Almost Famous

Boston is the birthplace of America. But hosting the Olympics will finally put it on the map.

Boston is the birthplace of America. But hosting the Olympics will finally put it on the map.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has just anointed Boston (Mass. that is) as the chosen one for the 2024 Olympics. But not everyone is breaking out the champagne. Organized groups, such as No Boston Olympics, are rallying the public to oppose the effort. (They argue Boston’s resources are better spent elsewhere among other silly reasons.) Olympic boosters, like Boston2024, are citing improved infrastructure, jobs, excitement, visibility and finally the chance to showcase Boston as a world class city. Shiny new Olympic venues, sexy young athletes, millions of sports tourists from all over the universe, sponsorships and ratings bonanzas will finally elevate the city to superstar status. Despite being the birthplace of America, Boston needs more recognition for goodness’ sake! Here’s why the city should be offered up for the extravaganza:

  • the Big Dig wasn’t disruptive enough
  • the Tsarnaev trial isn’t getting any attention
  • Boston’s research hospitals haven’t done anything worth talking about
  • people think the Tea Party only refers to extreme Republicans
  • no one’s ever heard of the Boston Red Sox
  • Whitey Bulger’s a nobody
  • Hollywood doesn’t like us
  • many think that Paul Revere is a Youtuber
  • the 119-year old Boston Marathon doesn’t attract enough world class athletes and hardly gets any publicity. (The BAA could sure use a PR firm!)
  • there are no problems here. Our leaders and officials can be distracted by bidding, planning, executing and cleaning up the Olympics for the next decade.
  • traffic flows easily through the city at all times — especially on Fridays in the summer
  • merchants, vendors, homeless people, and others will easily find another locations if they’re displaced
  • businesses in the city (especially start-ups!) have all the time in the world to arrange telecommuting for employees and figure out parking before, during and after the events
  • culture vultures can go elsewhere in summer 2024 (Destinations, like the Museum of Fine Arts, won’t mind having their tourist base scared off by Olympic crowds.)
  • the theme song from “Cheers” doesn’t ring any bells these days
  • New Kids on the Block broke up too soon
  • Boston Cream pie is a horrible dessert.

And last, but not least– it’s a wicked good idea!

So please, please, please, International Olympic Committee, pick the USA to host this monumental event! The cradle of American liberty will finally get the recognition it so desperately deserves. Note: The original version of this article appears in The Huffington Post.

Advertisements

A Cautionary Tale for Travelers Renting a Car Overseas

GE DIGITAL CAMERA
This week, 19-year old Matt Guthmiller became the youngest person to navigate a small plane around the world by himself. The Boston Globe reported the American MIT student he had a fairly smooth run, but experienced a setback at a stop in Abu Dhabi. Apparently, the technician servicing the plane filled it with diesel, instead of aviation gas. Fortunately, Matt caught the error right away.

Last summer, I rented a car to travel from Paris to Normandy with my family. One evening, after a full day of sightseeing on the coast, we headed south. Excited to have a lovely country dinner and go the Mont St. Michel, we needed to fuel up first. We went to several stations before stumbling upon one that wasn’t closed and accepted our credit card. Relieved, we gleefully filled the tank and planned our evening. After dinner and the Mont, we’d enjoy our last night at the charming chateau we so enjoyed. Visions of foie gras and a cold glass of rose danced in my head.

Our pleasant reverie was interrupted when the car wouldn’t start. Tired and hungry, I tried to be positive. It was probably just a dead battery and there were plenty of cars around to jump us, so I wasn’t that concerned. Suddenly, my husband ran over to the fuel pump, studied the label and turned a ghostly shade of white. Like the young pilot’s experience in Abu Dhabi, the wrong fuel was used. I wasn’t too upset. I figured someone could just siphon the unleaded gas and pump in diesel. And we’d be on our way. Le Mont St. Michel in the moonlight beckoned! I told the non-English speaking girl at the register about our plight. My laissez-faire attitude changed when I noticed how big her eyes were getting. When she put her hands over her mouth, I knew we were really up the junction. A local man standing nearby said in perfect English, “It’s okay. Nobody died.”

Not a terrible place to wait for a tow truck.

