My Gratitude List

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada. I’ve always loved the fact that we celebrate it earlier than our American friends, much like we get to celebrate our national birthday 3 days before them! Its also one of those times where, much like making New Year’s resolutions, that we like to list off what we are thankful for, rather than striving to be in a state of gratitude all year long. However, having said that and knowing that everyone else has done this at some point this past weekend, here is my gratitude list

I am thankful for living in Metro Vancouver. Even though one can barely afford to live here, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else I would rather live. Having all this natural beauty literally outside my front door makes up for it.

I am thankful for also living in a neighbourhood with great people, even though I don’t remember everyone’s name sometimes

I am thankful for having a long and eventful career in an industry which has been more uncertain than eventful and longevity has become the exception rather than the norm.

I am thankful to my Dutch ancestors for inventing, among other things, Hagelslag….those wonderful little chocolate sprinkles which, when spread over melted butter on toast, turns into a feast from heaven!

I am thankful for not only having, but also being able to appreciate a sense of humour…a quality which seems to be more restricted and restrained in many cases. It is needed now more than ever today, since it always brings sanity and clarity to that which is chaotic and outrageous. Plus, laughing just makes you feel good.

I am also thankful for all kinds of music and all the wonderful musicians who create it.

I am thankful that I can watch professional football from late June until the first weekend in February

I am thankful for those men and women who dedicate their lives and put them at risk to keep us safe and out of harm’s way. I also am thankful to those men and women who also dedicate their lives to promoting , advocating and fighting for peace, equality and those who are the victims of injustice

I am thankful for being born a citizen of a country that has given me freedom and opportunity wherever I have lived, but also being able to be respected when travelling to other countries and being envied for calling myself Canadian

In turn, I am thankful to my parents who, like many who sought a better life from Europe after the Second World War, chose Canada to start their new lives and where myself and my brother would begin ours

I am thankful to those who have taught me…not just teachers and instructors, but those who took the time with advice, encouragement, by word or deed. Sometimes it was simple, but the impact it had was huge. I’m also thankful to those who challenged me to be better or do better, even though I might not have appreciated it at the time!

I am thankful for all the friends I’ve had and those I continue to have

I am thankful for continuing to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy

Above all, I’m thankful for my beautiful wife and my amazing son, who have brought more love and fulfillment than I could have ever imagined. Without them, none of this would make any sense.

Lastly, thank you for reading this…..and I hope you have many items on your list too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

SEEMS LIKE IT WAS ONLY YESTERDAY….

So there are two important anniversaries occurring this month. The most important, of course, is my 24th wedding anniversary to my wonderful wife Amandah. But the other is also significant.

It was 40 years ago this month when we packed up the family car with my stereo, record albums, a suitcase of clothes and a few other things as my father and I drove up to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario to start my broadcasting career. After sending out multiple tapes and resumes, I was off to do the evening shift at CFYN AM. Even though I had aspirations of working at a cool FM rock station, I had to start somewhere, even for a whopping $500 a month. My friends thought I was insane. Many of them were sure I would be enrolling in a theatre program or hitting the stage at Second City or Yuk Yuks. Why on earth did I want to do radio? I didn’t see it that way…I was getting a chance to do something I wanted to do. A couple of days later, we arrived and found a place to live…a small room in a house near the Algoma Steel Plant. I remember my Dad waking up early the next morning to say goodbye to me. Half asleep, I gave him a hug and he was on his way back home…and for brief moment, I found myself now alone…on my own. In that moment, I thought ‘What happens now? How is this going to go? What am I doing? Are my friends right, am I really insane?’

Once that feeling subsided, I went off to my first shift. That was followed by nearly a year there where I moved from evenings to mid-days and finally to afternoon drive. Then I was off to Saskatoon to work in the format I always wanted to do, FM rock radio. Five great years there were followed by an ownership & format change and another not so great 2 and half years before they had enough of me and I of them. Shortly after that, I found myself in the world of television at the newly launched STV. As strange as it my seem now. television was never on my radar. But here I was, with the same thought in my head from nearly 10 years earlier…’How is this going to go?’

