and custom foundations that perfectly match one’s skin tones with the most beautiful second skin coverage. I love it and I love their make-up collection by Fleur Visage; it’s so nice and trendy keeping up with the latest fashion trends.

The staff updates my look every season with colors that work for me while I still look like myself, which is great for me because I don’t have time to go looking for what’s in or out in make-up. They know. While I’ve been getting my eyebrows shaped and updated by them, I can proudly say, “I’ve been using their wonderful skin care and cosmetics for years.” 

The girls are professional and know their stuff. They all know color balance and how to make the most out of my own features, following a secret knowledge of what colors look right on me. The fact that I look healthy and not over-done; more youthful and younger than my years, is all due to the color choices and skin care they suggested for me to follow—and it’s so easy! 

They can make you look fresh, modern or years younger just by using the right color combinations, all while also updating you on the latest trends but keeping it real to your own look. It’s so great! I don’t waste time or money anymore on products that don’t work.

Theresa, the founder of The Rouge Cosmetics says, “Make-up is a spiritual journey. When you start wearing make-up in your teens you start picking up tips from every make-up artist, blogger and celebrity you can get your hands on, and you try everything. When you’re in your 20s, things start to heat up as you get into fake lashes, contouring, and smoky eye looks. Basically you want to look older. When you reach your 30s you start a good skin care program and sometimes you tone everything down when applying make-up, wearing a more sophisticated, minimalist look. In your 40s you want the best in skin care, adding serums and anti-aging creams. Some want to experiment more with make-up colors, wearing highlighters and skin shimmers, adding a little more eye make-up to balance their own individuality and to look more youthful. When you are in your 50s you love concealer and you are addicted to foundation and eyebrow pencils. You use serums religiously and you use superior skin care with nutrients, to take care of your precious, timeless skin.”  She went on to say, “When you reach age 60 and into your 70s, 80s, and beyond, you pick colors in cosmetics that brighten your face and colors to make you look ageless.”

With that said, The Rouge is the one-stop-shop for everyone and anyone who needs a beauty lift or a modern update of beauty necessities from your teens and beyond.

They definitely have you covered. Literally!