Monday, June 30, 2008

Olympic-sized Shopping!

With the kiddies safely off at summer camp, the missus dragged me out for a shopping decathon at Virginia's retail mecca, Potomac Mills. I had agreed to go on the condition that we would hit the road to return home by 3 pm in order to avoid the Sunday afternoon rush hour on I-95... Robin had other plans, of course, but she wisely kept them to herself.

We started the morning at IKEA, which had just launched its annual summer sale. I kid you not when I tell you she dragged me around that place for 2 and a half hours - We would have stayed longer, but my constant whining finally found its intended target.

Our next stop - the Mall... We broke this up into three pieces... Shopping first at one end, then driving around to the food court to cover the mall's mid-section. This took another four hours, and by this point, my feet were starting to bother me. Robin told me "It's only walking", so I had to explain to her that I have no problem with walking. I can do MILES of walking at a time... It's walking four feet, then stopping... walking four feet, then stopping that kills me... and my feet died a million deaths yesterday!

We had one more stop at the mall - Robin wanted to go to the far end to see Nordstrom Rack. I refused to go, but offered to drop her for a quick peek while I bought gas. After stopping at Costco, (3.92 a gallon - not bad!), I returned to Nordstrom Rack and waited another half-hour for my soon-to-be ex-wife.

So by now, it's 6:30 - time to hit the road, right? HA! We hit the new Wegman's instead. For the uninitiated, Wegman's is a supermarket on steroids... massive muscle-building, hairline-receding, testicle-shrinking steroids! Think about the largest Giant Food store that you've ever visited, then double the size, and you have Wegman's. About 60 percent of Wegman's is like a typical grocery store, albeit a grocery store with a massive selection!

The rest of Wegman's is like a massive gourmet food court. The seafood section has its own sit-down restaurant serving fresh fish. There is a sushi bar... A guy standing at a kiosk making fresh crab cakes... Another person tossing salads. A woman making custom cannolis... There's a sub shop next to a pizza joint. There were two buffets serving Indian and Chinese food, along with an upstairs seating area for at least a couple of hundred people! Robin and I enjoyed a chinese feast at 8 bucks a pound, then went grocery shopping.

There is a bit of nostalgia for us in Wegman's... The chain is based in upstate New York, where Robin and I both went to college... And for whatever reason, the chain carries some upstate New York delicacies - food you cannot usually get anywhere else, like Freihofer's Chocolate Chip cookies and Hofmann's Snappy Grillers - white hot dogs also known as "coneys" that I spent my college years consuming prodigiously at a legendary Syracuse hot dog place called Heid's of Liverpool. So we filled the cart with all this stuff, and finally called it a night - after 2 hours and 15 minutes of grocery shopping!

So much for getting home by 4 pm... We pulled into the driveway at 9:45 - exactly 12 hours after leaving the house... It was a shopping day that we never would have put our children through... It was enough to make me miss those little buggers!

Friday, June 27, 2008

OMG! This "WTF" Story Will Make You LOL!

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later... A controversy over common text message and e-mail abbreviations... Read on:

OMG! What is that on my car's license plate?
That's the question asked by 10,000 drivers who registered their vehicles in North Carolina last year and got registrations starting with "WTF."
Long just an innocuous combination of three letters, like OMG ("Oh my God!") WTF is now heavy with vulgar connotations: it is an oft-used email and mobile phone abbreviation that means "What the f***."

In North Carolina, WTF plates were issued to some 9,999 drivers last year, including elementary school teacher Mary Ann Hardee, who teaches computing and technology, the News and Observer newspaper reported earlier this month.
"She wasn't hip to the Internet-age significance of her new license plate -- until she caught her teenage grandchildren giggling at it," Dan Kane, staff writer at the paper wrote.

Hardee, 60, told the paper she "developed this real self-consciousness" once she found out what her number plate meant in techno-shorthand.
She petitioned the Department of Motor Vehicles, which ordered that she and everyone else who had a WTF number plate should receive new plates FOC -- free of charge.

This year, North Carolina registrations have three-letter combinations starting with the letter Y.
The Department of Motor Vehicles has carefully scrutinized the plates and deemed that none are offensive, according to the News and Observer.
They must have overlooked YBF, which means "You've been f****d."

I must say, to his total credit, my 14-year-old son, Brad, rebels against common text abbreviations and refuses to use them. He thinks they are immature, that they encourage stereotypes against teenagers, and they they are a crime against intelligence. Of course, the fact that I refuse to pay for text messaging for his cel phone may have something to do with it as well!
I do confess to using what are probably the three most common abbreviations - OMG, LOL and the dreaded WTF - more out of cultural sloth than anything else. The latter one, in particular, is a favorite of my former boss, who used to send it to me whenever he heard something on the air that did not meet his approval. The abbreviation became more powerful than the actual words themselves!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Life As Word Art!

I was checking out the blog of my friend, Dr. Deb Serani, and she had this cool widget on there called Wordle... In essence, it takes a group of words and turns it into "word art" for lack of a better term. I took the tag words for all of my blog entries and entered them into Wordle, and here's what came out:

You can click on the art to see it in its full size... You can easily rejigger the Wordle to look any random way you'd like, with a variety of different fonts, colors and effects... The coolest part, for me, is that the size of the word is relative to the number of times the word is mentioned as a tag on my blog. Hmm... I must talk about myself a lot, huh? Check out your own wordle right here!

