Friday, 11:05 a.m.
Drinking a bloody Mary on Friday morning, I'm going to close this week out with some pure hopeful summery joy—a video first introduced to me by Ron Shewchuk, by one of the deejays of my lucky life.
Friday, 9:40 a.m.
I try hard not to offer anything of real value here at Writing Boots, because I don't want you to feel bad for never payin'. But this morning, I did a little investigative reporting, accidentally.
Looking back at my blog posts from January 2009 for insight into our troubles today, I see I wrote that month about "Hyundai Assurance," a scheme that allowed folks to buy a Hyundai car with the assurance that "if you lose your income within the next year," the company would take the car back and you'd stop having to make payments. Here's how the company explained it then.
I wrote then: "You can imagine the argument in the boardroom about the wisdom of abandoning typically hopeful, happy car advertising and actually painting for your prospective customers a picture of them buying a car this year and having to return it next year."
Still, the offer was dramatic, and it was good for business. Hyundai's market share jumped from 3.1 percent to 4.3 that year, according to Forbes.
The company didn't say how many people wound up returning cars.
But it must have been too many.
Because this year the company has brought back "Hyundai Assurance"—same name, not quite as assuring. This program offers a "Job Loss Protection" in the form of "deferred payments for new owners," because as the website says, "We want to help you worry less in uncertain times."
Here's the new deal: If you were simultaneously reckless and dull enough to have bought a Hyundai between March 14 and May 17 this year—and you lose your job this year—the company will defer your car payment for "up to six months."
“A lot of people are saying, ‘We’re in it together,’ and we feel that, too,” Angela Zepeda, Hyundai Motor America’s chief marketing officer, told Forbes. “We just felt we needed to do something to show people we know they’re hurting. And if we could help with a car payment, we should do that.”
But don't be bringing that car back and trying to get out of your lease, motherfucker, Zepeda added.
No, she didn't add that. Actually, added this, about the new Hyundai Less Assurance Program Just for Reckless Dullards Who Bought a Mediocre Car in the Middle of a Global Pandemic and Economic Catastrophe: "We’re being open-minded. We know we don’t have all the control over [the crisis], so we’re being very measured in how we go to market and yet not make it feel like it’s not an authentic offer—because it is authentic.”
Friday, 9:44 a.m.
A green shoot.
I was sitting in mcsorley’s. outside it was New York and
beautifully snowing. Inside snug and evil. --e.e. cummings
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
People who wonder what, exactly, rural Trump voters think they have lost should watch this nine-minute 1982 report on Tampico, Ill., by Hugh Downs.
Thursday, 3:50 p.m.
When foreigners ask me about America, I always air our dirty laundry! Which I did once again this week—on President Trump, Vice President Pence and Attorney General Bill Barr, during this podcast interview with an Australian speechwriter and an American expat based in Melbourne. Listen here.
Thursday, 9:44 a.m.
My friend Jason Green sent me a text yesterday, "what a competent president would say to the country right now."
We really need to open the economy right now. People are going to starve if we don’t. Governors, I am begging you to make every effort to ramp up testing and contact tracing so that we can fully open everything but mass gatherings.
Citizens, the only way we can do this reasonably safely is if you ALL wear masks and maintain social distance whenever and wherever possible. It is a very small burden to wear a mask, and you are literally saving lives by doing so. Not wearing a mask doesn’t make a patriot or a tough guy, it makes you an inconsiderate ass hole. Just do it, so we can all get back to normal life.
I recognize that opening most of the economy comes with some risk, but we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The goal was always to flatten the curve. We’ve done that. We will continue to monitor, and if cases begin the grow exponentially, we may have to shut down again. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
It sounds so simple—and yet so far-fetched.
Wednesday, 6:45 a.m.
Another in my collection of recollections from the last national death, this published on the Huffington Post in September 2008, under the headline, "It's already December here: A report from an Ohio embed."
Granted, the circumstances of my little election-year report on Ohio are extreme.
