Monday, October 12, 2015

An old place turned new

This morning I got on a PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson, for non-locals) Train bound for the World Trade Center for the first time since 8:30am September 11th, 2001.

Every day I go to the same station as I did this morning. Normally I go left to an uptown train to end up at 23rd street since my office is on 25th street. Today, I tested the other train line. Why would I do this? Two big reasons. First of all, my darling bride got a new kickass job downtown at 40 Wall Street. So she'll be on the WTC PATH train every day and we wanted to map her route before she starts. Second, my office is moving downtown at some point in the not too distant future.

I had heard some stories about the new station. I heard it was exactly the same and entirely different as the old station. I heard the stairs, escalators, halls and even the Hudson News were all in the exact same places, but the walls and floor and lighting were all new. I was told to prepare myself to see a place I recognized, but had never been to before. If it was that eerily reminiscent, I thought it prudent to give it a go once before I was reporting to the new office.

As we pulled in, they were right. Bright white marble everywhere. It looked like the sterile environments of every futuristic movie. Nothing that was clearly new or different. Up the escalator and the route was entirely different. I was initially relieved. No haunted steps to walk. And then I saw the 6-wide, long escalator to the top - just like it used to be. This would be the test. At the top, would I go right, quick left, quick right? Would I pass the perfume/cologne shop? Would I walk down the long corridor of shops? Would there be the last Au Bon Pain on my right before the double-staircase and doors to the outside world? Would I be making the same walk I made every day for years, just with a white marble facelift? No. At the top of the escalators was a quick left and I was outside. It wasn't even the same street corner. You now exit from the dinosaur carcass shaped building at Church and Vesey Streets, not Church and Liberty. It's the northeast corner, not the southeast corner.

What a relief, right? I'd never again have to re-trace the steps that ended that fateful Tuesday so many years ago. I'd never again pretend it was the same when it wasn't. No reminders. Clean slate; as clean as the beautiful marble that adorns every square inch. But wait... that wasn't at all the feeling I was left with. If it was the same as it used to be that would have been jarring today, sure. But that feeling subsides over time. I'd have been left with a little piece of "the old days." There would have been something to hold onto before it all came crashing down around me. Maybe if what I heard was true, it wouldn't have been so bad.

Now, the pre-9/11 look and feel and size and shape is lost forever. The thing I was so afraid was going to happen and cripple me was actually something I was secretly longing for. Just 50 yards of what used to be before the terror struck. Just a moment to pretend our world never changed the way it did. Let me close my eyes and make that walk, emerge on the same corner, cross the street and see my statue friend. Nope. It's all new. It really is sterile. I've never been to this place before.

I guess that's ok. The world is different. My world is different. So much has changed and a clean slate may not be the worst thing. After all, I'm going to a new place after the train doors open. It's been over a decade since the last time I watched them do that in the same location. The space has reinvented itself in the wake of the destruction. If you've been following my Facebook or Twitter streams or if you read The Adventures of Jason & Linda, you'd know about all the other new things in my world.

So after we made sense of the new way from train to street, we walked Linda's new commute to 40 Wall Street and back, running into a street food festival running down Broadway. And we finally made our way to see where my new office is (tentatively) moving. To further the rebirth motif of the day, it turns out that my new lobby will be the old Winter Garden Atrium. It was utterly destroyed on 9/11, as almost every pane of glass was shattered. It was also the first structure of the WTC site to be rebuilt and reopened. And now I'll walk through it every day.

Among the fancy shops of Ferragamo, Gucci, Burberry, Saks, Theory, Hermes, and others was Babesta. Their tagline is "for trendsetting tots." My bride's face lit up so we went to look at all the adorable stuff we likely couldn't afford. As we strolled the short aisles of this boutique, we both happened upon the same thing at the same time. She asked if we could buy it before I could even say "we have to get this."

What better way to mark the new environment for her new job and my new office than by buying a book for our new (not yet arrived) baby that is all about this city? It counts things like building, bridges, trains, pizza and hot dogs.

Facades around the city may change, but as a new generation finds its way into our world we realize that the soul of the city will never change. Maybe it was time to just let go of what used to be.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Circle the wagons

Over all of my military years, I always made clear the point of demarcation from military to civilian worlds of mine. Coming from a non-military family in a non-military area, the boundaries were plainly obvious. As I go farther down my timeline away from the military, things start to fade. Details, names, locations, policies - all get fuzzy around the edges. Even things I took for granted as being burned into my memory forever start to become victims of an internal game of telephone. Our memories are imperfect storage methods.