Not a terrible place to wait for a tow truck.

Yves arrived with his tow truck 40 minutes later. I thought he’d be able to do the fuel transfer right there in the parking lot. But as daylight faded, so did my optimism. Yves kept saying, “Non” and “Demain.”

Of all the conversational French I had brushed up on, “Where are you taking us in your tow truck?” was not something I had practiced.

Despite not speaking a word of English, Yves was incredibly helpful. He brought us to the closest hotel, about 30 miles from his garage. When we arrived, we must have looked incredibly pathetic because the woman at the front desk was so sympathetic. The crying helped. “Pretend you’re camping,” I said to my daughter when she asked about clean clothes and a toothbrush.

We put our limited belongings in a dark room that smelled like cigarettes and went back outside. We scavenged for food like the stray cats we saw in the neighborhood. It was nearly midnight and a man in an apron was closing up his shop. Having not eaten in for 11 hours, we begged him to feed us. He gruffly scolded us in French, telling us it was too late, but he softened up. He made us pizzas and served us the best beer we’ve ever had.

After a restless night in a very hot room, we went to the garage to pick up the car. It was not an easy fix. Like Mr. Guthmiller’s technician, Yves had to drain the fuel, irrigate and decontaminate the tank and re-fill it with the right stuff. When he handed us the keys, we were so elated to be on our way that we gave him the Calvados we bought for our cousins, who had been hosting us in Paris.

Our setback was over, but the sting would linger for days. The garage bill wasn’t cheap and our last night at the chateau was money down the drain. Talk about learning the hard (and expensive) way.

No more lamb stew and apple tarte tatin for us. “Make sure you grab an extra baguette from the breakfast buffet,” I said. My husband and daughter, beacons of composure throughout the whole ordeal, were not amused.

On the hour-long drive back to the chateau, we played Monday morning quarterback. How could we have made such a huge mistake? Why wasn’t there a sticker on the tank with information about what fuel to use? Were we so emotionally exhausted from seeing the American cemetery and D-Day beaches that we couldn’t see straight? Why didn’t the guy at the rental place warn me? (After all, I didn’t instill much confidence when I got behind the wheel and asked him where neutral was. He asked if I had experience with a manual transmission and I nodded. I did not tell him I hadn’t touched a stick shift for 20 years. I imagined it must be like riding a bike. Switching to an automatic was not possible, since they are rare in Europe and you have to reserve them far in advance.) As we sputtered out of the garage, I thought I heard something like, “Les Americains sont stupides.”

Important Tip: The significant amount of money saved by renting a stick shift auto is not worth the stress if you don’t usually drive one. This became clear when I kept stalling on the way out of Paris. (It still amazes me that we survived the trip.)

Back at the chateau, we arrived just in time to miss breakfast. A first world problem, I realized, but I was crestfallen.The dining room was so elegant. And the homemade croissants? Mon Dieu! We planned the trip a year in advance and saved up for months so we could stay in lush, historical surroundings like this. Taking a last, longing look around the castle, I ran my fingers along the library’s brocade upholstery and admired the 15th century tapestries in the foyer. On the way out, we paid the bill and explained to our charming host why we had not come “home” the night before. With a twinkle in his eye, he said reassuringly, “People put the wrong fuel in their autos all the time! This happens to practically everyone who comes here. Especially English people.”

We felt ten percent less stupid.

Back in Paris, we relayed the mishap to our cousin.

He laughed and replied in his charming accent, “It happens to everyone. But only for one time.”

Yet this won’t happen to you. Or to Mr. Guthmiller– whether he reads this or not.

Hell Freezes Over: My Teen Gets a Smartphone

Image
Last year, I launched a public relations effort to explain why I would not be buying a smartphone for my teenager. I wrote a blog for a leading website, was quoted in news stories and penned a guest column for the local paper. I supplemented the publicity with a community outreach effort. I begged parents to hold off on smartphones so the playing field would be leveled for kids that didn’t have one. My daughter was not thrilled, but my reasoning eventually made sense.

“I can’t argue with any of the points you make in your articles,” she said. ” I really don’t need a smartphone.”

That music to my ears echoed for weeks. Talk about a successful PR campaign.

