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Platform Tennis And My Paddle People

The Peachtree Invitational was in town this weekend, the annual platform tennis championship that brings top American talent to Atlanta for fierce competition, hearty partying and many laughs under cold, wet and generally gray conditions.

Marking the 10th year anniversary of this local event, platform tennis, also nicknamed paddle, is  an 87-year old game played outdoors generally in the winter using a heavy yellow ball zipping around a wire-meshed wrapped mini-tennis court.  Better known in cold weather environs, paddle courts are springing up everywhere around here, including three new ones coming soon to the Bitsy Grant tennis center bringing the metro area court count to about 14.  Paddle requires a high degree of hand-eye coordination, good footwork and patience, and is generally made up of people with high proficiency in tennis, squash or racketball.  According to Peter Lauer, the founder of the Peachtree Paddle league and the man credited with bringing the sport south, paddle is the “chess of racquet sports”, and requires a lot of thinking, teamwork and an ability to dress in layers.

Your blogger participated in said event paired up by the tournament organizer with another Bob, a crafty paddle veteran now living and playing a lot of paddle in Florida of all places.  Despite some adequate and spirited play, “Team Bobbsey Twins” made an unceremonious first round exit losing a heart-breaking three-set match.  One of the nice things about a paddle tournament though, in addition to the morning-to-night, free flowing kegs, chili pots and warming huts, is if you lose in the first round, you go to a consolation round, and if you lose again, you get one more chance.  For the record, “Team Bobbsey Twins” did put one big W on the board but our off-court antic also gained us some notoriety.

You see the whole tournament is built around a big Saturday shindig, where the stories fly as freely as the drinks, and all of the participants and significant others gather to celebrate late into the night. My playing partner Bob who we put up at the house for the weekend (that’s what you do in paddle) went with me to the party at a fine Buckhead estate, the same one that hosted last year’s party.

Your blogger, having attended last year and being a bit of a know it all, knew exactly where to go without bothering to look at the house directions.   A left here, right there, and before you know it we were right where we were supposed to be.  And, right on cue, there were makeshift valet parking signs indicating that we had arrived.  Pleased that this paddle thing had really gone upscale by having valet parking this year, and happy to not have to walk in the rain, we pulled right into an exquisite driveway, the car was whisked away and we entered the vaguely familiar beautiful home already full.

We walked right in and everyone was so friendly and welcoming.   The bar was set up right in the front. people looked fit and healthy like a paddle crowd should, and most of the men were wearing jackets, as were we, which was the recommended dress of the evening.   We were encouraged to go into the other room for hors d’oeuvres and everything seemed just right with the world.

Except, of course, we were at the wrong party.

Now you have to admit that this realization would cause a bit of awkwardness.  The food looked great, the bar well stocked, the car safely valeted and over in the corner I saw some people I recognized, including Ted Turner’s daughter. What to do?

Feeling like the Wedding Crashers or the imposters that showed up at the White House, I decided to fessed up.  The lady who seemed in charge, laughed, said we should have a drink and not worry about it.   I gave that strong consideration, thought about asking for shots instead, but decided, first and foremost, we are paddle people and though we were very impressed by everything going on at Party number 2, we had a duty to go to Party number 1.

We slinked out out of the house, tipped the valet guys and headed out into the cold and wet night in search of our paddle tennis brethren.


Ski Boots

Ski season is in full bustle and if they only had lifts and slightly more elevation, some of the best conditions today might be New York City’s Central Park or Boston’s Bunker Hill. But with all of the white stuff aflitter, my recent two-day ski pilgrimage to Park City once again reminded me of the dark side of the downhill, the dredged ski boot.

In the ol’ memory bank, I had put the entire “getting ready for skiing” thing out of mind and kept my recollections to “Bogue Miller” Bob bombing down the groomed blue diamond slopes decked out in 1980’s ski fashion with no GoPro on my helmet and slightly too small goggles completing the total dork look. But only after my friend casually told me that he hurt his back putting on his boots did I flashback to the Breeze Ski and Snowboard rental shop where just days ago I too experienced the agony and then the pleasure, the in and then out, of the proverbial ski boot.

