You Can’t Go Home Again….Unless Your Home Is Owned By The Hafters

When I was 12 years old, my parents moved our family from the small, quaint town of Hammonton, New Jersey to the bustling metropolitan area of Miami, Florida. I was the oldest of my four siblings, so I had the most memories of our New Jersey years implanted in my pre-teen brain.

Our home in Hammonton was built early in the 20th century.  It was a beautiful two-story modern (for the time) house, with a striking white color, black window frames, and a light grey roof.  My great-grandparents had originally lived in the house and then left it to my Dad.

When my parents moved in, they began renovations to expand the modest size home to one that would ultimately accommodate a family of six comfortably. The house almost doubled in size.  The basement size also grew immensely, which my Dad turned into a mini-version of a Home Depot—long before there was even such a thing as a Home Depot.

And as my siblings and I grew up in this house, we fell in love with it. We were one of those weird, odd, really strange families where everybody got along, everybody loved each other—I know, crazy, right?—so that house held nothing but warm, loving, nurturing memories.

Mind you, our love of the house wasn’t enough to diminish our excitement about our ‘adventure’ of moving to Florida. But in all the years we have lived in Florida, our love for the Hammonton house never went away.  If anything, the folklore of the house only continued to grow as the decades went on.

Libby and Richard Hafter moved to Hammonton a few years before we left, and were living in a small home with their three children. My siblings and I would play with their three kids, and the two adult couples got along very well.  When my parents announced they were moving to Florida, they had a conversation with the Hafters, who had always admired our home.

The conversation turned into a trial rental period for the house—for both our family and theirs. For my parents, the trial was to make sure we liked living in Florida and weren’t going to come running back to New Jersey.  And for the Hafters, the trial was to see if the house was a “good fit” for their family.

The short story is that we did stay in Florida—and the Hafters did love the house—and my parents turned the rental into a sale.  And now my childhood home was owned by a family that would love it as much as we had.  And who would ultimately live in the house at least four times as long as I did.  Their children have long since moved out, but Libby and Richard continue to live there to this day.

After we moved to Florida, we would go back to New Jersey every year or two to visit extended family. And every time we’d make the trip, we would stop by and visit the Hafters.  The memories would always envelop us, as we went room to room, recalling stories and moments from our years in the house.  And the Hafters were always gracious and welcoming, excited to share in our excitement of visiting our old house….and them.

As the years wore on, the trips to New Jersey became less frequent. My siblings and I grew up.  We went to college.  We got our first jobs.  We each got married and started our own families.  The visits went from every two years to maybe every five years and then to probably every seven years.   And the visits were no longer the original six of us making the trip together.  Now my parents would go up as a couple, and my siblings and I would either go up individually—perhaps on a business trip—or with our own families.

However, regardless of how often we visited, or who was making the visits, one thing never changed. The Hafters continued to open their doors to us and indulge us as we traipsed through the house like aliens who had never seen the inside of a human’s residence.

My Mom died in 1999 and my Dad died in 2010. Both of them were fortunate to visit the house just a few years before they each passed away.  But my siblings and I continue to visit the Hammonton house, now just shy of 50 years since we have lived in it!  50 years!  All four of us have made visits there in the last two years.  And the Hafters continue to welcome us through the doors to journey into an honest-to-goodness time machine into our childhoods.

My wife and two sons and I made a quick trip to New Jersey last weekend, and my brother was able to join us for the trip. So, yes, we made the pilgrimage to the house.  And, yes, the Hafters greeted us again with open arms.  And, yes, they still have some of the original furniture from my parents.  And, yes, there are still tags with my Dad’s writing on them identifying specific pipes in the basement.  As Richard said, “Why change them?  We still need to know which pipes are which and your Dad took care of all that for us.”  And, yes, there are still some tools and hardware that were my Dad’s from over 50 years ago.  When your basement is like a Home Depot, you can’t take everything with you—and he didn’t.

In our visit last weekend, at one point Richard turned to me and said, “See, you can go home again.”  And at that moment, I realized how lucky I was that the Hafters had bought our house.  And how grateful I was to them for a half century of serving as ambassadors to our memories.  And for being such wonderful friends.

My wish for you, dear reader, is that whatever golden and cherished memories you may have from your childhood, that you are able to access them—whether it’s through photos, home movies, a scrapbook, a laugh-filled meal with family, or maybe, just maybe, you have a family like the Hafters who still allow you to visit your memories.

 

Proactive With The President

A number of years ago I was hired to perform at a very high-end dinner party in Naples, Florida. The host of the party was a very successful businessman who lived in a beautiful waterfront estate.  A cocktail hour was held on the spacious grounds behind the house—and then the 200 guests were then moved to a large tent, erected in another area of the back yard, for dinner.  I was asked to perform for approximately 30 minutes following dinner.

 

However, I had an unusual opening act that night. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were two of the guests at the party.   The host was good friends with the Carters—he had been a big supporter of Carter’s presidential campaigns many years prior and they had remained close friends over the decades.