I've made no secret about how much I love being home, yet miss all we did in the military. It was the best 10 years that I'm glad are over, is how I phrase it. A hell of an adventure, that eventually just ran out of road and I moved home. But there's a brotherhood that is undeniable and can't be beat. Everyone knows it. Military friends from all over the country descended on Northern NJ for the wedding just one month and one day ago. They were all fast friends, despite that some of them had never met. Officer, enlisted, from the 609th Air Communications Squadron to the 338 Training Squadron, supervisors, and peers; they blended together. There is something about camouflage and squadrons called units in there, but a good metaphor escapes me.

None of that is the point, but a frame of reference to how we are family. A new friend at the new job has a brother in the Army Reserves. She casually asked if I had any pointers to help him with his resume. He's making a career switch and having a time with balancing the civilian and military portions. Do I have pointers? I have more than that. I'll send my resume, look at his and ask around about some such website that delineates all that you do and are in the military.

So tonight I asked on Facebook. The results spoke for themselves. Out of the woodwork came, once again, people from all corners of my military family with links and advice and how-tos. I sent a FB friend request to the girl from work so I could tag her and share the information. She, in turn, tagged her brother.

Then my great friend Matt offered his resume to her brother as reference and email addresses were exchanged.

That's what we do. No matter if you've been in for 5 years or out for 20, we're veterans. We've done it all, some at the same time and some separated by decades, but that doesn't matter. We form a protective bubble around our own. We encapsulate one another and support. We circle the wagons. Strangers aren't strangers. Our camouflage threads are our common threads.

Justine was over the top appreciative with a million Thank You's. What many don't realize is that for the rest of us, this is a rare opportunity, that only gets rarer as the distance gets longer, for us to be a unit again. We revel in the idea of popping to virtual attention, focusing our gaze on a target and seeing a mission through to completion - together.

That five minutes of link sharing and commenting was the same portal back to SSgt Viglione like a familiar scent whisks you to a childhood memory.

Hoorah, Oorah, Hooah and Hooyah!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Beautiful Marriage

Why isn't this on The Adventures of Jason & Linda? Surely 3 weeks and 2 days before our wedding day, a post by this title could only be about that, right? Nope. It's not.

If you've been a long time reader, you know all about my pen. My famous Mont Blanc Meisterstuck pen that was given to me by a former employer in 1999 for my first day of work at the New York Stock Exchange. You read a story about how I lost my pen, and another about how I found my pen. The importance placed on the object is its relation to a life once lived. I talked about I carried it all over Manhattan in suits and then all over the globe in camouflage. It was the only thing that linked me to my old life that I left behind. It mattered to me and I transitioned back to civilian life.

I moved home from the military life in 2013 and started JayVig Media in earnest and I ran the company for two straight years as my sole source of income. I signed every important document with that pen. It had made the transition to yet another part of my life.

10 days ago I started another adventure. I shut down the transactional and consultative side of JayVig Media, LLC and went back to work for a visual marketing company called Olapic, as their Client Support Manager. They tapped me to build a technical support team to include technical documentation, solutions workflows and training development.

And even though, I've held several jobs since the day I was handed my pen; for the first time in over 13 years, I get on the train, commute into Manhattan, and sit in an office with a career. The Air Force was temporary by design. JayVig Media was an entrepreneurial endeavor. I haven't had a team of people in tech, in Manhattan, since my corporate days. Truthfully, I hadn't even thought of it like that. Linda did.

The other night she came home and reiterated how proud of me she was for working hard, sticking it out, making the hard choice to close my company, and achieve this position with Olapic. She thought I should have something to commemorate it. I already had my pen, my symbol, my ticket of admission into a new adventure. In a bag was a box. In the box was this...

A leather Mont Blanc business card holder (hence the picture of the business cards above). And so, into my pocket goes my pen and this beautiful leather bifold, each bearing the 6 point star with rounded edges, representing the snow covered cap of Mont Blanc from above.

Together, they travel to and from the bedrock island of Manhattan, among the skyscrapers. An old life and a new life together, married. The poignancy that they came together right before I marry Linda and that one was given to me by her is not lost on me either. If there was any doubt that going to work for Olapic was the right choice, that it was full circle, that it was my skyscraper built on the bedrock of my NYSE days; it is gone.

