Sunday, August 25, 2013

The View From the Not-So Cheap Seats

Ah, college football season.
There’s a hint of fall in the air, just a touch of crispness that nudges the leaves into riotous bursts of red and gold. Scarves emerge from drawers, hot cider is served, Christmas lists are started.
Not in Southern California, however.
Fall here is usually heralded by Santa Ana winds that howl down through mountain passes raising the temperatures to blast furnace levels. Humidity falls, tempers flare and fire storms of Old Testament proportions break out.
Perhaps not as romantic or poetic as a college game in a quaint New England setting but we like it just fine, secure in the knowledge that white-outs and ice storms won’t soon follow. So we flock to our playing fields, sun screened and well hydrated, to watch the grand old game unfold.
Which brings us to the Arroyo Seco, where the Rose Bowl is getting ready for its close-up. The stadium appears spotless, the field looks like a fairway at Augusta National.
Just in time for an orgy of football. UCLA will play its home games here, starting next week. Then, the New Year’s Tournament of Roses game will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Jan. 1. The BCS championship game will follow less than a week later, on Jan. 6.
It’s a heady schedule that will be played in a stadium that will be showing off a $180 million face-lift, the ultimate nip-and-tuck job. The Granddaddy of Them All is not your granddaddy’s stadium any more.
Rising atop the west rim of the stadium is a new 185,000-square-foot, tri-level pavilion featuring luxury suites and premium seating areas interspersed with cocktail lounges and catered dining areas. We’re talking first class: plush carpets, wood paneling, chrome accents and other fine accouterments not usually found in a football stadium.
It is decorated with remarkable photographic murals depicting famous moments in Rose Bowl history and features enough flat screen TVs to staff Mission Control.
It looks and feels a lot like an exclusive private club with a football field attached.
So what does it take to join this club? A considerable chunk of change.
Want a suite? Plan on spending in the neighborhood of $50,000 to more than $100,000. Loge boxes go for $24,000 to $30,000. Club seats run from $2,000 to $4,000. For $300, you can join something called the Horizon Club, accessible from the stadium seats, which provides food and drink but no view of the field.
Any of this would put a dent in the wallet of Joe Average Football Fan, which leads to a logical question: Has the Rose Bowl built a playground for the wealthy while ignoring the rest of its fan base? Will the wealthy few literally and figuratively look down their noses from their premium seats on the huddled masses below?
There may be some of that but very little I suspect. After all, you can’t legislate arrogance. But the motives of the Rose Bowl and its clients are a lot more pure than pompous.
The Rose Bowl for years has operated at a loss, hindered by restrictions on the number of events it can host each year, and forced to rely on the revenue from the two Brookside Golf Courses for money.
That’s not enough for adequate maintenance of a 90-year-old facility or to provide funds needed for modernization in order to remain competitive.
So you put in premium seating, the sale of which adds to the stadium’s revenue stream. Ask any NFL owner. The first step he takes when building a new stadium is to plan for lots of luxury seating.
If the Rose Bowl sold all of its suites and premium seating, it would raise an estimated $7 million annually in revenues. And that money would be spent for maintenance and improvements that would benefit the entire fan base.
Some improvements aside from premium seating have already been made. New scoreboards and state-of-the-art video screens have been installed. Access and egress in some areas have been improved.
There is more to do. More restrooms and better concession stands are needed. Leg room in the stadium seats is poor at best. There really ought to be a museum on the premises to showcase the history of the place. It would be a year-round attraction and thus provide revenue.
The premium seating area is a bit of gamble, of course. UCLA football has only recently emerged from a decade of mediocrity and it would be tough to sell a $100,000 suite if it’s a $100 product. For this all to work, it has to be a winning team.
Financial problems remain. Cost of the improvements, originally budgeted at $152 million, were pushed to $180 million due to overruns. Fingers were pointed. Suits were filed.
But despite the setbacks, this was a project that needed to get done. Nothing less than the future of the stadium is at stake. Without the Rose Bowl, Pasadena would be just another nondescript suburb. And the loss of millions of dollars in revenues it generates for local businesses would be catastrophic.
Think that’s far-fetched? Of the original four stadiums that hosted major bowl games, only the Rose Bowl remains. The Orange and Sugar Bowls were bulldozed and the Cotton Bowl remains largely vacant. 
Nobody could imagine it happening but it did.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Father Time

George Lucas, who has spent much of his professional career in a galaxy far, far away, and his wife Mellody Hobson recently welcomed a new baby daughter to planet Earth.

