All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

It’s a busy week of meetings with my global business team, as we plot world domination, and crush the souls of the working class between the grinding cogs of capitalism. So here’s a rerun of a post from a few years back about the joy of closing factories, and putting people out of work.

The first thing you notice is the scent. Before you have even stepped onto the production floor, the smells of the factory hit you. Oil, grease, and cleaning fluids, combine to form a perfume that hangs in the air. You have been inside of many of these places, in many different countries, and the odor is always the same. You could say it was the smell of labor, but you have not earned the right.

The sounds are the next things to hit the senses, the hum of machinery, the thump of presses, mix with the ever present beep of a fork lift somewhere in the distance. Voices die in the noise, so you bend close to the speaker as he shouts above the din. You catch every third word, and nod as if you understand. Even if you heard the words, you would not fully understand what it means to stand there amidst the clamor for hours, days, and years until the sounds blended together into a beat as comforting as a mother’s heart.

Your eyes dart around to find your bearings. Everywhere you look is a maze of machinery, bodies, and metal, stacked and placed according to a design you cannot decipher. Tagged, numbered, inventoried, everything has its place, everything but you. As your eyes adjust to the swirl of light, and movement, you see the eyes. They are looking at you. Impassive, but curious, like deer in the woods, they watch your movements through the forest of steel.

You stop at a station, and your guide gestures, and explains where the man ends, and the machine begins. You put out a hand to shake, and touch flesh the strength and texture of wood. You know they feel your weakness. There amidst the jungle of machinery is a locker, adorned with photos, and a few stickers. Look close and they tell the story of a life outside of these walls. They serve as a reminder that they live apart from the machine, although it is easy to believe they are always here. Three shifts a day, the hum and rattle of metal hardening them until they stiffen like statues.

You think of the statues in your own past, Mother’s, Father’s, Aunt’s, and Uncle’s, who stood for days at their machines, and dreamed of escape. They bought your freedom. You look into their eyes, and feel ashamed. What have you done with it? Where has your education taken you? You talk, and calculate for a living. Your words and math hold the fate of many in your hands. A few words, and string of numbers and someone would come and cut them away from their machines. The wires cut, the hoses dangling, as the machine is boxed up and sent away where someone hungrier will be yoked to it.

You do not deserve such power. You have not earned it. Their eyes stare back at you, and you look away.

They know why you have come, and they say

nothing.

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo, woo, woo…

That I am a lover of nostalgia, has been well established by now. And if my sentimentality is not enough to turn your stomach, let me add my love of “authenticity” to the list of pretensions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the trend for the past 20 years has been an increasing “corporatization” of minor league baseball. One by one the old wooden, small town ball parks have been disappearing, as MLB pulls their affiliates into larger markets and looks to squeeze as much cash as they can out of their farm system. I understand that the economics of minor league baseball have changed irrevocably. The romantic day’s of long bus rides to Podunkville, and cold showers are things of the past, and today’s prospects are treated far better than pro’s were 40, or 50 years ago. However, I really am having a hard time accepting the heavy handed MLB branding initiatives that are going on behind the scenes in the minor leagues.

Here’s a link to the only site that I can find that gives a comprehensive overview of the problem.

I don’t think I am being a conspiracy nut about this, but as you look at these different caps & logo designs it’s apparent that there is just a small handful of design templates, and one MLB appointed graphic design firm at work here.

Compare the artwork in the following three logos. I call this template, the “Ginormous Mascot with Club” design

Clinton Lumberkings

Clinton Lumberkings

Lake County Captains

Lake County Captains

Trenton Thunder

Trenton Thunder

Then there is the “Mascot Peeking Through Initials” design template:

My Beloved Muckdogs

My Beloved Muckdogs

Binghampton Bees / Mets

Binghampton Bees / Mets

Greensboro Grasshoppers

Greensboro Grasshoppers

Finally, we have the most egregious of the designs. “The Anthropomorphic Cap”

Lake Elsinore Storm

Lake Elsinore Storm

Orem Owls

Orem Owls

Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

This last one is enough to give me feverish nightmares of the Amityville Horror.

