Press release for Triathlon Ride

For Immediate Release:  November 19th, 2014

Northwest Author Publishes 7th book:           Triathlon Ride

Bothell resident David Preston has just published his 7th book as an Amazon e-reader.  Triathlon Ride is the 3rd novel in his “Harrison Thomas” mystery series.

Over dozen years ago Preston wrote Motorcycle 101, a light-hearted guide to motorcycling for those new to or returning to motorcycles.  Originally written for his son, Preston’s book sold 1,000 copies and is now out of print. Motorcyclists asked for a revised and updated version of the book, and he responded with Motorcycle 201, an extensively revised e-book edition with added sections.

He later published two collections of essays that deal with motorcycles and high performance cars,  Motorcycle Heart, Theory, and Practice, and No Corner Left Unturned.

With some success from these books, he dug out a teen romance and mystery novel he wrote back in the 1980’s during a first career as a junior high teacher. The Third Marcia had never received any serious attempts to find a publisher.  “I think at that time,” he explained, “I was more interested in seeing if I could actually create a novel.” The rise of self-publishing through Amazon removed that hurdle.

In 2011, Preston finished a novel he‘d been working on for a few years. Mourning Ride was the first of the Harrison Thomas series. Harrison’s was a minor character in The Third Marcia, and the mystery picks up on his life after he retired.  “As my friends started to purchase the book, many of them said that the story was great but what they really loved were the characters. They wanted to hear more from them, and I realized I did too.”

Identity Ride came out in 2013, and used several plot and character devices suggested by friends who’d read the previous book. Triathlon Ride furthers the use of several of the same characters.

All of the books feature one or more motorcycles as significant plot elements. “It occurred to me the other day,” added Preston, “that this latest book is the only novel I’ve written where no motorcycles are destroyed. Not sure what that means.”

Will there be further novels in this series?  “I’m sure there will be.  A plot idea will pop into my head sooner or later, or be provided by one of my friends, and the next adventure will begin. They’re fun to write and hopefully, fun to read.”

All of Preston’s books are available at www.amazon.com by entering the title desired. They are for any e-reader, priced at $4.95 each.

e-mail: david@davidpreston.biz                     website:  www.davidpreston.biz

Copyright 2014                         David Preston

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Thoughts on Amazon book pricing

Amazon Publishing From the Low-Selling Author Point of View

I’m about to have my 7th book published as an Amazon Kindle or other e-reader. None of my books sell all that well. I average one to two a day, although I have hopes for the latest one, due out any day now. I have a business license, so I can write off some of my costs, and my tax person makes sure I show a very small profit each year on a total income of a couple of thousand dollars or less.

My experiences provide an interesting (at least to me) contrast to the much publicized battles between Amazon and large publishing firms over book pricing.

A bit of background:  I write because I enjoy the mental and physical process, as well as the result. To a large extent, the intended audience of everything I write is… me.  That some others enjoy what I write, either on this web site or by reading one of my books is a pleasant bonus that also provides encouragement.

I sold the first piece of writing I ever submitted. This was, against all odds, a science fiction story that appeared in “Rod & Custom” magazine, in 1972. Probably the first and last science fiction story to appear in a car magazine.

Oh, the excitement!  I rushed out to the store and purchased 9 copies, consuming some of the $100 or so I was paid. Most of the rest went to celebratory dinner out with Susan. 

First lesson in publishing. When you sell a story, you sell the words. I was appalled to see the illustration the magazine paid an artist to draw that appeared behind the words, because it was incorrect!

I sold the second piece I submitted. This was a story about our motorcycle honeymoon, focused on the motorcycle part, of course.  That one appeared in “Road Rider” magazine, now known as “Motorcycle Consumer News.”

Then I sold the THIRD piece I submitted, this one a truly awful poem about motorcycle riding that also appeared in “Road Rider.”

Now that I had sold three in a row and taken in at least $225, my future was secure. I would soon leave behind the ten grand or so of annual income from teaching junior high and become a highly paid author.

Obviously.

Emboldened by success, I set out to write a story for “Playboy” magazine. Back in those days Playboy paid ten grand for a published story, a year’s income for me.  Doing this allowed them to publish work by some of the best writers in the world.  Undaunted by the competition, I created a story I’m still fond of today, unlike the previously published poem, which was so bad I’ll be doomed to the hell of bad poets for all eternity in the fullness of time.

In my story, the main character road races a Corvette.  We owned one at the time, although much older and certainly not a race car.  My character had sacrificed a lot of time, sweat, pain, and money on his racing efforts, and was leading the season points’ race. As the story progresses, his marriage is falling apart. Just as the final race of the season begins, he learns that his wife has been having an affair with his chief rival, another Corvette racer. Enraged, he begins abusing his car savagely and takes the lead.  As the race progresses, he figures out that he is over-driving the car and using up the brakes and the engine. If he continues he may win, or he may blow up. Gradually it dawns on him that the car means more to him than his wife does, and he slows down to preserve what he has. His rival passes him and wins the race, but he’s fine with that because he has preserved his sanity and decided what is important to him.

I wrote that story, and worked on it, editing various passages over and over, I took a post-graduate writing class at the U of W, where most of the other students and the professor were “real” authors.  I read portions of the story aloud each week and took in their wise counsel. By the end of the summer term it was done.

I sent it off to Playboy and awaited the result. What came was the classiest rejection letter I ever received.  A small piece of note paper with the words “David, Not for us. Thanks.” It was signed by Hugh Hefner’s daughter, who at that time was the editor in chief of the magazine.

Forging ahead, I created other pieces, and soon learned lesson #2. When you send something in, there is no guarantee you’ll ever hear anything back.  Sometimes your hard work just vanishes into a dark hole that probably resembles a waste basket.  Publishers do not seem to have any requirements for basic tenets of politeness. If they did respond, it would be months later. Usually just a form letter that gave no indication that your work had even been read. 

But it could be worse. I got one letter from the (then) editor of Cycle World, a renowned author of several books and hundreds of articles. He went to great lengths to trash my work, pretty much challenging my nerve in writing anything at all and having the gall to waste his time reading it.  I could not imagine what would spur someone to such thoughtless malice.

I heard a story of an author who submitted a poem to a magazine and got back an envelope filled with just the ashes of his burned work.  That one was, I have to admit, kind of funny.

I did succeed at times, and had articles printed in newspapers and magazines here and there.

At one point I did a series of essays on education that ran in the “Bellevue American” newspaper.  I was invited to a meeting to discuss making my articles a weekly feature, and moving them from the editorial pages to the front section.  Excitement!

I met with a person with a big title who looked like a cross between Gordon Gecko and that boss in “Office Space.” 

Anyway, this guy was slick to the max in dress and speech and demeanor. He was all excited about what we could do together. I agreed with pretty much everything he said. I floated home to await further developments.

I was aware that Dave Barry, the famous humor columnist, had “self-syndicated” his column for years out of his own home before moving to the Miami Herald and tremendous and well-deserved success. I wrote him a letter about what I was doing, asking for any advice he was willing to share. I was so grateful to him, as he took the time to send me a four page hand-written letter.  He pretty much went over everything I was doing, told me I was on the right track, and wished me well.  What a nice man.

I never heard another word from the guy at the Bellevue American.

I completed my first novel and sent if off to Dell Publishing, at that time the largest publisher in the world. Never received any word at all.

I wrote a lengthy piece on motorcycle commuting that was published in the AMA magazine.  I think it went for $600, which was real money, I wrote a second piece that was even longer, and they agreed to publish that one. After almost a year of no news and no appearance of the piece, I sent a letter of inquiry. I was informed that they’d changed their mind, and included was a check for $600.  I later learned that this is what is known as a “kill fee.”  I wrote back and said that since the 2nd article was about 50% longer than the $600 that they had paid for the first one, I reckoned they owed me another $400.

I received a carefully written letter that essentially told me to pound sand.

Weeks later I was chatting at a soccer game with a parent who worked in publishing, and he told me that $600 was the largest kill fee he’d ever heard of.

Oh.

In the early 90’s I completed a script about a junior high school that was to be pilot for a TV series. Rather than focus on the students, mine dealt with the faculty.  I thought the staff was much funnier than the students.  I had a friend whose uncle had one of the major roles on the “M.A.S.H” TV show. She read my script and really liked it.  She sent it to her uncle, and he liked it as well and took it in to Disney Studios.  More excitement!

Nine months later it came back to me. No comment. No communication.  Nada.

In sum, if you’re a free-lance author submitting works to magazines and publishing houses, you’re playing a game where the other team has all the power and all the knowledge and writes all the rules.  They have no responsibilities to you at all, including timeliness or even basic manners.

You can hire an agent, of course, but now you’re adding to your own expenses. The really good agents are expensive, but that cancels out because they probably do not want to work with you. You can get a lesser agent with accordant lesser odds of success, but those odds never rise above “poor.”

