Observations from Atlanta Mega-Gridlock 2014

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Time to be real now – the hand wringing over the so-called “Snowjam” which paralyzed Atlanta (as well as several cities in Florida and across the Southeast) has begun.  Now, this entry is based entirely on personal experience and, considering the fact I was on the road for nine damned hours before I actually was able to get off the freeway and to some semblance of shelter, I believe my opinion holds some weight.  That said, here are some things to consider.

You can’t entirely blame Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal.  “The Mayor,” as he was referred to in his election campaign ads, only has so much control over what happens.  Yes, he could have ordered Atlanta Public Schools closed, and non-essential city employees stay home, but that’s really about the extent of his authority.  Governor Nathan Deal could only do so much as well. Could this have been handled better?  Yes, and that said, Deal will pay for it at the polls this November, guaranteed.  That said, other officials, especially DOT and local school boards, need to step up and admit they should have done better.  Seriously, kids stuck in school buses because school boards were afraid of hearing parent’s grief about a premature closing call?  Unacceptable.

Let’s face it – the region panicked!  Yes, I’m guilty of it too!  We all have a giant amount of egg on our face.  You can’t expect to have a half million people hit the road all at once in Atlanta and get anywhere, period!  The highway system is already maxed out in terms of capacity.  We poured water into a full bucket and it overflowed, plain and simple.  All you need for proof of this is to see the pictures of the Downtown Connector (I-75/85) at midnight Tuesday – it should have been renamed the Eisenhower Parking System because that’s what it was; a sixteen lane parking lot!

The Outer Perimeter just had a major case of CPR performed on it!  The so-called “Outer Perimeter” project, which so many environmentalists have battled against, may have actually gotten new life from, of all things, the environment.  Had an outer loop for all the through truck traffic been up and running now, it is entirely conceivable that seventy percent of the big rig traffic which helped to cripple the freeway system would have been redirected from Atlanta and, consequently, taken a critical amount of pressure off I-285.

We got a painful refresher in the Laws of Physics.  When an 80,000 lb. big rig doesn’t gain enough speed going into a valley, it is not going to get up an ice-laden hill, period.  Six Flags Hill on I-20 was proof enough but, in case you missed the first class, I-75 at Paces Ferry provided a remedial course in the laws of inertia.  This isn’t Ice Road Truckers, folks:  these machines were not equipped to handle these conditions.

Believe it or not, Southerners really can drive in winter weather!  I saw plenty of examples of Southerners and, in particular, native Georgians doing a magnificent job of negotiating the treacherous ice patches of this area.  In fact, had it not been for some of these folks, I would not have found some good traction spots for my little compact and would have spun out a few times.  Let’s face it, my fellow Yankees; as much as we want to think it, we don’t know everything!

Truckers are supposed to be professionals; emphasis on “supposed to be.”  I know a lot of super professional, courteous, nice truckers who will do anything to help a stranded or distressed motorist, but there were just as many jerks on the road who were cutting people off, going too fast, up and downshifting at horrid times, and just being flat-out idiots on the road.  Having been around trucks and rigs most of my life, you can tell the oldtimers from the newbies; oldtimers may play fast-and-loose with some of the DOT regs, but they are, by and large, by-the-book at crunch time.  The newer drivers are by-the-book on good days, but tend to get squirrely and panick in the shit.

Weather really is part-art, part science.  The old weather credo is a prediction more than 48 hours out is worth the paper it’s written on.  Not only did this storm prove that, it also exposed one of the dirty secrets of television weather reports; most of the meteorologists rely solely on computer models, and focus instead on looking good on camera.  The old-timers in the business are far better at combining experience with forecast models to produce real, credible forecasts.   The rest?  A job with The Weather Channel may be in the future.

And the final observation, and maybe the most stunning:

When everyday Americans are faced with overwhelming odds, magic happens!  I stayed at a Home Depot in Dunwoody, Georgia Tuesday night when the company’s home office in Atlanta announced that several locations would become shelters for stranded motorists.  A kind gesture turned into a wonderful emergency experience when store-level management made sure we were made comfortable, allowed to charge our cellphones using store power, given blanket permission to call loved ones, and even went to so far as to make sure we had snacks and drinks, as well a semblance of comfort for sleeping arrangements.  Nobody complained, and people actually laughed and swapped stories of harrowing tales of weather woe.  When American business allows their frontline management team to improvise within common sense, some great things (and great public relations) can come of it!