My 85-year-old father has been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, and for the last two weeks I’ve been here in Middletown, shepherding him through tests and oncology appointments. “Palliative” is the operative word, although I keep hoping that he’s got some good, cheerful, peaceful, philosophical time left. But Dad’s awfully depressed right now, and I’m trying hard not to “swallow his depression whole,” as my sister warns me against.
I’ve played golf a couple times and though I’m not really a jogger, I go for a daily run to escape the quiet of Dad’s condo, to throw off the constant downward pressure of decline. But outside, in this once great southern-Ohio steel community south of Dayton and north of Cincinnati, it’s just more of the same.
I realize the timing of my visit is bad. The first week I was here a windstorm inspired by Hurricane Ike blew out power all around the Cincinnati area. Power stayed off for most of Middletown’s 50,000 residents for half a week. The storm blew our mailbox away and shut down our phone for a while, but Dad and I never lost power, so we were able to listen to pundits argue about whether or not the U.S. financial system would collapse.
The Reds are 20 games out of first and the Bengals are the laughing stock of the NFL. “They’ve got so much talent, but they just can’t get it together,” lamented a bewildered golfer at Middletown’s Weatherwax golf course, the day before we watched them lose their third straight game to open the season.
I jogged around downtown Middletown, stomping grounds of my dad’s dad, who died before I was born. (And before people jogged. I’m always ready to explain to his ghost what I’m doing.) He was a community pillar in the 1920s and ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s, as head of public relations and employment at the American Rolling Mill Co. It was said—and it still is said by the dwindling old guys who attend “Wednesday lunch” at Mike’s restaurant out by the mill—that if you wanted to get anything done in this company town, Charlie Murray was one of the people you needed to see.
But the steel industry went to hell in the 1980s, and downtown Middletown was bled dry decades ago by a mall that was built on the outskirts of town. What storefronts aren’t vacant are grim taverns, tattoo and piercing parlors and pawn shops like the one by the old train station, where I pranced past a scabby-faced man standing by the locked door, waiting to sell something he’d been clinging to.
The Middletown Cemetery is overgrown, most of the paper mills are shut down, the Armco general offices are empty. The Middletown Journal has moved out of its headquarters and into the first floor of a mostly abandoned office building, and there are streets that I’ve been scared to run down.
“Why did you run on Columbia Street?” my dad asked with alarm.
And now even the new mall is half-empty, its anchor store Dillard’s having ceased to stock new items months ago. Walking through the mall, what you notice is the hollow whoosh of the air conditioning. Is it blowing air in, or sucking it out?
The only thing new in Middletown is a sparkling hospital, out by the highway. It looks like a hotel. Dad might as well have checked in, for all the time he’s spent there lately.
“It feels like December,” Dad said one morning. He was referring to the amount of time he has spent taking tests, waiting for results, waiting to begin waiting to die.
“I’m so not interested in politics right now,” he said in response to a pro-Obama e-mail someone forwarded him.
Before all this, I had been lobbying him to vote for Obama this year. I joked to my Chicago friends that I was doing my part to deliver Ohio. He’ll be around in November, but he’s got enough to worry about. And you know what? I’ve got enough to worry about.
Ah, but McCain is leading here in the polls, and Ohio is such an important state, and I’ll probably spend more time here between now and November 4. The Obama campaign has a regional campaign office on Main Street, and maybe I’ll jog in and ask about doing some canvassing.
First Street is just as raggedy as Columbia, but it somehow seems less desperate. Still, how exactly would I introduce myself to that old guy, on oxygen, asleep in his chair on his front porch in the middle of the morning?
“Hi, I’m Charlie Murray’s grandson, and I’m supporting Barack Obama for president … “
Tuesday, 9:15 p.m.
My speechwriter pal Sarah Walpole Gray reports on Facebook about an exchange between her and her daughter, three:
Me: Why are you screaming?
J (in bed): BECAUSE I AM LONELY! AND I DON'T WANT TO BE LONELY FOREVER!!!
Tuesday, 1:00 p.m.
I hope that people in my tiny sphere of influence take a modicum of hope from the unveiling today of our new website and ProRhetoric publishing platform.
