Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No waterfowl were harmed in the writing of this blog entry

The great American humorist Will Rogers observed that “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”

BP is a case in point. Just months ago BP had once again earned its customary spot on the Fortune magazine list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, ranking respectably among such other petroleum exploration giants as Exxon, Shell and Chevron.

Of the nine criteria that Fortune covers in its annual survey, BP scored highest in “Social Responsibility.” You can insert your own punch line here.

Fast forward and BP is the foremost villain in an authentic tragedy that so far has few heroes. There are other bad guys, too. But BP is unlikely to relinquish its position as polluter in chief, rightly ordained to bear the brunt of responsibility for what is surely one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in human history.

Sadly, it may take decades or perhaps a lifetime for the Gulf to fully recover. It may take longer for BP’s business to rebound and longer still for the company to repair its besotted image. If that’s even possible. The company’s public relations missteps are already legendary. Company execs show even less talent for recovering their reputation than for recovering our oil.

The beaches of history are littered with the bleached bones of reputations never recovered.

  • The magnitude of the Gulf spill is measured in Exxon Valdezes, reminding us daily of that company’s 1989 incident.

  • The airline ValuJet decided to change its names rather than try to repair its wrecked image.

  • The Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster at Bhopal still haunts after a quarter century and Union Carbide is no more.

  • And we could talk for hours about homerun kings, Heisman winners and golf legends forever (or at least currently) more associated with crimes and misbehaviors than their exploits on the field of play.

Who knows if BP will suffer a similar fate? Not me.

But I will share this little parable, for what it’s worth. About 30 years ago I was driving my son home from a Little League game. No doubt we were engrossed in reliving his performance or perhaps I was giving advice about the elegance of a nice level swing.

That’s when I hit the duck. Who knows why it tried to cross the road? Maybe it darted in front of me. Maybe it failed to signal. Regardless, I ran over a duck. There was a noticeable bump. Andy looked at me with horror. We watched the duck hobble toward the park. I don’t know if it survived.

I think of that duck often, because Andy will never let me forget it. Never. He tells the story often, usually pantomiming the poor creature’s limping gait. Three decades and I’m still trying to live down the fact that I (possibly) killed one duck. BP has its work cut out for it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Close to You: Songs for Tight Times & Places

I recently traveled from Phoenix to Colorado Springs for a live taping of the always-entertaining National Public Radio news quiz program Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I didn’t make my own flight reservations and didn’t pay attention to the details until it was too late. So I ended up killing a couple of hours in the vast and rambling Denver airport awaiting the second leg of the trip – a short hop from Denver to Colorado Springs on a commuter jet.

I’m not a big fan of these smaller airplanes. They’re an uncomfortable fit for anyone and I’m not just anyone: I’m a pretty big one. I was fortunate to be assigned a seat in an exit row, giving me a skosh more room. I was unfortunate to be seated next to a man who outweighed me by at least a c-note, maybe two.

Normally I enjoy the novelty of being around heavier people. Even as he walked down the aisle, eyes fixed on the seat next to me, I knew that my aisle-mate and I were destined to become close during what United Express published as a 37-minute flight. Very close.

Imagine my relief when the pilot announced that our actual flying time would be just 22 minutes. I figure I can endure almost anything for that amount of time, which I proved recently when I couldn’t locate the remote during a rerun of “Two and a Half Men.” No permanent damage.

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendant came on the PA to announce that there was no service on this flight because of its short duration, but if we needed anything we should, well, keep it to ourselves I guess.

Then she said something that made me laugh so hard that my sides would have shaken, had there been room: “You may now turn on personal electronic devices … for the next four minutes.”

I didn’t take advantage of this small window of entertainment opportunity because I couldn’t reach my iPod (or move my arms, for that matter). But I’ve spent some time since trying to figure out what song I should have played. A few candidates:

• One, Three Dog Night (3:03)
• Rocky Mountain High, John Denver (4:43)
• Four Minutes, Madonna (4:04)
• Give Me Just a Little More Time, Chairmen of the Board (2.41)
• Close to You, The Carpenters (4:36)
• One Song Glory, Cast of Rent (2:43)
• Uptight, Stevie Wonder (2:54)
• Out of Time, Rolling Stones (3:41)

Your suggestions are welcome. The more the merrier. The next time I need to get from Denver to Colorado Springs I’m going to drive, so I’ll need a whole playlist.