Monday, December 27, 2010

Table For One

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #1, Table For One, originally posted May 21, 2010.]

"They're calling all the shots
They'll call and say they phoned
They'll call us lonely when we're really just alone..."
- "Oblivious" by Aztec Camera

Twitter exchange recently between @blurdmuliebrity and myself:

@blurdmuliebrity: Seeing people eating alone in a restaurant makes my heart hurt.

@berutt: Why? I do it all the time.

@blurdmuliebrity: You can always tell the lonely ones from the nonlonely ones and it's sad.

That got me thinking: which category do I fall into? I don't think of myself as "lonely," but am I? I don't feel lonely, at least no more so than I imagine everyone does at some point or another, but then again...

"Marriage is a Wonderful Institution,
but Who Wants to Live in an Institution?"
- Groucho Marx

Being a 43-year-old, reasonably healthy, heterosexual male who has never been married puts me in a minority, sociologically speaking. Of course, good-intentioned people who believe that no one else could possibly be happy or content with their lives unless they are lived by a certain prescribed set of standards are always quick to ask, "Well, what's wrong with ya?"

The answer: "Nothing."

"Uh-huh," they nod, looking perplexed as they give me the once-over in search of glaring flaws.

It's just that I have no pressing drive to get married just for the sake of being married. Not that I haven't had the opportunities. In fact, there have been points in my life where I thought I found her, but history has shown that had I taken that plunge then, I would likely be just another divorce statistic now. That's not what I want. When and if the right woman comes along, yes, I'd like to marry. To this point in my life, I haven't found her.

Drive, She Said

That I have not yet settled down in some ways parallels another societal anomaly about me: I have never learned to drive. Again, the questions have become routine: "You got some kinda disability? You get into legal trouble that says you can't drive? Wait, you mean you've never had a license?"

Nope, nope, yep.

You think they looked perplexed about the still being single thing? This one really blows people's minds! I have a harder time rationalizing this one, though. Literally, the only thing that keeps from having a driver's license is that in 43 years, I've never gone through the process.

I walk a lot, I arrange for rides with friends or family, I use public transportation. I don't "miss" driving because I've never driven. I save a lot of money that would otherwise go to auto insurance, gas, repairs, upkeep. I've gone this far without driving, what would I need with it now?

It Came in the Mail

Sitting on the far corner of my desk is the invitation to my 25th high school reunion, which will happen this summer. A quarter century. Seems like forever ago, but it also seems like yesterday.

I have not gone to any of the previous reunions, and my rationale has always been the same: "Those who were my friends are still my friends; those who were marginal I could find if I needed to; the rest I didn't like back then and they didn't like me, so why would I want to see them?"

This reunion is a bit different. This reunion is occurring in a post-Facebook world.

When I joined Facebook over a year ago, I was stunned to find the first people reaching out to me were high school classmates - literally, people who I had probably not thought of very much at all since grabbing my diploma and heading off to college. Even more stunning, they were folks who, if they remembered me at all, I would not think would have remembered me fondly.

Almost two-thirds of our graduating class is on Facebook now, and I have connected with many of them. What has amazed me is that some of my classmates who, back then, would scarcely acknowledge I existed, are now among the people I most look forward to interacting with online. I've had to reassess my own judgments and perhaps let go of a grudge or two, and as a result I've found that more than a few of those who I would have put in the "why would I want to see them?" category before have turned into really neat folks.

Of course, not all of them have. It seems every high school class has those who are still living their lives as though we were all still back in school. They never left their cliques, they never expanded their world, they never opened their minds. Their lives apparently peaked when they were 18, and that's the world they want to hold onto. They were snobs, bullies, jerks then, and they remain unchanged.

So, when the question has invariably come up, "You going to the reunion?," I find myself unable to rely on my pat answer. Now there are a group of folks who I would like to see again - those who I have reconnected with online and found common ground today that didn't exist back then. But is my wish to see these folks in person stronger than my distaste for seeing those who judged and tormented me 25 years ago, and are likely to judge and torment me now?

The Demons Inside

Over the years, I have done that same cost-benefit analysis in my mind many times. It certainly is not the reunion which is bringing that out of me. No, this is a battle that wages constantly inside those of us who deal with social anxieties.

Social anxiety can range from mildly annoying to fully debilitating, and while mine fortunately falls toward the less severe end of the spectrum, it's still a formidable demon to fight. People who have never dealt with anyone who battles social anxiety, and who don't deal with it themselves, have no concept of what it does to a person. It is not simple shyness or introversion. It is a real fear, a gripping fear, that stops you from being in even those social situations that you want to take part in.

Some friends invite me out for dinner and drinks, or a group is getting together to go to a concert or to a ballgame. Maybe some friends are having a party and would like me to be there. Whatever the situation, I go through the same process: I happily say yes, I'd love to join in. Then, little by little, the fear starts creeping in. What if I do or say something embarrassing? What if they all laugh at me? What if there are people there I don't know, and they think poorly of me? What if this is all a set up to trap me into some sort of public humiliation? The anxious thoughts spiral out of control like that, each leading to the next more irrational, more frightening thought.

This is where my friend OCD kicks in. I was diagnosed with mild OCD several years back. Again, I'm fortunate that it falls to least severe end of the possible spectrum, but it's there nonetheless. In my case, OCD manifests more in obsession than in compulsion: the racing thoughts with no basis in reality - thoughts that do not bear even the most casual scrutiny, but thoughts that I can't always stop. OCD and social anxiety often go hand-in-hand, with one feeding the other. The physiological response is an adrenaline rush, and that "oh my God" feeling in the pit of the stomach. As I said, it's a very real, gripping fear.

And so, I begin to desperately look for a way to bow out of the invitation. I find myself hoping something comes up - bad weather, illness, whatever - that is just cause for either the event to be canceled or for me to easily say "sorry, can't make it." What is strange about this process is that while I am going through it, it's as if the rational, clear-thinking part of me is watching it happen, fully aware that it is irrational, fully aware that it is an anxiety/OCD response, and yet unable to shut it off.

Sometimes the rational side wins. I literally force myself out the door to whatever the event is. And you know what? Invariably, once I'm there, I find myself having a great time. And why not? I'm with friends taking part in enjoyable activities! If there are new people there, I tend to make new friends. I'm a surprisingly charming person. If they don't like me, that's OK too - their loss. Invariably, when it's over, I can't believe that I ever had an ounce of anxiety going in.

When the anxiety wins, I spend days kicking myself. Why the hell didn't I go? Why did I let that irrational fear paralyze me? Why do I stop myself from being around people?