That's My Boy!

When I was a kid, the only way my parents knew what I was up to at summer camp was when I chose to send them a letter. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can follow my kids' exploits whenever I want! Brad and Spencer's camp provides updates pretty much 24/7... telling us what activities they've been doing every day and what they were served for lunch and dinner. They also upload dozens of photos daily so we can see them having fun (What a GREAT marketing tool, by the way!)... AND - we can send e-mail to our boys as often as we want, so it makes writing them much easier. The emails are printed out and delivered to the kids... They still have to write us by hand, just as God intended!

So last night, I checked in and discovered that 10-year-old son Spencer auditioned for the camp play, "West Side Story", and won the role of Officer Krupke! I suppose I should ponder the fact that Spencer's main responsibility will be to stand on stage and receive the verbal musical abuse of several other kids singing "Krup You" to him, but instead I'll choose to bask in the glow of my son getting his first dramatic role! As you may have read earlier, we're big supporters of musical theater for kids in the Matthews household!

We always knew Spencer would be our artsy child... He enjoys singing in the school chorus, and played clarinet in the orchestra this past school year. Hopefully, this taste of musical theater will make Spencer hungry to continue in the arts.

Now I just hope he'll pick up a pencil and write us to tell us about his good news - Last year, Spencer failed to write even one letter from camp - but at least he was having a good time!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Give Me A Break!

Do you ever get the feeling you'd like to throttle someone, even though you know that technically, the person you want to throttle is not in the wrong? I saw this op-ed piece in last Sunday's Washington Post - from a guy who was issued a written warning for driving too slow on I-95. I think the cop who stopped the guy deserves a commendation... and the driver deserves a special place in Hell! (OK - maybe that's a bit harsh, but read on!)

Saving Gas Could Cost You Money
Sunday, June 22, 2008; B08

There have been a bunch of reports in the media lately, including a June 15 Business article, about "hypermilers": people who try to increase their miles per gallon by altering their driving habits.

I am a modestly committed hypermiler; I have a Honda Insight. It's rated 66 mpg highway, 60 city. Some hypermilers shoot for 100-plus mpg with their Insights. But I am happy to average 70 mpg.

I don't use some of the more controversial tactics:
· I don't roll through stop signs.
· I don't push my car down the hill to start it rolling.
· I don't tailgate tractor-trailers (well, not regularly).
· I confess to driving with a gentle foot, avoiding hard acceleration and hard braking.

Mostly I get my mileage just by slowing down a bit. It not only saves gas, but it's also what various Maryland State Police safety advisories and various eco-Web sites urge me to do. Slowing down is touted as thrifty, patriotic and eco-friendly. Too bad it's also "criminal."

The other night I was on my way to pick up my wife at BWI Airport just after midnight. There was almost no traffic on Interstate 95. I was happily allowing the car to speed up to 65 mph or so going downhill, but not punching the gas going uphill until I got down to about 50 or 55 mph (like the speed pattern of loaded semi-trucks). All of this was going on in the far-right lane.

So what happened? Well, I was pulled over by a Maryland state trooper. After I came to a stop, I sat in my car for three or four minutes with the spotlight from the cruiser in my eyes. When he arrived at my window, the trooper announced that we were being videotaped. It sounded serious.

He asked me why I had been driving 50 mph.
I said, "Saving gas."
"Saving gas?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir," I said. "I'm getting 69 miles per gallon on this trip so far."
He asked me to tell him my address, which I did, while he compared it to the one on my license.

He went back to his patrol car for what seemed like five minutes. Later he came back, handing me a written traffic violation warning. On my "Violator's Copy," the violation specified was, "TRAVELING 50 MPH."

I could not believe it.
"You're giving me a ticket for driving 50?" I asked him.
"If you're going 10 miles under traffic, you're a danger," he said.
I objected.

"I've heard of minimum required speeds of 40 and 45, but I've never heard of one at 50."
"You wouldn't believe how many drunk drivers I catch this way," he said.
I replied, "Well, I haven't been drinking."
He snorted, walked back to his patrol car and drove away.

I wish I'd gotten a ticket -- points, fines, things like that. At least then I could have argued it in court. This way I have no recourse.

It seems that to be a good American, I have to drive faster. I need to use more gas. Go figure.
I e-mailed the state police asking about laws relating to minimum speeds. No response. Maybe I should write to the governor or my state legislators. Or maybe I'll just drop it.
I got 70.3 mpg on the trip.

-- Glenn Conrad

Mr Conrad - whatever you do... PLEASE stay out of the left lane!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Exercising My Jewish Roots

The Matthews family made a quick up-and-back trip to New York over the weekend for the bat mitzvah of our good family friend, Jamie Karpf. (Great job, Jamie!) A couple of quick observations...

