Interesting Only To Me?

Often I see things that I find interesting. Far too often other people do not. Either I have a healthy dose of weirdness or I lack the communications ability to  help others grasp the same fascination that I do.

This is another one of those.

I am at the gym for my fortnightly workout. I belong to a fairly basic gym. It is a facility of Northwestern University. I like it because  both young  and old workout there.

So here I am getting ready to shower and I notice the “gym bag” the guy a few lockers away is using. It is not a bag at all. It resembles a piece of luggage more than anything else. Hard sided, it stands up and has places for everything. I can see shoes, a towel, and clothes all in neat compartments. For what its  worth the guy on my right seemed in his mid-sixties.

Yes I found this interesting. Why you may ask. Simple answer. Heck if I know.

Perhaps the contrast between this organized, structured, piece of gear and my own simple bag. My bag is a one pocket bag with only a small outside mesh pocket as an extra compartment. I got it free as a hand-out at a baseball game. It is the perfect size for me. I holds everything I need to bring. Yes, I sometimes need to search through it to find what I need.

The contrast is not only in the physical makeup of the two cases but in the life philosophies and styles of the two people. I am comfortable with  simple, low-cost, but effective things. As I approach my mid-fifties and have the wherewithal to have nice things if I want them I have begun to move away from old, worn out and unattractive items. But the simple life, and things, for me.

Even if it were free I would never use the case he used. Having said that I am all for individual freedoms and will defend to the death his right to bring a small suitcase into the gym no matter how it turns its back on several centuries of male gym going tradition.

Styling At The Ritz

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago. 

I remember the birth of the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago in 1975.  I was 21, a senior in college.

The Ritz was not a place I would frequent. We were middle class but just barely and the Ritz was…well The Ritz. For wealthy people.

I was there a few short weeks ago. For a business meeting. I was dressed in a suit. On some level the distance between The Ritz and me did not seem as great as before. Yet in some ways…

The lobby of the Ritz is 12 floors up from street level. You come off the elevator into this great room. As you enter the restaurant, very chic, is on your left. In front of you on the other side of the room is a series of floor to ceiling windows looking north over the Loop.  There are chairs and couches near the window. A great vastness separates you from the other side of the room.

Slowly cross the room and what do you see.

Besides the kind of  well-appointed, yes stylish, room you expect from the Ritz, what I noticed most were the people. These were not necessarily beautiful people but they were definitely stylish people. And lets put the other business people aside, those like me who were well dressed but in costumes there only for a performance. I refer to the people who seemed to be staying at the hotel or were visiting or were there for lunch.

Each one was nicely dressed. Nicely appointed. Without being ostentatious.

Those who know me know that I am fashioned challenged. To some degree more accurately I am fashion ambivalent. Yet I appreciate clean lines, unwrinkled and color coordinated outfits.

In these outfits were women and men who moved with quiet confidence. I admire that even more.

Sure, maybe these are the privileged. Maybe they come from money and clothes and confidence comes easy. Maybe… maybe not. I did not sense an air of privilege.

It was cool. On this day, at this moment I stood in a large, airy, sun filled  room and took in nothing more than style.

Sights Worth Seeing

My wife is traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of Italy this week. i am city and suburb bound. Still there is much to see if you choose to look.

Walking in the park on a sunny day. Coming towards us are two woman. The first is very tall, slim and quite elderly, at least in her late 70s more likely 80s. She is dressed in that “I don’t care how I look and I certainly don’t care about what you think about how I dress” manner that only the elderly can pull off well. She has on a lime green hat with an extra wide brim that is pushing skyward as she walks into the wind. She holds one had to her head to keep the hat from flying away. The other hand holds the hand of her friend. A short, hunched-over woman who looks as old as one can be. She shuffles more than walks. the tall one supporting her companion. As they pass they show the manners that seem to be lost in more recent generations. They smile and greet us warmly as we pass by.

In the locker room at my gym there is a father with his six-year-old son. They are dressing to go swimming. As the boy pulls his suit on he must have scratched himself and he begins to softly cry. Many dads at this point would have told there sons to be tough and not give in to the hurt. This dad bent over, said something softly into the ear of his son, so softly that though I was less than a foot away I could not hear his words. He gave his son a kiss on the cheek. This tenderness, now passed down into the next generation, calmed the boy and his crying ceased.

