Jury Duty Wrap Part One – What I Saw

I answered the call for public service this week and served five days of jury duty in St. Louis County.  It was a civil case.  A police officer at Lambert Airport sued the City of St. Louis for age discrimination and retaliation.  The jury found in favor of the city, saying there was no age discrimination or retaliation.  Although I sat through the entire trial, as an alternate juror, I didn’t get to take part in the deliberations.  That sucked, but I did stick around to hear what my new friends decided.

LA Law - The Source of My Law Knowledge

Each jury member had to wear a badge identifying us as a juror in and around the courtroom, including out to lunch.  This was a reminder to both sides not to talk to us.  We reported each morning to our jury room and, except for lunch, moved between the courtroom and the jury room all day.  Our bailiff Bob never left our side except for lunch.  On the few times Bob had to run and errand, he locked the door from the outside.  There was as much isolation as possible.

The court proceedings were much as I imagined, given my deep experience watching L.A. Law and Law and Order.  We got opening and closing statements, a parade of witnesses, and depositions read out loud.

We got a ton of objections:  asked and answered, badgering the witness, no foundation, compound question, vague question.  One of the plaintiff’s attorney was particularly poor at asking questions, so the defense was left to object:  “I have no idea what he’s asking.”

We got two tons of objectives.  The plaintiffs used numbers and got as high as 55.  The defense used letters and got as high as AAA (that’s 57).  Each time a new one came up — Your honor, we’d like to enter this document as Exhibit 1.  Any objections?  No objections.  Document entered as Exhibit 1.  Over and over and over and over.

The only thing that didn’t make sense to me was that the plaintiffs and defense all sat at one table.  It’s hard to see how they can have meaningful conversations.  Oh – speaking of conversations — lots and lots and lots of sidebar conversations.  We pulled out book when they went sidebar because they took so long.

Tomorrow – the lighter side of jury duty.

You Can’t Always Get Them “Next Time”

Those who follow me on Twitter (@STLSpidey) or know me personally, know that I’m in jury duty this week.  The case started Monday and is still proceeding.  I’m back in court tomorrow morning at 9am CDT.  I can’t  tell you anything about the court case, except to say that it’s a civil case (i.e., a lawsuit) and not a criminal case.

Some of you also know that I enjoy coaching my kids’ sports teams in my spare time.  I’m currently coaching my daughter’s 12U softball team, the Bullfrogs.  The Bullfrogs won tonight 15-8, our fifth victory in a row.  We are 5-3, with four games to play and are about to clinch our first winning season ever.

It is definitely fun when you win.  The Blackhawks and their fans know that today (as do the Hershey Bears’ fans).  But the pain of losing in sports is quickly replaced by the desire to compete again.  Losing sports teams always get a second chance.  “We’ll get ’em next time” is the popular refrain.  The Flyers know that the NHL season starts again in October.  They’ll get a chance to play the Blackhawks and get another shot to advance through the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup.  Until this season, the Bullfrogs were perennial losers in the mold of the Bad News Bears.  But the girls stuck with it and, in what is the fifth year together for the core group, will finally get a winning season – some measure of redemption for all those last place finishes.

Even the Bad News Bears Got a "Next Time""

I was struck driving home from the Bullfrogs game tonight that my court case, although it will have a winner and a loser, is not like sports at all.  You can’t “get ’em next time” if you lose.  Sure, the lawyers can try cases against one another in the future, but the plaintiff or the defendant (whoever loses) won’t get another shot.  Save an appeals process, there is no “next time.”  For the loser, the anticipation of the next game that follows the sadness of the loss will never come.  The loser might ruminate on what they could have done differently to win, but, unlike sports teams, they won’t get a chance to try the different strategies.  That’s sad.

I love it that the Flyers have a “next time.”  I love it that every batter for the Pirates will get a “next time” against Stephen Strasburg.  I’ve seen the Bullfrogs get their “next time” and do something with it.  I’m not saying that losers of a civil court case deserve a “next time,” but I hadn’t realized the harsh finality of the outcome until tonight.

Back Now and Ready to Take the Challenge

Wow — I haven’t posted since March.  Time to rectify that.

Spidey Outside the Ship in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

The Spidey family is back from a 10-day vacation to Orlando and the Caribbean.  We had a blast.  We are Disney veterans.  Our nearly 15-year-old son thinks he’s been to Disney World at least 8 times, which doesn’t include Disneyland Paris, Disneyland or Tokyo Disney, where we’ve been also. Nonetheless, we have a good time whenever we go.

