Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Secret To Durham’s Image Turn-Around

Twenty years ago Durham clearly had an image problem.    New in town, I asked around to learn 1) the source and 2) who was in charge of remedying it.  The answers I got were 1) no one knows, maybe its “us” and 2) it is your job to address it,  welcome to Durham!

I had just been appointed the CEO of Durham’s newly-minted community or destination marketing organization, a position from which I’ve now been retired nearly a year.  Prior to coming to Durham, I had produced a Clio-winning “pride” campaign for another community where I’d worked previously but really I didn’t have a clue about community image.  Turns out no one else did

So for inspiration we rolled up our sleeves and started to examine and learn from some other models taking any lessons that could be applied to unwrapping, benchmarking and ultimately improving community image.  Finding no relevant texts or primers or white papers on the subject,  we zeroed in on two movements for inspiration: political campaigns and civil rights. No claims of clairvoyance or strokes of brilliance, just adaptive innovation.

However, before I summarize what we learned, I must admit that I received a ton of unsolicited advice from a handful of people down in Raleigh, some with Durham interests, just not Durham’s best interests.

On several occasions the advisories were directed to me via news quotes and editorials published there.  I was even amused on several occasions to be called out during public remarks at events at which I happened to be present.  Can you say awkward?  Sadly, no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t possible to engage these folks about their concerns in face to face dialogue let alone secure their support.

Here are four groupings of this Raleigh-sourced advice about how to turn Durham’s image around:

  • White Flag Advice – “Surrender and turn Durham marketing over to Raleigh or better yet, pretend Durham doesn’t exist and get on Raleigh’s bandwagon; we’ll even refer to it as the Triangle, on occasion. You know like the airport.” I may be from Idaho but I didn’t just fall off a spud truck and I know hegemony when I smell it…


  • Bobby McFarrin Advice – “Don’t worry, be happy!”  “Pretend there isn’t an image issue, sweep it under the rug,  smile incessantly, don’t step on Raleigh’s toes and watch a lot of Pollyanna reruns.”  Maybe I didn’t know much about image issues at the time but I knew that negative information trumps positive information by several times squared and you can’t just outrun it.


  • Be Like Mike Advice – “Just go along to get along.  Slick up a bit, be less funky, ignore slights.  Durham’s always been a black town, be more white (they actually used those words) and when they shake out Raleigh’s table cloth, some crumbs will always fall Durham’s way.”  That’s when I realized it may not all be about racism but racism is alive and well.


  • Bless Your Heart Advice – “This image thing is all in your head.  Individuals, communities and institutions aren’t trashing Durham, you’re just paranoid. Take a happy pill.  Take a chill pill.” That’s when I knew that condescension rests at the heart of an image issue.

One may still hear echoes of these advisories from time to time as though they are new, often issued by someone trying to imply or take credit for any progress and, as we have experienced once or twice, while trying to surreptitiously undermine or impede legitimate efforts.

While I poke a little fun with the groupings above, I’ve always preferred to believe that these advisories while seeming self-serving, were and are generally sincere if not a  bit odd and misguided.  I also must credit several people in Raleigh, such as Harvey Schmitt, for always being supportive of the efforts needed to turn Durham’s image around and helping me to see through obstacles.

Before I summarize the sources upon which Durham’s image turn-around was modeled, it may be helpful to  understand that research documented from the beginning that Durham never had a “self-image” problem or lack of community pride, quite the opposite.  Durham’s off the chart in these areas, especially compared to other communities.

Durham’s image problem turned out to be centered in nearby communities.   The job isn’t finished by any means but it is in excellent hands.  With focused consistency, it is to Durham’s credit that in less than two decades it has reversed a (minus) –53% negative image in nearby communities to a (plus) + 70 positive image today.  In positive to negative terms, that’s a swing from  4 to 1 negative about Durham  to an almost 9 to 1 positive.

For comparison only, Raleigh, which doesn’t acknowledge or address any image issues of its own, has a just under a +3 favorability rating statewide with nearly a third uncertain, compared to Durham’s now + 64 favorability statewide with only 12% uncertain.   Every community can benefit from acknowledging, monitoring and addressing community image.

Along the way, the improved Durham image contributed significantly to the feasibility for some huge brick and mortar projects and improvements which in turn must have also had some impact.  I know because one of my roles was to help inform those studies along the way and to overcome concerns that were typically a result of the image issue.

However, even though Durham draws significant visitation from the other counties and metro areas where the community’s image has improved, these visitors, many of them repeat, still represent a fairly small proportion of those populations overall.  Measures of “personal experience” among those that do visit here suggest that personal experience is driven more by broad factors such as signage than by isolated developments or enclaves, regardless of how spectacular they may be.  With the perceptual image issue increasingly at bay, improving personal experience remains a significant challenge.

Now, let me summarize what we successfully adapted from political campaign and civil rights models and translated into strategies to  turn Durham’s image problem around.

What we learned from political campaigns:

  1. Use scientific polls to isolate sources of negativity, benchmark progress and mine other data to put things in perspective.
  2. Reinforce Durham’s brand at every touch point, e.g. datelines, airport references, signage, postal addresses etc.
  3. Vehemently stand up for Durham whenever the community is wrongfully dissed or wronged but never over-reach.
  4. Be true to Durham’s genuine and authentic personality, never give up, reach out to critics.
  5. Build “both/and” alliances and partnerships, eschew either/or people, organizations and communities.
  6. Favorability is not about the people who know you but the people who form impressions second and third hand.

What we learned from the civil rights movement:

  1. Be assertive but never be zero sum or fight fire with fire.
  2. Be win/win, not either/or.  Don’t expect everyone to show courage.
  3. Keep the faith, be persistent and always be resilient.
  4. Isolate the negativists, convert those who are uncertain to positivists.
  5. Don’t sell out for isolated monuments, focus on wide-spread curb appeal. Cathedrals come after image improves.
  6. Be yourself and celebrate diversity – discrimination and persecution are perception not reality-based.

For any success I had before retiring and the continuing and remarkable success of those that succeeded me, we’ll be forever indebted to those who pioneered these two areas from which we were able to adapt strategies that have truly turned Durham’s image problem around. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Voracious 24/7 News Media Has A New Diet

For years now the 24/7 news media has sated itself on periodic, fear-fueled, dog-pile feeding frenzies.    Now it has a new diet that involves trolling for opinions from small groups of people (20% more or less of the adult population) of so-called angry adults and then piling on their story like only 24/7 news media can to amplify it out of proportion and give it legs for as long as possible.

