Monday, July 23, 2012

Customer service isn't dead after all

Whoever said customer service is dead should visit Harrison's Grill. The woman who waited on me there today hasn't gotten that memo.

I had an 11 a.m. interview in Clinton. My friend Charles, known in most circles as The Giant Rat of Knoxville, asked if I could meet for lunch. I suggested Harrison's, located in front of the Super Walmart near the Clinton exit off I-75. It's one of my favorite restaurants.

Well, they sat us in the bar area and immediately I was curious as to why I hadn't been handed a lunch menu. But, I found what I wanted. So did The Rat.

"Oh, wait," the server said as we gave our orders, "we have a lunch portion. And you shouldn't have even been given those menus."

She saved us money without us even asking.

I also didn't have to ask her to refill my water and coffee. She made sure the cup never came close to being empty. That's the sign of a good server.

Then came dessert time.

"Can you split up an order of banana pudding?" The Rat asked.

"Yes," the server said.

She gave us individual-sized portions, ones we didn't know we could order, again saving us money.

Customer service dead?

Not at Harrison's.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Time to get serious


It is time to get serious. Time to put away our pettiness. Time to drop our differences.

It's time to come together.

Overnight, a gunman opened fire in a theater in Aurora, Colo., filled with fans waiting for the premiere of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises." As I type this, 12 people have been killed, others wounded.


I am not going to blame this on video games, gratuitous violence in motion pictures, or the gun itself. I believe that a person is responsible for his or her own actions. Assassins are as old as antiquity.

However, I do think it is time -- long past time -- to have a conversation. We need to talk, succinctly and seriously, about what kind of country we want to be.

Do we want to be divided, anger spewing like smokestacks on the airwaves and in city halls and in Congress? Do we want to let vapidness and vitriol dominate our national discourse?

Or do we want to act like adults? Or, even better, like Americans, in the best sense of what that means.

Let's put the cellphones and the gaming consoles and the iPods away and start talking to one another again.

Let's value education over ignorance, reason over superstition, kindness over criticism.

Let's extend a helping hand rather than a middle finger.

Let's remember we aren't a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, or an anonymous name on an online forum, but flesh-and-blood human beings. People with problems, screaming for solutions. People who need one another.

ENOUGH, dammit. Enough.

It's time to get serious.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Priorities, or lack thereof

OK, here's the deal.

Viacom is at fault over this dispute with DirecTV. I think it will be fixed. Matter of time.

But, here's the point:

Why do we care?

Don't get me wrong. When GSN (it used to be called the Game Show Network until every channel decided to go Orwellian on us) abruptly stopped showing re-runs of "What's My Line?" a few years ago, I threatened to say goodbye to pay TV forever.

Then the sun came up and I went to work.

Last night on the CBS Evening News, I saw a story about civil war in Syria. I saw a story about a guy WHO HAS NO LEGS and yet climbed Kilimanjaro.

This is an election year. (Granted, a boring one.) The next four years are as uncertain as anything we have faced in 40 years.

I know a fellow, great guy, talented musician, who takes chemo for cancer and has to deal with its aftermath every day.

What?! Your child can't watch Nick Jr.? Here's an idea: hand the kiddo a book. Last time I looked, library cards are free.

Or, how about this: switch the station to PBS...

Please excuse me if I don't get too worked up about losing a few television channels, most of which I never watch anyway.

Seems like this "uproar" says something about our priorities, or lack thereof...

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A few minutes with Jakie Rooney...

OK, here's my Andy Rooney rant for today.

Don'tcha just hate it when you are right in the middle of a conversation and somebody says, "Hang on...I'm getting a beep," and then treats you to dead air for five minutes? Unless somebody is dying, forget it. Gossip later. We are talking here.

I'm getting fed up with those ubiquitous cell phones anyway. Oh, they serve a purpose. But, I swear, some people use them to the point they might as well be another appendage. We somehow managed to survive for thousands of years without them, anyway.