Surprisingly, when she turned 15, I started getting pressure. Not from my daughter, but from others. Some parents called me a “Tiger Mom.” Even my husband tried to wear me down. One friend said,

“Everyone else her age has a smartphone. That poor kid is going to end up in therapy.”

But the sun continued to rise and set every day without a smartphone. My daughter was doing just fine. When she did complain, a rare occurrence, I reminded her about how they are are a want, not a need. The more I saw teens and increasingly younger kids glued to their devices, the more indignant I got. The thought of my intelligent, thoughtful daughter playing “Candy Crush,” or group chatting at all hours, made me physically ill. She’s on the shy side, so I wanted to see her socializing with peers instead of being glued to her phone.

Not only that, many adults I knew were cursing the day they caved in because their kids have turned into teenage mutant smartphone zombies, never to be seen again.

I often read Facebook and Twitter comments that said things like, “I got my kid a smartphone. It was nice knowing him.”

I would sign her up for this kind of madness over my dead body. Then the unthinkable happened.

It was a Friday and my daughter had just come home from school. Exams were coming up and she was hot and cranky. After yelling, “I hate this phone!” she plugged her four-year-old device into the charger and disappeared into her room. A few minutes later, I sat down on her bed. “We will get you a smartphone,” I said matter-of-factly.

(What did I just say??? I surprised even myself.)

My daughter looked dazed and confused.  I continued, “Your grades are excellent, you’re mature and responsible, you practice your piano and you help around the house. You even read books, God love ‘ya. Are you still interested?”

She looked at me like I just gave her keys to a new car.

There would be conditions and expectations. I reinforced that smartphones are not a lifestyle necessity, but a luxury. She had to agree to the “electronic device rules” we set up when she was in middle school. (Of course the list was supplemented to address 24/7 Internet access.)

Faster than she could say, “I promise,” we were off to the mobile phone store. Like a moth to a flame, she fluttered across the showroom to the object of her desire: a white, iPhone 5s. When she opened that rectangular white box, she looked as though she had discovered buried treasure.To protect it, she bought a pink and purple case her own money. Ever since, she is cherishing her new acquisition and treats it with kid gloves. For me, instead of feeling like our retail excursion was a dreaded rite of passage, I am proud.

My daughter got a smartphone the old fashioned way. She earned it.These days, she’s more sensible than I ever imagined. She’s well aware that I frown upon any smartphone usage when with others, so she’s considerate. (She knows I will throw it out the window if she starts texting when I’m driving her someplace.) I am optimistic this behavior will continue, although a few infractions are expected.

So to help make a smooth transition to a smartphone, here’s some advice:

1. Patience
If they lose their cell phone or it gets broken, get it replaced with the same type of device. Don’t get worn down and upgrade to a smartphone if you don’t think they’re ready. The longer you wait, the more appreciative your child will be. You will be much happier too, instead of being filled with dread.
2. Responsibility
The child pays for the activation fee, taxes and the data plan. I was blown away when my daughter volunteered to an extra $10 per month for insurance.
3. Control
Buy the phone. (He who giveth can taketh away.)
4. Consistency
Adhere to the rules you set up when your child got his or her first electronic device. Don’t waver. This will be hard, but worth the work. If a smartphone is your child’s first, think it through very carefully. (There’s no turning back!) Are they old enough to handle the Internet when you’re not around? If not, a basic phone will do.
5. Reinforcement
Remind your child that a smartphone is not an entitlement. Like driving, using one is a privilege.

Giving in to constant pressure is the fate of many parents. But caving in leaves many adults frustrated and regretful. So every time the smartphone question rears its ugly head, keep repeating, “Patience, Grasshopper. Good things come to those who wait.”

 

The Show Must Go On — When Sensibility Trumps Sensitivity

Image

Nothing says Americana quite like musical theater.

The entertaining format has been enjoyed by all ages for decades, despite rampant stereotypes and exaggerated stock characters. Most traditional musicals take place in another era, so characterizations are often overlooked (and laughed at) by many theatergoers. Others aren’t so forgiving. To make these old shows more palatable, some groups are going so far as to ‘sanitize’ them. But doing so washes away all sense of history and context, not to mention the artistic integrity of many well-loved productions. Our very own, uniquely American originals will be lost forever. Not to mention that altering these productions is fruitless. How is it possible to change a character, from one type to another, without offending someone else? When does sensitivity become censorship? (Not to mention violating copyright licenses.) Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers are rolling over in their graves.