It Wasn't Always Thus

Those who have known me for a long time know that I did not always suffer these anxieties. Through high school, college, and throughout my twenties, I was an extremely social person. The tiny fourth floor apartment I lived in with a woman I at one point thought I was going to marry was a gathering place, and when the party wasn't there you could bet that I'd be wherever the party was.

I can't tell you exactly how or when it all changed. That's the thing about anxieties - they creep up on you; they build slowly over time. I know that it did change, however, because at some point in my mid-thirties I looked around and said, "Where is everyone?" I had slowly turned myself into a hermit, steadily letting friendships atrophy. (You know, if you turn down or cancel enough invitations, people tend to stop inviting you to hang out with them.) Dating came to a near standstill: it's hard to take a woman out when you yourself are not comfortable going out among people in the first place.

I had become one of those folks who, if I did go out, would be eating dinner alone.

The demon that is anxiety and OCD is a cunning foe, constantly whispering in your ear, forever rationalizing it's existence. It's a siren song that requires constant vigilance to resist. Have you noticed a pattern in the items I've discussed in this piece? My still being a bachelor at age 43? My having never learned to drive? My having never attended one of my high school reunions?

In each case, I have at my disposal a seemingly perfectly plausible rationalization; a ready answer for all the questions that are regularly thrown at me. And, in each case, those "rationalizations" fold under the most casual scrutiny.

The Therapist Behind the Bar

Because the most casual scrutiny reveals the flimsiness of my rationales, I tend not to scrutinize them. When @blurdmuliebrity made her comment, especially about being able to tell the lonely from the nonlonely among those who dine alone, I immediately wondered if she would be able to tell which category I fell into. Then the thought: Do I know which category I fall into?

Naturally, anyone would rather be among those who are alone, which suggests a choice in the matter, than among those who are lonely, which suggests a far worse lot in life. Surely, I'm among the alone, right? I suddenly found in my mind that those rationales were not only subject to casual scrutiny, but that I had put them under a microscope. Flimsy? Hell they're weak as water.

Of course I want a wife! Of course I want someone to share my dinner (and my thoughts and my world) with! You know what stops me from going out and finding her? That damn irrational fear. That fear of being judged, of being set up, of being mocked and embarrassed. Of not being good enough.

Of course I should learn to drive! That in itself would open so many more restaurants to go to where I could share my meal with someone. You know what stops me from doing it? That damn irrational fear. That fear of failing and in turn being judged, mocked and embarrassed. Of not being good enough.

Of course I want to go to my 25th high school reunion! There are people I really want to see again, and to hell with those with whom I will never get along. You know what stops me from going? That damn irrational fear. That fear of being judged, of being set up, of being mocked and embarrassed. Of not being good enough.

I don't think I mentioned yet that @blurdmuliebrity happens to be a bartender, and in that role I have no doubt she's seen her share of the alone - and the lonely - patronizing the establishment where she works. Good bartenders have a sense of their clientele. Good bartenders also happen to be fairly insightful amateur therapists.

A woman I knew several years back and was very fond of was an artist. She made a piece for me that I treasure greatly. It's a simple chunk of rock into which is inscribed the following:

"Man, like every other animal, tends to be passive. Unless goaded by circumstance, scarcely does he take the trouble to reflect upon his condition."

That Twitter exchange from the other night has goaded me into some self-reflection, the way a good therapist would. The writer in me demands that I express that self-reflection in words, and the blogger in me says "Share it!"

So there it is. Now, I have two choices: change, or continue. I don't know yet which path I'm going to take. Change at 43 is tough, but certainly not impossible. Either path I follow, I will continue to fight the demons of anxiety and OCD, so neither will be a cakewalk. Decisions, decisions. I need my strength - maybe a good meal.

Table for one, please.


Also read this related post to read more ramblings:

10/2/10 - Fighting the Demons Again

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

RIP Sam Lugar

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #2, RIP Sam Lugar, originally posted October 8, 2009.]

The Sharks (Sam Lugar / Shea Quinn / Doug Phil...Image via Wikipedia
Here today
Gone tomorrow
I'll be far away...
- "On My Own" by The Sharks

Sam Rawhauser passed away this morning after a brief battle with lung cancer.

As "Sam Lugar", Rawhauser was the guitarist and lead singer of THE local band here in Lancaster throughout the 1980s, The Sharks. The Sharks began life in 1979, and built a devoted following in and around Lancaster and York, PA, initially as a new-wave cover band. Though they were faithfully playing songs by Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, Talking Heads and the like, the raw talent that Sam and bandmates Shea Quinn, Doug Phillips, Steve Zero, and Mark Showers possessed was obvious. Before long, originals not only crept into their sets, but soon formed the bulk of the material they played.

Cultivating a sound that was likeable to both new wave and pop ears in the 80s, and with eye always toward the audience having a good time, The Sharks legend grew beyond local boundaries, beyond the regional circuit, to national notice when they entered MTV's Basement Tapes competition in 1985, winning with the largest margin of any band to ever win the competition thanks to their black-and-white and oh-so-80s clip for "On My Own." Their victory secured them a major-label record deal with Elektra Records, who (as major labels often do) chewed them up and spit them out in no time at all.

In A Black And White World was overproduced and under-promoted. The bland, antiseptic MOR sound of the record sucked every bit of personality out of what was truly a great band. I remember the year I became the music director for the University of Richmond's radio station, WDCE, I found The Sharks' major-label fiasco LP in the station's record library. Whoever had been music director at that time had written a note on the album cover that said something to the effect of, "Remember that band from PA that everybody said was going to be the next big thing? This is them. They aren't."

Truly a shame, because listening to their pre-Elektra recordings, the Holiday EP and the Backs Against The Wall album, you really do get the sense that they could have been huge.

The Elektra experience, sadly, seemed to take the wind out of their sails, and The Sharks went their separate ways for awhile, reuniting for annual shows around Thanksgiving each year since about 1999. Apparently, new material was being written for a possible reunion album when Rawhauser was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lung cancer. That was barely a month ago; this morning, it took his life.

The band's website is now a memoriam page to Sam, and directs donations in Sam's memory to be sent to his wife and son, Sandy and Ian Rawhauser. According to the very well-written tribute Gil Smart posted on his blog here, there is also talk of a benefit concert to help Sam's family with the medical bills.

The video below was put together in tribute to Sam; you can see a clip of their finest moment, the Basement Tapes-winning "On My Own" video, towards the beginning of the compilation.

RIP, Sam. Your music will be missed.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favorite Five Comedy Routines

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #3, Favorite Five Comedy Routines, originally posted March 9, 2009.]

There are some comedy routines that you hear once and they're funny, but they just don't hold up well upon repeated hearings. And then there are those that leave you in tears laughing again and again no matter how many times you hear them. You might even know the routine by heart, be able to recite it word for word, and you still double over in hysterics when you hear it. That's what this list is about. These are my favorite five. Let's do this countdown style, shall we?

