Oh, The Drama!

I’ve always had a face for radio. But my first cousin once removed is a star of stage and screen!

That’s Erika Henningsen (my first cousin once removed!) on the right. She has the lead role in Hazbin Hotel, a new animated series now streaming on Prime. She plays… the princess of Hell!

She also played “Young Gloria” in Girls5Eva – all episodes of that series are now available on Netflix.

And she originated the role of Cady Heron in Mean Girls on Broadway.

(I think that’s her future hubby Kyle Selig on the left… )

Oh, and she made her Broadway debut as Fantine in Les Miserables. NBD.

Erika posted this on Instagram last week, on World Theater Day.

Acting isn’t an easy profession. There’s plenty of drama before you even get to the drama (or comedy, or romance, or…). I’m glad Erika learned early on that you need to be resilient, and to separate your work worth from your self-worth:

“Constant rejection became a thing that was just inevitable,” Henningsen said of the cycle of auditions. “It is inevitable in this business because there is so much job turnover. I think I got used to that much faster than I anticipated, because I realized that rejection has nothing to do with my identity or my sense of purpose; it just is for that one job. And the sooner you can get over it, the sooner you can move on.”

Erika in this 2018 interview in W magazine

I’m thrilled about Erika’s ongoing success. But I’m even happier that she has an attitude of gratitude. Heck, she could even have a happy day in hell…

Victory Lap

Tomorrow is Opening Day in Cincinnati. The official start of the Cincinnati Reds baseball season has been an unofficial civic holiday for decades. [Back in my day, the Reds, the oldest team in the majors (founded in 1869), used to open the season a day before any other team… ]

It’s a big deal, with a lot of pomp and ceremony, including an Opening Day Parade organized by the merchants at Findlay Market, a public market that’s been around longer than the Reds have.

This year’s Honorary Grand Marshal will be Jim Scott, a Cincinnati radio legend. It’s a fitting honor, as Jim has participated in the Opening Day parade for 56 years, usually walking the entire route and smiling, waving, and high-fiving folks along the way.

Jim walking the parade route with his wife Donna

For Cincinnati Baby Boomers, Jim has been part of the soundtrack of their lives, starting in 1968 at WSAI, an AM station that played pop music, brought the Beatles to Cincinnati, and garnered nearly 50% of the radio audience back then. He moved to WLW-AM in 1984, as the morning host, and stayed in that time slot until 2015. If you’re keeping score at home, the final tally is nearly 47 years in Cincinnatians’ ears.

But this year will be different for Jim. In the Spring of 2022, he was diagnosed with ALS. He went public with the news last year.

I had the privilege of working with Jim, as his morning show producer, back in the mid-90s. At a station with a bunch of talk radio blowhards, Jim was the friendly voice who started your day with a smile. Among a subset of the staffers, he caught a lot of flak for being “too nice.” But I worked with Jim long enough to know that his radio personality wasn’t shtick, it was just a heightened version of Jim. WLW-AM was part of a radio conglomerate that owned 8 stations in the market (if you’re looking for Reason #1 of why I got out of radio, consolidation is the correct answer.) Jim did more charity work than the rest of the on-air personalities at all the stations, combined. Charity auctions. Golf outings. Fundraisers of all sorts. And if there was a speaker’s fee, Jim donated it back to the charity. Sure, all those public appearances helped his name recognition and his ratings. But that’s not why he did it. He did it because he truly was, and is, a nice guy.

In the March issue of Cincinnati Magazine, Steven Rosen wrote a nice feature about Jim’s decades-long involvement with the parade, and his positive attitude in the face of one of the cruelest fatal diseases. Check it out at the link above.

“Being in the parade to me will be a statement that I’m not going to quit. I’ll probably be in a wheelchair, but I probably won’t be the only person there in a wheelchair.”

Jim Scott, in the article linked above

This parade may be the last chance for us to show some love to Jim Scott. He deserves every smile, wave and cheer we’ve got. It shouldn’t be a somber send-off; it’s a victory lap.

Legendary baseball player and manager Leo Durocher famously said “nice guys finish last.” Leo got it wrong in this case, because Jim Scott is the people’s champ.