A recent Boston area production, of Thoroughly Modern Millie, generated quite a buzz for a high school musical that didn’t even star Zac Efron. Feature stories appeared in The Boston Globe, including one that landed on the front page. A TV program, community newspaper articles, blogs and letters to the editor continue to roll in. (In fact, it was a local blog that launched a thousand conversations.)

Any theater publicist would be jumping for joy about all the attention. But in this case, it’s had quite the opposite effect. The ‘ink’ about “Millie” has not been about the extraordinary talent or dedication of the cast and crew. Instead, it’s been negative, focusing on outdated Asian stereotypes in a story that takes place in 1922.

Had the legitimate feelings of the Asian community been discounted, the theater should have gone dark. Happily, for the hard working young thespians at Newton North, the curtain went up for “Millie” at Theater Ink, the school’s teaching and working theater. The award-winning musical, that has been performed by high schools across the country for more than 30 years,  played for three nights in Newton. At least one of the performances was sold out.

Going on with the show was the right thing to do. Here’s why:

Discussions about stereotypes in “Millie” began even before the first rehearsal. The high school worked with the Office of Human Rights to come up with a way to maintain the integrity of the production, while addressing negative images with students and the public. Workshops and discussions about stereotypes and their impact were held throughout production. Most importantly, Newton North has faith and confidence that its young people are mature enough to interpret outdated stereotypes. There was also the fun factor to consider.  Featuring a large cast of characters, the show enables many students to participate. Combined with entertaining song and dance numbers, plus its comic script, make “Millie” a staple of many theater programs.

Before each performance, the director drew the audience’s attention to an extensive production note in the program. It specifically addressed one of the most negative characters in the story.  It read, in part:

“Mrs. Meers must be understood as the villain…She is racist and covers her own insecurities and life failures with hateful attitudes and behaviors.  Without question, Thoroughly Modern Millie contains extreme negative stereotypes and offensive attitudes…the opinions expressed in this musical do not necessarily reflect the views of Newton North High School…in fact they strongly oppose the beliefs and attitudes found within our school culture.  Furthermore, we have worked hard to analyze and revise these images in order to align them with our socially conscious mission of acceptance and open mindedness…”

 

Image

When the show’s run ended, Newton North issued a lengthy and contrite letter to the community. Following is an excerpt:

“It is our sincere hope that this production is one of both artistic integrity and one where significant learning has occurred.  It certainly was never and is never our intent to offend members of our school or Newton community.  Theatre Ink prides itself on being “Newton North’s Teaching and Working Theatre.” The process of producing this show, and the thoughtful and sometimes challenging dialogue it has generated among staff, students, and the broader Newton community, exemplifies the program’s commitment to explore, critique, and interpret how the human experience is conveyed through the arts.  As the curtain went up this past weekend we brought the constructive conversation and learning process that our school community has engaged in over these past few months to an audience of students, parents, and community members.  We hope that you will choose to participate in it with the same appetite for learning that we have seen in our students – a genuine desire to understand our differences, our history, and ourselves…

After the letter went out, the school held a public forum, attended by the members of school’s administration, Theater Ink directors, parents and students.

Newton is a standard bearer of political correctness. (This is a city with schools that promote a campaign called, “Respecting Human Differences,” hold lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender assemblies and ban Halloween.) So the extra effort made by the high school to head off concerns about an old fashioned musical is not surprising for those who of us who live here. Expected or not, the extensive outreach for “Modern Millie” is public relations at its finest. Institutions across the country should look to Newton North’s example as a model of urban sensitivity and respect.

Theater Ink has been a treasure trove of talent and high caliber performances for many years, providing students with endless golden opportunities. The community at large also reaps the benefits of this theater. Hopefully, the spirit of those who work so hard on its behalf has not been diminished by the “Millie” firestorm. Image

 

Recommended Reading for Hollywood

“Lisa, Bobby Orr is on the line.”