#5 - Rowan Atkinson's Amazing Jesus
British humor seems to either strike me as utterly unfunny or utterly hysterical. Seldom do I find any middle ground - must be a cultural thing. Nonetheless, Atkinson is one Brit who never fails to leave me laughing, whether he's doing his slapstick Mr. Bean shtick or doing something a bit more cerebral, like this.

#4 - Andy Kaufman's Old MacDonald
Ah, the Genius himself. Kaufman is one of my favorite comedians of all time, and the very fact that most people didn't "get" what he was doing is sad. He was (and probably still is) way ahead of most other comedians, essentially doing meta-comedy (the comedy itself is often the butt of the joke). I almost went with the classic Mighty Mouse routine, but this one actually builds on that premise by involving audience participation...even if they had no idea what they were participating in until it happened!

#3 - Larry Miller's Five Stages of Drinking
The best comedy is always rooted firmly in truth, and (to be cliched) in holding a mirror up to ourselves when we are at our worst. Hence Miller's classic routine - we've all either been there or seen many a person who has.

#2 - Groucho and Chico Marx's Contract Scene from A Night at the Opera
Hard to top the Marx Brothers when it comes to funny. This particular bit is a classic piece of silliness and punnery. Pay attention to the apparent throw-away lines: Groucho saying "You must've been out on a tear last night" when he does is so perfectly timed.

#1 - Bob and Ray's Slow Talker
Absolutely the funnniest bit I have ever heard. The characters here are so perfectly portrayed, and even though you'll know what's coming from the halfway mark on, it's brilliantly funny. You know the frustration of dealing with someone so oblivious to the obvious, and therein lies the hilarity.

(Audio Only)

All right, gang, those my faves. What are yours?

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Friending Me on Facebook: You're Doing it Wrong
(5 Tips For Networking On Facebook)

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #4, Friending Me on Facebook: You're Doing it Wrong  (5 Tips For Networking On Facebook), originally posted January 8, 2010.]

I've mentioned in previous posts that I am a firm believer that social media should be just that: social. While I understand and respect those who choose to limit their friend lists to those people with whom they have interacted in some way in the real world (former classmates, ex-coworkers, family and friends, etc.), I also feel they are missing out on one of the great joys that social media offers.

The ability for the average person to meet and converse with people from all across the world at the touch of a keyboard simply didn't exist a short few years ago. Now, thanks in large part to sites like Facebook, there is little difference between "across the street" and "across the globe." While this has been a boon for the professional networking crowd, it's also a chance for anyone to expand their horizons beyond their physical location. The people that you can connect with online and who become "cyber-friends" are the 21st century equivalent of the pen pal, without having to wait weeks to receive replies in the mail.

I have met and built friendships with many wonderful folks on Facebook who I will likely never have the chance to meet in person due to the distance between our physical locations. I have connected with folks as far away as Indonesia, India, France and the UK, networking both for business purposes and out of shared interests discovered through common Facebook groups or other online interactions. I tend to keep an open-door policy when it comes to accepting friend requests, as I am always interested in meeting new people. However, in the interests of safety and sanity (there are some real wackos online!), there are some basic guidelines I use in determining whether I'm going to accept that request. These are guidelines I also follow when I am extending a friend request to someone.

Last week, I received a friend request from someone who broke almost every one of these guidelines. I had to chuckle to myself as I hit the "ignore" button, as this person was clearly unskilled at the most basic concepts of networking, which happen also to be the foundation for these guidelines:

1. If We Haven't Met, Introduce Yourself. Facebook offers an option to include a personal message when you send a friend request. If you are reaching out to someone you have not met before, take a moment to add a sentence or two explaining why you're reaching out. Something like, "Hi, I noticed that you and I have several mutual friends here," or "I saw your profile and we are both fans of _____," or even "I am interested in meeting people from your part of the world." Something that gives me an idea why you are reaching out to me, so you're not mistaken for some weirdo stalker type.

2. If We Have Met, Don't Assume I Remember Who You Are. Especially if the only place we've met is another online service. (Twitter folks, I'm looking at you!) Whether we've talked on Twitter, met at a social function hosted by a common friend, or have interacted briefly in a business context, it helps a great deal to see a note saying, "I'm @twittername," "We met at John Doe's house last week," or "I work for XYZ Inc, and would like to add you to my contacts." Trust me, not everyone's memory is as superb as yours may be. This also applies if you are reaching out to someone from your past - a simple "I sat behind you in history in 8th grade," may make the difference between your request being accepted or tossed into the "ignore" bin.

The person who sent me the mystery request that inspired this post included no personal message, so I all I got was a name that rang no bell with me whatsoever. Had I ever met this person before, anywhere? If not, why was I being invited to join his Facebook circle?

3. Fill Out Your Profile Page, And Make Sure your Settings Allow Me To See It. If I don't know you well - or at all - believe me, the first place I'm going is to your profile page and the "about me" section. I want to know if we do have interests in common, or if there is something especially interesting about you that sells me on adding you as a friend. Be honest, but be creative - have a little fun with your profile page. Let your personality come through your words; this is one of those times when it is better to write the way you talk rather than stick to stodgy rules of composition. This is your first impression, and first impressions count!

Also, make sure you've got your privacy settings structured so that at least your basic "about me" info is viewable. The mystery person last week had his entire profile set to private, so again all I had was a random name. Even without the explanatory message, an interesting or unusual profile might have sold me.

4. Use A Photo Of Yourself As Your Profile Pic. That profile picture is extremely important! Some folks' memories are better jogged with a visual than anything else. Yet so often I get friend requests with no picture - or, worse yet, a meaningless picture. Use a picture of yourself. Not your family. Not your dog. Not your car. Not Bob Hope. Yourself. Preferably a head shot - remember, the pics aren't that big to begin with, so if the picture is of you rappelling down a rocky cliff, you're going to look like a shadowy smudge on my monitor.

Keep in mind that your profile pic can also work against you. The mystery friend request last week included a picture of a car (I assume owned by the person who sent the request), a high-end, high-dollar sporty number. All that told me was that this person either a.) is so materialistic as to believe others are going to be impressed by his wealth, or b.) is so shallow as to believe it important to project that image. In either case, that's a direct ticket to the "ignore" bin in my book.

5. Be Willing To Engage In Conversation Before I Decide To Accept. If I've got nothing else to go on, and I'm in a gregarious enough mood, I'll take one final step before hitting "ignore": I'll send a message to the person asking for some help in figuring out who they are. This can be done politely enough.

In the case of my mystery request, since all I had was a random name, no info, no profile, and a meaningless picture, I sent a message saying, "Forgive me, but have we met? If not, what made you choose me as someone to send a friend request to?"