  • After growing up in a well-mixed neighborhood in Silver Spring religion-wise, and after being married to a Jewish woman for 18 years, I must really be assimilating well to the Jewish culture. After the morning service, one of my acquaintances asked me if I speak Hebrew - which I don't. He thought I did because he noticed me apparently reading pretty convincingly during the bat mitzvah! I guess a career of faking phonetic pronunciations on the radio has helped me in that regard... plus, I had to learn a smidgin of hebrew for Brad's Bar Mitzvah 2 years ago, so some of it must have stuck!

  • Gas where I live near Olney, Maryland is running about 4.09 a gallon right now. If you pay a similar price, be THANKFUL for it. I noticed on our trip that gas prices in New Jersey, the nation's cheap gas capital are running about 3.89 a gallon - frankly not that much cheaper... And up where my friends live in Putnam County, New York, it's bend-over-and-take-it time! Regular self-serve up there averages about 4.45 a gallon - and folks in the hills of cold and snowy upstate New York actually NEED to own SUVs... OY!

  • Every time I attend a wedding or bar mitzvah, I am reminded just how bad today's music is. I know this statement makes me sound like an old fart, but without fail, the proof lies in the music at events like these... What are the songs that get people - young and old - to get up and dance... even today? Motown... Barry White... Kool and the Gang... Sister Sledge... Party music - even for young people - is firmly stuck in 1980! Even the group dances are showing their age now, but those are the songs that get people on their feet... the Macarena, the Electric Slide... the Cha Cha slide... I am fully convinced that if "Shout" and "Hot Hot Hot" had never been written, weddings and bar mitzvahs would have ceased to exist a long time ago!

After racing back from New York, we spent Sunday packing up to send the boys to camp for a month... Actually, my control-freak wife spent Sunday packing. I spent Sunday asking Robin if there was anything I could do to help... Being a Jewish mother (sorry for the stereotype, but this one happens to be true!), Robin had to personally make sure that she and only she ironed on labels in both boys' underwear! My wife readily admits that if I had been left in charge of packing, the job would have taken half the time, but she would have worried that I had missed something.

So I left the task to her, and she proceeded to overpack - sending the boys to camp with 20 pair of undies and 20 pair of socks each, even though the boys will get laundry service once a week! I awoke Monday at 6:30 am and found Robin racing around the house looking for clips that the boys could use to clip their yarmulkes to their heads for Friday night Shabbat services. This caused me to wonder... what makes Robin think the boys will actually wear their yarmulkes? And even if they did - what makes her think they would use a hair clip?

When we got to camp, Robin went off with our younger son, Spencer, to unpack, while I was left in charge of unpacking Brad. I found a laundry bag filled with at least 15 bath towels. I put four of them in a drawer and asked Brad what to do with the rest, and he said... "Shove them in my trunk, and I'll bring them home clean. That's what I've done every other year!"

That's what I love about summer camp... No matter how much the parents try to overprepare, the kids find a way to ignore it all - and get by with only what they really need. What they really need is a break from their Jewish mothers! (I love you, Robin!)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Remembering George Carlin

I am beat to hell today, and I have TONS to blog about after an uber-busy weekend of New York bat mitzvah-hopping and getting my kids off to summer camp for a month. All of that will have to wait until tomorrow, but one thing could NOT wait.

Today, I lost a true childhood hero - George Carlin. George was a hero to me on two levels... First of all, he was to me what "Family Guy" and "South Park" are to my 14-year-old son. My first adolescent taste of counter-culture... The first opportunity I had for my parents to look the other way as I listened to Carlin's record albums with my friends behind the cliosed doors of my bedroom. Carlin was everything I was NOT... Long-haired... stoned... and COOL. Talk to any guy of my generation, and I can almost guarantee you he'll remember at least a small bit of George Carlin's humor.

Secondly, and most importantly to me, George Carlin was one of the real inspirations I had to launch a career in radio. His radio bits were not only funny as hell to me... it also was performed at a comfort level and at a rhythm that I mimicked time and again as I fooled around with being a budding disk jockey in junior high and high school.

Carlin's obituaries will remember him most for the seven dirty words you can't say on television, but to me, the quintessential George Carlin is wonderful WINO radio... Thanks, George.

Friday, June 20, 2008

God Bless Our Stupid Government

Recently, I shared with you the results of a government audit that reveals just how much federal government employees abuse their sick leave. For example, the average IRS employee calls in sick 11 days a year! Now, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would give federal workers even more paid time off - at least four, and up to eight weeks of paid parental leave whenever a family delivers or adopts a baby. This would be on top of any accrued vacation time, paid sick leave or unpaid leave the father or mother chooses to take.

I think parenthood is a wonderful thing. My wife and I have two children of our own - because we decided to have children! My employer at the time was by no means obligated to give me paid time off because I decided to have a family. Why should I, as a taxpayer, be required to pay for federal workers to start their own? I would not gripe about this if federal workers didn't already get more paid leave than they know what to do with. And I have less of a problem giving new mothers paid time off. They do, after all, have to actually GIVE birth, which - let's face it fellas - is something that we men would NEVER be willing to do ourselves.

Maybe what we need is another government report to study the issue of healthcare - like this one:

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Childrens Healthcare

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Travel Industry Must Be In Real Trouble!