Starting with the Tea Party and now with so-called scanner-gate, it is clearly a trend if not a newsroom model for how to build ratings and readership.  A bonus dessert with the Tea Party was millions and millions of dollars in much needed advertising at least for radio and television, thanks in part to the mistaken belief by a majority of the Supreme Court majority in a recent casew that regulations were in place to prevent such a flood of anonymous campaign ads.

I expect the pendulum will ultimately swing back far enough on the scanner story for a few more outlets to finally reveal that John Tyner has explained that his “touch my junk” comment on video was intended to make light of the issue.   Obviously TSA on the ground didn’t get his humor and that made him angry.   But “making light” or the real issue wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy 24/7 news coverage.

Over-amped repetition at a superficial level may further incite but it isn’t insightful and it is ultimately distracting us from the real issue involved which is the far more widely held frustration we all feel about security delays since 2001, just as we are with anything where misguided attempts at so-called “fairness” leads to “main-frame” solutions v.s. targeted solutions.

Local news is typically much less addicted to exaggerating the “angry” angle but not entirely immune.  I still can’t believe journalists milk the “why do people hate Duke” angle, even here in the university’s home town and nearby.  The real story isn’t that a very small cohort of envious bloggers harangue about Duke, the story is that the Duke men’s basketball team has ranked #1 in popularity nationwide for 7 of the 13 years since the poll has been taken and 2nd most popular in five other years for an average of #1.5 over that span.

Why a small minority loves to hate Duke couldn’t be more obvious (IT’S BECAUSE IT IS THE MOST POPULAR TEAM, STUPID! – to paraphrase a famous campaign slogan from the ‘90s) and doesn’t warrant comment (even tongue-in-cheek) unless also accompanied by how popular overall the team is…but as late as last week a local reporter used the “hate Duke” slant in a story.  It would be equally stupid of me to suggest that failure to do so is because local journalists are often drawn from UNC’s journalism program (Duke’s rival for the half of the US that doesn’t follow college athletics.)

Life is complex enough without exaggerating the size and influence of small groups.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with many news journalists, local and national as well as many in news management as well as overall news media management both as colleagues and friends as well as a source.  I know this 24/7 stuff makes their skin crawl but there is nothing they can do.  Or is there?

Maybe it is time for the news media to do a better job of covering the news media, a la what managing editor Brooke Gladstone and co-host Bob Garfield do with On The Media, a radio program produced by WNYC and carried by more than 200 public radio stations around the country like Chapel Hill-based WUNC does throughout most of North Carolina including where I live in Durham.

Maybe it is time for the news media to admit and come to terms with the fact that “assembly-line” journalism has resulted in running the same 10 storyline over and over and over and over, while choking the life out of what journalism could truly be.

Maybe it is time for the news media to finally make former USC provost and now Lewis & Clark College president Barry Glassner’s book The Culture of Fear – Why Americans Are Afraid of The Wrong Things required reading and rereading for all journalists as well as everyone in news and media management.  Maybe others should be added to the reading list such as Harvard visiting professor Dominique Moisi’s The Geopolitics of Emotion – How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope are Reshaping the World.

Maybe it is finally time for the news media to wean itself from its tradition of obsessing about anecdotal comments or at the very least to refrain from giving them much more oxygen than they deserve without always putting them in context (near the point they are referenced, not back on page 37.)

Mostly, it is time for the 24/7 news media to take responsibility and to be introspective, in an effort to become more  accountable given the power and influence it has.  Even before one of America’s most notorious immigrants unleashed Fox News on us, it is due time for the news media to realize how important it is to society and how much society relies on information and perspective.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Take-Aways From The Book “Scorpions”

From 1960 until 1976 I flirted with becoming a lawyer, even attending law school at night for several years before discovering that community destination marketing as my true calling. It fell to my daughter to finish law school and pass the bar in two states.

Part of what stoked my interest in law during those 16 years were the towering figures on the Supreme Court including Frankfurter, Black, Douglas, Brennan, Warren and Marshall - all contemporaries bracketing by birth both my paternal and maternal grandfathers.Scorpions By Noah Feldman

I smiled when just retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed to replace Douglas near the end of my 16 year flirtation with law, had to correct the news media by stating that he was not a “liberal” while illustrating how far the Court has shifted to the right.

Looking back, along with President John F. Kennedy, these men were part of my introduction to the deep and powerful roots of progressive/liberalism in this country’s history and in many ways part of the reason I transformed from the politics of my parents and grandparents to those of my maternal great grandfather.

So as you can imagine, when it was recently released, I devoured the new book by Noah Feldman titled Scorpions, The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices. I first became aware of Feldman, whose background is Orthodox Judaism, from a speech he made at Princeton about Mitt Romney, closely related to a prior speech I had heard of his on TED where he treated religion and politics as technologies.

The title comes from a quote by a Frankfurter clerk characterizing the Supreme Court as “nine scorpions in a bottle.”

As was another book, published last year (this year in paperback) by Adam Cohen, titled Nothing To Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America Feldman’s new book not only puts a lot of our current events into perspective but it illustrates the ridiculous nature of today’s polarized sound bites.

Here are 10 of my take-aways from this excellent book:

  • While the four Justices at the center of the book, Black, Douglas, Frankfurter and Jackson (who died right after the unanimous Brown vs. Board of Education decision broke the back of segregation,) were progressives steeped in liberalism and they each evolved during their lifetimes and their terms on the Supreme Court.

  • Frankfurter became one of the Court’s most conservative justices. Black, elected to the Senate through a brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan became an ardent champion of free speech and civil rights. Douglas became a libertarian on issues of privacy and individual freedom. Jackson, a back-country lawyer, the last appointed to the Court without a formal law degree conducted the most important International trial ever, Nuremburg.

  • While they each rose from very humble beginnings, they ardently believed in capitalism but that to be saved it needed to be regulated. Douglas who headed the SEC was first to demand that Wall Street be much more transparent and that independent audits be required.

  • While today’s court is more conservative, ironically that wing relies on the constitutional philosophies of two of these great liberal predecessors: Frankfurter’s Judicial Restraint, Black’s Original Intent; and the Court as a whole is informed by Douglas’s emphasis on individual privacy and civil liberty and environmentalism as well as Jackson’s pragmatism.

