Hello, My Name is Kevin Schwarm
A free spirit's take on work, life, travel, & consumerism
A very special professor at Wisconsin-Eau Claire retires, Dr. Steve Baumgardner
I had the privilege of taking Dr. Steve Baumgardner for Social Psychology at UWEC and I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, his personality, teaching style, or the class itself. I never wanted to miss his class as it was interesting, entertaining and educational. Yes, learning can be fun and he had a lot to do with it.
Quick story: I remember some years ago sitting in my Social Psychology class and Steve was talking about the major reasons current students attended college. To gain an informal poll, Steve decided to query the class on why they were involved in higher education. To me, it seemed like an appropriate topic for our social psychology course and I was interested in hearing the results.
To begin, he asked the class how many of them were in school “to party” and roughly, 20 hands went up. Very few of us were surprised at this result. Next, he asked, how many were looking for a spouse – about 12 or so hands appeared. When he asked about not knowing what else we wanted to do after high school, about 10 or so students responded. Next, he asked “to get a degree to get a good job” and about 25 hands went up. No surprise there. Lastly, he asked the class how many were here “to learn” and I raised my hand. I quickly looked around, as my hand was the only one raised. I think he was surprised too and nodded to me as to say there’s nothing wrong with having a strong desire to learn. At that moment, I realized this was the first time he had conducted such a poll and my guess told me he was surprised at the results. I’m guessing too he probably expected more students to say they were here to “learn” and a strong “thirst for knowledge”. My guess is that would not be the only time he was surprised while teaching at the university.
Sad to hear Professor Baumgardner had passed last year (2017). What a great man and an effective teacher. May he rest in peace.
Not So Good Cop Story (From My Experience)
Many years ago and some months after college graduation, I had a trip planned to Europe. I was going to stay for about a year in Europa, working, learning and traveling wherever the wind took me. To celebrate my voyage, two siblings and I decided to have a few beers at Sanders Park in Racine County. Of course, in lieu of the occasion, these beers would be more expensive and tastier than typical American beers as they were Lowenbrau (imported from Munich, part of West Germany at the time).
It was going to be a relaxing visit to the park; we would split a 6 pack between 3 adults. Because imported beers did not have the twist-off, it took a few moments before we enjoyed our first taste of the beverages and before we could savor the hops and malt, we all simultaneously noticed a Racine County sheriff slowly on patrol. My sister, who had spent much time in Racine County quickly, told us to hide them. I looked at her with a quizzical look as to say, "There’s nothing wrong with having a beer in a county park." Foolish me!
The Racine County sheriff slowly walked over to us like he owned the patches of grass and tall oak trees we sat under and he asked what we were doing. If he had already made up his mind, then why the verbal dialogue? I wanted to say we were looking for dinosaurs under picnic tables or thought Sasquatch may be nearby but quickly regained my composure and said, "Officer, we're celebrating. I'm leaving for Europe this weekend and my sister and brother just wanted to hang out before the voyage." As I studied his law enforcement demeanor, I quickly realized nuance was not part of his vocabulary, at least not on that day.
He told us it was unlawful to consume alcohol in a county park. Immediately knew we'd have to pay but didn't know the amount. He took out his pad and began to write each of us a fine. I asked him what he was doing and he said it will cost each of you $37 for consuming alcohol (two swigs of imported beer) in a county park. I explained to him that this was our first time in this park with a beer and in my deepest lawfulness, had no idea this was fine worthy. Perhaps we missed the sign at the front of the park because we hadn't been together for quite some time and our talking preceded sign reading. Mr. Officer, please give us a warning and we'll know for next time.
"Yeah, there's so much less freedom in Europe than the States"
Critically thinking, I had to delve into the specifics of this case. I asked him the point of such a law and his initial facial expression indicated this was not a typical question. He said there were often huge gatherings of rowdy kids with kegs of beer and people partying into the night and it gets out of hand and the police are called. I said, "With due respect, do you see any similarities between our group and the group you just described? Do you have the ultimate discretion to interpret the law based on the situation?" He just glared at me – he knew I knew what he was doing and I knew if he had the discretion (some 30 years ago), he would have nailed me with a $500 fine.