As it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t know, because I could never have imagined how it was going to be so fulfilling, compelling, challenging, at times frustrating but always rewarding this journey was going to be. Along the way, I’ve met and worked with some incredible people. I’ve met the famous, not so famous and people who deserve to be more famous than they actually are. I’ve met some long time heroes and new ones. I’ve got to travel places I never thought I would be. I’ve performed in some great studios, stages and settings…been involved with some great productions. I’ve been part of some great fundraising campaigns and programs for some great causes and institutions. I flown with the Snowbirds and done live broadcasts from vineyards in France. I’ve been through 5 or 6 different corporate and ownership restructurings as well as numerous ‘changes in direction.’ I worked at 4 different TV stations in one building, I’ve been asked to leave buildings 3 times and watched helplessly when others were asked to leave. I’ve seen changes in technology, strategy and philosophy through the entire industry that, even now, it is still trying to come to terms with. But most of all, I have learned so much about myself, much more than I could ever imagine when I was sitting in the dark in that room in Sault Ste Marie.

Would I do it all again? Hell yes…even the $500 a month ( which I should say I make a lot more than that now). I know this a time of great angst and doubt in broadcast media these days. They way we get and receive information and entertainment is still something the traditional broadcasters are trying to keep up with, while the corporations who own and operate media keep their eyes on the bottom line. Many people who have been doing this as long as I have are now questioning if its all still worth it, while many who aspire to get in are now getting cold feet. I’m often asked nowadays whether I would encourage anyone to take up this profession. My answer again is…hell yes! There will be challenging moments and times when you doubt not only those around you but also yourself, but that happens to anyone in any profession. Broadcasting and media not only in this country but around the world needs new people with fresh ideas to help it evolve and change with how we communicate and get our information and entertainment. I think its up to everyone in the industry now to develop and encourage this.

I would also tell anyone who wants to do this is to always trust yourself and be yourself. Over the years, I have had many people tell me how to act, sound, emote and express myself. Yes, you can take some direction here and there, but in the end, it all comes down to being genuine and true to yourself. I’ve been put in situations where they’ve tried to turn me into someone I wasn’t. Needless to say, it didn’t work, even when it meant I was out of work. Now, forty years later, I can say I’m enjoying myself more than I ever have in my entire career. I’m still challenged every day, I’m still enjoying every day and I’m still thankful every day.

And I’m not done yet!

Oh…and Happy Anniversary, honey!

WE THE NORTH…..EVEN US!

The Toronto Raptors took their place in sports history by becoming the first Canadian based team to win the NBA Championship. Raptor fever swept the nation as they marched over Philadelphia, Milwaukee and finally the defending champions Golden State…and the entire nation was captivated. They went from Toronto’s team to Canada’s team. Jurassic Park style viewing areas formed across the country as the nation held it’s collective breath as the last seconds of Game 6 (which took about 20 minutes), then cheered from coast to coast to coast. All of Canada taking in the post game celebrations and days later the seemingly never ending parade and celebration through downtown Toronto. A moment we will never forget…..and all of Canada was on this giant bandwagon.

Even those of us here in Vancouver…and, quite frankly, I’m surprised.

Why?

Sometimes the easiest way you can get someone from Vancouver not to like something is to tell them it’s from Toronto, especially if it involves a sports team. Any mention of the Blue Jays as ‘Canada’s team’ is met with eye rolls and looks of disdain from many residents here. I hear constant complaints about the Toronto-centric coverage on both of the country’s sports networks, as some nights you have to wait for Canucks highlights while they thoroughly discuss what went on with the Maple Leafs that day…even longer on days they’re playing. Not to mention the fact that our NBA experience didn’t go so well. While quite a few fans would love to see the league return to Vancouver, it left even more with a bad taste in the mouth that they still can’t wash out. Other memories faded with time. For the rest, the Grizzles were a team they look up online. So as the Raptors success and the hype grew, my initial reaction to everyone supporting ‘Canada’s team’ was skeptical. It would be a tough sell out here. I mean, even Raptors International ambassador and head cheerleader Drake got kicked out of a casino here!