There is no doubt that Snowjam, Snowpocalypse, The Great Atlanta Cluster ____, whatever you want to call it, will be remembered for generations to come.  There is also no doubt that there will be recriminations on this for months to come, but the fact is that this storm and the ensuing mega-gridlock proved when faced with remarkable adversity, Americans are amazingly resilient.  This experience made me remember how George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware in 1776, a year which seems to rival 2014 in terms of intensity of cold weather.  Then, as now, adversity brought everyone together and, at least in this case, reassured me of the kindess, generosity and good-spirited ingenuity of Americans.  It also proved that, when the chips really are down and government can’t save the day, we everyday Americans really can pull together like no other nation on this earth.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to worry about something like this showing us have what it takes to make it happen for many years to come.

Storm brings out the best in Atlanta business

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If you were one of tens of thousands stuck in what essentially amounted to the traffic version of Hurricane Katrina, you know how bad things were in Atlanta Tuesday night.  Long story short, the region got caught with its collective pants down, and now the job is to clean up.

That said, three were some shining examples of business helping people out.  Publix, Kroger thé Home Depot opened their doors to folks stuck in this mess.  At the Home Depot in Dunwoody, management rolled out a quasi red carpet to weary motorists, complete with snacks, coffee, hot chocolate and ramen noodle cups.  Wednesday, they went next door to Costco and purchased basics such as wet wipes, and food ….and gained loyal customers grateful for a warm safe place to stay.

This is just a sample of how Atlanta residents came together.
Wonderful folks doing right by others, the way it should be.

Kudos to them all!!!!

“One Percenter” stupidity on display, and why it’s so inherently dangerous

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We now know what at least one of the one-percenters thinks of “the rest of us.”

Tom Perkins, an MIT grad and Silicon Valley venture capitalist, wrote of the way of anger and rage towards the very top earners in America.  In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, he actually went so far as to compare the current wave of emotion against high-earners to the 1930s wave of legalized vandalism and theft against Jews in Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht.

“Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

Mr. Perkins’ comparison of the current disgust to one of the steps towards the Holocaust is not only racist, misguided and idiotic, it underscores why most working Americans don’t hold a single ounce of sympathy for the so-called “One Percent Club.”  Perkins, who minced few words regarding his opinion towards those who hold enmity towards earners of his ilk, has now become a social-media poster child for capitalistic excess.

Sadly, Perkins’ principle issue is not his near cavalier, Marie Antoinette-style attitude towards those who struggle on a daily basis, nor is it that he fails to grasp the daily challenges average earners face – this is, after all, a man who dropped $150 mil on a superyacht called the “Maltese Falcon.”  No, Perkins’ fatal personality flaw is that he appears to have bought so much into the new religion of the superrich, the “Atlas Shrugged” mentality, he fails to understand this is the fundamental issue facing this group of economic superpowers.

These are folks who, by and large, hold no national allegiance, and that is exactly why they are so reviled – they believe they are not just above the law, but beyond national affiliation.

In these circles, American, Chinese, Russia, British, German, et al, don’t really exist.  It is simply an “us” and “them” mentality.  “Us” is the one percenters and their compatriots.  You can take a wild guess who “them” is.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, 1984 has arrived; 20 years late.

When I look at someone like Perkins, I don’t see someone who is out of touch with the rest of the world – I see someone who does not care unless it directly affects him.  This is the sort of individual who believes that he deserves his gains, regardless of how ill-gotten they may be (sorry, every superrich person has engaged in some degree of illegitimate, unethical activity to reach their pinnacle – the Law of Business Physics states there is no other way).  In Perkins’ estimation, everything he has done is a matter of social Darwinism – the ends justify the means because, frankly, he is more cunning, more intelligent, and has more of a “killer instinct” than his brethren.  Super-rich folks such as Perkins do not care about the poor and downtrodden – we are just clients of whatever flavor-of-the-month charity they choose to donate to.

