Archive for July, 2020

The First Ride …. and the Last Ride: 29 Years and a Month Apart

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

I rolled out of bed at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of June in 1991 and wondered where my day would take me. I had only been out of college for a little more than a month and had landed a job with Tribune Media Services. I was also working full time as a swing manager at the Aviation Mall McDonalds, where I had worked throughout high school and college. I gained more knowledge about leadership in those eight years than most people learn in a lifetime. I took the responsibilities of the job without hesitation and quickly learned how to get the most out of all employees, whether they were hard workers or slackers. I learned how to manage individual people and find what motivated each and every one of them, as all people require unique tactics to inspire them to give you their everything. I learned how to balance money, make deposits, order supplies and food, schedule employees, limit waste, and keep labor costs down. I learned how to be reactive and proactive, and I approached things with an open mind, allowing people to give me constructive criticism so I could gain their respect and get them to work harder because they knew I listened to them; a quality that very few people have when they take charge of groups of people. I worked in the trenches with them and had their backs when they came to me with legitimate concerns.

I cruised down the road from my parents’ house and pulled into the parking lot. I walked into the building through the back door and made my way to the front desk after Jim Patnode, who would become the first baseman on our company co-ed softball team, pointed to Eleanor Roberts’ desk. Everyone loved Eleanor, and she is one of the most genuine and caring people I’ve ever worked with. She always reminded me of my Grandma Dot, my mother’s mother who was riddled with cancer and taken to heaven before she got to experience her golden years.

Making my way to the desk, I could feel people looking at me. Heck, there were only about 30 people in the building. I met my boss, Vicki Reynolds, and got some basic instruction on what I would be doing for the first few weeks to see if I liked it enough to stay. She told me I was overqualified for the job, and she didn’t understand why I wanted to work there. That simple statement still rings through my ears, as I experienced rejection after rejection because I supposedly wasn’t “qualified” for different jobs. As I write this right now, I’m sitting here smiling about it because it kind of warms me to the soul in some strange way, probably because I have lived such an incredibly rich life without wealth.

I received a quick tour of the building, meeting Tony Gentille, George Ferone, John Kelleher, who would one day ask me to write his resignation letter for his membership at Highland Golf Club before he left for a better job opportunity in Chicago, Bob Choniere, who would be a heavy-hitting teammate on that co-ed team a few years later, Bob Barker, and Chris Condon. As we made our way downstairs and wandered through the maze of desks, I walked into an office and met Karen Northrup, who used her knowledge to make many people better writers, and Debbie Corie, who appeared to be the same age as me. In the next office I met Ruth Winchell, Jim Gaffney and Matt Meachem, who all seemed very knowledgable about sports. Finally, I was introduced to Nancy Wilder, and Gary Labrum, who I would work with as a French editor until Tribune merged with TV Data. I would have to sit with him for a few weeks and proof people’s work to see how the work flowed and learn about the point of origin, the point of creation, and the production process.

After sitting at a long table between Gary and Nancy for the better part of the morning, I was brought upstairs to meet the log editors, the people whose work I was proofing. Amazingly, most of them were my age.

On that walk, I met Steve Layden, Kristin Harvey, Wendy Duval, Tricia Fitzgerald, who would become Tricia Wadsworth, Bobbi Nelson, who would become my wife nine years later, Lisa Bordeau, and Karen Hewitt, who would become my partner after I got divorced.

That first day of work was business as usual. I was used to leading people so being a follower wasn’t so bad. I put my head down and did the work that was assigned to me. The days soon turned into weeks, and I found myself sitting under the stairs next to Tricia. I was assigned Total TV and Cablevision, and boy oh boy could Camille light into you if you didn’t get things right. Those two clients were heavy hitters, and I had the responsibility of making sure we didn’t make any errors. There was hell to pay if they called about something that had been screwed up.

As the days turned into weeks, Tricia and I sat under the stairs until well after midnight. Many nights, her eventual husband, Matt, would be late getting her, and I always worried about people having to stay in that tiny building in the middle of the country that late at night.

Where Did Time Go?

