Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

What ever happened to those granola-crunching hippie chicks in their long flowing dresses? The ones with a flower behind each ear and a naked baby wrapped around their waist. Whatever happened to the back-to-the earth movement and all those folks embracing mother nature? I think I found them and in a place you’d hardly expect. 

Back in October of 1967, that psychedelic generation, of my generation, disappeared with the ‘Death of the Hippie’ ceremony in San Francisco. By then, time and politics and media saturation had hastened the gradual demise of their tribe as a cultural icon for peace and love and living the simple life. 

Now they’re back in plain sight and unabashed contentment. If you look carefully, they’re all around us and it does make perfect sense after all. They’ve been reborn in the children of those cultural pioneers of women’s rights, women’s sexual freedom, political activism, social-involvement and community-caring.

But these new hippies aren’t into paisley prints, flowery skirts and a flower in their hair. They’re back living in the city instead of a commune in the country. They’ve spearheaded the movement back to the city and found their own community of like-mind souls in the rubble of those old vestiges of their parent’s city. These women are smart, intuitive, vested in their community and still carry subtle hints of the flower children of their mother’s era.

Instead of being college drop-outs, they’ve got advanced degrees and aren’t afraid to show their gifts of intelligence and grounded observations of the world around them. I know of one young woman who got her law degree (on a full scholarship), worked at a law firm and then at the capitol. She’s now a stay-at-home mom, raising her children yet still finding time to run three miles a day and do triathlons all the while staying involved in her community and local politics. This is not a local phenomenon. It crosses both city and state boundaries. I know of a Florida transplant in another community doing much the same thing. 

It’s the new woman of today who sees her children as precious uncut gems, her home as her sanctuary and the community as her extended family. She can grow vegetables in her backyard and still find great Two Buck Chuck deals at Traders Joes. She wants her kids in sports but says: “hold off on the trophies if it’s just for showing up.” She values education above all else and places expectations on her children’s teachers as she would on herself.

These new hippies are raising kids and managing households without being encumbered by the old axioms of the’ little woman at home.’ In many instances, they own the real estate themselves or have negotiated the deal alongside their husbands.  They’ve come a long way, baby…but don’t ever call them baby!

They’ve traveled far beyond the homestead and have seen and done things only early female pioneers could imagine. They’re as comfortable behind a podium as they are on a glider nursing their infant.

They see experience as food for the brain and the soul. It’s much the same for their children. Summers are no longer for hanging around the playground or being glued in front the boob tube. Now there are camps for every activity imaginable and then some.

Back in my day, hippies had the Oracle in San Francisco and local mimeographed rag sheets to get the latest news of community events. Most large cities had their own version of the Oracle. It was probably the precursor to today’s ‘Reader’ rag sheets.

Now in the Twin Cities, they’ve got MN Post and the Line and other internet message boards and news sites. If they want to communicate in person from a distance, they can do Face time or Skype or use other face-to-face mobile devices.

Back in the day, there were communes to raise the kids. Now these women have ECFE, Park and Rec. programs, play dates and the old, reliable but newly energized resource on the horizon, grandparents.

Community gardens are still community gardens. But now there are direct farm-to-table supply lines of fresh produce. And of course, Whole Foods and Trader Joes, are available for organic fare. To save money, they’ve got Savers and Good-Will and the old standard, garage sales.

Many of these women handle the household finances and know more about the globe economy than a lot of the newly minted sprouts on Wall Street.

Stimulants have changed from pot to fine wines and craft beers.

They’re forging new trails in women’s rights and equality. They’ve come a long way but they’ll all tell you, there’s still a long way to go. Many seem to have taken a line from the New Frugality in which ‘living within one’s means’ is the new norm instead of the exception. And living a simpler, sustainable lifestyle is the way to true wealth in mind and soul.

The New Frugality is a new book that espouses these values and virtues.

Maybe those hippies of my generation were on to something after all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It was Twenty Years Ago Today

(with apologies to the Beatles)

Twenty years ago, on July 23rd, 1993, I got fired from my job in public television.

While I didn’t quite leave the building humming my favorite Bob Dylan tune “I Shall Be Released,” it was, never-the-less, a real turning point in my life. I’m a very lucky guy.