Along comes Amazon and the concept of self-publishing of e-books.  You can publish anything you want. You choose a couple of categories where you wish your book to be listed. You set the price, and Amazon takes a cut on a sliding scale – the more you ask for your book the bigger a slice they take. You can even set the price at $0, and Amazon will offer your book for free to customers at no cost to you.

What you get in return is the exposure of your book to millions of people all over the world. Your books are for sale 24 hours a day, every day.  You can check where your book ranks in sales in the categories you’ve chosen, and the rankings changes are posted each hour.  You can also look up sales per month. You get paid two months after the sales for a given month. At the end of the year Amazon will send you a document with your total earnings.  It’s all very simple, except for the actual publishing part. I’ve benefited from the tech skills of my son and my friend Gary Stebbins for this, so I don’t know how hard that is.

One my favorite aspects of all this is the democracy of it. If people like your book they will tell their friends, and you will sell more. If your book is found wanting, it will sell less. For a guide, you can set up your book so people can read a sample. Purchasers can write reviews that will be posted with your book. The reviews include their thoughts, and a scale of 1-5. I suspect Amazon does not publish reviews lower than 3, or I have never gotten one that low – which seems unlikely.

I have wanted to write back to most of these people to thank them, but the system will not allow that. It is humbling to read a positive review from someone I’ve never met who may be in a state or country many time zones away.

The customer is protected as well.  Customers can pay Amazon a monthly fee and then “borrow” a book for two weeks or so without paying for it.  I get some money from that, but I’ve never bothered to learn exactly how that works. In addition, purchasing customers have 24 hours to sample the book and can get their money back if they don’t like it.

Here’s an example of how it works. In 2001 or so Motorcycle 101 was published, both as a CD to be read on a computer (that did not work very well) and as a paperback.  1,000 copies were printed. I think Cycle Barn purchased about 2/3rd of them, and used them for promotional gifts for new bike purchasers, door prizes, and other “do-gooder” purposes. It was fun for first time motorcycle purchasers to be given the book as a thank you for their business and then directed over to my desk to have it signed.

That book retailed for $19.95, and I received $3 of that.  That is how it works in the publishing world.  When I chose to convert it to an e-book I updated and revised it quite a bit and changed the title to Motorcycle 201.  (I know, my cleverness knows no bounds) That book sells for $4.95 from Amazon as an e-reader.  I get $3.75. The customer saves $15.00 and I make more money per copy.  That seems like a win-win for everyone, and I have now sold many more copies of the latter book than the first one in far less time.

I’m sure there are various ways to promote your books, at your own expense, that I have not explored.  Amazon will do some promotion by suggesting books to people who have purchased others in the same vein.

For a trip to rose-tinted goggles land, I’ve heard that if your book sells in really large numbers, a publisher will come to you to negotiate the rights to put out a physical edition of the book. Now the game has become much more equitable.  In the unlikely event one of my books reaches that exalted status I intend to be much more civilized with the publishers than they have been with me.

All the press coverage of the board room battles between Amazon and traditional companies seems to have ignored what I thought would be a central part of the discussion.  What is being done for, and to, the people who create the books in the first place?  The authors they deign to interview are mostly wildly successful writers with dozens of books to their credit, but I bet that the majority of authors are much more similar to me than to Stephen King.

All in all –  my thanks to local Seattle “real author” Jack Lewis and his wife Shasta for getting me clued in to e-reader publishing, (you really should purchase all of his books).  More at  jaxworx.com

Huzzah for Amazon!

 

 

Copyright 2014                                    David Preston

 

 

 

 

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Recollections for Veterans’ Day

Recollections for Veterans’ Day

I come from a family with a long history of not serving in our nation’s armed forces. I feel no shame in this; just the way things worked out. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born. I believe my maternal grandfather served in WWI, but I was never told much about him. My father’s father also passed away before I was born. He served in WWI and was evidently gassed, but again, I was never told much.

My older brothers came of age before the draft, and never had to serve. I reached 18 during the draft for the Viet Nam war. I registered and took the physical, of course. Later I was granted a medical pass because a couple of doctors at the University of Minnesota essentially lied on my behalf.

I had come down with rheumatic fever and an enlarged pericardium (outer lining of the heart) in the winter of my senior year of high school, due to walking home across a frozen lake in soaked and sweaty gear from a day of playing hockey. I did not take the car to the hockey game because I’d crunched a fender the night before and did not dare ask for it.  Ironically, my brother took that car out the same day and finished off the fender I had dented. The result of my folly was a couple of days in the hospital with a raging fever.

Nobody ever determined the exact nature of what had happened, but the result was a few weeks of doing homework in bed at home and then a restriction on vigorous physical activity for 6 months. I cheated on that a bit with pick-up basketball games, and my parents gave me a set of golf clubs for high school graduation in the hopes I would take up a less demanding sport than all of the others I played to a definitely mediocre degree.

The two university doctors were women, which was rare at the time. They had a soft spot for my family doctor, who had been the only male student in med school years before who had treated them as equals. They felt they owed him, and in a nonsensical twist, told the army I had a heart murmur to “save” Doc Rollins’ patient.

That got me to my senior year of college, where the Army, getting a little more eager for recruits to send to Viet Nam, had me go to one of their own doctors for a 2nd opinion.   I was not surprised to find he did not think I had a heart murmur, just a mildly irregular beat.

I graduated and moved to Kirkland to begin my teaching career. Then the papers came that I’d been drafted. The school district appealed, claiming that I was needed to teach English and coach the tennis team. My draft board in Minnesota was not impressed, again not to my surprise, and I was declared 1-A in October.  My assumption was that I’d be allowed to complete my contract and then be sent to basic training in June, then off to Viet Nam, and then I would die. So I did the logical thing – I bought a new motorcycle.

The month after that, Richard Nixon held the first draft “lottery,” where all young men from about 18 – 22 or whatever had their birthdays put in a large drum, and the dates were drawn one at a time. According to the paper, if your birthday was among the first 50 drawn you were very likely to be drafted. All over America most people were glued to their little black and white TV screens as the dates were displayed in groups of 30. Once they got past 225 or so I began to panic, thinking I’d missed mine.  But later, there it was…334. For me, the draft was over.  I ended up dancing in the parking lot of my apartment building with some other guy with a high number. The next day at school I had to keep quiet a lot, as many of my friends had not been so lucky.

My two children have grown up in the volunteer Army years, and neither chose to enter the service.

But the most interesting tale from my family legacy comes from my father, except he never told me much about it. That seems to be the case with many of the best generation that saved the world at that time.  When they came home, the war was over for them, and thousands of them never spoke of it for the rest of their lives.  In many cases that was understandable.

In honor of my father and all others who have served, here’s what I know.

We seldom pay any attention to people who have served our country in times of war who were not in the military, but there were many of them. My father went through the University of Wisconsin in the ROTC program, primarily because it was economically advantageous to do so.

He was not an aggressive man, and one of the worst athletes I’ve ever seen, when he deigned to do anything remotely physical. A family yearly canoe camping trip was about it. When I wanted to play catch in the yard with a baseball my Mother was my partner.  He ensured that I could play football with my older brothers and their friends by giving me a football for Christmas, the only such piece of equipment on the block. If you want to play, David has to be included because it’s his ball!

One of my father’s favorite tales concerned marching in formation in a college ROTC drill. A drill sergeant came up to him and roared, “Preston!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“You’re out of step!”

“No Sir!”

The sergeant pondered that for a second and then bellowed “Company, half-step!”

My father had been the only one who was correct, and he never forgot that. In later years he became quite a devotee of square dancing, which amazed me.

He graduated from college and got a job as an engineer. WWII was starting to heat up, and soon he found himself leaving his job and heading to basic training camp on a train, with so many others. The train stopped somewhere that was not on the schedule, and a bunch of MPs got on board. They came down the aisle of each car looking for Albert Preston. When they found him, he learned that his boss had appealed to the Army, stating that the war effort would be better served by his engineering prowess being put to use on the home front.

That was all I knew of the story until… 1989. My father was going to die that year, and he knew it.  He had lived with diabetes for years, and survived open heart surgery, but a diagnosis of “progressive degenerative heart disease” is pretty much uni-directional. He was only 69, and at 67, I am a Greek god by comparison in terms of health. Never physically active, he never really recovered from my Mother’s death from cancer when she was only 48.   I’m not sure he was all that unhappy about his death, in fact, as most of the years from 1967 to 1989 had not been happy for him and he had suffered emotionally and physically.

One day, about a month before he passed away, he mentioned as an aside when some related topic came up that he’d received a patent during the war for his work on the high altitude breathing systems used by pilots. Evidently they had issues with their air supply not being reliable when the plane was not in level flight, which was often. My Dad fixed that problem.

I was astounded, and he pooh poohed my reaction, explaining that it was for the war effort so he never made a penny from it. To me, that was hardly the point.  Then he added that he actually earned six patents during the war.

