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OODA Redux: Marketing is What You Do, & Who You Are.

I talked about OODA for Real Estate before, mostly because it’s more clear to more people that there are no barriers to doing amazing (even splendid) things in or out of Real Estate.  Again, OODA is:  Observe, Orient, Decide Act (lather, rince repeat).   A better definition is here,   A still better definition is here.   But my current campaign work has me thinking more tactically in lieu of strategically. 

What I’m guessing is this:  Most Realtors (and chess players…and people….) would be far better served to study tactics than strategy.  Yes, yes, strategy matters—there are some preconditions that must be met before success in any venue is attainable.  A few would be: the ability to tell the truth, the ability to focus, the desire to help people, etc.  But, beyond the building blocks of a complete man, most people are addicted to strategy and planning.  Because making a plan is a blast.   And because you are getting a glimpse of the possible.   It’s the doing that’s a bitch.

Most people plan their work, and then plan their work, and then plan their work when they should be working.  Planning and thinking becomes procrastination, and then you may be great at Observing & Orienting but when it comes to deciding and acting…it’s easier to go to Reader to check in than it is to grind out a deal.  Easier to join the cadre of nincompoops on Twitter…and say ‘that sux,’ to one another.

Orly?   Easier for a day, that is…until you suddenly find someone calling about your car payment which is 16-days-past-due and you but you have only-$312 to last you until the 23rd where you SHOULD have a closing if the mortgage loan officer (or underwriter) gets off their ass, so why don’t you call the LO right now to get an “update?"  That kind of stress comes from overplanning and underworking. 

LO:  Hi, How’s it going.

Broke Realtor:  Well, You tell me.  (weighty silence)

Buh-leave me.   I know from brutal (and sadly, all too recent) past experience that a perfect plan sitting in a drawer is way worse than calling strangers with zeal and fervor and asking for business.   When the pressure is up and you’re on Death Ground, fight.  And if you’re not on Death Ground?  Convince yourself you are.  Brings out the fight in you.  (See Shaw, Russell). 

So we see it’s harder and more stressful to be indecisive.  You have to bear weight and pressure of unprocessed loops.  The second-greatest trick of the Devil  is this: Sloth (i.e. echochamber aspects of social media) is OK , and you should gravitate towards what’s low resistance instead of high value.   Napoleon didn’t slice open Archduke Charles by first wondering if all of Chuck’s Twitter Followers would approve.   He saw (O) an opportunity, and (O) saw what would happen by (D) sending his troops in, so he (A)cted.  

The thing is, too many people wait for perfect conditions to act.  They wait for business cards to be printed because, hey, you can’t sell without business cards, and that takes time.   They wait for rates to go down, prices to go up, whatever.   The bias for inaction is the biggest threat towards most people’s lives.   Marketing yourself is about taking action that people aren’t, being the ‘-est’  at whatever the hell you’re doing.  (Thank you, Scott).  

The state of perpetual half work that half wits find themselves in is why there is the continual vibe of being stressed out.  But the stress goes away when you work your ass off.  The end-of-the day feeling is relaxed contentment, and allowing yourself to be consumed with noise invariably breaks down your ability to form OODA loops and get inside the loops of others.  Then you become part of insipidly useless Twitter conversations about how your buyer/broker/lender/dog/ let you down because they aren’t as hardworking/honest/smart/thoughtful as you are.

So, the basic question: what could you be doing that you’re resisting? 

What could you do for an hour or two a day and get results?

What are you avoiding?


How can you do everything faster?


What things can you get away with not having?


What are you using to make an excuse and let yourself off the hook for results?

Remember: EVERY general in history bitched about not having supplies to win the War.   The great ones did without, won and were remembered.

Damn the torpedoes and go fight–there ain’t any magic bullets here.


BHB and Real Estate’s OODA Loop.

The reason that I became a part of BHB was because BHB wants to matter most.  I don’t agree with everything Greg says or does (and he doesn’t always agree with me), but the core ethos at BHB is peerless.  It’s the same reason why I dug the Smashing Pumpkins so much.  Like him or not, Billy wanted to be the best rock band that rock and roll has ever seen.  He took title shot after title shot.  He didn’t make it, but we are all enriched for his efforts.   BHB is full of people that want to raise the bar so high that everyone benefits.  BHB wants to be the best RE blog ever, and we’re doing it, and I get to be part of it.  Oh, the fun.

But why to we have a head start?  It’s about the ideas, and it’s about the ethos of being independent, fierce, smart and fast.  Getting ideas out here quickly, with no rules, no committee is the best thing we do here.  And so, for those (few) of you that aren’t familiar with the OODA loop, I had to call it to your attention.

This is what BHB is doing doing, and it comes from a famous fighter pilot.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  Repeat.

From wikipedia:

By observing and reacting to events more quickly than an opponent, you can ‘get inside,’ their decision cycle and gain advantage.

An image:

Zillow was the most obvious example. 

When you’re inside the loop, you’re disrupting others and forcing them to react to you.  Zillow got inside the NAR’s loop with the Zestimate, and changed the industry.  The NAR reacted, but now has to consider Zillow (and all transparency implications that come with free data) in everything they do.  Everyone benefits when we crash the loop of a bad actor, and we’re all in Zillow’s debt because the NAR has to get better–or else they risk being irrelevant.

We benefit when we crash anyone’s loop because once we can do that once, we can repeat the process ad infinitum, and crash other loops.  We learn how to play the game, and the rules that work in taking over a subdivision can work for taking over an industry.

The OODA loop emphasizes speed over all else.  This is the one area where solo survivors have a built in advantage.  Like Sun Tzu, ODDA considers speed the holy grail, and making a fast and action oriented decision is way more important than thinking everything through.   Learn the playing field (observe/orient) act, see what the changes your actions created, act.  Then you’re moving fast, and knocking out your competition.  You’ve got a dizzying amount of information coming at them in a short time, and your opponents have to fight back on your terms.  

So, if you wanted to knock out a mega agent in their neighborhood, what could you offer that a big megateam couldn’t?

If you’re a loan officer, and want to get the best clients, how do you beat entrenched loan officers and cause them to have to defend their positions and change what they are doing?

Google also is getting in Microsoft’s OODA loop by moving the desktop to the cloud.  Apple got in everyone’s OODA with the Imac, Ipod and Iphone.  There are other examples.   What follows is a super basic OODA primer.


To make the world the way you want it, first, you have to look at the way things really are.  What are people doing right now–what’s REALLY happening, TODAY.  Getting rid of the way we want things to be for a second to see what’s going on.   Just flat out: what deals are closing, who’s doing business?  Pore over data, spend at least an hour a week with your relevant market (and you define your market) data.  You have to know the playing field first.

Then You Orient:

Where do you have an advantage?  Look for anomalies example: 15 sales by one realtor.  A neighborhood with no foreclosures.  Where are the efficiencies, where can you gain a on your competition?   Where can you create blue oceans?   Where are you weak, and how do you cover your weaknesses?   Where are you naturally inclined to take action?

