Monday, September 17, 2007

Living in the BWA Corridor

Living in the Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis Triangle

We’ve lived in the Severna Park/Arnold area (Anne Arundel County) for 31 years now, and I have to say that we don’t intend to leave. Sure, the prices are high and the traffic is congested, but the Chesapeake Bay is magical. We live in suburbia, but we have three great cities to choose from to enrich our lives.

Annapolis is my favorite of the three – close, historic, warm and friendly. Although not a resident of Annapolis, I know the city as well as my own neighborhood. I read the local paper and I know as many people in Annapolis as I do in Severna Park and Arnold. For practical purposes, those of us who live just outside of Annapolis as tied in with the city as most residents.

I still get a thrill out of being in Annapolis on a mild fall evening, walking along the city dock, going to dinner at a local favorite, then to a play at Colonial Players (our community theatre). There are the tourist and the Mids, but there are friends to be seen everywhere. It is rare that I walk down the street in Annapolis that I don’t see someone I know. A sense of history surrounds you and it feels good.

Driving in downtown Annapolis requires a high comfort level with narrow streets and tight turns. That is just the way it is and I don’t think about it at all anymore. I can whip a Dodge Grand Caravan around State Circle with ease and can even parallel park the beast on the wrong side of the street, on a curve in front of the State House.

Baltimore is an amazing city – a city I feel that I know and understand pretty well. It is sometimes called “Charm City.” And for sure, it has a certain charm and elegance in places like Roland Park and Towson. Thanks to the Inner Harbor, downtown is vibrant and alive and bustles with excitement year-around. At one level, the city is new and fresh and full of hope. The various ethnic neighborhoods give it a richness – a texture that you don’t find in most cities. There are the “hons” – the stereotypical ladies caught in a 50s time-warp – and they are still there in Baltimore. You might not find them in the Inner Harbor, but you will find them in the neighborhoods. Baltimore is bold and brassy at time, but it has the ability to laugh at itself.

I carry a pretty decent road map of Baltimore in my head, and as long as I stay on the main streets I do OK. It is hard to get very lost in Baltimore, as the streets are laid out on a grid. Whenever we go to Baltimore, I drive. That was a deal my husband and I made when we moved here. I would learn Baltimore and he would learn Washington.

Washington, DC, is puzzle in many ways. As our Capital, it is provokes as sense of awe. A drive down Constitution Avenue makes you stop and appreciate our American way of life – the monuments and museums remind us of the grandeur of democracy.

I always feel a bit disoriented in DC. Because the streets are mostly at an angle, it is easy to find oneself totally lost in some parts of town. There are the famous circles, like Dupont Circle and Thomas Circle. Massachusetts Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue seem to be where most of my travels take me.

Coming from the east, the best way into town is on New York Avenue – once a “war zone” and now slow gentrification. The other day I saw a panhandler along New York Avenue. He was holding a sign that said “Why Lie, I Want a Beer!” People were rolling down the window of their Mercedes to give him cash. I guess he struck a responsive chord

In order to live here, on the banks for of the Chesapeake in our little suburban enclave, and fully grasp the opportunities – both business and personal – you have to learn to embrace all three cities and to love each of them for its uniqueness.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Solutions to Unnamed Problems

It seems that much of what technology offers us today is solutions to problems we didn’t know we had. But once we know we have a problem, and we see others solving it with some techie tool or another, we are hooked.

In my lifetime I have driven all over the US without a phone in my car. It never occurred to me that I needed one. If the car broke down, I would simply flag down a passing motorist who would NOT necessarily be an ax murderer and that kind motorist would tell the owner of the nearest gas station. In those days, people took care of each other. Now, of course, if I am driving to the grocery store and forget my cell phone, I have to go home to get it.

Of course, the laptop computer is the “must have” tool for daily living. It has been only about ten years since I got my first laptop and I have been hooked ever since. I can work anywhere. If Marshall McLuhan were alive today I am sure he would refer to it as “wheels for the mind,” I must not be alone in this addiction. Just stand in any airport security line for proof.

They call smart phones “crackberries” and I can understand that. I seem to think I can’t live without my Treo. I left at home when I went to Germany and found it peculiarly freeing and continually frustrating not to have it. In a way it was like quitting smoking!

I have not gotten an I-Pod yet. Maybe I will, but I can play music on my Treo if I want to. Problem is I keep forgetting how to transfer the songs in MP-3 format. Maybe one day I’ll get an I-Phone.

I haven’t gotten a GPS either. My husband has one, but I try not to have anything to do with it. It confuses me. But I know someday I will succumb, as no doubt my next car will come with one built into it or maybe it will be built into the I-Phone.

Then there is the whole online directions thing. I love the convenience of being able to type in addresses and get directions. The other day, however, Mapquest led me totally astray and I drove maybe 20 miles out of my way.

Last Saturday, all of my techie addictions came into play and I was driven to taking desperate action. The Internet was down at the house; I had a meeting to go to in Laurel and I couldn’t print out directions. I stopped at the coffee shop nearby and planned to do some work prior to my meeting and to jot down the directions. The Internet was down at the coffee shop also. So, not wanting to appear to be out of sync enough to call for directions, I drove to Laurel. Finally, I realized I had this wonderful tool in the car all along. It was a MAP book. I remembered how to use it and the day was saved!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I found my uncle’s old tennis racket in about 1958. The racket was about a decade older than I was at the time. To me, it seemed like an artifact from another time. But money for tennis rackets didn’t grow on trees, so when I wanted to take up tennis later that year, I started with that old racket. It was a great racket! I hated to part with it, but about 40 years ago I gave it to my cousin. It was his dad’s after-all. Both my uncle and my cousin are gone now. I wonder what happened to that racket.