Well, I never got a response from the mystery requester. In fact, in short order the friend request itself disappeared - had I scared this person off by asking such a basic question? Or, had I in fact successfully filtered a wacko? I'll never know for sure. If he was trying to network, he certainly was not doing it well!

By the way, if you would like to friend me on Facebook, feel free. Just make sure, please, to give me some idea of who you are!


Also read this related post for additional ramblings:

5/30/09 - "You're Not My Imaginary Friend Anymore!" - Dealing with Being Unfriended, Unfollowed or Blocked

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Boston Radio Great Steve LeVeille Taken Off the Air

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #5, Boston Radio Great Steve LeVeille Taken Off the Air, originally posted January 9, 2009.]

I am what they call a Night Owl. My natural sleep/wake cycle is such that I am usually up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM, and regularly sleep in until 11:00 AM or noon. As such, I have over the years become a fan of overnight talk radio on the AM dial. Not the pre-packaged and often pre-recorded syndicated talk radio "product" that is foisted upon us by the networks, but good, old-fashioned, hometown talk radio done live in the studio of the station broadcasting it; authentic, off-the-cuff, spontaneous radio that has, for the large part, sadly disappeared from the airwaves.

I've listened to WBZ 1030AM out of Boston for as long as I can remember. WBZ was the last outpost for non-syndicated overnight talk. I was introduced to Bostonian legends like Larry Glick and Norm Nathan as a youngster when I would spend the night at my grandmother's house: she fell asleep nightly listening to WBZ. After I graduated college, I found myself listening to those same programs: Norm Nathan until his passing, Bob Raleigh until his retirement, Jordan Rich on the weekends, and Steve LeVeille.

Steve LeVeille took over WBZ's overnight (midnight to 5:00 AM) slot in 1999, and for the past decade he has presented the most enjoyable late-night radio program found on the dial. While echoes of LeVeille's predecessors can certainly be heard in his broadcasts, he had a signature style all his own. The Steve LeVeille Broadcast was a nightly mix of thoughtful debate on current events (both those local to Boston and those affecting the entire country...or the entire world) and general lighthearted fun that often slipped into outright silliness, as when he would have Mel Simons in the guest chair conducting his Audio Clip Trivia Quiz. The revered LeVeille-Hagopian Polls (cofounded with WBZ writer/producer Garo Hagopian) got to the heart of issues affecting listeners, asking such soul-searching questions as "paper or plastic?", "red, white, or blue?", or "soda, cola or pop?", and listeners waited for the tell-tale siren indicating a Deviation Alert: someone had made the first non-offered choice!

Though I never met the man, and never called into his program, I felt certain common bonds with LeVeille. Being a life-long Phillies fan, I could easily identify with his yearly frustration with his beloved Red Sox -- and found myself swept up in the joy of the Bosox finally winning the World Series in 2004. Like me, Steve was flabbergasted that each winter's snowstorms brought on a rush to the grocery stores to stock up on milk and bread, as if everyone should hunker down and subsist on French Toast until the storm passes. When he campaigned to change that tradition to one where we should run out before a storm and stock up on Marshmallow Fluff instead, I jumped on that bandwagon.

What made his radio program work so well was Steve's inherent understanding of his role: while so many who enter the talk radio field model themselves after the Limbaughs, Sterns, Larry Kings, and others who shine the spotlight mainly on themselves, Steve LeVeille knew from Day One that he was not the star of his show. He was merely our Master of Ceremonies whose job it was to guide us through whatever may ensue in each night's five-hour block; the callers were the stars. He gave everyone the ability to speak their piece, and while he certainly let his opinions on things be known, he always did so as an aside while trying to get at the reasons the callers felt as they did. He never belittled anyone for their stances, although he did not suffer fools long. If you couldn't explain why you felt as you did, or, worse yet, rambled on without getting to a point, you were done. But, every caller was treated well by Steve, whether they were weekly regulars or one-time callers, and his easy, conversational approach made even the most nervous first-time-caller-long-time-listeners a bit more confident.

Steve LeVeille is no longer on the air. As LeVeille himself noted in an interview with the Boston Herald, he was laid off without warning after he completed his December 29th show. After a decade, The Steve LeVeille Broadcast is suddenly no more, with barely a statement from WBZ, and without the opportunity to say "goodbye." Sadly, it has been replaced on WBZ by something called Overnight America - another soulless, syndicated, cookie-cutter piece of network talk radio product. And to say that LeVeille's many fans in the "38 states and all the best provinces of Canada" that WBZ's signal reaches are upset is an understatement.

A "Bring Back Steve LeVeille" campaign has been initiated by several of his fans; I quickly added my name to this petition. If you were a fan of Steve's, I urge you to join the chorus of voices asking for his return. If you never listened to The Steve LeVeille Broadcast, but understand that losing one of the last of a dying breed of true radio personalities only means a greater influence of CRaP (Corporate Radio Product) and hate that as much as I do, I urge you to sign the petition. If and when Steve returns, you can hear him on WBZ's website, which offers streaming live audio, and perhaps find yourself becoming a fan.

I, for one, sure hope WBZ listens to those who have been listening to WBZ for so many years. We miss you, Steve!


Also read these follow-up posts to learn the rest of the story:

1/17/09 - LeVeille Update
1/27/09 - Ya Gotta Believe! Steve LeVeille is Coming Home!
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Monday, December 20, 2010


[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #7, = FAIL, originally posted February 15, 2010.]

Let me share with you folks a tale of frustration, poor customer service, and how to go about losing a long-time customer in no time at all:

Being the music fan that I am, I have had subscriptions with both iTunes and for quite some time. In the case of, since 2004. I was always pleased with the catalog of music eMusic presented, and from the start their high-quality .mp3 downloads were, to me, preferable to iTunes' .m4p files. Whenever both services competed on a particular song or album, eMusic would get my business.

eMusic uses a slightly different model than iTunes' pay-per-download approach. eMusic charges a monthly subscription rate that allows you to download "x" number of songs per month, with higher-priced subscriptions allowing a greater number of downloads. eMusic also made things easy by allowing PayPal to be used to auto-pay each month.

For nearly five years, all was honky-dory, until this month's subscription payment. Knowing that my monthly downloads generally renew by the end of the first week of the month, I went up to the site last week to pick this month's downloads. Upon signing in, I was greeted with a message in bold red type telling me "Your PayPal account could not be authorized for payment! Please provide a valid credit card number or update your PayPal account information."

Well that's not good! I knew there would be no reason for my PayPal account not to be working, so, fearing that someone had somehow gotten into my account, I was on the phone with PayPal in no time. After a brief conversation with a helpful, friendly agent at PayPal, it was determined that (1.) no breech of my account security had occurred, and (2.) there was no obvious reason why payment should not have been authorized the same as it had been every month for the past five years. The problem must be on eMusic's side.

