Friday, December 21, 2007

Life, Death & Shattered Glass

Life did not flash before my eyes when a slab of ice and snow the size of a refrigerator hurled through the air with enough force and velocity to create the damage, pictured at left. (Check out all the possible calculations.) The New Jersey (NJ) Turnpike is a dangerous enough roadway without frozen flying debris.

Just minutes before, I was carefully and defensively navigating the vehicular lunatics weaving in and out of the south bound traffic lanes at 80 mph. Yes, I too was in a hurry to tend to my eighty-year old mother who was just released from the hospital but I managed to keep to the speed limit. (Driving the legal speed limit of 65 is considered an annoyance as well as a hazard to the self-prescribed professional race car drivers of the NJ Turnpike.) Relieved to have survived the "funnel" of the truck and car lanes that converged at Cranbury, I was happy to see the "speed racers" of the roadway fade into the distance.

Minutes later, when I was about to overtake a semi-tractor trailer a behemoth white block of what I had hoped was snow took flight from the truck's roof. All I remember thinking was, God, please just let that be snow because there is no way that I can avoid colliding with it and if it isn't snow I am really in trouble and I was really stupid for not signing for the extra insurance at the rental counter because I have never been involved in accident in all the years I've been driving and I have to get to my mother's apartment before she calls me again.

I envisioned fluffy snow dissolving and wisping around the car leaving the windshield covered in particles of glimmering snow. In less time that it that it took to have that thought I heard a loud thud and then felt a rush of cold air blow through my hair. The snow was not just snow and it was anything but fluffy. Combined with recent rain it turned into a block of ice which smashed through the windshield and into my face. Small pieces of glass and ice sprayed everywhere. Surprisingly, I kept control of the car, and kept hold of the steering wheel. Fortunately, there weren't any cars directly behind me, so I was able to slow the car long enough to assess the situation (3-5 seconds) and take the next right action.

I fumbled for the hazard signal on the car's dashboard while attempting to see the truck's license plate but I couldn't through the damaged window. I pulled the car over to the shoulder and attempted to call 911 but couldn't get a signal. 'Can you hear me now?' No, they couldn't because, the incredibly unreliable Palm Treo I own opted out of service just when I needed it most.

After catching my breath I began picking the small shards of glass out of my face and hands, tried the phone once again and got through to 911. The operator connected me to the New Jersey State Police and minutes later a slight and very young officer pulled up behind my car. Through my rear view mirror I saw him mouth the words, 'holy shit!' as he surveyed the damage. Not long after the patrolman completed an accident report and accepted my refusal for medical attention, a tow truck magically arrived and took me and the car to a storage facility in Bordentown, NJ. It was interesting to note that, there were no seat belts in the tow truck. Perhaps that explained the driver's lack of front teeth and sense of humor.

I informed Dollar-Rent-a-Car of the condition and situation of their vehicle and they were caring and understanding. Nevertheless, they wanted their car back and are continuing to charge me the daily rate until they do get it back. They didn't accept that the NJ State Police has a contract with Haines Towing and that no other towing company is allowed to provide service on the NJ Turnpike. The officer said it's due to safety but I believe it has more to do with money. Either way, Dollar couldn't tow the car to the nearest location at Newark Airport, so as of today, a week later, they're still charging me the daily rate for a car that I don't have and is not drivable.

After being offered a ride by a very nice Mr. Haines to a commuter rail station, an hour later I arrived in Trenton, NJ and waited for a train back to New York City. My mother phoned several times inquiring if I was alright and when would I be arriving at her apartment. Mothers will always be mothers no matter how old they and their children become. After allaying her fears that I wasn't injured she said, "Well, you're still coming down to take care of me, aren't you?" At that point I remembered the fate of film director,
Alan Pakula who was driving the Long Island Expressway when a car kicked-up a metal pipe that had rolled under its wheels and shot it like a bullet through poor Mr. Pakula's windshield, instantly decapitating him. I could have manipulated my mother with his plight but I opted to be the adult. My ever-concerned mother asked, "You signed for the extra insurance coverage I hope?!" (I'm glad that I didn't because the deductible is a thousand dollars and my American Express card will cover all costs and damages.)

As I rode the train back to New York I thought of what had happened and how incredibly lucky I was. Was it fate? Was it luck? Was it just a coincidence? Did a higher power have a hand or a finger in the outcome? Friends have said, 'God was with you.' If that's true, why did it happen at all? Was it a test of my driving skills or was God with the trucker
that morning who told him to get in his/her truck without properly inspecting it before hitting the road? I have my own thoughts about it but it doesn't really matter because I am plainly and simply, grateful to (1) be alive and (2) to know that in an emergency I didn't lose my head (no pun intended) or my self-control; just a drop or two of blood from the shattered glass. I call that one lucky day.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fifty and On Fire?