Sound like a bit of bitterness?  You bet it is.  As a student of history, there is one thing I have been fascinated by, and that’s the Gilded Age of the 1800s, when the Robber Barons and political machines worked hand-in-hand to enrich the coffers of that era’s one percenters, many of whom were most vile creatures to ever walk the face of the earth.  Despite his religious ideology, John D. Rockefeller’s industrial power was developed through double-dealing, lies, wage-slavery and flat out greed-driven evil.  He was that era’s poster child for the richest of the richest, but also the worst of the worst.

Contrast that with Andrew Carnegie.  Yes, the original “Man of Steel” was a snake, a liar, and a cutthroat ass, but he also believed firmly in the concept of philanthropy, going so far as to believe that any man who dies rich being a disgrace.  Yes, New York has Rockefeller Center, but countless cities around America have Carnegie Centers, Carnegie Library and other charities founded and funded by the steel giant.  Carnegie had a soul, despite being rich; Rockefeller attempted to change his image using veneer philanthropy – it was a whitewash.  The saving grace of the Robber Barons is they were, first and foremost, Americans.  As it stands, Ayn Rand’s religion appears to have Rockefeller as its god…a god made of gold, and we all know what happened to those in the Old Testament who worshipped that god.

Only Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs appear to be legitimate heirs to the Carnegie legacy.  The question is, who is willing to step up and join Gates and Jobs?

Tom Perkins appears to be like so many others who act like Rockefeller, except they hold no such mandate to hold civic loyalty.  That is the essential danger of today’s superrich.

Forget Polar Vortex; what we’ve got is a Jerk Vortex

It’s hard to be hopeful about things when you see so much go wrong in your life and those who have been jerks all their lives seem to get ahead.  Sadly, it is true that being less-than-polite is the necessary formula to advance in this universe.  As writer David DiSalvo stated in 2012 article in Forbes magazine, the overpowering ability of jerks to get their way at work and in life seems omnipresent:

Taken together with the results of the study on overconfidence, it would seem that jerks are inherently quite good at putting one over on us. In fact, they don’t even have to try. They just need to work their trade and earn the praise of their peers.

Having been subjected to the relentless stupidity, mean-spirited nature, and outright shark-like opportunism of these bottom-feeding ladder climbers over the years, I am to the point where the axiom of “you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” may be the last resort I have to turn to.

Sadly, I am genetically incapable of being an artist plying the jackassery trade to the point where I would be eligible for a fellowship to Asshole State University.  The reality is, I have traveled down Nice Guy Avenue and, on a whim, took a joy ride down Jerk Freeway.  The problem with Jerk Freeway is that, like all crowded roads which suffer from an influx of newcomers and not enough capacity, I got stuck on it for a while during the rush hour of life, and nearly totaling myself in the process.  Well, that’s it for the highway descriptions.  I’m sure you all get the drift.

What concerns me is that we seem to be suffering from a Jerk-Nado, if you want to go all science-fiction that way.  Not a day goes by that you don’t see or hear some sort of idiotic advertisement extolling the jerk virtues of getting laid, getting women interested in you, or trying to brag about hot your girlfriend is, how much money you make, or how gifted your genome-spewing physical appendage is.  Let’s face it: men have gone from being a group of well-intentioned, competing Alpha Males focusing on providing the best life has to offer a female mate, to being a bunch of narcissistic clods looking for mommy’s (read:  any female willing to give us a sniff) attention.

Forget Polar Vortex; what we’ve got is a Jerk Vortex, and it doesn’t seem to understand what the hell to do with itself.

Being a jerk is considered near virtuous anymore, because to not be a jerk implies you are weak, wimpy and a flat out wuss.  Rather than walk with quiet confidence and letting things roll off our backs, we have to trash talk each other and play verbal smackdown.  The concept of being a “man” has devolved from the classical examples set by Theodore Roosevelt and General Sun Tzu to the stupidity of Glenn Quagmire, Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber.  Rather than speaking softly, carrying a big stick, understanding your enemy and guaranteeing victory before engaging in combat, we rush headlong into a conflict, guns blazing, jaws flapping, and damn the torpedoes, full f—ing speed ahead!

The scary part is, the latter method is way more respected than the former, mostly because it gets the instant gratification of results.