A moment before he left, and moments after the empty beer and the fine, he had the gall (or some may say ignorance) to say we don't realize how free we are in this county. He continued, wait until you get to Europe, you’ll realize how free we really are. I thought he was completely out of order, just tell us we violated the park rule, give us the ticket and leave us alone. If you're going to scold us one last time and tell us how great our country is, look at this situation uniquely and use this as a teaching moment. Because police have so much discretion to interpret and enforce the law, effective and empathetic law enforcement officials might look at every situation differently and perhaps show empathy and understanding instead of his strict authoritarian stance.
Several months later, I'm sitting in a park in Munich having a beer and a smoke and no one bothering me – no rules against consuming alcohol in a park, no harassment by Die Polizei, just enjoying a beer with friends some of whom are partially unclothed. Yeah, there’s so much less freedom in Europe than in the States. At that point, I’m shaking my head at the actions and attitude of one such Racine County sheriff.
Plowing In The Rear View Mirror…
He does not want to plow any longer. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Frank. Frank was born and raised in Wisconsin and for the past 20 years, he has been responsible for plowing various public school district parking lots in Kenosha County. Because of this responsibility, it’s extremely important the parking lots are cleared and cleaned by the time teachers and staff started to arrive in the morning.
He’s just tired of the work. He’s tired of the lack of sleep in the winter, especially with a lot of snow. He’s tired of looking at snow as a burden -- he has not been able to enjoy the beauty of snow -- there’s too much work and responsibility associated with the white stuff. At age 62, he wants to retire and have more flexibility in his life. He just cannot stomach getting up at 4 am to plow school parking lots any longer. With a stormy forecast, he just can’t stomach getting up every 60 to 90 minutes in the middle of the night to check the weather. This routine has gotten old and makes him feel old too. Over the last 4 years or so, his area has averaged about 70 inches of snow per season which means there were many nights where he was on pins and needles not knowing what old man winter would bring.
Sometime last year, his financial advisor did his financial numbers and he could retire if he did not change his spending habits too dramatically. It came as a surprise to Frank and his wife that they had the flexibility to retire. They tried to be as frugal as possible over the years trying to put away what they could so someday this day would come. Frank did not have to hear that retirement statement more than once, he knew what he wanted to do. Another chapter of his life would begin. His wife was happy for Frank but she still enjoyed her job in health care so she would continue to work.
Frank wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. I'm sure he has projects to tackle around the house and in the yard when the weather cooperates. He also wants to appreciate the white stuff that falls in winter. Who knows, he may want to begin to like winter sports again. He’ll have options now and plenty of flexibility with retirement. While his wife continues to work, he’ll be responsible for household duties. He does not mind this; this new lifestyle will be a welcome change of pace for him.
Ein Perfekter Sturm (A Perfect Storm)
A relative of mine was going to spend a week in Chicago in early February. He was visiting from Austria and was interested in attending a Bulls' game at the United Center. Knowing the dates of the visit, I secured three tickets weeks before the event -- one for him and the other for his brother. That would be their maiden voyage to the stadium that Michael Jordan helped build.
A few days before the game, I learned of a winter storm warning for Chicagoland for Thursday and Friday. The forecast was accurate when they had estimated 12 inches of snow during a 24-hour period.
Plan B. I would no longer drive 40 miles from the 'burbs but would rely on our commuter rail for assistance. On several snowy occasions during past winters, the Kennedy was a parking lot, sometimes traveling about 1 mile per 6 minutes. This night, I would not test my fate.
The ticket for Friday's game displayed a start time of 7 pm on the monochrome tickets printed at home. As I gazed out the train window onto the snowy and cold landscape, I decided to preview the game. As I did, several online outlets had the game scheduled for 8:30 pm (but didn't officially start until 8:41 pm). Apparently, it was an ESPN game so they pushed back the start time. My first thought was this was ET, which meant the game would start at 7:30 pm. No such luck!