He never talked about this in all of my years of growing up. I was very close to him, closer than either of my brothers I think.  I was the one that was spoiled in many ways. My father and I spent a lot of time together, and we talked at length on so many topics. This one never came up.

Recent research by my brothers and a nephew has unearthed at least three of the patents. The valve for which the first patent was filed was originally designed for high-altitude aircraft which used bottled liquid oxygen for assisted breathing by the pilot, allowing him (or her) to fly upside down without having liquid oxygen sloshing into the face mask. They were dubbed “Preston valves” and are evidently still in use and still called that. Two other applications dealt with delivering gaseous oxygen from liquid oxygen bottles. All three were filed in 1945 and granted in 1950.

I don’t know if I am remembering the number of patents as 6 incorrectly, or if nobody in the family has found them yet.  In any case, after the war Dad remained on duty, so to speak, as he was seconded by his company to the government. He and my mother and my two older brothers moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee (where I was born) so he could work at the first nuclear power plant in the world.  He shared a desk with Lieutenant Hymie Rickover, who later became the head of the nuclear submarine program.

Interestingly, at the time I was born (1947) the town of Oak Ridge did not appear on any maps. It was a government installation of 15,000 people that was pretty much self-contained and off-limits.

A couple of years ago I met a man with a different viewpoint. His family was from the Oak Ridge area, and at that time the government pretty much moved in and seized the needed land, paying people little for their homes and land and casting them aside.

In an odd footnote to history, my brother in law Tim went through Northwestern on a Navy ROTC scholarship.  His wish was to serve in submarines, and after years of training he was sent to D.C for an interview with Admiral Rickover. In those days, no officer served on a submarine without a personal interview with Rickover, and with his endorsement. In a two minute interview, Rickover decided he did not like Tim, and he never got to serve on a submarine. In one of life’s cruel ironies, he served on a destroyer tasked with tracing and destroying…submarines.

And so, on Veteran’s Day, let us all pay at least a nod of respect to all who have served our country in whatever role fate cast for them, in or out of uniform.

 

Copyright 2014                                    David Preston

 

Posted in Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Class Size

On Class Size

Some of this fall’s election issues deal with class size.  Smaller is better seems obvious, especially when our state ranks 47th in the nation in this regard.

Making classes smaller would cost money, of course.  The Seattle Times, as usual, has attempted to muddy the issue by publishing a story about a study that showed no clear results from varying class size.  This is not a surprise to anyone who has actually taught children in the public schools, as I did for over thirty years.

In our collective desire to reduce all complex topics to a fifteen word sentence, we leave out details. In this case, what sort of students are in each class?

I agree that too small a class size can possibly have a negative outcome. If you have fewer than fifteen students, and few or none of them choose to be actively involved, then it’s going to be difficult to establish a “feeling tone” that is conducive to learning.  Again, it comes down to who is in each class.

At the other extreme, a class size of over 30 will be almost impossible to handle well, in terms of personalized education. Again, results will vary by the students used to create the larger size.

Here’s an example. One year in the early 1980’s the counselors at Kamiakin Junior High had a real problem. The vagaries of budget, available rooms, scheduling big electives like band, available staff, and many other factors make creating any schedule a horror story I never had to deal with. Their problem was a need to add one more 6th period English class. I had such a class time available, but the resulting class size would be huge. The solution required a lot of effort by the counselors, but worked so well I still remember that class.

They chose to offer the class for students to select if they wanted, and if the counselors approved. I ended up with a class of 37 amazing 9th grade junior high students, placed at the last period of the day.

You’d think that the size and time of day would lead to disaster, but the opposite was the case. Because the students had to jump through at least one hoop to get into the class, the only ones who leapt were students who were interested. They were also, almost to a person, students I’d taught in 8th grade who’d had a good experience. I already knew many of the parents, from the previous year, older siblings, or coaching. Also, the counselors did not put any student in the class who had a reputation as a problem child of one sort of another.

The result was a class of 37 students who met each day, for their last class, in a class they wanted to be in.  The room held 35 desks, which was about all that would fit. There was no seating chart. The first 35 to get there each day got a desk, and the final two had to hope there was a student or two absent, or they’d be relegated to a chair along the side of the room.

The counselors were effusive in their thanks for my willingness to bail them out of a scheduling crisis, and yet it turned out to be a fantastic class. More of a “writer’s club” than a standard class, I could create assignments that ranged from creative to off the chart wild.  Often a student in the class would suggest a better version of an assignment, a version I’d then use in other classes.

I never had to deal with behavior problems, tardiness, or all the other minor snags that can rob a teacher of both time and energy.  Snags that are never discussed in the media.

It is true with such a class that grading papers could take a lot more time. And yet not really. For one thing, most of them were turned in on time. Secondly, people who like to write will create papers that are more interesting to read and have fewer errors to correct. At times I’d forget I was “grading” and just get caught up in reading.

I think it was the next year that we created the “Honors English” program I taught, and many of the assignments for that class originated in the humongous class the year before.

Next to my room two friends taught a special education class. Every student in that class faced one sort of challenge or another. Or several. There were about 15 students in the class each semester, one teacher, and usually at least one aide

My friend Colleen needed to attend a conference and needed someone to cover one period. It was my planning period, and I agreed to do it because I owed her a lot. She was the assistant volleyball coach while I was the head coach, and she was terrific. She was a better volleyball coach than I was, to be frank, and inherited the position from me when I chose to leave coaching.

In any case, Colleen prepped her students for a week before the day. She hyped it up quite a bit. Mr. Preston was the Head of the English Department. He was the Head Girls Basketball Coach and the Head Girls Volleyball Coach. He was a rock star!

On the day, Colleen gave me a well-detailed lesson plan. It was math, and I think it involved solving a story problem. Thanks to her hard work ahead of time, the students looked at me as if a movie star had arrived. They were earnest, attentive, polite, and eager to do anything I would deign to present. It was a perfect teaching situation.

And I failed.  Utterly and completely. They tried so hard, and I explained the problem several different ways, using every sort of technique I could muster.  None of it worked, and at the end of the period several of the students thanked me. For nothing. I was exhausted.  One period. Teaching 15 students, not 37.

At Juanita High School I taught a “basic” English course for a few years. This was a class meant as a last gasp effort for students who were about to flunk out of school or drop out.  Most of them brought a set of personal issues with them to class each day.  Some were hostile, some were bored, and some acted out. Most of my time, especially the first few weeks, was spent on what is termed “classroom management.”  I enjoyed the challenge on the days when I was not close to exploding, but the size of the class made no real difference.

How would you measure educational excellence in such a class? I had more than one student thank me for my efforts.   After much effort by both of us, the passing student would be the first person in the family to earn a high school diploma.  I had a young woman return the year after graduating. The D grade she’d earned had allowed her to enroll in the Marines.  Not all educational progress can be reduced to test scores or blanket assessments of class size.

Elementary teachers need smaller class sizes, despite the smaller stature of their students. My wife usually has 24 to 28 students in her 4th grade classroom. The clever architects for her new school planned on about 20. They knew that 15 to 20 is a good class size for elementary kids, but forgot to account for reality. Her classroom in the real world so crowded that the only way it works is for all the students to know by heart a series of procedures she teaches them to allow them to use the space in small groups and by turns.  The simple tasks of entering the classroom in the morning, leaving at the end of the day, or even going to recess takes very careful planning. Imagine 27 kids with huge back packs trying to hang up or retrieve their gear.

As we’ve slashed educational budgets in this state in the past 20 years, we’ve also cut programs and aides and other assets all over the place.  My brother-in-law works at a school in Olympia. The school has a pottery room with a kiln. Not used. It has a horticultural center with a large greenhouse. Not used.

At most schools, programs like band and orchestra and choir, if still offered, are now “pull-out” programs.  The teacher is supposed to somehow create inclusive curricula for all when some students arrive late three or more days a week or are pulled out in small numbers during the day.

All of these are logical outcomes from taking what was at one time the best public school system in the history of the world and trying to retain the results while cutting taxes and reducing budgets, or just maintaining the status quo while inevitable inflation does the job for you. Again and again. We choose to rail at small problems like the occasional teacher who should be in a different profession, because those are “them” problems where we can assign blame.

The real and much larger problem is a lack of funding and a lack of desire to even be involved in the child’s education. Far simpler to reduce everything to standardized tests that create meaningless results. Then we can compare this year’s meaningless results to last year’s as a measure of “progress.”  Then we can act surprised when some over-zealous teacher or school administrator falsifies the meaningless results.

The legislature has a handy habit of enacting legislation that requires new programs and lower class sizes.  But they leave out one part. They do not provide enough funding, often any funding,  to pay for the new programs or to lower class sizes.  They’ve done a brilliant job of combining a snow job and a smoke screen and have gotten away with it for years.  Now they’re on the brink of a contempt citation from the Supreme Court for their intentional and institutionalized efforts to violate the state constitution, which mandates the maintenance and funding of the public schools as the primary function of the legislature.  And then we re-elect them.

