Archive | April, 2013

Where everybody knows your name …

16 Apr

This is an odd week. The weather is crap, work is stressful, and that stuff plus Monday’s bombing in Boston at the end of the marathon has me thinking of and wishing for simple, uncomplicated life and things. Whenever something awful like that happens, my automatic retreat isn’t into paranoia (like so many wackadoodles on the internet are doing), nor really into anger – disappointment, yes, but not anger, nor into fear. My “happy place” as it were is, well, happy things. And like I’ve written about so many times, while we talk about, take pictures of, post about, tweet about, (and in our parents day, bore our friends with the slides of …), the big things in our lives, honestly, it’s the little things that really supply that daily dose of happy.

Little things like your happy dog greeting you when you walk in the house at the end of the day. Noticing the crocuses are poking up on a cold spring morning. Greeting your neighbor as you both pick up the newspaper in the morning. A high five or “knuckles” after a momentary moment of triumph. That first aroma of that first sip of coffee in the morning. The smell of Grandma’s house. And much/many more.

Circling it back to Boston, and giving you a look at how my always spinning mind works, every morning, I stop at the same Starbucks on my route to work – the one on the NW corner of Randolph and Wacker Drives in Chicago. I always order the same thing – Grande decaf Americano with two pumps of sugar free vanilla syrup in it. I’ve been doing this so often that they know my drink, know my name and greet me as such every morning. “Hey Stew – the usual? And they repeat it back to me as they fill out the cup. I pay with the iPhone app, then go wait for my drink where the barista makes it and hands it to me with a smile: “Here’s your Americano, Stew, two pumps, decaf. Have a great day.”

This morning, I was thinking of everyone in Boston like so many people. The people horribly maimed and instantly dismembered by the bomb – with legs and arms blown away. The people killed. And as I walked into Starbucks, like I do every morning, I got a chill. The daily routines of those that were injured so horribly will never ever be the same. And the little things for them will all change. I got to thinking about what if one of those people – like the guy with his lower leg blown off being pushed in the wheel chair by the guy in the cowboy hat – had a regular routine like me. And suddenly, he just doesn’t show up again. I know the “familiar strangers” (a topic I wrote about last year) in his life would probably miss him. When I miss my Starbucks stop for a few days, they notice – “Hey, Stew, where ya been, man?” Anyway, so chilling. My prayers go to all these people for their comfort and healing, and to those that lost their lives, I pray that their families can find comfort and blessing in the memories of their family members.

Which, brings me to my other Boston connection. As I grabbed my coffee and turned to leave the Starbucks this morning, and Davis, the barista calls to my back “Enjoy the day, Stew, see ya tomorrow”, the theme song to the TV show “Cheers” popped into my head. “Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name … and you’re always glad ya came”. And I realized, among all the things that are my little favorite things, this has to be one of the biggest ones. Whether it’s the hardware store, the Starbucks, the Honda dealer, the corner bar, the local restaurant, etc., we, as humans, crave familiarity, even among strangers. When go somewhere, whether it’s a business, or just anywhere else, it’s good to have people who know you who are. It feels good. You feel like you’re among friends.

I like to joke, but it’s really no joke, that one of the reasons I’ve been successful as an account-side person in the advertising biz (who, by job description is designated with building relationships and friendships with everyone we deal with) is because I was trained well by a man named Jim. Jim (who is a subscriber to my blog) was the manager of the country club in my hometown, and I worked there summers and winter breaks all through college as a bartender. Jim taught me to memorize the names of our patrons, memorize their favorite drinks, etc. and then when the person came in, you’d have that drink made before his or her butt hit the chair, and would deliver it to them as they sat down. Nothing made Burt Livingston feel better than having me arrive at this table with his tall Dewar’s and water and a glass of wine for his wife Junella. Nothing made Dr. Cather feel like a big shot than to have me deliver a glass of his favorite “Taylor’s New York State Sauterne” (of course giving the full name of the wine as I served it) as he sat down with his guests. (Please no comment about Dr. Cather’s choice of wine. ‘Nuff said.) The Newton Country Club was the place where everybody knew their names, were always glad they came. And the Irreverend Jim preached the gospel of “make people feel special”. It’s something that has served me well all these years.

Robin always is a bit puzzled by me in that I love going back to the same places for dinner, for drinks, etc. over and over again. She says it’s the “Iowan” in me, that I don’t like adventure, etc. It’s not that. I do love new places, new adventures, new things. But when I want to feel good, when I want to go to my happy place, when I’m managing my way in the world today and it’s taking everything I’ve got. When I’ve craving a break from all my worries, it sure does help a lot. I would like to get away. So sometimes I got to go where everybody knows my name … and well, you know the rest.

Here’s the theme video. Enjoy:

And if you’re so inclined, pray for those folks in Boston. And pray for those folks in Boston that they see every day. The people that know their names.  And may not see them anymore.

As you were,


That first car

12 Apr

We reached a fun milestone at the Campbell house last night. I came home with a car for my sons. We staved off this decision for as long as we could for a combination of both money and principle but with Alex and Brian graduating this spring, and Brian staying local for college and living at home next year, it was time. Which of course, brought me around to thinking about first cars, my first car, other people’s first cars, etc. etc.