I turned fifty on December 12th and it hasn't grown on me yet.

A lot of people I know who are fifty plus have tried to relieve my angst by telling me that it's nothing, just another birthday but they're lying. I asked my friend Sandy what it was like turning half-century and with the luxury of time behind him he said, "Don't worry, it only took me four years to stop worrying about Death tapping me on the shoulder." How comforting.

In anticipation of tapping into the "elderly" buyer's market AARP starting soliciting me three years ago when I turned forty seven. It reminded me of when I was a kid and my mother would take me shopping at a department store and there in blatant bold letters hanging from a banner the store's advertising read "Back to School Specials." It was only July! We were just freed one month prior. Couldn't they let us enjoy our unscheduled time for just a couple of months?

AARP claims that members are required to be at least fifty years old. They had no problem cashing my check when I was a wee forrty nine. (I joined for the discounts although, I'm finding that I can get better prices on rental cars directly from the rental company's website.)

My apprehension turning the Big Five-O didn't affect my going ice skating with my wife at Bryant Park or continuing my marathon training or all the other activities that I'm engaged in. Still, there's now a certain race to get to I don't know where by the time my time has expired. I believe that it's now or never to be, do, become whatever is left for me to be, do and become. It's time to always be straight forward with everyone - not at their expense of course, only to be honest. No means no and yes means yes. I'd like to continue to say yes more than no when opportunity comes knocking at my door. The more I say "yes" the more I expand and grow.

Yesterday, my wife took me to a wonderful high tea at Lady Mendels at the Inn at Irving Place. I was the only male patron in the beautiful renovated brownstone complete with fireplace, antique furnishings and Christmas decorations. I brought along the recent AARP Newsletter to show my wife and it quickly caught fire when the waiter brought out a surprise birthday cake with way too many candles ablaze the white icing. How apropos: fifty and on fire!

Ensconced on a plush velvet settee behind our table, two experienced (formerly known as "senior") citizens sipped tea and were as cute and well dressed as the lace covered table settings. Although they asked each other "what did you say?" often, these two ladies were something to behold. Graceful and beautiful, strong and intelligent. They were probably as old as the brownstone hotel that held the elegant tearoom we sat in but I thought that if I live to be as old as these two, I hope that I can still get out of bed, dressed and exit the old age home to enjoy a cup of scintillating tea.

It's true that I don't want to lose my hair, hearing and eyesight. It's also true that I've been blessed beyond all imagination. I know that what's important is paying attention to all life's little details and to enjoy each and every moment. Still, I'd prefer that my body would stay young while my spirit grows wiser.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hunter - Gathers & Equality

Okay, I won the gene pool: white and male. Now that that is out of the way here are my experiences coaching and teaching leadership and other professional skills in large corporations:

Most of the managers and executives that I coach and train are male. Classrooms are typically made up of 90% men. As a strong supporter of having a 'balanced' gender workforce I always comment on the male dominated rooms which, is proceeded by and from the men in the room that the industry where they are employed is male dominated due to the skills that are required and that women are not interested in these types of skills. (IT comes to mind.) Following a class, one or two woman, (if there are that many in attendance) approach me asking for suggestions and advice in succeeding in a male dominated environment. Here's where personality and pathology meet. Those of us who are aware enough know that if you are a strong, confident, intelligent, skillful and capable woman you probably (1) emasculate the men and (2) threaten other women. (Hillary Clinton, maybe?)

Women have a very difficult time shedding the 'gatherer' model while the men are out there hunting and clearing brush. Flat out, men are threatened by you strong, independent and capable women of the world. They want you smart but not too smart. What's a poor girl to do? If, you've been around a while and have survived thus far in the male corporate work world than you know that strategy is everything. Personality preferences has a lot do it with it. 'Women should be soft and men tough.' There is a very fine line of 'playing' the woman to assure that you not frighten the men in your office and at the same time take charge and command the troops. (If you have your hands on the helm make sure that you let the 'other' captain steer now and then.) Keep the ship on course and ask for navigational advice and suggestions from the male dominated crew. Is it fair, is it just? No but life is not fair. This is an unfortunate universal policy. If you eat poultry is it fair to the chicken? No, but you still eat it. I am not proposing that women should have to continue to work just as hard as men and get paid less for their efforts.

Until men have a major mental and spiritual shift all the Title VII laws in the world will not change the fact that most men (at two thirds) will be threatened by your abilities. Those of us men who are either blessed enough have to have been born with the equality gene or just know that it's not about the gender but about getting the job are a step ahead of the majority. But we have a long way to go.