Then Decide:

Pick a strategy that emphasizes your strengths.  Make sure you’re aware of your softspots, but focus on using your strengths to win.   Realize that you have built in advantages, and whether it’s being able to cold call, or looking like a supermodel, take an action that uses your strengths. 

Then Act:

So, if I’m trying to win, I want to have a net balance of business go in my favor.  I have seen the landscape, I’ve seen what I can do, I’ve made a decision, then I do it full on, with no holding back.  When we act, we can’t half ass anything.  We must go for it, balls out, with gusto, ferocity and presumption.  Remember: when we are ACTING, we’re remaking the world as we want it to be.  There may be resistance.  Bust through it.

The next thing to do is see how you’ve changed the world…and start the process over again.  This is what BHB is about; teaching you how this loop works in a roundabout way.  The process becomes intuitive once you name it, and it guides actions.  We have to act fast, fast fast fast fast.  Not perfect, but fast.  Then we act again based on the new world we created. 

Do you think we’ve gotten into (must click) ePerks’s Ben Behrouzi‘s loop yet?

Let’s force this world to be the way it’s supposed to be, by reacting faster and crashing the loops of bad actors.

What are some loops that need to be crashed?


For further reading on Boyd (not affiliate links, not that there’s anything wrong with affiliate links)

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot that Changed the Art of War by Robert Cornam

and HIGHLY recommended:

A Swift Elusive Sword by Chester Richards


No Day At The Beach

Yesterday was no day at the beach.  Okay, technically I suppose you could twist the facts around and put a major league, curve ball spin on it and call it a day at the beach.  You know, if you want to get hung up on little details like how I spent the entire day at the beach.  I packed up my two boys, an ice chest full of Cheetos and one large cantaloupe.  (I didn’t bring a knife and apparently you don’t eat those things like an apple, so I returned with one empty ice chest and one large cantaloupe.)  I met up with my good friend and occasional confessor Brian Brady and his lovely daughter.  We were later joined by his wife, whom I’ll just call Mrs. Lance Armstrong Brady for this story, and we spent an entire, glorious day at the beach.  But other than that, yesterday was no day at the beach.  Yeah, okay, I see your point.  Put it this way, it wasn’t a typical day at the beach.

For me, a typical day at the beach would mainly involve long discussions with Brian on solving the world’s problems (ask us sometime… we’ve got the whole thing whittled down to a small pamphlet) and occasionally testing the sandy hardness of the ocean floor by falling off my boogie board.  (This is all done purposefully and as part of my larger interest in oceanography.  I could ride a wave on a boogie board if I wanted to…)  Sometimes, just to spice things up, I see how long I can hold in my gut without passing out in front of an attractive, bikini-clad woman.  They usually do a surprisingly good job of pretending to not even notice me, but we’re so close to Hollywood I assume most of them are just acting…  Anyway, that’s a typical day at the beach for me.  But not yesterday.  Yesterday I was distracted by a gigantic hole.  Yes, a hole… in the sand.  Like I said: not your typical day at the beach.

My two boys and Brian’s daughter spent a good chunk of their morning – when they weren’t out on boogie boards catching waves and staying upright, as if that’s the only way to ride one of those things – digging a hole.  I know, that probably doesn’t sound like much fun, but you have to trust me: catching waves on a boogie board can be fun.  In any case, they dug themselves a pretty good hole.  It was big and deep and had a nice groove cut toward the ocean.  Once the tide came in, they’d have themselves a nice little hot tub just made for three.  (I actually overheard one of them… okay, it was one of my boys, say something about turning it into a jacuzzi.  I’m not sure how they planned on creating bubbles, but I figure what I don’t know won’t hurt me.)

Sure enough, as the tide came in all their hard work started to pay off.  At first there was only a little water, but it was obvious that before long they’d have a first rate hot tub.  It was about this time I began to notice other boys and girls approach; as time passed more and more came until we had a regular Hole in the Beach Gang.  They thought this was the neatest thing they’d ever seen and soon began to splash in the hole too.  It didn’t occur to any of them to ask if they could play in the slowly filling “hot tub.”  I guess they figured holes were just something that appeared at the beach without any work; kind of a no-cost benefit they were all entitled to play in and enjoy.  Pretty soon, my boys and Brian’s daughter came over to us and pointed out that they weren’t getting to play in the hot tub they’d created because there were “all these kids in there who didn’t even help build it!”  I have to say I was shocked, shocked to learn my kids possessed a sense of ownership over this hole.  Why?  Because they got there early?  Because they worked long and hard on it?  Is that any kind of a justification for not sharing it with kids who were busy playing video games all morning and only stumbled into the hole on their way to the ice cream stand?  Being a philosopher, I sat down to formulate a deeply moving response to our children’s dilemma.  Brian on the other hand, ever the pragmatist, just looked at them  and said: “Life’s tough. Wear a helment,” and sent them off to clear jelly fish so he could enter the water for a bit.

I stayed and watched “the hole” though.  I’d become intrigued and I’m glad I did because the most interesting thing happened.  The original three creators of the hole, once they realized they weren’t going to be able to enjoy what they’d built, wandered off to find new adventures.  (At least, I think that’s what they did.  Look, it’s a big crowded beach surrounded by pounding surf and occasional rip tides.  It’s not like I can keep an eye on them every minute…)  The others though, the ones who jumped with both feet into the hole they didn’t create, they stayed and they played and they made that hole their own.  But a very strange thing began to happen.  With each surge of ocean water came a large deposit of sand and the hole became less and less of a hole (and less fun) as it filled with water. 

Now here’s the really odd part: the kids all just looked at each other as it was happening.  They knew their hole was de-holing (don’t bother looking it up, I promise you it’s a word), but they didn’t know what to do about it.  The various shovels and buckets originally used to create the hole were all still there, lying on the outer edge, but no one thought to grab a shovel and contribute.  They just kept playing in less and less water, till one by one they began drifting away.  Maybe some found another magically appearing hole they could take as their own.  I imagined others discovering a blanket spread with hot dogs and chips… and helping themselves to the magic of a free lunch.  It wouldn’t surprise me if one or two went off in search of our three kids – the original builders of the hole – to complain about how it wasn’t built big enough and didn’t last long enough.  (I don’t know for sure where any of them went because that would have required me getting up out of my beach chair and I was, at that particular moment, testing another one of my scientific theories about compression of sand under extremely heavy loads.)

Toward the end of the day, my sons and Brian’s daughter came back around and looked at the hole, or rather: what was once a hole.  It was pretty filled in and the sides had crumbled under the weight of so many kids.  Their shovels and buckets were strewn about.  I asked if they were going to build another hole and they shook their heads no.  “What’s the point?” my older son asked.  “Yeah,” my younger son chimed in, “if we do, we won’t get to play in it anyway.”  Brian’s daughter summed it up, saying: “I think our hole digging days are over.  We did all the work, but someone else got all the fun.”  Kids say the funniest things, don’t they?