  • The book interweaves the stories of many others preceding, during and following that era and related issues including how Justice Warren, who had supported “internment” of Japanese Americans during WWII but was then nominated for governor of California by all three major parties, Republican, Democrat and Progressive and was then later appointed Chief Justice by President Eisenhower, spearheaded the belief that the Constitution embodied natural rights as well as the belief that the Court had a role in actively protecting them.

  • In late October, traveling across country, I heard an interview on Satellite radio during which an expert demonstrated that the Supreme Court made the mistake in an opinion that opened the flood gates to unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns that led to copious, anonymous campaign advertising because the majority mistakenly believed regulations were in place to prevent that outcome. As the book illustrates, even great Supreme Court justices make mistakes.

  • Feldman also details the medical treatment and philosophy that empowered FDR to overcome his mid-career paralysis from polio and the transformation of his politics prior to becoming President of the United States during 12 years of economic and wartime crisis.

  • Eras such as FDR’s illustrate that regardless of ideology, things are never as tidy as history or the all-to-often dualistic bent of today’s news coverage make them out to be and that the polarized, hearing-driven, “safe” approach for appointments to the Court today may not result in the greatness of the past.

  • One of my favorite Justices on the Supreme Court today is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is ironic that her application to clerk was rejected by Justice Frankfurter because she was a woman but her pragmatism would make Justice Jackson proud. She doesn’t fit a “mold” and nor did the Scorpions in this book.

  • Labels such as Liberal, Libertarian and Conservative are all honorable and the polarizing and demonizing rhetoric of today’s talk-show fueled hyperbole and distortions are of no service to true Americans or our Founding Fathers. It recalls a humorous idiom I learned in law school – “When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law. When both are against you, rant and rave and call the other side names.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Somewhere to clear my head, Somewhere that I can feel free….

I can’t believe I only discovered riding 19 months ago

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Choice For Best New Durham Burger!

I love hamburgers, always have, so people have been asking me to rate two new Durham locations (as a benchmark, I included a highly regarded Raleigh outlet with a Durham location.)

Over the course of several weeks, I’ve tried the doubles at King’s Sandwich Shop in the Downtown Foster-Geer District, Only Burger (both the famed food truck and the newly opened stand in Hope Valley) and to be fair to nearby Raleigh, its famed Char-Grill and to be ultra fair, both at its Durham location and at the original location.

First, I must admit some other long-standing Durham favorites.  The All-Pro Big Guy at Devine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in the Brightleaf District has long been a favorite in Durham.  In the Ninth Street District, I was a devotee of the unique Parizade Burger (only served a lunch) until someone there messed with perfection and decided to substitute a bun for what made it unique (regular sliced bread.)  I was also a fan of burger specials at the former Starlu restaurant which were always special and unique and were actually the genesis for Only Burger.kingsweb

I sampled burgers (and fries) at King’s, Only Burger and Char-Grill three different times each over a decent span of time to ensure I had a consistent sample.  All three had good customer service, although with my “essential” tremor  I pity the poor folks at Char-Grill which requires patrons to write out their order and name.

Without a doubt, King’s is best of the three and quickly becoming my favorite in Durham overall.  King’s potato fries took it over the top.  They are perfect, fresh sliced, not too thin, not too thick, long and very consistent.

Only Burger is a close second but their fries for some reason are always much too oily.  Char-Grill (at both the relatively new Durham location and to be fair, the original down in Raleigh) came in a very distant last compared not only to the three tested for this blog but behind the others I’m mentioned as well.

To be fair I tried the burgers at each location both with and without cheese, with and without mustard, both on my Harley and in my Jeep but always with lettuce, tomato, ketchup and onion.

For those of you who haven’t experienced Durham as one of America’s foodiest towns, the best and most comprehensive source for both local favorites (2010 results just released) and those that are even more widely acclaimed is

Friday, November 19, 2010

Durham Taxpayers Deserve Something Better Than “Lowest Bidder”

The “lowest bidder” process used by Durham’s local governments works well enough as long as tax dollars are reinvested back into the very economy from which they are levied.  However, when it leads to purchasing supplies and services that are not locally based, it is a false economy indeed and shortchanges Durham taxpayers.

Local taxpayers deserve not only the best price possible for the initial purchase but the direct, indirect and induced economic impact their tax dollars can create when injected back into the local business climate, including the creation of jobs and additional tax revenue that can lessen the per capita burden.

It is time for Durham’s local governments to develop a formula that goes beyond “lowest bidder” and factors in the economic impact, including jobs and additional local tax revenues that will be lost if and when a non-local vendor is selected.  If the decision is made to ship tax dollars out of Durham for a purchase or contract, it should be made on more than the price of the goods and services alone and with full awareness of what that decision will cost the local business climate.durham_skyline_l

I’m not merely referring to the 5%-10% preferences given by some communities and states.  I’m very familiar with that approach from  managing the destination marketing organization in Anchorage, Alaska, a community and state long aware of the importance of developing economic self-sufficiency by leveraging every purchase possible to invigorate and stimulate development of Alaska-based businesses.  However, I’m talking about something much more sophisticated and accurate than a simple preference.

It is now possible with models like Implan Input-Output which has been deployed for more than a decade now by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau with the assistance of HIS Global Insight to very accurately assess the true value to Durham’s economy specifically from visitation including the many industries that comprise the tourism sector but also leakage lost when those businesses fail to use local vendors or hire employees who commute here for work but then take all but a small fraction of their spending out of Durham.

I believe Durham’s local governments could cost-effectively develop and use a similar approach to help factor economic opportunities that are lost when local tax dollars are used instead to purchase goods from vendors located outside Durham.  This approach would result in far more informed decisions and another demonstration of Durham’s innovative spirit.

The formula could be quickly applied to any purchase or contract decision to better inform the “lowest bidder” process and balance any decisions to use non-Durham vendors with a full understanding of the “cost” of lost economic opportunities when those tax dollars are not injected back into the local economy.   Leading the way, Durham’s local governments would then be in a position to demonstrate to major employers like Duke University how their purchasing decisions can likewise be more beneficial to the local economy.

As a result Durham taxpayers would get far more “bang for the buck” than is currently generated by solely using the “low bidder” process.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My 5 Years Of Transformation– The Beatles, Change and Innovation

Turning 16 was reason enough for 1964 to be a big year for me but for many other reasons it was a transformational year

It is also the year I began forming my own political views, steadily swinging away from the ultra conservative views of my father and his family and toward the more progressive views of my maternal great grandfather, becoming a McGovern liberal in 1972 as I graduated from college before moving back to the moderate center by 1980 where I’ve remained the subsequent 30 years (although leaning toward progressive.)Croped

In hindsight I could have realized something was very different in January 1964, when on our way up the mountain for a Saturday of snow skiing,  my father just smiled while Brian Gessel and I sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” at the top of our lungs along with the Beatles as it played on the car radio. 