The only other time I got fired was while I was in college. I had just gotten a job as the night clerk at a prestigious private men’s club in downtown Saint Paul. At that time, visiting businessmen could rent rooms on the upper floors of the building. My friend told me about the all night job that paid well and didn’t require much work aside from staying awake and answering the phone should any of the overnight guests call downstairs.

Unfortunately, my colleague (who got me the job) didn’t bother to tell me where the ice was stored back in the kitchen. My first night on the job, two very inebriated guests stumbled downstairs in desperate need of ice for their drinks. I couldn’t help them since I had no idea where the ice was stored. Consequently, the poor souls had to wander the streets of St. Paul late at night in search of ice. That offense was great enough to get me fired the very next day.

The classy manager didn’t bother to fire me directly. He just told my friend that I had been canned. I’ve never checked with the Guinness Book of World Records but less than eight hours on the job has got to be some kind of record!

My second firing, after thirteen years on the job, came out of the blue. Office politics has never been my forte. I’ve always naively assumed that if I did my job and did it well that I was safe. What I hadn’t realized was that behind the scenes all kinds of political games were being played and jobs were hanging in the balance. So I became an easy target to shift the blame away from my boss for short-comings in his department. It was all part of a much larger game of oneupmanship and palace intrigue.  Little did I know what a great favor he was doing me. 

It was the people back then and never the place. I’ve always loved and admired the role that quality public television has played in my life and that of my family, especially my grandchildren. In fact, in lieu of mindless time spent in front of the boob tube, I’ve taken to watching PBS documentaries on my laptop at night. It’s a refreshing change of pace and very informative.

It’s never pleasant getting fired especially from a job you love and folks you like working with. Of course, not all of my colleagues were keepers but there were enough of them whom I considered my friends as to make it hard to say good-by and move onto something different in my life. Many of those same folks gradually moved on themselves to other opportunities. Others have passed away. The old place isn’t the same. That’s too bad as well as being a good thing. In reality, the station was just a tiny capsule of time in a much larger equation called life. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, neither the place nor my work defined me.

With the firing my world was suddenly a very different place. What I hadn’t expected was the excitement and fear of being totally self-employed for the first time in my life. Suddenly I had become the master of my own destiny. No longer would I have to depend on the erratic behavior of my boss to second-guess where the political winds were blowing each day. No longer would I have to play the games that new CEO was cooking up as he tried to mold our business into the east coast model he had come from. No longer would I have to listen to the bitching and complaining that some of my colleagues engaged in as they sleep-walked through each day.

It would have been nice if I had taken that giant step on my own. If I had summoned up the courage to follow my heart and strike out on my own before that incident. But with two young kids and a mortgage, I wasn’t about to venture out into the wilderness of self-employment until the time was right.

Politics made it right and I’ve never looked back since. A friend once told me that after six months of self-employment, he had become unemployable. He just couldn’t see himself working a regular nine to five job ever again. I know exactly what he meant. Who says You get to be Boss.

WhatColor is your Parachute’ was my guide to future employment opportunities. I was determined to do what I wanted to do. The hours didn’t matter. I’ve never worked a nine-to-five job or an eight-to-four job or a morning-to-afternoon job in my life. Don’t intend to start now.

Like a phoenix I was able to rise up again. I was lucky.

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.

Old age is far more than white hair, wrinkles, the feeling that it is too late and the game is finished, that the stage belongs to the rising generations. The true evil is not the weakening of the body, but the indifference of the soul.
                                                                                        Andre Maurois

I have a horror of not rising above mediocrity.
                                                    Robert Baldwin

I guess if it hadn’t been for those two drunks and a cowardly boss, I might have followed the same old path as most everyone else around me did. I was a very lucky guy twenty years ago today.

I’m still a very lucky guy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Something Strange is Happening Here (with apologies to Crosby, Stills, and Nash)

Sometimes my daughter goes a bit ballistic because of some of the comments I make or the observations she feels I shouldn’t share with others…especially on my blogs. This could be one of those examples.

I thought it would be cute and attention-getting to entitle this blog: ‘The Caucasians are coming’ (or something akin to that.) The idea came from a movie from the late 60s. The film was entitled: “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. The main premise was that a Russian submarine had run aground by a small Northeast Maine fishing village and its inhabitants were all up in arms because they thought they were being invaded by the Russians.

Now the good residents of my hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota might be saying the same thing.
There’s an invasion going on and it’s been quietly happening for over ten years now.