Class size is our problem. Funding is our problem. Guns in schools are our problem. We’ve created all of them.  They are “us” problems, not “them” problems.

I don’t see any effort to address any of these issues, and doubt there will change until we decide to take the hard step of owning up to the responsibility of all to pay for the education of the young.

Education costs money.  A lot of it.  Each class is different. Each student is different.  Every teacher is different.  Making it all work takes the time and effort to look at each teacher, each class and each individual student. It is very hard.

Making excuses, reducing every issue to such a simplistic core that it loses all meaning, and complaining: all of those are easy.  And free.

Copyright 2014        David Preston

Posted in Equipment, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Essay Assignments for College Prep

Essay Assignments for College Prep

Items in the news lately make me long to be teaching College Prep Writing again. After a short time I remember that dealing with students was a joy, as was the act of teaching, but along with it would come the parents, administrators, and colleagues I left behind with gusto. And grading papers.  Since my license expired years ago I am saved the agony of taking action on this occasional desire. But still…

Wouldn’t it be great to give the following assignment?

Essay assignment:  1000 words or less. Please select one of these topics and cover at least the bullet points indicated.

Honey Boo Boo (Only available if you have actually watched this show. I have not, and would not recommend it to anyone with a brain, which includes all of you, since you chose to take this elective taught by me.)

This show was cancelled today, evidently because the mother has chosen to date a convicted child molester.  Discuss:

  • If the man has served time for his crimes, is this fair?
  • This show is broadcast by “The Learning Channel.” What do you think the audience is intended to learn?
  • As a reality show featuring a child, would a new “character” that is a convicted child molester be likely to increase or decrease the ratings

 

School shootings in high schools. There seems to be one every week. Discuss:

  • Most citizens of European countries seem to be of the opinion that Americans have lost their collective minds when it comes to gun control. Do they have a point?
  • Some insist that we have a uniformed office in all schools all day.  Most high schools, including this one, already do.  Have you met our officer?
  • Does the presence of an armed officer in our school make you feel safer?
  • Would controls on gun access (any – since all of them that I am aware of have been attacked with vigor) have any impact?
  • Given the authority, what would you do to stop the slaughter of children in schools by students or adults with guns?

 

The NFL and parity. The National Football League has worked for years to achieve “parity,” where any team on a given day has a good chance to defeat any other team. They have done this by altering the conditions of the draft, salary caps, and rules on free agency. Discuss:

  • Will free agency eventually harm the NFL by making the discussion of favorites irrelevant?
  • Will the known dangers of concussions become a dominant factor in ensuring parity?
  • Will the Seahawks “all nice guys and we love each other” philosophy prove to be advantageous in the long run?
  • If yes, what sort of coach will other teams hire to emulate this approach?
  • If no, what will happen to the Seahawks in the next 5 years?
  • If you were in charge of the NFL, what would you work toward to ensure the financial success of this non-profit organization over the next ten to twenty years?I don’t know what my students would come up with, but I think reading their papers would be so much fun I might forget to wield my dreaded red pen!

 

Copyright 2014                                      David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Guns, Football, and Motorcycles

Guns, Football and Motorcycles – Danger vs. Risk

Much ado about possibly very little in the news these days.  Playing football leads to brain damage, shooting guns will fill you with lead even if you’re never hit by a bullet, and motorcycles will kill you. But wait – are we skipping the thinking part?

I’ve written before about the difference between “danger” and “risk.”  To me, the difference is that risk can be reduced through education, equipment, experience, and focus on the matter at hand. Danger is just – dangerous.  Walking through the streets of some cities in the world at night can be very dangerous. It is difficult to lower the risk factor unless you have access to millions of dollars’ worth of  bomb proof vehicles and choose to ride.  Oh wait, local police departments now have that access. Most of us do not.

A recent study showed that some 96% of the brains of NFL players examined after death showed signs of brain damage. That is an alarming statistic. What I have not seen is a statistic revealing that percentage for all deceased men.  This is not sexist – there are no former NFL players who are women that I know of.  Look at your own life. Most men (and now women) participate in some or many activities that carry the risk of a head injury. I played football for three years. I was a linebacker and a center. Yes, children, we played “both ways” back in the day, and I do not remember ever being taken out of the game for a substitute. I played hockey for at least ten years, and for most of that time helmets were not worn, even by the pros. There was no face or eye protection. My mother was worried about my teeth, but never mentioned concussion. I played basketball for years (not well, and not for the school team), and played soccer for the University of Minnesota for a year. I dabbled in many other activities that would now be listed as carrying possible danger. And then, of course, I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost half a century.  I wonder what % of brain damage I will rack up after my death.  How about you?

Stepping back just a bit, there is certainly a massive difference between the number and severity of hits to the head taken by an NFL player and what I endured in junior high.  Then again, the equipment is so much better now. Overall, the % of men who will play football in the NFL is so small that data from them has to be statistically insignificant when applied to the general population. In fact, it has little relevance until a % is calculated for that general population. It is possible that number exists and that I have simply not seen it.

The Seattle Times is now spewing ink all over the topic of lead poisoning arising from the use of guns at firing ranges.  What % of ammo still uses lead? I am not well versed in this topic, but I remember reports years ago of concerns for lead poisoning in the Midwest from the sheer volume of spent ammo used to hunt ducks and deer and pheasants and so on.  I think it has been phased out, or is in the process of being phased out.  Perhaps the Times will cover that in future articles in their series.

And motorcycles.  Oh my. When I started riding I was told countless times that I was about to die. People would ask you about your “murdercycle,” or label you as an “organ donor.”  (Everyone should list themselves as an organ donor on their license, but that is a different issue) You were considered to be a dangerous drag on society, and the principal at the high school where I did my student teaching wanted me kicked off his campus and out of the student teaching program because I rode my motorcycle to a faculty meeting I was not required to attend.  After school.  He was not fond of my hair either, which reached all the way – to my ears. Ironically, the first principal I worked for after graduation told me he was happy to see me riding my motorcycle to school because he wanted students to see that you could ride a motorcycle and be a productive member of society.   Insert jokes about how productive I was here….

I countered the “wisdom” of the day by always purchasing and wearing the very best equipment I could afford. In the early days, that was not much, but a top shelf Bell helmet, boots, jeans, and a ski parka put me ahead of most.  I read everything I could on how to ride a motorcycle.  Some of it, such as Kenny Robert’s book on road racing, I did not understand.  He referred to some motorcycles as “front wheel bikes” and others as “rear wheel bikes.”  I figured out what he meant about 20 years later. I took several courses of riding instruction, and even helped develop one. All of these actions were taken in an effort to reduce the risk.  A friend once told me that he thought that what I enjoyed most about motorcycle riding was the act of taking on a dangerous activity and using the assets available to me to make it relatively safe. I think he was correct.

If you read the horror stories about motorcycling and put their content against the majority of my riding for the past four decades, which usually involved relatively high speeds on narrow back roads in all sorts of weather, you would have to conclude that I am now…dead. And yet, several hundred thousand miles later and having ridden over 500 different motorcycles, I am still functional.  At least physically, and I don’t think my mental oddities can be ascribed to head injuries or lead exposure.

I survived a big crash in 1969 and have not hit the ground in the 45 years since. (Knock on fuel tank for luck) In that crash I was unconscious for just a few seconds. Concussion?  Probably. Never tested or diagnosed for that.

And there are so many other dangers we exposed ourselves to growing up in our almost total innocence and ignorance. Car and motorcycle folks washed parts in leaded gasoline.

All the time. I did too.

Drag racers that used nitro methane and other concoctions even had a motto – “Gasoline is for washing parts.”  When I worked as an announcer at SIR in 1972 and at times ran the staging lanes, I absolutely loved inhaling nitro methane.  That cannot have been good.

I know from friends that have volunteered at ski areas that Friday night is a triage festival in the medical tent, with sprains, broken bones, and concussions lined up wall to wall. Soccer is now under the microscope for concussions, and that is a serious issue, since that sport is played by more people in the world than any other. And most of them children.

If you have children they are going to want to try things. That is what children do.  My son played soccer for several years, and eventually suffered a very bad wrist break.  Concussions too?  He was a goalie, and made many saves with what he could get on the ball, including his face. I.E., could be.

I was worried that my children would want to ride motorcycles in their teens, and since I’d been riding since before they were born, what arguments would I use to slow them down? Instead, my daughter took up rock climbing, and was soon very good at it. When she brought home pictures of her crossing a deep ravine over rocks by hanging from a rope and propelling her way across the chasm with her arms and hands I had the thought, “How bad could motorcycles have been?”

What to do?  I think the answer is to make sure your children are taking on an activity or sport because they want to, not because Mom or Dad wants to see them exceed the achievements of a parent in that area.  The odds are high that at least one of their choices will involve danger and risk.

