Wednesday, June 9, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Allstar Piano Movers - Doing What No One Else Wants to Do



"When you choose your fields of labor, go where nobody else is willing to go ." Mary Lyon

Our son, Evan playing his great-grandmother’s piano in Harmony.

Marcie and I are downsizing and we recently gave our beloved baby grand piano to our son, Evan, who lives in Atlanta. This piano originally belonged to his great-grandmother over a hundred years ago. Back in the 1980s it played a cameo role in a PBS feature film called Courtship that was filmed at Marcie’s grandmother’s home in Brookhaven, Mississippi. It has served four generations of piano players, including my wife and her siblings, and all six of our children. 

It was given to us about 40 years ago. Needless to say, my wife, Marcie, is very fond of the piano. Seeing it leave our house was a bittersweet experience for her, even though she knew it was headed to a wonderful new home. 

That raised the question of moving it to Atlanta.

Anyone who has ever moved a baby grand knows that is no small feat. Not only are they very heavy, but they have an awkward shape. My 69-year-old back was personally dreading playing any part in the project. One wrong move can mean disaster for the piano, the movers, or both, as illustrated here:

Fortunately, Evan decided to call in some professional help. He phoned several movers in the Atlanta and Orlando areas to check on their prices and availability. He and my daughter Kate (who overheard Evan’s calls) both reported that most of the people he talked to were less than enthusiastic about taking on the job. All, that is, except Curtis Harris.

Curtis answered the phone energetically. “Yes, sir,” he said, “we would be happy to help you move that piano. Tell me more about it. Where are we taking it? What is your time frame?”

Since his prices were fair and because of his upbeat attitude, Evan hired him for the job and made an appointment for pickup at our house.

Five minutes before the appointed hour, Curtis Harris rang our doorbell, introduced himself and his brother, and said they were there to move the piano. Marcie and I watched them work their magic, quickly removing the legs and the pedals, carefully wrapping the piano itself and all the parts, and gliding the heavy body out the door and into the truck — seemingly with very little effort.

As they worked, we found out about them and Curtis’ company, Allstar Piano Movers LLC. We learned that the brothers were originally from Connecticut, but moved to Atlanta to take care of their elderly grandmother. Curtis worked for another company for ten years and then started his own business. Moving pianos is all they do. 

From their base in Georgia, they cover 12 states. By all appearances their business is very successful. For example, they were picking up three pianos that morning in Orlando and moving them to Atlanta.

I asked Curtis to tell me his secret. He said his success stems from keeping his word (like showing up on time), being upbeat and cheerful, and, most importantly, doing what others aren’t willing to do. “I found something no one else wanted to do — moving pianos — and worked to become the best around. Now I have virtually more work than I can handle.”

Curtis knows how much other people hate the idea of moving a piano, so he created a niche for himself doing that. His perspective is similar to football great Jerry Rice’s attitude: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” 

We’re delighted we found Curtis and Allstar Piano Movers LLC. He made a hard job easy for us. Based on what I learned from Curtis, I now have a new suggestion for anyone thinking of going into business for themselves: Find something no one else wants to do and learn to do it well.

We can happily report that Curtis delivered the hundred-year-old baby grand safely to its new home in Atlanta and set it up for Evan to play, as shown below. Mission accomplished!

Evan playing his piano at his home in Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Life on Lake X - Driving Around and Around in Circles

WEDNESDAY WISDOM:  Life on Lake X - Driving Around and Around in Circles

“Walking in circles your whole life just gets scuff marks on your shoes.” Todd Johnson


There is a large lake a few miles from my house called “Lake X.”  It is entirely on private property and lies at the terminus of a long, dead-end road.  It boasts its own private airstrip, and is hidden behind high chain-link and barbed-wire fences.  Back in the 1950s, a squadron of security guards kept outsiders at bay.  When the winds were right, neighbors could hear the sounds of motorboats on the lake at all hours of the day and night. 

Over time, word seeped out that Lake X was a test site for new prototype motors being produced at the Mercury Marine factory in the nearby town of St. Cloud, Florida. The location was designed to be the most secluded marine testing facility in the world with 12,000 acres of land and 1,440 acres of water.

While the testing at Lake X in recent years has shifted to a focus on high-tech racing boats, back in the 1950s the emphasis was on improving the durability of Mercury Marine motors. Young men were hired to drive boats around and around in an 8.3-mile circle to test the engines’ durability and report those results to company engineers. 



To counter criticism of the durability and longevity of the company’s products, Mercury executives conceived a non-stop, "around the world" endurance run using two boats powered by Mercury outboards. Known as “Project Atlas,” drivers working in shifts drove the boats nonstop for more than a month. After 34 days, 11 hours, 47 minutes and 5.4 seconds, the lead boat completed its 4,526th lap of Lake X for a total distance of 25,003 miles. It was followed only minutes later by the second boat.