Before I knew it, 10 years had passed, and my initial plan of getting a few years of experience before moving on were in the rearview mirror. I had become comfortable, bought a house and got married. I was content. The job had flexible hours, and I didn’t mind doing what I was doing. Although there were a few personal conflicts along the way, I always did my best to get things off my chest and move on. I’ve always been one to speak my mind, and I think it’s essential to people’s well-being. Unfortunately, many people take things personally and can’t seem to move beyond incidents that are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. They take constructive criticism as insults rather than looking at the criticism with an open mind and trying to understand the purpose behind the concerns.

I learned the hard way that sometimes it’s better to not voice an opinion or give constructive criticism. I’ve never been a follower. It’s just not my style. I will follow if the traffic is going to the same place for the right reason. I will not follow the traffic because everyone wants to gawk at an accident. I will never be a rubbernecker or a yes sir, yes ma’am person unless it’s the right thing to do. I learned in McDonald’s that you hire the best person for the job, even if you hate that person with a passion. If you hire the best person, the person will make you look even better as a leader. There are many people who are more intelligent than me, and I can learn from anyone, even if I don’t like the person. My job is my job; it’s not my life. I don’t have to live with the person; I just have to work with him or her toward the same goal.

As another 10 years passed, I found myself in a mess. My world had caved in around me. Essentially, I was a lost soul, searching for myself in a world filled with fears, tears and jeers. Fortunately, I knew who I was as a person and the relationship I had with myself kept me going down the road less traveled.

Tribune Media had merged with TV Data, and many people had been let go on both sides. Two companies came together, with people from both companies thinking their way was the better way. Alliances were made among people, and it was as if we were following along the lines of the “Survivor” series that had premiered in May of 2000. It was everyone for himself, but everyone needed allies… keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

The division seemed to cause issues at times, but I chose to ignore it. After all, I was reunited with my longtime friend Dan Ladd. Although we had been friends, the merger allowed us to become close. The merger did many things for many people, and it cemented my friendship with Dan. Dan would encourage me to chase dreams, try new things, speak at outdoorsman shows, bible conferences and in schools. Dan encouraged me to write my first book and helped me get it published. He didn’t stop there, though. Instead, he kept pushing me to continue in the direction I was heading. He helped me through two more books after encouraging me to become a member of the New York Outdoor Writers Association.

A few months before my “last ride,” Dan landed a job as the editor of New York Outdoor News. This was a dream job for him, and I couldn’t be happier for any individual with whom I’ve ever worked. Dan applied for a few jobs along the way when he was in corporate America and got told he wasn’t qualified. I’m thankful that he was more than qualified to land one of the most prestigious jobs a person could land in the outdoors communication field.

The last nine years have been a blur. I’ve been trying to restructure my life and work toward many different goals that I have set for myself. Although some of the things have happened quickly, others have been painstakingly slow. I still push forward in hopes of never being satisfied with my work and my personal growth.

I finally got out of the French department in which I had worked for 18 years. When I became the copy editor for Gracenote, a Nielsen company, I was happy to try my hand at something new.

When I saddled up to do the job, I remembered seeing Karen Northrup in her office when I had the tour my first day on the job. I never imagined I would take over for someone whom I respected as much as I respected her. It was only fitting that I would be doing her job. I always enjoyed Karen’s company, and I enjoyed the talks we had along the way. I was disappointed to see her failing health get the best of her shortly after she retired. She deserved to live a longer life, especially after giving everything she had to her job and helping so many people understand the English language. All of the old-timers can surely relate to what I’m talking about. The pink hi-liters and red ink on the proofing reports were bothersome, but they made us do things the correct way.

As I began doing the job, I quickly realized why Karen got so angry with certain individuals on a regular basis. She would get in some people’s faces and snap at others. If I didn’t have unlimited patience, I’d probably do the same thing. The same people tend to make the same mistakes every day, no matter how many times you tell them to stop doing it incorrectly. It can wear on a person’s nerves, especially when some of the people making the mistakes are simply lazy and don’t have a care in the world about the quality of their work.

The Last Ride

Well, on Monday, July 20, 2020, I walked out of my parents’ house, started my truck, and headed down County Line Road. The sun was shining brightly and the blistering heat made the inside of the truck suffocating for the first few minutes of the ride.

As I could begin to feel the cool air against my legs about three minutes into my journey, I glanced to the right as I drove by that little building on County Line Road. This day was eerily similar to the day I drove to that building 29 years and a month ago to start my first job out of college.