As we broke down the tents and packed the tools and tried to carry as much sand back to my recently detailed car as possible, I remember thinking to myself: I sure hope these little guys enjoyed themselves today, despite what happened with their hole.  And I certainly hope they’re not assimilating this one-time episode into any sort of large-scale, world view.  Deep down I hope that by the time they become adults they can look back on this day and say: “Life is no day at the beach.”  Just in case though… wear a helmet.

The Hole in the Beach Gang


There are Only Four Things Certain Since Social Progress Began

(alternatively entitled – with all due apologies)
Though I’ve Belted You and Flayed You, By the Livin’ Gawd That Made You;
You’ve Made a Worser Man of Me, Socialism


“And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke”  (from The Betrothed).  I have loved Rudyard Kipling from the very first time I read Gunga Din.  His pace and pattern appeal to me, as does his archaic sense of manhood.  I have argued before, and dare say would do so again quite successfully, that his poem If  is among the finest pieces ever written in the English language.  Of all the inspirational articles I have written and the many orations I have given, much time could have been saved had I simply gone in, recited If and walked out.  If you have never read it, stop what you are doing now and do so.  The answer to just about every event you may encounter in your life is contained in that poem.

This post, however, is not about Kipling’s great work If.  (If it were, I would certainly link to my own, real estate based homage to wisdom, and I’ve done no such thing.)  No, this post is about another poem Kipling wrote, one I am chagrined to admit I only recently discovered.  More mortifying still, I discovered it only because Glenn Beck is using a couple of lines from this poem to plug a new book of his.  (I’m not denigrating Mr. Beck, only lamenting the discovery of fine art through it’s crass commercialization.)

The poem refers to Copybook Headings and I was unsure what those were.  For the one or two of you out there as simple as I am, copybooks were primers used by school children to perfect their penmanship.  Across the top of each page was written a Biblical passage or similar lesson of moral imperative.  The children would copy the line over and over on the page below, thus improving their cursive and at the same internalizing certain truths.  Truths that, according to Mr. Kipling, are forgotten at our own peril.

Printed below in its entirety, this poem was written almost 100 years ago.  But you’d be amazed how little has changed in the theater of the absurd we call politics.  Mr. Obama and the Neo-Pros who share his religion are fairly called out in these words, but then so are we…

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


The System is Broke? Humpty Dumpty

I’m just quoting the conclusion of the article that was up on Calculated Risk over the weekend.  It was about a lot of the technical aspects of mortgage servicing and the way that mortgages are sold and bundled.    A couple of main comments and then read the conclusion below:

  • Many of the problems in the mortgage world are because of the way that the mortgage world is structured.   That means that it is going to take systematic and structural changes to get us back to a system that really works.
  • When there is a lack of accountability, things won’t work the way they are planned.
  • Do you think that this lack of accountability and lack of responsibility is part of the reason why short sales and foreclosures are so hard to get approved?   There is no incentive for the servicer to make the decisions that need to be made.

Check it out below…..

Tom Vanderwell

Calculated Risk: Thanksgiving Weekend Mortgage Litigation Roundup

In other words, as many of you suspected all along, “hoocoodanode?” was officially part of the plan for creating mortgage backed securities. Systematic and willful ignorance was incentivized. If Wall Street created a system where each bogus mortgage passed through the hands of a couple of intermediaries who had no ability to do any due diligence on the quality of the loan, then the end buyer of the loan would, legally speaking, be in a better position to collect than the original lender by virtue of BFP status. Did the mortgage broker tell the borrower the loan was fixed rate when it really wasn’t? Oh well, no way the mortgage pool trustee could have known about that after the loan passed through the hands of an originating lender, an unrelated depositor and a legally separate issuer.

Whether for better or for worse, this system is pretty clearly not playing out as intended
. BFP status does nothing to protect lenders from broke borrowers and half price houses, both of which were foreseen by knowledgeable people who were not willfully ignorant of details about loan origination. And even the limited protection of BFP status may not be available in cases that are actively litigated, since it won’t be hard to prove that everyone in the industry knew brokers were filling in the blanks on stated income loans with whatever numbers were needed to make the applications go through.

So I guess this is just one more reason why all the Fed’s ponies and all the Treasury’s men are not going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

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The (last) Amend

The Notion

In my dream I’m always gasping for air; as if the trillion or so cubic inches of ozone I’ve already blown through in my lifetime somehow counts for nothing.  I awake, step over the dog, and scramble downstairs in my boxers in search of a physical remedy to a metaphysical dilemma. Something is bothering me and I can’t quite place my finger on it. Life is short and, on this crisp autumn eve, I’m clearly too underdressed to even be considering my last breath.  Our fifteen-year old cat follows close behind, his own mousy demons no doubt,  in tow as well.

‘Dear God, please don’t let me die with money in my portion of the Charles Schwab account,’ I think as I root through the herbal medicine cabinet,  next to the dishes, above the microwave.  ‘That’s what the Prudential life insurance policy in the house safe is for,’ I obsess. It’s an odd recurring thought, I realize. Just being forthcoming.

We keep no real drugs in our house.

Ginkgo Biloba, Paranil, Senna, Licorice Root. Green Tea, White Tea, Black Tea…where the fck is the Alka Seltzer?

Over the years I’ve developed an internal ON/OFF switch of sorts; a requirement for any man whose livelihood  simultaneously hinges on rejection yet somehow also depends on the act of a total stranger purchasing something of considerable value; house, condo, etc…. every month. It’s an Acceptance thing, I’ve learned. This emotional circuit breaker has, for a long time,  assisted me in affairs of the heart,  finance,  most of  the Deadly Sins—Fear, Greed, Anger, etc… not to mention social and personal guilt.  And in case you haven’t  been following the box scores at home this season,  I’ve been in the OFF mode for a while now.


Over time I’ve learned to appreciate  the next ‘Next‘  in life—I just haven’t learned not to  eat Mexican food before retiring for the evening or found a way to avoid the night scares that have startled me ever since that stupid monster began squatting in my childhood closet at 39 Vineyard Road in Levittown.  And as my Life flickers before me this particular night, I wonder:

‘What to do with the lingering wreckage of my Past?’

Just as my faithful canine companion would rather bark at intruders from inside the  picture window when it’s chilly outside, I too,  prefer to write a quick note or better yet, cower behind electronic messaging for all breaking news, good and bad, anymore. Even my foxhole prayers begin with OMG these days. I’ve become shrinkwrapped into a Twitter mentality, 140 characters at a time.   If I feel any emotion at all I toss in an exclamation point or two. Even Facebook is becoming a burden. I don’t even call it Facebook anymore. I call it FB. OMG. WTF…is @ 2 me?!!  Critical mass approaches as my social network expands and my personal circle contracts….

But I mentally carve deeper and in a brief moment of clarity,  it hits me as I hover over the sink swirling the midnight elixir in a half washed coffee mug,  old as hell goddamn cat on the counter beside me. I tip-toe into my office, dig out some dusty boxes,  and begin tearing through decades of loose leaf pulp in search of a single folded sheet.

