In Praise of Blossoming Trees

There are few things in Nature as beautiful as a tabebuia tree. The photo here is of one I tended, watered and pruned for nine years. Lovely tree; it was a gift from our next door neighbor.

The fact that a tabebuia only blooms for a few days each spring does not detract from its beauty. It’s a reminder for me that life is fleeting and we blossom for a brief season, then fall away and return to the earth. It is good to have your day in the sun!

Though these lovely trees are barren now, there are some beautiful trees, fairly-common in the Sunshine State, which display their gorgeous, bright-yellow blossoms in summer’s sultry heat! I refer to the yellow poinciana, better known to arborists as the peltophorum.

I’ve seen more than a few of them around Central Florida in the last three or four summers; they’re quite a spectacle for those of us who crave a little color in the Florida landscape before autumn’s arrival. They seem to blossom from the top down and the blossoms last a good, long while. They can grow up to 50 ft tall; I’ve seen one nearly that size near the entrance to Disney’s Jambo House Resort.

Count me as one of those Floridians who stays indoors a lot more at this time of year. Day after day of temps in the mid-nineties gets old pretty quick. When I do motor about from place to place here in our subtropical paradise, it’s such a welcome pleasure to be greeted by those lovely yellow blossoms.

 

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

 

If you’d like to see a brief feature about this fine specimen of arboreal beauty from a University of Florida Natural Resources Agent, follow this link.

The Citizens United Case and Political Speech

Note: Because the Citizens United decision was only one subject out of many in the preceding post, I’m going to examine it again in more detail here.

 

July 4, 2016

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that a lot of money gets thrown around each time we have an election, often in completely unrestricted amounts and often with ordinary citizens having no idea what the source of the money is.

The Citizens United case is the main reason this has become the new normal American elections. The full name of this game-changing decision from the Supreme Court is Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and I can say with absolute confidence that our elections have not been the same since that decision came down. It was issued on January 21, 2010; the vote was 5-4.

If you’d like to get up to speed on this infamous decision, this article on the site for the Center for Public Integrity is quite helpful; it was published two years after Citizens  forever changed the electoral landscape and is clear and concise and still very relevant.

I ran across an excellent feature which ran in the New York Time magazine back in 2012 which is very useful at seeing how this nightmare–sprung from the mind of Antonin Scalia–has affected our elections on a practical level. It was written in the run-up to the last Presidential election but is still very good at helping the non attorneys or casual observers among us get up to speed on the ramifications of Citizens United.

There is a well-organized effort to get Citizens United reversed. Amending the Constitution is one possible route; it’s also possible that the decision could be re-visited in the future by anyone bringing legal action on a case which touches on the issue of money in American politics, money from Corporations in particular. That would not be hard to do. It’s one more reason why the up-coming Presidential election is a really big deal.

Because the issue of unlimited campaign contibutions–dark money, especially–gets me so riled up, I’m going to wrap up this post and have my second cup of coffee. The bottom line is that this case was a disaster for our democracy and that nothing will change unless ordinary citizens compel our elected leaders and the oligarchs who now have their collective boot on our collective throat to let us up.

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

 

You’re a Grand Old Flag!

Found this bit of wall art and really liked it. Found it in a very unlikely place, I hasten to add. Loved it. Took it home. Snapped it. Cropped it. For me, it perfectly captures the feeling of what the 4th of July is about.

Our Democracy has aged a bit. That may be an understatement.  But even after 240 years, the ideals upon which our Country was founded are very relevant. As many have pointed out, 240 is not that old in the lifespan of nations.

Even though, obviously, it was something over which I had no control, I’m grateful to have been born here. I’m glad that I’m an American. Our country is far from perfect, but I love her. Glad to have served in her Navy. I am cautiously optimistic about her future but there are many disquieting things happening right now in our corporate life.

Americans who sit in positions of leadership need to stop making it harder for some of their fellow citizens to vote. This is pernicious, it’s a blight on our democracy and it needs to stop.

We need to get dark money out of politics. Corporations and PACS and throw millions–yes, millions–of dollars into campaigns with no one having the slightest idea of where the money came from. This needs to stop.

The Supreme Court erred badly in the Citizens United case. Corporations are not people. And when they were green-lighted to dump vast amounts of money into political campaigns, it was nothing less than a kick in the gut to Lady Liberty. If that decision stands, The United States will never again live up to the lofty ideal we hear whenever The Pledge of Allegiance is recited: “One Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All!”

This great but troubled country we love can live up to its lofty ideals. But it will take strong, deliberate action by ordinary citizens to right the ship of democracy. When the mechanics of government favor the rich and powerful and avaricious, ever self-serving corporations while ignoring the rest of us, democracy begins to die.