With the economy in the tank and fuel prices on the rise, these must be troubling times for the tourism business. This obviously means people are using their "economic stimulus" payments to pay their credit card bills instead of blowing it on a vacation fling! Case in point:

I have a short out-of-town trip coming up that requires me to rent a car for four days. I first booked this car back in February - a guaranteed midsize sedan for $169,00, including all taxes and fees. I must admit that I was not thrilled with this rate, but I was not concerned because rental car rates often drop as you get closer to the rental date.
So I sat on that 169 dollar rental until about 2 weeks ago, when I revisited the reservation and found the car was now available for 161 dollars. A small change, but an eight dollar savings is still a savings, so I changed the reservation. Since that point, I have checked back several times, and I have now revised the same reservation seven MORE times. The car size has also moved up - first to a smaller SUV, and then to a fullsize sedan. And just look at the timing and size of the price change!

Feb. 08-June 08 169.00
6/8/08 161.58
6/12/08 159.79
6/13/08 151.07
6/15/08 136.57
6/16/08 125.60
6/17/08 110.63
6/18/08 - 1:18pm - 106.63
6/18/08 - 11:39pm - 102.01

That's right - I was able to lower the price TWICE in one day! Mind you - I have made all of these changes without using any coupons, discounts or any other trickery. These are all prices that Dollar Rent-A-Car have posted on their own site, and Dollar doesn't care that I've now changed my reservation 8 times!

102 bucks for a four day fullsize car rental is a pretty darn good deal for me, but Dollar isn't going to make much money on this... Before taxes, the rental is about 64 bucks. If times were better, Dollar would be able to fetch twice the price on this.... and who knows - I may be able to squeeze a little more juice out of this deal yet!

If you haven't made summer vacation plans, you may still be able to find some great deals on room and car packages - too bad though that you can't afford the airfare to get there!

They Must Not Take Plastic On Venus!

Ok - I admit it. I am not the most patient person in the world - especially when I feel my time is being wasted by someone else. I believe that drivers leading the pack on a two-lane road have a civic duty to drive at LEAST the posted speed limit, if not five miles over. I believe it should be illegal for people driving in the the left lane of highways to refuse to change lanes and yield to motorists who want to pass. And I believe people who have 25 items in the express checkout lane should be summarily banned from ever again returning to the offended supermarket.

And now, I have one more really stupid and antiquated retail ritual that should be summarily banned... writing checks at retail outlets. I realized this yesterday while waiting to check out at a crafts store. The offending shopper had two items that could not have totaled 15 dollars, and she proceeded to write a check. This required:

  • Digging through her purse to find her checkbook and a pen.

  • Filling out the check - date, name of store, total purchase price and signature.

  • Handing the check to the clerk, who then asked for the customer's driver's license.

  • Said customer digging through purse again to find said license.

  • Clerk writing the customer's driver's license number on said check.

  • Clerk entering several numbers from said check into the cash register.

  • Clerk running the check through some check-accepting doohickey machine thingy.

  • Clerk printing a receipt and handing it to said customer.

Total transaction time: something like four hours.

After that purchase was completed, the cashier scanned my 18 dollar item, and I gave her a 20 dollar bill. She handed me back two dollars and a receipt, and I was out the door before the check writing lady, who was still putting her checkbook and license away!

My God, people! Have you ever heard of debit cards? They provide the same service as checks, cost nothing and take up much less time!

I am generally not a sexist type of guy, but this check-writing mess really is kind of a chick thing... primarily, I think, for two reasons. First - because women carry purses, and therefore have a place to carry a checkbook... and secondly, because they picked up the practice from their stay-at-home mothers, whose only convenient access to money in the days before ATMs was by writing a check at the grocery store, and padding it to get some extra cash back.

Well ladies, welcome to the 21st Century! Your moms burned their bras... How about doing us all a favor and try burning your checkbooks? I thank you!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Water, Anyone?

Well, we somehow managed to survive the great Water Main Break of 2008. There are two buckets and two coolers on my deck filled with water from yesterday afternoon's thunderstorm. I cleverly put them out there to capture the rain so I could flush my toilets, but happily they were not needed because some initially light brown-colored water started flowing back through my pipes late yesterday afternoon.

Of course, this did not stop my wife from stopping at a Giant in Gaithersburg (where they did not have an outage) and buying not one, but TWO 2 1/2 gallon jugs of water. Now. mind you, I had already purchased 3 cases of water, AND we already HAD another two cases in the garage. When I asked her why she bought more, Mrs. Matthews replied, "Because they had it, and because you never should have gotten rid of our emergency supply four years ago!" (See yesterday's blog for more on this)

All of this talk of bottled water got me looking online for pictures, and led me to discover there is a growing anti-bottled water movement in the world, as environmentalists fight plastic bottle pollution. I am by no means a crunchy granola activist, but let's face it folks... These people are right - and the fact that Coke and Pepsi can bottle tap water and get us all to buy it shows just how brilliant they are as marketers!

I think I could use a drink - something stiffer than water!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Panicking the Populace!