But I was wrong. More than that, I was surprised just how much Vancouver bought into Raptor mania. Soon I was seeing more We The North hats, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry jerseys than Canucks gear. We started calling ourselves the No Fun City again because there were no Jurassic Park style viewing events permitted….another thing that didn’t go so well the last time we did that. Despite that, however, there was no denying Raptor fever and this time we went all in. Bars were packed…living rooms and basements erupted in cheers and for the past few days I’ve seen more basketball being played in the street than road hockey. This year, the Stanley Cup playoffs were just there. Chants of ‘Lets Go Raptors ‘ and ‘We The North’ could be heard from time to time. And this time, it seemed ok. Why not? Now, even though Toronto is my birthplace, I never had an emotional connection to them. My experience was with the Grizzlies and, through all their management blunders and ambivalent players, I enjoyed them while they were here. The only Toronto sports team I still have an emotional connection to is the Blue Jays. But I too tip my hat to the Raptors. They showed great skill and tenacity which endeared them to everyone who watched. True, if it weren’t for Kawhi Leonard, we would not have been watching 8 hours of parade coverage across the country. But this was team to be remembered, much like the Jays back to back World Series in the early nineties. And who knows…maybe the NBA will return to Vancouver one day. If it does, I think it would work out a little better this time.

But just one other thing intrigues me……if things worked out differently and it was the Raptors that left after only 6 years, the Grizzlies stayed in Vancouver and went on to become NBA champions…would we have become Canada’s Team? Would they have covered the victory parade on national television? Would everyone in Toronto be chanting ‘We The Coast!’ ?

I guess we’ll have to find out.

MY EVENING WITH A NOT SO FAWLTY PYTHON

Earlier this year, I got an email from our promotions director at CTV Vancouver which read ‘Would you be interested in being the MC for the John Cleese show in May?’ To which I replied, ‘Do bees buzz?’ Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a huge Monty Python fan and an even bigger fan of John Cleese. To me, he is a comedic genius and someone who I have longed to meet. Despite a few years and several unsuccessful opportunities to get interviews, I always hoped that one day I would get the chance to meet him. Now it was no longer chance…it was going to happen.

He is currently touring Canada with his show entitled (ironically) Why There Is No Hope, a wonderful monologue about why we should not place our trust or faith into the people or institutions we trust and put faith in to begin with. A very clever, funny and informative class, if you will, as only John Cleese can deliver it. It would be followed with a question and answer session with the audience. Now, the original plan was for me to come out, give a few sponsor credits and bring him onstage. The Q&A session was going to be hosted by his daughter, Camilla Cleese. It did not matter to me…I was just thrilled enough for the opportunity to see & meet this man. About 3 weeks ago, I got a call from the tour’s promoter telling me that Camilla had to leave the tour and if I would be able to moderate the Q&A session as well.

Do bees buzz?

If I wasn’t already in orbit, this sent me to the moon.

So, last night, in front of 2,600 people at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I fulfilled a long held ambition. Not only did I introduce John Cleese, but I got to sit down and chat with him in front of a live audience. My first meeting with him was during the soundcheck about an hour before the show. I was a combination of excitement, nerves and stress and didn’t really know if he was going to be intimidating. His tech assistant Andy brought me over and said “John, this is Marke. He’s our moderator for this evening.” John then thrust out his hand saying “Ah, wonderful! ” Yes, he was tall but not the least bit intimidating. He then said ” So, the most important thing to remember is there are no such things as mistakes. We’ll just have a nice conversation and we’ll have fun. Alright?” With that, all the stress and nerves were gone…the excitement remained. This was going to be fun.