I am happy to see that Minor League Clubs have begun to drop the practice of copying their MLB affiliates nicknames, and I applaud their attempts to somehow link the club to the uniqueness of the local community by choosing nicknames that somehow connect to the history of the area. However, the heavy handed, generic, corporate approach makes me want to retch. Do they think we are that stupid? Do they think we don’t notice, or care? Do they think we will be good little consumers and lap up whatever mass produced corporate pabulum they spew our way?

Apparently yes. The “Disneyfication” of Minor League Baseball is getting out of hand. Honestly, they are straining so hard to look “cute” and “marketable” it’s hard to take them seriously. If I were a player I would be embarrassed to wear any of these caps. Not even for ironic purposes, which as a Gen-xer, is firmly established to be the end all, be all of fashion statements (Case in point, in 2003 the AAA farm club of the Dodgers, in Albuquerque New Mexico nicknamed themselves the “Isotopes” after the fictional Springfield Isotopes from the TV show The Simpson’s, and experienced a huge increase in merchandise sales.)

Personally, I think the “Poochies” would have been more appropriate.

The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show!

The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show!

If MLB really wants to tie the teams to their communities, why can’t they let each organization choose it’s own name, its own logo, and its own look? Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow each team to contract with local graphic artists, and ad agencies to develop their own image instead of using a centralized, corporate overlord from MLB to squeeze them all through the sausage maker of MLB dictated branding guidelines? I think going with local control over branding would allow the teams to forge closer ties to local companies, who will become sponsors, and advertisers, and marketing partners in the community. The result would be not only better looking business, but better business.

I know, all of American life has become mass produced, franchised, and Walmarted into anonymity. You can drive from coast to coast eating at the same restaurant, sleeping in the same motel, and getting gas at the same gas station, so why should we expect anything different?

Sigh… There’s nothing wrong with a simple letter on a cap. It’s worked for over a hundred years, and it will likely work for a hundred more.

Ichiban with a bullet

Laptop open, iPod tuned to the Replacements, I glide effortlessly above the never ending sprawl of suburban Tokyo. Blasting down the track at 60+ miles per hour on board the Shinkansen I marvel at the technical wonders of our age. How such technology could flower in such a short period of human history is astounding. Even as recently as my parents generation, a dumpy middle aged, middle management, white guy could never have dreamed of being here and experiencing the things I take for granted every day. I am a lucky, lucky man.

But as impressive as our age of electronic gadgetry and high speed travel may be, they pale behind the one advancement of mankind that has single handedly transformed the way we live. I am speaking, of course, of the To-Go Cup. Where would our culture be without mobile beverages? Say what you want about Mass-Produced-American-Mc-Culture, but where would humanity be now without our freedom from the tyranny of stationary refreshment?

This was brought home again to me at 6am this morning as I walked the 2 blocks from my hotel to the nearest McDonalds and returned with a cup of coffee. And again, one hour later when I returned to the Excelsior Coffee shop and picked up another cup. But as Americanized as Japan has become, there are still some things that they are struggling to embrace. You can order a coffee to go, and they will give you a paper cup with a sippy lid full of top shelf Arabica brew, but they insist on placing the cup into a little paper bag, and handing it to you so that you can carry it with you like a school kid on their way to school. Clearly they have a lot to learn about the pleasures of mobile refreshment. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

So began another day of shooting about Tokyo in public transit, punctuated by brief interludes of head nodding, and polite discussion. 36 million souls coursing through the veins of this metropolis as orderly as could be. Nowhere else on earth do so many people exist in such close proximity, and appear completely unaware or each other’s presence. It’s amazing really. The level of politeness of the average Japanese citizen knows no bounds. They ride the trains and walk the streets in utter silence. Absorbed in their own little worlds, careful not to speak, or talk on the phone, chew gum, or eat or drink in public. In fact, one of the great mysteries of Japan is how they manage to survive without dehydrating. Despite the ubiquitous vending machines placed every 100 feet along the sidewalk, I have yet to see anyone drinking out of a bottle of Pocari Sweat, or Kirin Green Tea, or a can of Suntory Coffee Boss. I know, because I have been looking non-stop for the last 3 days. It’s become something of an obsession. So help me God, but sooner or later I will catch a Japanese person drinking a beverage in public.