Lucas, 69, is the famed film producer, screenwriter and director who brought us the “Star Wars” franchise.
He is also well known for….

Wait just a minute, stop the presses.  Lucas is how old?   69?   Who becomes a father at that age?

Well, quite a few people as it turns out.  Actor Steve Martin became a father at 67.  Charlie Chaplin  had a son at age 73.  Robert DeNiro was 68, Clint Eastwood 66, as were Larry King and Nick Nolte when they became dads.  Rupert Murdoch’s youngest was born when he was 72.  Saul Bellow joined the club when he was 84.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, an Aussie named Les Colley had his ninth child, a son named Oswald, with his third wife at the age of 92 years. 

Colley met his child’s mother through a dating agency at the age of 90. "I never thought she would get pregnant so easy, but she bloody well did," he told newspaper reporters.

Not on that list:   Me.

Look, I love kids.  I spent a great portion of my life engaged as a dad and the myriad chores that come with the job:  coach, teacher, assembler and repairer of toys, disposer of creepy insects, dispenser of advice, chauffeur, automatic teller machine.

It was a great experience.   But it was also one that required a great deal of energy, which is fading a bit as I push on through the years.  At this stage of my life, my real concern would be that if I can’t remember where I put my keys, how am I going to remember where I put the kids?

Nowadays, I get tired just watching young parents packing 50 pounds of gear to take a child a couple of miles across town.   Or endlessly chasing after toddlers while in a perpetual stooped position.   Or trying to maintain order when taking a gaggle of kids to a park or a ballgame or a restaurant.

I did all those things.   But would I want to do it again now?  Nope, I’ve got those “Diaper Changing,  Sleep Depriving, T-ball Coaching,  Piano Recital Attending, Don’t Make Me Come Back There” Blues.

George Lucas apparently sees thing differently.  He’s no rookie.  He’s already got three kids so he should know what he’s getting into.  But next time Father’s Day rolls around, he’ll be 70.  

Of course, there is a difference between Mr. Lucas and me.  He has a net worth of some $7 billion, for instance.

That means he can have an entire wing of pediatric nurses and doctors to tend his child.   And as my youngest daughter pointed out, “if we wants her to learn how to play baseball, he can hire A-Rod.” 

Music lessons?   Bring in Yo Yo Ma.   Baking chocolate chip cookies?  Have Martha Stewart on speed dial.  Tutoring?  Hire a Nobel Laureate.  Need a baby sitter?  Order up a child psychologist.

There are drawbacks in being an aged dad.   You might have to take a Celebrex before pushing your kid on a swing.   You and your child might end up drooling on one another.  It’s hard to play kick the can when you’re in danger of kicking the bucket.

Which bring us to this uncomfortable point:

Life expectancy for an American male currently stands at 76.   You might live longer.  You might not.   Any way you look at it, by fathering a child at this late age you run the risk of traumatizing your young offspring if you should pass.

You’d be very lucky to seem them graduate from high school.   It would be miraculous if you saw them complete college. Grandchildren?   Forget it.

Worse, scientists have pinpointed a likely source for many cases of autism and schizophrenia: Men who become fathers later in life pass on more brand-new genetic mutations to their offspring, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

The finding buttresses observations from population studies that rates of these disorders are more prevalent in children born to older fathers, sometimes by a factor of two or more, experts said.

