Use all your brain

July 17th, 2009 by John Morris

Last night, I turned on an air conditioner for the first time this year. It made groaning noises; produced no cold air; and then played dead. Looks like I have a new first thing to do today item.

My instincts told me the fan blades weren’t turning. To verify this, I peeked through the side vents in the back of the unit. There I found some left over vines from last year’s Chinese wisteria harvest. They had positioned themselves in a way that interrupted the blade’s rotation.

I went to my favorite magic store, Maxwell’s Hardware and bought an extended reach tool: the one with the four grabbing prongs. Ten minutes of long range pruning through the vents, and the A/C roared cool, welcoming air.

This fast and easy fix reminded of an incident from my landscape product selling days.

I sold Versa-Lok concrete segmental retaining wall units. They are the best of a good lot of choices. Call backs to projects were infrequent and always taken seriously.

One such project featured a wall that failed due to excessive water pressure. The homeowner wanted to not just reinstall his wall but also address the water source; he was smart. His related problem was he also had water coming into his basement.

He called in a water proofing service. Their engineer suggested digging the soil away from the home and putting a tar-like barrier around the sub-level. This would fix the basement’s problem but not the retaining wall’s. The cost would be in the low five figures.

Next visitor was a soil engineer who suspect an underground stream as the source of all the water. His solution called for diverting the yet to be found stream around the wall and basement. This would save the cost of the basement waterproofing, but his quote was double the one from the waterproofing company.

As an after-thought, the home owner called in a landscape contractor to make suggestions about rebuilding the retaining walls.

The contractor listened to the man’s story; broke away from the conversation, and walked around the site. He stopped at an outside water spigot, bent down and easily removed the soil under it. He found the spigot’s connection was leaking water in a way it couldn’t be seen. He estimated the repair at under $25.00, if the homeowner did it.

By now you’ve guessed the outcome of this blog. The man fixed the spigot; the water in the basement ceased; and the rebuilt retaining wall stood high and dry.

This is no knock on the first two professionals. They were looking at the problem using their training and focused on using their tools. They had an enormous amount of knowledge about their disciplines but missed seeing the whole picture. The landscaper was better at diverse thinking and eliminating the easy answers before sending in bulldozers.

Heed the advice giving to Doctors-in-training about diagnosing illnesses. When you hear the sounds of hoofs behind you, expect to see horses when you turn around, not zebras.

The changing Downingtown cuisine

July 15th, 2009 by John Morris

Apology follows: to the many eating places not mentioned in this blog:  I’m sorry I’ll not be mentioning the other quality breakfast/lunch spots, coffee shops and bar/restaurants in Downingtown, PA. To help make my point, I’m focusing on our dominant food outlets and the newer interlopers.

For the better part of my life, Downingtown, PA was mostly a deli/pizza town. The new McDonald’s made me question their hubris to think they would find a niche in this Philadelphia suburb. That I was wrong was proven as they are in their second decade under the same ownership. What did I know?

The next weakening in the deli/pizza folks’ stranglehold came with Jasper Restaurant. The word came out it was an upscale dining experience to push the existing Luigi & Giovanni’s and Georgio’s for the sit down diners’ business. These existing restaurants feature Italian and Greek cuisine, and Jasper was bringing in other city foods seen only on cable TV shows. How brave is that?!

On their day two, my wife and I went there. Jasper Restaurant made a strong statement with their food and  brought to us a welcomed change of pace. I wished for its success but wondered if they’d get wide spread acceptance.

Then within months, a second like restaurant opened called Fioravanti. I reasoned these two places would do battle for what I was sure was a tiny segment of people who eat what they’d cook in my borough.

I was wrong again. Both stayed opened and seemed prosperous. So much so that when Mister Fioravanti retired, a spinoff called Amanti’s BYOB seamlessly took over.

Prior to Fioravanti’s closing, a splashy bistro opened. Firecreek was the inspired blending of the old borough and nouveau cuisine. They gutted an historic papermill factory in the town square and built it back out using dramatic construction methods. It instantly became the “in place” in a borough that generally resists such things.

When the new Firecreek opened, it brought something else new to Downingtown: valet parking. Come on! Here in my stoggy borough. Really?

Yeap, it’s working. On our first visit, we snapped up the only available “seating time” of 5:00 p.m. After the valet took my keys, we went to the back of a long line to wait. Business seems to be brisk at all times at Fireside.