In the mean time I will continue to oogle pigeon toed Japanese women in short skirts, devour as much raw seafood as is humanly possible, and defy convention by drinking coffee while I walk. Cause that’s just how I roll.

The Curious Case of Guy Fawkes

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Night in England. Now that I think about it, I guess it’s Guy Fawkes Night everywhere. Who is Guy Fawkes you ask? Don’t feel bad, I had the same question a few years back when one of my English co-workers mentioned that his family was having a bonfire for Guy Fawkes.

Now anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that I pride myself on knowing lots of useless pieces of arcane information. So I was a bit shocked when he explained the history of Guy Fawkes. How did I miss this?

Fawkes was a Catholic insurrectionist who was captured in 1605, plotting to blow up the House of Lords by setting off 36 barrels of gunpowder in the basement of the Palace of Westminster. (That’s the parliament building. You know, Big Ben, and all that). Following several days of torture Fawkes confessed the names of his 13 co-conspirators in what became known as “The Gunpowder Plot”, a failed attempt to assassinate the protestant King James the 1st, and replace him with his 9 year old Daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic head of state. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the story than that, but you get the gist of it. Catholic guy tries to kill King, and overthrow government, but ends up being hanged, drawn and quartered. Seems like the kinda thing that would be right up my alley, so to speak.

To commemorate the failed event, the parliament declared Nov. 5th to be a public day of thanksgiving, and Guy Fawkes, or “Bonfire night” was born. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of the holiday, but it seems to involve drinking excessive quantities of alcohol, and setting stuff on fire. How this is different than any other night in London escapes me, but it’s their celebration so who am I to question it?

Over the years it has become popular tradition for children to make an effigy of either Guy Fawkes, the Pope, or some other such “papist” and burn it in the bonfire. So a cottage industry arose for making masks of Guy Fawkes. Perhaps you seen one before…

Yep, it’s that dude from the “V” for Vendetta movie. Apparently, the guy that wrote the original comic strip used the image of Guy Fawkes for his anti government antihero. And so Guy Fawkes has gradually evolved from a papist terrorist and enemy of the state, to a dashing anti-fascist, freedom fighter that stood for speaking truth to power. Go figure.

Lately Guy Fawkes masks have been adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement, as a way to maintain anonymity, without looking like terrorists. So his image has been popping up all over the place.

Now, I’ve made my anti-corporate, treasonous, Catholic tendencies abundantly clear in the past, so I can’t say any of this disturbs me. The irony of it is that the Guy Fawkes mask was trademarked by Warner Bros. Inc. when they made the “V for Vendetta” movie, so some of the protestors have taken great pains to point out that they bought their masks from a Chinese counterfeiter. For anti-globalization, anti corporate types, this is Irony2 I guess.

Odd how in 400 years a guy can go from being an effigy, to an antihero. A good reminder that sometimes terms like good and evil say more about which side of the power divide we sit.

My Annual Anti-Corporate Diatribe

It is September. All across America it is time for football, autumn leaves, ripening apples, and the return of the annual United Way campaign. It’s also time for me to repost my annual diatribe against corporations. I do this not because I think it will change anything, or because I think complaining absolves me of my complicity in enabling their behavior. I do it because I’m in a lousy mood.
LUcouple2

Here at 20 Prospect my Dark Corporate Overlords kicked off their annual appeal by feeding us breakfast, then reminding us that families in Minnesota are going hungry during these trying economic times. Working families. They need our support and contributions now more than ever. Subtle. They did have the decency to stop short of asking us to eat all the food on our plates because kids were starving in Africa. Frankly, I was amazed at their restraint.