I wish Mr. Lucas well.  The task ahead is not for the frail or fainthearted.  I hope he is around long enough to imbue in his daughter the creative genius, energy and world view that he possesses.  We need more people like that.

As for me, I love my wife and kids and I’m glad they’re in my life.  But if I want someone new to fuss over, I’ll get a Golden Retriever.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013


There's a beauty pageant of sorts taking place in our fair land these days.

Perhaps "beauty" is a poor choice of words.It's more like a rogue's gallery of miscreants.

We speak , of course, of the seemingly endless parade of political figures whose appetite for scandalous sexual behavior would make the Marquis de Sade blush.

It has become a game of can-you-top-this in which the biggest winner is a loser.

Lest they get left behind in the dust bin of history, we have devised special recognition for the most outlandish behavior displayed by an office holder. To him we will present the coveted FREAKS (Famous Reprobates Eagerly Advocating Kinky Sex) Award which we just now invented.

The winner gets a stay at a compulsive behavior clinic. He will also receive a statuette of a robust male whose brains have slipped below his belt.

We had thought at one point that the clear front runner was former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who disappeared after telling his staffers he was off "to hike the Appalachian Trail." Instead, we was flying down to Rio to spend some face time with his Argentinian "soul mate," much to the surprise of his wife, children, staff, constituents and the entire Republican Party.

But they are a forgiving lot down in the Brimstone and Bourbon Belt so Sanford is now a member of Congress, just recently elected. If he doesn't behave himself, he just might give the House of Representatives a bad name.

Eliot Spitzer was certainly in the mix. The former governor of New York, frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, was discovered to have patronized a high-priced prostitution service. According to published reports, investigators believe Spitzer paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over a period of several years while he was attorney general, and later as governor.

He has somehow managed to keep his family together, repair his image and is currently a candidate for New York City comptroller. Ironically enough, his opponent is a former madam. Honest.

It was almost a sure thing that Anthony Weiner was not only going to win the award but permanently retire it as well. Your remember Mr. Weiner: He was a Congressman and world-class sexter, one who sends explicit photos of himself to women throughout the country.

When his habit was disclosed, he resigned his office and threw himself on the mercy of the public, saying he was "deeply ashamed" of his "terrible judgment and actions, "which he called "very dumb."

Thus unburdened, he decided to run for mayor of New York City and amazingly enough became the frontrunner. Now, more explicit pix reportedly sent to women by Weiner after his humiliating exit from Congress were recently released by a website called "The Dirty." A poll taken a day after the newest revelations showed his favorability rating had dropped more than 20 points.

Despite a Fox News report that "a very significant percentage of young women today are not offended by being sent overt, intensely erotic material and respond in kind," Weiner is now officially toast.

Alas, in the race to be the most disreputable politician, he finished in second place.

The winner is clearly San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Based on the allegations of sexual harassment from women who were within his reach, he makes a drunken frat boy look like the ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Let me state right here that there's nothing funny about sexual harassment. And I salute the courage of the women who went public with their allegations. So far, there have been 13 of them. I suspect there are more waiting in the wings.

But any guy who can make Mr. Weiner look like a choir boy is worthy of special attention.

Irene McCormick Jackson, the mayor's former communications director, reportedly said that Filner had a penchant for putting her into a headlock and pulling her about, while whispering sexually explicit comments in her ear. She said the mayor often told her he wanted to kiss her, told her he wanted to see her naked and that she should work without panties at City Hall.

Michelle Tyler, a nurse, alleged that Filner asked her to engage in a personal and sexual relationship in exchange for his help in the case of U.S. Marine Katherine Ragazzino, who was wounded in Iraq.

The president of the National Women's Veterans Association of America, which supports survivors of military sexual assault, says he made a play with seven or eight women who were part of her group while they were trying to get him to take their issue seriously. "He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks. The full gamut. Everything that is complete violation of what we stand for," Tara Jones told CNN. "He's a sexual predator. And he used this organization for his own personal agenda."