So, at around 7:40 I walked onstage, welcomed the audience and brought the man himself onstage. For the next 50 minutes, he told some great stories and put forth his theories on why the world is the way it is, from hopeless politicians, millennials, egos and ‘stupids’ It was typical, sarcastic, at times cutting but always hilarious, insightful, intelligent mixed in with just the right dose of optimism. While he was doing that, I was backstage with Andy as he was reading the IPad that was taking the questions being e-mailed in from the audience. I would then take the IPad onstage, scroll through the questions and ask them, along with some of my own, of course. After his monologue, I joined him onstage and sat down for the session. I had been feeling anxious about how I would be at this moment, but it was a great feeling to look over at a man you have admired for so long and you were now getting a chance to get to know him better…with a live audience no less. I first welcomed him back to Vancouver, noting that he’s said numerous times this was one of his favourite cities. He said this was one of his 3 favourites, the others being Sydney and San Francisco. He said “all three are on the ocean, have beautiful harbours, have lots of Asians so there is good food and they all have a big gay population so there is great design and fashion.” I then asked a couple of questions about Monty Python, his great chemistry with fellow Python Michael Palin and their reunion show in London in 2014. He was engaging, interesting and interested. Then at one point, while he was answering a question, I looked down at the IPad to look for a question from the audience. Then, I heard him say with that famous indignant Basil Fawlty tone “Are you listening to me right now?” The audience laughed, I was a little red faced but laughed too, then said ‘And I’m not even a millennial!” More laughter from the audience but more important, he started laughing as well. It was happening. We were having fun! And more important, I had made him laugh!

The rest of the session was terrific. We took some audience questions and I also asked him if people today were too easily offended. Political correctness is a favourite subject of his and said that comedians today have challenges. Jerry Seinfeld once told him that you have to be careful as some people, in Seinfeld’s words ‘are waiting to be offended’ He also talked about the state of the UK and why he can’t live there at the moment but did end off on an optimistic note. He closed with the Serenity Prayer and advised everyone to use that in their life with whatever God means to them. He also said to be nice to people and to pets. In his words “I am beginning to think more and more our lives are really about our pets” As one myself, I can agree with that. He then thanked the audience and we both walked offstage. After getting our microphone headsets off, he grabbed my hand, gave me a pat on the shoulders and said “Well done! You did very good! You must do something else than just the weather, do you?” I told him that, yes, I also do interviews and have a performing background which included stand up comedy, improv and acting. ” I could tell that” he said. ” You were very quick and very comfortable out there. It was a lot of fun!” I said, coming from him, that was the best compliment I could ever get. I felt like I had been knighted!

Afterwards there was a meet and greet session with some audience members and, after they had their turn, I got to get my pictures taken and introduce him to my wife and son, who were at the show. Now, my son, unlike his father, has incredibly long hair. I introduced my wife Amandah first but he saw my son right away, walked over to him and said “Hello Amandah, nice to meet you!’ Always that quick wit and my son loved it. We got some terrific pictures and he signed my copy of his autobiography…with one more classic Cleese touch. When I told him that I spelt my name with an ‘e’ on the end, he once again channelled his Basil Fawlty and said “No! Really! Come on!” He then signed it ‘Mark’ and left a space and then added a single ‘e’ “Mark with an ‘e’ …is that alright?’ I told him I expected no less…it was perfect. Then, I told him how much of an honour it was to be part of his show tonight…how I’ve admired him for most of my life and how the evening had been a huge thrill for me. With that, he seemed so genuinely pleased and flattered and we had one more warm handshake. I walked out of the theatre and back to the car with my wife and son. I had a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This was a very special night.

I posted a previous blog about being careful about the people we admire. There is an expression that one should never meet their heroes, for they are bound to disappoint us. John Cleese, for me, did nothing of the sort. My admiration for him is even stronger now. I can even say I made him laugh.

Thank you, Mr. Cleese

And there is always hope!


RELAX, IT’S JUST A TV SHOW! (slight spoiler alert)

So yes, I was one of the 13 plus million people who watched the series finale of Game of Thrones. Having gotten into the series late, I can’t really call myself a devoted fan, but once I got caught up, I never missed an episode over the last 3 seasons. Was I happy with how it turned out? I have to say, yes. But as soon as it finished, my first thought was that half of those who watched would also like it, half would hate it.

I was right about the 50/50 split, but I’m also amazed at the extremes the haters have gone to. It actually started after the penultimate episode, when Daenerys barbecues Kings Landing. Fans were so upset with this that petitions were circulated demanding the storylines be changed and the entire season re-shot. It was no wonder then that the finale was met with outright scorn and disappointment. Fans reacting with fire and rage of their own online, along with countless memes. Even Aaron Rodgers…yes, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, ranted about how bad it was. Other online articles called it ‘cheesy’ and ‘setting back the fantasy genre.’ You can also go online to a website that offers therapy and counselling for those fans distraught that the show is now over and came to a somewhat dissatisfying conclusion.