I landed just outside a small town in Tennessee. After being picked up at the airport by a client that had become a friend over the past years we headed for lunch. Time was short so the options were limited. McDs, Wendy’s or the little place we had eaten at once before. I opted for the latter. A place that still sold Moon pies. It was small but the food was good and fresh. The owner took orders at a counter. you sat at wood tables, not plastic, and they brought the food to you when it was ready. I observed a customer chatting up the owner for quite a while and a few families enjoying a summertime meal together. It seemed like small town country. Better than McDonald’s? silly question.

At the place where you get your driver’s license a newly minted driver was handed his first ever license. He asked the woman if he needed his permit back. No, the woman replied, now you have a license. Oh, was the response. Now I’m scared, said the woman.

Tonight I got off the commuter train. It was 8:30 PM and I was just getting home. I was drooping. Barely able to move. Getting off at the same stop was a woman in her sixties. She was all light and lightness. A big smile on her face and a light step as she bounded past me and headed down the stairs. She was long and slender and had on a pretty summer dress. Far more youthful than I.

So much to see worth seeing.

I And You

This week I  have been witness to far too much “I”.  In this case “I” are all of the people putting their needs first and act as if either there is no one else in the universe or even if there is, it does not matter.  the desires, not even needs, of I trumps you.

From the ridiculous to the rude.

On the ridiculous side, this has been my week for public teeth cleaning.  In an earlier post I described the woman flossing while behind the wheel of her car. Midweek, as I was rushing through the airport I saw a 20 something male standing in the main aisle with this contorted facial expression. As I passed him I realized he too was flossing for all the world to see.  Four steps away was a bathroom. Then last night just before the curtain went up I noticed a man actively using a toothpick. This went on for a couple of minutes. I wanted to yell down, “I bet your mother did not raise you this way”.  But in a crowded theater that would have been rude.

Other I tunes included the driver of a Prius who was weaving through traffic on the highway at high speeds. On a couple of occasions the car barely made it through the tiny space between cars. An accident just about to happen.

The best of all traveling to an appointment an appointment in a city far, far away only to have the person I was there to see decide she was too busy for me.  At least her assistant was apologetic.

And yet in this same week there were too incidents of you before me that really touched me. In the first one, a work colleague spent much of two days working on a proposal that early in the process we decided he was not the right person to be working on the project should we get it. He had tons of other work obligations  and yet sacrificed his time for the greater good. As he said to me, ” Isn’t this just what we do? ”  meaning do the right thing, the mensch thing.  I knew that too often WE (everyone on our team) did not act that way but a few of us did anyway.

Then at the end of a long and brutal workweek, after 5 pm before a holiday weekend another non-I gesture. One of the administrative assistance in the group I manage, but not someone who works directly with me stopped by. My body language must have been reflecting the frustration and exhaustion I was feeling. Normally, as a “leader” I try to hide it better.

Instead of rushing for the door to begin her holiday weekend she came by to see how I was doing. She asked if I was OK. I told her it had just been a tough week but that everything would be good next week. She told me to let her know if there was anything she could do to help. She was sincere, not sucking up to the boss. Just as sincerely I thanked her and told her to go be with her family and enjoy the long weekend.

I must be doing something right to have a few “YOU”s and not all “I”s in my life.

When Driving, No Make-Up, No Texting, No…Flossing?

Last night I was in the car waiting for the light to turn green when I casually glanced to my left. The woman behind the wheel  was intensely flossing her teeth. I am guessing that the rapid motion may have been due to the limited time until the light would change.

Now I have seen people do many things while behind the wheel including eating  food, putting on make-up, using their cell phones or reaching into the back seat to get something that they obviously could not live with until they exited the car.  This was my first flossing. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in oral hygiene. I am just not sure that I would floss in my car — unless I was in a dark corner of  a parking lot maybe and the brisket that was stuck between my teeth was causing tremendous pain. And I was not disgusted by the act, it just seemed odd and unnecessary.