Well, that was fun! I ran up to the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Olney at 6:40 this morning to buy some bottled water, given our latest water main break... and it turns out everyone in zip code 20832 had the same idea... By the time I got there, the water was almost gone... and five minutes later, it WAS gone. The line to check out ran the entire length of the store, and people were already plotting their next move... I heard one unlucky woman who missed out talking on her cel phone, saying "I'm gonna hit Safeway and 7-Eleven... You go to CVS and Giant". The guy in front of me in line said he was going to use his hot tub water to flush his toilets.

I bought three cases of water and a 16 pound bag of ice, despite the fact that WSSC tells us we should have our water back later today. From my experience, it's the good old "Bread, milk and toilet paper" phenomenon that we always see when snow is forecast. You just know we're only going to see flurries, but BY GOD, we're not going to run out of STUFF! And there's always the smug and slightly guilty feeling of triumph when you're leaving the store with a cart full of supplies and you see people just arriving and knowing that they're going to miss out!

I remember back in 1999 when the world was awaiting the Y2K "disaster"... My wife saw on television that people were buying up gallon bottles of water, so she went out a couple of days before the New Year and came home with four jugs of H2O... When I asked her why, she said "because I saw it on TV"! Well, of course, the New Year came and went, and the great Y2K drought miraculously never came to pass, but we kept that water in the basement for another 4 years, until we moved to our new home. Robin wanted to move the water with us, but I refused. So, of course, as soon as I got back from the grocery store this morning, she gave me a finger flick upside the head and said, "SEE! I TOLD you we should have kept that water!"

A lesson to us all, gentlemen... The wife is ALWAYS right - Even when it takes 8 1/2 years to prove her point!

Well, This Oughta Be Fun!

It certainly beats losing electricity, but we are now facing our first water outage in many years... and our trusty water company, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, is warning us it may take as long as three days to get our service back to normal! Three days without washing dishes... Or flushing the toilet... or taking showers... or doing laundry. Making coffee with bottled water... and living with Mrs. Matthews raising the roof over it! I'm off now to the grocery store to look for bottled water, and plotting to figure out who we can bum a shower off of. It won't be a nearby neighbor, that's for sure... It looks like most of Olney, Gaithersburg and parts of Montgomery County North of the Beltway are affected.

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Night I Met Tim Russert...

...or more accurately, the night my mother-in-law got tipsy and accidently backed into Tim Russert.

Allow me to back up a moment... I had the good fortune of seeing Tim Russert in person and actually meeting Peter Jennings just once each in their lives, and it happened to be on the same night - January 26, 1996. We were in New York for the annual duPont award ceremonies, sponsored by the Columbia University School of Journalism. It was an unforgettable career highlight for me that you may revisit here if you wish.

I'll tell you first about meeting Peter Jennings. I was at Columbia to accept a Silver Baton for a series I had done on the Disney theme park that had been planned in Northern Virginia. Now - this was about two weeks before Disney's purchase of ABC, which owned my radio station. So, in accepting the baton, I made a crack to the audience that in another couple of weeks, my award would have been a conflict of interest. The folks at ABC News were very worried that having Disney as an owner would result in Mickey Mouse being shoved down the throats of the news division, a concern that largely never really came to pass. However, the paranoia was still very real. After I accepted my award and began to return to my seat, a man sitting on the aisle reached out his hand to me. It was Peter Jennings. He took my hand, beckoned me close to him, and said, "I can assure you, there will be no conflicts of interest with Disney".

When Peter Jennings died 3 years ago, I received an email from my former General Manager, Tom Bresnahan, who told me the first thing that went through his mind when he heard Peter Jennings had died was Peter's brief encounter with me.

Now back to that night at Columbia University. My proud mother-in-law made sure she and my father-in-law were on hand to see me pick up my award, and being a news junkie, she was IN HER ELEMENT at the pre-awards cocktail reception. She saw Ted Koppel and Daniel Schorr and Edward R. Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly there, not to mention Peter Jennings. She was so excited, she had two or maybe three glasses of wine - probably ten times her monthly average of alcohol consumption! So Mom was a little tipsy when she stepped backwards in the crowded hall - right into Tim Russert! Mom spun around to excuse herself, saw Mr. Russert, and loudly exclaimed "What are you doing here in person, and not on my TV screen?" Now, I'm quite sure Tim Russert had no idea WHAT to say to this beaming, somewhat tipsy woman, but he managed to smile, politely excuse himself and saunter away.

I bring this up because, just as my old boss remembers Peter Jennings first for his encounter with me, I recall Tim Russert first for his accidental close encounter with my mother-in-law.

I learned the news of Tim Russert's death in an appropriate place - a news bureau, where I had just finished a job interview. Others will pile plaudits high and wide for Russert, who was as fair and tough an interviewer as one could be. I join them in expressing my regrets - but I take an odd comfort in knowing my first thought of Tim Russert will always be one that gives me a chuckle.

Thanks Mom... and thank you, Tim Russert.

For those of you who care about these things, here's NBC News Anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw breaking the news on NBC:

Just How Bad IS The Gasoline Business?

The next time you drive by a gas station and feel the urge to shake your fist at the rising prices, just make sure you don't blame the guy at the register trying to get by by selling a few slushies and Slim Jims! We've long heard gas station owners claim they make just a few pennies a gallon off of gasoline sales. And here's proof they were telling the truth!