My original plan was to take the 4:37 pm train to Union Station and then take a bus to the United Center. I'd rendezvous with my relatives as they made their way down from the north side. With a game at 7 pm and doors opened at 5:30 pm, we'd have about 90 minutes to wander around, take some pics and watch those phenomenal athletes show off some of their skill warming up.
I was able to jump on the express train at 4:10 pm instead of 4:37 pm. I'd have a little more time to get over to the UC. The bad news, now realizing the game time was pushed back 90 minutes, my challenge was to determine how to kill extra time without being cold. At that point, I dreamed of much warmer weather when it comes to killing time in the Loop.
Having a delayed start also impacted my return train trip. If I had known the game was going to start at 8:30 pm, I may have driven, having more time to get there and giving me more flexibility. Unfortunately, only two trains after 10 pm: 10:35 pm and a 12:25 am to Libertyville. I wanted to see the entire game but didn't want to board the train 25 minutes post-midnight so my play was the 10:35 pm train.
On the return trip, I saw several Bulls' fans taking the 10:35 pm train back to the burbs. A few were miffed at how TV, in this case, ESPN runs the roost. Fortunately, it was a competitive game. Unfortunately, I had to leave with 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.
It was a perfect storm in several ways. One, first Bulls' tickets that I have not secured in over 6 years and then postponing the event by 90 minutes. In addition, a snowstorm of the like we experience every 3-4 years on the night of the event. What are the chances?
It wasn’t just the snow; the downtown Chicago air had an old man winter bite to it. In addition, for anyone living in Chicago in February, the main streets may be plowed and the secondary streets may not be plowed, that may take days for all streets to be plowed. Walking to various bus stops, only a third of all sidewalks had those 12 inches of the white stuff removed. To address many crosswalks, you had either to wear waterproof boots or have NBA leaping ability.
The irony is I spent 8 hours of time watching 30 minutes of professional basketball. That may not be how ESPN looks at it but that’s my interpretation.
After getting home at midnight and dusting the snow off my boots and pants, I realized things really did work out well. My relatives were able to stay for the entire game and saw the Bulls come back from a 15-point deficit to win the game in the closing seconds. They didn't seem to mind the many stoppages of play as they typically had entertainers during timeouts. Lasting memories -- watching the Bulls and Timberwolves compete and marveled at the grandness and beauty of the United Center. My intent was to show two of my Austrian relatives a good time at an NBA game -- and I succeeded regardless of my individual challenges.
I ought to buy you a hot dog
Tom Brookshier died today, at the age of 78 (January 29, 2010). He played cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1953-1960. Later, he went into broadcasting, and in 1965, became a color commentator for CBS. He broadcast three Super Bowls with Pat Summerall, did other pre-, and post game shows. While broadcasting for CBS, some of the broadcasters he paired with included Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker, Jack Buck, Dick Vermeil, and Lindsay Nelson. He broadcast NFL games on CBS until 1986.
Years ago (1971), when I was just a kid, I briefly met and spoke to Tom Brookshier in Milwaukee. He and Jack Whitaker were walking outside the old County Stadium getting ready for an NFL game (Eagles versus Packers). As my dad and I were walking, I saw three or four dollars come out of Tom’s pocket. I quickly scooped it up and ran up to them and at first, they gave me a quizzical look as to say, “What do you want kid?” I initially asked Tom Brookshier “is this your money?” He quickly said no without checking his pockets. After Jack Whitaker checked both his pockets and realized he was not missing any money, Tom Brookshier said, “By golly, it is my money.” He then said, “I ought to buy you a hot dog” and grabbed the money from my hand and walked away.
My father was not too happy with him. He was surprised Mr. Brookshier could not even spare a dollar for a kid who was just being honest. Not even a thank you! Being a father with class and self-control, he did not want to create a scene but I could tell what he was thinking – something about Mr. Brookshier being a cheapskate but he would not say it out loud. At the time, I did not care about the money – I just thought it was fun to talk with two well-known sport’s broadcasters. Brookshier continued to broadcast on CBS for another 15 years so when my dad and I would see him on TV, he would just shake his head remembering that day and the comment Tom Brookshier made about buying me a hotdog.