Believe me, in his lifetime, my father never got the credit he deserved for patience as demonstrated again a few weeks later, when our parents let thirty of us gather at a friend’s house (unheard of on a Sunday evening) to watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

From then until word of the group’s breakup emerged more than 5 years later, a few months past my 21st birthday, the Beatles’ sound and fashion tracked my political transformation part of which can be seen emerging in the 1964 photo taken in front of our house.

Whenever I think back to something that occurred during one of those five years of transformation, that thought is almost immediately sound-tracked by an album, e.g. Hard Days Night 1964, Help 1965, Revolver 1966, Sgt. Pepper’s 1967, Yellow Submarine 1968, Abbey Road 1969 and Let It Be 1970.

Two values embedded for me during that transformational period are core beliefs that society can evolve for the better and continuing and never-ending innovation is imperative.  Those beliefs too are reflected during that span of Beatles albums, each one very different and in some cases extremely different from others the group made and anything else being recorded during that period and some say since (view this Fast Company slide show documenting Beatles’ innovations.)

As we look back now, the Beatles were pretty “moderate”  compared to both the times and their contemporaries.   Today with moderates have been all but purged from the Republican Party while the ultra-right also targets moderate Democrats for defeat, maybe the vast segment of Americans who are now Independents should start a third party, a moderate party once again including wings for both Conservatives and Progressives. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Saturday On The Cross Bones Via GoPro Hero HD

The GoPro Hero HD is every bit as cool as videos, advertisements and store displays promise and after using it this past weekend on a motorcycle ride, I can see lots of other uses.

  • The unit is very very small, less than 2” by 2”and comes with a variety of attachments. However several that are needed apparently must be purchased separately.  It can be attached on the side of the helmet, as I did this weekend for this video, or on the tank of the motorcycle with a suction device.


  • It is very lightweight, takes video or snapshots and has a waterproof case which means I can also attach it to an inner tube next summer and catch my grandsons as they dive from the dock intro the tube at increasing distances.


  • I can also see wearing it with an arm,  chest or head strap to capture other family events hands-free.  You can’t preview footage on the device like you can from much larger hand-held cameras but it easily uploads to a computer and into Movie Maker if you like or can be played directly through the TV.


  • There is a firmware update that wasn’t installed on mine that makes it easier (one button) to turn on and start.  But it is easy enough to start it before putting your helmet on and then editing out what you don’t want.   There are several versions but they appear to only vary in the ways they can be attached.

I think it is well worth the price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Abandoned Shopping Carts And Accountability

A discussion about abandoned shopping carts broke out during a Saturday morning meeting of Durham’s PAC 3 (Partners Against Crime.) It touched on what shopping center owners can do, what stores should do, what Durham Area Transit should do and what the City does do.

As a progressively leaning Independent, I can tell you one thing about discussions like this that drives a majority of Americans crazy. Those who spoke up with ideas made nothing but excuses for the people who remove the carts and leave them abandoned. There was no personal or individual responsibility or accountability noted. It was all about institutions and agencies and the businesses that are victimized.carts

Any store or shopping center with security knows exactly who is taking the carts and judging by where many of the abandoned carts are found, I bet a study of these individuals will find that a sense “entitlement” and disregard for private property as much as “need” drives the misuse of the carts.

  • Forgetting a personal cart is no excuse for taking the store’s cart and not returning it.

  • Taking carts for any reason such as something to turn upside down and sit on while waiting for the bus as one observer noted is no excuse for walking by the same cart on return trips without returning them to the store.

Regardless of your life experience, there is absolutely no excuse for taking store property or abandoning it. And as a society we need to not only hold people accountable but to stop making so many excuses for bad behavior.

Agencies should continue to look for “human nature” solutions like the Parks Department did by placing DogiPot Pet Waste Stations in parks for dog walkers who forget or run short of bags with which to properly dispose of waste. I assume It isn’t a service for dog walkers as much as a means to protect the water supply and public health.

Stores should look for solutions such as wireless wheel locks or working with DATA to incorporate cart collection stations at bus stops but it is also possible to continue to be a caring community and still hold people personally accountable for their actions. We all witness behaviors like this every day in public, but how many people, including myself shy away from saying something just because would-be entitled people can be very unpleasant when confronted.

The sooner we start speaking up, though, the sooner these behaviors will change. If it takes a village to raise a child then it takes a village to help a would-be “entitled” adult grow up.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Charting Six Generational Symbols

During my four decades as a CEO, I managed people from five generations – GI, Silent, Boomer, X and Millennial.  A key challenge to defining a corporate culture and common vision as well as instilling teamwork and focus was grasping and then associating very different generational realities as illustrated today in the chart below published today by USA Today as part of a series on the first Baby Boomers turning 65.  Click on the image to enlarge and print.


Friday, November 12, 2010

More Sabre-Rattling But “It’s The Destination, Stupid!”

Apparently folks in Raleigh have overheard the ring-leader of the six-member so-called statewide Hospitality Alliance loudly boasting that the group definitely plans to sue Durham’s local government for modestly incentivizing adaptive reuse of a downtown landmark into a boutique hotel.  Still may just be a bit of blunderbuss, who knows?

I’ve known some members of the group for years as we worked on state-wide issues.   In fact, one (not one of the three named in the paper) is the brother of an executive at a downtown Durham-based company and a proponent of projects like this.  I really can’t see any of the members of this group with whom I’m acquainted being the driving force behinds the threats made by the ring-leader but he’s obviously going to cost them some serious money.angry-face-1

There is also little reason for the group to single Durham out, without also suing Charlotte and Raleigh, communities that long ago did far more than Durham just did to incentivize hotels in their respective central business districts.    Members of the group live in and have lodging properties in those communities and giving them a pass seems hypocritical.

To be fair the group did object to the Raleigh and Charlotte incentives.  They just didn’t do much else nor did they continue to threaten law suits once the decisions were finalized.

If I was a member of this group, I’d tell the ring-leader to pipe down and stop wasting my money.  He’s made his point and it just isn’t fair or reasonable to give Raleigh and Charlotte another pass and then take out all of his angst on Durham for doing something far more thoughtful, conservative and just plain “smart.”