My son has now completed a great many marathons and triathlons, including an Iron Man triathlon and a “super triathlon.”  Risks?  Oh yes.  Did he get any shove toward these events from his parents?  Hardly.

So back to the beginning. In approaching an activity, see what you can do to lower the risk through equipment, education, experience, and total focus on the matter at hand.

Read sensational newspaper and magazine articles for the content, but always balance it with your own experiences and other sources of information.

After all that, relax and live your life.

Copyright 2014                                      David Presto

Posted in Cars, Education, Equipment, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

A Reading Assignment For You

Reading assignment for this week:

Chuck Yeager’s autobiography:

Think you’re tough?  67 years ago today (October 14th), Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X1 experimental jet plane. He did this despite a broken rib that he kept secret.

The cause of the broken rib was an unfortunate collision with a tree branch the night before the flight. He and his wife were in the habit of having steaks for dinner, and a glass or three of scotch. After that, they often went for a ride on horseback, which usually ended up as a race across the desert. The winner of the race got to have sex with the loser, which strikes me as a wonderful arrangement.

Racing under the moonlight, they came to a tree with a branch extending out to the side. His wife saw it and ducked. Chuck Yeager did not and was “close lined” off the horse by the limb, crashing to the ground and breaking a rib or two. His wife told him they had to call the leaders and abort the planned flight for the next day. He refused, and had her tape his ribs up so tightly that it was hard to breathe. The only person he told of his plight was the crew member assigned to help him get from the B29 carrying the X1 down into the plane.  He stuck a length of broom handle up his sleeve, which he used as a pry bar to close the hatch, which he could not do with his one functioning arm.

Even at that, he was not scheduled to break the sound barrier that day, as nobody knew what would happen to the plane in such a circumstance. He got to .99 of Mach 1, muttered an imprecation under his breath, and nailed the throttle.  Thus was history made.

This is only one of a great many stories in his autobiography, all of which can be verified by official records. He was the only pilot in WWII to be shot down, put in a prisoner of war camp, escape to freedom, and then talk his way back to duty.  It was common practice at the time to retire pilots who had lived through the horrors of a prisoner of war camp once, as it was thought they could never survive if put in the same situation again.  He argued his way all the way up to General Dwight Eisenhower before being allowed to return.

His life story is full of impossible challenges and unlikely success on every page, and is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read.

 

Chuck Needham’s autobiography:

There are many weird parallels in Needham’s life to Chuck Yeager’s.

Both had childhoods of deep poverty. Both had very little education. Needham rose to fame as a Hollywood stunt man, simply by agreeing to do everything he was asked to do. Along the way he became a stunt coordinator.  There he got to be friends with Burt Reynolds, and it was his idea to produce the movie that made them both famous, along with a black Pontiac Trans Am with a gold “screaming chicken” decal on the hood. He also owned a successful NASCAR racing team, and careened from one adventure to the other, including several wives. Marriage was one area where he was not as successful as Yeager.

Can’t recall the title of either book, but you need to find them and read them.  You’ll have a new horizon for what you’re capable of.

 

David Preston                          Copyright 2014

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An Adult Approach to Physical Fitness

An Adult Approach to Physical Fitness

“Getting in shape.” This is a goal of so many who are fortunate to live in an area of the world with access to plentiful food and the economic status to purchase it. Sometimes to excess. Food that is yummy and plentiful can be counterproductive to the fashionably trim and fit visage we wish to present to the world, an image marketed to us incessantly.  How to get there?

Caveat: Although I taught PE for one year, coached a variety of sports for 15 years, and have always been active in one or more sports, I make no claim to expertise. What follows is intended merely as food for thought.

So many people have taken on one diet or exercise program or other (or a great many of them) and failed. How to reverse this and create a program that works for you? There are five things (at least) needed to make this work, and one thing not needed at all.

  1. What You Don’t Need
  2. Time
  3. A venue
  4. What I call the “plausible lie.”
  5. Partnering (optional)
  6. A plan of what to do

What you don’t need: A diet. How many new diets come along in a year, have their fifteen minutes of fame (and fortune) and then fade away?  Most diets are based on a lie. We’re all eager to find the short cut, the magic diet or pill or potion that offers something for nothing (except money). There is no such thing. The only way to get in better shape (and losing weight may be part of that) is to expend more energy in physical exercise than you take in as food and drink. Yes, you can cut down on fatty foods and alcohol and that frozen Snicker’s bar you enjoy before bed. All of that will help, but less than you would hope.  You do not need a “diet.”  You need a plan, and how to get from where you are to where you can make your plan work

Time: At some points in your life it can be between challenging and impossible to create the time.  When I was teaching I had the benefit of a gym and locker room at my place of work – which I rarely took advantage of.  There I was, coaching every day, putting my teams through vigorous workouts – while I watched.  I could scrimmage with my tennis and basketball teams, which helped. In the early days of my career, the coaches had keys to the school. My park league basketball team used my access for practice sessions on weekend evenings.

Then I got married and bought a house, and then a child came along…

When I was president of the local teachers’ union for two years I worked about 60 hours a week. It was the most exciting and stressful two years of my life. The work, an expense account, and frequent meetings with food contrived to bloat me with about 25 pounds of flab while my muscles atrophied. The low point for my physical fitness was the fall of 1978, when I returned to the classroom.

Things did not improve much for the next several years, and when our children reached their very active teen years and I was working at a 2nd job most of the time on one of the weekend days there was simply no opportunity to create work-out time. For many there may be no viable options at a particular time of life. But things will change, inevitably.

When I left teaching in 2000 and entered the motorsports business, the relatively later starting time plus our children having left home offered space in the mornings for workouts. Things got better.

Venue: Some people can work out at home.  You can purchase all sorts of exercise equipment, plus audio-visual training aids such as jazz dancing or a plethora or work-out videos.  These can be inexpensive, as many people find that working out at home does not work for them and sell their equipment at bargain prices.Including me. I purchased a rowing machine, and our son had some weights. Neither of them worked very well for me, and both were eventually sold or given away.

Your results may differ, but I found that I had to get off my largish butt and drive to a facility to work out.Fortunately, the Northshore YMCA is only two miles or so from our home. We joined way back in 1993, when a boyfriend of our daughter’s introduced us to this fine facility. I began to work out a bit, and played a lot of racquetball with Chet. I was distressed when Dorine broke up with him. She had thrown away a boyfriend for whatever reason, but I had lost a fine playing partner. I mean, what were her priorities, anyway?

We’ve enjoyed the YMCA for over 20 years now, and I’ll bet there’s a similar facility near you. I think our dues are now about $110 a month.  If the two of us go an average of three days a week each visit sets us back about $5 a head. We can afford that.

The Plausible Lie: Things picked up markedly when I created my first “plausible lie.”  Some people are self-motivated to work out on their own for the considerable benefits that accrue.  My son is like this, and his own regimen has changed his life dramatically in the past few years.  Finishing an Ironman Triathlon and so many other events is a wondrous thing, but the changes in his body and outlook on life are utterly incredible and awe-inspiring.  I do not have that much self-discipline.

Enter the lie.My new career meant that I needed to be able to hop on virtually any motorcycle made and ride it any distance in any weather, usually in the company of others with vast experience on that brand and model of motorcycle. So… I told myself that I needed to be in better shape to be able to pull this off, which is probably sort of more or less true – in a way.Having accepted this, my workouts grew in frequency and rigor, and the results came ever so gradually but at a rate such that I could see and feel the changes, even if others could not. My waist remained a stubborn problem area, still to this day, but my shoulders expanded, my arms got longer, and my posture improved markedly.  Almost as an afterthought, I could ride motorcycles for longer with less fatigue and greater concentration.

What to do when I retired last year?   I created a 2nd plausible lie. I planned a 4,000 mile ride for this past summer, and used that for inspiration to keep working out. That worked, and now I’m planning a ride for next summer with the same added bonus of motivation. Over time, in this case 14 years, the habit of exercise becomes embedded and the need for a plausible lie lessens.

What will work for you? The need to be in better shape to increase the odds of a job promotion?  Couldn’t hurt. The reward of a new wardrobe for measurable improvement? Bribery is always effective. A new car?  Whatever works, whether logic and truth-based or not – go for it.

Partner: Once we settled into our new life in 2000 it became clear that morning workouts were the way to go.  Susan needs to leave for work by 7am or so, and having taught 4th graders all day, an evening workout schedule was not going to happen.  I prefer to shower before going to the Y, and also after my workout, and of course I want to eat some food beforehand. The upshot is an alarm set for 4am.

Could I do this on my own? Perhaps not, as it often takes two of us to get up that early. The benefits became manifest. Once back from our workout I could enjoy the morning paper and a cup of coffee at leisure. I was ready and eager to go to work in plenty of time.

