Sunday, February 28, 2016

My TED Talk

A couple of memories from my trip to New York...

First of all the weeks leading up to the event found me up at three in the morning going over my talk in my head again and again. The major domo of the event, Jim McCarthy, kept telling us to stay to the allotted time, ten minutes. Practice your speech, time your speech, so you wouldn't run over. A little secret? I did it to time once.

Nothing like flying by the seat of your pants.

And speaking of flying, TED flew me up north. I sat next to a mother, with her nanny, and her five kids. Get this, the oldest one was seven. There were runny noses, bare feet and Thomas the Train games everywhere. When you don't have kids you look at a situation like that one way. When you have kids? You're more accommodating, more forgiving. Add in the fact that headphones on my iPod are a great thing and the two hour flight breezed by.

Okay, they flew me into Newark airport and the ride from there into midtown was eighty five dollars! The sound you heard was my jaw hitting the floor.  The toll for the Lincoln Tunnel was $15. One way. Boy, things sure have changed since I lived there.

After I checked into the hotel I went to dinner with my dear friend Howard and his dear as dear could be daughter, Elizabeth. We went to a restaurant on Madison Avenue and the chow was divine the company even better.

The next day was THE day.

I woke up at six and had gone over my talk three times before seven.  I left to go to the venue. New World Stages, y'all. I kinda was there first, all Virgo and nervous energy. The people I met that day were topnotch. We were taken out to the stage in groups to familiarize ourselves with it.

Now some history. How did I get there in the first place? An old friend.

I met Patch Canada years ago when she did PR for the Kennedy Center Honors.
They were on CBS and I covered them. That's how we got together.

We became fast friends.

Cut ahead to years later, I'd left CBS and had come to Orlando, where I had my stroke. I traveled to DC to visit friends and family and during my visit Patch sat and talked with me on a park bench.  She'll turn red when I say this but that's a sweet memory I'll cherish forever.

Okay, cut ahead again to the Fall of 2011 and Patch now does PR for the TEDx Talks on Broadway and asked me to be a part of it. I said yes. Well, outside forces caused me to cancel in January of 2012, and I knew I'd screwed up. I never thought I'd hear from them again.

Turns out I was wrong.

Cut ahead a third time and Patch reached out again at the end of 2015.  I couldn't say yes fast enough and that's how I found myself in New York, at the New World Stages and about to go onstage in front of 500 plus people.

Thats how it happened but there's more. Much more.

First of all the theme was 'The Best that Broadway Can Be.' I told them I didn't know that much about Broadway, I'm a News Man. They said it didn't matter, they wanted all kinds of ingredients in their stew.

18 speakers, or presenters as they called them, in all.
Alex Dinelaris, Erin Lavik and Guess Who
An Academy Award winner, Alex Dinelaris, who won for writing Birdman, kicked things off. He had a backpack full of old baseball glove that his dad had used, dvds that were important in his life, a notebook that he wrote a script in.

His father was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, who didn't really read that much. When his father was dying of cancer his son showed him a script he'd written and his dad told him it was the best thing he'd ever read.

There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

And then he reached into his back pack one more time and pulled out his Oscar.

Can you say Special Moment? I think you can. And that's how the Talks began.

There were three sessions of speakers, six each, and here they came. Each one telling their story, each one just flat out great.

Erin Lavik is a Professor of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. That, my friends, is quite a mouthful. She sat next to me in the audience and talked all day like she would be awful. How, when she rehearsed no one laughed at her jokes, how she couldn't find her script. She convinced me she wouldn't be that good.

Au contraire. She was wonderful.

Erin had that audience in the palm of her hand. She compared acting to science. Talked about how she hated the phrase 'mad scientist' and why. She even said one of her team brewed beer and that would appeal to her husband. All great stuff.

Lindsay Croop did her presentation a bit differently. Lindsay dances ballet and is a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem. So she danced as well as talked.
Lindsay Croop, the guy with hair, and Lindsay's sister

She used the rhythm of the band onstage to set her up. The dancing helped her tell her story.


Did I mention she's danced all around the world? She has. Did I mention she was great? She was.

Boy, am I using the word great a lot.

So you see what I was following.

Finally it was my turn.

I was honored to be the last presenter, the Closer, as Jim McCarthy called it. All day there were people back stage, walking in circles, muttering to themselves, trying to memorize their talk.  I was in that bunch.

When they introduced me I ambled on to the stage.

And began.

500 people, three cameras, my power point, a clicker, and me.

I won't tell you what I said, you'll see when the video is done. I will say this, one of THE most special days for me.


After it was over they had a dinner at a very nice restaurant for all the speakers plus one. You got to meet husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, brothers and sisters.