Petitions? Shoot a new season? Online therapy? Really?

Relax people, it’s only a TV show.

Granted, not just any TV show. It was well acted, beautifully shot, high quality special effects and certainly redefined series television even more. So when you set the bar that high, the expectations get even higher. Even though I had no problem with it, I can understand some would feel the conclusion was either rushed along (as evident from cameo appearances by coffee cups and water bottles) or just wrapped up conveniently by declaring ‘the guy with the best story wins!’ But would anyone believe that HBO would actually consider spending another gazillion dollars of your hard earned subscription money because half the audience wanted a happier ending? Or maybe a more dramatic one?

Game Of Thrones is not the first series where a finale has been seen as a disappointment. All you Sopranos fans know what I’m talking about. I can remember being somewhat let down by the finale of Seinfeld. Ending with the first lines from the first episode might have made sense to Jerry, but having never seen the very first episode, it made no sense to me. Yes, we watch the shows, we love the shows, we get involved with the characters, the stories, the situations. But we don’t write them or decide how long they continue or how they end. For every one that gets a final episode, there are hundreds more who never got past one season. It’s a rare feat to create a series of any genre that’s not only consistently entertaining and compelling, but also ends with a satisfying and compelling ending.

So, which series have done that? Well, here’s my list of the ones I’ve followed, in no particular order. M*A*S*H, The Larry Sanders Show, Newhart ( his second show), Frasier and Breaking Bad.

I’m sure the debate will rage on, but in the end, we shouldn’t take it too seriously. You laughed, you cried, you were entertained when you needed to be entertained. And in the case of Game Of Thrones, I’m sure all the planned prequels and spin offs will be on before you know it. So don’t cancel your HBO just yet.

Now I can catch up on Billions!


SO WHEN IS THE NEXT GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND?

‘On that train of graphite and glitter Undersea by rail

Ninety minutes from New York to Paris Well by ’76, we’ll be a-ok

What a beautiful world this will be…’

-Donald Fagen, I.G.Y

Even though it was a rare, sunny late afternoon outside, I went into a dark but comfortable movie theatre to see the new documentary on Apollo 11. It lived up to all the acclaim…some new and never released film from NASA, remastered along with a remixed soundtrack results in a powerful, compelling look at the first manned moon landing 50 years ago this summer. Even after all these years, one is still struck and the power, majesty and complexity of that endeavour.

It had the desired affect on me, as it took me back to July of 1969, a few days before my 13th birthday. For many of my generation, this was the culmination of growing up fascinated and consumed by the early days of space exploration, or the ‘space race’ as it was called then, since a great part of it was the competition between the United States and the Soviet space programs. For me, that was secondary. I grew up watching every liftoff, every mission, every splashdown and recovery, from Mercury to Gemini and Apollo. And now it was finally going to happen. Man was going to set foot on another celestial body. On that day, we were visiting family friends at their cottage just north of where we lived, but my parents promised we would be home just in time to watch the moonwalk on TV ( remember, there was no PVR, VCR or streaming online). I think I spent the entire hour and a half trip home pestering and pleading with my dad to get there on time.

We did, and like nearly everyone else on the planet, we watched that grainy, black & white but nevertheless spellbinding live broadcast as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. As i watched him and Buzz Aldrin dance around the lunar surface, I kept running outside to our front porch to look up at the moon. I had seen it so many times before, but this time, it was different. There were humans from Earth walking around up there. It was magic.

The future had arrived!

It wouldn’t be long before we were making not only regular trips to other planets, but our whole society would be transformed, much like Donald Fagen described in that song. We’d all be living in futuristic living quarters and moving about in flying cars, just like the Jetsons. Thanks to the space program, we were developing products and industries that were making are lives better, more productive. We would have instant communication anytime, anywhere. We could get anywhere in a fraction of the time it used to take. Everything we would need would be at the touch of a button, instantly accessible and readily available. Movies like 2001 A Space Odyssey and TV shows like Star Trek showed us a world that was, literally, just around the corner.