So I went to eMusic, and after twenty minutes of searching for a contact number, called their customer service. I explained to the agent there what the situation was, and she suggested I go through the "Update Your Account Info" process. No dice - three times we tried and it still came back saying the account could not be authorized for payment. This agent apologized, and then said she would escalate the situation to her superiors, and I would be getting an email response from them in about 24 hours with a solution.

Today, three business days (five calendar days) later, having not heard a peep from eMusic, I called back. Here's where the skies begin to darken...

I wound up being connected to an agent who seemed somewhat less than thrilled to be doing her job. Her thick accent made it difficult to understand all of what she was saying, but it quickly became apparent that there was no record of my previous call, or at least none that she was going to acknowledge. "You will need to provide a credit card number or some alternate form of payment," she kept repeating. I tried explaining to her that I had verified with PayPal that nothing was wrong with the account, but she paid no attention.

"I think you need to call PayPal and find out why they won't authorize," she said in a monotone voice. As I tried yet again to explain that I had already done that, I realized why she wasn't hearing me - she was talking over me! "I see you already tried to update your PayPal information several times. Why did you keep doing that?" she demanded, as if asking a child why he had drawn on a wall with permanent markers. "Because your agent suggested I do!" I sputtered, growing more frustrated by the moment. "Well, now your PayPal account is locked out by our security. You'll have to give us a credit card number."

I tried to ask how this was now my fault and why, after five years of everything working fine, I suddenly had to provide a credit card number, but she continued to talk over me. "Everything is case sensitive. Maybe you entered your PayPal password wrong." she sneered. Three times?!? Doubtful, especially since the PayPal site opened right up each time. "Well, I don't know what to tell you. You can wait 120 days if you like and then try again, or you can give us a credit card..."

I blew my stack at that point. "No ma'am," I said, a bit loudly and forcefully, "YOU need to determine what's wrong on your end. I have been with eMusic for years and have never had a problem. PayPal has confirmed that there is no problem. A promised resolution from your department did not arrive, and now you're telling me that because I followed the directions of one of your agents, that I must give you a credit card number? No, you need to find out what the problem is."

She then verified the last three payments that had been made, verified that February's payment had not been authorized, and again said, "Unfortunately, your PayPal account is now locked from our system for 120 days because you tried to update it three times..."

"Ma'am," I began through gritted teeth, "you can repeat that as many times as you like, but I am not going to provide a credit card number. I use PayPal because I don't want to give out my credit card numb..." I stopped because I realized she was again talking over me.

"...your PayPal account is locked out for 120 days." I heard her again reciting. "We do that because we value our customer's security."

"Do you value your actual customers?" I asked, "Because you're about to lose a long-standing one."

"Hold on one moment, let me see what I can do," she said. Onto eterna-hold I went, with the worst, loudest hold music imaginable. When she finally returned several minutes later, it was the same refrain once more, with feeling: "You tried to update your account too many times, so it is locked down for 120 days." she sneered.

"Then please cancel my account." I calmly requested. She didn't bat an eyelash: "OK, please hold for your cancellation reference number," which she then rattled off to me. And that was that.

I am flabbergasted at the complete lack of courtesy I was shown. I understand that sometimes there are situations that customer service call center folks cannot do anything about, which was likely the case here: the computer said PayPal was locked out, and I'm sure she had no authority to override the computer. But should that give her carte blanche to talk over me, to take an accusatory, condescending tone with me, or to blatantly refuse to listen to what I was telling her? And not even so much as a "We're sorry to see you go," when I asked to cancel? After five years? In fact, it seemed she couldn't get me through the cancellation and off the phone fast enough.

It is stunning how poor customer service can be at times, and how quickly a lousy experience can sour a person towards a business. You business owners out there should take note: whether you're an online business or a "real world" business, you need to know how your customer service people are treating your customers, because if they aren't doing it well, those customers will not remain customers.

Furthermore, upon reflection, a pleasant experience would have ended up very differently. I wasn't upset or ready to cancel when I first called. Even if nothing could have been done differently as far as a locked account, being treated with simple courtesy would have made a world of difference. Being spoken with instead of talked down to would have resulted in the retention of this customer. It's not difficult to do and it costs a business nothing to provide pleasant customer service, but poor customer service can cost plenty.

Congratulations, iTunes! You'll be seeing much more business from me!


Also read this follow-up post to learn the rest of the story:

2/17/10 - A Stunningly Poor Follow Up: FAIL Continues!

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Day I Met Johnny Thunders

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #7, The Day I Met Johnny Thunders, originally posted July 16, 2010.]

In the summer of 1989 I was both the Music Director and the Interim General Manager of WDCE (90.1 FM), the campus radio station at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.  I had been appointed to the Music Director position at the beginning of the previous school year, and had been hosting a weekly three-hour Saturday night radio show for the better part of three and a half years by that point.

Among my duties as MD was the responsibility to arrange on-air interviews with bands who might be passing through Richmond, and matching those artists up with the DJs whose shows would be best suited and who had the ability to conduct a somewhat intelligent interview. (I remember my sophomore year roommate's spot-on impersonation of "every college DJ everywhere:" in a perfectly deadpan monotone voice, "OK, that was a song by The Cure, and now here's another song by The Cure...")

One day around mid-summer, I was in the station's office perusing the newest shipment of material to determine what would make the station's playlist, when the office phone rang.  A woman on the other end of the line introduced herself as Johnny Thunders' manager, and said he was going to be playing in Richmond that weekend, and were we interested in doing an interview with him?

Johnny Thunders!  Johnny Thunders of The New York Dolls! Johnny Thunders of The Heartbreakers! Johnny Freakin' Thunders!  The epitome of New York glam-punk-rock-n-roll guitar greatness! THE Johnny Thunders? Nah...couldn't be...had to be a joke, right?

No, she insisted, this was a last-minute deal, here's his room number at the hotel where he'll be staying, give him a call on Friday and set it up.  I asked her what name he'd be staying under, and she said, "Just ask for Johnny Thunders."  Of course my next call was to the club where she said he'd be playing.  They verified that, yes, Johnny Thunders would be there, with next to no promotion because it was a last-minute booking.

That Friday, I called the hotel and asked for Johnny Thunders. The nasally New Yawk accent that answered was unmistakeably him.  He'd love to do an interview, he said, but he needed a ride to the station from the hotel, and by the way could we get him to the club also?  I called a friend of mine and told her, "We're chauffeuring Johnny Thunders around tonight!"