I don't want to try to talk to you during dinner while you are blabbing away on your phone. I don't think it's humane to keep chatting while a sales clerk or drive-thru attendant is taking your order. Hang up. Show some respect. They aren't your servants. They are people.

And, while I tweet and text myself, I shudder at the thought of what this is doing to the English language, which is already an endangered species. I'm sorry, but "C U L8ER" is not a sentence. It barely belongs on a license plate.

If you are at a party and your cellphone rings, let it go. If you are sitting alone at a restaurant using your cellphone, don't ruin my meal by talking so loudly I can hear every syllable of your argument with your significant other or the fact that you need to pick up a loaf of bread on your way home.

I couldn't care less. Let me eat in peace.

If we are in the theater watching a movie, turn the damn phone off. I want to see the celluloid. I don't want to hear you. I don't want to see the light flash when you tweet vapid verbiage. And if you have the temerity to let your cellphone ring during a live play, you should be swiftly executed.

And if you are driving? Don't even think about it. I don't want to become roadkill because of your fear of silence.

One of these days, we are going to forget how to carry on an honest-to-God eye-to-eye conversation with one another. Some of us are already there.

Put the cell phone away. Just. Put. It. Away.


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Monday, July 16, 2012

Fun in Ferndale

Ferndale, Mich. -- So, our three day weekend comes to a close.

Big blur, super short, too little time. But, then again, that's the way of it, right? We work too much and play too little, all in the name of some passe Protestant ethic.

To hell with that.

But, we've had a blast. At left, you'll see Jennifer and me with Robert Washington, Elvis Tribute Artist extraordinaire, the highlight of our stop Saturday at the annual Michigan ElvisFest. Fabulous. Hear him here.

We are here, too, to see friends David and Jennifer. I have been heading here, or they have done the opposite, since 1999. They live in Ferndale, this funky, freaky, fantastic foxhole north of Detroit.

This afternoon, we watched the Tigers tame the Orioles via the televisions at Rosie O'Grady's bar. Then we went shopping. I bought three or four books at The Library bookstore -- John Cheever, James Agee, a "Hawaii Five-O" paperback from '68, and Ernie Harwell's early autobiography. (Then I dropped a C-note at a vintage clothing store. Groovy, baby!)

Speaking of the late, great Mr. Harwell, we saw the play "Ernie" at the City Theatre in downtown Detroit on Saturday night. I laughed. I cried. I lamented a long-gone era. Mitch Albom wrote the play. Perfectly poignant.

Before the show, we drove by a fenced-in lot, all that remains of beloved Tiger Stadium. I don't care how cool Comerica Park may be (and it is cool), it will never match the magic of the long-gone cathedral at The Corner. Not a chance.

This weekend was much-needed medicine. I've felt like hell for two weeks. So has Jenn. We needed a grin. We needed old friends.

Every time I come to Ferndale, I get caught up in its bohemian beauty, in its quirky charm, in its ethos.

Now I must return to tea party-tinged Tennessee. I will be honest. The thought depresses the hell out of me.

So it goes. Life is good.

We have enjoyed these two days. I have gotten all shook up and basked in beer and baseball and bell bottoms and the beauty of time spent with friends.

But here is the best part:

We'll be back.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jack Benny and me

I have inadvertently written a "series" of blogs of late on my love affair with radio.

So, I thought I'd conclude it by telling you about my all-time favorite series -- radio, TV, or otherwise -- and my favorite comedian.

I speak, of course, of Jack Benny. If you are too young to know about Mr. Benny (I probably should be, but that's a different story), let me tell you this: in his day, he was bigger than the biggest celebrity you can name today. And more talented. And funnier. And smarter.

Jack was a master at comedic timing. I've never seen a performer milk a laugh simply by standing there. As George Burns once said, "Jack would stand there until you started laughing. If you didn't start laughing, the show was over."

He was a true genius, one-of-a-kind, the man who practically invented the situation comedy as we know it.