Well, fifty years later, I’d say we’re still a long way off. Yes, technology has changed things. Yes, we have instant access to information, communication. Technology has cured or treated diseases that were once considered incurable or untreatable and developed safer modes of transportation, conservation, etc. But space exploration didn’t really progress the way one thought it would since that summer of 1969. Four moon landings would follow Apollo 11 before the novelty finally wore off. The early days of the Shuttle program were exciting but didn’t come close to matching the interest and intensity of the early days. In fact, space shuttle missions became routine and taken for granted, with the exception, unfortunately, of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Yes, we did build a permanent space station and yes, there are plans to go back to the moon and Mars.  But it seems, at least to me, that we should have been to every planet in the solar system by now. And here on Earth, we shouldn’t be still driving vehicles at require gas. I guess some things evolve slower than others.

What I think we miss most of all, and also became apparent while watching Apollo 11, was the incredible, galvanizing moment it had become for the entire world. Everyone on Earth literally stopped what they were doing and gathered anywhere they could to watch this incredible achievement. For once, the singular focus was something that was pulling us together, not all the other things that were tearing us apart. That’s not to say mankind hasn’t accomplished great things since then, but it seems today that any great step forward, either socially, politically or anything to improve the human condition, is met with skepticism or outright resistance. Instead of celebration, we spend more time in our divided camps arguing and insulting each other on various social media platforms..you know, that great product of the internet that was meant to bring us closer together?

Something else to consider…while technology has made a huge difference, we must also be careful not to surrender to it. We can’t solely rely on cars, trains or planes to fly themselves. A good case in point comes from the Apollo 11 mission, which is also mentioned in the film. A few moments before the landing, Neil Armstrong noticed the onboard computer’s landing target was a bolder strewn area right next to a crater. Needless to say, the landing would have been a catastrophe. Armstrong then took manual control of the lunar lander and, with about 30 seconds of fuel left, guided the lander forward to a smoother spot a few feet away to a much smoother touchdown.

Sometimes, you gotta take the wheel.

So, fifty years later, I look forward to that next giant leap for mankind, whatever or wherever that may be. I hope it’s as exciting and as inspiring as Apollo 11 was and I hope it will again unify a world that is in dire need of unification.

What a beautiful world it will be.

MY LAST VICE

I’m getting too lean… Living so clean…

Fresh air and carrots are making me mean… I’m acting too damn nice….

I need a vice….

David  Wilcox I Need A Vice

 

We all have had our bad habits or things we’ve loved but we know weren’t good for you and, sooner or later, you had to go on without them.

I was a pack a day smoker for many years before quitting almost 30 years ago. I slowly eliminated pork and red meat from my diet. Even though I never had a problem with it, I stopped drinking alcohol of any kind several years ago. I’ve tried to stick to a healthy regimen of diet and exercise. It may sound incredibly boring and flaky to some of you, but, yes, I do feel better. But there was one thing I could not do without…and I would never thought I had to give up.

Coffee.

I love coffee.   Nothing better than a nice, big cup of dark roasted coffee with a little cream. To me, the initial, pleasurable taste of that first sip, each one after that, the permeation of the caffeine as it worked its way through your bloodstream and the lingering feeling afterwards was intoxicating and oh, so satisfying. It was also just straight up coffee…no designer lattes or frappe mocha whipped frosted chinos for me. The darker and stronger the coffee, the better. French press was my preferred method of brewing.

During my days in morning radio, I would go through almost an entire pot each shift. Now, doing morning television, I went through four to five cups a day. But the time I would enjoy it most was sitting on a

 

deck, either at home or away, on a sunny, warm morning or clear, warm evening just before sunset.

True, I knew all that caffeine was probably not good, despite conflicting studies that, one day, would warn of the dangers of too much java, only to be followed by another one praising the health benefits of daily consumption. It never mattered to me…I just needed to have coffee every day. I have probably been in every Starbucks location in and around the Metro Vancouver area at one time or another. I have gone into locations where the servers would say “Didn’t I see you at another store a while ago?”