He hadn't come to town with a big entourage.  It was just Johnny and his saxophone player, Jamie Heath.  From the moment we shook hands, Johnny Thunders was among the friendliest people I've ever met in the music world.  "Hey, can we play a couple songs from my demo tape?" he asked as we drove across town to the radio station, shoving an unmarked cassette toward me.  Turns out he was between labels at the time, and was shopping some new solo stuff around.

The interview went well.  The regular Friday night DJ and Johnny Thunders and me, talking music and having Johnny cue up his own demo tape live and having a great time.  I wish I had a recording of that interview, but I don't.  The only thing I do have is a recording of the station promo he did for us:

Johnny Thunders WDCE promo

From there we headed downtown to a little hole-in-the-wall on Grace Street where Johnny played - just guitar and saxophone - a mix of his newer stuff and a few classics.  Maybe fifty people showed up that night. We hung out with Johnny all night. I'd like to think he was clean at the time.  I can say that I saw no drugs that night, and Johnny was lucid; in fact, he was great to talk with and very funny.  But with Johnny's addictions were well known - the stuff of legend, as they say.  All I can tell you is, if there were any drugs there that night, he kept them hidden from us.

When the time came to drop Johnny off at the hotel, he made a big production out of thanking us for our hospitality and insisted that "if you ever come to New York, you look me up!"  He took his demo with him, it being the only copy he had, but he promised he would send a copy to the station the first chance he had.

No copy of the demo ever arrived, and I never heard from Johnny Thunders again.  Within a year and a half, he would be gone, found dead in a hotel room in New Orleans of what some people claim was a methadone overdose, although a lot of mystery still surrounds the event and many feel foul play was involved.

Yesterday would have been Johnny Thunders' 58th birthday.  To this day, when people ask me for my greatest "brush with rock and roll greatness" story, this is the one I tell them.  Hard to top Johnny Thunders buying you a beer.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Revolution Will Be Downloaded

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #8, The Revolution Will Be Downloaded, originally posted October 13, 2009.]

The first sign of the impending revolution was a cryptic message on Twitter on June 25: "The French Revolution is coming..." was posted by @TFRevolution. Then, months of silence.

The next volley was fired September 21, when both Twitter and Facebook received the warning, "Nobody expects The French Revolution..." A fan page had been set up on Facebook by The French Revolution, to compliment the Twitter page, and now the battle was ferociously joined. Over the next several days, both sites saw constant salvos:

• "Aren't you tired of having the same old thing spat back at you?"
• "Your patience with the Revolution will be rewarded"
• "Good morning. Hope you all have slept well. The Revolution never sleeps..."
• "In just a few short weeks, mysteries will be revealed. Stick with us, and thanks for following!"
• "October 13 will be a landmark day for the Revolution. Mark your calendars!"

I am personally not a fan of the "it's all a big mystery" approach to marketing. Oh, it works - these Revolutionaries certainly got people talking, trying to figure out what or who this was - but for me, the payoff better be well worth the wait for it not to be seem hokey and manipulative. Today being the landmark day, the big reveal turned out to be a letdown.

Wait, allow me to rephrase that: the big reveal turned out to be The Letdown, the excellent debut album from Lancaster's newest musical project, The French Revolution.

Friends Daniel French and Jeremy Bentley, each veterans of local bands, form the core of The French Revolution. The project began back in 2007 as both French and Bentley found themselves fed up with trying to play by the Corporate Music Industry's rules for establishing a career in music. As they wrote in the initial blog post at their long-standing MySpace page,

"...once you forget the fun involved in creating and giving your music, and start playing it for reasons beyond the pure joy of it (say... to impress labels, or get on tours with bands you don't really like but who have more "industry clout," to try and get a deal with an agent, etc. etc. etc. the list goes on and on and on), the life and joy tends to get sucked right out of music."

Feeling drained and frustrated, French and Bentley made a pact to thumb their nose at the whole machine and go back to making the music they want to make, sharing it with people who enjoy it, and above all else having fun doing what they love to do: writing and playing rock music. Today, that vision has resulted in The Letdown, a thoroughly enjoyable collection of a dozen tunes available for free download both at their own site and through Gimme

Supported by fellow Revolutionaries Patrick Kirchner (of the band Slimfit) and Matt Campbell (of Ex Education), French and Bentley aren't necessarily breaking any new ground here, but that's entirely by design. This is Cheap Trick wearing a Green Day costume; this is what was good about '70s-'80s-'90s rock without all the pompous overblown overtones; this is every alternative band reimagined as mainstream rockers; this is power chords and ra-ta-tat-tat drums and a party that overflows into the street. It is, simply, a FUN album - almost an anachronism in today's musical universe.

And, in the ultimate gesture of disdain for the Industry they have turned their back on, they're giving the whole shebang away for free! It's not about anything more than the music, period - it's not business, it's not product, it's music that is meant to be shared and enjoyed.

A follow up album is in the works already, this time as a three-piece with guitarist Jason Sherman. Bentley says, "Each new album by TFR will most likely include a different member, or changed membership, to spice things up and add different influences, but it will always be the core of Daniel and myself for as long as we wish to continue The French Revolution." If they keep making music like this, let's hope this Revolution goes on for quite awhile!

Listen to my personal favorite cuts from the album, "WMD" and "Force Field":


Force Field

Then, go download the whole album and join the Revolution!

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Friday, December 17, 2010

My Own "Special Comment"

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we present #9, My Own "Special Comment", originally posted August 11, 2009.]

Hi BillImage by Travelin' Librarian via Flickr
Let me start here: I don't like Keith Olbermann. Nothing personal against the man; I have never met him. He may be a great guy if you get to know him. But as far as his current role as host of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, I find him to be bombastic, overbearing, self-obsessed and hypocritical.

At the same time, a part of me wants to like Olbermann. In his days across the ESPN desk from Dan Patrick many moons ago, he and Dan were easily the most entertaining, most knowledgeable sports commentators on the air; I never missed their show. He is obviously a bright man, quick-witted and, at times, honestly very funny. He is an outstanding speaker, able to use the language almost as a musical instrument.

Yet his skills are used, sadly, to perpetuate the ongoing partisan divide in this country. He is nothing more than the Left's version of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, constantly stirring the pot and fomenting anger and disdain among his audience against the Right. I dislike Olbermann for the same reasons that I dislike Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck, et al.: they each contribute mightily to the "us against them" mindset that we find ourselves in nowadays - a mindset that does our country far more harm than good.

But, in Olbermann's case, there's something more. It's the fact that he refuses to admit his role, that he does not see himself that way, but rather as some sort of messianic second coming of Edward R. Murrow, that causes me to want to kick my television in any time I watch his program. His pomposity is simply unmatched, and simply unbearable.