This time, we only spent three days in Orlando before heading to Port Canaveral for a week-long cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-of-the-Seas.  Wow!  This is one of those massive ships with an ice skating rink, rock walls, and on-deck surfing and boogie boarding.  We went to RC’s private beach in Haiti, to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  We gained weight, drank our share, and lost money in the casino.  We needed naps when we got home two days ago.

While on the trip, I started and finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I highly recommend it, and it’s under $8 for the Kindle.  I’m actually glad I was on a ship outside the U.S. and couldn’t download the next book in Larsson’s series.  I would have gotten sucked in, and I need to finish other books.

The primary one of those books I’m trying to finish is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I had been listening to the audio version on the treadmill, but I decided I’d rather read it and bookmark some spots for reference.  In this book, Rubin writes of her 12 month experiment to increase her happiness.  I think we can all learn a lot by reading how she deals with “midlife malaise,” which isn’t really unhappiness or depression, but, as she writes, “a recurrent sense of discontent and almost a feeling of disbelief.”  That certainly describes me some days.

In her chapter on March, Rubin describes how she launched her blog (www.happiness-project.com) and committed to posting every single day as a challenge.  I’ve also read Ted Leonsis’ book The Business of Happiness, in which he writes that finding outlets for self-expression is an important component of happiness.

Now that I’m back (and still embarrassed at the 10-week absence of posts), I’m going to take the same blog challenge of posting every day.  Which means – more tomorrow.  Come back.

Random Thoughts from Beijing

I’m in closing in on my fourth night of my sixth trip to China since September.  I tweeted tonight with a photo of Spidey next to a PapaJohns box.  It’s been that kind of trip.  Working all the time requires comfort food once in a while.

As I told a colleague via email the other day — life with an international team can seem glamorous – and it can be, but it often isn’t unlike a trip to Denver or Phoenix or Albany.  Personally, I love traveling.  I like the experience on the airplane.  I like the different cultures.  I also like the challenges of starting up businesses in new places.  International business is what I studied years ago, and now I’m getting to use it again.

But the trips, even to a places like Beijing, are becoming less and less of a hardship.  Let me tell you about my day today.  I didn’t have any meetings in our office, so I decided to stay in our apartment and work.  It started with a 6:30am run in our club, which has about 15 treadmills, full weight equipment, sauna, steamroom, whirlpool, etc.  Yes, that’s a hardship.

Next was a bowl of Frosted Flakes – just like home.  As I ate, I watched the Caps and Canes via Slingbox, simultaneously checking NCAA tournament scores on espn.com and participating in a Caps chatboard on Japers’ Rink.   All this time, I’m connected wirelessly to the Internet.  Again, big hardship.

I did work, rest of the day in the apartment.  I got a lot done.  I left the building only once today —  to walk a block to a Starbucks, where I said “grande black coffee” and got one 18RMB later.   In many way, this day could have taken place in Akron or Richmond or Boise.

(The best part about China may be the time zone difference for U.S. sports.  East Coast U.S. games start at 7:00am here with the 12 hour time difference.  I never have to stay up late to catch multiple overtimes!  I caught the Yankees winning the World Series at 11:30am.)

I’m hoping against hope to get out somewhere in Beijing tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I know tomorrow starts with sleeping late, but after that, it will be a challenge to avoid work.

So Much for Regularity

In his new book “The Business of Happiness,” Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis writes of six tenets to live by.  The third tenet is “Personal Expression.”  Mr. Leonsis believes that everyone needs to have an outlet, be it art, writing, or, as he puts it, singing in the shower.  I haven’t finished the book yet, but I will.  (I’ve got an 18 hour flight to Singapore coming up next week.)   I think Mr. Leonsis (can I call him Ted?) is right.  That’s why I started this blog.  I just haven’t kept it up.

I’ve been Tweeting a lot lately, but I think it’s time to move beyond 140 characters to something a bit longer.  I’ve been reading a lot about travel and a lot about hockey.  There’s some interesting stuff out there that people might be interested in.

Bear with me.  We’ll see what happens.  I’m hoping this is the start of something (again!).

New Outlook – Spidey Sense Turned On

In my previous post, eight days ago, I talked about testing my new outlook.  As I wrote then, I was hoping that I had successfully removed the stress in my life and become more focused.  After eight days now, I can tell you that it’s working so far.  Seems logical, right?  If I was causing my own stress, then I should be able to successfully remove it.