And yes…I do have a Starbucks gold card.

I called it my last vice. I had given up pretty much everything else, but I would always have my daily grind.

That is, until last week.

During my annual medical check up last week, I told my doctor I had been experiencing some slight pangs and felt like my heart was skipping beats. Nothing too drastic, but concerning none the less. “How much coffee do you drink?” she asked.

About four or five cups a day, I answered. Now, those aren’t exactly standard medical cup sizes.   We’re talking tall or grandes at best.

I should have known what she would say next… “Well, I think you have to stop, or switch to decaf.”

What? My last vice? You’re taking THAT away now? But it’s different. I chose to get rid of the other stuff! I want my coffee! Really?! I mean, when I was smoking, I used to know people who would only smoke on weekends or occasionally. Can’t I be one of those coffee drinkers?

Not really, Like smoking, I either smoked a pack a day or I didn’t smoke at all.              There is no such thing as ‘occasional.’

When it comes down to it, the risk to my continued healthy lifestyle is far greater if I hang on to one of the last vessels of satisfaction in my life. Besides, decaf isn’t so bad…is it?

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks….the taste is about the same and, yes, there are many good quality decaf coffees you can find that are favourable, but it’s not quite the same.

 

So, goodbye full strength coffee. You gave me many mornings and evenings of pleasure. I’m sure your wimpy cousin decaf will do what they can, but it will never be the same.

NOBILITY LOST

A few years ago I attended a 25 year reunion of my high school grad class in PIckering, Ontario. During one of the events, I was getting caught up with someone who I not only knew in high school, but went to grade school with. We had many chats over that weekend about how we were, where we’ve been, what we’ve done, who have we seen, etc. But during this particular evening, he looked at me and said ‘You know Marke? I’m really proud of you. You went and did exactly what you wanted to do. As opposed to me, because I did exactly what I didn’t want to do.’ What’s that, I asked him. ‘Go work at GM’

He wasn’t the only one who made that choice. We were all near the end of high school, the time when you’re supposed to have everything figured out, right? Did you have a goal in mind? Which university or college were you going to? Or did you just want to get out of school and out on your own into a good paying job? For a lot of guys, the last option was the most attractive. The promise of a good paying, ‘steady’ job on the assembly line at the GM plant in nearby Oshawa made that prospect even more alluring. Some didn’t even wait to finish out their final year. No more school to endure. You could make money, have your own place, your own car maybe…you were set. Wasn’t that what it was all about? Isn’t that what your parents did and wanted for you? Get a good job, a nice house, start a family, all that stuff?

When GM announced in November that they were planning to shut down the Oshawa plant, I thought about my friend and all those other guys I knew. Many of them either lost those jobs through the recessions and slumps in the auto industry of the 80s. Many, like my friend at the reunion, found other work and got back on their feet, but the sense I got from our discussion that night was that he could have done better but, instead, took the easy way out. Somehow, he felt he should have known that perhaps a clearer vision and more education would have made things different.
Maybe he felt like he could have done something a little more outstanding. He probably could have, but none of us can make that judgment. Nor do I feel I’m better than him or any of my other friends who did that. We all had our choices and our paths. Sometimes our choices are limited. A few of us never had much choice to begin with. We all wanted a good life, to be our best, to enjoy ourselves and provide for ourselves and those we care about. We just had different ways of doing it.

Oshawa is not the only community going through this either. This scenario has played out and continues in many one industry towns across

Ontario and the rest of the country. My first job in radio was in Sault Ste Marie, not long after graduating high school and completing college. I was one of those rare young men in their early 20’s who lived there but was not working at the town’s largest employer, which was Algoma Steel. Any guy my age was probably already 3 or 4 years into his job there with a family and mortgage payments. I wonder how many of them survived the years of downturns, restructuring and adjustments that followed.

We’ve all seen the concepts of work and career change over the years. A steady, well paying job at one place until retirement seems like an ancient concept, but it many ways is still a noble one. But in these days when industry and corporations see their employees as liability rather than nobility, respect for that work ethic seems like an ancient concept too.

BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR HEROES

I can imagine what you’re thinking while you’re looking at this picture…

Rather than think that, look at my face. I can tell you exactly what I was thinking at that moment….this was one of the greatest moments of my life.

He was the man who showed me how cool it was to make people laugh. As a kid, I had memorized his best selling comedy albums… every word, every routine. For some reason, it would not be until decades later that I finally saw him perform in person. I would go to work at the television station the next day raving about what a master he still is, only to learn that he had visited the station himself the day before, when I had a day off, and missed out on his joking with the entire newsroom, not to mention an interview. I was crushed beyond belief, thinking it was an opportunity lost. But, a few years and a couple of performances later, my wish came true during a post show meet and greet session. I told him how much I admired him and how much this moment meant to me. He seemed genuinely touched, along with being charming and funny. I walked out of the theatre and back to our car. It was dark at that point, but there was a beam and glow on my face that no one could dim.

Now, it’s a picture I have a hard time looking at. That glow is not only

dimmed but snuffed out. As the allegations continued, the trials progressed and the verdict was reached, I had a hard time processing it all. How could this man, with his gifts and his accomplishments, think he could act like this? Looking at this now doesn’t quite bring on anger so much as disappointment. But is it disappointment in him or myself? We have all been told to be careful who we choose as heroes, for they will eventually disappoint us. Yet we cant help by admire someone for their work, accomplishments or character. Its when we think they can do nothing wrong that gets us into trouble. True, the allegations against this man started many years ago, but I seemed to ignore them because, to me anyway, his talent and legacy was solid enough, right?

No, it wasn’t. That is now tarnished forever, and he has no one to blame but himself

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote ‘Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.’ I keep thinking how many more pictures are out there he’s taken with others that admired him as I did. For that matter, how many selfies and poses do people have with someone like Louis CK or Kevin Spacey? It seems every Hollywood A lister has to explain away a photograph taken with Harvey Weinstein. Disgraced artists, musicians, politicians, celebrities….at one point, everyone wanted to be either seen with them, or be like them. What makes us put these people on pedestals, only to learn that they have flaws? And once we find out they are imperfect, can we separate what they’ve done from the person they are?

My guess is that we won’t stop doing it nor bemoaning celebrity worship. Nor should we stop admiring anyone who inspires us or does something that makes us feel better about the world or ourselves. Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography ‘We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes’

Less heroes may not be the answer, but maybe more self satisfaction and admiration is.

A REMINDER ONCE AND A WHILE

For many people of my generation, Remembrance Day is not lost on us. We are the sons and daughters of men and women who either fought, served or lost their lives in war, but also many of our parents had lived under occupation in Europe. Both my mother and father were teenagers in the Netherlands during that time.

My biggest worry when I was a teenager was whether or not I could get Rolling Stones tickets. For them, it was staying alive. So I learned very early on how important this day was and how significant Canada was in the liberation of The Netherlands. But even I could get a little distracted or distant as the years went on, concentrating less on what the day meant and looking at it more as a day off. Now, the big concern is whether the meaning is losing significance with each generation after, even though we’ve lost soldiers in recent conflicts like Afghanistan.   Sure, it will be taught and studied in history classes, but how does one really continue to understand as more time passes and those who saw it first hand continue to pass as well?

Not everyone can experience this, but I had a reminder about 4 years ago. We were fortunate enough to do another trip to France with Scenic tours on CTV Morning Live. This time, we toured the north of France and our last stop was Juno Beach and the memorial centre there. But it was a trip to the Canadian Military Cemetery at Beny Sur Mer that it really hits you.

Walking among the headstones, each of them with the name, hometown and birthdate of each soldier.  The youngest I read was 18, the oldest was 35.  Row after row, after row. Each of them was someone’s son, brother, uncle, father, grandfather. Men and women at the start or prime of their lives. No one can look at that and not be overwhelmed by what is the true and tragic cost of war. It is also why we should, in another sense, fight like hell that this could never, ever, happen again.

Like I said, not everyone can experience this, but it was a reminder of how lucky I am and we all are. Let’s hope we can continue to remember this not only on November 11th but every day. Every generation..from now on.