 

I actually had to arrive several hours earlier than I normally would for a corporate booking, as the Secret Service had to secure the area where the dinner would take place. I did my set-up and sound check first—and then the Secret Service swept the area for any explosives.  Mind you, I’d had my fair share of times in my career when I had “bombed”—and I would have been grateful if a dog could have sniffed it out before I ever walked on stage.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this night—there were no bombs in the audience and there were no bombs on stage.

 

After dinner, the host went on stage and did an official “welcome” and thank-you to all of his guests. He then introduced President Carter in the audience and asked him to come up to the stage and say a few words before the evening’s entertainment.  Oh, great!  Now I have to follow Jimmy Carter.  The former President spoke for about five or ten minutes, mostly just summing up the current state of the global politics from his point of view.  He finished to a standing ovation and then it was my turn.

 

The host introduced me and I came bounding up the stage and began my program. I spoke for about two minutes, get some good laughs, and then I stopped.  And I said,

 

“Ladies & gentlemen. Forgive me for one moment.  But for most speakers and entertainers, it’s very rare that they ever get the opportunity to perform in front of a President of the United States.  So, if you would indulge me for just one moment.  I have a camera here, and if I could just stop for a few seconds and get a picture.”

 

And at this point, I stepped off the stage and into the audience. The Carters were sitting at a table front and center.  I walked up to Carter and said, “Mr. President, would you mind taking a picture?”  And he was very gracious and stood up, and as he did, I handed him the camera, and I grabbed some random guy at the next table, and I said, “OK, Mr. President, if you could snap a picture of me with this guy, that would be great.”  And so Jimmy Carter took the picture, he laughed—and everyone else laughed as I grabbed the camera, and went back on stage and just continued my program.

 

The rest of the show went well and I was relieved. Following the show, the host had arranged for a massive fireworks show to take place behind his home, over the water.  The guests were spread out across the long shoreline and enjoyed the amazing pyrotechnics display.  After it was over, I walked up to the Carters and nervously said, “Uh, Mr. President, would you be willing to take a picture?”  And he looked at me very seriously and said, “I already took a picture for you.”  And then he broke in to the huge grin he was famous for and laughed and said, “I’m kidding.  Of course I’d be happy to take a photo.”  And now it was my turn to hand the camera to another random person and that party guest proceeded to take a great photo of me with President & Mrs. Carter.

 

In addition to the photo, there was another memento I was hoping to get. I’m a collector of autographed books, and had brought a copy of one of Carter’s books with me in the hopes of getting it signed.  Again, he couldn’t have been more gracious and also signed the book for me. Quite a few people looked on while he signed the book—and many came up to me afterwards and said, “Wow.  I wish I had brought a book with me to sign.”

 

The fact is that they could have—they just needed to be proactive. To think ahead.  Everyone attending the party knew that President Carter was going to be there.  Everyone attending the party knew that they’d have total and complete access to him in this social setting.   So why was I the only one who thought to do something proactive and actually bring one of his books with me?

 

Sometimes with a little planning ahead and a little foresight, you can turn a good experience into an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve attended many events where I did just a little research beforehand and discovered some great opportunity—either at the event or someplace right nearby—if we arrived, let’s say, two hours early.  All because I proactively sought out info about what else was available, rather than just doing what everyone else was doing and following the crowd.  (Literally.)

 

So don’t just live an active life. Live a proactive life.  You’ll be surprised how often you’ll find additional opportunities hidden in plain sight.

Confessions Of A Seat Snob

 

I have a confession to make: I am a Seat Snob.

I guess it would sound better to call myself a “seat connoisseur.” But I don’t think the semantics change the fact that I have made the choice to limit my seating choices for any live entertainment event to the first ten rows.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “Go big or go home.”  My mantra has become, “Go close or go home.”

Now before you click away from the post thinking, “How incredibly snobby,” please give me a few paragraphs to explain.

My wife, Susan, and I attend quite a few entertainment events each year. Concerts—both old artists and new artists.  Plays—both musicals and non-musicals.  Lectures.  And the occasional cool event that doesn’t fit into any category.  But the one thing they all have in common is that they are events that we were able to get seats in the first ten rows.

When we were young marrieds and living in Miami, we would occasionally attend plays or concerts, with really little regard for where our seats were. We were just happy to be there!   When we moved to Tampa in 1995, we looked forward to continuing that tradition.  The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center—the venue that houses the large Broadway musicals that travel from city to city—had a great schedule that first year.  There was a new musical called “Jekyll & Hyde” that was traveling the country before making its Broadway debut.  We had never seen a show before it arrived on Broadway, so we thought that would be a fun show to see.