I had completely misjudged local eating habits, and it has taught me something about myself.

I need my prespectives shaken up on a regular basis. What I think I know is often easily disproven because it’s based on the rooted belief my fellow citizens resist change. 

I’m fortunate they’ve proven me wrong so many times.

The darker side of Twitter

July 15th, 2009 by John Morris

I backed into Twitter during my growth as an Internet communicator. I was doing emails and blogs with some regularity but once on Twitter, I found it far too easy to apply my efforts to its 140 keystrokes discipline.

With Twitter, I could enlighten the world to my real time activities no matter how mundane. There are no on-line monitors to slap me down for putting boring stuff into the mainstream. It is too easy and too seductive. I grew lazy, and my writing skills atrophied.

I now realize my use of Twitter doesn’t really “release the hounds”. By this I mean, being able to let the rhetoric soar or pile on the details necessary to tell my whole story. I don’t get the feeling of completion with Twitter I get with blogging.

It’s time for balance between my use of these two forms of communication. I’ll continue to tweet my passing thoughts and not care too much if my message is important or complete. I’ll blog for those times when I want to fully express my thoughts.

Circle of life stuff

July 14th, 2009 by John Morris

Has the spotlight at long last shifted from boomers to the next generations? This may have happened years ago, but boomers give up this stage with such reluctance that it’s hard to tell. Like with most things in the circle of life, it’s time. 

I first noticed a shift in trivia contests when the percentage of questions geared to boomers grew fewer each month. There was a time when they were the highest percentage. 

The tipping point for me today was when I googled a board game my son played in college called “Axis & Allies”. These out-of-print, and probably politically incorrect, games are selling for major cash now.

What usually happens is a generation will start making serious money and then go looking for trophies from their past. All generations have done this, and the alpha generation will command the highest prices for their era’s comfort toys. The best example is baseball cards. The value jumps each generation when boyhood fans start upping the bid.

Judging by my latest and highly unscientific finding, the thirty somethings have arrived.

After 31 years, still a class act.

July 4th, 2009 by John Morris

In 1978, Bud Bruton had an idea. He saw how well his home borough of Downingtown, PA received the bicentennial celebration and believed it was time to revive a local celebration called Good Neighbor Day.

The former event was staged to coach natives into staying home during the Independence Day holiday. I don’t remember when it started, but it was there for my family while I was growing up in the fifties and early sixties. I think the nation’s malaise caused by Nixon and the Vietnam War made such events decidedly uncool.

Over ten years later, Bruton thought the timing was right to start it again. He mated the day with the national Run For Life campaign. Note: the aerobics craze was gaining popularity at this time.

I was just getting my running legs back after 15 years and decided to sign up for the race. Bruton wanted the course to be on our borough’s streets which limited it to a scant three miles. His resolution was to have three races simultaneously: three, six and nine miles done in laps. Runners could sign up for whatever one suited them and even change their minds as the race evolved. I could do three miles, but six would be my longest run since high school.

The skies on race day looked like it could rain at any time. About 400 runners lined up at Kerr Park and were off with the pistol’s crack.

The elements were right for optimum performances. While the humidity was high, the temperature was moderate. There were water stations along the way, and the streets were lined with citizens cheering us on. Running in bunches created an instant support group, and we all seemed to glide along.

I was pleased when I reached the end of six miles, but didn’t want the day to end there. My new friends reasoned I could always quit during the third lap – as if they would have allowed that.

I stayed with them, and we all finished the nine mile race. I felt both exhausted and invigorated. We staggered around for a while encouraging others as they finished.

Too soon, I had to make good on existing plans to picnic at my sister, JoJo’s house in Delaware. I tucked my race package under my arm and walked home. This was actually harder than the third lap.

At the picnic, the heavens opened and dumped much rain on both Delaware and Downingtown. I hoped the hometown events were concluded, and all were safe.

I knew I was into this running thing now. I’d drag out my race shirt on succeeding days for a good run. The design on the shirt was nearly prison issue. As a graphic designer, I knew I could do better. I called my friend, Parry Desmond and offered to do so. He suggested I attend the next year’s committee meetings.

I went nine years on this committee and experienced some of the best run events I’ve been associated with.

31 years after the revival of Downingtown Good Neighbor Day, the event is going strong and still being run with skilled hands, hearts and minds.

Long may they thrive!


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.