An hour later it is in my hand.  I examine the inky yellow page beneath the reading  light on my desk.  The Amends.  One unchecked-off task remains although the list is from another millenium altogether.  A previous Life, to be sure.

I walk back into the kitchen and toast the harvest moon through the window. I  boil some water for a final cup of Sleepytime and snoop through the fridge for a quick nibble.  The  cold white light is blinding—Soy this, 1% that, Non Fat everything else. Yogurt? I think not.  Flax seed, Organic, Antioxidant…my wife is clearly trying to torture me into good health.

And,  like most things in Life that have challenged me since those early monster days in (bucolic by name only) Violetwood, once I let the problem go, the solution appears on its own…

The Reunion

I step off the commuter jet in Pittsburgh and walk across the terminal to Avis. The girl behind the counter thinks I’m ancient, I’m certain.

“What brings you to Pittsburgh today, sir?”  She asks.

“Class Reunion,”  Me.

“High School?”  Her.

“College,”  Me.

“Pitt?”  Her.

“No. Slippery Rock….”  Me.

Silence, as  always,  follows.  Two underachievers, we stand an arms length and several generations apart,  avoiding eye contact.

“…I’ve owed someone $100 for almost thirty years and I’m going to repay my debt today…”  Me.

“…then reunite with some old friends.”  Me still.

More silence.  Silence and Judgement, I sense.  I’m being judged by a rental car clerk in Pittsburgh.


“You reserved a Chevy Malibu?”  Finally,  Her.

My wife always makes my travel arrangements so alas,  a sensible Mid-Size American ride awaits my AMEX imprint.  I immediately upgrade to a Cadillac, confirming I guess, that I am indeed… old. We’ve been doing this for years. Mona has yet to ever rent me a car I’d actually be seen driving in real life and I always end up getting a Caddy because they don’t rent German cars in this country for what-ev…..

I exit the airport complex and drive north for an hour, texting on my iPhone and fumbling with the satellite radio the entire way. I push On-Star by accident twice.  The third time they inform me I’m being charged.  Bite me.  Besides the makes and models of vehicles cruising  in either direction along I-79 (and the daunt figure that keeps staring back at me in the vanity mirror on my visor), Western Pennsylvania hasn’t changed at all in three decades.

I pull into my old college town as the Homecoming Parade disassembles. As Fate, I suppose,  would have it,  I find a parking spot directly in front of the Camelot Restaurant.  There is a line out to the sidewalk. A hand painted banner hangs from above the awning: 

Everyday.  99 cent Breakfast.

Nothing has changed. I ate a hundred of these meals for free  thirty years ago and then left town without paying the tab. What a schmuck.  I step  inside and push through the crowd into the kitchen. The interior has remained stagnant over the years. The aroma of burnt, bottemless coffee fills a crease in my mind.  An old man is hunched over the griddle frying  a dozen eggs at a time. An old woman stands beside him slinging potato hash onto chipped plates.

“I’m looking for Gary,”  Me.

“I’m Gary,”  Him.

I stare back at a gray ghost of  the man in my memories. I  hand him the one- hundred dollar bill already in my fingertips.

“I’ve owed you this for thirty years?”  Me.

“What?”  Him. A little miffed. He doesn’t stop cooking.

Hey, I’m not in the mood for perturbation on this day; not when I’m attempting to make a grandiose gesture.  I just want to get a good night’s sleep, for crissakes. I continue…

“I’m Geno. I ran up a tab here when I was in Grad School and left town without paying. It always bothered me.”  Me. (white lie)

“I don’t remember you,” Him.

“I was an actor. StreetcarEquusHot L Baltimore.  And a writer. I had a little column in the Tri-City News…. Geno…remember? You let me eat here  free for like a year…”  Me.

“Whatever. I don’t remember.  Amateur theater around here has never been very memorable.”  Him.

“Well I wanted to make good on my debt.” Me, also a little miffed now as well but it’s too late to slip the bill back into my pocket.

“Whatever.”  Him.

I place the C-note next to a toaster.

“I remember him,”  The old woman.  But she doesn’t elaborate. No need to I suppose. Yet another disappointed woman to add to yet another unresolved list.  Not.

I turn and head off to the reunion hoping that my reception there is a little warmer and wondering if there is a Starbucks anywhere in the tri-county area.  Ironic… I never had a buck for a plate of eggs thirty years ago but I’m quick to drop a five spot on a decent cup of coffee in a heartbeat today.  I pull a Green Tea capsule from my coat pocket and swallow it instead.  WTF

I  stroll down the Main Street  (actual name) of  my Bohemian years and stop in front of an ATM. I check my balance and withdraw the maximum daily limit  just in case I suddenly kick the bucket as I make this final turn in Life with no intention of ever looking back.  After all, they say an unrealized expectation leads to a Resentment.  And holding on to a Resentment is pretty much like drinking the poison and waiting for the other person to die.  Don’t you think?


The Reading List: 8 “No BS” Books to Make You Better

Get tactical.  Everyone wants some “grand strategy” or “new initiative.  But mastering tactics at the battlefield level is how 90% of us can earn money faster than the government steal it.  It’s all about Tactics, not Strategy.  Mastering tactics means that you are doing something towards a goal.  Something, anything that’s reasonable is better than fine tuning a meticulous plan.  I fell into the planning trap.   Loads of people have.  Doing something right now, fast, and done is the way to win.

Since making the switch from Stephen Covey to David Allen, I’ve paid off most of my IRS debt, I’ve built a business that works, and I’ve become better at living life on earth.   Stephen Covey principles work, no doubt, but rejiggering some life plan isn’t meaningful until you can make the pile of paperwork on your desk your bitch. That is practical, real and doable.

When Phil said “I hate coaching,” what I really hate is some notion of a program that isn’t held accountable to specific results.  Buying a marketing widget that “costs less than a closing?” Everything you do has to be held accountable to a result.  When Greg talked about A/B Testing, that was the expression of an idea: observe stuff with your own eyes.  Create an OODA loop.

Getting on the path to be an automatically improving being required that I go grab some knowledge.

1.) Getting Things Done, David Allen: The most important book on this list, by far.  Read, pracitce, understand fully GTD principles.  Make the papers and endles op

2.) On War: Von Clausewitz: Great book about going all in when you find yourself in conflict.  There are no half measures, if you don’t have passion behind the stuff you’re doing, simply don’t do it.

3.) Tested advertising methods: John Caples/etc.  This is about writing copy that works, that isn’t necessarily “clever” and that performs.  The book is solid and you can see that people don’t follow it much.  Copy that tells you what to expect and produces no “WTF” type responses is the goal.  And it’s easier to write than the nuanced cleverness that people go for.