Illustration by Remi Geoffroi for Cincinnati Magazine

Right now on the Findlay Market home page, there’s a link where you can send a message to Jim.

If you know Jim, please do so. Actually do it even if you don’t know him.

Stay Creative Classy!

On Saturday evening, instead of watching March Madness, I met up with some old friends for a happy hour that stretched into the wee hours.

Yesterday afternoon, instead of watching March Madness, I provided a bit of constructive (I hope) criticism and writing tips to students who had entered their short films into a college film festival. Yes, me, the man who thinks this is the pinnacle of American cinema:

Last night, instead of watching March Madness, I went to a poetry reading. Yes, me, the guy who struggles to understand anything more complex than The Family Circus comic strip.

(The ghosts haunt me…)

My choices were based in part on the fact that Xavier didn’t make the Big Dance this year. But all three events were certainly more nourishing for the soul than watching a gazillion AT&T commercials. Oh, and let’s not forget the countless minutes of “official review” so the refs can add a tenth of a second to the game clock. Scintillating!

The Saturday happy hour was with some friends from my ad agency days. The traditional ad agency model is in a state of disarray. Too much consolidation, not enough creative freedom. But the folks I met and worked with during my agency days remain some of the most creative folks I’ve ever known. Writers, designers, artists, muralists, musicians. Big Idea generators, every one of them. They bring more beauty into the world. Yes, some of it is in service of commerce, but that doesn’t diminish the beauty… if anything, it makes it more admirable.

The student film festival gave me hope that the next generation of our “creative class” will be just as creative. The tools may change, but the ability to tell a compelling story will always matter.

The poets were folks who went to Xavier in the late 60s/early 70s and bonded over their love of the written word. To be able to portray beauty and convey emotions with an economy of words is a rare talent. And one well worth celebrating.

(excerpt above is from the book Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun)

The rise of technology — especially AI — has some folks thinking that our souls will be superseded by machines. But I know better. Flesh and blood, and human connection, are what will help us not just survive, but thrive.

Stay Classy, friends…. and stay creative!

D.C. Follies

While I was in D.C. (see previous post), I spent a fair amount of time walking. I pretty much went wall-to-wall on the National Mall. From the Capitol to the Supreme Court to the White House (3 government branches in one stroll!) to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

My friend Kevin, who has lived in D.C. for 20 years, suggested I check out the FDR Memorial. I’m glad he did. It’s different from the other memorials, and was quite interesting and thought-provoking.

Though I’ve been to D.C. before, my previous visit was many moons ago, before the MLK Jr. Memorial was built. So I visited that powerfully moving site as well.

I also visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It was a bit disappointing to see that most of the crowd was more interested in the Star Wars droids than in the displays on, say, transportation, or Hispanic women in broadcasting, but that meant more space for me…

And on a rainy morning, I spent a couple of hours at the National Art Gallery. I found a portrait subject who is a dead ringer for my oldest son Gabriel.

And I found a portrait of guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw of Styx (and Damn Yankees!).

At least, I think that’s who it was. Then again, maybe I spent too much time staring at Star Wars droids.

Of course, no visit to our nation’s capital would be complete without a visit to…. drumroll please… the Morgan Fairchild star on the sidewalk outside some theater:

Her hair alone should be a national monument.

And she’s given so much to this great nation of ours. Dallas. Falcon Crest. And the ultimate achievement: co-hosting Battle of the Network Stars XIV with Howard Cosell.

God Bless America!

District of Connection

A couple of weekends ago, I went to Washington, D.C. Ostensibly the trip was the see Xavier men’s b-ball take on Georgetown.

I could think of several reasons to NOT go:

  • Georgetown’s not a good team this year, and Xavier’s only marginally better.
  • Tickets to the game weren’t cheap
  • I was going to a concert in Cincy on Friday night, so my trip to D.C. would have to be super-short.

