January 4, 1998

A Match Made in Heaven

Filed under: Media,Spirituality — schroder @ 10:48 pm

We sat in John’s triangular office overlooking Peachtree, agonizing over yet another draft of a company budget with only one goal in mind – survival.

For three years we had rubbed together enough resources and fanned the embers of three neighborhood newspapers, all the while hoping and praying ad sales would catch fire and provide much-needed fuel.
So many had helped along the way. My friend Mike handled our incorporation for cost. My father loaned a couple of thousand dollars right after my first issue of Atlanta 30306 . He died two days later. When I needed to pay a computer bill, my mother put a check in the envelope. Ward left a steady job to become the only employee in my small company, and then together with Natalie, my first salesperson, pulled several 48-hour shifts.

My sister Van wrote a column for free. Her son John left a better-paying job at IBM to help me with accounting. My friend Charles and my brother Jack bought stock. Jan took a huge risk, deferring her salary for a year. I could mention many others.

There was always just one more dollar in the checking account. That was, until now.

We ran several models on the computer. Cut this. Don’t rehire that position. Quit mailing that. No matter what we did, it didn’t work. Despite my years of optimism, I was depleted and had finally given up faith. My staff worked for a month not knowing if they’d be paid. I wrote a front-page appeal in our Buckhead paper asking for donations, advertising or for an investor. I called CEOs for help – without success. The readers of Buckhead responded wonderfully – sending in checks for $25, $50 and $100 and heartfelt letters of support.

They sustained us more than they’ll ever know through what seemed like the final days.
I briefed my mom. “There’s no one in our family with any business sense that you could call,” she said. “They’re all lawyers or whatever. Call someone who has been through this before. Call someone like Tom Cousins,” the real estate executive.

“Yeah right, mom,” I thought. Then others whose counsel I sought mentioned his name as well. I had written him a letter five days before this meeting in John’s office. But his secretary said he was rarely in town, that maybe he’d see the letter one day and call.

Before the meeting I slid my personal American Express card through the charge machine and made a final cash deposit in our account. In John’s office, we struggled with the concept of an SBA loan, for which I’d have to pledge what was left of the equity in my house and add more debt to our monthly budget.
“It’s over,” I said to John and Jan. “There’s just no way. This is the end.”

For two years, John had maintained his confidence that we’d find a way through. But my  verdict left him silent for the first time. Jan, resilient and never losing faith, looked at me and stood up. “I’m going to check my voice mail and see if the bank called about the loan.” We took a break. I wandered into my office. The phone rang. It was Tom Cousins. “I’d like to help,” he said. “Come by the house tomorrow.”

Over coffee in his living room, he said he always thought Atlanta should have positive newspapers. He read over mine. We discovered we believed in the same ideals, shared the same faith. As I stood at his front door, he shook my hand.
“Say hello to your lovely mother,” he said.

“I will,” I said. And thank her – and everyone else.

January 3, 1998

Signs of the Times

Filed under: Atlanta,Family,Fatherhood — schroder @ 12:00 pm

As children grow up, a parent tries to introduce them to all kinds of life’s experiences. You also try to plant in their minds a series of visual and emotional moments, which they can recall and replay in those times when you cannot be with them.

A parent takes his children fishing or camping or perhaps takes them on trips to see other cities or countries. And when that parent is a father, he takes his children to sporting events.

In Atlanta, we’ve been graced with lots of opportunities to see great sporting events, from championship college football teams, to NCAA basketball tournaments to one of the greatest events in the world, the Olympics. But in America, where sports are often elevated to a spiritual domain, the highest church of all would have to be to take your kids to a World Series baseball game.

A few years ago, when the Braves were in their second World Series against Toronto, I was negotiating a business deal. When my contact at this corporation mentioned that she could throw in two field-level tickets to the Seventh Game, the deal was done. In the high church of World Series, the Seventh Game is akin to going to a Sunday service with the Pope.

I discussed the logistics with my daughter and secured her blessing on allowing me to take my son to The Game. You can imagine my heartbreak when the Braves lost the series in the sixth game, voiding the tickets I had so excitedly held.

A few years later, when the Braves were opening the World Series on a Saturday night against the Yankees, I decided to be a little more proactive. I took both of my kids down to the stadium, determined to beg, borrow or scalp tickets to get in. My son was happy to give it a shot. My daughter was willing to try to get in the game, but she was humiliated when I presented her with what I thought was a clever, full-proof scheme.

Braves_game

I showed her three simple signs I made on my computer and told her we were each to hold one in sequence. My daughter’s read, “Never been,” my son’s sign read, “Wanna go,” and mine was a simple plea: “Need three.” I positioned my kids near one of the entrance ramps to the stadium and we stood for nearly an hour and a half. Crowds of people pointed at us, laughed at us and consoled my daughter, who covered her face in embarrassment while reluctantly holding the sign aloft under my orders. We stuck around even after the game started, hoping something would loosen up by the second inning, it was all for naught We never even attracted the attention of a TV camera.

We finally decided to go where we knew there would be hundreds of Braves fans who didn’t have tickets, either. We grabbed a cab and headed to the Varsity on North Avenue where we got front-row seats in one of the TV rooms. Munching on delicious Varsity fare, we had a great time and took a cab home satisfied that we, and the Braves, did our best.

Recently I read about major league baseball raising its World Series ticket prices to astronomical heights, far out of the range of a bottom-feeder like me. So this year, should the Braves go all the way, I’ll probably prepare a new sign for my home or office: “Gone Fishin’.”

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