Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Afternoon Class

I always enjoyed my afternoon classes in college and law school. Once I passed the 2:00 lull and took a siesta break (if time and space allowed), I always found afternoons more relaxing. The shock of the morning, a thing of the past, the flow of the day is established by afternoon and, I don't know, there's just something about being able to listen and learn at that time of day. The pace feels different. Yesterday, I had a chance to experience yet another afternoon ... what shall I call it? A learning session.

Over the past few weeks, I've been busy looking for work, so Eldercation has taken a back seat. And while those efforts have been necessary, the experience has been a frustrating one. Still, I knew it was time to get back in the game and I needed to do it quickly. So that's what I did. And two phone calls into my web-researched short list, I met yet another special person in Karen Carmack, the activity director at a retirement community called The Gardens on Barry Road, (right down the street from Garden Village). I’d originally spoken with Karen several weeks ago and, after having a great chat about our shared loved of both elders and yoga, we picked out a date when I'd come up to meet with some residents. We thought it would be best to meet some folks first as a group, and then, if I passed the test, perhaps some individual interviews would follow. It’s funny, when Karen suggested the group approach, I immediately remembered my Wellington At Arapaho experience in Richardson, Texas.

Misunderstanding my initial request, Terry, (the Wellington's activity director), arranged for the residents to meet me in the large day room, just off the Wellington’s main lobby. When I arrived for what I thought was going to be my first one-on-one interview, the room already had 25 smiling faces waiting for me. Another five residents soon walked in ... followed by eight more ... followed by seven more. At one point, I think there were more than 45 people in the room. (Those are some of the Wellington folks on the left). I lovingly refer to that episode as my "surprise town meeting" but you know what? I loved it. I was forced to call an audible at the line and was able to create, with the residents' help of course, an extraordinary experience. It had been years since I had done Eldercation interviews in a group setting like that, the last time being at The Murray Hill Center in NYC, where I organized and conducted several focus groups.

Well, Karen's town meeting wasn’t going to be a surprise since we had already mapped out the plan. Still, I hadn’t really thought about preparing all that much ahead of time. My focus has been and will always be on the residents and what they have to say. I don’t want to show up some place and blabber for an hour. It’s about them – not me.

* * * * * * * * * *

After meeting Karen in the main lobby, we immediately walked down to the activity room, where about ten people were already seated at a long table.

“You’re waiting for me?” I laughed as I put down my bag. They all smiled as they watched me quietly, as I pulled a few papers from a folder.

“They said 3:30,” one man said, pointing to his watch. “We’re very precise people, you know,” he added, flashing a warm smile.

“I know, I know. I’m early. It’s a bad habit."

At that, I walked around and introduced myself to each person one at a time, shaking their hands or patting them on the back. The next thing I knew, I was sitting across from the group, explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing. As I talked, more people came in from the left, and then the right. I’d say a total of about 15 folks showed up, a perfect size to get a good discussion going. Or so I'd hoped.

Just in case I was met with a wall of shy silence, I printed out a few materials - past interview excerpts I could use to stimulate discussion. I also decided to pose a few Eldercation questions and, as you’d imagine, there were one or two people who couldn’t wait to have their say. But then others chimed in and … we were off to the races. It was so much fun. People talked about their experiences growing up during The Great Depression, what it was like growing up on a farm during that time and how that compared to the city experience. People talked openly about the changes they've seen, both good and bad, with the wonders of today's technology. It' s so much fun to talk with folks who have had a box seat for observing the past century's changes. It’s always fun. Soon after we started, Karen stopped working at her desk in back of us and wandered over to take a seat at the table. She was nice enough to snap a few photos which you see here. An hour an a half later – (it felt like ten minutes) it was time to wind up. All I know is, I want to interview every single person who sat at that table.

“Everyone qualifies,” I joked at one point. “Because you all have something to share, you all have a story.”

Barry Road. It looks like I'm going to become very familiar with that street over the next several weeks. I have my work cut out for me - two terrific retirement communities.

Who am I kidding?
I'm gonna have a blast.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Allez cuisine!!!"

I love "Iron Chef" and always wanted to see one of the competitions live. I just didn't think it was going to happen in Kansas City and at a retirement community, no less. But, that's what I did the other day. A new friend, Mary Jane, is the activity director at an independent living community - Garden Village. As my blog readers already know, I went up there the other day for lunch, but Mary Jane called the very next day and suggested I join a Garden Village troupe to see an Iron Chef competition. Naively, and I'm almost embarrassed to say this, I actually thought I was seeing a regional competition for the actual Iron Chef TV show on The Food Network. You know, where the best of the best get to go wisk to wisk with the likes of Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Well ... that's not exactly what I was heading to see, but it was close.