Now that I am retired it’s even better. If Susan has a morning meeting, or has endured a bad day or evening meeting the day before, she may choose to “sleep in” to 6am, but I have the luxury of being able to work out later in the day.  On days when I choose to not do that, I try to make sure I get out for a walk or a hike.

If you make it to the important stage of regularly attending a gym, you’ll eventually get to know people who work out at the same time. You may be able to work together, or set up a racquet ball session, or whatever works for you. The key is to get your butt to the facility.

What to do: Once there, my experience has been that it does not really matter what you do for a workout. You can use free weights, or machines, or walk, or jog, or use a stair step machine or a treadmill. Whatever floats your boat is infinitely better than what you were doing previously, after all. Most facilities have people who will guide you if asked, and also show you how the machines work. I have my favorites, and your brain will keep track of your usual reps and weights. Over time, you’ll probably increase both.

In summation, my experience has been that most exercise programs over-promise and under-deliver. You’re not going to lose 50 pounds and turn into a beach Adonis in a couple of months. Perhaps ever. You will, over time, notice muscles appearing for the first time in your life, if only to you. I remember so clearly pulling on a t-shirt one day and noticing something that had never appeared in my peripheral vision before. My shoulders. On another occasion I learned I now had to pay attention when drying off after a shower, as there was now a water-collecting low point between my larger shoulders and the center of my chest.

You’ll find, in time, new levels of stamina and energy, along with lower stress and a more positive outlook. Foods you used to gobble with impunity will become less attractive, and you may wonder “What was I thinking?”  You’ll look better, if only to you, although your spouse, if you’re so equipped, will notice.

At the end of the day, you are the only person you need to impress.

Copyright 2014                                                        David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Why I should be the next NFL Commissioner

 

TO:              NFL Headquarters

FROM:        David Preston

RE:              A New Commissioner                          9/18/14

Executive Summary:

Recent events have made it clear that the current NFL Commissioner needs to be replaced. He bungled several opportunities to deal with domestic violence issues and has now disappeared from public view, even as new allegations surface and the situation worsens. With long time marketing partners now expressing alarm, his lack of leadership is becoming a severe deterrent to league success. Not only has his leadership failed, the public perception is that he has failed, and in matters of marketing and public image, perception has far more power than fact.

Once he’s been let go, the search for a new commissioner must be done with both speed and care. In contemplating a replacement, I have pondered all of the possible candidates in a comprehensive thought analysis that consumed several actual minutes. I have arrived at the perfect candidate.   Me.

Here’s why:

Dealing with others:

In thirty one years of public education, I dealt with all possible varieties of people. The truly gifted, the deeply challenged, the rich, the poor, the obnoxious, and the arrogant. And then there were the student

Sports:

I’ve played almost every sport in my life, including football. I played on both offense (center) and defense (center linebacker) through 9th grade, when I was a team captain. I played on teams that won all their games, and teams that won none of them. My parents abruptly ended my career when my 9th grade fall grades arrived home.

I spent the first 15 years of my education career coaching boys tennis (head coach), track (assistant), boys and girls basketball (head), slow pitch softball (head), fast pitch softball (assistant), and girls volleyball (head). I had a winning record in every sport I coached.

Labor negotiations:

I was the president of the Lake Washington Education Association from 1976- 1978. During that time we had the first successful strike vote (1976), the first strike (1977) and the 2nd strike (1978).  I worked with three superintendents during that time.  The first was a man who was not very smart, the 2nd was a fine person screwed out of the job by an arrogant school board (where I got to deal with the threat of a wildcat strike by teachers), and the 3rd a calculating evil genius who I think allowed strikes to happen because he wanted it on his resume.

I received training in negotiations from WEA, attended negotiations sessions and planning meetings, and signed the first master contract in district history. That contract was so well done that I was taken to lunch by a local attorney interested in hiring me to work on labor law cases, until that awkward moment when I disclosed that I had not actually written the contract. Or read it…

Working with the egos of the rich and powerful

During my two careers in education and motorsports I was continually working with people who made more money than I did and had more perceived power. In business, salaries are often used to calculate a perceived pecking order, and I worked out how to be successful in attaining what I wanted without the crutch of money or power. There are other ways to do things.

Media presentations:

I hosted a call-in radio show for three years. I have announced dozens of football and basketball games, and hosted many presentations and shows of one sort or another. I have published hundreds of articles on a myriad of topics, and have authored 6 books. I have been interviewed for both radio and television programs on a number of topics.

I have the ability to give a talk on virtually any topic for any specified length of time, and can fill that time with a wealth of content of utter fluff, as deemed appropriate for the occasion by my clients.

Background:

Spotless. I have never been arrested, never divorced, never accused of any impropriety of any kind, and am probable the only liberal of my 60’s generation who has never smoked or ingested marijuana. In other words, there are no skeletons in my closet.

Salary:

Almost moot, as any salary likely to be offered for this position will comfortably exceed, in one year, my lifetime earnings.

Age:

67. This will appease wealthy and powerful owners wary of an up and comer who wants to transform the league over many years. In five years the NFL should be in a better place, and I can retire (for the 3rd time) in peace.

Health:

Excellent, other than profound hearing loss on my left side. This gives me the handy ability to turn a literal deaf ear to people I do not want to listen to.

Here’s what the NFL needs to accomplish on several issues:

Domestic violence.

History is created by individual moments that capture the public’s attention, and some of them come from unlikely sources. General Dwight Eisenhower’s concept that racism should not exist in the Army was whacky (at the time) and not immediately successful, but the ripples of his act have transformed society and continue to do so in positive ways. Rosa Parks decided to stay seated where she was. Title IX happened, and altered sports forever.  And so on.  Domestic violence is a huge problem in the world and while the NFL might seem to worst place to work for a better way, it is what it is.

The NFL needs to formulate clear and consistent guidelines that can be adhered to in such situations, regardless of the star power of the individual involved. It needs to provide avenues for counseling for all players in these matters, and if those avenues already exist it needs to publicize them.  A squad of speakers and trainers must be created to work with teams in the pre-season in terms of education and be able to respond to individual needs during the season.

Drugs:

The NFL and the players’ union have recently agreed to a new drug policy, and while an improvement, discussions on further changes needs to begin immediately. Under the NEW policy, for example, players can be fined or suspended or both for trace levels of marijuana lower than what commercial pilots are allowed! Many players now live and work in states where the use of marijuana is legal.  The NFL has now adopted a good drug policy for 2002, but this is 2014.

Head injuries:

Here is another issue where perception is running away from the facts. A recent study determined that fully 1/3 of all NFL players will leave the game with some degree of mental impairment. What is missing is the other shoe.

What is the % of all adult men who have some degree of such impairment? Most men, and now women, have deep involvement in a sport or hobby that entails risk.  What is the damage incurred by soccer players?  Hockey? Skateboarding? Skiing?  Bicycling?

As a motorcyclist, I’m used to the uninformed referring to motorcyclists as “organ donors” or other pejorative terms. Years ago Harborview hospital in Seattle ran a campaign to ban motorcycles, with the logic that the public was forced to pay for the care and treatment of a disproportionate number of citizens who rode motorcycles and had severe brain trauma as a result.  A lack of facts to support this allegation did not deter them.  On the other hand, what percentage of pro motorcycle racers end their careers with multiple broken bones and fractures?  I would guess that number would be over 90%, but “guess” is the operative word.

The NFL should be in favor of, and perhaps fund, a study of head injuries from all sources to build a bank of reliable data. At the same time, efforts should be made to publicize on-going research by equipment manufacturers to reduce injuries. Equipment today is far better than 20 years ago, and will assuredly be better in the future. Nobody gains from an injured player.

The NFL as a non-profit

This to me, is a moot issue. NFL teams and players support so many different charities in so many ways, usually as a part of their marketing campaigns, that any CPA could make them “non-profit” anyway.  This issue may already be lost due to public perception, and if so, converting to a profit nature will not alter things in any meaningful way.  For confirmation, check the tax payments from any large multi-national corporation.  The tax laws were and are written by wealthy people for wealthy people and corporations, and the NFL has both.

The Washington team name:

Is the term “Redskins” a racist term? Yes, but it really makes no difference. It is perceived my many as such, and thus it needs to go. Now. This is a perfect issue for the Commissioner.  As the name violates the NFLs commitment to civil rights, it must be changed immediately by order of the Commissioner.  For one, this gives the owner a handy out, and makes the Commissioner a handy “bad guy” to blame.  Name choice can be a marketing coup for the team, with a campaign to allow fans to nominate the new term. Historically, there were several tribes that occupied the area. Why not reach out to those tribes to see who would like their heritage to be institutionalized?  Or, the city of Washington D.C. was built on, and often referred to, as a swamp.   How about “Swamp Creatures”?  Imagine the possibilities for  a mascot!