(CNN) -- Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. plans to sell its company-owned gas stations, saying they aren't profitable enough even with gasoline selling at $4 per gallon.

The 2,220 stations make up about 1/5 of the Exxon and Mobil stations in the United States.

The nation's largest oil company, which earned nearly $41 billion last year, says it will sell more than 2,000 stations over the next few years.

"The fuels marketing sector is a very challenging market," ExxonMobil spokesperson Prem Nair said, adding that the company is feeling particular pressure from hypermarkets like Wal-Mart that sell gasoline.

ExxonMobil plans to sell 820 owned and operated stations as well as 1,400 stations leased to dealers. The 2,220 stations make up about 1/5 of the Exxon and Mobil stations in the United States. The company says the stations to be sold will continue to sell ExxonMobil product.

"As the highly competitive fuels marketing business in the U.S. continues to evolve, we believe this transition is the best way for ExxonMobil to compete and grow in the future," said Ben Soraci, U.S. director of retail sales for ExxonMobil.

The states with the largest number of ExxonMobil-owned stations are California and New York, each with more than 200. ExxonMobil also has a large concentration of stations in Texas, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee and Virginia.

The interesting thing about Exxon is that they don't even particularly try to be price-competitive - at least where I live. I can think of two Exxons - one in Derwood, the other in Kensington - with gas prices that are at least 10-15 cents a gallon higher than their competitors just across the street!

Looks like the tiger in Exxon's tank is just a tabby!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is It "Back To School" Time Yet?

The end of the school year has never had much of an impact on me, except that, in another life, it gave me story material to assign to reporters... Now that I'm home all the time, though, it's going to provide for a "different" dynamic. I have gotten used to being able to surf for jobs in solitude, and the task of getting the boys out the door has provided a comforting rhythm to start my day. Now that the schedule is coming to an end (today is the last day of classes), I will have to find a new rhythm... AND get used to having the kids around.... AND get used to having Mrs. Matthews at home, too(She's a school teacher). The house is gonna get crowded, and FAST. I think it's time for one of Daddy's job applications to come through - and quick! Come on, August!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's Been A Long Year.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Disney's sale of WMAL to the corporation that shall go nameless. My wife insists on replacing the first letter of that company's name with "Sh" - but let's not go there.

Disney was a fun company to work for.... at least it was for me. It provided both my vocation and my avocation... and a lot of vacations, too!

I do miss the perks - the park passes and the discounts... But most of all, I miss the access. There is nothing cooler than being able to drive up to the front gate of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, show an ID badge, and be able to walk around the campus where Walt Disney's animators created their magic. There's nothing more fun than driving "backstage" behind the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and going shopping at a cast-member-only store!

Looking back, it certainly seems now like Disney made the right move by selling off its radio stations. The stations had already become a drag on Disney's corporate earnings, and since the sale, the radio business in general has spiraled into freefall. I'm pretty sure if Disney had held onto WMAL, many of the employees who were cut would still have been cut - and frankly, it would have been much tougher personally for me to be canned by Disney instead of its' successor.

At least this way, we'll always have Orlando...

Brilliance In Advertising!

You can't say there's much that's brilliant about Ocean City, Maryland... In fact, you could say there's a whole lot about that beach town that's stuck in 1975... Which is why it makes O.C's latest TV ad even more of a treat, because it is fun and hip and cool... in other words - everything that Ocean City is not! Kudos!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brian Williams Is THE MAN!

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams gave a commencement speech at the Ohio State University over the weekend, and told graduates that it's up the them to "fix this country". Conservative media critics, always on the lookout to attack "liberal media bias", were quick to pounce on this. Williams gave them plenty to rant about. He even encouraged the young people to get out and be active campaigners during this fall's election! If THAT's not liberal bias, then what is? After all - ALL 20-somethings will obviously support Barack Obama, won't they?

I have never met Brian Williams, but I did see him speak once at a Radio-TV News Directors Association function, and he was one of the most natural "regular guy" speakers I have ever seen. He's a college dropout from New Jersey - a plain speaker and one of the funniest people I've ever seen at a microphone. My good friend, Scott Wykoff, actually met Williams, and said he was very enthusiastic and eager to support local radio guys like us.

Brian Williams knows DC well, by the way... He attended both GW and Catholic Universities, and he replaced Maury Povich on "Panorama" on Channel 5 back in the day...

Anyway - back to the point of my blog entry... To me, there are a couple of reasons that members of the media get pinned with the "liberal bias" tag...

1. - Because Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity say it's so. If you listen to them, and other conservative talk hosts, blaming the media is about 80 percent of their shtick. They tell their audiences the media is not only biased, but that there is a liberal media conspiracy. These hosts conveniently fail to mention that they are also members of the media, that they do, in fact, conspire to attack liberals. It never failed to amaze me when I was at WMAL how often we would get complaints from our own listeners attacking our news coverage as liberal - especially since our news was pretty much tailored to a conservative audience. We were attacked because our own hosts were telling their listeners to do so.