As we commemorate our nation’s 240th birthday, I’m recommitting myself to doing my part to get us off the road to oligarchy and back on democracy’s path. It will take good leadership from our elected officials and a willingness to speak the truth. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Let us stop talking falsely now, the hour’s getting late.”

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile on the 4th of July

 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is one non-profit org working mightily to get the dark money and unlimited corporate contributions out of our elections. Their good work has been very effective and holding our elected officials accountable and shining a light on their misdeeds when they betray the ideals upon which our Nation was founded. To learn more about the work of C.R.E.W. follow this link.

 

 

Bulldog Ben Really Loves the Beach

It’s so very true. I’m just not myself if I can’t see it, hear it and smell it at least once a month. Nothing promotes serenity quite like a trip to the beach.

I’ve got my fave spots on the Atlantic coast. Daytona Beach bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach” and I think they can back it up. New Smyrna is a lovely destination, I’ve been there many, many times. The white sands of our Gulf Coast beaches are hard to beat; don’t get to them that often, but they’re among the very best the Sunshine State has to offer.

But for the last four years, Cocoa Beach in Brevard County has been my get-away spot. At some point in my beach-hopping I realized that I had been to Cocoa Beach enough times that I was beginning to know the town more in the way that a resident might as opposed to a casual visitor. And then it happened.

Something truly did change in that remote corner of the brain where one’s beach preferences are stored. For me it was Cocoa Beach. Cocoa Beach and no where else.

It’s entirely possibly that I’ll retire to Cocoa Beach one day in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I often escape to serve–if only for a few hours–as one of Neptune’s loyal subjects. It’s a role I relish. And I don’t have to stay all day. Just long enough to get in my beach fix; a little sand in my shoes, a little beer in my belly. Life is good. Then, batteries fully charged, I head back to Orlando and dream of my next seaside excursion.

 

Photo credit: Benjamin Lawrence Basile

 

 

 

Ready Or Not!

You may or may not have read the previous post. It was about my experience in the taxi industry, both as a driver, and, in recent years, a crew member on the admin side where I recruit and train new drivers. Going into a lot of detail about the company I work for and the big changes in our industry led me to put together a separate post on how I personally respond to life’s changes. Here goes…

When it comes to the subject of change, I often don’t do it very well. Generally, the bigger the changes are, the more I resist. I’m quite sure that in the years I have left, there will be many, many more changes coming, whether they’re about career stuff or anything else.

Knowing this tends to stir up a wide range of emotions for me. My first thoughts tend to be anger and frustration; anger that the universe is throwing way too much change at me (my perception) and frustration that I don’t seem to have the tools and skills I need to successfully adapt. That’s how I’m wired. I don’t think it’s going to change. What I’ve learned in the last few years is that when I make myself move past those initial, not-very-helpful reactions, I’m capable of dealing with almost anything.

Let me enlarge on that a bit: I’ve found that after moving through several very big changes in the last ten years, if I focus in a conscious and purposeful way,  I can get in front of the changes and move with them. Getting dragged, kicking and screaming, into one’s future is not a successful strategy, to say the least. So I drag my feet considerably less than I have throughout most of my life. And, being the dinosaur that I am, I’m content that I’ve learned a lesson or two and made some progress with this sort of thing. I certainly haven’t perfected this skill but I’m ever-conscious of the importance of doing so.

Embracing change is such a big deal for us in the 21st Century. The change I’ve got to deal with at this precise moment is to change from blogging mode to make lunch mode. In this case, I’m more than willing to embrace change. <Flashes a grin while reaching for the smoked turkey and rye bread!>

 

A footnote here: One catalyst for embracing change for me was that cute and concise story-book Who Moved My Cheese? If you’d like to check that out or get re-acquainted with it, click here.

Driving, Recruiting, Training: A Taxi Career in a Changing Industry

It was 1999 when I first got into the taxi business. I drove for a mid-sized company here in Central Florida. If you’re from around here, you’d no doubt recognize the name. The training was bad. Well, there was none. It’s not the easiest business to be in when you’re a newbie and it didn’t go well for me. I went back to slingin’ hash; I had had a long career as a waiter before deciding that taxi was a better way to go. It was a good and safe strategy to go back to something familiar, something I enjoyed and was very good at, but I still felt like driving a cab was “the next thing” for me in the career box of life.

After thinking about it for a few months, I decided to try it again, but this time I opted to go to the “big dog” in town to see if the result would be better. I landed at City Cab Co. of Orlando, a company that had been around since 1939, offered thorough training and knew how to be successful in the taxi biz. They had plenty of business over the phone, all the best parks and hotels, including the contract to service the taxi needs of Walt Disney World. And, yes, that proved beyond a doubt to be a better way to go. That’s an understatement. By the way, City Cab Company is the legal name, but Checker Cab, Yellow Cab and Winter Park Yellow Cab are all fleets operated by the same company all based out of the same location. Folks have often been confused by that.