Yet I watch, partly because I keep hoping I'll find redeeming quality in his presentation, partly out of the "train wreck" factor ("What kind of idiocy is he going to spew tonight?"). I watch for as long as I can, until I can take no more and must turn the channel.

So it was that I found myself watching last night. I tuned in at about the halfway mark, and so was able to grit it out to the end of the program, and I'm sorry I did. Last night, Olbermann delivered another of his histrionic "Special Comments," extended editorials he prepares when something particularly goads him. You can read the transcript of last night's Special Comment here.

Again, I want to enjoy Olbermann's work. From a strictly linguistic angle, his Special Comments in particular are damn near poetic in their rhythm, structure, and evocative use of his extensive vocabulary. In content, however, their disingenuous, often factually inaccurate assertions and questionable leaps in logic drive me right up the wall!

If Olbermann is able to use his widely viewed soapbox to wax linguistic against those who get his dander up, then I hope he (and you, my readers) don't mind if I step up on my considerably smaller soapbox and, in the style of the self-appointed Master, vent my Olbermann-induced dander.

As promised, my own "Special Comment":

Mr. Olbermann, if this is, as you suggested in the opening lines of your Special Comment Monday evening, a "terrible time in American history," rest assured that you, sir, are culpable as surely as those folks you chose to call on the carpet.

Yes, you, Mr. Olbermann. You wield your Special Comment as though it were King Arthur's sword, a weapon so powerful and mighty as to only be employed in times of dire need, when the skies are bleakest with despair, and you the only one who can remove it from the stone in order to wield it. Armed, obviously, with your intelligence, skill in speaking, and penchant for the overly dramatic; armed, obviously, with your knowledge of cultural and literary touchstones; and armed, obviously, with Roget's Thesaurus, you drive your verbally acrobatic blade through the heart - what you must believe is the very black heart - of those you demonize. Indeed, you are so driven to rid the land of your enemies that you are nearly brought to tears as you speak of their heinous misdeeds, nearly brought to alarm as you consider where the roads they pave may lead, nearly brought to frenzy by your anger so strong that you spit out their names rather than speak them civilly. It is so convincing an act that those who blindly follow you, sir, are pulled into the visceral maelstrom even if they don't quite understand all the big words.

is an act, isn't it Mr. Olbermann? Your outrage, your fervor, your nearly bursting into stage tears; it must all be done to drive home the seriousness of your message. You know just as well as Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Beck that you can't rally your troops through factual reporting and thoughtful critique alone. You've got to let them hear the sizzle before they'll buy the steak, right Mr. Olbermann? You've got to make them FEEL it, you've got to find their hot buttons, you've got to sell it. And, just like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the movie Network, you've got to convince them to "go to the window, open it, stick [their heads] out and yell 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'"

You do it in small ways night in and night out, don't you Mr. Olbermann? By demeaning those who represent opposing views; by giving them diminunizing nicknames such as "Comedian" Rush Limbaugh, "Billo the Clown," and "Coultergeist;" by smugly sitting in judgment of those you declare "Best" and "Worst" Persons in the World (and how telling that your Bests are really nothing more than another round of Worsts). In doing so, you imply that you, sir, and by default, your followers, are somehow better, more civilized people. You imply that you, sir, and by default your followers, take the higher, more thoughtful road than these obvious heathens.

But, sadly, the opposite is true. You are no better, sir; no more civilized, no more thoughtful; you do not take a higher road. Instead, you hypocritically wallow in the same muck, employing the same tactics of fear-mongering, alarm-sounding hyperbole to whip your supporters into a frenzy as the tactics you decry the targets of your venom for using. Perhaps you veil it less thinly, but not by much. You shame Limbaugh for comparing President Obama to Adolph Hitler, yet you freely compare Sarah Palin with the participants in a racist lynch mob, somehow making the leap from her unfortunate "Death Panel" Facebook comment to that comparison - a comparison not based in any logical thought progression but based merely in the need to make sure your followers get mad as hell! You mock Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs for not being able to "let go" of their arguments with you on their programs, yet you remind us with excruciating clockwork-like regularity of how many days it has been since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." You, sir, are no better than they.

You are correct about one thing, Mr. Olbermann. This
is a terrible time in American history. It is a time when I find myself fearing the road we as a nation are traveling. It is a time of some the sharpest, deepest divisions in values, morals, and beliefs that I have ever seen in my 42 years. It is a time when I see the country I love being torn asunder; a time when it seems we can accomplish nothing because the partisan rift has become so deep and wide as to seem incapable of being bridged; a time when the mantra on either side seems to be that of the Hatfields and McCoys: "If'n ye ain't fer us, ye must be agin us!"

And you are also correct, sir, when you call the names of the Palins, the Becks, the Limbaughs, and others as those who should be held accountable, at least in part, for the bile that is ever eroding that partisan rift further. Though it may not seem like it based on what I have said so far, I am no apologist for the Right. I do find their tactics of fear-mongering and panic-inducing hyperbole as distasteful as you claim to.

But, Mr. Olbermann, I suggest that you take a good long look in the mirror, for you too, sir, are partially to blame. You too, sir, use many of those very same tactics while simultaneously decrying them. And, to paraphrase your own words, if someone is hurt at one of these Town Halls, pro-Reform, anti-Reform, or, most likely, as these things tend to play out in real life, sir - if the hurt befalls an innocent bystander - you will have contributed to the harm.

If you truly wish to bring about a change, a healing, in this country, I beseech you, Mr. Olbermann, to reconsider the way in which you are doing it. Sadly, however, I suspect that is not your goal. After all, you have your job to do, and that job is to get ratings. Because, sir, ratings equal dollars for that parent company you work for, don't they? And therein lies another similarity between you and those you demean, another measure of your hypocrisy: at the end of the day you too, sir, are beholden to a corporate boss, just as those you call out for serving their corporate bosses over serving the greater good.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Damn Good Reasons to Be a Phillies Fan

[That's What I Was Going To Say is on a brief hiatus during the holidays.  Regular posting will resume on Monday, January 10.  In the meantime, please enjoy this countdown of the ten most popular posts in the blog's history.  Today we begin with #10, 10 Damn Good Reasons to Be a Phillies Fan, originally posted March 26, 2010.]

Philadelphia Phillies Alt Wallpaper [iOS4 Reti...Image by Brian G. Wilson via FlickrIn the list of the 20 worst seasons in MLB history, the Philadelphia Phillies appear four times. The only other team whose name appears on that list more than once is the long-defunct St. Louis Browns. The Phillies are a team that one year finished 62½ games out of 1st place, in a 154-game season. This is the team that, in 1964, blew the National League pennant that they needed only one more win to clinch by losing 10 straight games, 7 of them at home. Life as a Phillies fan has not always been a bed of roses. Over the past four decades that I've been on this planet, the Phils have had many a season where cheering them on was an exercise in painful futility.