2. - Because some people don't think news anchors can have opinions. When news people do share opinions, whether they betray a political bent in one direction or not, it sets off critics who automatically pounce... even if it's something as innocuous as a commencement speech. Brian Williams says the country is broken. Can you find one political candidate who would not agree with that sentiment? It sounds more that a little defensive to get upset about the country being broken - as though it specifically targets the White House. The last I checked, Congress was just as unpopular as the GOP President - and IT's controlled by the Democrats! - A pox for everyone's house!

3 - Because it's kinda true. Sorry folks - most of the news that's fit to print - and broadcast - in this country is produced in New York and Washington, DC - by journalists who were largely educated at northeast liberal arts universities. And aside from any inbred bias, keep in mind that journalists are trained from day one to not take sides. The general public finds this concept hard to grasp sometimes. For the most part, people watch and read the news to reaffirm their own particular points of view... And when the news does not do that, it prompts consumers to take a "if you're not with me, you're against me" stance. Hence the dreaded "liberal media" problem.

Anyway - decide for yourself... Here's the entire Brian Williams commencement speech at Ohio State - It runs more than 13 minutes, but I think you'll discover after just a couple of minutes that Brian Williams speaks the truth with humor and grace...

Or maybe I'm just biased.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Public Education's Not What It Used To Be!

Just a warning - I'm about to turn into my father...

Back when I was a kid, school ended a week or so after Father's Day, and we managed to actually be taught something almost to the last day. The final week or so might have more film strips or 16mm films to watch in class than usual, but there was at least a modicum of education being taught. That is NOT the case with school in 2008.

Today marks the beginning of the last week of school for my two sons, although pragmatically speaking, the school year has been over for some time for both of them. For high school freshman Brad, the education ended pretty much after Memorial Day, when his High School assessment tests were given. During that week of exams, Brad only had to be in class to take his tests, and otherwise had the rest of the time off. He was literally at school for a day and a half total that week. Last week, he missed school on Thursday because of a power failure, and there were no classes on Friday because of graduation. Back in my day (you young whippersnappers), we didn't get graduation day off unless we were actually graduating!

This week, Brad has his final exams. The way they are scheduled, he will have half a day of school today and tomorrow, no school at all on Wednesday and two hours of school on Thursday, the official last day of classes.

For younger son Spencer, who is ending fourth grade, elementary school is not much tougher. His assessment tests are also finished, and his homework effectively ended more than a week ago. He has already had one or two end-of-year class parties, and he will wrap up the week with more classroom celebrations. Graded work is now a quickly fading memory for him as well.

Maryland State law mandates that our children receive at least 180 days of instruction a year, and frankly, my kids are getting ripped off in that regard. Spencer has had a steady flow of homework through the year, but Montgomery County is not demanding nearly enough of its high school students. Brad coasted through 9th grade, and received straight A's for the second straight quarter. I am, of course, quite proud of him, but I am concerned as well. High school is not supposed to be such a breeze. Out kids need to be challenged more, and they need to develop study habits now so they will not be crushed by the sudden weight of college work. My son could really stand to face the burden of an hour of work a night, but more often than not this year, he literally had no homework... and what little he DID have, he managed to finish at school, because his teachers rarely filled all of his classtime with actual education.

You can choose whoever you want to blame for all this, and the school system will deny it loudly, but the fact of the matter is, the only thing school officials care about is having students do well on their assessment tests. Once those are out of the way, the teaching is done for the year.

That is - done for the teachers and the school system, of course. They are so paranoid about the kids they've just poorly taught being prepared for the fall that they will send home a mountain of work for our kids to review over the summer so they'll be prepared to resume the cycle again at the end of August. This is another phenomenon we did not have to worry about back in the day. Fall, Winter and Spring were for learning. Summer was for fun. Now, Fall and Winter are for learning to take tests, Spring is for taking the tests (and nothing else) and Summer is for reviewing the material you really didn't learn so well the previous 10 months.

We spend so much time being obsessed with how much better educated school children in other countries are, and studies are constantly claiming the need for longer school years for our kids. Maybe we should first worry about filling up our existing school days with actual education!

By gum!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

When Will They Leave John Hinckley Alone?

President Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley, is back in court asking a federal judge to give him more unsupervised free time when he visits his Mom in Virginia Beach. Hinckley wants to be able to perform volunteer work and to take driving lessons. Prosecutors say Hinckley does not deserve more free time because he continues to have "continued inappropriate and unrealistic relationships with several women as well as a reluctance to accept responsibility for his own behavior".

Look - John Hinckley is never going to have an appropriate or realistic relationship with a woman. How could he? He's spent virtually his entire adult life in a mental institution, and before that, he was nuts! But should the fact that Hinckley is not, by "normal" standards, "normal" himself, does that mean he should spend his life rotting away behind the walls of St. E's?

I may be in the minority here, but I've long felt that John Hinckley has been given the shaft by the U.S. Justice system. A jury operating under the laws of our nation found Hinckley NOT GUILTY by reason of insanity for his attempted assassination of President Reagan. The government was not satisfied with that verdict, and prosecutors have done everything they can for the past 25 years to make sure Hinckley never again enjoys freedom. A lot of people seemingly agree - that despite the verdict, Hinckley should not have the right to walk among us - even if his doctors feel he is not a threat to himself or to others.