When I arrived at Garden Village, I heard a voice from above as I walked through the door. It was Mary Jane coming down one of the sets of the building's long white stone stairways. The place is one of the prettiest retirement communities I've seen while on the Eldercation road. Within a few seconds, two wide-eyed, pretty little girls in bright orange cheerleader outfits appeared, one was Mary Jane's granddaughter, Caroline, and the other was Caroline's friend, Linley. Within a few minutes, we bonded and I spent the rest of the day with my newest little Kansas City friends. Another good lunch under my belt (which is expanding because of my Garden Village meals, so I'd best be careful - the food is gooooood), it was time to get on the bus and head to the contest, which was being held at a sister community (The Carlisle).
What a fun activity. Head chefs from six other Holiday Retirement, Corp. properties had previously qualified for the afternoon's competition and they were already assembled at a long wrap-around white linen covered table in the Carlisle's main dining area. The room was already packed with residents from other communities when the Garden Village contingent arrived, armed with its secret cheerleading weapons, Caroline and Linley. It was their job to lead the cheer for Garden Village's head chef, Bill - a/k/a "Bubba." What a great guy. You'll see a bunch of photos of Bubba in action since I must've snapped over 50 shots of him slicing, dicing, sauteeing and plating. The rules of the day mirrored the real show's rules as each chef was given the same "secret ingredient" basket and they had 45 minutes to prepare dishes, all of which were required to be in line with Holiday's dietary requirements. Music, snacks and some darn good cheering from the "orange sisters" - and it wasn't long before the aroma's from the chef's pans filled the Carlisle's open space. I was getting pretty hungry as I moved around, snapping photos.

Well - unfortunately, Bubba didn't win. But everyone was such a great sport about it. The real winners as you might imagine were the residents. Honestly, the Garden Village residents have such an up and energetic feel about them. I love being around the place and plan to spend more time there as I get to know the folks. Obviously, I'm hoping Mary Jane is able to arrange for some special interviews for the project.

In the meantime, I'll show you just a few of the photos from today's competition. My personal favorite is the one above, taken during the bus-ride back to Garden Village. A hard day of cheering behind them, the orange sisters crashed on the back line of seats, pom-poms still in hand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Garden Village

Last Friday, I took a nice drive up to Barry Road – north of Kansas City – the most north I’ve been on this latest trip. I was heading to a meeting with a Mary Jane Branch, the Activity Director at a place called Garden Village. I’ll tell you more about Ms. Mary Jane Branch, a wonderful person and I hope a new friend. But it’s the way I came to be introduced to Mary Jane that makes me smile.

So, I’m here in Kansas City, looking for work and needing some income to keep up the momentum. Struggling a bit to find something worthwhile, two weeks ago I found myself in a legal staffing agency (Kansas City Legal Staffing) owned by a young woman named Emily. Within seconds of our introductory handshake, I knew I liked Emily; something about her energy and determination. You know what that feels like when you meet someone and you just connect with them? Immediately, Emily was so completely supportive of my job search and, more importantly, supportive of what I’m trying to do during my stay in KC. She loved hearing about the project and smiled quietly and curiously as I told her about my life work. I asked her why she was smiling.

“Well," she paused. "You're not gonna believe this but ... My mom is an activity director at a well known senior community up north a bit.”

And, there you have it. Emily’s last name is Branch. Mary Jane is her Mom.

Garden Village is a beautiful retirement community (I'll have some photos soon) and Mary Jane took great pride in the place as she gave me the 50-cent tour. Every step of the way, I found myself being introduced to a new senior – really wonderful, warm and energetic people. And the staff members - from the nurses, to the kitchen help to the wait-staff – all the people were warm and friendly. I stayed for dinner and Mary Jane surprised me by calling me up to say a few words to the community, although I have no idea what I said. Still, many of the folks heard my words and later came up to me to ask more about Eldercation. I’ll be spending more time at Garden Village, I know that.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mindset Shift - Now that I’m settled in a bit more, I’m working hard to shift my mindset about Kansas City. February to June were four very special months in my life, I have to tell you. I loved being on the road and I’ll be doing it a lot more in the future. I have to. It’s in me. But while here, I’m treating it as though I'm still on the road. Once again, I’m doing advance work, setting up fresh interviews and meeting new people around town. Hopefully, I’ll be able to interview one particular local radio veteran who shall remain nameless until the interview is confirmed. And then, there are always the baseball veterans. I’m still dreaming about some more of those.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Morning Tide