A quick additional note about changes: those separate fleet names or brands will soon all give way to the Mears Taxi brand, but that could be the subject of a different post.

As the company evolved–way before my time–they jumped into shuttles, luxury sedans and became very big in the bus business too. Mears Transportation Group does pretty much anything and everything in the transportation business here in Central Florida, and do it well. I’ve now been associated with the company for 16 years. Just over seven years of that was driving cab, the rest has been in the department that recruits and trains new cab drivers. We also do a lot of administrative work, making sure that the drivers we have already have are up-to-date with driver permits from the city of Orlando, can still pass a vision test and are current with all contractual matters, especially after taking a hiatus from driving. In our industry, drivers are independent contractors, and the admin requirement do not stop once they’re on-board.

But our main focus in my department is getting new drivers contracted and ready to go; we recruit them, screen them, then train and motivate them and pass them on to our Operations Department. Some new drivers decide that our biz is not for them and they move on. Some, like me, take to it like a duck to water and go on to make a good living while enjoying a gig that’s quite literally like no other. I’ve got to say that driving a cab in Central Florida was, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever had.

There have been many changes in the transportation business in the last few years. In the cab business especially. Some of these changes are big. Game-changers, you might say. We who drive taxi or work in the business in administrative or support roles are feeling the changes. None of us can say with any certainty just where these changes are leading. But it’s big stuff. Ride sharing is a huge innovation, one that’s gone over well with people who use transportation services. Uber, Lyft and others have, and no doubt will continue, to change how people move from here to there. Speaking as an old-school “taxi guy” I want to acknowledge that many of us know that ride sharing could do to our industry what the internet did to newspapers. I don’t think that’s a “done deal” by any means but these 21st Century ways of going about our business are succeeding and the ramifications for those of us who’ve had success operating in the traditional way are huge.

I’m proud to be associated with a company that’s had impressive success over many, many years but that is keeping a close eye on the industry and how it’s changing and has put together a vision for how to embrace change and move with confidence into the future. I do not know what our industry will look like five or ten years from now. But I know that the qualities that have always helped a company and their people succeed will pretty much remain the same: having a good, well thought-out and adaptable business model; carefully selecting and thoroughly training your crew; supporting your workforce and giving them the tools they need to succeed; embracing changes in technology and ways to get things done and applying them in thoughtful and effective ways.

Changes. Challenges. They’re coming. Of that we can all be certain. Now as I toss out this pithy remark as my close, let me acknowledge that I need to hear and heed this advice probably more than most of you who might read it: the future belongs to those who will plan and prepare for it. I’m getting off line now so I can meditate a while on the weight and importance of that last sentence…YellowVan-movin-cropped-saturated-23523m

 

Very Good Experience at the Days Inn in Melbourne

I booked the Days Inn in Melbourne recently. To be honest, it was 15 minutes away from my objective. That would be Cocoa Beach, my frequent weekend getaway. Rates for beach front hotels in the middle of summer are crazy. So I decided to try going just a bit down the road and try a more affordable way to go; that strategy worked well for me this time around.

Some of you may have read my previous blog entry about the Red Roof Inn near Busch Gardens in Tampa. That was a hellish experience from start to finish. But my stay last week at the Days Inn in Melbourne has restored my faith, so to speak, as far as choosing moderately-priced hotels when traveling.

There was nothing to not like about the accommodations. A clean and comfy room, of more than ample size and no issues with noise and such. The wifi was down when I first tried to log on. I called the front desk, they apologized and told me that the tech folk were working on it. When I tried again, all was well and I had many hours on problem-free web surfing.

Something that has been a problem for me in other bargain-priced hotels is not having the cable channel line up in the room. They did here, the remote was sitting on top of it. It may seem like a little thing, but it’s something I always notice. I have found so many other places where there’s an HBO guide but no channel line up. A real pet-peeve, good to see that these folks take care of the little things.

I asked them to trade out my wet towels for new ones pretty late-ish, around 9 PM and a staff member was at my door in about ten minutes with fresh towels. That’s good service.

The continental breakfast was better than most and the crew actually kept it very well stocked. I know because I came down near the end of the stated serving time. Another plus, even if it also seems like a little thing. I’ve been to plenty of places where if you’re not there at the time they throw down the chow, you’ll have to settle for one of those tiny muffins and a glass of watered-down orange juice. And the coffee was very good. And hot. Yay!

What I liked best about my stay was that all three of my personal interactions with staff were unabashedly positive and weren’t rushed or cursory. I don’t take it well when hotel staff seem to be trying mightily to get those guest interactions done as quickly as possible without the tiniest bit of a personal touch; that did not happen at the Days Inn. They were pleasant and unhurried and treated me like a valued customer and guest. Because I don’t experience that very often, it meant a lot to me. I highly recommend the Days Inn in Melbourne and will be staying there again without a doubt.