Hinnkley's doctors have long argued for more freedom for Hinckley. They obviously feel he has sufficiently recovered over the past 27 years to be out in public, and in fact, Hinckley has enjoyed a limited amount of unsupervised free time in recent years.

I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on television (or on radio, for that matter). I have no idea whether John Hinckley would be better off free in society or in a mental hospital. But I am far more willing to believe the medical advice of his doctors than I am of the federal prosecutors trying to keep him locked up.

I am a First Amendment and civil liberties hawk. Most Americans do not appreciate the rights they have because pragmatically their rights will never be tested in their lifetime. But people like John Hinckley - even partially broken, mentally-damaged John Hinckley - are living examples of WHY we must demand that individuals be allowed to enjoy their freedoms whenever possible. If Hinckley can be kept locked up, so could you or one of your loved ones in a similar situation. The government would like you to forget that, by the laws of our land, John Hinckley was found NOT GUILTY... NOT responsible for what he did. If he's not a threat (and his doctors clearly don't think he is), he should be free.

Otherwise, with the government running things, how free are the rest of us, really?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Still Looking For A Summer Getaway?

Have I got a vacation deal for you! The only catch is - you might have to be a bit flexible on when - or if - you'll return!

Hope you enjoy this little post-season "LOST" tribute that I found on youtube... I especially enjoyed seeing some of those characters who died or disappeared YEARS ago! I probably should have blogged today about Obama winning, but I've been there, done that. Just waiting now to see who his veep will be!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How's This For Retro? I'm Making Mix Tapes!

Regular readers of "Life On The Beach" know that I drive a 1997 Honda Civic that recently passed the 100,000 mile mark. I love that car.... It gets me where I want to go, and in the $4.00 a gallon era, it gets nearly 30 miles to the gallon, so I love that too! However - there is one drawback. Because of its vintage, the Honda has a cassette deck, and NOT a CD player.

This creates a problem. As also previously discussed on this blog, I recently launched an alumni website for my college choir. The reason I launched that website was because my single old choir cassette had finally gone to the magnetic media graveyard, and I needed to reach out to my old school mates to save the music we recorded on analog tape thirty years ago from meeting the same fate.

For the past several days, my fellow choir alums have generously donated their cassettes to me, which I have been lovingly transferring to my hard drive and editing into individual tracks, which folks could then listen to online, or download and turn into their own CD's. No more worries of their analog cassette sound gradually devolving into mud!

Except for me. I could burn a CD or two to put in the family minivan, but do you think my wife is going to let me play "memory lane" in HER car? Think again. No - if I want to hear this recently-saved-from-certain-time-erosion-death music, I need to play the splendidly digitized files on my computer, and record them back onto cassette! Yes, I'm down to the point of creating mix tapes again!

Maybe I should put together some Bread and Dan Fogelberg cuts, create a make-out cassette and slip it under the Missus' pillow... then we could really go back to the 70's!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Aunt Jemima Must Be A Super Delegate

Some people say they won't vote for Barack Obama because with a name like that, he must be a muslim! Maybe he oughta change his name to "Hungry Jack!" God - the things people have to go through to get elected!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

R.I.P. Radio

Recently, my former colleague, Chris Core weighed in on the reason he (and I) were let go at WMAL... And now, the Washington Post's Marc Fisher is offering an expanded obituary for the radio business. I wish I could say I believe Fisher is being overly pessimistic, but from my current seat, he seems pretty darn on point to me!

You can read the entire article here, but here are a couple of passages that pass awfully close to my heart:

In the easy decades of a tightly constricted mass media, there were three TV networks, monopoly newspapers and a handful of radio stations in each place. That lack of choice meant that much of popular culture was middle-brow in ambition and middling in quality. But the nation was guaranteed a common conversation about music, politics and nearly every other aspect of life.

The challenge for all media now is to find a path back to mass, while retaining as much as possible of the freedom and access that the infinite range of the Internet promises.

The programming on the radio these days does not light a way toward that goal. Music radio seems superfluous -- a selection of tunes nowhere near as varied as what iPod users choose for themselves, and without the added value that knowledgeable and entertaining DJs once provided. With the strong exception of public radio and a handful of all-news local stations such as Washington's WTOP, radio has largely gotten out of the news business -- too expensive. And the local talk programs that once made it easy for a traveler to figure out his location without ever glancing at a road sign have largely given way to Rush Limbaugh and a legion of imitators.

And there's more...

The next decade or more will be a transitional time, as radio, like newspapers and television networks, forswears allegiance to any one means of distribution and declares itself platform-agnostic. Those media that, like the record industry, cling to old technology and a collapsed business model will see their futures crumble before their eyes.

Radio, shedding talent as fast as it loses audience, is rapidly becoming irrelevant to the younger generation. Yet most Americans still listen to something for much of the day. Radio could be the way into those ears, but only if it invests in creating compelling reasons to be there, only if it grabs hold of us the way the voices of past decades connected to the loves, pains and dreams of young listeners. As always, the future lies in the past.

The future lies in the past? Maybe THAT's why I've been obsessed with my college choir lately! Is there any money in singing four-part harmony?