All the greats loved him -- Burns, Carson, Cavett, Hope, Newhart -- need I go on? His incredible career began in vaudeville and his popular radio (and later TV) series ran from the early 1930s well into the 1960s. He kept working right up until the last few weeks of his life. Trends came and went, but Jack's brand of comedy never got old. He proved that you don't have to pull down your pants -- either literally or figuratively -- to get a laugh.

In a fantastic blog post, TV comedy writer Ken Levine talks about Jack's ability to even get laughs out of his greatest professional disaster, a stinker of a picture called "The Horn Blows At Midnight." Again, he milked it for almost 30 years.

Another great thing about Jack Benny is he didn't care who got the laughs. He was nothing like his vain, miserly alter ego. Once, he opened a season of his radio show by having his cast do the ENTIRE episode by themselves. He only showed up at the end for ONE LINE.

Name a so-called "star" who would do that today...

As I told you before, I listen to Benny's radio shows at night when I can't sleep. Catch a few of them here, but skip forward to the episodes beginning in the mid-1940s, when the show really hit its stride.

To hear Mel Blanc tell it, Jack also had a heart of gold. That may be the best part of it all.

Take a listen sometime, or do a "Jack Benny" search on YouTube.

Just for fun, here is a clip of Benny's "mystery guest" appearance on the popular CBS game show "What's My Line?"

As the cartoon character The Brain would say, "Now THAT'S entertainment, Pinky!"

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

News on the air

I like to listen to news on the radio.

Yes, yes, I'm a newspaper guy. The papers are still my No. 1 news source. (Especially the print editions. Call me a dinosaur. I don't care.)

But give me a choice between watching news on the tube or listening to it on the radio, I'll pick the latter. Every time. (Although I did hear a radio commentator refer to Pat Summitt as UT's women's basketball coach "Emer-i-TEE-tus." I kid you not.)

I'm listening to National Public Radio as I type. Sometimes, when I have trouble sleeping (i.e. every night), I listen to the BBC World Service before drifting off to dream. Half the time, though, I get interested in the discussion and stay up deep into the dark.

I use modern technology to my advantage. Between the Internet and Sirius/XM, I can listen to all kinds of stations. My Twitter feed includes links to hourly updates from CBS Radio News.

I can indulge my news nostalgia by listening to classic broadcasts on old time radio websites. Ed Murrow. John Cameron Swayze. Bob Trout.

Even Walter Cronkite -- the TV news anchor the way Irene Adler is the woman to Sherlock Holmes -- got his start on radio.

Baseball, that great game, is even better on radio than it is on television, IF you are listening to a great play-by-play announcer. Those are few and far between now.

I was born in the wrong era. I don't care.

Pardon me while I turn up the dial...

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Take everything else, just bring me books...

Forgive me if I've sounded like a creaky curmudgeon on a few posts of late.

No excuse, but I think the heat and my health are getting to me.

Been resting this weekend. R&R, you might say.

I have read the local daily this afternoon and am working on The Times. The Book Review reminded me I need to start reading the Douglas Brinkley biography of Walter Cronkite I bought on its publication date. I'm going to do that in a few minutes when we finish our chat.

The other night, Jenn and I went with friends Bridget and Dewayne to McKay Used Books. Yeah, I needed a cart. But, hey, I got 10 or 12 tomes for about the price of one heavy hardback.

My fantasy vacation -- other than the Hawaii thing, which I'll try to let lie -- is to take a month off and do nothing but read. Oh, I'd throw in moments for music, too. Without a song, you see, the day will never end.

But, yeah. Me. Books. Four weeks. Fun.

I always loved that episode of "The Twilight Zone" in which Burgess Meredith plays the all-but-blind bibliophile banker who can't find room to read. One day he locks himself in the vault. BOOM! Nuclear explosion. He's the only survivor.

"Time enough at last!"

Then he trips and tears his glasses.

(Rod Serling was a sick genius.)

But you get the point.

I read a rather depressing article a few weeks ago. Its premise was that, simply due to the rather short amount of time a human has to read, we're going to miss virtually everything. Great novels. Good stories. Travelogues. Truths. Lies. Loves.