I am sure this is far from my last adventure, but this is one of those that will really count. I didn't just move back to New Jersey or the northeast, but it took 794 day for me to really be home.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A sense of belonging

As most of my corner of the world knows by now, I started a new job this week. This came as a shock to many people, not the least of which was actually me. For the last two years, I have exclusively run JayVig Media, LLC, a baby I raised since its inception in 2011 (there was a stint where it wasn't my full-time gig). I love the social space. I love marketing. I think it is the single most important evolution in communication since the telephone.

At the same time, this summer marks my 20th anniversary in technology, professionally. What many of you don't know is that my first computer class was when I was four years old and was on a Commodore 64, which was all the rage back then. When I got battery operated toys, I was the kid that took apart the battery (or tried to) because I couldn't figure how this cylinder brought toys to life. I've accidentally erased more of my dad's computers than I care to remember (or admit to, on the grounds that I may incriminate myself - again). In June of 1995, I started my first job in the corporate world doing help desk work for a financial firm. Since then I've been in the same field for a retailer mega chain (Best Buy), a local mom & pop computer shop, the New York Stock Exchange and the United States Air Force.

The USAF is what got me started in social media. Pre-social networks, my weekends were largely comprised of calling my friends and family to keep in touch from a distance - sometimes as close as South Carolina and sometimes are far as the Middle East. Then came Myspace and quick, wide dissemination was available. Along the way I found value in brands speaking with consumers. Before I knew it, I was tapping into a valuable resource called social media marketing.

Since 2009 I have been learning about social, digital and content marketing as well as algorithms, ads and community engagement. I've learned from and studied with many of the founding fathers of social media along the way. It always had a tech feel because all these methods operate over the latest technologies, but my hands weren't getting dirty on actual equipment, configurations, code, or software.

I said, repeatedly, that I was done in tech. People would ask me questions and I'd say "I don't do that anymore. I'm a marketer now." Lo and behold, 2 years later I have abandoned social marketing to go back to my first professional love and strongest skill set; although I get to do it for a visual marketing company.

A small scrappy startup doesn't often have resources dedicated to their help desk / support system. It's not immediately investable. So everyone chips in where they can. Olapic was in that very situation. They have not outgrown that methodology for support.

That is where I come in. I have been tasked to manage the current team, build out a more robust team, create surrounding technical documentation (both for customer facing self-help and internal process management), create a training plan for support agents/account managers/clients, hire a technical writer and training development manager and stay on top of the overall health of all of the above.

I showed up Monday, May 11th for my first day without ever seeing the platform in action. Like a duck to water, I felt right at home. I speak the same language as this team. I live and breathe technology. I put processes into place within hours of arriving. Granted I'm still 0.1% of the way through what I want to accomplish, but there is no trepidation or uncertainty.

I love social media. I love what it's done for communication. I can't imagine a better way to market products or keep in contact with consumers. But now that I'm here, back in tech; for every minute of my professional day, I feel like I am right where I'm supposed to be, for the first time in a very, very long time.

Friday, February 27, 2015

All opinions matter

I was initially going to do a business piece on why the dress mattered, but everyone was so damn angry all day that it's now after 7pm and I'm just really fed up with the bullshit. So now it's a personal rant.

Note: all use of the word "you" is the general you as in the masses; not any one individual

First of all, let me tell you who the dress color matters to:

  • Photographers who deal with lighting and exposure challenges all day, every day.
  • Marketers who try to get people to like things and have a harder time when nobody knows what color it is.
  • Marketers who want honest feedback from people and need to know what makes them tick so they can give them proper representation of products in the future.
  • Retailers who want to sell the shit that customers will buy.
  • Retailers who now have a clearer understanding of what lighting does to product placement.
  • Manufacturers who want to make the shit the retailers will stock because people will buy it.
  • Consumers who only want to know what they are actually spending money on in the first place. 
  • Designers who now realize that creating a logo of certain color combinations may result in branding issues.
But this isn't about the dress. This is about the thought police who don't want people talking about the dress because it's beneath the appropriate levels of conversation for everyone on Facebook. For some reason, any time something trends, everyone gets their panties in a twist and wants everyone else to stop talking about it. Meanwhile, you'll all share viral videos of laughing babies and cats all day long. I see the same goofy shit shared over and over. You'll share posts of sick children and claim that a like equals a prayer that somehow makes cancer retreat or sends clean water into African villages.