The achievement of Project Atlas did much to reassure potential customers that the company’s motors were reliable and wouldn’t quit on them in the middle of nowhere.  “Mercury Marine Motors Go Non-Stop Around the World.” Marketing Mission Accomplished!!!

Despite the success of Project Atlas and notwithstanding the allure of working within the mystique of James Bond-type secrecy, real life on Lake X was decidedly unglamorous.  Many of the employees didn’t last long on the job.  Without question, the biggest challenge they faced was the relentless tedium of driving mindlessly around and around, hour after hour. It’s hard to picture motoring in a circle, day after day and night after night, for more than a month.  The apparent glamour of being a Lake X driver was soon undercut by the sheer boredom of cruising in endless circles to nowhere. 

* * * * *

A few weeks ago, I experienced — in a miniscule way — my own “Lake X” episode with my wife’s electric wheelchair.  The batteries were malfunctioning and the expert at the electric wheelchair store told me to ride the chair until it completely ran out of juice. 

Turns out, I had no idea how long the chair could go on a single charge.  I drove around and around in endless circles on our quiet residential street for what seemed like forever, all the time praying that it would soon give up the ghost.  But even when the gauge was blinking empty, the chair behaved like the Energizer Bunny.  It simply wouldn’t quit. 

During the hours during which I was driving around in circles, I was thinking of all the other things I could have been doing on my day off.  I had lots of chores on my to-do list, and lots of fun things I wanted to try.  Instead, there I was, stuck on that wheelchair going nowhere.  Finally, after several hours, it conked out and I was able to push it into the garage for repairs.  What a waste of a lovely spring morning, I thought to myself.  It’s a good thing no one had hired me to work at Lake X back in the 1950s.

* * * * *

Perhaps there are times for all of us when life seems as though we are driving one of those boats on Lake X, on a circular path to nowhere.  There have been occasions over the years when I’ve felt like I was going around and around in circles, living my personal version of a Lake X existence.  I was moving, but I wasn’t sure where I was going and, as a result, it seemed as though I was not getting anywhere. 

Going in circles can leave a harried traveler with a sense of disequilibrium.  Novelist Wallace Stegner wisely observed: “If we don’t know WHERE we are, we don’t know WHO we are.”  I have learned that if I cannot clearly identify the destination to which I am headed, I am probably running in a circle.


When that happens, it’s imperative that I stop and regain my bearings.    It’s important to pull out my compass, my sextant, and my maps, and allow myself a bit of calm and solitude to recalibrate my direction and destination.  I need to get beyond the confines of a Lake X mindset by spending extra time on my knees in PRAYER. 

I must pause and remember who I really am and what I really want from this life. In the journey of mortality, PACE is a poor substitute for PERSPECTIVE and PURPOSE.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Our Favorite Things



"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things."

Rodgers & Hammerstein




I spent a week on vacation recently with a dozen family members of all ages — children, teenagers, adults, and seniors — and along the way we discovered a fun, easy activity to spark conversation and get to know each other better.

The exercise is simple: Someone thinks of a topic requiring them to identify “one of their favorite things” that fits their chosen category. For example:

“What is one of your favorite movies, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite fast-food restaurants, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite animals, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite types of food, and why?”

They answer first and explain why it’s one of their favorites. Follow-up discussion is encouraged. Then the question moves around the circle to the next person.

Once each person in the circle has shared one of their favorite things of that category and told why they picked that, it’s the next person’s turn to initiate a round. They think up the next “favorite thing” topic, they give the answer first, and then around the circle it goes again.

This turned out to be a delightful way to pass long hours on the road with my wife and three teenage granddaughters. Our granddaughters live far away from us and we seldom get to spend much time with them. This activity allowed all of us to get to know each other better, and made the miles go faster.

We revisited this game on the last evening of our week together. Our entire group gathered in a large circle and we used three “favorite thing” questions to recall and appreciate a wonderful vacation:

“What was one of your favorite activities or places we visited this week, and why?"
“What was one of your favorite foods we ate this week, and why?”
“What was one of your favorite things you learned this week, and why?"

Of course, we all thought of different things during our turns, and there were a lot of “Oh, yeah, that was one of mine too,” or “You’re right, I forgot about that.” Whether young, old, or in between, we had no trouble sharing wonderful memories. We found this closing round of favorite things was a sweet and reassuring way to bring our time together to an uplifting close, a delightful reminder of good times shared.