4.) Boyd: The Fighter Pilot That Changed The Art of War: I’m a fan of OODA.  It’s a way to always be gathering info.  It’s a set of habits that guide next actions, and it’s a better way to think and act than the bloated mission/vision statements of the Covey/Anthony Robbins crowd.  You have a set of goals, and a set of circumstances.  Go after it.  Find the trends and be first to the punch.

5.) Always Be Testing: The Compete Guide To Google Website Optimizer.  Holy hell, what a good book.  It’s probably dated by now, but the gist of actually having experiments as part of your web life is mission critical.  WP and everything else can serve to run experiments.  You can easily have 2-5 pages to test and stuff.

6.) It’s Not The Big That Eat The Small, It’s The Fast that Eat The Slow: Poorly written, dated, but really good concepts.  Be fast, be first, beat the other guy to the punch.  Hit hard, hit again, be relentless, and then adapt and do it again.  The writing in this book is poor to the point of distraction, but the book itself is fabulous.

7.) The Artist’s Way: Julia Cameron. The second most important book on this list, truly.  You have this thing called “morning pages,” a cathartic way of making your mind clear and free.  Can’t say enough about this book, honestly, it’s the “fluffiest” on the list, but it’s got specifics for staying sharp.  Habits here rule the world.

8.) Philosophy: Who Needs It. Ayn Rand.  She can be shrill, sure.  But, this book is succinct and deliberate as anything else.  I don’t follow her metaphysics–but I do think that to live on earth, her ideas are practical and you can quiet your mind.

The only other thing that I’d say is that meticulous accounting has been a way to build your life.  Being honest with yourself, your numbers and all else is the way to undo whatever damage sloth and sloppiness have done.

What has been a guidepost for you?  What have you read that you can share with me?  I read damn near everything that someone recommends, so recommend away.

Finally, and utterly unrelatedly, “The Break Up” by Pete Yorn & Scarlet Johansson is fabulous.


What’s the End Goal To be?

I’ve been migrating all of my data to Infusionsoft  lately.   A little at a time.  Easy does it.  One list, suck it in, de dupe it, and on with the next.  Tag it.   Infusionsoft is powerful stuff.  A good tool.  I hate the counterintuitive interface.  I hate the fact that you can’t ‘tag’ people at account creation without saving.  I hate the fact that the Usability Team was likely ignored.  And I hate their customer service, which is of the same ethos as big boiler room refi shops from 2004.   That’s all I’m gonna say.  There are things to hate about it, just like there are things to hate about ACT!, Heap, and whatever CRM Mark Green whips out.

But, all that aside, Infusionsoft does a lot right.  It combines an auto-responder, some analytics, a project manager and a goal tracker in the same spot.  It tells you what to do, step by step.   And you can set up smart workflows for different things.  Right now, I’m underusing it.

What it taught me was a fundamental weakness in my business.  Before I can sell, before I can scale, I have to create a coherent, robust & predictable customer experience.  Meaning this: when I send people to a web page, or offer, Infusionsoft strongly suggests I know what happens next.  And in my nascent business, selling blogs and social media propagation, I don’t know what happens next.   I haven’t engineered a good enough customer experience to throw a bunch of customers at it.  Yet.  I’m tons closer today than I was yesterday, and this weekend was “what I want to happen time.”

But there’s the rub: most CRMs fill a leaking bucket.  You throw some autoresponders and newsletters at people, and yeah, they’ll perform.  The efficiency loss is never addressed:  what happens when you make a sale.

And the other one: most people, especially D’s hate to be scripted.  They hate to feel like they’re on some assembly line that they do not control.   I lose time, personally, not in my ability to sell and market but because I have so many points that need to be improved.  I don’t have the entitlementality that other automation junkies have–I want to honor the customer first.  I want them to feel comfotable in every way.  Broadcasting to a list on a CRM is a fool’s errand unless you can efficiently and honorably deliver the goods.

Infusionsoft helps.  By its nature of thinking of things in action sequences, I learned what I want my customer intake to be.  What pages I have to build.  What things I have to do. I’m almost there.

What I’ll bet is this:  you do things that are like reinventing the wheel all the time.  I’ll betcha anything that you are filling a leaking bucket, and WHAT HAPPENS once you get the deal is where your business suffers.  It is with mine.  When I was an unabashed rake, I didn’t honor my customers.  Because they were fungible.  Replacable.  All the work I did generating leads was worthless because they didn’t turn into lifelong customers.  I was on my way to that path with my new business.

Then I decided to be the best, by making sure that my customer experience was coherent.  My take on a good customer experience is a few things:

  • Instant deliverables.  (Can be applied to Real Estate if you, say write a manifesto like Greg did on the divorced commisison…a mortgage dude can do a walkthrough of the process).  If your web guy instantly sent you a list of current best practices, would you dig?  Yes, you would.
  • Stellar communication: (you always know what happens next, and when it’s gonna happen.)
  • Keep your promises.
  • Ruthlessly Grade yourself and future plan for things that slowed the process.
  • Solicit Customer feedback & future plan for things that can upgrade the experience.

I did it as a lender and it made a profound difference in the ‘where’s my deal,’ calls, and thus my life.  When I automatically emailed all my deals in progress each day, even when there was nothing to report, people trusted me more, they felt connected and they referred their friends.

All the lead generation in the world isn’t gonna help if your bucket has no bottom and a bunch of holes in the sides.  And having a good customer experience is easy.  It’s not enough to outshine the 99% of your competition that is on a failure path.  You have to be the best possible experience, worship at the church of skinned cats, and subordinate your ego to what is actually happening.

And that, friends, is a big damn blue ocean.  But that’s what the OODA loop is all about.


Don’t Look At The Explosion, Just Focus On Your Mission.

One of my favorite Hollywood staples is the bad ass hero that blows something up and doesn’t need to look back.  He’s already won the battle, and he’s done his damage, and he’s walking away towards the next thing on his todo list.  Jerry Bruckheimer seems to use this 3 times a minute in his flicks.    I think of Jack Bauer and not caring, the explosion happened, so what, moooooving along now.

The only thing that matters is the mission. The explosion is in the past. Cool guys never look.  What you do next to accomplish your mission is the now. So many times I’ve either:

  1. Admired my past successes.  (Hey, pin a trophy on me, I sold a house)
  2. Looked at the things I screwed up. (I lost a customer today)
  3. Been distracted with red flashy nonsense.  (Oooh, what will Inman do next)

All of it’s rubbish.  Our job is simply to lead by example.  Move more product.  Get them to sign on the line that is dotted.   Do it honestly.  Do it to the best of our ability and know that that will always improve.  Know that the job we do today isn’t gonna be as good as the job we can to tomorrow.  Do better.  Don’t sweat the screw ups, and don’t laud the victories.

Don’t look at explosions.

I see politics as an explosion.  Yes.  Obama wants our money.  SHOCKER.  So did Bush, who was all to eager to fire up the bailoutmobile.  The government is a parasite.  TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW.   We can pour energy and tears into politics.  Or, we can look at the landscape, get into an OODA pattern, and figure out…what to do next.  We cannot moan ineffectually about the loss of our freedoms, blaming Obama on our faulures.  I mean, we CAN, but dude, setting a good example amidst the chaos.

