Monday, December 9, 2013

Transformative Week: Person of the Year and 50 Years of Mustang

Who would you pick as the Person of the Year? Before you start to rack your brain for a worthy choice, here is Time magazine’s 10 finalists for the declaration it will make Wednesday. Listed alphabetically, they are:

Bashar Assad, President of Syria;
Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder;
Ted Cruz, Texas Senator;
Miley Cyrus, Singer;
Pope Francis, Leader of the Catholic Church;
Barack Obama, President of the United States;
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran;
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services;
Edward Snowden, N.S.A. Leaker;
Edith Windsor, Gay rights activist.

Keep in mind that to be the Person of the Year a candidate need not be a do-gooder. Evil can win as well, and I’m not referring to Barack Obama in the eyes of too many deranged-thinking folks.

Hands down, in my opinion, the winner will be Pope Francis. I’m not a Catholic, but he has transformed in his short reign the way the Catholic Church is perceived, or should be perceived. True, he retains some of the more rigid dogmas, such as being anti-abortion and against women as priests. But he has instilled a renewed sense of purpose to aid the needy and not be overly materialistic. His influence travels well beyond his papacy. 

My second choice would be Jeff Bezos. Retailing, one of my mentors (David Mahler) taught me, has been a continual evolution in streamlining the distribution of goods, from the individual shop to the five and dime to the mail order house to the department store to the discount store, the specialty store, the shopping mall, the category killer store, to the Internet. With, Bezos has set the gold standard for Web retailing. Amazon won’t destroy store retailing, much as Wal-Mart did not wipe all other stores off the retail landscape. But Bezos has been a transformational thinker in the way product is distributed, not just in the United States but abroad, as well. 

All the others on the list, except for Obama, are temporary figures on the scene of current events. 

Only Mustang Makes It Happen: Back in 1968, I drove a fire engine red Mustang. It was a 1966 model, but I identified with the snappy advertising lyric hyping the current year model:

Only Mustang makes it happen,
Only Mustang makes life great!
Mustang warms you, and transforms you.
Mustang, Mustang, '68!

The car that transformed the Ford Motor Company under Lee Iacocca will be 50 years old Thursday. Last April I wrote about my red Mustang, so I’ll just provide a link ( and instead tell you about the last time I drove a Mustang, an aquamarine convertible rental on the island of Maui, some 20-plus years ago. 

Gilda and I traveled to Maui for the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Normally, just one editor from my staff, Marianne, covered the event, which alternated between Hawaii and Palm Beach. We’d already been to Palm Beach, but not Maui, so I asserted some executive privilege and we accompanied Marianne. The NACDS, at that time under the direction of Ron Ziegler, President Richard Nixon’s former press secretary, spent lots of money on their annual get-together. The convention feature appearances by William Safire of The New York Times, Benizar Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Liza Minnelli and Bob Hope.

But I didn’t need a car to see them. The Mustang was to get around the island, especially to drive up the road to Hāna, known for spectacular waterfalls along the 52 mile highway, and beyond Hāna to visit the gravesite of Charles Lindbergh. The climb to Hāna passes through tropical rainforest. Its mostly a switchback single-lane road, with some 620 curves. Without traffic it takes almost three hours to get to Hāna.

Our trip turned out to be an excursion to hell and back. On the way up the mountain we got stuck behind slow moving cars we could not pass because of the numerous curves. Maui had been suffering from a drought. Ergo, there were no waterfalls to behold. There also were no restaurants along the way, no rest stops to relieve ourselves. We finally arrived in Hāna a few minutes before 2 pm. We had hoped to eat lunch in the only sit-down restaurant in Hāna, but discovered it closed sharply at 2. The only open food shop was a greasy spoon shack we reluctantly patronized. 

We had to get back to our hotel for the conference evening event so we had to forego visiting Lindbergh’s grave. On the way down the mountain, Gilda and Marianne got car sick from all the sharp turns mixing with our greasy lunch. On numerous occasions they opted out of the car to walk a half mile or so in the mist that was now swooping in off the coast. We didn’t get stuck behind any cars or trucks, but our pace going down was significantly slower than when we went up to Hāna. Happiness was reaching the straightaway at the bottom of the road and opening up the throttle of the Mustang to whisk us back to our hotel.