I removed the stress by simply reducing and almost eliminating my desire to advance at my current employer.  I eliminated the fight for the  promotion.  I eliminated comparing myself to others on a consistent basis and trying to be better than them.  I eliminated being concerned with each word that came out of my mouth that I looked bad, came across wrong or did myself damage on the promotion track.

When I told my boss all this last Tuesday, she just smiled.  She said I had been working scared, and I said she was right.  She reminded me how awful it had been on me and my home life when I was a vice president, and I said she was right.  She’s a great person, and I know she was happy that some of her guidance had made it through my thick head.

It would be easy to blame my parents for all this.  I think Freud would.  I don’t.  They created a competitive monster, who always wanted to be better than everyone else and who always wanted to be the best.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  However, I worry that I’ve done the same thing to my kids, but I don’t see it in my son.  He doesn’t have the same competitive desire that I did at his age.  I want to see fire in his eyes before hockey games, but I don’t.  He’s calm and matter-of-fact.

After being “matter-of-fact” for the last eight days, I now understand.  I’ve taken a small step, but I like it.  Alot.  Next — I have to make sure this new “Spidey Sense” remains on.  I need to sense if I fall back into old habits.  I need to sense when I’m starting to get stressed and stop it.  That’s would be great.

A New Outlook

I have a monthly subscription to Massage Envy. Once a month, they hit my credit card for some amount, and I get one 60-minute massage. With travel and family obligations, I haven’t been able to go every month. I have, however, found a therapist that I like. (We insiders don’t call them masseuses.) I like Angela, the therapist, because she finds every single knot on my body and, not without causing pain, endeavors to eliminate them. This week, about halfway through causing pain relief, she said, “Andy, you really should have booked longer. I’m doing the best I can, but I need more time.”

There is no doubt, that I carry a lot of stress. It’s not due to my 14-year-old son who, while home alone, left for a birthday party Saturday and not only forgot to close the garage door but also left the door to the house unlocked. It’s not due to my 11-year-old daughter either. (If you have an 11-year-old daughter, you know I don’t need to give an example.) The stress is due absolutely, positively to work. As Randy Jackson likes to say on American Idol – “one thousand million percent.”

I have realized in the past 72 hours that I alone cause the majority of my stress at work. I create the pressure that leads to the stress. I create this pressure because of my drive to succeed. It’s the same drive that drove me to a high GPA and SAT scores, an elite college and elite grad schools, and many steps up the ladders at my employers. Last Friday, after a conversation with my boss, it became clear to me that I may not go any higher at my company. I may have topped out. Unless I ease back on the gas pedal, my “drive” is going to push me up against a steel wall, only increasing the pressure.

As the weekend has gone on, however, the stress from work has declined. Because I am slowly, mentally eliminating the pressure to advance up the ladder, I am not causing myself less stress.  I am now determined to no longer look at every event, every memo, every presentation as a competition to succeed and advance at the expense of others. If I take away this pressure, realize that I make a good living and can provide for my family, takes things as they come, I think I’ll be happier. It makes sense doesn’t it?

This is a big change for me. This is a new outlook. Yes –it may be my way of “stopping to smell the roses — but it’s me getting off the fast track. In the coming posts, we’ll see how it works. Come back later to read more.

At minimum, perhaps Angela will have fewer knots to remove.

Am I Digital Yet?

These days I am feeling way more connected than I’ve ever been. I guess, at age 43, I’ve caught up to most people half my age, and I’m finally, truly digital. Or at least I’ll believe I am.

I’ve learned the obvious — that having a Blackberry just isn’t enough.. There’s much more to being digital than being able to get an email from your boss, your dad or your kids’ school at any hour of the day in any country on the planet. I don’t really think Facebook is enough either, and I’ll admit to never having played one minute of FarmVille (I had to Google it to check the spelling!).

Since August, I’ve been part of the international team at work and have traveled quite a bit. I’ve sent text messages and picture mail to my daughter and video Skyped with my family from 14 time zones away. In general, I’ve started utilizing digital media more – and I think I now know what it really means to be connected – or at least I’ll believe I do. The information overload is a rush, truly a rush.

I now have a blog (but you already know that, because you are reading). I also now use Google Reader to subscribe to about 30 different blogs and check them at home, work and on my iPhone.  Again, digital media keeping me informed.

I have a Twitter account (@lifewithspidey), and I’ve sent 18 tweets, follow 33 tweeters and have 10 followers myself — all more of a start than something to brag about. I have sent tweets from my computer, but also from my iPhone. I get regular Twitter updates on my iPhone and through an add-in in Firefox. For news and information junkies, Twitter is amazing. I knew about Mark McGwire’s steriod admission 20 minutes before it was posted on espn.com.