Image of the Commissioner

The NFL commissioner should immediately cease appearing in public in an expensive suit. The coaches do not wear suits these days (A tip of the trilby to departed coach Tom Landry and several others), and neither do the players.  The Commissioner should look more like a fan and less like just another talking head in a suit.  This could be accomplished by having the commissioner attend games wearing the jersey of the home team, or (slightly more complicated) a jersey created from cutting up and re-sewing a jersey from each team into one garment.  This was done 40 years ago by Mrs. Unser. Her sons were professional race car drivers. One was sponsored by Goodyear and one by Firestone. She took two jackets and cut them up and put them back together, so she had two jackets that supported “Fireyear” and “Goodstone.”

The commissioner, in other words, needs to look like someone who loves football, and not power and money.

Of course, a great deal of the Commissioner’s time is spent dealing with issues that come down to power and money, but that part must be done behind closed doors.

 

Copyright 2014                                                               David Preston

 

 

Posted in Marketing, Rants and Raves, Services | Leave a comment

Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

I’ve been a car and motorcycle enthusiast since I first became aware of such magnificent creations.  Recently, while watching an auction on TV, I was amazed at how many of the classics on offer I could relate to in a personal way. There were so many that I’d owned or driven or spent considerable time with in some fashion.  Many are now worth a fortune, and our personal assets would be pretty amazing today if we’d kept everything owned in the past. Here are my stories of the ones that got away, and some I was relieved to see go.

1962 or so.  1957 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coupe.  This car was in a local body shop in the Minneapolis suburb where I grew up. Someone had brought it in for a fender dent repair and a complete windows-out paint job, and then had scuppered out of town.  There must be a story there.  The body shop had it for sale for $5,000.  For a couple of grand more they could have finished the paint job and put the car back together. My Dad thought about it, but declined.                           Current value:  $1,000,000 to $2,000,000.

Early 1960’s. My father made occasional trips to New York City on business, and whenever he did he made time to visit Inskips, the New York Aston Martin dealer.  The Aston dealership was on the 14th floor, and an Aston Martin DB 5 cost about $14,000. A good American car was perhaps $4,000.  Surveying a curving arc of pristine British glory, my Dad asked the salesman what would happen if he did not like any of the colors they had. The salesman replied, “Mr. Preston, for $14,000 we will paint your Aston any color you like.”  My father could have purchased one, and certainly should have.  But – that would have meant a loan, and loans were anathema to him.                                     Current value:  $700,000 to $1,900,000.

1962 Sunbeam Alpine. My father’s first sports car.  The Alpine was a lovely design, and a tad more sophisticated than the MGA it competed with.

It was in most ways a better car than the Sunbeam Tiger, which was an Alpine with the meek 4 cylinder engine replaced by a Ford small block V-8. Yet another Carroll Shelby idea, and he once commented that the Tiger was a better car than the Cobra that made him famous. On the other hand, a friend who owned one found that the V8 engine would torque the chassis so much that at times a door would not open, and at others open as the car went around a corner.

Dad owned the Alpine for about 5 years. He made various improvements, such as removing the cylinder head and drilling new cooling passages on the metal lathe we had in the basement. Didn’t everyone?  The wire wheels were painted black, as the stock silver paint chipped off easily. It was always kept spotless, in no small part to my washing and waxing it every other moment.

He sold it for $850 if I recall. I was in agony, as the guy who bought it brought a friend who was an “expert.” The friend had a very tired Porsche 356 he’d paid $3,000 for, and it seemed to me that the Alpine was a far better car. The “expert” drove the Alpine with me as the passenger, and failed to impress me with either his knowledge or driving ability. The Alpine was pretty much perfect, and also underpriced. My father thought that everyone maintained their cars as we did, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The “expert” knew it was a better car, even without the price difference, but could not bear to admit it.

Dad never let me drive the Alpine, feeling I would put it into a ditch within 5 miles, which was a bit harsh. I certainly waxed the red paint a lot, and loved going on occasional rallies as the navigator, where Dad would actually drive the car with brio, as it was designed to do. My Mother, on the other hand, drove it that way all the time, and rides with her were much more fun. On one occasion, I was allowed to start it in the driveway and drive it – 20 feet forward to park it in the garage. That was it.

As life turned out, he should have given me the Alpine instead of the 1963 Mercury he left with me when Boeing, after years of trying, head-hunted him away from Minneapolis. This was in the dirge of life that followed my Mother’s untimely death from cancer at the age of 49.

He felt a bit guilty at “abandoning me” (I was 20), so the Mercury was added to the Yamaha 250 motorcycle I’d just purchased.  In truth, the Mercury was far more practical, and the Alpine would not have done well sitting outside in the three Minnesota winters that passed before I moved, but still…

Current value:  Maybe $6,000 to $10,000

1969 Camaro Z28.   Truly the one that got away. Once I’d been offered a teaching job at Rose Hill Junior High in Kirkland, I spent the last two months of college in Minnesota mooning about the new car I’d buy when the money began to roll in. $7,200 dollars a year!  My God, what a munificent sum! My preferences boiled down to a Mustang or a Camaro, and I settled on a Z28 Camaro in yellow with the black stripes, and of course a 4 speed. This would have cost about $3,500, and I was set to take out a loan for 50% of my salary in September. Instead, I crashed my Yamaha three days after arriving, and spent the summer with my arm in a sling with my separated shoulder healing after the surgery. This also cost me a great summer job one of my new colleagues had lined up for me without even meeting me. No money, no Camaro.

On the upside, I met Susan two years later and learned that she really did not like this car. At all. It made her think of mullet hairdos and disco.  I actually liked the mullet, which was not a popular thing to admit even then, and I always liked disco.  Oh well.  I have yet to drive one!

Current value:        $35,000 to $60,000 depending on condition.

1958 Corvette. Actually the first car I purchased for real. My Dad sold me the Mercury shortly after I arrived, because I’d crashed and destroyed my Yamaha and was making noises about purchasing a new bike and a $500 clunker to drive when needed, and he did not want me to die in a death trap car. He sold me the Mercury for $1,500 with low payments (and interest) -much less than what it was worth.

The Corvette was purchased in 1972, a month after we were married, and about two weeks after I learned that Susan loved “old” Corvettes but hated new ones. Knowing that she was an enthusiast, I sold my new Honda 500 4 motorcycle (which was actually such a perfect motorcycle it bored me to tears) and purchased a 1958 Corvette with…“needs.”  It had been painted a sickly blue with rattle cans, and white racing stripes applied with – a brush. The interior was in dark gray plastic metal flake material, if you can imagine that, with a tear or two in the seats repaired with bright green tape.  The chrome front wheels had been stolen, and narrowed black rims from a Nova were back in there somewhere.  I paid $800, and driving home on a warm summer evening listening to the 283 burble through the leaking glass pack mufflers,  top down and rowing through the 4 speed transmission –  it was love.

Within two months I’d purchased two new chrome front rims, had the car painted a butterscotch color, and had the interior redone in a dark tan with matching carpets.  Much better!  I removed the spare tire and put a can of Fix-A-Flat into the trunk, which I lined with scraps of tannish orange shag carpet cut and glued into place. Appalling, but it was 1972.

To the dismay of Corvette enthusiasts, a small hood scoop was installed at the time of the paint job, in order to clear the Edelbrock high rise and Holley carburetor, right in the middle of the washboard ripples on the hood that were a 1958 only styling feature of the Corvette.

We used this for our 2nd honeymoon of that year. The first was in March, the week after our wedding, and involved a 5 day ride down the coast of Oregon on the Honda. It did not rain, as I had promised my fiancé it would not.  The 2nd was a two week camping trip with the newly fettled and farkled Corvette into Canada, where we parked on the shore of Lake Louise and went for hikes each day.  The top stayed down for the entire trip. Bliss.

All of a muddle with excitement, I joined a Corvette club, although Susan warned me it would not turn out well. Sure enough, most of them were into modern Corvettes with panel paint jobs and big stereos.  I got my revenge for several social snubs at a Redmond High Homecoming, where the club provided the cars for the parade. All of the students gathered around mine and ignored the new ones.

At a club picnic, I was standing in a group when the topic turned to rain. I exclaimed that I loved driving in the rain, because I could make a turn from a stop sign and go down the road half sideways for 200 yards.  Most of them, it turned out, did not drive in the rain.

At all.

Ever.

Someone asked why I did, and I replied “I have to. It’s our only car.”  Suddenly I was standing all alone…

At this time I was working Sundays as a drag race announcer at (then) Seattle International Raceway. One day, after the racing was concluded, the crew decided I should race the other announcer, who had a …Pinto wagon. We pulled up to the start area, both in the same lane. I did a burn-out in reverse to switch lanes, which was well received. The “Christmas tree” starting lights had been stored, so the start was an old fashioned wave of an arm. To make it a “fair” race, the Pinto was given about a half track lead. I took off and the car reared up on all four wheels and really got after it.  I won.