I know, how can I possible find a reason to complain about charitable giving? I must have no heart. Well, let me clarify things. I believe in community. I do. I also believe that citizens and companies have a moral obligation to be charitable to those in need in their communities. In fact, it’s part of what I consider the definition of a “community” to be. So what’s the problem?

Hypocrisy. Plain and simple. It’s not that I don’t think that there are fine and charitable people in our corporation who participate and lead our annual United Way campaign out of an honest desire to help others. I know these people, and they are sincere. It’s that the whole appeal to “Help make a difference in our Community” is intellectually dishonest. We can make a difference in our community, much larger than just contributing a few dollars from each paycheck to a fine umbrella organization like the United Way. In fact, we are morally obligated to do so as members of our community. But we don’t, and the reasons we don’t are maddening to me at times.

Let me explain. Minnesota is the home of our headquarters, and has been our primary address for almost 100 years. We have grown from a small, family run outfit, into a global corporation with businesses in over 36 countries. We are citizens of Minnesota, as well as each and every one of those 36 countries. But we don’t act like it. We don’t “give back” to the community. We “give back” to shareholders.

I am a shareholder, and an employee. And it has been hard to be either one this past year as we have reduced our workforce by over 20% around the world. We have survived, but we have made some big sacrifices, and 20% of our employee “shareholders” are no longer employees. I am sure more than a few of them are relying on organizations like the United Way to help their families through these tough times. So again, what is my problem?

My problem is this. When we sit down as managers and leaders to build our plan and strategy for the future, no where do we consider “Making a difference in our community” to mean adding jobs, and supporting other local businesses through the work that we do. Instead we focus on the bottom line of profitability, and assume (and I stress assume) that the way to improve profitability is to move more production, engineering, and administrative functions to countries like China and India. Why do we do this? Out of a desire to improve the lives of the Chinese and Indians? No, out of greed. In fact, we do so only because we know that we can pay them less. In fact, we do not grant our new Chinese and Indian employees the same “rights” and benefits that we grant our Minnesota workers. Why? Because the law does not require it, and the market does not demand it. When those two reasons become the pillars of your ethics, you are on shaky ground.

Teenagers

So, from an economic perspective, how can I object? Doesn’t water flow downhill? Shouldn’t businesses always seek the least cost solution to improve efficiency? No, I would argue. What is flawed is the way we define our costs. We do so only by using the most superficial accounting of our finances that is possible under general accounting practices. There is a social cost to moving these jobs, that is only partly illuminated by the “needs” in our community, as expressed in the United Way campaign. These costs are manifest in the decline in wages in Minnesota, in the rising unemployment, in the rising health care costs, and increase in the ranks of the uninsured. It is manifest in the environmental degradation of developing countries, and in the increasing use and price of fossil fuels. These are costs that will not appear on this quarter’s balance sheet, and will not reduce the short term price of a share of our stock. But I believe in my heart that in the long term it will be these costs that destroy our community, and our company.

So my response to our corporate campaigners is that I want to “Live United”, but the company just won’t let me.

tshirt

The rise and fall (and rise?) of Batavia, New York

After reading Cheri Register’s wonderful memoir / history / creative non-fiction “Packinghouse Daughter”, an examination of her personal experiences, and those of her town of Albert Lea MN during the societal and economic changes of the late 50’s and 60’s, I have been thinking a lot about Batavia. I covered a lot of the same topics in this post from 2009, so I thought I would put it out there again, because if anything, her book reinforced a lot of my opinions on the past, present and future of small town America. I apologize for the post being a bit long and windy, but it’s worth the read (I hope).