For the first skiing day, I wore my best Thorlo socks, hitched them up with no wrinkles, made sure nothing was caught inside and bravely tried to slip my big sized 10 feet into a size 10 boot. The nice young man at the shop reminded me that I should pull the tongue all the way out of its enclosed plastic shell which I eventually did, only to be faced with biometrically impossible task of tightening the buckles. I could see the boots, but I couldn’t touch them, and I do yoga (see “Locked In Concrete”).

So when all else failed and I could not contort myself like a pretzel without pulling something, I started to beg and threaten. I begged the nice young man to help tighten me down. When he got distracted, I threaten my son, promising to keep him out of the will if he didn’t get right over and help his old man out. A few years ago in Steamboat Springs, I swear that I had an Olympic downhill medal winner help boot me up. Yes, Hilary, it does take a village.

During the process, I became a bit jealous of the snowboarders. Their shoes seem comfortable and warm. I also thought about the ski boot’s first cousin, the bowling shoe. Despite the smell and the somewhat repulsive thought of who else has worn these things, at least they have laces and are, at times, even fashionable (speaking of repulsive thoughts, have you thought about how many people stand on the exact same spot going through security, those two feet painted on the floor, many barefoot, hour upon hour, day after day? But I digress).

Anyway, after two full day on the slopes, mostly eating in the overpriced but strategically located Mid-Mountain Lodges where they seem to put the bathrooms in the hardest place to navigate wearing ski boots, I was more than happy to say good-bye to my Salomon’s and seriously consider cross country or just getting massages on my next ski outing.

Kudos To Sony’s Marketing Team

You’ve got to hand it to the Sony marketing team. They really outdid themselves this time.

They have taken the old NBC”s “Must See TV” adage and made it a reality for a B grade movie with an ill-advised plot. Every American needs to man or woman up, get in line and spend some Christmas bonus money on a ticket for “The Interview”. No question about it, this needs to become one of the best-selling movies of all time because America does not negotiate with terrorists and we won’t let some young punk who inherited a crazed country tell us what we can and cannot watch.

Hats off to Sony for pulling this off. They played their hand to perfection, from the pre-release threat not to go forward, to the hacking incident that only fanned the flames of interest in everything Sony, to the canceled Christmas Day release. They even got the main protagonist in the movie to play his role in real life. He has taken the bait 100%. The only thing that they didn’t do was get Dennis Rodman involved.

Now it is time for us to do our part. We really have no choice. Even if we want to cover our eyes and stick our fingers in our ears, we need to see “The Interview”. It is our patriotic duty. We can come back and revisit if Sony’s shrewd marketing crossed the line and have a more thorough discussion about Hollywood in general, but for the time being, we need to lace up our boots, heat up the car and head on down to the local movie hole and like they said in the 1976 classic, “Network”, scream that we aren’t going to take it anymore.

Introducing Bob Cramer, London

Based on repeated trips to the mall, the world clearly needs one more great fashion brand named after a male designer. So with no expenses spared, I am pleased to announce the creation of my newest venture: Bob Cramer, London.

Now Ralph (Lauren), Tommy (Hilfiger), Michael (Kors), Calvin (Klein) and the rest of you, first of all, thank you for welcoming me to the club.  Please don’t see me as a threat, just look at Bob Cramer, London, as a chance to grow our collective market.

Yes, you will be seeing a lot of press coming soon, especially as I focus on struggling retailers needing something new to spiff up interest.   J.C. Penney’s will start with an exclusive on my women’s line, Abercrombie and Fitch will debut my young men’s line, and yes, for some extra royalty, I agreed to be the model.  Target too has promised that they are only going to take cash when selling my line so no worries.

Bob Cramer, London, has set a high bar with only American manufacturing, the finest Pauley’s Island Cotton, breathtaking design and color patterns and a full product line-up from pajamas to evening ware and everything in between.  When you buy a Bob Cramer, London product, you will know and everybody who sees you will confirm that you have arrived.  And wait until you see our children’s line, coming just in time for back to school, 2014.

Furthermore, Bob Cramer, London, is planning a public offering in the first quarter next year.  My dear friend, Mr. Kors, did pretty well with his IPO in 2011, and Ralph’s company has been no slacker either.   Analysts agree that Bob Cramer, London, has similar characteristics, but higher growth opportunities because of its newness and a secret, soon to be released, second brand focused on women’s hair products simply called “The Bob”.