Learning the laws first isn’t whining about them.  Creating a business that can survive HVCC or whatever BS the power drunk Ivy Leaguers can do…and not whining that we’re not surviving.   THATS the play of the day.

Sure things changed, and more obstacles were thrown up.  That means we have to be faster, better, meaner and ready to rumble.   Did Jasone Bourne bitch about how hard it was to get into customs, or did he just find his way in?

Here are my predictions for the future:

  • There will be more, and stupider laws.
  • The penalties for violating laws will be more severe.
  • Things will get harder and they won’t benefit the consumer.
  • Banks will have the upper hand.
  • The National Association of Realtors will promote policies that cause churn.
  • The GOP will continue to fool some people into thinking they are pro business when that is just Mercantilism.

All of this is a matter of degree.  Now, we can advocate against these policies, but it must be tertiary to surviving them no matter what.  We gotta focus on navigating the territory that exists, not trying to turn the clock back to June 2005.  Spending too many braincycles thinking about them keeps us from realizing the success that’s gonna happen now.  Our responsibilities are to succeed honestly no matter what, and it’s rare that if we look at the political explosion happening around us that we can.

Ignore the explosions, complete your mission.

Books to read:

That’s it.


What is the value of a day: Surviving No Matter What.

I’m the nuts and bolts guy here.  I don’t have the grace of Greg, the congeniality of Brian or the panache of Geno.   What I will do with out a big damn brain this year is grind out a great living in an imploding economy.  No laws, nothing will stop that.  And with each successive “anti greed act,” it’s gonna get harder.  2009 is war.  WAR.   There are major forces corralling those of us that wanna be independent, and obligating our future efforts in the name of bailouts.

More independent people will go crawling back, hat in hand, to the behemoth employers, the beneficiaries of the laws passed to shackle us into slavery.   And I have a hard time believing that this isn’t at least in part an aim of all of the bailoutorama.

But that doesn’t have to happen to anyone–the form the chaos will take is unpredictable, but the fact that there will be chaos is a certainty.

We can out hustle, out think, out work, and out-do all of the scumbags that are stealing from us (supposably at our behest).   And we can make what’s left of 2009 the very best and most profitable year.   The new economy is placing a premium on survivors that don’t panic, can deal with the OODA loop, and can nimbly maneuver through are market.   So here’s a list of killer questions:

First things first:  Questions about your own business/finances.

  1. How much cash, per day, do I burn through?  (Add EVERY single expense)
  2. What can I eliminate or reduce?  What can’t I?
  3. Is my car payment more or less than my health care payment?
  4. Am I saving 1/2 a month’s expenses every month?  Or am I spending money?
  5. How much cash do I need to earn to cover all of my expenses AND have enough to pay taxes?
  6. How much cash do I need, per day that I intend to work, to cover cash need, peak experiences AND pay taxes?
  7. How many deals/loans/widgets do I need to sell/put together per year to make this happen?
  8. What peak experiences do I want (disney, losing weight, etc) and how much do they cost?
  9. How many new people will I have to contact?  How many existing customers?
  10. How many days can I go without a deal?
  11. How much do I have in savings?

Some people Questions:

  1. How big is my database?
  2. How am I leveraging some tools to market to my database automatically (so that the marginal cost of another contact approaches zero).?
  3. How many people contact me per day and seek me out?
  4. What do people know me as?
  5. Are there any major character flaws that keep me from winning?
  6. Is my ego (-tism, not -ism,) sabotaging me?
  7. If my top 5 customers fired me, would I survive?
  8. Have I built a good network of people with a variety of skills?
  9. How do I serve my network and how can I be counted on?
  10. Am I attractive and compelling?
  11. Is my weight or fashion sense keeping people from relating to and connecting with me?

Some strategy questions:

  1. How are the rules changing?
  2. What have I heard top agents/mortgage people starting to do?
  3. What are the rules outside of the industry?
  4. How am I delivering value today?  Is the service I deliver really worth the premium paid?
  5. What do people really need in this present economy?
  6. How can I use what I already know and do to help others in a big way?
  7. How can I do everything twice as well as other people?
  8. How can I do everything faster?
  9. What parts of the process don’t matter to the people I serve?  How can I eliminate ’em from where I expend my efforts?
  10. How can I streamline the process so I am communicating expectations?

Some Survival Questions:

  1. If the dollar amount paid per transactions are cut in half, what happens then?
  2. If the work per transaction doubles again, what is my solution?
  3. How can I create systems that lower the marginal cost of each deal to nearly zero?
  4. Will I be the first or last to know if my entire industry goes the way of the buggy whip?
  5. Is my wife/spouse 100% supportive of the direction?
  6. What can I do to make my business bullet proof ?
  7. How am I getting information on my local market?  From what Vendors tell us?  From other agents?  From winners or losers?
  8. Can I get off a plane and survive anywhere?
  9. Can a consumer do my job with minimal training and experience?

Maybe there are more.  What questions do you think we need to always-have-an-answer for?

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How To Get Better, The Easy Way (Never Make The Same Mistake Twice)

I’ve never been a lifer in the real estate business.   That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to give, it doesn’t mean I don’t love it, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t kick ass.  I say this: there is no finer, safer way to learn how to be in business than being a successful real estate or mortgage guy.  And I say that you learn more, faster in the 100% commission lifestle than you’d learn anywhere else.   It’s the perfect microcosm of business: you get a litle marketing, accounting, customer service and sales.  You get to work with people that gave the middle finger to being kept citizens, and you get to have control over your own income.

What a great job we have.

One of the things that ground me up in the latter part of 2006 was the number of crazy stips that underwriters started to send.   On every deal, starting in about August, the canary in the coal mine died, so everyone I worked with, from Lehman Brothers to First Franklin, and even Interfirst…was stipping files.  (The inside joke among appraisers was always: is this an Interfirst deal or a ‘real’ deal).  These companies begun to underwrite files instead of rubber stamping them.  The audacity!

And in my office, loan officers bitched and moaned about this.  “The underwriter is stupid to not take this deal,” one of my colleagues said.  That particular deal, i followed it for a while.  It is now in foreclosure.  Eevery colleague and every deal was hard.   Even good loan officers didn’t react (see OODA) fast enough.  I decided to be different.   I didn’t belive underwriters were merely capricious, and since it was every lender, I figured it was gonna get worse.   So, in order to keep up with my payments to the IRS, I had to close a lot of loans.  And to close a lot of loans, I couldn’t be sending the same file up 4 or 5 times.

