Monday, September 26, 2011

Welcome to the Bennett Book Club

I just finished two books on my recent trip to California. As is my habit, both books included behind-the-scenes glimpses of media behemoths. The first was “Morning Miracle,” which is Dave Kindred’s candid look at life at The Washington Post as it adapted – or didn’t adapt – to new media. The second was “They Call Me Baba Booey,” which is Gary Dell’abate’s autobiography, including his role as producer of The Howard Stern Show.

Kindred, a sports reporter, doesn’t apologize for his love affair for newspapers, he relishes in it. Nevertheless, he pulls no punches in “Morning Miracle” when discussing the financial and creative conflicts at the venerable Washington Post. Kindred does one of writing’s toughest jobs … reporting on reporters. He clearly gained the trust of his subjects, allowing him to show divisions within the paper as it faced the pressures of declining revenues and online competition.
Kindred also demonstrates a keen business sense and an outstanding feel for corporate culture. His story could really be about any company facing change. Kindred is there as long-time reporters and editors reluctantly accept one of The Post’s generous severance packages with no idea what they’ll do next. Meanwhile, turmoil is occurring within management’s ranks, too, including the awkward transition of power within a family-owned business.

In “They Call Me Baby Booey,” Dell’abate’s biggest challenges occur at home, as he struggles being the son of a mother with mental illness. Like Stern’s “Private Parts” before it, Dell’abate’s book is a surprisingly tender portrait of his family life. He candidly discusses his brother’s death from AIDS, his mother’s mental health problems and his father’s death.
As for his professional life, Dell’abate’s success is really a tribute to persistence. He takes multiple internships in college and joins the Stern show on a trial basis with a modest salary only after tiring of his job as assistant traffic reporter on the Don Imus’ show.

Dell’abate covers some key Stern show moments, including his ill-advised videotape to an ex girlfriend and wayward first pitch at a Mets’ game. The paperback also includes a new chapter in which Dell’abate chronicles his work on a USO show with the volatile Artie Lange. I would have enjoyed even more Stern back-story, but it was a good read nevertheless.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The region along the Ohio River known as Kentuckiana is about to become divided into Kentucky and Indiana.

Three bridges connect the communities. One is pretty much for local access only. Another has just been closed after a crack was found in it. It could be closed for months. That leaves only one major, clogged artery connecting the two states.

This is bad news for people in both communities, but particularly for people like me and my wife who live in southern Indiana and work in Kentucky. We can expect our commutes to more than double, if not worse. I’m lucky enough to have an employer that will be patient with me. Others aren’t as fortunate.

The sad part is this problem could have been avoided. It’s not like a natural disaster suddenly destroyed a bridge without warning. Instead, this problem has resulted over decades of use. Planners should have laid out alternatives years ago. To the extent that they’ve tried, they’ve been rebuffed by “not in our backyard” special interests threatening lawsuits. Hopefully, this serves as a wake-up call.

It’s time to put pettiness aside and move forward. Bridges won’t be built overnight. Severing these communities economically is not an option. What would Kentucky do without the contributions of Indiana workers? What would Indiana do without the taxes of Kentucky workers who choose their state as a bedroom community?

The fact that we’re in this predicament is a failure of the leadership of both states. They have urged us to think regionally, but haven’t provided us with the necessary infrastructure to support that strategy. That’s got to change, starting now.

Unfortunately, it could be too little too late. Many Indiana residents may be forced to reconsider their living and/or work arrangements. As for me, I guess I’ll be in the market for a personal submarine, a jet pack or a hang glider.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Travel Gone to the Dogs

Travel has gone to the dogs.

I recently took a flight to southern California and there were not one, but two dogs on board. They might have been terrific traveling companions for their owners, but not so much for a guy like me, who is allergic to dogs. In other words, my ideal seatmate doesn’t drink from a toilet. So I took the furthest seat away, clutching Benadryl, just in case.

That strategy worked fine and I miraculously arrived at my destination four hours later without bloodshot eyes and a runny nose. I got my luggage, rented a car and negotiated the busy highways around Los Angeles for about an hour before arriving at my hotel. Weary from the trip, I checked in, got my key and headed up the elevator to my room. When the doors opened, I started to exit, only to feel a presence in my path. So I excused myself … to a dog.

When I finally got around the dog and to my room, I checked my Twitter feed to see what I had missed back home. I was surprised to learn that the minor league baseball team in my hometown was hosting a night for some very important visitors … dogs. (I bet you don’t have much chance of beating a Labrador retriever to a foul ball).
It was then that it hit me. Dogs lead pretty rich lives these days, compared to my pet goldfish. They are flying, staying in hotels and attending baseball games. I liked it better when they stayed in their own backyards. But I guess I’m doggone old fashioned.