I May Have Won The Lottery

Your ever-opportunistic blogger was out and about yesterday in Buckhead and decided to partake in the Mega Billions lottery craze.  Finding myself in the brand new office tower adjoining Phipps Plaza, I ducked into the little newspaper stand and said hit me with $10 worth of those life changing random numbers.

Well, well, well.  I awake this morning to learn that, you guessed it, one of the two mega-mucho-money winning tickets was purchased at this EXACT place.  Now, now, you all calm down.  I am going to take my time, have my coffee and do some planning before I check my winning numbers.

First, must focus on security.  How do I keep people from stealing that magic piece of paper?  My house is now officially a no-fly zone and everything is on lock down.  No kids’ friends over to study for exams, no UPS deliverers claiming to be bringing Holidays goodies, and no guests over for eggnog or to see our Christmas tree that I must say is well done this year.

Second, I need to plan how I am going to quit my job.  Everybody quits their job after winning mega millions, right?  I need to walk right to the boss’s office, burst in no matter who is in there, and tell him adios. I would like to say goodbye to my work colleagues but maybe I will just send them each a check instead.

Third, I need to get ready to hear from some new relatives; so many new cousins coming out of the woodwork that they may topple my family tree. The phone will surely ring like crazy so might need to change my number, get a new email and definitely drop all that Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter stuff while I am it.

I must say, it is getting kind of lonely planning for my big winnings.  But money is money and all these millions will change my life.  I can’t wait.  Maybe now I need to look at my ticket and confirm the inevitable.  Well, here I go and there is no going back to the way it used to be.

Onward To A High School Diploma

On the heels of last week’s local elections, Atlanta and many cities across America have newly elected school boards each promising positive change, more accountability and a better education for our children.

Here in Atlanta, approximately half of the students who start ninth grade in the Atlanta Public Schools don’t graduate.  Nationally, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds.  The personal, societal and economic impact of educational failure is massive and maddening.

These sobering statistics unfortunately cast a negative shadow on the work of millions of highly motivated and dedicated educators who daily do their best to teach, inspire and guide young people.  It must be frustrating beyond belief that the national statistics don’t reflect a better collective end result.  Perhaps there is solace in knowing that one has contributed as much as can be done on an individual level, but that structural forces bigger than any of us are holding back greater outcomes.

On a brighter note, a myriad of educational reform programs are beginning to chip away at some of the gunk that may be at the clogging up the system.  With no personal ability to judge what is the needed diagnosis, I share anecdotally some ideas and curriculum approaches that have crossed my path with hopes that they illuminate a way forward, recalibrate the dropout yield curve and provide a new generation jazzed and juiced to build a better country and healthier world.

The Future Project is on a mission to transform America’s high schools into the most inspiring places on earth (now that’s what I’m talking about!).  Using a full time “Dream Director” whose only job is to help students act on their dreams, The Future Project is helping students develop the confidence, 21st century skills and passion to succeed in the classroom and beyond.  Based on great early results with over 1,000 students in three states, The Future Project in just its third year is spanning out across the country.

The National College Advising Corp  recruits recent college graduates to serve as full-time college counselors at under-served high schools to make sure that qualified students don’t miss out on a college education.  Helping students navigate the complex web of admission and financial aid, NCAC raises the college go-rate of many low-income, first generation college attendees. Today there are 372 counselors assisting over 100,000 students a year.

Outward Bound’s Expeditionary Learning program offers experiential project-based curriculum and professional teacher development to help transform existing schools into places where students become leaders in their own learning.  With a focus on the national Common Core curriculum and beyond, EL’s program combines effective content with rigorous practice, bringing together the “what” and “how” for engaging instruction.   Over nearly two decades, EL has grown from a mere 10 schools into a program the size of a major urban school district.

While not comprehensive, these three programs represent change afoot, offering small glimmers of innovative light cast against the much larger vortex of federal, state and individual school board programs each seeking improvement in their own ways.  Perhaps educator Wanda Hopkins-McClure, during Friday’s insightful TEDxPeachtree conference, got it right when she said “innovation in education will happen one teacher, one student, one classroom at a time.”  Well, that time is now.  We cannot wait and we need to aggressively rethink how we can fix this broken system so vital to our future success.