So I made a checklist in Word, all the things in reasonable categories.  I used stip sheets as a starting point. (The same checklist lives in Basecamp nowadays).  Best I could of all the items a file needed, in tedious detail.  11 things are on the ‘title commitment’ list.   I sent my files up with a cover letter from me regarding the file and how I calculated income and liabilities and a VERY accurate fee sheet and HUD-1 and testimonials from other underwriters that felt like they could clear my files to close.  (By the way, Lenders:  Want to make Realtor love you?  How ’bout A Hud-1 on day 1, 100% of the time). I also didn’t submit anything that I wasn’t sold on.

Learn On Purpose: Never Make The Same Mistake Twice.

Now, the checklist was smart, but not the novel part.  The novel part was on EVERY DEAL having the first page of the file be a log.  What went right, what went wrong.  See, doing THAT is a ton of work, but you have a page of notes on each file.  Then you can learn stuff fast.  You add each mistake to your list, and never do it again.  If you get a stip back from underwriting, you meet the stip in advance on the next file.

At the end of every file, you do answer these questions:

What Stips Did I Get Back?

Where Did the Customer Resist Me?

What Will I Add To The List for Every File?

Were there any documents that didn’t meet approval on the first pass?

Were there any vendors that could have performed faster?

What went right that is not part of the process?

This created a loop:  a self correcting system that ensured that improvement was part of my process.  When another LO was hit with some stip, I would add THEIR stip to my list.    So….as a relatively new loan officer to close deals in Ten Days.  Anyone could do that, though.  It was how I reverse engineered the process of underwriting.   But–since we’re priveliged to be working in a beautiful microcosm of buiness, we can use the same process as Real Estate Agents, Computer People or Project Managers.   I trained an assistnt to do this, and for a time, it went swimmingly.

The lessons are out there.  I was inspired to action by something that I read.  It wasn’t hard, and after the third closing, I spent LESS TIME per file than my peers.   Of course, I had more time on a submission.  My office (and this was mid 2007, when I generated 70% of the gross revenue of a ten man office) said my Realtors ‘spoon fed me cake deals’.   My take was that I got the same batter everyone else did, I just was staring down the barel of the IRS, and had no choice but to produce.

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I Kissed Dating Goodbye

I’m young. I am new to real estate, even newer to the Inexperienced, blind, deaf, dumb, starving, full, big headed, blah blah blah. These are all adjectives that described me in my first months on the job. Heck, they probably still describe me.

As Greg recently talked about, I was one of those people lead vendors looked at as a buzzard looks at a dead possum on the interstate. (Do y’all have possums where you are? If not, substitute road kill of choice.) I bought some. I attended seminars. I admit, I learned and at least mad my money back from the seminars I went to, however, the services, advertisements, etc I bought, I didn’t make any money, just spent time with unqualified people wanting to rent a house I had for sale.

I was the most beautiful, graceful, largest uddered cow you’ve ever seen. I put out good milk as well. They called, I answered. Now I am afraid to answer a single out of area phone call. All day long, they call.

I am at a point where I am kissing dating goodbye. Forget flirting and foreplay with these companies. I want a commitment. I want a marriage. To death do us part. And if you are worth it, I will wear the ring.

However, I am monogamous. I don’t want to marry each and every ‘good’, ‘solid’, ‘worth it’, vendor that comes my way. Very few people will drink my milk, however those that do will be worth every pint.

I believe that there are vendors out there that are worth it. If you make my life easier, help me enjoy more of my valuable time, help me put more bread on the table, I invite you to have a sip.

However, if you are a worthless, trashy, mange infested buzzard remember this: I have kissed dating goodbye.


Organic Gardens, Solar and Public Transportation- Oh My!

As Professionals in the Real Estate Industry we try and do everything to stay on top of our game.  We attend classes to further our education and knowledge, we try out the latest and greatest Social Networking Platform to find out about new Techie stuff, but what about what the clients are looking for?

It is a job in itself to stay on top of what the Local Inventory is to know what may be suitable match for our clients.  Although Real Estate is local, it’s pretty safe to say that for several years, MOST large Metropolitan areas have been experiencing the Sprawl of the Suburbs, the desire for Material items, and the need to be bigger and have more.  However, just of the past 3 months I have experienced this Dynamic shift in the approach that people are taking in the features they want in homes.

In the title I mention Organic Gardens, Solar and Public Transportation.  These are the Top 3 items on my clients and potential clients wish list over the past 45 days.  Not a single buyer has mentioned the desire for Granite Countertops, Stainless Steel Appliances or even a McMansion.  It’s minimal footprint on both the land, environment and lifestyle.

What is it that Real Estate Professionals can do to keep up with this enormous shift in thinking from the Homebuying population?  If Solar Panels and Rain Water Capture Systems are getting to be the new Sexy, who can keep up?

Many of the people that are looking for Organic Gardens are tired of hearing about all of the Crud that is stuffed in our food.  Food Dye and Preservatives have been linked to Behavioral Disorders in children as well as Cancer, Depression and even Skin disorders in Adults.   Those that are looking for Solar and proximity to Public Transportation are looking to reduce Gas and Electric bills, or maybe even to give a subtle Finger to the Gas and Electric Companies.

Who would have thought that the Health Care and Energy Crises could have such an impact on the decisions that people make when they purchase a home and where they are willing to put their money.

Is the Real Estate Industry ready for that?  Green Builders and other Green Professionals are still put off sometimes as ‘crazed treehuggers’ but are they really?  IMO, we are experiencing a massive shift in the industry not just with technology but a whirl wind of change from consumers that is not necessarily for the Green Movement but one that demands a higher quality, healthier and more energy efficient home.

With Consumer demand and Green Building Mandates that have and will be put in to place around the Nation rising, it’s time for the Real Estate Industry to catch up.  Offer more classes so we don’t have to look out of state, offer more search options for both the Professionals and the Consumer and make an effort to understand that many Consumers want the change because it IS a BENEFIT to them.

I am requesting a field for Distance to public transportation, kind of insulation and R Value in both the walls and ceiling, Rain Water capabilities, kind of Green Certification and items that make for healthier indoor air quality.  Are people trying to search for it?  Yes.  Why do we need it when we have a Property Description field you may ask?  My answer is because the Property Description field is about the same amount of room that we have on Twitter.  That is not near enough.

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A Little Chin Music

I once knew an eccentric, rather secretive old movie buff named Don who could determine if a flick was going to be a stinker just by the musical score playing during the opening credits. “If a film starts off with a single instrument playing; one guitar strumming, one piano twinkling, one horn of any kind–I get up immediately and demand my money back from the ticket booth,” he insisted.  “The movie’s gonna stink.”

“Not quite sure I’m following you, Don” I remember glibly saying to him the first time we had this conversation. After all, I too considered myself a surveyor of cinematografo arte.  I paused for a moment before continuing, treading lightly onto this oddfellow’s little patch of expertise. I had been forewarned not to let the dyed gray temples and Hawaiian shirt and sandals fool me. Not even in December.

“What about Brian’s Song?” I asked, tossing a sentimental softball to the old guy.

“Stinker.” Don.

Love Story?” The set-up.

“Open a window.”  Don.

The Godfather?” Brushback.  A little chin music.