I figured out how to shorten URL’s with bit.ly, and I created a Flickr account to which I’ve posted all my Spidey photos (links at right). Lastly, I’ve also become a podcast junkie — audio only please. I listed to the podcasts in the car, which are a great supplement to audio books.

At this point, even mentioning a Kindle seems like nothing.

Texting, blogging, tweeting, podcasting – can I say flickring or Firefoxing? Can I (or you or we) get any more connected?

Now I’m off to tweet about his post and notify my Facebook friends about the blog.  Maybe FarmVille is next?

Post #1

Welcome to Life with Spidey. Every blog has to have a first post and this is mine.

In this post, I’m going to answer three questions pertinent to most blogs and the bloggers who write them:

  1. Why am I writing the blog?
  2. What is the significance of the blog name?
  3. What am I going to write about?

(Let me apologize in this first post for the constant numbering of things in twos, threes and fours in my writing. I’m an ex-management consultant, and those of you in that fraternity know that everything comes in lists of two, three or four — or in a 2×2 matrix.)

I’m writing this blog for two reasons. First, I’m writing simply because I like to write and blogs provide a great outlet. I mean — who would start a blog in the first place, if they didn’t like to write. I’ve written for newspapers in college and grad school and even had a summer internship at a weekly newspaper in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. I had a radio show in college and thought I might go into print or broadcast journalism. However, when I learned at a lunch with Hedrick Smith that I’d probably have to write obituaries on the late shift in some place like Jackson, Mississippi or Helena, Montana or do the weather and sports on a station in a place like Fort Smith, Arkansas, I decided that journalism wasn’t for me. That didn’t diminish my love of writing. Second, I’m writing for the challenge of coming up with relevant content on a regular basis — whether that’s once a week, twice a week, etc. I am amazed at the information I get from blogs that I read, tweets that I follow or podcasts to which I listen. I can only hope to replicate the freshness of this information for readers.

I wish I could write that Life with Spidey reflects living my life according to the motto “with great power comes great responsibility.” Unfortunately, I’m probably not that deep. The significance of Life with Spidey can be explained in two (yes, two!) parts. The first part is my interest in Spiderman. I am a Spiderman collector. I read comic books in and after college until the volume of comics purchased each week exceed the time available to read. I quit comic books cold turkey. I had to. That was about 1992. Spiderman was always my favorite. Spiderman is different. He’s not from another planet, like Superman. He’s not a mutant by birth, like Wolverine. He didn’t choose to be a superhero, like Batman. Peter Parker (the poor boy) was bitten by a radioactive spider. His life story through high school and into the working world and marriage is not dissimilar from many of our lives — except that he swings around in a red and blue suit over Manhattan. By 1998, now with a wife, two kids and a mortgage, I wanted to start collecting comic books again. Knowing how I can obsess, my wife suggested that, rather than buy the comic books, I choose one superhero and start to collect stuff. So — I chose Spiderman. Now, I have a room in my house filled with Spiderman stuff. More on that, perhaps, in a future post.

The second part of the explanation of the title relates to a blog I wrote internally at my company for most of 2008. It was a blog that I used to connect with a team of over 100 folks spread across the country. That summer, my wife, kids and I traveled to Japan for two weeks to visit my younger sister and her family, who lived there for a year. I decided to post daily and share what we saw in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. You can read this at http://ourjapantrip.wordpress.com. As a lark, I brought along with me a small Spiderman and put him in nearly every photo that I posted in the blog. Yes — this convention has been used before (with gnomes, for example), but it works for me. When I decided to write again, I thought, as a theme, I would bring back the photos of Spiderman (Spidey to those that know him) to accompany the posts. That’s him there on the right.

If you give this blog a chance and either subscribe or visit often, I think you’ll read mostly about what I see while traveling, both for business and pleasure. Because I’ve benefited from others’ blogs, I want to share my experiences on tours, in airplanes, in hotels and with local cultures. I’ll pass on relevant information I find regarding travel, but I’ll try not to be too overbearing. Inevitably, some posts about other experiences will pop in – from coaching kids sports, watching my favorite sports teams, to events in and around St. Louis.

Spidey, of course, will be prominent throughout.

This weekend, we’re traveling to Phoenix to watch our son march with his high school band in the Fiesta Bowl parade. I’ll try to post from there or when I return about the flight down on US Airways in the days following Delta 253 and my experience with Pink Jeep “Broken Arrow” Tour in Sedona.