In looking at the schedule, we were surprised to see that they were doing their last show of the week-long run on Sunday night, December 24. Did they really expect to get much of an audience on Christmas Eve? As Susan and I are Jewish, the fact that it was Christmas Eve wasn’t really an obstacle for us, so we decided to go.  I bought tickets—and they were in the 6th Row Center Orchestra.  Translation:  Really, really, really good seats.

The theater that night was a little less than half full. (Interesting side note:  the theater never scheduled another show for Christmas Eve ever again!)  But the orchestra section—the seats on the main floor—was mostly filled up and it was still a decent size audience.

“Jekyll & Hyde” was a very good show—but viewing it from the 6th row took the experience to a whole new level.  The intimacy, the energy, the sound, the feel, the immersion in the production was heightened to a level that was exponential to anything we had ever experienced before. We couldn’t believe it!  We felt as though we were watching an entirely different show than the people who were sitting in the seats we normally would have been sitting in.

We celebrated our good fortune in having great seats for this one show—and then went back to buying tickets for plays and concerts the way we always had…..being happy just to be there. But a strange thing happened.  After every show, we would say, “That was really good.  But it was no ‘Jekyll & Hyde’.”   And this happened over and over again.

And for the next nine years we continued to attend events, always happy to get any seats we could get. But the “It was no ‘Jekyll & Hyde” line was beginning to gnaw at me.  Was there really that much of a difference between where we were sitting and the first ten rows of an entertainment event?

The short answer: Yes.

In 2004, we wanted to buy tickets to see Carole King. She was performing at another local venue, Ruth Eckerd Hall, which has about 2,000 seats.  Again, we would have been happy with any seats, but the show sold out quickly before we could get tickets.   However, an old friend from high school, Patty, had recently started working at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office.  So I called Patty and asked her if any tickets might become available at the last minute.  She told me that sometimes they release seats at the very last minute—and told me she would call me if that happened.

About 90 minutes before the show, she called and said, “David, I’ve got two tickets in the front row. Quick—do you want them?”

“Yes! Grab them!”  I quickly gave her our credit card info and we were on our way to theater.

It was an incredible show. We definitely did “feel the earth move, under our feet.”*  (*Note to Millennials—this is the lyric to a famous Carole King song,)  And it was the first time in nine years that we’d had a “Jekyll & Hyde” experience.  And the difference was palpable.  It reminded us again of how vastly different the experience of live entertainment could be, when viewed from the first few rows.

And from that point forward, I became a Seat Snob. I was now utterly convinced that there were actually two shows that occur at every live entertainment event.  The first show was the one experienced by the people in the front few rows.  And the second show was the one experienced by everyone else.  So I made the decision that I wouldn’t buy tickets for events unless we could sit in the first ten rows.

Now a decision like this comes with its consequences. Getting seats in the first ten rows can be very expensive.  Whether you get them the venue’s box office or directly through Ticketmaster or through StubHub (a website for fans reselling, albeit usually scalping, tickets), the best seats are always going to be pricey.  And purchasing tickets for any entertainment offering is done solely with discretionary income….which is limited, at best.

So we decided that we would cut way back on the quantity of events we attended each year, in order to exponentially increase the quality of events we attended.

This was especially true for events that were held in arena-size venues. We would spend most of our time watching the performers on the large screens—because you really couldn’t see them that well from most seats.  I told Susan, “If we’re watching most of the show on the screens, then let’s just get a DVD of the artist in concert and watch it at home.  We’ve got a nice television and a good sound system—and we’ll save money that could go towards better seats at other shows.”

So that’s what we did. We cut our ticket-buying way, way back.  We saved money.  And we limited our show selection to a select few that we were willing to spend more to sit in the first ten rows.

After twelve years of using this strategy, we’ve learned some tricks and techniques along the way that help us get great seats without having to always pay exorbitant scalper prices. For example, for a small fee you can usually become a “Member” of most local theaters and performing arts centers.  As a “Member” you typically get to buy tickets before the general public….and can often get those great front seats.

You can also sign up for a free a Live Nation account (affiliated with Ticketmaster) and often have the ability to buy tickets through a Pre-Sale, before the general public.

Sometimes, you can get tickets directly through the artist’s website. We recently bought tickets to see James Taylor through his website.  This particular offer didn’t tell you exactly where your seats were—only the guarantee that they would be in the first ten rows.  Well, that worked for us!  And we ended up in the third row!  These were much better seats than we could have gotten for the same concert through Ticketmaster.

The last twelve years as a Seat Snob have been glorious! We don’t see as many shows as we would like—but the experience of the ones we do see is exponentially greater than it would be if we were in our former seats.  The seats where most people are experiencing the “other show.”

And even if your discretionary income might only allow you to attend two or three shows a year, I would ask that you Entertain The Thought of cutting it back to just one show for the year. And if you can only afford one show a year, then cut it back to one show every two years.  But for that one show, treat yourself to seats in the first ten rows.  Experience the experience!  And you, too, may find that Quality definitely beats Quantity and join me as a Seat Snob.  I’ll see you up front!