“Brando isn’t even Italian. Please...” Definitely Don (if not Corleone).

It was difficult not to judge the man for his quirky appearance and curious ways, or to predict how he would or would not respond to any particular topic.  A gentleman bachelor of sorts and lifelong Chicago resident, Don owned a tiny, ‘evenings only’ coffee house (called Don’s) where myself and a few close buddies would occasionally pass the remaining hours of late 1999 (and possibly existence if the worse case Y2K  scenario played out as predicted). And perhaps ‘owned’ is the wrong word anyway. After all, Don never really ever owned anything. None of us do, according to him.

Our little man group, bachelors of various sorts in our own rights at that juncture in life, would trek north and westward on Public Transit (as to save our respective vehicles from vandalism, theft, or fire bomb in the Gangster Disciple controlled ‘hood) to the tiny storefront; single and alone in its own right, tuck pointed away between tenement walk-ups and elevated train trestles, to engage in heightened conversation, cigarette smoking, and Scrabble with coffee, cake, and dictionaries–the only way to play the game as far as I’m concerned. And of course, for gentleman Don and his quirky points of view on all subjects great and small, including the ‘stranglehold’ of real estate.

“Buying property is for suckers.” Don, circa 1999.

Some old, scratchy LP or another was constantly blaring on the phonograph above the Frigidaire in the kitchen to drown out the rumble of the train overhead; young Sinatra, The Lennon Sisters, South Pacific… “Now there’s a motion picture!” Don.

The only coffee offered was from Guatemala and always served in fine, thrift store china.  No espresso. No lattes. No ‘Al Pacinos.’

“Guatemalan coffee is the only coffee in the world worth drinking. Everything else is simply tea.” Don.

And desserts were exclusively from the Louis Farrakhan family bakery on the city’s South side.  “The best bakery in Chicago…”  (Who knew?) Don made the crosstown trip three times weekly; two bus rides, one train, and a long, city block hike with two grocery bags of cake and a pound of sugar for the evening’s coffee service:

Don’s Nightly Line-Up

$6.00 bottomless cup.  Guatamalan coffee served in fine, chipped china.

$10 with dessert. Cakes from Louis Farrakhan’s family bakery. 

Plus Tip.

Plus Tax.  (yeah right)

The man never owned a car and never conducted business on Monday.  Don’s, like all legitimate theatre, was ‘dark’ on Mondays and from all outward appearances, the place was more a bric-a-brac hovel at the steps of the Red Line EL than anything, with its mismatched collection of furniture and lamps (all plugged in), WWII decor, and simply horrible artwork pouring out the front door and onto the sidewalk.  A hooker lived upstairs (and I must add; a Pretty Woman, she was not) and a french guy named Guy (pronounced Gee with a hard G) was a permanent fixture at the front window table. Rumor had it that he and Don shared more than a passing interest in Xavier Cugat, but again…no judgment here. Just speculation.

Bang the Drum Slowly with DeNiro?” I asked.

“Hate him.  Always the same.”

“Dude, you’re flat out wrong on that one. What about Max Cady in Cape Fear?” I protested.

“Re-make.” Don.

Here was a man, a lifelong urban dweller, who had resided in over 40 different Chicago apartments in as many different neighborhoods since young adulthood without ever shelling out more than $350 per month in rent, ever signing a formal lease, or ever obtaining a business license to offer food and beverage for public consumption.  He began his travelling coffee house journey (always called Don’s from what I understood) on the far South side in the 1970s (Farrakhan’s hood, thus the cake connection) and gradually migrated north (always just ahead of urban renewal) in regular intervals gobbling up chunks of city blocks each time, until ultimately landing at the rim of Rogers Park, the last and final latitudinal bastion before Chicago, as we know it, ceases to exist and real estate prices drop off the edge of the earth onto Howard Street and all things Evanston and beyond.  Now even that gritty ‘hood had found legs and was coming around. The coffee house buzz in the air was the building just got sold to some Irish guys for condo conversion. Don was more worried about the hooker upstairs than anything.  “She has so few skills and she’s not a pretty woman…”  No she was not. And looking at him now, his mind had already seemed to vacate the premises…

Deliverance,” I finally say, my own brain wrung dry from caffeine and sugar, eyes stinging from smoke and bite-sized, wooden block letters.  No reaction from old Don Ho.

“Come on,”  I add, nudging him with my elbow. “Burt Reynolds, for crissakes. Banjos. Gay men…”

Silence.  Don stared out the frosty floor to ceiling window with a pensive look. A group of college kids descended from the Elevated Red Line platform and approached the front door in a huddled mass of flannel and pot smoke. It was almost midnight.

“Oh no,” said Don, more to mankind as a whole than anything.  “More customers.”


Want to join the cool kids at Bloodhound Blog Unchained? How about the freaks and geeks?

There have been some fantastic posts on BHB this week. Alas, this isn’t one of them.

I whined about conferences, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been to one.  I’ve been to enough conferences and conventions to know that what happens outside the conference can make the difference between having a good experience and a great experience. For the record, I never have a bad experience- I simply don’t allow that to happen.

I’m not picky about hotels because I don’t spend time in them. My criteria is this: No roaches, no bed bugs, and no DNA left by previous guests. That covers any cleanliness issues and that’s my biggest concern in a hotel. On the other hand, I do like to be around the people I like, so a few weeks ago I sent out a tweet asking if anyone had started looking at hotels. I have enough experience with this to know that since my hotel needs are fairly spartan, if someone else wants to do the research, I should step aside and let them. So I did.

Brad Coy and Andy Kaufman were on it, and they have more narrow criteria: They wanted free wifi, and walking distance to the Heard Museum. They talked to Brian Brady who told them about a hotel with a lovely outdoor pool- if this is a family vacation, that might be worth looking for- but I’m from Ohio and have the tan to prove it. No pool for me.

I don’t mind staying alone, but I really fall into the more-the-merrier category with these things. Packing a lot of people comfortably into a hotel room makes things interesting, if not fun, so I was game when HouseChick, Kelley Koehler, and I decided to share a room. We both conceded hotel research to the cool kids, who just this week made an executive decision: Fairfield Inn. Free wifi, walking distance, breakfast, Fairfield Inns work for me- they are not notoriously dirty. I read the Trip Advisor comments, always with a grain of salt, and the reviews were mixed, which is typical. Noise issues mostly, but no one who booked a suite complained. Sweet- they have suites. Togetherness is good, but so is some space. Those cool kids, Andy and Brad, booked one and promptly named it the “Paul Revere” suite. Kelley and I have our own, which we have christened the “Brick House Chick” suite; never having been a cool kid myself, I think of it as the freaks and geeks alternative.

Is there a point to all this? Only one: If any of the above criteria meet your hotel needs, and you don’t want to bother researching hotels yourself, or you are more comfortable staying in a hotel with people you know, join other cool kids, freaks, and geeks at the Fairfield Inn. And you don’t have to name your room- but if you do, I want to hear it!


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