I do, anyway.
Tuesday, 9:35 a.m.
The more things change, the more news releases stay the same.
Yesterday Hertz sent out a news release announcing its new CEO Paul Stone, who's taking over for Kathryn Marinello, and USA Today ran the quotes.
I scoured them for any reference to the catastrophic pandemic that's tearing the global economy asunder starting with the travel industry—and ravaging Hertz itself, which is laying off 10,000 employees.
"Having successfully run our largest business segment for the last two years, Paul helped strengthen our brands by elevating service standards across the North American car rental operations," said Henry R. Keizer, Hertz's chairman, in a statement.
"I thank Kathy and look forward to working with my colleagues to do what Hertz people do best—anticipate where transportation, mobility and technology are going and innovate to best serve our customers, stakeholders and communities," Stone said in a statement.
"The hardest part about stepping down is leaving the amazing employees that have earned my respect over the last three-and-a-half years. It was an honor to serve them," said Marinello. "I am confident that under Paul's leadership, Hertz will prosper long into the future."
The release could have been written in January—of 1959.
Tuesday, 7:45 a.m.
Doing my daily research for Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus that's really good and completely free and you don't subscribe to it because?
Anyway, Ford's CEO Jim Hackett had some interesting things to say to Yahoo Business about getting employees safely back to work. But why is he coming to you from what appears to be a State Farm Insurance branch office in Pella, Iowa, in 1981? Is that a typewriter over his shoulder?
Tuesday, 7:31 a.m.
Lately I've thought to look back through Writing Boots during the last disaster, of 2008, for inspiration and instruction. Found this yestterday:
Not every speech can be the Gettysburg Address. But every speech does have the potential to be a rhetorical train wreck like this tone-deaf commencement speech by Republican Senator Ben Sasse.
Investigators are still on the scene, and it may be several months before we have all the details. But we know the cause of the accident already: At a moment when kids actually need sincere leadership from a government official, the vain and disingenuous middle-aged senator has needs of his own.
Monday, 7:00 a.m.
In another one of the social Rube Goldberg devices that we've invented to hold it together, together—my friend and colleague Sharon McIntosh delivered this on Saturday night as part of a "variety show" she and her friends put on for one another. There was dancing, there was singing, there were tricks, and there was this, from Sharon:
It was the third week of coronavirus when my dead mother finally showed up.
She had been missing for nearly two years, having passed on June 12, 2018. Before she died, Mom promised to be with me—through signs—after she died. We’re Irish, after all, and if we aren’t seeing signs from our dead relatives, something is impedingly, drastically wrong.
But she was nowhere to be found. I’d look up to heaven with questions and concerns—and saw nothing, heard … nothing.
And then, in the burgeoning COVID-19, there she was.
Suddenly she invaded my thoughts, my dreams, pictures falling into my lap, signs … everywhere. Memories … everywhere.
When she was alive, mom was renowned for her practical advice, whether you wanted to hear it or not. And now, here she was giving advice again, steadily and emphatically, based on our oddly shared life and death.
One of mom’s best friends said that mom never had problems, only adventures. That’s what I heard in her graveyard words – in death, she seemed giddy with possibilities and a tad impatient with my whining.
As I mewled about missing friends, she heaved a heavy sigh and reminded me of the good and grateful. “Give thanks for the little things,” she often said. “For a bed to sleep on, for a roof over your head.”
And so, inspired by Mom, today I give thanks for the little, unexpected things that I miss and cherish:
Sharing a meal with neighbors.
The buzz of a neighborhood bar.
The sounds of children playing, laughing together.
The roar, gasp and collective cheer of a crowd.
The dexterous tiptoe to reach a middle seat in a theater.
A firm handshake.
Individual hugs – so tight I can barely breathe – from a friend I haven’t seen in months.
With the pandemic, we face a sea of sameness.
But Mom disagrees.
As I look forward, as we look forward, Mom whispers in my ear, “Darling, where’s the adventure?”
Here’s to finding the adventure—and the gratitude—in our months ahead.
Mom will be watching—and waiting—with advice for all of us.