Out Of This World

A recent NY Times story says there may be 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.  Yes, that’s 40 billion, each represented like individual dollars floating weightlessly around in Warren Buffett’s vast bank account.  The planets, supported by sun-like stars that keeps surface temperatures in the Goldilocks zone—not too hot, not too cold–should be compatible with liquid water and therefore capable of sustaining human life, according to the report. Just imagine, out of these 40 billion planets, you would think a dozen or so might have inhabitants of some sort and represent the ultimate growth market.

In that context, I was thinking about Atlanta, it’s Fortune 500 companies, technology community and political leaders.  For example, Delta could “keep climbing” right out of our solar system, offering flights to new planets and set up complicated intra-planet connecting flights that finally don’t require an ATL layover. We would need to expand the downtown Coke museum to include new flavors sold in new worlds. UPS with their love of logistics could probably figure out how to guarantee your package delivery by 10:30AM, universally. Heck, even the growing Atlanta tech scene could participate with GA Tech’s breakthrough online engineering program giving new meaning to distance learning and startups residing at David Cummings’ Atlanta Tech Village (ATV) literally shooting for the stars.

Re-elected but with global ambition, Atlanta Mayor Reed might eventually want to become Ambassador to the United Planets, the successor to the United Nations.  And as they are apt to do, our state and local political leaders might get supporters to send them on even more “out of this world” junkets.  Atlanta, which has finally gotten on the world stage, will need to reformulate its strategy to earn its rightful place in the expanding universe.  The Metro Chamber better put on a new pot of coffee.

Wall Street might also need to adjust.  Market opportunity takes on a whole new meaning. Foreign markets are really foreign knowing it will take a minimum of 12 light years just to reach them.  Bitcoin is expected to become the new universal currency but I wonder even if their creators anticipated interplanetary expansion.  Elon Musk, with his vast portfolio companies that include SpaceX, Hyperloop, Solar City and Tesla, may become our country’s go-to guy, and I foresee him doing a leverage buy out of NASA in return for helping fix

According to the article, none of the 40 billion planets cited are exactly Earth’s twin—“Earth 2.0 in the argot”, whatever that means.  So I guess the reality of little earth-like people roaming around malls and stuck in traffic might be a little out there.  But it sure is fun to think about, with so much potential commerce just sitting there in the night sky.

MARTA, new urbanism and the future of Atlanta

As the buzz from the mind-expanding (Co)Lab conference slowly recedes, I cannot help but think of comments made in the very final session of the day and a half collaborative leadership summit.

They came from the CEO of MARTA.  He said that MARTA was seriously underfunded compared to our peer cities and beginning to fall further and further behind.  His simple and to the point comment flies in the face of basically all the other rhetoric coming from the high brow conference speakers imaging an Atlanta of the future.  Simply put, without a world-class public transportation system, you don’t have a world-class city.

We can talk all we want about new urbanism, “hipsturbia”, walkable cities and the like.  Call it what you want, but without a world-class public transportation system it doesn’t work here in the ATL.

We can talk about attracting millennials who one speaker said would “rather give up their car than their cell phone” but without world-class public transportation, you cannot simply walk all over Atlanta.

We can talk about improving education, decreasing smog and opening up new job possibilities for the disenfranchised, but without mobility and a world-class public transportation system, it is mainly just talk.

It is actions that speak louder than words and I think the excessive focus on the new Falcons stadium sums up some flaws in our thinking.  We have left no stone unturned to convince two historic churches to relocate so the City can contribute, according to Jay Bookman in the AJC, not just $200 million, but really close to $1 billion in public money, to build a stationary stadium used a few dozen times a year.

I wonder what the amplifying effect would be if we took this passion, our city money and used the $1 billion dollars to lead an expansion, improvement and upgrading of MARTA.  What would do more to make Atlanta a world-class city?

It is all about priorities, leadership and wise investment.  And the irony that we have to build the new stadium on the more expensive and disruptive “South” location primarily because it is near a MARTA stop shouldn’t be lost on any of us.

An ATL Weekend To Remember

Atlanta showed off this weekend and proved yet again why it is one great American city. With something for everybody, I tried to do everything.

One minute I stood eye to eye with the world’s 30 best golfers at the historic East Lake Golf Club, another minute on the edge of my seat at the world debut of Barry Manilow’s powerful new musical, Harmony, which tells the story of a famous six man vocal group banned by the Nazis.