But these days, I’m trying to err on the side of “go” vs. “no.” And I could think of several reasons to go. Their names are Robin, Ronnie, Kevin, Tom, Sarah, John, Mike, Beth, Tim, George, Dan, another John, Kate, yet another John, Jason… the list goes on. Most are friends from my Xavier days (back in the Mesozoic Era), some are the spouses/significant others, one was a co-worker who is also a good friend. Many of them I hadn’t seen in years… decades even. And the most recent time I saw some of them was at the funeral for our friend Ned, one of my best buds from college. There’s nothing like losing a peer to remind you that life is short. Hence the “go” vs. “no” mentality.

I used SkyMiles for the plane ticket. The hotel room was relatively cheap by D.C. standards. The chance to reconnect with good friends was priceless. (Oh, and Xavier won the game on Saturday night… that certainly helped.)

Thoreau had it right:

It’s not about “stuff” it’s about enjoyment… and there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending a bit of time with good friends. Because friendships are precious. And so’s our time…

Age vs. Rage

Writing about politics isn’t my strong suit. (Some would say plain old writing isn’t my strong suit… to those detractors I say “me can write gooder!”)

But I’m going to wade into the roiling, boiling waters of American politics – feel free to move on and wait for my next sure-to-be-less-polarizing post about music, or kids, or maybe even puppies.

I think most folks would agree that both candidates in the upcoming presidential election leave a lot to be desired. It’s a sad commentary on our political system that this is the best we can come up with.

That said, I’d rather err on the side of old age when the other option is pretty much the same age + rage.

The kindly grandpa vs. the crazy uncle.

The politician who knows how to get things done vs. the business man who has filed for bankruptcy multiple times.

The guy who has known the pain of unfathomable loss vs. the dude who doesn’t have an empathetic or sympathetic bone in his body.

The person with 50 years of public service vs. the fella with 90+ indictments.

A gentleman who understands “We the People” vs. a guy who only knows “Me, me, me.”

The Commander in Chief vs. the Demander in Chief.

A leader with substantial foreign policy experience who supports our allies vs. a person who has a man-crush on dictators.

But it’s not just about demeanor (or meaner). The track record speaks for itself – check out these stats and facts from this article on Bloomberg.com:

The economy added 14.8 million jobs over the first three years of his term, more than any president in US history over the same period. What’s more, unemployment has held below 4% for the longest stretch since the 1960s. Yet many workers have been dissatisfied as soaring inflation wiped out wage gains and then some in 2022. Last year, though, income increases began to outpace price increases.

America’s cost of living, which surged to a four-decade high during Biden’s first two years, is poised to return to its pre-pandemic level this year — when family wealth across income groups is more robust than at any point in the new century.

Access to affordable health care is Biden’s crowning achievement. The number of uninsured Americans hit an all-time low of 7.2% in the second quarter of 2023, while the number of people who signed up for an Obamacare plan for 2024 surged to 21.3 million.

American households are wealthier and in better financial shape than ever before by almost any measure. Even with a bear market in stocks in 2022 and elevated inflation, Federal Reserve data show household net worth rose to a record $156.2 trillion at the end of the fourth quarter of 2023, from $131.4 trillion at the end of 2020. The stock market, where more than half of all households are invested, has surged.

Preliminary data suggest that inequality continued to narrow in 2023. Even better, the improvement — unlike during Biden’s first two years — was due to rising real wages, at least for some Americans: Lower-income workers saw gains, while median and higher earners saw barely any increase at all, after accounting for inflation.

Since his inauguration, the S&P 500 Index has returned about 45%, more than double the total returns of the rest of the world’s developed-market equities. 

The US was in the midst of its worst spasm of violence in decades when Biden took office, with the homicide rate rising 29% in 2020. It rose again slightly in 2021, but started to fall that autumn. There was a slight year-over-year decline in 2022, then an 11.8% drop last year — the sharpest on record ­— according to estimates by AH Datalytics.

Not to mention the infrastructure bill, a sweeping climate change measure, capping the cost of insulin…

Overall, the blood pressure of America is back to normal after four years of crazed bellowing that left us all on edge and at odds.

Look beyond the age. Look at the record.

The choice is up to us.

Both excerpts above from Tom Nichols in The Atlantic.