The next week I found out that the front suspension was about to fall off the car…

A year later the oil began to turn a milky white, the sign of a blown head gasket. After replacing the gaskets, twice, to no avail, an engine strip down was taken on. To the shock of Roy Urban, my friend who ran a repair shop (I was his first customer, and the signed check for the clutch job hung in a frame on the wall), the engine had a porous block. With a flash light and the block on a stand with a hose connected to the water intake, you could state mesmerized as drops appeared as they oozed through what appeared to the naked eye to be a solid cylinder wall!  We also discovered a notch in one of the cylinders, the result of a mishap in former days as a drag racer, and forged 12.5 to 1 compression pistons!  I did not have the money for a set of headers, which probably would have added 100 horsepower, and ended up with a lot of intake capability, tons of compression, and stock headers which acted as a cork. Oh well.

The car was a heater and radio delete car, another hint as to its drag racing original intent. I purchased a heater from a wrecking yard, and it sat on the shelf for a year while I mustered the courage to attempt what I thought would be a mammoth job.  During that time we drove to Vancouver for my father’s 3rd (of 5!) wedding, with Susan wrapped in a blanket against the cold and clearing the mist from the inside of the windshield with a towel.

In the end, installing the heater required removing and replacing 4 bolts and hooking up the linkage. Took about an hour.

We also used this car for our first attempts at sports car rallies.  This was a bit of a challenge, as the speedometer did not work, but I could usually guess our speed pretty well. We gave up after an event where one of us (our versions differ) was so mad at the other that he (or she) was pounding on the dashboard. We returned to rallying 20 years later and began winning almost immediately, mostly because the driver (that would be me) had learned to just shut up and do what she told me to do!

When Dorine was born in 1975 the Corvette had to go.  It was our only car, and you cannot put a child safety seat (then the new hot thing) in a Corvette. By that time the flaws of the car were beginning to get to me. It was not really all that fast, did not corner well, had mediocre drum brakes, and ate premium fuel at about 12 mpg. An enjoyable 12 miles, but still. It looked and sounded gorgeous, but it needed to go.  We sold it for $2,700, close to what we had in it, and I watched the new Canadian owner drive away with his 9 year old son. I was actually relieved to see the car go.

On the wall of my classroom for decades was a 3’ x 2’ foot black and white blown up picture of the Corvette, which students always marveled at.  They would ask whose car it was, and were gob smacked when I told them it had been mine.   Their amazement deepened when I told them I had sold it when our daughter was born – teen age boys could not imagine such a sacrifice.

Current value:                  $35,000 – 75,000 depending on condition

1967 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe.  This was a brilliant car. An airy cabin offered great vision out; although I’m sure the roof would collapse if you were so crass as to roll it.  A willing 4 cylinder engine, four wheel disc brakes, and a perfect 5 speed manual transmission.  The most fun car to drive I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Corvette and the Porsche 911.  The only thing it lacked was about 70 more horsepower, which the chassis could have handled. Ours was perfectly reliable, except for the fan switch, which failed every two years.  Fortunate, as this was one of the very few repairs I could make myself – in about two minutes. I do not know what I paid for ours, or what I sold it for, or when, but it was a treasure.

Current value:        First, you’d have to find one!

We also had a Fiat 124 Spider from about 1984 to 1992.  It was, I think, a 1968, purchased from a friend who’d purchased a 2nd one that was newer, and then a 3rd to be used as a parts car.  Ours was a bit of a George Washington’s axe, and had well trundled over 200,000 miles when we bought it. It also had Fiat mags, a roll bar, and the preferred red paint.  Our kids loved the car, until they grew taller and began to bonk their heads on the roll bar over every bump.  We went on a couple of rallies in this car and did very well.

One of the last adventures with that car was when it got shot. A miscreant student, who later died after committing a dozen or more felonies in his short life, brought a stolen high-powered BB pistol to school.  To show off to his friends, he went out to the parking lot and shot my car several times. Ironically, I parked my car away from all the others to keep it from getting parking lot dings.

At that time the state had a victim’s compensation fund, so I put in for a replacement driver’s side window, outside mirror and convertible top.  I had to stay on top of the case and write several letters, but 9 months later I got a check for the damages. The repairs themselves were made the weekend after the assault with pieces taken from my friend’s parts car.

Current value:  These are actually pretty common, and the ones on the west coast have not rusted to dust. They make up a healthy percentage of the Fiat club I belong to, in states of condition from perilous to perfect.  $3,000 to $8,000 depending on condition, and a great way to get in to classic sports cars. We sold ours to make way for a 1975 Porsche 911 S Targa – the worst mistake of my car ownership life.

Hillman(s). I actually had the pleasure of driving two of them. In high school my parents owned a 1959 Hillman four door sedan that was available to me if I needed a car, but not for riding to school every day on a perfectly good bus. My first experience with a four speed shift on the floor, and I learned that you could not simply downshift into 3rd entering a corner at 50mph.  Good thing, as the engine would have over-revved and blown up if I had succeeded.  My favorite summer was when the exhaust pipe rusted through, and I begged my father not to repair it as it sounded so marvelous.  I had a street drag race with a Triumph TR3, where the extremely low first gear shot me ahead, and then it was over.

While we owned the Corvette I found a 1959 Hillman “Husky,” a 2 door station wagon.  Ours was in a parlous state. There was no headliner, so you could bang your head on the roof and make a sound like a wrench in a metal sewer pipe. The seats were not attached at the back, so hard braking would see you tilting forward. Susan drove this everywhere at about 70mph, despite my warnings that the brakes were not that great. On one occasion there was a wiring fire behind the dash. I ripped apart the dashboard, which was cardboard with a plastic “wood” surface, and put out the fire with a rag. Some duct tape and it was repaired.

We sold it for not very much to a young man as his first car, despite his older brother arguing against it. They were back in 30 minutes, as the car had died and “failed to proceed.”  A friend and I grabbed a tool box and went to investigate. The lead from the coil had fallen out. My friend found a small twig on the ground and put the coil wire back in with the twig as a shim. Success!  The new owner drove off with pride.

Current value:                  Not much, but good luck finding one.

1975 Porsche 911S Targa.   Better known as the disaster. The short version: Purchased for $10,500, put another $20,000 into it over the next eight years, and sold for $7,500.   That, my friends, is ugly. When shopping I ignored all of the advice I’d been giving others for years. It was red, it was magic, and we agreed to buy it in ten minutes. On the way home I found that the master cylinder was peeing brake fluid all over the floor. I knew the tires needed to be replaced.  Did not bother to check that the Guards Red paint was not the original color.  It was wonderful when it was well, but when anything went wrong it ranged from expensive to you have got to be kidding. I did a lot of rallies in it, with Susan or Will or Dorine as navigator, and we had a lot of fun and did very well.

Will was a fantastic navigator, capable of doing complex feats of math and timing calculations in his head. On the occasion when we got off course, which became more and more seldom over time, he would figure out how to get back on course and calculate how much time we needed to make up before the next check point. In a rally you do not know where the next check point is, so he would say “balls to the wall – have fun.”  After a few minutes of excitement he’d decide we were back on time and tell me to back off.  I was worried for years that he would become a mad hatter of a teen age driver, but he did not.

Showing my flat learning curve, I joined the Porsche club. Other members were not impressed with my car (again!), and expressed horror at the small bubbles of rust at the base of the hood. On one occasion I drove it to a club concours. I did not want to enter; just to park in an obvious spot and enjoy all the anal retentives having the fantods as they looked at my car.

Susan has pointed out that we owned this car while our kids were in their teen age years, and once in a while we would sneak away for a romantic weekend at a B&B on Whidbey Island or some such.  She points out that those were terrific times.  Since the car cost us about $3000 a year to own, I should hope so!

Overall, the experience left me not wanting to own a Porsche ever again, whereas I would love to own a Corvette again.  Not the car’s fault, but mine for being the idiot who purchased the wrong one.

Current value:        Has gone up since I started typing this. With all of its many needs attended to, a 1975 Porsche 911S Targa is now $35,000 – $50,000.

From the mid-1990s on I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased only new cars, with the exception of an ancient Mazda pick-up purchased for very seldom use. None of them are likely to become classics in the future, although I suppose our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport will be valuable about 20 years after my death, if I live a long time.

Do I regret not keeping all of these cars, even if I could have? Not really.  One of life’s cruel ironies is that when you get into an older classic car you realize in short order how good the new ones are.  No creature comforts, little power, iffy brakes, suspect handling, and frequent needed maintenance are all facts of life we do not deal with today.

Besides, there is my friend Mary McGee. Mary raced sports cars and motorcycles for about 50 years, and may not be done yet. She raced a Mercedes Benz 300 SL as her first race car (!), (see above), and also XKE Jags and several race Porsches, including an RS 500.  She did not own any of them, but if she had they would be worth several million today.  Doesn’t bother her much, so why should I besmear these fine memories with regret?

Of course, when I win a big lottery…

Copyright 2014                          David Preston

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