Posts Tagged ‘Dreams’

The Shuttle Fly-Over and the Death of the Big Idea

April 17, 2012 1 comment

Anyone who says the public has lost its sense of wonder about science and space and technology was proved wrong Tuesday.

People were perched on roof tops, stopped at bridges, gathered at parks and monuments- all eyes trained to the sky. School children screamed with delight as the big 747 lumbered at low altitude with the workhorse space shuttle, Discovery attached, pockmarked over 39 trips to space and now headed toward its final resting place. It was an oddly electric moment that came seemingly out of nowhere.

And here we are either paused or stalled or seemingly disinterested anymore in scientific and engineering achievement. The shuttle fly-over seemed sadly symbolic; not only the official end of the space shuttle program, but the death of the Big Idea.

Where are the leaders who think big thoughts? Where are the men and women who dare to dream, to change our world, to look at our planet, our solar system, our universe and see possibility and discovery?

It seems a narrow world these days- a world of accountants with green eye-shades who spend their days counting dollars and make their living killing dreams. It seems to be a world of timid leaders who think of the future in terms of weeks and months instead of decades and generations.

Next year will mark a half a century that we lost the President who sent us on a mission to the moon. Imagine a legacy founded on a dream that would extend that long into the future.

I was in 2nd grade at St. Rita’s elementary school when a nun with a scared and worried face rushed into our classroom. And we sat at our desks, praying the rosary, grown-ups and kids, hoping against hope that it couldn’t possibly be true that the young President had been shot and was now fighting for his life in a hospital in Dallas, Texas. I know the romance of JFK and Camelot has long been shattered but it wasn’t all just illusion. There were big dreams and big ideas that died along with that man.

I am reminded of those beautiful lyrics from Paul Simon, one of the poets of this aging generation of mine:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come at the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune

It would be nice someday to sing the American tune again with a sense of joy and wonder instead of our current dirge of sobering sadness and never ending limitation. Never ending possibility is so much more inspiring for the human heart.

Lotto Fever- Lobster Everyday and an Island (But I’ll Give Most to Charity)

Someone please explain to me why everybody plays the lottery when it reaches half a billion dollars- but no one really cares when it’s, say, at $70 million.

So you’re going about your life and if you’re a regular, normal, ‘ol person and you’ve got just enough for rent or a mortgage, groceries, cable TV, and maybe a vacation or two if you’re lucky- how much difference is there really between $600 million and “just” $70 million?

Are you kidding? I’d consider $10K to be a gift from heaven. Hell, most people would be thrilled to find a $5 bill on the street.

The psychology in connection to all this is rather interesting. Suddenly, co-workers who get along just great, but who are now pooling their money together to buy a couple dozen tickets, start thinking like lawyers and certified public accountants. “Well, if Jane Doe put in $5 but Mary Jane only put in $2, clearly, Jane’s share of the mega-million lottery would be 2 and half times as much- an extra $60 million for a mere $3 more in initial investment- Hey that’s not fair!”

My girlfriend, who actually borrowed $5 from me to buy a handful of tickets, insisted that if lightening strikes at our particular Seven-Eleven in Pentagon City, she should get a larger share because her family is bigger. I disagreed somewhat vehemently to this approach. Don’t make me hire a lawyer, honey.

Then there’s all the math that’s being thrown out there. You could buy $170 million worth of lottery tickets, for example, and in picking every possible number, you would be guaranteed to win nearly $300 million after taxes. Except it would take you 28 years to actually mark all 170 million game tickets. I saw this in two different newspaper articles…in the same paper! And it was not helpful.

And the time people spend thinking about things like:

“Well am I going to take it all in one lump sum or split it up into 26 annual payments?”
“Which continent will I visit first, Europe or Asia?”
“I wonder how much an island costs?”
“This means I could eat lobster every single day.”
“I would give almost all, half, some, a little bit to charity.”

There will, of course, be millions of very, very disappointed people this weekend. The TV news guy will be announcing that a collection of 20 workers at a plastics factory in Medford, Oregon managed to win it all and we’ll all be going- “Medford, friggin’, Oregon??? Figures. Stuff like this never happens here in River City, dammit.”

And then the next day all 20 employees from Medford, Oregon will be sitting there at the press conference with the gigantic cardboard check behind them, flashing those toothy grins we all want to wipe off their faces.

There will be the story of the one incredibly cheap, thrifty worker who decided not to join his colleagues in shelling out a few bucks and misses out on the whole thing. Most of them will leave their jobs at the plastics factory in a matter of hours, except for one really wholesome, goodie-two-shoes guy who doesn’t want to be changed by the whole experience and decides he’ll stay at the factory.

Five years later will come the newspaper articles that report all 20 workers from the plastics factory in Medford, Oregon managed to go broke.

So good luck to you all. If the winner happens to be a friend or a family member, I remind you now that a mere 1/600th of your winnings will be more than enough to take care of me and my progeny for the rest of our lives and we will be extremely appreciative and will certainly have a place for you in our hearts until the end of time, ‘ol buddy, ‘ol pal.

An Angel Finds Her Voice

It’s a long way from sleeping nightly on a mattress in a station wagon to making an appearance on one of the nation’s top-rated TV shows and knocking everyone’s socks off, but that’s what perseverance gets you. I just can’t believe it’s a family friend I’ve known since she was, like, 13.

NBC’s The Voice is the latest in the genre of talent shows that have sprung up on network television and the debut ratings have been astronomical. In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia some 15 years ago I remember Rebecca Loebe, a determined singer/songwriter-in-the-making, playing for smaller ratings; family and friends. This week, she sang for millions and it was all about heart and grit and determination.

It’s a cool show if you haven’t seen it. At least in these early stages of the competition, the judges of The Voice sit with their backs to the performer because they are judging one thing and one thing only and that’s vocal quality. If you’re good enough, the judges push a little button and their chair turns around to face the artist.

Rebecca was introduced as the “homeless singer.” I understand the allure of painting her that way for purposes of an intruiging story-line, but let’s just say this isn’t your typical case of homelessness. As Rebecca explained on the show, she performs all over the country. She could pay for an apartment she doesn’t live in or she can just hang in her car from gig to gig.

This is an individual who went to the nationally-acclaimed Berkeley School of Music in Boston. This is someone who, through the years, has shown more dedication to her craft and more single-mindedness toward a career than I think any artist I have ever known. Rebecca is homeless by choice. It’s just a practical path to playing as much as possible in as many places as plausible. She’s no bag-lady.

What she is- is an icon for the work ethic. If you love something enough, then your passion is all that matters. Sacrifices are made. Your car becomes your home. Your travel is your life (and probably grist for half your songwriting). This isn’t some spoiled little brat from the LA suburbs slapping a phony video together and posting it on You Tube.

Hell, she’s probably doing pretty much the same thing Woody Guthrie did when he was in his 20’s—except he was sneaking onto freight trains to get to the next town, while Rebecca drives a station-wagon.

I taped her appearance last night and I think tears welled up in my eyes each of the three times I saw that angelic, beautiful face and heard the soulful voice, no doubt carved in part from the life of hard knocks she has chosen to lead in pursuit of her dreams.

She will not be living in her car much longer- I guarantee you that. Get used to nice hotels and maybe even a limo or two over the years ahead—because you’ve earned it, sweetheart. And just wait until they get a load of the songs you write that are ten times better than the tune you covered on NBC this week.

You rock, Rebecca. And your soul and your heart rock too. You’ve always been an inspiration to your family and friends. Now, you’re an inspiration to a whole nation. How friggin’ cool is that?