My palms got sweaty and I took a deep breath.  I was organizing an event that the former Boston Bruin was involved with, but I never expected him to call me.  Several colleagues gathered around my cubicle, incredulous that a junior level PR girl was talking to the living legend.  I hung up and swiveled my chair around.  “I’m going to Bobby’s house tomorrow to bring him to the event,” I told the group nonchalantly.

I was cool on the outside.  Inside, my mind raced.  I imagined the look on Bobby’s face when he saw my old Honda Civic croak up his manicured driveway.  What if the car broke down on the way to the event?  Worse yet, what if we got into a crash?  But talk about the publicity!  (As long as no one got hurt, of course.)  I thought about putting the client’s banner on my bumper.  Fortunately, I emerged from my panic stricken mania and good sense kicked in.  I dialed a car service, but before I could say, “Do you have a car available tomorrow?” I got buzzed on the other line.  This time, it was an assistant.  Mr. Orr was all set, no need to pick him up.  To say I was relieved would be an understatement.

The event was being held to promote a local real estate project.  Bobby had been asked by his friend (the developer and my client) to come and sign autographs.  When the event was over, he signed an autograph for me.

OrrautographJust before he left, told him how my grandmother worshiped him. How she and I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs for hours. That she cried when he got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.  He must have heard these stories on a daily basis.  As Bobby listened politely, I quickly grabbed another photo for him to sign. “You can make it out to Ethel,” I said excitedly.

I was crestfallen when Bobby asked for her address.  I preferred getting his autograph then and there.  “Thank you so much, but that’s alright, I said.  “My Nana will be so happy to get this one.”

Bobby still preferred to send Nana a color photo.  As I wrote down the address, I thought, “Oh well, I tried.”  I imagined the golden opportunity was lost.  Who could blame him if he forgot?  He has hundreds of fans.  Sending an autograph, to a little old lady he never met, wouldn’t stay on his radar.  So I didn’t tell Nana about my interaction with her hero.

Weeks later, Nana called.  “You wouldn’t believe what I got in the mail today!” I played dumb but was hoping it was from the famous athlete.  I was elated when she confirmed this.   “The greatest hockey player who ever lived remembered Ethel!”

Bobby Orr is unique.  In a world where many celebrities behave badly and shamelessly promote themselves, he does things for all the right reasons.  He recently told the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler,

“If you’re going to help someone, you sneak in, you sneak out… I don’t do things to get ink.”  He also said athletes should live up to a special code of conduct. “Once you’ve turned pro and you’re making the big bucks and kids are buying your sneakers and your skates and your gloves and so on, you are a member of that role model club.”

Years after my client’s event, I attended a function where Bobby was the guest of honor.  After waiting in an endless line, I got to shake his hand once again.  I asked if he remembered me.  Graciously, he said, “Of course I do. ” He agreed to a photo that I treasure to this day.   LRBobbyOrr

His new book, Orr: My Story, comes out this week.  I do not represent Bobby Orr, or his publisher, and have no stake in whether or not it sells.  I have no idea whether or not it will reach the wide audience it deserves.  What I am sure about is that this bio should be read by actors, kids, young adults, parents, teachers and anyone in a position to influence others, or be influenced themselves.  Bobby Orr is the consummate gentleman and an example of how everyone — famous or not — should be.

Come to think of it, he probably wouldn’t have minded my old Honda Civic after all.

   


 

 

Just say “No” to Smartphones for Teens

Once you say "yes," there's no going back.

Once you say “yes,” there’s no going back.

Just say NO to Smartphones for Teens

If you’re a parent or guardian who’s on the fence about getting a smartphone for a teen, think very carefully about it before you say “yes.”  Nine out of 10 parents I have spoken with who did, regret the decision.