So what if the guy doing it ends up with a bunch of sexually-transmitted diseases, or is indicted for fraud, or bankrupts a grandmother’s savings?  After all, if Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and A-Rod can get away with cheating because they were “trying,” if an ex-NFL-player-turned-has-been shockjock in Miami can get away with running his trap, only to lose his job numerous times and get back on the air, why shouldn’t we “embrace the jerk?”

Because, deep down inside, those of us who want to consider ourselves gentlemen (including those of us recovering jerks) know that nobody gives an elf’s fart about the individual players who game, juice and still win.  This is why I chose to stop being a jerk and will refuse to again be a jerk.  Only a stats geek who remembers this stuff and wants to relive his glory days cares about home run records or profit and loss margins years after they happen.  The rest of us care not about the win, but the great stories of manhood behind the win; Jack Youngblood playing on a broken leg, Bill Gates not having a college degree, Dave Thomas being a high school dropout.  We remember the nice guys who give to charity, play ball with poor kids, and help a mom feed her family.  Those are the real men; they are remembered long after that juiced-up, drugged-up, money-grubbing uber-ass drops dead because he out-assed his circulatory system.

I rest my case, jerks.

A message to potential publishers interested in my manuscripts

This particular post could make or break my chances of being a published writer.  That being said, it’s time to use the ol’ baseball slang and “swing for the fences.”

I truly believe that a lot of readers are ready for an escape from reality by reading, well, reality…fiction, that is.

The term “reality fiction” refers to a work based, in large part, on real events.  Such stories could also be described as “meta-fiction,” but “reality fiction” takes more of a dramatic license, where “meta-fiction” tends to be much more closely aligned with the facts behind the story. Reality fiction is where my manuscripts fall; they are based on real events, but fair amount of dramatic license is taken in order to differentiate the story from the actual event, making the story itself stand alone, yet still be plausible for the real world.

Of course, the question of “what sets this work apart from other titles out there” is what helps publishers make up their minds as to whether or not to offer a contract to an author.

The answer to that question comes down to sheer numbers; the difference in the quantity of fantasy fiction titles as opposed to reality fiction is a chasm.  While some say this is the sign of a healthy market for fantasy, I contend it portends to market saturation, to the point of diminishing returns for any publisher.  Yes, there is a plethora as fantasy fiction out there – it is a billion dollar empire.  Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Twilight and near-infinite variety of Star Wars titles have created an extremely competitive marketplace for any new fantasy author, let alone creative a crack for a reality fiction author to squeeze through.  This is where reality fiction shines; though it sounds contradictory, reality fiction offers us all the chance to escape in a fresh, new way.

The fact is publishers, like any other entertainment-related executive, are looking for that “next big thing;” that special author who has an “x factor” to them which separates their work from the rest of the pack, but this desire contradicts the risk-averse nature of the traditional publishing business.  A patient author and agent will give the publishing industry a chance to figure out how to market a work, then make an offer.  Many times, a publisher will balk at a potential blockbuster not out of a lack of interest, but because they simply do not know how to market the work.  This is where there author’s ability to market is essential.

That’s what sets me apart from other authors.  I am willing to market, willing to engage readers, publishers, publicists and media.  Having worked in the media, I understand the mentality necessary to engage the public in a dialogue, and to hold their attention.  Rather than shy away from readers and be reclusive and sphinx-like, I enjoy the pressure of attention; I thrive in it.  To me, it is not about the paycheck, or the book signings, or the fame (though that is nice); it is all about seeing that my work captured the imagination of a reader.  It’s about being able to answer a reader’s question, take their criticism, and thank them for simply giving my writing chance to entertain and, perhaps, inspire them.

It is the rare author who possesses the drive, determination, creativity, and desire to be willing to jump so far out on a limb that said author is willing to risk a fall and proverbial critical career injury in work to reach the highest, sweetest fruit of the tree.  That is what this post is intended to do; give a publisher, a friend of a publisher, or someone similar a chance to peer inside my head and see the heart, soul, brains and simply desire within me.  This much I will guarantee; the publisher who takes the chance on me and works with agent towards an agreeable contract will have an author who is willing to do whatever it takes to make their investment in me something to smile about.

Yes, it’s shameless self-promotion, but at last check, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Of course, should you decide this attitude is what you are looking for in an author and you are currently discussing my work with the Gilbert Literary Agency, I will consider this post a risk well taken.  Thank you for your consideration.