This alliance made hardly any fuss, although a group in Charlotte did when that community used tax dollars to grant development cash and guaranteed a lease to make a parking deck possible to ensure a Westin there.  Nor did they raise much fuss when Raleigh provided an up front grant and below market parking ( some say purchasing the land) to incentivize development of a Marriott there.

Charlotte is famous for asserting the hotel was needed to make the convention center successful and then turning around to argue that the convention center needed to be expanded because the new hotel was siphoning away business, a logic that resulted in the hilarious newspaper headline, “Convention Center Half Empty, Officials Propose Expansion.”  Raleigh even uses tax funds for an on-going slush fund to lure people to use the center and the hotel.  Doesn’t seem to bother this group a bit….but Durham, we’ve somehow really under the skin of this ring-leader or he just feels little risk in jerking us around.

Nor did they appear to get hives over the years when communities including Atlantic City, Austin, Baltimore, Cambridge MD, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami Beach, Philadelphia, Pittsburg,  Sacramento San Diego, Scranton, Tucson and Tulsa did the same…and this list is no where near complete.

However being inconsistent didn’t stop this group and others associated from clearing the way for a prepared food tax in Charlotte and Raleigh but then devoting resources to sway public opinion against one for Durham that was much more broadly beneficial to tourism here.

Nor did this six-member alliance fuss when Durham subsidized the development of Research Triangle Park here by running water and utilities or when it was exempted by the state from city property taxes.  Nor did they fuss at local government’s far greater role in The Streets at Southpoint or the American Tobacco complex.

Below is the reason why.

To adapt a famous political campaign phrase from the 1990’s, “It’s the Destination, stupid!”

Savvy hoteliers are on record stating that it isn’t hotels that draw visitors, it is the community where they are located and community-based assets that draw visitors.  The decision to travel to visit a certain community comes down to it’s overall appeal and the way its destination marketing organization communicates that appeal so as to get on the list for consideration in the mind of travelers for whom a particular destination would be rewarding.

Lodging properties then compete to harvest their share of that yield.  Don’t get me wrong, having great hotels is an important ingredient in a community’s overall appeal.  These facilities just aren’t the primary motivator when it comes to visitation.

Once a destination is successfully chosen by a traveler, then the decision about “where to stay” comes second for 16% of travelers and third for 32%.  Only 2% of travelers select a hotel first and those folks are going to destination “resorts.”  While the overall destination choice comes first regardless of the type of travel, the decision about accommodations falls third for entertainment travelers, fifth for both family centered and recreation travelers and sixth for business/pleasure travelers.

This is because the choice of lodging property is driven largely by location or because an event occurring there.   All of this information comes from research studies and from my nearly 40 years of assisting thousands of consultants conducting hotel reappraisals or feasibility studies.

At the very least, I hope this ruckus brings a sharper focus on the workings of visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Neglect Of Those Suffering Serious Mental Illnesses Is Criminal

The recent 25th anniversary of Threshold came to mind this week as I chatted with an older neighbor down the street  as I was walking my dog.  She told of being startled several times by a person who is obviously mentally ill as he emerged from an adjacent City park to stare at her house before ambling down the street.  Her description of his behavior suggests to me that he suffers from a severe mental illness called schizophrenia, possibly paranoid.

It doesn’t happen that often in Durham but I believe I’ve seen this guy.  It doesn’t happen often in Durham but I became familiar with people suffering schizophrenia a couple of decades ago during a stay in San Francisco.  They can appear aggressive but the vast majority don’t pose a threat and the few that are get huge amounts of publicity.

I’m sure the man has been reported to and picked up by police many times and sent to a state facility for evaluation and then released on the premise or promise he will take his medications and all will be well.   This nation made a tragic and costly error in the early 1960’s when leaders bought into the faulty premise that people with severe mental illnesses could be treated as out-patients and trusted to be responsible for taking their medications.

The truth: without diligent support systems, when people with severe mental illnesses begin to feel better, they all too often stop taking their meds because they don’t think they are chronically ill.

Because those with severe mental illnesses are mostly out-of-sight, out-of-mind for most citizens, society assumes the system is working while huge amounts of money, much of it hidden costs, are being spent because the support system has never been adequate.

For example, a significant proportion of people in prison and local jails are mentally ill.  Other costs that could be mitigated if invested instead on the front end to help those with serious mental illnesses include ambulance rides, police and courts, emergency room treatment, revolving doors at drug treatment centers and homeless shelters, poverty and other safety nets, child neglect, expensive but far too late healthcare interventions, school drop outs, lost productivity and depressed land values as a result of loitering and panhandling to name only a few.

However, resentment by those whose only priority is “smaller government” or “paying less in taxes” hamstrings society from devising a system that shifts back-end costs to a better system of front-end treatment.  Just like those who resent healthcare insurance reform fail to grasp the fact that they are already paying huge costs with a system where access is denied to too many on the front end, only to cost billions in back-end treatment.

Threshold is one of those valiant non-profits left to fill the gap for those with mental illnesses.  Now the oldest program in Durham, Threshold is organized on the Clubhouse Rehabilitation Model established 40 years ago by the now 60 year old Fountain House in New York City.  Threshold strives to fulfill  4 basic rights for residents with mental illnesses:

  • The right to a place to come
  • The right to meaningful work
  • The right to meaningful relationships
  • The right to a place to return

It takes this approach to rebuild and meaningfully impact the lives of people with severe mental illnesses and to make sure they stay on track.  Of course, there are other mental health organizations but the system as a whole isn’t working and hasn’t now for more than 50 years and as a society we’re paying huge back end costs by refusing to put in place an adequate system on the front end.

During the early 1960s, with the advent of a series of new medicines to treat mental illness, a system of state-run mental hospitals, long thought to be inhumane fortunately gave way to a major overhaul of the mental health system.  Unfortunately, war intervened and it was never fully or adequately funded and while reform is often given lip service, mental health was largely gutted during the 1980’s by the drive for “smaller” government.

Currently, 1 in 17 American adults and 1 in 10 children suffers serious mental illness with a total cost to the economy of well more than $120 billion in front end costs alone.  By comparison, people with seriously mental illness far outnumber Tea Party supporters in this country, mama grizzlies and all (although there may be some overlap. ) Just imagine if the money squandered on all of those anonymous corporate attack ads were combined with the $65 million alone spent on 161,203 ads demonizing one person, Nancy Pelosi, had been put to use making the mental health system viable and beginning to make good on a 50 year old promise.