For his part, Filner has checked himself into a clinic "for two weeks of intensive therapy" but has refused to resign.  Indeed, his stay in the clinic ended about a week and a half earlyr.   It's hard to say who got disgusted with who.

But in a move that defines the word "chutzpah," he and his attorney said the City of San Diego is liable for damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit due to the fact that Filner didn't receive his sexual harassment training within six months after taking office.

Congratulations, Mr. Filner. You are FREAK of the year. So far.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Bite On This

Nobody grows up wanting to be burger flipper at a fast food joint.

It is difficult and thankless work performed by those desperate for a paycheck, any paycheck, even one that pays minimum wage and paltry benefits.

At best, it is a sort of Ellis Island Employment Service for newcomers to our country who are looking for a foothold in a new land and a few bucks in their pockets.

At worst, it is an industry that pays poverty wages while collecting billions in revenues each year.

According to one published report, chief executives at the nation's top restaurant companies earn more in one morning than the average minimum-wage worker in their eateries makes all year.

But now, workers from McDonalds, KFC and other fast food outlets are starting to organize and make demands. They staged a walkout this past week in the Midwest and on the East Coast, seeking a 100 percent increase in their salaries. That would up their pay to $15 an hour, $16 an hour in California.
Or a little more than $30,000 a year, less deductions.

Labor unions gain a foothold when employers mistreat their workers. And if it happens in the fast food industry, it should come as no surprise.

The popular perception is that fast food employees are primarily teenagers, picking up a little spending money working after school and on weekends.

But a University of Massachusetts study found that the average age of today's fast food worker is 32. It is also found that "if a worker today is employed full time for a full 52-week year at a minimum wage job today, she or he is making $15,080. This is 19 percent below the official poverty line for a family of three."

McDonald's, which has contributed millions to charity over the years, apparently doesn't see a need to extend charity to its own employees. In fact, the company, which employs 1.8 million workers, has raised insensitivity to a new level.

Several months ago, McDonald's decided to emphasize providing service with a smile, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

In a webcast McDonald's executives held with franchise owners, the company said 1 in 5 customer complaints are related to friendliness issues "and it's increasing," according to a slide from the presentation reviewed by the Journal. The webcast identified the top complaint as "rude or unprofessional employees."
"Service is broken," said a slide used at the meeting.

It has apparently never occurred to the company that a happy employee is an efficient employee. Want warmth, professionalism and that can-do spirit from an overworked employee who smells like French fries and can barely afford the price of a Big Mac? Try paying a living wage and offering a realistic chance for a raise or advancement.

Shortly after scratching their collective heads over their surly employee problem, benevolent McDonald's executives launched a website devoted to financial advice for its employees.

Called Practical Money Skills for Life, it includes a tool called a budget journal. In a sample monthly budget, it lists $1,105 income from a first job and $955 from a second job.

The message is clear: If you're working for McDonald's and you don't want to live in a cardboard condo, you had better find a second job.

Add to the list of corporate transgressions: A former employee in Pennsylvania filed suit because she said she had to access her wages from a debit card laden with fees. In her lawsuit, Natalie Gunshannon said she was charged $1.50 fee for ATM withdrawals, a $10 inactivity fee after 90 days, and a 75-cent online payment fee per transaction and other fees. All told, it reduced her pay to below minimum wage.

It's probably unrealistic to think the fast food industry would experience some sort of epiphany and double the salaries of its employees. This is, after all, a business with a lot of ethical shortcomings, including the fact that their product if used frequently enough can kill you.

The best hope for employees is to organize or hope for a raise in the federal minimum wage. President Obama has called for an increase to $9 an hour but the way Congress operates these days, it could be a long time coming.

If it does get passed, you can bet that the increase will be passed on to the consumer. That triple cheeseburger with five strips of bacon will cost you more.

But if that limits the amount of fast food you consume, it's not necessarily a bad thing.