After the physical hollowing of downtown

I’m currently reading “Hollowing out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America” by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, two sociologists who spent a few years studying the path to adulthood for young residents of an anonymous small Iowa town. As books on social research go, it is wonderfully accessible and clearly written, making it a very easy and compelling read. For two people who did not grow up in a small town, and are obviously highly educated professionals, I am finding that their portrayal of small town America is remarkably clear eyed, and not prone to the polemic images of rural American’s typically presented by the media. Most stories you read portray rural people as either gun toting, small mined, bigots, or patriotic, “motherhood and apple pie”, pillars of the American dream. Having grown up in Batavia, I find their book to be very sensitive, and deftly written, allowing the residents of “Ellis”, Iowa to reveal themselves as the complex, thoughtful human beings they truly are. It is a much more reserved, and non-committal representation than I could ever produce, having lived the kind of life they studied, and being far too emotionally involved in the subject.

If you are one of the small town Diaspora who left never to return, or someone who left but boomeranged back, it is a very revealing read. Not only do they highlight the demographic, and economic trends effecting rural America, they also catch the subtle undercurrents of class that play a large role in determining the opportunities and futures of the young inhabitants.  At times it is also a painful book, pointing out the paradoxes that exist, and how small towns have hastened their own demise, by investing so much of their limited resources in developing their “best and brightest” and encouraging them to leave the community behind. The result is what Patrick Deneen has called the “strip mining” of young adults from rural areas, to feed the coastal, and Midwestern, urban population centers.

As one of the “Achievers” who was groomed to leave, I find myself emotionally conflicted about where I have ended up, and where I began. In some ways that was the main impetus for this blog, and was clearly the thought process behind the title I gave it. I grieve the loss of connection to community and the sense of place, while simultaneously realizing that I could never be happy going back again.  As much as I miss the connection to the community, I also revel in the anonymity, and freedom that Urban / Suburban life offers me. I can re-invent myself here, and maintain a privacy that would never be possible in a place where everyone knows my name.

As a parent of two small children, I also look ahead to the future and wonder what inheritance they are receiving as they grow into young adulthood, and look to someday leave for a life of their own. Will they have the same connection to our faceless suburban home, or will they be another rootless generation following the jobs somewhere else. It is when I think beyond my own experience, and look forward and backward at the histories of place, that I begin to see how the issues raised in “Hollowing out the Middle” are both new, and as old as time itself.

Batavia started life as a farming community, founded on a cross roads of Indian trails, where travelers would camp, and take advantage of the (once) clear water flowing down out of the hills. During the 1800’s, it became the local center of government and retail, supporting the surrounding countryside of small family farms. It developed it’s own professional class, and with the coming of the railroads in the later part of the 19th Century, began to experience Industrial growth  as factories sprung up to supply agricultural implements like harvesters, and plows to a rapidly growing country.

It was this dawn of the Industrial Revolution in Batavia that first began to change the character of the town, and introduce new demographics, and challenges. First came the Irish immigrants, and later the Sicilian, and Polish, to work the factories. This changed the dynamic of the city, and brought a diversity that does not exist in many small towns in the Midwest, like “Ellis”, Iowa, where German and Scandinavian roots still predominate. For this reason, Batavia developed many little quirks, that came to define the town, as Kauffman points out in his memoir. It is these little quirks that endear the place to me, and make me long for the odd mixture of solidity, and insanity of it’s inhabitants.

Batavia Carriage Wheel Company

As the 19th Century gave way to the 20th, Batavia, and most of Western New York, boomed. These were the years when Massey-Harris (formerly Johnston Harvester), Dohler-Jarvis, and other companies expanded, and the population grew with working class immigrant families. The years before, and after the Second World War were the high water mark for the town. As the 20th Century progressed, the town began to age. A colossally bad decision on the part of the City, to “renew” it’s core by tearing down the 19th Century buildings in downtown, and redeveloping the area into a less dense, suburban landscape of parking lots, and shopping malls changed the look of the place. A literal “hollowing out of the middle”. The disaster that ensued is well documented in Kauffman’s book, but what is often overlooked, is that this Urban Renewal coincided with larger economic trends that were relocating Industrial jobs from places like Batavia, to the Sun Belt, and which would ultimately have a far more lasting effect on the town.