We’ve been in denial about the issue of severe mental illness for far too long.  It is criminal.  We may be refusing to pay for it but believe me, we’re paying through the nose big time in hidden social, economic and monetary costs.  The result is almost criminal in neglect and a shame on the American Dream.  Until we seriously deal with mental illness, we’re living a lie.

In the meantime, groups like Threshold are all we have and here are some ways we can help

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ten Things I Learned Driving Cross-Country!

My 6,000 mile road trip across America and back in late October was an “eye-opener” and I’m not just talking about the 2 oz. 5-Hour Energy shots (they work just as advertised and even come decaf) or the miracle of satellite radio.  Below are 10 top-of-mind observations:

  • It is “fact” not just opinion that billboards are indeed a blight on the landscape and no state among the 18 I crossed has done a worse job protecting and protecting view-shed from its Interstates and even US Highways than North Carolina.


  • Kentucky is overpromised compared to stereotypes but Kansas, South Dakota and Iowa are surprisingly different than I had been led to believe and much more scenic and interesting than I had previously perceived.


  • Southern Indiana and Illinois are very beautiful but way too “buggy” for me to include on a subsequent cross-country motorcycle ride and the Cross Bones may need to be re-tuned for altitude before going over the 9,000 mile high Laramie pass in south central Wyoming.


  • With the exception of family, I observed during many stops that overt or thinly disguised racism and other forms of bigotry are very much alive outside the South.


  • The states through which I traveled seem to do a much better job with both prevention or reduction of litter than North Carolina.


  • There is no substitute for the thrill of being there in person to see your 7 year-old grandson score a break-away soccer goal.


  • An English Bulldog sleeps all but an hour or two a day and makes for a great road companion even if he thinks he’s a lap dog.   They may not be “chick magnets” but Bulldogs definitely have legendary status with little grandsons.


  • Destination marketing organizations everywhere need to be much more proactive with updating GPS mapping services with current local and state GIS maps.   All navigation and/or internet mapping services need to load the updates far more quickly and frequently.


  • States or parts of states that are stereotyped as flat and/or barren really aren’t (e.g. Kansas, southern and north eastern Wyoming,  southern Idaho, eastern Montana, central Washington, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio.)


  • My lawyer-mom daughter, two younger sisters and mother are four of the brightest, funniest, passionate and most thoughtfully engaged people I’ve ever known and I suspect I’m a lot more fun now that I’m retired.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Something for the President & House Leader Boehner To Discuss During A Smoke Break

Statistical probability being what it is, I suspect the percentage of Tea Party supporters who are “obese” is similar to the average nationwide, 34%, although being “angry” can burn off a lot of pounds. That’s more than 1 in every 3 adults and a new projection estimates obesity among Americans will ultimately include more than 4 out of every 10 before it tops out.

Clearly obese Americans (34%) outnumber by far those who support the Tea Party movement (26%.) This is serious not just because the condition robs these people of quality of life but life itself. Obese Americans already account for 17% of all U.S. medical costs or $168 billion annually. Similar to street “gangs,” there is also evidence it is fueled and/or enabled within social networks. One in five pre-adults already has the condition and as obese Americans age, they will consume an ever increasing share of healthcare costs.

Obesity is definitely not a concoction by what conservative columnist George Will would see as problems exaggerated by “interest-group liberalism, leavened by big-idea liberalism” trying to tell other people how to live their lives. Obesity is a medical definition of when people, for a variety of reasons, go beyond being just overweight for their age and height, which is serious enough, and reach body fat accumulation of 30% and more, dramatically increasing the likelihood of diabetes, coronary problems and other expensive diseases as well as burning out ankle, knee and shoulder joints.

I don’t happen to be overweight or obese but problems with weight are not uncommon on both sides of my family. But while there may be some truth to what Mr. Will writes, the answer is not the finger-wagging “shoulds” of “bury-your-head-in-the-sand ultra conservatives” waiting somehow for “personal responsibility” to be a solution to every problem. We all have somewhere inside us the petulance of a “you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do 5 year-old.” For me, healthcare insurance reform is all about controlling costs and collectively protecting each of us from the costly healthcare decisions or dilemmas of others.

I don’t want to stand-around arguing that people “should” have different genes or “should” make different lifestyle decisions or “should” take personal responsibility or “shouldn’t” substitute taking tax funded ambulances to emergency rooms which they use as their doctor’s office while the costs of healthcare bankrupt federal and state budgets.

For me, having everyone carry healthcare insurance (a great idea incubated by a conservative Governor by the way) is a small freedom to relinquish in exchange for protection of my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not to mention peace of mind from the most inclusive, efficient and effective healthcare possible.

Mr. Will might be right in saying that people voted for President Obama in part as a vote against conservative president George W. Bush. So what? I want to know what Will and others propose to protect “my” healthcare from the obvious catastrophe if the new healthcare legislation is somehow repealed rather than improved.

So to borrow from Mr. Will - Dear Conservatives, please take note, WHAT IS YOUR PLAN? Doing nothing and whining that no one can tell you how to live your life while squandering $65 billion alone just to demonize Nancy Pelosi is no substitute for leadership and it won’t resolve the inherent crisis in healthcare. As my departed and very conservative father would say, “it’s time to pull your head out of your butt.”

I Too Believe In The American Dream, Mr. Boehner!

I felt for Durham-native David Gergen on election night.   Sitting on one of a series of morphing CNN panels but always in a league of his own, the close advisor to five former Presidents of the United States -  both Republican and Democrat -  issued quiet, calm, balanced and insightful comments as those about him loudly sated themselves in an orgy of mostly hyperbole or point-scoring hubris.

I find it much harder to be an Independent these days.  It was easier when there were conservative, moderate and progressive wings in both the Republican and Democratic political parties.   I was touched when soon-to-be House leader Rep. John Boehner fought back tears while asserting he has been chasing the American dream for all of his life.PolicyBasic_WhereOurTaxDollarsGo-f1_rev4-14-10

I too love this country Mr. Boehner, every bit as much as you or any of our partisan elected officials, maybe more.  I just happen to believe that patriotism and limited government include expanding access to health care, conserving the environment, helping the poor and ensuring fairness in the free marketplace.

I believe that the American Way includes, in the words of Gene Nichol, that “we need to live up to our defining nation-promise by recognizing our neighbors as brothers and sisters rather than strangers removed from the fates we claim as our own.”