May Tom Brookshier rest in peace.
Be Careful When Using Cheap Versus Expensive In the Grocery Business
Many years ago, I worked for an older gentleman (Jim) in the health food industry. He had spent his adult life working in the grocery business and eventually owned two small local grocery stores. One was a small mom-and-pop store for those who needed some essential items and the other was a vitamin shop that evolved into a health food store. During all of those years, he acquired the necessary knowledge and a unique way of communicating to his customers to help grow his business and make it a success.
One day, I asked him which bread was cheaper, the whole wheat, or the rye bread. Before he provided a response, he emphasized the importance of not using the word ‘cheap’ or ‘cheaper’ when it came to price comparisons in the grocery business. According to Jim, using ‘cheap’ would convey inferiority, which was something, you tried to avoid – especially in a small grocery. If you wanted to compare prices, one should use less expensive or more expensive or least expensive. Using that five-letter word in a grocery context especially when Jim was around was strictly “verboten.”
Indeed, even though I learned a valuable lesson that day while in the grocery business, I'm still not inhibited to use it in some situations. If I find something in a toy store, electronics retailer or hardware store that is not well built well and will not last regardless of how much money is thrown towards consumers by marketing departments, I may use this 5 letter word, context is everything.
However, that one day I was corrected by Jim stayed with me not only while I worked in the health food business but still resonates with me today. Over 30 years later, when I hear someone use the word 'cheap' or 'cheaper,' I slightly cringe although it's not necessarily my place to correct them or suggest an alternative unless they may be receptive to such a suggestion.
Anyway, it's been a blessing and a curse. If I don't know the person well and they use the word 'cheap,' I have to understand the context. Are they conveying it's a good deal at a very low price and it might be a valued purchase or stay away as the item is not manufactured well. When people are not nuanced when using 'cheap' it can be irritating but of course expected.
I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss
Berlin Kiosk Blues On A Holiday
I'm in Berlin and it's late Monday morning and I decided to rent a bicycle for 24 hours as it's my second full day in Germany's capital. I learn by doing, which means to get around this spacious city with many public squares, a bike was the right play. I'm hungry and wanted to stop at a grocery store looking for some water, cheese, bread, and some fruit. You see, I arrived late on Saturday in Berlin and wasn't able to buy any food staples that day to get me through until Monday. Seeing how all grocery stores are closed on Sunday in most of Germany, I need to stock up before my touring begins.
Leveraging technology, I see several grocery stores within a few kilometers of my hotel. That's the good news, the bad news, I quickly learned it's was a holiday in Berlin on Monday which means all grocery stores were closed. Information is critical, if I had known this, I probably would have made a gallant attempt on Saturday to purchase some staples before the food stores closed for two consecutive days.
Ok, all food stores were closed on Monday but realized there had to be a kiosk or small neighborhood store that sold at least refreshments that day. After about 30 minutes of perusing several unfamiliar neighborhoods, I found a kiosk with the door open. The middle-aged man working the kiosk looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but working the kiosk -- especially on a holiday when his family and friends may have been enjoying the fine weather that day.
The kiosk had no food but gum, sweats, beer, and water so to make the best of the situation, I started to survey his beer selection. I said in German, " Wie viel für dieses dunkle Bier?" and he replied "ein und dreisig Euro". What about "Für ein Weißbier?" He deadpanned, "ein und vierzig Euro." (€1.30 and €1.40). Realizing he didn't take credit, I dug into my pocket and determined my limit was 6 Euros so being price conscious was key. I asked him why there were no prices above or below the beer, water, and soda. He said, "Because I know all the prices." Not knowing when to quit, I said, "I know, but why not empower the customer to know by viewing the actual prices?"
He persisted, "If they want to know, they can just ask me, I'm the owner so I know." He saw that puzzled look on my face and said, "If I mark everything, there may be a change in my costs so why bother?" I said quickly, "To allow the customer to make an informed decision on their own, some customers like to compare prices to determine the best value or have limited funds and want to determine what they can and cannot afford."