I think getting your first car must be a uniquely American rite of passage (and I’d love it if my pals in the UK could weigh in on the concept). And I think it’s probably a bigger deal for males than females, although I do know a lot of girls that love their cars and were so excited with their first cars. The timing of a first car is also an interesting thing – I do know many people that got their first cars on or around their 16th birthday – and it was truly a car for them. The really lucky ones (and some might say spoiled) got NEW cars for that occasion. Then, there were those of us that got cars at a later age. I got my first car the summer before my junior year in college. My sister got her first the fall of her junior year in college. My folks were of the opinion that high school kids didn’t need cars of their own, and the family ride was perfectly fine. Considering that my dad liked to have a fairly new car as the family car, and we liked a bit of luxury, though in a Midwestern, conservative vein (think Oldsmobile, versus Cadillac), I always had a nice car to take on dates. Whereas I think if the folks had gotten me a car of my own, it would have have been a smaller, not as nice car.

I’ve always been “a car guy” though – I love the damn things, much to the disdain of my finances. I’m sure my net worth would be a six-figure number higher if I’d driven tired rides to their graves versus buying or leasing new cars every 3 or 4 years through most of my adult life. But, I wouldn’t have had as much fun and at the end of the day, life is worth living. And since cars are a part of my life, it’s been a worthwhile and necessary expense. My first car therefore, was a great “car guy” car – high performance, super fun to drive, etc. A 1979 VW Scirocco.  (while the picture at left isn’t mine, mine looked exactly like this)  1974-volkswagen-scirocco--2_460x0wIt was just at 4 years old when we bought it, had about 60,000 miles on it, and ran like a rocket. In a day where 5.7 liter V8 engines in Corvettes and Camaros and Mustangs were smog-controlled back to about 165 HP, my little Scirocco cranked 115 hp from it’s 1.8 liter 4 cylinder in it.  And because the car weighed all of 1950 lbs, it’s power to weight ratio was better than that in a Firebird Trans Am. And that made it just as fast.  The best/funniest thing about it was my Dad – any time I pulled my car into the driveway behind his, it would be gone the next morning – he loved that little thing and it’s 5-speed manual transmission and thundering stereo. He would pull off the sunroof panel (remember those?), pop in a cassette of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, slap it into gear and blaze off, redlining the engine on every shift.

I remember the day we went to buy it like yesterday. My Dad had given me a car shopping budget and basically no parameters beyond mileage – not more than 70,000 miles, and not more than $4000. Beyond that, have fun. I knew about Sciroccos and VW Rabbit GTIs (not coincidentally my current car is a 2011 VW GTI), and so I looked at those as well as other sporty import cars and few others. I knew I wanted small and light, with great handling. I didn’t want a Camaro or Firebird, and Mustangs were just awful at that point. I found this at a dealer about 30 miles away. I came back, told my Dad about it, and the following Saturday, we went to look at it. He had done some research on it and had called the previous owner. It was a solid car. Unbeknownst to me, he had already called the dealer and negotiated a final price, so when we showed up, we went for a fast test drive, which my Dad drove of course, and when we came back, the salesman (and through a fit of “why is information like this still in my brain”, I still remember his name – Dennis Matney) was standing there with a file folder in hand. We hopped out and my Dad turned to me and said “So?” and I said to him “Umm, So?” and he said “Is this the car you want?” I smiled and said “Yup, that’s the car”. He turned to the salesman and said “Ok, let’s do this.” He pulled out his check book, wrote a check for $3600, and the salesman handed us the paperwork. We were done in less than 5 minutes. I was in heaven when he dropped that key into my hand!

As a dad, I’ve been looking forward to yesterday for forever. After looking for a bit and trying out a bunch of cars ranging from a very tired old Blazer all the way to a perfect condition 2000 Mercedes Benz CLK320 convertible (that would have been Robin’s and they would have gotten one of our current cars to drive), we settled on a Honda Civic – it was owned by a work colleague of a good friend. 2008 model year, only 40,000 miles. Looks and runs like a brand new car. And only $10,000. While at the top of the budget we set, considering its age and mileage, it is worth the investment.

We also were of the opinion that 16 year olds do not need cars – they can bum rides, take our cars, etc. And we’ve always had a fun ride in the house. To wit: Poor Joel, our oldest son, when he first got his license had to choose between a 2004 screaming yellow, 240 HP, rear drive, 6 speed manual, Mazda RX-8 sports car, or an electric red, convertible, every-option 2002 BMW 330 Ci. Poor kid. That said, Alex and Brian, as much as Joel IS a car guy and a driving addict, are not even licensed yet. At nearly 18 years old. It just hasn’t been something that’s been a priority for them, and well, if it’s not their priority, why should I push them? While I’ve saved a ton of money on car insurance, it’s now time to get licenses. So on Sunday when we called them after buying it and said “Guess what? We bought you a car!” we were met with, “Oh, Ok. Thanks. Umm. Yeah.” Not exactly the fist-pumping excitement I had hoped for. But, I got the reaction I wanted last evening when I brought the car home. Suddenly it became tangible – they have a car. And so, the excitement came through. While not fist pumps, I sure got high fives and hugs. I’m sure they’d have been more excited if they were licensed and could go motor off in it but, they are not. So the game plan is to have them drive nothing but their new Civic for the next few weeks, and then they will get their licenses in time for graduation. And then the true reality and freedom of the road will be upon them. God help me and them and my insurance rates!

As you were,


Here’s the ride:

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