Anyway, once it became tennis was just a twelve year old’s passing fancy, my parents got me my own racket. It was a brand I had never heard of, which they got from some sort of discounter buying club. I think it was the same place they got my transistor radio and bowling shoes.

The problem with stuff from that discount buying club was that nothing was name brand. And while I was grateful for the tennis racket, the radio and the bowling shoes, I have to admit that I gave myself a complex that I was a generic brand second-class citizen. (That may explain why the other day, when I was coming out of anesthesia from my colonoscopy and my doctor was telling my husband about my new lifetime prescription for acid reflux medicine, I made it clear to my husband that I wanted the brand name – not the generic.)

I still have that old discount buying club racket (also the bowling shoes), plus a few other name brand wooden rackets accumulated over the years. Some have covers; some have wooden racket presses. But, of course, one wouldn’t think of showing up on the tennis court with any of them. Using one of those old rackets would be a dead-give-away to my age and the condition of my game (of course just watching me play for 30 seconds sends the same message.)

I played tennis most afternoons and Saturday mornings all through high school. I loved the game and actually with all that practice I got to be a pretty good player. I had a wicked serve and was pretty good at returning balls. My form was never my best thing, and I envied those folks who just seemed to be able to stand there and hit low, fast balls that skimmed over the top of the net. But I had fun and got exercise.

My tennis partner and I went to different colleges (I wonder where she is now). In college I really was too busy with other things to play tennis and I lacked a partner. Spring semester of my freshman year, I took tennis. I was pretty good; I won the class tournament and even beat the teacher. Since I am not at all into sports, this is my one and only lifetime athletic accomplishment.

During the remaining college years, I played here and there and now and then, with friends, but it was an occasional thing and my game suffered.

When I married in 1969, I tried to get my husband interested in tennis. I bought him a racket and we tried to play once. It didn’t work out; he hated it. But then he is not interested in sports in the slightest, although he loves to scuba dive.

My son got to about ten and I tried to get him interested in tennis. I bought him a racket. He tried it dutifully a few times, but he was more interested in other things. Too bad that didn’t work out, as we had great public courts behind our house.

I wonder if my grandson or granddaughter would like to play. Eventually, maybe a family member will actually like the game.

So that was the end of tennis for me until the early 90s when a friend and I played on Saturday mornings for 5 or 6 weeks, but then the snows came and we never picked up where we left off. But during that particular phase I bought myself a new Prince metal racket. I liked it because it had a much bigger area to hit with and was lighter than my old wooden racket.

Just recently, I got it in my head that I wanted to start playing again. I found a friend who was about as rusty as I was. Through a mutual friend, we were treated to a tennis lesson. We played for about 1 ½ hours. We were not as awful as we could have been. Actually, we managed to hit the ball at least a fair portion of the time. Control and form – well those are other matters.

During that game, the instructor was continually reminding me not to crowd the ball and to hit from the side. Of course, I know that is what you are supposed to do, but it is easier said than done – especially when one doesn’t move too fast. But whenever I hit the ball properly, it felt great! That feeling is really powerful!

Then I got to thinking about how I lead my life and I began to see an analogy between the way I approach life and the way I play tennis. During the game my friend said that some of the balls that came her way she opted not to try to hit because she knew if she did her form would be off and she didn’t want to reinforce bad form. That thought never occurred to me! But maybe she is onto something.

My approach is to try to hit every ball except those that are clearly out of bounds or just ridiculous to get to. Otherwise, I go for it. I hit balls overhead or with the racket in front of me; many of my shots have that “thunk” that you get when you hit outside of the racket’s sweet spot. Sometimes those off shots go over the net; sometimes they don’t. But when they do go over, they are usually high or poorly placed.

In life. I really do try to “hit every ball” the best way I can. Opportunities come my way and I try to take advantage of them unless they are clearly “out of bounds” or really not a good fit. That is just like my tennis game – whether it is today or 45 years ago.

Sometimes in business I get that same feeling I get when I hit the tennis ball in the sweet spot. In business, this feeling might be defined as having all my preparation work prior to a meeting, arriving on time, and walking out the door with a contract in hand. Other times, the job gets done, but I am overcoming obstacles every step of the way. I would say this is the equivalent to a hit outside of the sweet spot. Then there are those misses and bad hits – true in both business and in life.

What if I could, through practice, hit in the sweet spot more and more often. What if I could learn not to run to try to hit every ball that comes over the net, but to evaluate the odds and make a decision? What if all of my hits were low and fast?

Then, I wonder, if I could train myself to approach life and business this way? Would it make sense to start with tennis and wire those circuits in my brain to work that way? Interesting! It might work, and just think of the good exercise and the fun of playing tennis instead of sitting at my computer.

Of course, while I am playing tennis I am not working and if I am not working, I am reducing my odds of hitting the sweet spot in business. Or would my brain, fully rewired and refreshed, be able something make me just that much more efficiently? Hmmh…

Then on TV they say 1one hour of exercise increases your life by two hours. That sounds promising. I wonder if it would be possible to have those extra hours in the form of 26 hour day for next ten years instead of having them added on at the end. That way I would have time to play tennis, train my brain to hit in the sweet spot, and still get all of my work done?

Guess not!

But before I play tennis again I have to deal with the matter of my racket. The grip is disintegrating. My right hand was totally black after the game last week. The racket says it is a graphite volley. I think I have found where they store the graphite. I need a new grip; but it is probably cheaper to buy a new racket. Maybe I can pick one up at Costco – discount buying clubs have come a long way!