The flight back was uneventful but I kept thinking of The Day with a big grin on my face.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Am Many Things

Griffin, Jenna, Lola The Dog, Maya, Miles

I was lying in bed last night at three in the morning, wide awake, asking myself why am I wide awake at three in the morning. I thought of a few things.

In no particular order here we go..

I'm a Father.

Jackson Browne sang, "They say in the end it's a wink of an eye."

Amen to that.

It seems like just yesterday I was a kid listening to my parents and now I'm the parent.

What I didn't know then that I know now is you tend to make things up as you go along. Oh, you have an outline you follow but it's forever changing, forever evolving.

You try to teach your children the difference between right and wrong, manners, kindness, honesty, and hopefully how to think for themselves. You support them, be a friend as well as a parent.

And help prepare them for that cold world on the other side of your window.

My kids constantly surprise me.

They turn from these lumps of clay into living, breathing, diamonds.  They'll say things that make you think, "Where'd they get that?"

It's fun to hang out with them.

Watching Star Wars with one of my boys was a mind blowing experience. I couldn't believe we were watching it together. R2D2. C3PO. Darth Vader.

His idea.

I think I had more fun than he did.

One last thing, one of my sons came home from school, sixth grade, and told me he learned about "King Beebee," that day.

"King Beebee?"

"King Beebee."

Turns out it was B.B. King.

I'm a Husband.

I've been single and I've been married. I prefer being married.

Being married is a marathon not a sprint. And let's get this out there, there are days my wife would like to pitch me out the window and days I'd like to do the same to her.

Spoken from a guy who knows.

Having said that, what begins as an attraction turns into this rich, fulfilling, raising a family, we're a team, it's forever, kind of love.

Watching a girl turn into a great mother is divine. Can a woman love being pregnant? My wife will tell you she does. She always says she'd have another kid in a heartbeat.

As we got further and further into the pregnancy, and she got bigger and bigger with our twins, she slept all the time.

But when she was awake? Always smiling.

I tell my wife she's a paper tiger because she always firmly tells the kids no and at the first sign of tears it's yes.

So guess what they do?

But guess who loves their mom to pieces.

I'm a Son.

The things you remember...

We were in Berlin, it was raining, I was about 9 or 10, and couldn't go outside to play. My mother spent that day patiently teaching us how to shuffle cards. Why do I remember that?

I dunno but I do.
Many years later, my mom and I went to an Earth, Wind and Fire concert. Together with my sister, Karen.

Hippest mother there.

I always wanted to be like my dad. I played sports. He sang opera.

He also was an officer in the Air Force at a time when there were precious few black officers.

One time, in high school, he came to see me wrestle. I had separated my shoulder so when I took off my warm up suit I had tape all over the place.

Well, long story short, I pinned the guy. My dad ran down to the mat after the match and gave me 5 bucks.

McDonald's here we come.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

How I Became A Disc Jockey

I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Maryland.
Walter McElderry

I had come home and had gone with my friends to see our high school drama teacher, Mr. McElderry.

Mr. McElderry was very cool.

He commanded respect but he also talked to us like we were adults. That was a treat and that went a long way.

There we were, in front of a fireplace, as he went around the room to ask us what we were doing in college. One person said he was knee deep in biology.  One said he was acting in plays, sharpening his acting skills. When it came to me he asked, "So, Mark, what are you doing?"



He asked me what sparked me, what interested me. I told him I didn't know but when they played a song on the radio I didn't always like the song the DJ played next. "Do they have a radio station on campus?" I didn't know the answer to that either and said so. "Why don't you find out and maybe you can get on the air."

You know how you say things to your dog and she cocks her head?

That was me.
Hadn't even thought of that.

Turns out Maryland had a station, WMUC.

The station was run by students and the Program Director was a senior, Jay Kernis.

I'll get back to that in a minute but first a bit of kismet.

Years later, I was a weatherman on CBS and who was the newest addition to our show? Jay Kernis. Smart as they come and talented as they come.  The whole thing fell under the heading of who'da thunk it.

And you have to say thunk.

To be working with him again was a treat. Jay is a great guy in addition to being funny and nice. He worked at NPR, twice, the second time as Senior VP for Programming. He's worked at CNN, and after a stint at 60 Minutes and a time at Rock Center on NBC you can find Jay these days doing great work as a producer on (drum roll please) CBS Sunday Morning.

Back to WMUC.

I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof when I went in. Why? I had never been in a radio station before and I did mention I was 18.  Jay was intimidating to me, larger than life, plus he would break out into show tunes at the mere mention of dropping a hat. I'd never met anyone quite like him. He was razor sharp with a towering intellect. He was also a good judge of talent.
Jay Kernis

Had to say that last part.