Feel free to disagree. That’s what makes America great.

Political rant over. See you next time… with puppies!

Give the Drummer Some

In other words, you rock! Your song “has a good beat, and you can dance to it.”

You may not be in rhythm with everyone else. But someone else will pick up what you’re laying down.

Stay cool. Stay funky!

And bang the drum all day!

[I’m grateful for the daily dose of grateful quotes from Grateful Living.]

One Shining Moment

On Wednesday night at the Cintas Center, Xavier University’s on-campus arena, Brad Colbert sank a three-point shot against DePaul. Xavier was already up by 31 points, and there were less than 90 seconds left in the game. DePaul’s historically bad this year, and Xavier is struggling to finish above .500. A garbage basket against a garbage team in garbage time. No big deal.

Except it was a very big deal. Brad Colbert is a senior walk-on. He’s been busting his hump in every practice for four seasons — walk-ons have to learn every opponents’ offense in addition to their own offense — and rarely sees the court. All of the hard work, with none of the glory. And he had never made a bucket in his entire career. He was 0-6 in very limited minutes.

Until last night, most Xavier fans were only familiar with Brad thanks to his perm-mullet hairstyle. (It’s pretty sweet!) But now, he’s a legend.

[photo credit: Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer]

And not for nothing, Brad’s three-pointer was Xavier’s 10th of the game… meaning Xavier fans could cash in on the Chick-fil-A promotion that offers free nuggets the next business day whenever X hits that mark in a home game.

Brad Colbert’s basketball career is winding down. He won’t go on to play in the NBA. But years from now, he’ll be driving past a Chick-fil-A and he’ll tell his kids the same story he’s told them many times before. How, on a dreary night in February, he came off a screen, stepped back, and totally nailed a three-point bucket that made the whole crowd go wild. It’s his very own “one shining moment.” And it’s pretty damn cool.

(This article from the Xavier fan site Banners On The Parkway does a great job summing up the magic of the moment. Well worth the read.)

Green is Growing!

This recent story by Elizabeth Weise in USA Today had a lot of good news for all the people who share Planet Earth.

Here are a few excerpts:

Wow, the lowest greenhouse gas emissions since 1987 – that’s amazing!

It’s not enough, of course. The article says as much. But we’re headed in the right direction… and momentum is a powerful force.

Let’s keep on the sunny side!

Beer & Philosophy

Beer can turn most of us into philosophers. But in this case (ha!), I’m talking about the business philosophy of the owners of Great Lakes Brewing Co. (based in Cleveland, Ohio). My friend Howard works for Great Lakes, and he flagged this story from Brewer Magazine in his Instagram. The article is a Q&A with co-founders/co-owners (and blood brothers) Daniel and Patrick Conway, as well as the current CEO, Mark King.

I like Great Lakes beers anyway, but I like them even more after reading the piece. Because their recipe for success has as much to do with people as it has to do with barley, malt, and hops. Here’s Daniel talking about employees:

” I recall when our payroll provider helped us create our first policy manual and there was a section where we could insert our own language, and we included that ‘our people are not costs to control, but assets to develop and grow.’ Words in a manual long since forgotten but that spirit is still alive today.”

“our people are not costs to control, but assets to develop and grow.”

Original Great Lakes Policy Manual

Mmm, that’s as refreshing as a Great Lakes Eliot Ness amber lager!

And here’s Patrick, citing a good idea that has helped sustain the brewery since it was founded in 1988:

“I think from the beginning with our ‘triple bottom line’ where we wanted to take care of our finances, but also our city and people and the planet. It seemed so logical to not just focus on profit and it carried us well for years.”

A business focus that includes people and the planet? Sounds as tasty as an Edmund Fitzgerald porter!

More from Patrick later in the interview: ” Invest in good people from the start.”

It shouldn’t be a foreign concept, but it all too often is. Take better care of your people, and they’ll care more about the company.

The Conway brothers started an Employee Stock Ownership Plan back in 2018, so they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

I already liked Great Lakes beers. Now I can feel even better about purchasing those products because I know they there’s a lot of people power in every serving.