In retrospect, at this point, I was a fool to think he understood what I was attempting to communicate. I didn't think changing the prices once or twice a year wasn't much work. But again, what do I know? In retrospect, it's his store and he can do what he prefers.
After purchasing 2 German beers and a bottle of water for 5 Euros, I then said exasperatingly, "I can't believe how difficult it is to find a place open on a holiday. I've been everywhere without success." He just looked at me as he reached for his ethnic music. That meant, shut up, and leave my store as this conversation is over. He was done with me. As I gathered my supplies and hopped back on my bike back to the hotel, my only thought was that he doesn't major in empathy. In other words, it's not his problem.
Don’t Over Consume Alcohol in a Foreign City
One early July evening, I took the streetcar to the Hofbrauhaus (Beer Hall and near the Marienplatz) to have an authentic German beer. I kept that singular because it's common to be served a liter of beer upon request. So I hooked up with other young tourists who had the same idea, so we settled in this beer hall and each ordered a liter of beer. I frowned a bit about one hour later, seeing my empty beer mug. I was hungry at this point as I had not eaten since breakfast. Anyway, the waiter came by and asked me if I wanted another as the others were still nursing their beer, with only half of it drunk. The waiter teased me as I contemplated another and felt no pain. To prompt me, he said if I could finish another liter within an hour, my beer would be comped. Sometimes in one's youth, you accept silly challenges without knowing the full effects of such action.
As a German-American and originally from Wisconsin, a state that knows how to brew beer, I was not going to be defeated (Despite how many times I may fall as a result!). About 20 minutes to go on my challenge, I had to relieve myself at the nearest Water Closet or WC (bathroom), so I returned in crunch time and was shocked that I still had half a liter to go. I began to reach in my wallet to pay him several Deutsch Marks (German currency) when I realized I was so close to victory. So I proceeded to chug the rest of the beer and felt proud of myself as many in the pub cheered until I stood up and started to stagger and knew I was in a bit of trouble. Strangers surrounded me once I wandered away from my drinking blokes, and being a little embarrassed at my drunken stupor, I wisely decided to call it a night and walked back to my tent and sleeping bag. The only problem being, where was it?
Perhaps Vertigo had set in as I headed north from Marienplatz – my first mistake as my tent was in the opposite direction. Having purchased a transportation pass for the day, I jumped on the first tram (streetcar) and watched the stops using my map to help orientate myself, but that didn't help. I finally saw the Englisher Garden sign and exited. At this point, I had traveled roughly the same distance to my camping place except in the wrong direction. I started to ask residents about this camping place, and no one could help. It didn't help that I couldn't remember the name -- I blamed the strong German beer on my forgetfulness. Most residents didn't know about this camping site because they never needed to use it. It would have helped if I saved the receipt for my three days and night's stay. It's comfy enough if you don't mind a ¼-inch mattress pad. It's a cliché, but when you're young and adventurous, you can typically tolerate so much more. If you're not used to fancy restaurants or hotels, camping is something you can quickly adapt to.
Being a little nervous and out of sorts, I decided to head back to Marienplatz near the Hofbrauhaus. At this point, I knew I needed to travel south, so I started to follow the Isar River as it flowed in that direction. At this point, I was not trusting my ability to navigate public transportation, and I'm sure my slurred speech and my inability to maintain my balance. Following the Isar River south, I walked for nearly 90 minutes, occasionally asking strangers on the street if they could ensure I was navigating to the south. Most ignored me because I was drunk. I finally decided to rest on a park bench and noticed the Thalkirchen Tierpark (Zoo) sign nearby. After much physical foot traffic, I felt more awake and alert and realized the camping site was just about a 10-15 minute walk from here. After another 25 minutes of walking, I was dead tired and just wanted to sleep but still no camping site but also knew people out on the street might know. After asking a few people, a young lady knew of it and walked me the rest of the way, and the only remaining obstacle was crossing the damn Isar. I was relieved and appreciative of her kind words and wanted to buy her a beer but wasn't in a reasonable frame of mind, so I merely said, "Vielen Dank, Vielen Dank," as she walked away.