The Phillies also have always had some of the most loyal fans any team can hope to have. From the joyous successes they have achieved in the past few years to the darkest days of the late '80s and early '90s, the Phillies Phaithful have always been there. Why? Well if you love the game of baseball, with all its ups and downs, its quirks and follies, its moments of exultation and its moments of despair, you can't help but love the Phils - they've seen it all, experienced it all, and have had more staying power than any other club (since 1883). They embody everything baseball is and hopes to be.

Not buying that? OK, then how about, with 10 days to go until Opening Day, I give you 10 damn good reasons you should be a Phillies fan starting with the 2010 season (if you're not one of us already!)?

10. "High Hopes"
The Phillies' version of "Win one for the Gipper." The Phillies' legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas would lead the club and the fans in the singing of this song after they clinched the 1993 National League Championship, the lyrics being perfect for a team that went from worst to first. When Harry left us last year, the song began being played after every home victory, and the entire stadium sings along!

9. The Phillie Phanatic
Named "Best Mascot Ever" by Sports Illustrated and one of only three mascots enshrined in Cooperstown, The Phanatic is the team mascot all other team mascots wish they could be! All the antics your local team's mascot does? The Phanatic did 'em first, and with more personality! Other mascots have come and gone - including San Diego's fabled Chicken - but the Phanatic endures and continues to entertain!

8. Bull's BBQ

As the slugging left-fielder on the great Phillie teams of the '70s through their World Championship 1980 season, Greg "The Bull" Luzinski was beloved by Phillie fans. As the creator of Bull's BBQ, home of the greatest pulled pork and pit beef sandwiches you'll ever find at any ballpark anywhere, The Bull has endeared himself to a whole new generation of Phillie fans. It's a must-visit concession when you're at Citizens Bank Park. And if you're lucky, The Bull himself might serve up your sandwich and sign your ticket!

7. Phillies Tradition
To be a Phillies fan is to be steeped in tradition. The club's moments of glory are ingrained in every Phanatic. Parents tell their children, who learn and recite their Phillies history as well as they do their multiplication tables. Even the youngest generation of Phillies fan knows about - and those who were there can and happily will tell you all about - The 1950 Whiz Kids, Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day in 1964, Rick Wise hitting two homeruns while pitching a no-hitter in '71, the "Shootout in Chicago" in 1979 when the Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 in ten innings, Schmidtty's 500th homerun, the Divisional Champ teams of '77 & '78, the World Champs of '80 & '08, the Wheeze Kids of '83 and the Worst-to-First misfits of '93. Phillies fans celebrate these and many more as if they happened just yesterday - it's a team whose history remains alive!

6. Harry & Whitey
Speaking of tradition...being a Phillies fan means honoring the memories of the finest, funniest, most knowledgeable and most entertaining duo ever to broadcast a ballgame. For many a fan my age, the voices of Harry Kalas and Richie "Whitey" Ashburn are what a baseball game is supposed to sound like. They were two old friends sitting down to watch a game and share some stories; we were lucky enough to be within earshot. They brought the game to life on radio, and added to the game we watched on TV. They rode every emotional roller-coaster the Phillies took us on with us - they were the ones in the front car, screaming their heads off at the most exciting points. Ashburn left us in 1997, and Harry passed last year, but to Phillies fans everywhere, they still call the games.

5. Leslie Gudel
For the past 10+ years now, Leslie Gudel has been covering the Phillies (and other sports) for Philadelphia's Comcast Sports. You can keep your Jeanne Zelaskos, your Erin Andrewses, your Melissa Starks, your Hazel Maes...Leslie beats them all! She became Philadelphia's first female sports anchor She knows her stuff, and while she's definitely a fan of the Phillies, she's not afraid to speak up when they screw up. Over her time in Philadelphia, she's become one of the best, male or female!

4. Larry Anderson
Simply put, L.A. is the best color man in the business, bar none. When Whitey passed away in 1997, Anderson stepped into to the booth. He never once tried to fill the shoes of His Whiteness (no one ever could); instead, L.A. brought his own brand of story-telling, strategy explanation, and game description to the booth, and helped us heal from the loss of Whitey without replacing him. Paired with Harry Kalas, L.A. became more confident behind the mic with each season. That he's a naturally funny guy helped, but his love of the game comes through every word, and that is what connects with the fans. Now paired with Scott Franzke in the radio booth, there are many, many fans who wish that we could have L.A. back on TV! I know I'm not alone in occasionally watching the game with the TV muted and the radio broadcast supplying the soundtrack!

3. Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel took over the managerial reigns of the club from Larry Bowa in 2004. It took a little while for Manuel to find his footing with the club and for Philadelphia to fully embrace Charlie, but he has proven himself over his tenure with the Phillies to be the perfect manager for this club. Manuel's public style is relaxed and down to earth, and he believes in his players - sometimes supporting them to a point that drives fans crazy, such as his decision to stick by Brad Lidge last year as his closer despite disastrous outing after disastrous outing. But you can't argue with success, and I'd say leading the club to three straight NL East pennants, two straight National League pennants, and two trips to the World Series - winning one of them - is success by anyone's measure.

2. Chooch, J-Roll, The Flyin' Hawaiian, Hollywood, Ra-UUUUUL!, and more
You have to love a team with personality, and the Phils have personality in spades! Just look at the nicknames on the team right now. And what makes this team work is that there are no prima-donna superstars. Everyone plays his role, and they celebrate each other's successes, stepping back to allow each teammate their share of the spotlight. Come on, could you ask for a better infield than Howard, Utley, Rollins and Polanco? Or a better outfield than Ibanez, Victorino and Werth? Ruiz has proven himself to be a valuable captain behind the plate and quite the clutch hitter when he's up to bat. With the addition of Roy Halladay and the return of a revived Cole Hamels, the pitching staff will again be among the toughest in the league. This is a team that's been to the Series twice, and still has its best years ahead!

1. The Phans!
Philadelphia fans may have a bad reputation outside of the City of Brotherly Love, but those of us who live the Phillie-Phan life know that those on the outside are simply misinterpreting our passion for our beloved Phillies! Phillies fans will strike up conversations with you, debate strategy, talk about the old days, whatever - whether they've known you for years or just met you by sitting in the same row. New Phillies fans are welcomed with open arms. The excitement in the stadium is electric, and again, when the whole stadium joins in singing "High Hopes," well, there's nothing better! The fans here are the best - but they are fiercely loyal. (Walk into Citizens Bank Park wearing a Mets jersey if you doubt our loyalty!)

So what are you waiting for? Declare your Phillies Phandom today, and join us in cheering on Your Defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies as they begin the journey back to the World Series and regain the championship!

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