The parking lot was empty. The grass was overgrown, and I could see weeds coming out of the pavement in different parts of the driveway. The building was discolored, and there was junk scattered across the lawn and in the back parking lot. The pond out front was all but dried up, and the willows that surrounded it were weeping an uneasiness that made its way into the car with me.

I gave the building a hard look as I pressed the break pedal and came to a stop at the four-way intersection about 100 yards past it. The nervousness in my throat drifted into my belly and quickly exited my body as I continued my journey down Queensbury Avenue toward Hudson Falls — or east Queensbury as Rich Cavak calls it.

Before long, I was on Dix Avenue and headed west toward Glens Falls. Rolling past Garvey Volkswagen and the Glens Falls DPW, the uneasy feeling once again found a way into my upper chest and settled into the area below my throat. I took the right onto Apollo Drive and did a loop around our old stomping grounds, the building we moved into after we abandoned the small building on County Line for bigger and better things. The small family unit had turned into a small stadium of family members nobody knew. Soon after, our crew of about 70 people turned into 370 people, and nothing would ever be the same. Our small softball team full of men and women having a good time became a thing of the past. Gary Evans and Gary Carter would disappear from the scene, while Jim Patnode and Bob Choniere would get called to the promised land long before they were ready to make the trip. Gary Evans would join them eventually, and Linda Adkins’ gravely, smoke-ridden voice saying, “Man alive, if that Tommy Tyminski was a little younger, I would give him a ride he would never forget. I’d teach him things that only old ladies know,” still rings through my memory, as she was one of the first of us to leave this incredible Earth. I was always surrounded by good people who were willing to listen while others talked and share some of their life stories, too.

After leaving the parking lot, I headed toward Sherman Avenue, passing the CNA building on my journey. I looked at the parking spots on the street in front of the building and remembered the morning Dan Ladd called me to tell me that a 4-pointer had just run down the middle of the road and slammed into his truck before taking a turn at the light on Bay and heading toward Cumberland Farms…. only in Glens Falls. I was wondering if Dan had a late night out and was seeing things, but I knew he was telling me the truth.

When I finally drove past the fire station on Veteran’s road and looked at the monstrosity across the street that is a union building, I recalled the days of the many softball games we played when the field was nothing more than a shitty, rock-filled field with a gravel-filled diamond on it that had a bike trail running through the middle of the outfield. If you hit the ball far enough, it might make it into the tall grass or the woods where the city of Glens Falls dumped all of the excess snow in the winter. If you slid into a base, you could rip your knees open from the shards of glass found all over the field. The ratty-looking 5-foot backstop kind of added to the nostalgia of the field. We definitely felt like the Bad News Bears, but we were like a family.

Jim Patnode and Gary Carter would share time at first base. Being 21 years old, I could really chuck a ball, too. Gary and Jim loved it because it was pinpoint accurate, but it was like a rocket, which they didn’t like so much. Jim and Gary would show me their red hands after catching the ball. Just like everything I do in my life, I have always been super competitive. I just can’t turn that switch off, whether it’s work, play or anything in between. I always want to to the job to the best of my ability. I pride myself for that and was taught to do it at a young age or be left in the dust. Ruth usually laced up at second base and Wendy would play as the rover. Ben would pitch some awesome games for us and Bob would be next to me at third base. He always flexed his arms and showed me the power of his biceps and the tattoo that he made him proud. I always told him it had nothing to do with strength, just hit the ball on the barrel of the bat. If your hand speed is fast enough, the ball will rocket off the bat. He always shook his head at me. He could never understand where my power came from. Matt and Jim would always be in center and right, and we had a variety of people in left, but Paul usually found himself in the position. Renee would catch for us, and we would have an incredible time once a week throughout the summer — the dog days of summer. Ruth’s daughter would throw dirt in Jim’s son’s eyes, and Matt’s children would sit with their mother by the car next to the road. Only a few of us had reached our mid-30s at that point.