I also believe right now is not the time to dramatically swell the rolls of the unemployed even further by arbitrarily chopping the Federal budget by 20% or by letting temporary tax cuts expire.  The current deficit can be easily eliminated in four or five years by calibrating the growth of government once we’re assured the economy has fully recovered.  Then I believe we should let the so-called “temporary” tax cuts expire and put the revenues in a “rainy-day account” so we’re better prepared for future emergencies.

To paraphrase an insight  by Michael Tomansky, author and editor of the quarterly Democracy:

  • Republicans are good at speaking in broad themes like “freedom” and “liberty” couched in initiatives like tax cuts and deregulation but with blurry details.


  • Democrats talk more about programs and policies couched around equally broad, but harder to bumper-sticker, campaign themes such as compassion, community and justice.


  • Over time, Republican campaign rhetoric has been more popular but Republican policies aren’t.  Democratic themes may resonate less with voters but their programs of Social Security, Medicare, Environment and even curbing carbon emissions do.

The Congress will do well to leave Senator McConnell to his petty, personal vendetta against the President which will probably do nothing more than ensure that the 2012 turnout will parallel 2008 levels.

There is room enough for honorable Republicans, Democrats and Independents to all stand shoulder to shoulder on principle.  It is clear from past elections including the the one just held and as so well written by Jacob Weisberg in the current issues of Slate and Newsweek, that Americans are more comfortable when conservative elected officials (such as President Reagan) “feint right while legislating closer to the center” than they are with those who waste time playing chicken.

Monday, November 08, 2010

City Must Leverage Street Bonds For Economic Development

The City of Durham may has set a record by initiating a bid process within hours and days of voter approval of the street bonds last week.  Now its time to be equally sure to leverage those bonds for optimum value-added to the local Durham economy.BuyLocal.indd

There are several ways to do this:

  • Give preference to Durham-based businesses, or give local entrepreneurs a chance to leverage the contracts to get a start.


  • Ensure the companies chosen employ Durham residents.


  • Require the contractors chosen to use local vendors for supplies such as fuel, food, water etc.

The bonds were approved by Durham voters to catch up on street maintenance unwisely deferred in the 1990’s but voters also want the City to make every effort to ensure their tax dollars also leverage as much economic development and local investment as possible including using Durham attorneys, Durham-based banks, Durham contractors and sub-vendors, local supplies, Durham residents and more.

I once heard a non-resident employed by the City of Durham publicly and almost boastfully pooh, pooh the importance of leveraging local economic development.  He didn’t have a clue what adds value to an economy and Durham can’t afford that type of thinking.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

More Than 7 Out of 10 Americans Still Want More Federal Research Into Alternative Energy

Two things struck me during my October round-trip cross country.  One, how few billboards there were obscuring the countryside in other states compared to the mess we’ve made of I-40 west through North Carolina and two, the number of highly visible wind turbine farms dotting the horizon  in several states and the great distances from which they were visible.

A new poll conducted in mid-October by the Pew Research Center reveals that the majority of Americans support alternative energy with 74% supporting more funding for alternative energy and 60% supporting tax incentives for buying hybrid or electric vehicles.

The largest majority of 79% favor requiring better fuel efficiency for vehicles including 73% of Republicans.  Three quarters (74%) of all American support increased federal funding for research on alternative energies including 84% of Democrats and 72% of Independents but only 64% of Republicans.

Only 8% of Tea Party Republicans believe global warming is a serious problem about which government should do something compared to 50% who say it’s not a problem and 24% who say it’s not serious.   Overall, 68% of Democrats and 44% of Independents believe global warming requires immediate government action compared to only 24% of Republicans overall.

(FYI- After millions of dollars in campaign ads, primarily anonymous, a new Gallup Poll shows support for the Tea Party movement unchanged among Americans over the past year at 26% with 27% opposed and the remainder neutral.  More than 8 in 10 who oppose it believe the movement has made the country more divided politically and 44% of Tea Party supporters agree.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Durham’s Creative Vitality 26% Higher Than National Average!

Durham’s newest benchmark is a creative vitality index presented recently to community leaders by the Durham Arts Council and the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. Reflecting the relative economic health of the creative economy, the index is conducted by CVI, a research service of WESTAF and it measures seven sources of arts-related participation and employment .Creative Vitality Index

Durham’s creative economy in this context is 26% above the national average as of 2008. Durham ranks higher than its surrounding metro area and higher than the nearby Raleigh-Cary metro area which ranks just below or above the national average over the past three years. Information posted on CVI's website reveals that Durham's index is roughly twice that of the state of North Carolina as a whole.

Durham would have ranked even higher had the index been able to include university related arts. For instance, Durham’s rank below average for performing arts participation would have been much higher had it been able to include significant participation at theaters on Duke and NCCU campuses and will certainly be boosted in subsequent measures by the relatively new DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center.

As with any performance measure, the Index also highlights areas for improvement.

DCVB’s involvement in the index makes sense not only because the Bureau is good as creating presentations but because it arguably has more experience on performance measures than any entity in Durham. There is another reason. Visitors generate 70% of the attendance at Durham arts events including festivals, performing arts, galleries etc.

The creative vitality index was presented under the auspices of the Business Committee for the Arts, a division of Americans for the Arts (AFTA.) AFTA also recently created a tool kit in partnership with Destination Marketing Association International (the umbrella organization for community marketing organizations like DCVB.) A key part of the tool kit is performance measures and as chairman of the joint task force that established it, I’m pleased to see Durham setting an example.

Durham’s Business Committee for the Arts is a partnership of DAC, DCVB, AFTA, the Chamber, the City office of economic and workforce development and the joint City and County Durham Cultural Advisory Board chaired by Michael Schoenfeld, VP Public Affairs and Government Relations for Duke University.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

6.7% Is Not A Mandate

It may just be “sword rattling” or post-election hubris which is understandable.  But hopefully the incoming Congressional leadership will take the advice of some of their members and “be humble” and see this as a second chance.

The blog fivethirtyeight computes that only 6.7% more votes were cast for Republicans nationwide in Congressional races than for Democrats, hardly a mandate for anything but bi-partisan “cooperation.”  And exit polls revealed that more people support the healthcare reform legislation than oppose it which is astonishing considering all the millions of dollars spent on disguised campaign ads to distort it.flag-us

I can only believe that Representative Boehner is sincere and hopefully he’ll heed his own advice and listen to the “people” and the “people” are clearly divided.  Distorting healthcare reform may have been a good way to energize enough voters to move the needle slightly but 6.7% is a very slim margin on which to govern.