One of my favorite lines from a movie is a one spoken by Tom Hank’s character, Chuck Noland, in “Castaway.” Any of you who saw that film might remember it. Noland, already years into his isolation, is on the beach and hears a noise. A large piece of plastic bangs against the rocks as it washes up on the beach. He checks it out and finds a piece of a ripped up Port-O-Let lying in the sand – and I remember Noland muttering the words “Bakersfield” as he read some stamped printing on the side of the plastic. Well, as the story goes, that piece of plastic becomes one of the major puzzle pieces leading to the big rescue. Noland puts together a timber raft using the plastic sheet as the sail.

Fast forward a bit. When Noland is back home working on his assimilation back into civilization, he's talking with his ex-fiance, played by Helen Hunt. And in talking about how he made it through what could only have been some of the most excruciatingly painful moments a person could ever experience, he said something along the lines of the following. I think this quote is word-for-word because when I heard the line, I remember running over to my laptop to peck out the words:
"...and that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope … And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. And who knows what the tide could bring?..."
Well, I've never been stranded on a desert island. But I have my moments where … well … I can feel pretty down, doubting what I’m doing at any given moment. And this morning I was pretty much in the soup. I don’t know. Maybe the Mets losing eight out of nine had something to do with it. But I did what every person does when they get that way - I went to get a haircut. And almost as soon as I stepped into Plaza West (my new hair joint), my frown turned into a smile. (Snap) Just like that.

Enter: Frank. Forget about the fact that this gentleman gave me an A-1 haircut. (Michael, you’d be proud). It was the experience that proved to be the perfect salve. Frank and I talked about all kinds of things. Of course, at one point the conversation turned to our backgrounds, lives, etc..., which, of course, gave me a chance to tell him a bit about Eldercation. And then, within about fifteen seconds, Frank was creating a list of folks for possible interviews, even going so far as introducing me to people in the shop. And then, of course, there’s Frank, himself.

“You could interview me,” he laughed.

“I would lov…”

“No, No ….” He pushed his hands down, motioning that the idea was a silly one.

“What’s your age?” I asked.

“Over 70 but, I haven’t done mu….”

Okay. So I can not tell you how many people have fed me that same line; telling me how their lives aren’t all that interesting. But, if there's one thing I've learned over the years and on this trip, in particular, everyone .... I mean every single human being on the face of this good Earth - has a story to tell. And every one of those stories is interesting.

One thing is certain. I will be be heading back to Plaza West and not merely for a great haircut. I'll be heading back to talk baseball, American history and marinara sauce with Frank, (he’s Italian).

So, there you have it.

Look what the tide washed in this morning.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My New Neighborhood

For months now, I've headed into new states, cites, neighborhoods and, as a side-attraction to the interview process, I've had fun checking out different places and people wherever I traveled. I love doing that type of thing. Always have. Now, of course, I'm staying put for a bit, so when I drive around and see new things, I know it's not as though I'm going to be heading off into the sunset in two weeks. This is home. At least for the next year. And that feels good after four months of being on the road.

Last week, I had a chance to take a breath and start to really look around at my new area. One morning after yoga class, I headed south to check out some furniture being stored at an ExtendedStay hotel. Get this. Again, under the category, "It doesn't hurt to ask," I figured I'd put it out there and ask some ExtendedStay people what they did with older furniture when it was time to remodel their properties. And, once again, my pal Val went beyond the call of duty by hooking me up with some small pieces I can definitely use. So now it's as though I'm still staying at ExtendedStay!

Last weekend, once I was able to get the furniture up to the apartment, Aliya called and asked if I wanted to head out to the park with her and Sarah, her golden retriever. The day was gorgeous and I figured it really was time to relax for a bit after two weeks of securing an apartment and buying a car. I was really tired.

The park is called Loose Park, and it's up a hill and behind where I live, about a five minute walk, if that much. It's nice to know I have a place to head when my spirit calls for a walk among the trees. That's the way I felt about having Central Park directly across the street in the city. Listen, I know it's not the same thing. But you know what? It's nice to be able to walk and not be barraged with fumes and noise. Is it the same? No way. I miss the stimuli of seeing different people, story after story unfolding before my eyes. It's that love-hate thing operating again. I suppose some days I'll love the quiet. And other days, I'll miss the noise. One thing is for sure - I'll never miss the fumes. Check out the quick shots above.