I learned more about teamwork on that team than any team I’ve ever been on. We all worked together, and we did it well. Nobody was above the team. I do recall a time when I was getting over-aggressive due to my competitive nature and realized I had to slow down a little bit and let others do their part. Instead of going full bore and trying to catch any grounder or fly ball hit anywhere near me, I realized I needed to count on Bob, Ben, Paul, Ruth and Wendy to do their jobs, and they did them well. We won a lot of games together, too. Although it was something so simple, I’ll remember those days as long as I live. At the time, those teammates were my co-workers, but they were also my friends. I would go on to play golf with Jim and Matt a few times over the years, and I would share many stories with Wendy and Ruth when I needed to vent.

So when I recalled my days on that shitty hell hole of a field, I smiled. The anxiety increased in my chest again when I moved the lever to activate my blinker before turning onto Media Drive.

Rolling into the vacant parking lot on the north side of the building, I slowly crept past the front door and found myself pulling up to the loading dock to get my stuff. Jeff had told me that I could get it, so I was there to do the job.

Was it ironic that Rob Wescott pulled in behind me? I had been his boss at McDonald’s over 30 years ago, and he watched me leave that job for bigger and better things at Tribune Media Services. Years later, he would join me and has been there ever since.

Although I will not be returning to the office to work, I have done much of my best personal work at home over the years. I’ve had an office and have been able to go there to meet deadlines, produce outlines, draft letters, study maps, statistics, behaviors, and business models. I have continued educating myself in that room for anything I might encounter along this walk we call life. I’ve always wanted to be prepared for anything I might face. I’ve made a life worth living, and I made it while working from home on my own projects, projects that have given me a gateway to my soul and have allowed others to see my worth. That decision to work from home so many years ago is the best personal decision I have made in my life.

So when I pulled out of the parking lot with all of my personal belongings, I felt a sense of sadness at days gone by, but I was consumed with a sense of freedom. I will miss Rich Cavak’s humor, Cheryl and Deb’s morning jaunt to the coffee pot, Wendy’s jabs about my favorite hockey team and all of her stories about her husband, Mike, that make me laugh. I think he’s my all-time idol for husbands. I’ll miss Rick Davis’ rants about this and that, and his passion for Yankee baseball. Sam’s trips to the lunch table when he had time will be missed, and Sean Bacon’s lead-by-example attitude will be missed. Stephanie’s kindness for all people in the workplace and her ability to offer assistance to anyone and everyone to make the workplace a better place will never be forgotten. Kristin Harvey’s ability to overcome against all odds will always inspire me. Heck, I still remember changing her flat tire on County Line Road when nobody else would give her a had. Then, she and Deb had the same Ford Escorts and Diana Gillis had the little blue car to ride back and forth to Hampton every day before finding Paul (Big Guy) and carving out an incredible life for herself with someone who is deserving of everything she had to give. These people were all my work acquaintances, but they were family at the same time. I would see them more than I saw my own family members. It’s somewhat saddening that I can remember almost every car everyone drove back then, but I have no idea what anyone drives now. Karen drove the red Honda Accord. Rich drove the red Subaru, which eventually had the memorable black hood, and I drove the silver Izuzu Pup.

Tammy and Cheryl would take turns getting me the coldest Diet Coke on the food truck, until one day, they finally dragged me outside to meet Bruce, the food truck guy. He wanted to see the guy whom all of the ladies dug through the ice to find the coldest Diet Coke to bring back to him. I still remember meeting him that morning, but I also remember all of us helping each other, laughing, and having a good time. I will miss those days, even though they really haven’t existed in some time. As Tammy was losing her mother, I was young but I had also experienced a fair amount of death in my earlier years. Although I had no idea what she was going through, I tried my best to help her. I always tried to do the right thing, and I’m sure I failed many times. I was brought up to lend a hand when possible, and I’ve always tried doing that with no expectations of anything in return.

Now, as I start my new work-from-home life, I will have no problems doing my job and doing it well. I have been more productive since it started and expect to progress in the same direction. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much motivation to go back to my old work-from-home policies to work on my own things. I need to find my way back to that place as time moves forward.

Before signing off for the night, I just want to thank all of the people I’ve worked with in the office over the years. I’ve learned a lot about the way people act and the way people treat others. I’ve learned who can lead and who chose to follow — even if the leader tag was attached to them. I wish all of you well on this new journey. Remember to find the time for yourselves. When I turn my work computer off, I’m done for the day. I leave it inside the device. If you allow yourself to look at it solely as work, you will be better off. You have to remove yourself from knowing you are inside your home. Good luck on the new adventure.