According to exit polls, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  Relatively few voters cited tax cuts or even government spending compared to getting the economy moving.  Governing in our representative form of government means rising above special interests and small factions no matter how energized or threatening and representing “all” of the people by making tough decisions about solutions to “long term” problems.

Use this “second chance” to bring us together.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My Routes Across America and Back

The subtle shift in light and changing colors make late October the perfect time for a road trip.  It was also a good time to escape the bombardment of the ultra negative, misleading, disturbing and disguised campaign ads.  More later on some interesting content gleaned from satellite radio and many conversations with people as I crossed the country.

Logistically, the 6,000 mile round trip took me across 18 different states beginning with a run across the Piedmont of North Carolina, then a sharp north at Winston-Salem and a turn at Sheriff Andy’s hometown of Mount Airy into the mountains of southwest Virginia, settled by one of my ancestors and up the spectacular spine of West Virginia. pony_express_trail_Par_99355_Image_-1_-1_1

Then Mugs and I cut east again across the breadth of Kentucky, crossing the Ohio River and the southern tips of Indiana and Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Missouri concluding the first day halfway across that state in Columbia.

The next morning we crossed the rest of Missouri to Kansas City.  When diverted by road construction, I decided to reroute north along the river to St. Joseph then across the Missouri River to follow along the route of the Pony Express, US Hwy 36 across Kansas and up intro Nebraska to intersect near a portion of the Oregon and Mormon pioneer trails west along the Platte River. We stopped for the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming before climbing the next morning  to elevations of nearly 9,000 feet above sea level at Sherman Pass (4 times higher than Asheville, North Carolina and nearly 35% higher than the highest point in North Carolina) while  continuing across Wyoming and then dropping down into Utah and Salt Lake City the next day.

By the way, this completes my traverse of the old Pony Express route.  In the mid-1980s I had already traveled the other half across Utah and Nevada on US Hwy 50, which had just been named “The Loneliest Road In America” by Life Magazine.  The name is well earned and it provides a very scenic and unique perspective on the Old West.

Resuming the trip after a few days with my daughter and two grandsons  (more on that later,) Mugs and I headed north through Utah and into Idaho, crossing the mighty Snake River near Burley and then following it across the state until cutting north and west across the northeast corner of Oregon.  We then cut sharply north across the Columbia River into Washington, traveling up through that state’s wine country then up Snoqualmie Pass through the Cascade Mountains and down into the Puget Sound area where we stopped for a few days to visit family who had gathered at my sister’s home in Mill Creek, Washington.

After a few days, we began our return one afternoon,  heading back over the mountains but then due east and across Washington through Spokane and into the Rockies, across several passes in Northern Idaho and down into Montana traveling back over the Continental Divide through Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Billings before cutting southeast through Little Bighorn country and across northwest Wyoming and into South Dakota at the famed motorcycle rally town  of Sturgis, across the Black Hills and the Badlands and back across the Missouri River cutting south at Sioux Falls down to overnight finally in Sioux City, Iowa.

The final leg home took Mugs and me across Iowa, down across the middle this time of Illinois and Indiana and across southern Ohio before cutting south across the Ohio River again and into northern Kentucky, cutting back east at Lexington up into West Virginia, then back down through that state, across southwest Virginia and into North Carolina arriving back in Durham in the wee hours.

This was my first visit to 8 of the 18 states, my first trip overland through 10 of them and my first trip through new parts of three others.  More in another blog about the states that were a surprise and some things I observed about billboards and some things that brought my adopted home state into clearer perspective.

We had bright, clear, crisp, sunny days the entire trip, except for storms in Salt Lake City and brief showers as we descended into the Puget Sound area.  I highly recommend this route for a cross country road trip, but remember, this was my first.  Previously, I’ve also taken road trips though through the length of California, most of Arizona and Nevada, a portion of New Mexico, Texas and most of Colorado.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Where In The World Have I Been?

I intended to blog from the road when I set off spontaneously, a couple of weeks ago, on a 6,000 mile cross country road trip adventure, my first. I’m not really sure why I didn’t. I certainly had time to think and thanks to being able to listen to both local radio and satellite radio, I had plenty about which I could have blogged.US_map_-_states

My only companion and a great traveler was my English Bulldog, Mugsy, soon-to-be three years old and aka Mugs, Mugger, Bubba etc. Mugs loves to ride and he got the ride of a lifetime on this trip. He ranged freely from his bed in the back of the Jeep Wrangler (one of many I’ve owned but the first four door version) and the passenger seat with stops with his front feet on the console to get a better view and give me nuzzles of approval. Mostly he snoozed as he does much of every day.

I’ll write a few more blogs about the trip including observations about the places I saw and the people I met and the things I learned. It took place over the last 12 days of October including stops for a few days to visit my daughter and two grandsons in Salt Lake City, Utah and my Mom and my two sisters in Mill Creek, Washington, several towns north of Seattle. We were driving 7 days in all, including one unplanned all-nighter, both because it was over a patch of very familiar terrain and I suspect to preserve the well deserved reputation I earned during my college days Smile

A trip like this periodically crossed my mind during my during my two decades plus living and working in Durham, North Carolina, the only time I’ve lived on this side of the Rockies. The longest road trip I’ve had during my time here was to the Outer Banks and back and that was due to logistics like ferry rides, not mileage. By the way, the just-completed cross country trip was 2 1/2 times longer than my previous best, a 2,400 miler in 1978 down the Alaska Highway from Anchorage to Spokane. It also included non-stop segments that outperformed a 1,400 miler I did in an Austin Mini (one of several Mini brands preceding today’s BMW version) from Coeur d’Alene, ID to Reseda, CA. The real record on that trip was it included four female family members, each with a different idea of when we needed to make pit stops Smile

I started pondering a cross country trip more often after my retirement on December 31, 2009, just 10 months ago. I even contemplated doing it via the Harley Cross Bones. I postponed it until I had learned to fly an airplane in late September/early October. I wasn’t certain about the actual timing or the day of departure or taking Mugs along until the day prior. It gelled so quickly that I hadn’t even voted early, so getting back in time to vote today became a bookend to the trip.

Acquaintances, new and old, often observe that they never thought I’d enjoy retirement. I clearly loved my 40 years of destination marketing for communities like Spokane, Anchorage and especially Durham but worked at it so intensely that even close friends and family who are familiar with my spontaneous side are amused now because they know how rarely it has emerged over that period.

It feels great and the timing is perfect but I’m still a homebody by nature! Still contemplating a similar trip by motorcycle but I’d definitely need a sidecar for Mugs, don’t you think?