No Fear of Starving: What a nice area I live in. Not only is The Cheesecake Factory right across the street but I just found out there's one of the city's best barbecue places right next to The Cheesecake Factory. It's called Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue and, although I haven't eaten there yet, I did manage to stop by to get a menu. Trying to clean up my act with better eating and consistent yoga again - I know I have a future at Jack Stack but will choose my moments carefully and less often. I'm guessing my rib rendezvous will be happening when my brother hits town. Just a guess.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Out With The Old ...

Mixed emotions the other day. I bought a car, which is great. As wonderful as the Enterprise Rent-A-Car folks have been over the past few months, it was time to get something of my own. If for no other reason, the extra insurance coverage cost was killing me, so it was time to stop the bleeding. James Oaks from the Enterprise Wichita office, who I met a few months ago (he introduced me to some senior drivers and that experience led to me writing a small piece which I’ll post on the Eldercation siteSee "Wisdom On Wheels").

I'm now the proud owner of a charcoal gray Pontiac Vibe. My brother swears by the car, I know others who love it and Consumer Reports says it’s a gem, to boot. It has a Toyota engine so, right away, I knew it was something I wanted. When James told me he could get me a great car down in Wichita, that’s the direction I decided to take. Aside from working around a few minor obstacles (needing to wire money at the last minute, changing residency from NY to KS to MO – and doing it in the face of all the Patriot Act-induced security features now in place), things went pretty smoothly.

But, the change meant it was time to say goodbye to a friend. Yes, yes, I look at the Hyundai Elantra I’ve been driving around for the past few months as a friend. Every bit a friend as my (huge) green Pontiac Catalina I drove during my Emory Law School days. That lovable beast returned north with me, studied for the bar in Hempstead and made the drive to Albany to take the actual bar exam.

The Elantra served me well - I started to call her "Sydney" - remembering my favorite Australian terrier. We met on February 1 in the Wichita airport parking lot. Dark gray, pensive about being removed from the lot … as soon as I checked out the sound system, I knew Sydney was for me. For a small, gas-economical car – things worked out great. But it was time to say goodbye. So I snapped a few shots with James out in front of the Enterprise office.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Funny Little Street Names

I noticed it the very first day I entered the Country Club Plaza area. After a great brunch at the Classic Cup Cafe, (wonderful outdoor cafe, good food), Aliya drove us around, showing me different sections of Kansas City.

“Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd.”

It's one of those little things I noticed in passing while staring out the window, taking in the neighborhoods as Aliya continued her tour. I loved what I was seeing - museums, parks, outdoor markets, more museums, coffeehouses, more funky little neighborhoods - then we were back in the Plaza area, driving down "Ward Parkway."

(Waiting) (Waiting) …

Do you see it?

If you do, then great minds (or strange ones) think alike. But if you didn’t, I’ll now fill you in on the unusual musings of the HJ Getzov mind.



Ring a bell yet?

“Leave It To Beaver”

Okay, so when I noticed that these two streets were running parallel to one another (and the funny thing is, I live on Ward Parkway now!!), Hugh Beaumont’s face popped into my head. It’s interesting how two words like that can instantly bring back such a memory. Of course, it’s because I loved that show so much as a kid. Especially on those days when I’d be home from school, Mom bringing me tea, toast and jelly or Campbell’s soup, laying in bed watching the Beav, Walley, Whitey, Gilbert, Lumpy, Eddie Haskell and - remember Larry Mundelo? Incredible how easily I can rattle those names off that way. Incredible? Or a little off, perhaps?

But here’s the kicker. Yesterday, I called down to the front lobby to tell Lynn (the very nice woman who signed me up at Casa Loma) that there were a couple of things needing fixing in my apartment. Small things.

“They haven’t been up there yet” she asked.

And at that, within three minutes there was a knock at my door. I was on the phone but managed to get the door open where I was greeted by the super (across the way). Nice guy. I smiled and pointed to the four-foot shower curtain rod supposed to span the five-foot space. (the spring was broken). Within five minutes, the super returned and I introduced myself, asking his name, figuring he'd be a good guy to know while I'm living in Kansas City. I shook his hand.

“Wally,” he smiled, offering a return handshake.

I smiled ... Actually, I started to laugh when he said it and can only hope he understands I wasn't laughing at him. My head was still locked in Ward Cleaver mode.

I don’t know. I just thought the timing of it all was pretty funny. I’m not saying the universe was trying to tell me something but ...

Let’s see what the next few days bring. Perhaps a Rutherford or Rayburn Street? Or maybe I'll meet a nice young woman named June at the Bikram studio? Actually, someone who looks like Miss Landers would do just fine. Remember her?

Search This Blog