Admittedly the act could have been worse. She could have been driving while flossing. The thing is that I do not know if she does that as well as flossing at a stop light. The first behavior is strange enough so who knows.

My wife asked me if I would floss in public. I gave one of those flippant answers that I am famous for. You know, the throwaway comments that I never really give any thought to. So I said, “Sure, I do not care. I would do anything in public.” The regret grew intense the moment the last syllable was spoken. I knew exactly what she was thinking. Puerto Vallarta , 1993, on the rocks, a boat full of tourists goes by.

OK. Maybe not anything in public…certainly no flossing!

Mid-January Observations

Many will remember  the week from January 18-24 as the week of  The Inauguration.  Big  Crowds, Big Event, Big History. Followed by the First Days In Office. Others will remember another week of dreary, bitter cold winter weather.

I did not get to see the events in Washington on Tuesday. Nor was I drawn to them. I am not much of a Big Events guy but I love the day-to day sightings of life.

This is what I noticed this past week.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day. For me it was a rare day in which I would work in our downtown office as opposed to the suburban hinterland that is my workhome most days.  For kids and many parents it was a day off.

The doors to the parking garage elevator were closing when I heard steps and at the last moment I determined to hold the door for them. That burst of  basic urban etiquette brought  a Monday morning treat. A man and his 5 year old daughter entered. She was a cute little girl with an angelic face and curly blond hair. The treat was being able to observe these two for the length of a 4 floor elevator ride. He was talking about how they needed to stop in his office and then he would take her to breakfast. She did not care about breakfast. She was looking  up at him with that adoring  gaze that girls of that age give to fathers. It is a gaze from a world in a vastly different dimension than the world of teenagers–boys at least. I hope the dad enjoyed the moment as much as I did.

On Tuesday, like millions I had an opportunity to observe a  a tall, strong, African American take charge. In my case this person was female and a board member of a relatively new client of mine. I had met this woman briefly one time but had no sense of her. She is highly intelligent,  thoughtful, purposeful and as ready to listen as to state her opinion. I was very impressed and look forward to working with her more.

On Friday morning I was at the Drury Inns in Chesterfield, Mo. I was leaving the lobby after partaking of the breakfast buffet. As the elevator doors opened– it was my week for elevator encounters– out walks this woman followed milliseconds later by her Great Dane. Rumor has it that the dog ate the man who came by to tell the woman of the motel’s no pets policy.

Friday night I saw the look on my son’s face as he entered his friend David’s house to find 20 friends and his parents yelling surprise. We were celebrating his 18th birthday. His  look of surprise rivaled mine the moment I realized that I have an 18 year old child.

Saturday morning was another single digit Chicago winter morning. Instead of my usual sleeping in I met a client for breakfast which led to three observations.

First, is the Drake Hotel where my client is staying. The Drake is one of those old elegant hotels from a long ago time that has managed to survive and thrive. It is known for the Cape Cod restaurant and the magnificent view of Oak Street Beach, one of the city’s finest. I love the old world style of this hotel and while I pass it frequently I had not been inside for years.

On my drive home on Lake Shore Drive I get to see much of Lincoln Park. What I noticed most on this early morning with a temperature of 5 degrees and a wind chill well below zero was the number of runners out on my favorite running path. There were the people running by themselves but I was more drawn to a group of 6 that were talking, even laughing as they ran. A group takes coordination and commitment and, in this weather, a touch of insanity. In my running days, about 15 years and more ago, I would run outside as long as the temps were 20+. I found anything colder to be too painful. And yet here these people were.

Lastly, I needed salt to melt the several inches thick ice on the steps leading to our front door. As I walked through Home Depot I realized that a very small percentage of people dress to go to the Drake and then find themselves hauling 50 pound bags of salt at the hardware store.

A big/little thing I did enjoy this week was hearing the phrase “President Obama”.

Caution X 2

If a company puts up warning signs do the powers that be think that they are no longer liable if something happens? There is no other explanation for the two side by side signs on the doors leading from my office to the parking lot.

Caution. Watch For Falling Ice.

Caution. Slippery Pavement.

I do not know about you but I am not talented enough to watch for both falling ice and slippery pavement at the same time.