But, dammit, I'm going to give it my best shot.

Thomas Wolfe in waiting rooms. Alan Alda on airplanes. Dickens for dessert. Biographies for breakfast.

Here's the gosh-darn truth of it and if this makes me a nerd, well, I plead guilty as charged:

If somebody stole my wallet tomorrow, the thing I'd miss most would be my library card.

You can have my MasterCard and Visa. You're not going to get far anyway.

Just bring me books.

One last salute to Andy

...I feel like this myself...

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Saturday, July 07, 2012

'Harbor Lights' on Saturday night

Survived a stop at the ER yesterday afternoon.

Whew. Surprising diagnosis, but everything is going to be fine.

Meanwhile, I am taking it easy. Also, remember my wifey, if you will. She is in some serious pain and is worried she may have to have surgery.

Tonight, I caught an old episode of "The Bing Crosby (radio) Show" on Sirius/XM. From 1950. Guest star Dick Powell. Bing was crooning "Harbor Lights."

Guaranteed to cure what ails ya!

Ba boo, ba boo, ba boo boo boo boo...

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Tuning the dial to the mists of time...

I love old-time radio.

I know what you're thinking. "Here Mabe goes again. He's standing at the corner of Nostalgia and Anachronism."

I don't care. I love it.

(I still prefer listening to the news on the radio than on television, such as I can get it. CBS Radio News. NPR. BBC World Service.)

I like to listen at night, just before bedtime. It is relaxing. It is fun.

Sirius/XM has a great OTR channel, but I still like to listen to the shows a la carte. My favorite website is My favorite show is Jack Benny's. He invented the modern sitcom as we know it. I've gotten to laughing at these things so much I can't get to sleep. That was entertainment, baby.

I also love "Gunsmoke." Entertaining. Inventive, especially with its sound effects. Trivia: Marshal Dillon was played by William Conrad. Chester was played by Parley Baer. Doc was played by Howard McNear. (The last two were part of "The Andy Griffith Show" cast.)

Radio shows aren't as passive as TV. You have to use your imagination. My pictures are still better than those on the boob tube, even on "Gunsmoke."

Plus, it's a lot of fun.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Let freedom ring! (And rock!)

What Andy Griffith means to me

When I got the news, I didn't cry. I had been expecting it, to some degree.

But I felt a loss. A deep loss. Yet another sign that time is flying by like a house on the side of the road.

You know it by now. Andy Griffith is dead.

I was busy when I heard it so I didn't have time to mourn. But the memories crash-landed into my mind.

Happy ones, of childhood, when I pronounced his name "Andy Gippet," and Dad could tell the year the episode was filmed by the model years of the cars.

Great ones, of "Goober and the Art of Love" and "Andy and Helen Have Their Day" and Barney dressed up like a mannequin at Weaver's Department Store, and Goober and Howard dancing Helen's socks off in Howard's swank bachelor pad.

Poignant ones, of the time Andy taught Opie an important life's lesson when Ope killed the mama bird, or of the advice we all could use (me at the top of the list) from "Man in a Hurry."

I joined The Andy Griffith Show Re-Run Watcher's Club when I was about 12 or 13. I wanted to move to Mayberry.

I have seen all 249 episodes, some of them at least 50 times. Watching Griffith and Don Knotts' Barney play off one another never, ever, fails to bring a grin, as it will now and forever and ever, amen.

I hated some of the shows. The one in which Clara gets the church organ is so corny it makes me want to rob a bank. The one in which the kids strap the walkie-talkie to Goober's dog is simply stupid.

Those are exceptions, though.

"Andy and Helen Have Their Day" is my favorite. It is the one in which Mayberry's First Couple can't find time to spend together so Barney offers to do all their chores on a Saturday and sends them to the lake. The only problem is he keeps showing up, too! (When he comes stumbling through the brambles and yells at Goober for eating a sandwich, I cackle until I cry.)