 * * * * *

How about you and your family or friends? Is there an upcoming occasion when you could use this simple activity to share memories, learn more about each other, or put a capstone on a great time spent together? What about Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or a summer afternoon picnic? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

“What is one of your favorite memories of Mother (or Grandmother), and why?"
“What is something you really appreciate about our country, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite picnic foods, and why?”

 Try it; I’m sure you’ll like it as much as we did.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Being on the Receiving End of Gratitude



"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." William Arthur Ward



I was recently the recipient of an unexpected and generous expression of gratitude, and it felt so wonderful! Here’s what happened:

Fifty years ago, I learned to speak Portuguese while living in Brazil for a couple of years. Upon my return to the United States, I completed my undergraduate degree with a double major in Portuguese and political science. But then I lived for many, many years in places where I had no opportunity to converse in Portuguese. Over time I lost a lot of my vocabulary, my fluency, and especially my confidence in this second language.

A few weeks ago, José and Nara, a recently-immigrated Brazilian couple who speak very little English, retained me to prepare wills and a trust for them. I was forced to dust off my out-of-practice Portuguese in order to understand their wishes for themselves and their sons, and then to draft (in English, thankfully) the appropriate documents. Fortunately, they were very gracious and patient with me and my rusty Portuguese. As we worked together, we developed a genuine friendship and appreciation for each other.

During our last meeting, after I had finished explaining a dozen documents for them to sign, and while Angie, my paralegal, was making copies, the couple excused themselves to go to their car. When they returned to my office, they were carrying an enormous basket (pictured above) for me, and a separate gift bag for Angie. Both were filled with an abundance of Brazilian sweets, treats, and other goodies. Some were delights I remembered from my time years ago in Brazil, while others were new to me. 

This lovely couple’s expression of gratitude caught me totally off guard, and the sheer enormity of the basket completely blew me away. They said what they appreciated most was that I pressed forward in Portuguese as well as I could, notwithstanding my obvious difficulty in speaking in a tongue mostly dormant to me. That, they said, lifted and encouraged them as they struggled to complete their own daunting task of doing their estate planning in English, a language equally difficult for them. 

I took the basket home where my wife and I opened and savored each delicacy, turning our impromptu tasting party into a decadent substitute for supper.

Later, as I reflected on their outrageously wonderful EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE, I asked myself, how many times have I missed the opportunity to demonstratively express my appreciation to those who have served, sustained, or sacrificed for me? How often have I overlooked occasions when I could have left others with the same level of joy I experienced when I received this huge basket of Brazilian gratitude?

Thank you, José and Nara, for the sweet lesson you taught me. From being the fortunate recipient of your gratitude, I better understand, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that “silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.”

I have resolved that I will more attentively look for ways to demonstrate my appreciation to others who have blessed my life.  I realize that I can best say thank you for kindnesses like José and Nara’s by paying it forward.  “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay 'in kind' somewhere else in life." Anne Morrow Lindbergh



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Can You Sleep When the Wind Blows?



"To be prepared is half the victory." Miguel de Cervantes




The story is told of a farmer who decided to hire someone to help him care for his prosperous property. The only applicant was an older man with a limp. The farmer, a little disappointed, reluctantly offered the man the job, but expressed his concern to the prospective employee that he couldn’t work as hard as someone younger and without physical limitations. 

“Don’t worry,” said the older man. “You won’t be disappointed. I can work as hard as someone half my age, and besides, I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer was puzzled but didn’t say anything.

A few weeks later, the farmer woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a huge approaching storm. He roused his son and told him to run and get the hired man from the bunkhouse so they could tend to the animals, equipment, and buildings before the storm hit with all its fury. 

He rushed to the barns to see what he could do to protect his farm from the dangerous gale. His son caught up to him shortly and reported he couldn’t wake the old timer. This angered the farmer, and he swore he’d take care of that unreliable hireling as soon as his farm was safe.

But as he and his son went from barn to barn and shed to shed, they found that all the animals were safely within their stalls and corrals.  All the tools and equipment were put away and locked up. All the doors and gates were closed tight. Everything was battened down; nothing was amiss. There wasn’t a single thing they needed to do, except go back to bed. The farm was safely sheltered from the storm.

Then it came to him in a flash. He remembered — and finally understood — what the older man with the limp had said in the job interview: “I can sleep when the wind blows.” He shook his head in amazement and appreciation, then went back to the house with his son. He climbed back into bed, but he didn’t sleep. All he could think about was a hired man, wise with years, who could sleep when the wind blows.

Can you sleep when the wind blows? 

Trouble will surely come to all of us sooner or later, but we need not be paralyzed in its path. Preparation is the antidote to fear. Anticipating and addressing future dangers will give us peace of mind. Living lives of integrity and service will give us fortitude and resilience in the storms of life. As my boyhood scoutmasters admonished us, “Be Prepared.”