Costal Carolina takes the 2016 College World Series

Mr. Bulldog here is a serious sports fan, though I haven’t had a lot to say about sports on da bulldog blog up to this point. I follow football, baseball and softball quite closely. Mostly because I’ve played and–at times–coached those sports and they’re the most fun to watch. In my view, anyway. I follow college sports closely and the pros as well. Like many others who have an opinion on the subject, I do feel that sports on the college level represent sport in a more pure state. However, it’s also true that the pros are better. They truly do sit at the top of the proverbial food chain. Spoiled brats though they be…

Now to my main topic, I did see most of this year’s College World Series of Baseball and loved every moment of it. Was pulling for the Oklahoma State Cowboys this time around, and they got pretty deep before being eliminated by Arizona.

Coastal Carolina took all the marbles in a thrilling three game series after they and Arizona sent the other very good teams packing. I tuned in when the Regionals began, saw most of the Super-Regional games and missed very little of the series itself. The vexing thing is that I couldn’t see the third and decisive game, as the folks in charge changed to a 1 PM  start time because of weather issues in Omaha. Although most of the guys in my office are serious sports fans, watching a ball game on Company time  wouldn’t fly!

So, Coastal took that third game by a score of 4-3 and it was a barn-burner! Chanticleer slugger G.K. Young went deep–make that really deep–in the sixth inning, Coastal’s pitching and defense were solid and the result was C.C.U. winning it all in their first trip to Omaha. Carolina coach Gary Gilmore is practically a legend among NCAA baseball fans, though few who aren’t into the sport have a clue who he is. His star shines more brightly now, to say the least.

Great video wrap-up here of that third, decisive game from the official site for the 2016 College World Series; it’s well worth a look.

This was a great feel-good story for sports fans this year, especially ones from South Carolina, Coastal supporters/Alums in particular. This MLB season has had some great moments, and looks very promising as we get a little closer to the post season. But it was one hell of a year for hardball at the college level.

In closing, let me say that I thought that ESPN’s coverage was very, very good. Those guys are the  pros and no other sports net can touch ’em.

Simultaneously smacking his glove and searching for the remote, Bulldog says: “Put me in, coach!”

 

 

Searching for the Meaning of Life

Slo-n-Low-beer-sign-North-wall-980b2This brief blog entry simply cannot be appreciated or understood unless you’ve cast your eyes over the accompanying photo. And, yes, I took the pic myself. No issues about ownership, copyrights or any such thing. And, if you must know, this humble sign adorns the north wall of the bar in my fave barbecue joint. In my fave beach town.

Having gotten the preliminary stuff out of the way, let me state for the record that I do not believe that the true meaning of life can be found in this lighthearted aphorism; it’s merely there to keep the wall from looking bare and, perhaps, to amuse the drunks who spend way too much time and money reading silly plaques tacked to the walls of our many infamous watering holes here in the Sunshine State.

The message of that damned sign does not seem to grow more profound with each lager lifted to my lips. I’ve never shared this barroom bromide with friends, nor incorporated it into an update on Facebook. (No need going to my Facebook page to verify that statement!)

Let’s be real. Life’s true meaning cannot be divined by reading this sign no matter how much beer you’ve quaffed.  I just like it because, as I stand right on the threshold of qualifying for social security, I think it just might be true! Not sure my doctor would vouch for that, but, it could be!

Now I think I’ll ponder that message one more time as I order one more beer…  Ashley!

 

 

Harp god James Cotton turns 81 today!

July 1, 2016

Blues harmonica legend James Cotton turns 81 today. James is the real deal, having grown up in Mississippi under the tutelage of Sonny Boy Williamson. James ran away from home at the age of seven and was deeply immersed in the blues from that time on. No one else has that kind of amazing blues pedigree; it’s a seriously over-worked phrase, but Mr. Cotton truly is one-of-a-kind.

I had the privilege to meet James after a show at the now-defunct Disney Institute back in 1996. (The D.I. has since been transformed into a massive Time Share Resort.) The back stage meet and greet had been arranged for me by my friend David McElroy who was the Director of the Theater project there. I’ll always be grateful for David’s consideration; the conversation I had with this living legend of the blues is one of the best moments of my musical career. A wonderful time in many ways.

James had been an able vocalist for his whole career and so we were taken aback when he struggled mightily to sing; it was shortly after that performance that he had to permanently stop singing because of serious problems with his vocal cords.

I just had to post tonight and wish Mr. Superharp a very happy 81st birthday. James was known for playing, recording and touring like a madman since 1953 but has now downshifted just a bit. I wish him good health and continued success on his day today.