The Johnston Harvester Company - 1896

That process began in 1953 when the Canadian company Ferguson, merged with Massey-Harris (also Canadian). By 1958, production had moved out of the 1883 built factory on Harvester Avenue. In retrospect, that was a harbinger of what was to come as smaller, locally owned Industrial companies combined, and merged into large multinational stock holder corporations all over North America. As the 20th century progressed, other manufacturers opened factories in Batavia, such as Sylvania, and Trojan Industries, and this helped slow the decline. However, during the 70’s and 80’s the same story was to repeat itself with industries consolidating, and the manufacturing plants closing and relocating in lower labor cost regions.

Dohler

Batavia was not alone, these trends hit hard all over the “Rust Belt”, and 1970’s stagflation, and the Oil crisis further exacerbated the problems in an already shaky industrial base. For all the pain that Batavia went through, it was better positioned than many towns in Upstate New York, and across the Northeast. Being 30 miles distant from both Buffalo and Rochester, Batavia took on a new life as a bedroom community, which at least allowed it to support a lower paying service industry. Many towns, like Schenectady, that lived and died on the fortunes of one large employer, saw their tax base collapse, and residents abandoning homes and moving away.

Main Street before it's "renewal"

What these larger trends meant for the young in Batavia, was that good paying blue collar work like their parents had raised their families on, were disappearing. What was left was a shrinking job pool of lower paying service sector jobs, and tougher competition for the fewer professional jobs. A high school graduate intent on pursuing a college education found that they had priced themselves out of the labor market, and had the choice of relocating to an urban area, or being under-employed in Batavia. These conditions were not the result of poor planning, or disastrous urban renewal at the local level. They were the result of much larger forces at work in the global economy.

Destroying the town to save it

So where does that leave places like Batavia and “Ellis”, Iowa? Have the last 100 years of economic history cast their fate in stone? Are they just passing boomtowns that have seen history render them irrelevant? Or have they already reached the bottom, after their 30 year long depression, and sit poised to reinvent themselves?

What the future looked like in the 1970's - Same location as previous 2 photos

Perhaps Batavia history can shed some light on the future. As I have described above, the Johnston Harvester Company was a bellwether for Batavia’s economy in the 19th and 20th Century. In many ways the events that played out on Harvester Avenue were indicative of where the national economy was headed. From it’s opening in 1868 after the Civil War, to takeover by a foreign company (Massey-Harris of Canada) in 1910, to it’s merger with Ferguson and closing of the plant in 1958, the factory on Harvester foreshadowed the future of American Industry. So it is interesting to consider what happened when the building fell vacant.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s the Chamber of Commerce sought out new tenants for the building. When they were unable to find a large manufacturing firm willing to relocate to Batavia the property was sold to city resident Joseph Mancuso.  Mancuso came up with the idea to rent portions of the building to smaller manufacturing firms until they were large enough to strike out on their own. He hoped that this type of arrangement would allow startup businesses to save money and resources until they grew enough to move out on their own.

As the legend goes, one of the first tenants to the Industrial Center was a chicken company. Mancuso was traveling around the U.S. looking for other potential tenants and, using the chicken company as an example, he started calling it an incubator. Some people credit Mancuso with inventing the world’s first business incubator, a concept that is often touted in post-industrial towns as one way to revive their economy.

But did it work? The last 30 years of Batavia history has shown that despite some promising tenants through the years, no company was able to sustain that economic growth and provide the type of jobs that the depression of the later 20th century took away. Some companies had success, but were unable to parlay that into longevity.

In my own family, my Mom went to work as the first U.S. employee of German heating and valve component manufacturer Braukmann Controls. I can still remember her picking me up at St. Joe’s, and taking me over to the Industrial Center on Harvester on her bicycle. The “office” where she worked was a cavernous warehouse space in the old Johnston Harvester factory, and one heck of a fascinating place for a 5 year old kid. To entertain me she let me play with the little company labels and stick them all over the bike. I can remember the excitement of watching the teletype machine rumbling to life with messages from Germany, and the dusty smell, and echoing emptiness of the place.