I spent the first twenty-one years of my life trying desperately to get out of Dodge. I couldn’t wait to split from Saint Paul and see the world. That was the norm back then. Young people split. Old people stayed. Downtown was dying ghost town and new families were moving to first tier suburbs. I couldn’t imagine raising kids in the city.

Fifteen years later, when I came back to Minnesota with a family, I would never have considered moving back to the cities. The new and burgeoning suburb of Apple Valley was the place for me. I got a nice sized rambler, large yard, good schools and wide open spaces left around.

But perceptions change and tastes change and attitudes shift over time. What was once an unattractive alternative to the good suburban life has now morphed into a very attractive alternative to painful commutes, dependency on the car to get practically anywhere in town,
over-crowded schools and lack of amenities that so many young folks demand. For them, the city is the answer.

While not quite an urban pioneer, my daughter was one of the first of her friends to plant her roots firmly in the city. First in an apartment in Saint Paul and then after marriage to a home in Highland Park.

She has a cute little doll house (her description, not mine), a small fenced-in yard, close proximity to shopping and in the future, a range of good schools to choose from. She wouldn’t trade it for the world. Nor would many of her friends who live nearby.

My, how things have changed in just a brief fifty years. Data collected from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows that Saint Paul has experienced a twenty-eight percent influx of white population between 2000 and 2010.

It’s a reversal of the white migration to the suburbs which started in the early 50s. By the time, I had graduated from high school in 1961; I didn’t know anyone who wanted to stay in the city. Now their children and grandchildren are flocking back to plant their roots there. And it’s not just downtown or hip urban neighborhoods that are experiencing this kind of growth. Select neighborhoods around the core downtown areas are also experiencing this kind of change.

Who knew what changes a mere fifty years could bring?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Sat Down with God Today

I sat down with God today. We all know he’s a man of very few words so what he had
to say was very powerful. We were sitting in his house, looking around at all the colorful vestiges of his organization and reminiscing about the guy he had just welcomed back home. After struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for several years, Delbert was finally resting in the arms of the Lord.

Sitting in the front pew, I kept staring at his simple casket and reflecting on the man I had known for more than forty years. Delbert was what they used to call back in his time and what I’d still call today, “a stand-up guy.”  Everyone agreed Delbert was “a good man.”

Delbert loved his wife, his children, his grandchildren and his country. He lived his life the way you’re supposed to live it, straight and true to the beliefs instilled from generations before him. Delbert came from old Nebraska farming stock where hard work and simple beliefs nurtured and defined a man. My kids remember growing up and visiting his farm. There were hills to climb, crops to get lost in and cats to catch…if you could.

After retirement, Delbert loved going to the coffee shop with the “big boys” and solving most of the world’s problems. Now he’s got an even larger celestial audience to share his thoughtful views of the world.

Over time, it was hard for Delbert to adjust to the social changes swirling all around his simple world. Yet he kept a steady grip on his beliefs, his core values and his vision for what it meant to lead a good life. The man had real class.

Despite our society’s obsession with material possessions and status among our peers, class really isn’t defined by money or stature in society. And we all know it. Money doesn’t equate with class any more than a title conveys real power. Class is internal. It’s the way a man lives his life without the attention and platitudes that society renders on our self-anointed standards of success.

Real class is defined as holding true to one’s values and beliefs. Class is the mark of a man whose principles and beliefs aren’t altered or changed by the whims of society. By those age-old standards, Delbert was a very classy guy.

     “What you teach is what you are. You don’t teach by telling people things.”
                                                                                                            Milton Glaser.

Delbert had a hard time giving praise so he led by example instead. He created four strong-minded, independent citizens of the world. Four children-adults, who in turn, created their own citizens of the world. Each of that subset is bright, ambitious and ready to make their own mark as their grandfather did.

The true essence of a man still stands today as it has for thousands of years over countless cultures. What did he do with the time he had on earth? What did he leave behind beyond the trinkets and residue of wealth and memories? In short, what difference did he make in the world of mankind?

In the end, Delbert led a very good life. He gave inspiration and hope to four individuals who in turn continue that tradition of leading by example and passing down the wisdom of the elders to their own children.

I was honored to know the man and call him my Father-in-Law.

God said he was very pleased too.