The interview went by in a haze but I remember he asked me all kinds of things including what kind of music I liked and why I wanted to spin records.

Before I knew it I got the job.

Keep in mind you couldn't hear the station in the car outside my dorm but I didn't care. I was on the radio.

First song I played? "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin. It's better known as the theme to the movie The Sting.

Second song? "Big Brother" by Mister Stevie Wonder.

Memories you have forever.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

More Of My Stories

I have an older sister, Leslie, who lives in a small town in Washington state called Wenatchee.
She teaches voice there and that town treats her as if she was the Beatles.

And that's a good thing.

One year she had a concert fundraiser for the Wenatchee Valley Symphony and she brought in some out of town muscle, my dad and me, to help out. My dad sings and he came to do just that. I was on CBS at the time and I came to be the emcee.

Tuxedos, baby.

Leslie has sung with the Seattle Opera plus I was so proud to read about her in Time magazine singing Phillip Glass compositions at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). She wasn't singing this night. She was just in a box in the balcony looking pretty.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that her singing took her to Moscow where in her spare time she taught Muscovites to say, "Cawffee, regular" in the biggest New York accent you've ever heard. Very funny.

Normally, when they have a fundraiser for the Symphony, a thousand bucks is a good haul.

That night we raised $14,000.

And something else happened that night I had never seen before or since.

When we were done and the amount that was raised was announced, the audience turned as one and applauded up to the box and my sister Leslie.

You know how you witness one of those special moments? This was one of them.

I still can see it as if it were yesterday.


One more story.

This one is about Willard Scott.

Willard is my guy.

When I first began at CBS there was no weatherman bigger. Turned out there was none nicer.

The first time I went to lunch with him was at the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center. He was already there when I arrived. With a twinkle in his eye he said, "You know what I like about this place? If you eat all the rolls they bring you more!"

That's an ice breaker right there.

He was also the first person to play Ronald McDonald.

Before the Today show, Willard was part of a team on the radio and played Bozo the Clown on TV as well.  A local McDonald's franchise had him play 'Ronald McDonald the Hamburger Happy Clown' in three of their television spots.

That was 1963.

It also was the first time America saw Ronald McDonald.

One last Willard tale...

It was Bill Clinton's first Inauguration. When you go on the road with the anchors, they broadcast from one place and the weatherman is like the satellite that revolves around them. In a word you move and that's how I found myself in a parking lot with all kinds of marching bands.

They were going to be in the parade and having them in the shot was great TV.

Willard was in that parking lot, as well. He saw me and before I knew it he pulled me into his shot and we both were on CBS and NBC at the same time. He put his arm around me and gave me a smoochie, on the cheek, on live television.

When you've been smooched by Willard Scott? You've been smooched.

Great TV, great friend.

And that's a couple more of my stories.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Just A Couple Of My Stories

Remember Boone's Farm Apple Wine?

An oldie but a goodie from back in the day.

I must have been 21 or so and I thought I would go along with the crowd and try my hand at it. All my friends were drinking it and I figured, what the hey. So, you'd think I'd stick my toe gently in the water. Oh no, I dove right in. Before I knew it I was home, drunk, with the whole room spinning.

And me, dizzy.

I learned how to throw up in the trash can next to the bed and pass out with all my clothes on, from Boone's Farm Apple Wine.

A lesson I did not need to learn.

Got another one...

When Maya was little, and we lived in Manhattan, we rode the subway up to the Bronx to see the Yankees play in old Yankee Stadium.

Just me and her.

I had spent way too much money on seats right behind the visitor's dugout. I mean they were great seats. On the way there I said to her, "We leave whenever you want to leave."

Our seats were so close to the Tampa Bay players that you could see the sweat on their foreheads as they came into the dugout. It was May and it was unusually hot. I noticed Maya hadn't eaten her Cracker Jacks, in fact she hadn't even opened the box.

I said to her, "Remember what Daddy said, we can leave whenever you want to."

We had a pool on the top of our apartment building and Maya said, "If we leave can I go swimming?"
"Sure can." She said,"Let's go." We left.

This next one falls under the category of Urban Legend because I think I heard this long ago. But I have no real proof.  Either way I've been telling this forever, so here goes...

If you watch movies nowadays and they show streets at night, did you know they've been sprayed down with water to make them look shiny? It makes for a sharper image and it's like that in every film you see.

It wasn't always so.

Go back to movies in the 70's, movies in the 60's and beyond, they're not like that.

What changed?

It was a little teevee show called Miami Vice. No socks, cool clothes, and lots of shots at night. So they wet the streets down to give them a different look, a special look.

That started a trend that's with us to this day.

And those are a just a couple of my stories.

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