Griffith always said the show was about love and he was right. As somebody put it, "When Barney fell, Andy was there to catch him."

Remember the one in which Barney organizes the cave rescue, thinking Andy and Helen are trapped, and they sneak back inside to avoid making Fife look like a fool?

I have thought for years that I should make one of those colored bracelets that says, "What Would Andy Taylor Do?" Imagine how much better this ol' world would be if we took a page from Sheriff Taylor's playbook.

I loved Andy on "Matlock" and in "No Time for Sergeants" and in "A Face in the Crowd," with Knoxville's own Patricia Neal, which in my mind is his most underrated performance. One Memorial Day, I went to see a film called "Waitress" just because Andy Griffith played the owner of the diner.

It is perfectly poignant that he died on the eve of our nation's birthday. He wasn't a saint and apparently he was a bit of a grump, but Andy Griffith was, is and will forever be a national treasure. He has enriched our lives and made us laugh and, at least in Mayberry, taught us how human beings should act and live.

I am not ashamed in the slightest to tell you I loved him, I'll miss him, and, yep, now I have gotten a little water in my eyes.

God bless you, Ange. Truth be told, you're not even gone. I'm throwing a DVD in the player right now.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Rollin' with the flow

Can't sleep. Thought I'd duck in and say hello. Hope you're doing well. If you're on the road or in the air this week, take care and be safe.

Life is good. Old friends are back. The music sounds great. The words still rhyme.

You know, I have ups and downs just like anyone else, but when you stop and take stock, one can't help but notice how sweet it is, to quote The Great One.

Even in 100-degree heat, think about the soldiers and Marines who deal with this on a daily basis in conditions we can't fathom.

Did I have food on the table? Check.

Did I have a bed on which to lay my head? Check.

Did I have a job at which to work? Check.

Yeah, life is good.

Politics and ignorance and just plain rudeness get me down.

But then I think about grins and friends and how the harmony blends. The King. The Killer. The Duke. The Drifter.

Family and fans and enemies, too, if I have any. If I do, I hate to hear it. And I love you anyway.

Take a load off, Fanny, and have a laugh on me, 'cause I can help.

You do what you want. I'll be the guy laughing too loudly, talking too much, singing when I shouldn't, grinning through it all.

You've got to laugh to keep from cryin', right?

Plus, I still love rock and roll,

And I keep on rollin' with the flow...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Time to take out the trash

I am an historian by training. I'm a writer by vocation. I'm an armchair psychologist by avocation. The point is I like to observe others and muse awhile on what used to be called "the human condition."

Billy Joel said it best. "The good ol' days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

True. But, alas and alas.

I'm tired, sick and tired, of poisonous partisanship. It's happened before. 1800. 1824. 1856-60. 1868. 1876. 1952. 1964-74. 1994-now.

But something is missing, something is gone. Civility, maybe. Manners, certainly. Common sense, definitely.

Disagree? Well then, you're not just wrong, you're a traitor, or a Communist, or a conservative wingnut or a liberal elitist.

What! You think? Listen to the news! READ BOOKS FOR PLEASURE?

No, no, no. We can't have that. You live in an ivory tower. You need to be ignorant and proud of it.

Or you're just some crazy conservative, clinging to God and guns like Linus' security blanket.

Enough with the stereotypes. Give it up.

Let's sit down and sup awhile. Who knows? We might learn something from one another. One thing I do know: You can learn quite a bit by listening.

I am conservative on some issues, liberal on others. My positions change from time to time. I hope that means I'm using my brain. (Oh, I'm sorry. You're right. I'm a flip-flopper.)

Pete Hamill wrote once that a stench came back over from Vietnam and has never left. Seems like that's right.

I smell it at least once a day, shake my head, and muse a minute on what the hell happened to the America I thought I'd inherit.

Is this the best country on earth? You better believe it.

But whatever bloody era this ends up being, I won't remember it as a vintage wine from a very good year.

It's more like the soiled stench from a garbage heap that has been piling too high for too long.

It is time, way past time, to take out the trash.