On Sunday I joining 1,400 other Atlantans who spent a crystal clear, chamber of commerce weekend afternoon inside Symphony Hall at the inaugural (Co)Lab, a collaborative learning summit to make our wonderful city an even better place to live. On Friday, 400 of us gathered at an Atlanta art gallery for Hope Flies, an evening to celebrate hope and raise funds and awareness for the most promising Mitochondrial disease research and treatments.   On Saturday, 100,000 gathered in Piedmont Park for Music Midtown, dancing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers amidst the raindrops.  (To be honest, I missed the concert, but my son attended and I had to pick him up so it was just like I was there).

Civic pride, charity and remarkable doses of humanity on display everywhere.   At the golf, talk centers on the transformation of the East Lake, community revitalization and the massive Charter school being built just across from the club.  At (Co)lab, Atlanta boosterism alive and well but backed up with talk about the BeltLine (one speaker said it was the greatest urban opportunity for any American city), the shareable city initiative and the positive impact of the arts.  At Hope Flies, the quiet dignity, pure courage and internal strength of people caring for those inflicted with this little known disease (please note, 1 in 2,500 people suffer from Mitochondrial disease and it has very strong connections to other better known diseases like Autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).  At dinner before the moving Harmony, a brief but touching conversation with a healthy 82-year old man who after enjoying a hearty shrimp and grits dinner, followed by dessert, talked about life’s blessings as he planned a 2014 trip with his wife to New Zealand.

Blessings were all over the ATL this weekend. And to top it off, I got a chance to shake hands with Mayor Reed late Sunday.  For the man ultimately responsible for making things work around here, he sure looked pretty cool, calm and collected.

Student Government

I was a freshman at Emory University when Bert Lance, a Georgia banker and close confidant of then President Jimmy Carter, came under national scrutiny for questionable banking practices.  Mr. Lance died last week at the age of 82 and while history may judge he got a bum rap back when, Mr. Lance and his well-publicized troubles played a bit role in my collegiate political career.

Let me explain.

A crowded field of young, up-and-coming political types were all jockeying their way to earn one of three spots representing freshman interests on the Emory student government association (SGA), a highly coveted position to influence policies and events on campus while assisting with graduate school admission and perhaps future fame and fortune. To gain name recognition which was the campaign’s most important facet, Emory’s best and brightest littered the campus with professionally produced campaign fliers. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought these people were running for Congress as each 8 1/2 by 11” poster had a more perfect headshot than the next (and this was before desktop publishing made it economically feasible to produce such work).

Your dedicated blogger, who had some concerns about the Emory freshman experience, was out late one night and perhaps after a few too many thought it was silly how seriously the announced candidates were taking this “freshman” election.  With a mind full of mush, your dedicated blogger thought that he could have some fun with this whole thing, perhaps stand out from the crowd and get himself elected.

So with haste and a ballpoint pen, your dedicated blogger whipped up a stick figure self-portrait complete with an “I Love Emory” T-shirt (I Love NY was the advertising rage at that time) to stand in stark contrast to the other candidates’ picture perfect headshots.  Then, with a marker, the rest of my campaign poster came to life, with “Bobby Cramer for SGA”, “Here is my picture” and an earnest, “I will, in all seriousness, appreciate your vote”.  The whole process took about five minutes.

Not bragging here, but the poster was a huge hit.  My name recognition soared, and somehow I qualified for the run-off election where the top nine vote earners competed for three final SGA spots.

Not one to rest on my laurels, I needed to keep the momentum alive for the run-off.  Figuring that humor was always the best bet, I made us some quotes of then prominent people, Bert Lance included, and placed them stand right next to my little hand drawn picture on my new run-off poster:

“He is a real leader!”–Richard Nixon

“He is trustworthy, dependable!”–Bert Lance

“He is so cute!”–Mrs. Cramer

Well, I was elected and went on to serve with some distinction on the SGA, mustering up the courage one night to speak up at a dinner at Emory President James Laney’s house, which resulted in a presidential visit to my Dobbs Hall dorm, an open and frank conversation with my freshman “constituents” and the eventual establishment of a Freshman Council.  I kid you not.

Mr. Lance’s recent passing made me think of this story and that campaign, harkening back to a simpler time, when an aspiring and buzzed college kid could connect with peers, affect positive change and get a little laugh without even using Facebook.



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