Following is an excerpt from a blog that appears on The Huffington Post (click on the title of this blog entry for the full text):

 Mobile devices can be damaging to a young person’s psyche and it’s easy to get hooked. A recent South Korean report found that the smartphone addiction rate was 18% among teenagers.  Dr. Jonghun Lee, a professor of psychiatry and the study’s lead researcher, presented the findings at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting this summer. He stressed that the more smartphones are overused, the greater the risk for severe psychopathologies in adolescents. Those who are dependent on them experience anxiety, insomnia and depression.  Some self-aware teens are realizing the toll that checking their smartphones is taking on them.  An 18-year old girl told a newspaper reporter recently, said, “I hate doing it, but I can’t help it…Why did I buy a smartphone? Sometimes I stay up all night using Facebook and Twitter.  I quickly became addicted.” 

A Pew Research Center study found teenage smartphone usage increased 23 percent from 2011 to 2012 and that 37 percent of teenagers owned smartphones last year. Dr. Lee says, “The number of adolescents addicted will increase because the popularization of smartphones is an inevitable social trend. And the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are.”

There’s a lot of talk about limits, balance and moderation. But setting restrictions on smartphone and Internet usage is easier said than done. The Web has become a necessity for homework, school communications and research. So it can be hard to distinguish between an assignment, recreational viewing or school-related texting. Monitoring usage consistently, enforcing time constraints and being on top of content can be overwhelming for most busy parents. This becomes even more difficult when their kids are literally carrying the Internet around with them.  

Parents who say “no” level the playing field for the kids who don’t own smartphones.  Moms and dads unite!  Teachers, other parents, society-at-large and your kids (eventually) will thank you.

Parks and Reckless Messaging — TV show is funny enough without the excess drinking

Bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I'm sure Leslie Knope,  would love that more than anything.

Bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I’m sure Leslie Knope would love that more than anything.

Much to the delight of fans everywhere, NBC-TV has ordered up a sixth season of Parks and Recreation. Come fall, this entertaining and intelligent sitcom will surely attract an even wider audience who admire Leslie Knope and the other strong females of Pawnee, Indiana. Here’s the rub: the show is dominated by women, but it perpetuates a behavior that can be particularly harmful to them. Now that the show is on hiatus, this may be the time to influence the writers and producers of the show to cut down on the excessive drinking scenes. Are you listening Amy Poehler?

Many viewers of Parks and Rec are impressionable young women who admire Leslie, Ann Perkins, April Ludgate and the other females. Often, these characters drink to excess. Most people consider a glass of wine or two to celebrate an event or wind down after a long day totally acceptable. In fictional Pawnee, Leslie and the others get so drunk they can barely function. Women in the real world who get wasted suffer long term health problems and other damaging consequences including unintended pregnancy, sexual assault and accidents. How can we forget the 16-year old intoxicated rape victim in Steubenville? Or the inebriated woman who was raped in New Hampshire by a cab driver? Last year, a drunk California girl was sexually assaulted at a party and later killed herself due to humiliation. These stories, all involving female alchohol abuse, are becoming much too commonplace. While some people understand the dangers of excessive drinking, many young girls do not. It is well documented that teens who drink early are at a higher risk for alcoholism later in life. Females are particularly vulnerable. A recent CDC study reports that one out of five high school girls binge drink, while one and eight women (18+) do the same. About 23,000 women die each year from alcohol abuse and related injuries.

Yes, Parks and Rec is a TV show and can’t alone be blamed for risky behavior. But story lines about getting inebriated are irresponsible. Intentional or not, glamorizing excess alcohol intake sends the wrong message. My 14-year old daughter and I love the show, so I try to work with it. During a commercial break, I’ll warm her about the dangers of intoxication, as well as the importance of drinking responsibly when she’s 21. Hopefully Ann Perkins will cut down on the booze, because she is trying to get pregnant, I tell her.

Some of the cleverest and most entertaining sitcoms have featured someone who drinks. Remember Karen Walker on Will and Grace? And who isn’t amused by Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development? Or Saturday Night Live’s drunk Uncle? These people are usually dismissed as flawed, so they aren’t really setting an example. Ron Swanson’s ocasional shots of Scotch are just part of his rugged persona on Parks and Rec. But to have the female leads drink to the point of slurring their words is gratuitous. The show already has everything — originality, well-timed comedy, great story lines, well-developed characters and an uber-talented cast.

So producers and writers of Parks and Rec — while you’re enjoying the summer, here’s something to think about: Instead of the booze, bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I’m sure Leslie Knope would love that more than anything.