But heaven forbid we mention the Super Bowl. It's only the single most watched television event in the year every year. Did you know that military members stationed overseas are often given the day off to watch the game and account for the time difference? No? But we should all shut up about it and all you clever bastards want to know, "is there a game on today?" I guess Madison Avenue execs and C-suite employees of every major brand in the world who, collectively, spent tens of millions of dollars all know less than you about what should be popular and trending, right?

So tell me, what should I like? What should I post about? I think you should tell me how to use my Facebook account so we can make sure you're happy every moment of the day. But should I get off track then you'll leave a post like this one.

So not only am I not supposed to bother you and your high brow style of living with such inconsequential peasantry, but I'm also supposed to feel guilty for somehow contributing to the death of this little girl. If I didn't post about the dress, would she have lived? I don't mean to be callous, but is there a causal relationship between the two? Since you imposed guilt, answer the question: is this a corollary or not? We all know the answer is not.

Someone, as I write this, shows up on Facebook saying they are not proud to be an American over this entire thing. Are we really drawing red, white and blue lines in the sand and choosing patriotic teams? 

At the end of the day there has to be more value in saying "why does this matter?" than in saying "this doesn't matter, you're all stupid and shut up about it." Remember the old adage of "if you've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." What is amazing to me is that I'm fascinated by the viral nature of this and all the takeaways and I've made one post (now 2) about it, yet all of the perturbed masses are the ones rambling incessantly about how horrible the whole thing is. Those who hate it have spent more time talking about it than the supporters, by at least one order of magnitude.

So in the future I suggest we all look at a situation and try to find value. If you can't, move along. At a minimum, don't vilify those that do and certainly don't draw awful comparisons about what matters because that is everyone's own personal intention.

Oh and do the math... if something goes viral, clearly more people find it valuable than not so who's really the majority here?

Friday, January 09, 2015

Being level headed is hard some times

Over the years I've heard so many opinions on how to fix the situation in the middle east and the issues with terrorism and many of these answers have been entertainingly (a word?) bad. They've ranged from one extreme to the other. I've heard stuff like "we should bomb the entire region," "all today's Muslim kids are tomorrow's terrorists," "we provoked them," "they are misunderstood" "many have killed in the name of God and it's their religion and right to believe" and the list goes on.

Of all the things I'm extreme, staunch, polar and adamant about; this is one topic I've always tried to maintain moderation. I've suffered at the hand of Muslim extremism and my family is fragmented as a result. I've also heard broken English with Arabic accents shout "Yay! America. Thank you" in downtown middle eastern streets.

I know religious wars have happened for a long, long time. I understand that faith and religious conviction is the strongest possible feeling for many people. When people invoke the Crusades to prove that Christians have also killed in the name of God I have to think of the relevance since the First Crusade was started by Pope Urban II in 1095. I don't like to compare events that happened 919 years apart because we've grown and evolved as a people since then.

To all the people who say that all Muslims are dangerous, we know that the word "all" is often the most dangerous part of that sentence. Nothing is all anything, so be careful of blanket statements.

I've said all that to say this. It's getting harder and harder to look on the bright side and defend the religion and the culture. The extremists are still outnumbered by the reasonable, but the extremists are getting more and more extreme. From the WTC attack in the '90s to 9/11 to Boston to thwarted attacks to Paris right now; those with extremists beliefs are attacking innocent people. They are brutally beheading folks.

I want to believe in the good of people. I want to believe that we can all peacefully coexist. I fundamentally disagree with arguing among religions, since they are such intensely personal choices. It's even worse when it's among Christians, Jews and Muslims since they all share the same patriarch - Abraham.

I hate racial profiling. I don't want to be worried when I see Muslim men. I don't want others to treat good people poorly. But the only things Christians beat you with is scripture and verse. When's the last time someone Jewish kidnapped anyone for eating pork. We don't use churches or temples as arms repositories. God, Jesus, Yahweh, etc are not in our heads telling us to murder. Seminary and Yeshiva don't recruit people based on anger and hate.

I'm trying so hard to keep the terrorists and extremists in their own little boxes and realize there's more to Allah than ISIS claims. I'm really, truly trying. But the fact remains that in 2015 if I get killed in the name of religion, I can safely assume which religion will do it.

I don't know the answer. I don't know the solution. I just know I'm terrified of the future and all scary things seem to be coming from the same place.