Braukmann expanded throughout the 70’s and relocated to the newly vacated Sylvania plant out on Ellicott Street. By the mid 80’s they had been sold to Honeywell, and had over 100 people working for them. Then history repeated itself, and during one of the late 80’s recessions, Honeywell closed the Batavia plant and moved the production to a plant in Ontario.

Damn Canadians! Why is it always Canadians that are the bane of Batavia? Since the day when Butler’s Rangers camped at the Great Bend of the Tonawanda during their raid into New York, those damn Canucks have been killing us. Is it any wonder they built a Tim Horton’s a mere 100 yards from their campsite? I think not! But I digress…

I am not sure what the answer is to the dilemma of towns like Batavia and “Ellis”. Surely the efforts of people like Mancuso, to re-establish a homegrown, entrepreneurial economic recovery are valiant attempts to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs. However, I think we need to be honest about the likelihood, and scale of such success. Lightning is unlikely to strike Batavia, and make it the birthplace of the “next Microsoft”, but building a diverse, human scaled economy is a worthy goal. Chasing the next Federal Penitentiary, Shiny New Industrial Plant, or Call Center, is merely running from one economic bubble to another.

What does any of this mean for the future of middle American youth in towns like Batavia and Ellis? Is there anything that will turn the tide of the rural “brain drain”, and convince the high achievers to stay behind in their hometowns?I see no current economic trend that gives me any hope that things will change. And as Carr and Kefalas point out in “Hollowing out the Middle” it will also take a fundemental change in the current education system, to stop encouraging so much investment of the educational resources into kids who are the least likely to live in the community. I can hear the educators howling already, should anyone suggest they focus on the underperforming students to better maximize the return on their investment, at the expense of the achievers.

In my opinion, until there are legitimate economic incentives to stay behind, those that can, will continue to leave. Who can fault them? Towns like Batavia and Ellis were founded less than 200 years ago by folks that also left behind their homes to seek out better lives.

Maybe the answer is to be found somewhere in our past. I just wonder how far back we will have to look to see the future.

Main Street Batavia - 1896

If it’s Wednesday you must be in…

Philadelphia!

I have been traveling all too much lately. Now I’m not normally one to complain (cough, cough) but this work travel krep is getting old. Seriously, I’m now on year 21 of traveling “for business”. You’d think I would either get used to it, or shut the hell up and find a different job already.

Sorry, but the pay is too good. What can I say? I’m a corporate concubine. I have long since become numb to whatever shame I once felt about selling my soul for a slice of the middle class existence. Someone has to oppress the working class, and crush the dreams of the proletariat, it may as well be me.

*shrugs*

It’s a living.

So I’m now on the right coast, for a few short days, soaking in the same blasted heat and humidity I left behind. It doesn’t fell any better here than it did back in Minnesota, in case you were wondering.

Maybe someday I will finally pull off a Shawshank Redemption like escape (minus the sewage pipe hopefully) and kiss corporate life good bye. But for the time being, this is what I do. I fly places, and talk with diverse and interesting people, then I move their jobs somewhere else. Sometimes when I’m feeling frisky I will even rip out their hearts and eat them while they are still beating. But I do that much less now that I’m watching my cholesterol. (The hearts of the working class are notoriously fatty).

So after 21 years in the industry of crushing hopes and dreams, and grinding them up in the gears of global capitalism, there are a few lessons that I have learned. Here’s some of them.

10.) In some cases the nearest exit may be behind you.

9.) Rocky Mountain oysters, aren’t oysters.

8.) You know you are traveling too much when the TSA stops buying you dinner before your anal probing.

7.) Eat yogurt with breakfast in foreign countries. Always.

6.) No matter what country you are traveling in, the salesmen always wear loafers and golf shirts.

5.) If you think that woman across the bar is staring at you, one of you has had too much to drink.

4.) Chicken’s Feet, are really chickens feet. (what the hell people?)

3.) Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.

2.) Alcohol will kill the taste of anything, but the sight of those swimming bugs will be seared into your memory.

1.) The mean distance between Dunkin’ Donuts’ in the State of Massachusetts is 0.62 miles.