Dateline St. Louis: Sometimes you just need to stop

ST. LOUIS–It’s a strange thing to be unemployed. Or partially employed. Even if by your own choice. There is both freedom and fear. A sense of excitement and moments of panic. There is time for naps. There is too much time to think.

I had to stop. I had to figure out what I was doing and, more important, what should I be doing. So, I did.

Scary, to say the least. I just knew that I could not continue doing the same thing and expect different results, to paraphrase a famous quote.

I applied for at least one job every day, even long shots. Even things I really didn’t want to do. I told people I trust about what I wanted. I had lots of coffee with people, made lots of phone calls and sent lots of emails in the name of networking. (It would pay off).

I wrote a ton of cover letters. I received a number of “Thank you, but…” responses. I came very close to accepting a job in an outrageously expensive city that someone I respect and I care about is preparing to leave (in part because it’s outrageously expensive). There was a close call with a job outside of journalism: The horror!

Then, I saw a job posting that really resonated; I mean from head to toe.

It promised a completely different direction, but one I was qualified for. I wrote the heck out of the cover letter. I applied. I heard nothing. I chalked it up to another one of those, “It would’ve been nice, but….”

Here I should say that this whole time (July to present), I’ve been encouraged, buoyed up by, given reality checks by, and received cheerleading from, my family. Not everyone has the kind of support system that allows them to keep their sanity while in transition. Also, there are friends who continued to think highly of me, even when I did not think highly of myself.

And then, after about two months, it came: A phone call about that job posting that really resonated. I could hardly believe it. Stars aligned. Things started to move. Interviews. Reference checks. More interviews. The offer.

So, I start on Dec. 11. Ain’t life Grand? (That’s a hint).

THANK YOU! Mom, Dad, Randy, Emily, Geraldine C., Kurt G., Allison H., Brian J., Jim S., Neil R., Eric K., and (for reals) LinkedIn

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Meet me in St. Louis. Under the Arch.
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Don’t look now, Twitter: The world is turning to WhatsApp for news

Remember when Twitter was everything? It’s still got more than 320 million monthly active users, but it’s no longer the hot social media platform. While Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continued to grow between 2012 and 2015, Twitter stagnated starting in 2014 (Pew Research Center).

RELATED: 24 slightly depressing stats on the ‘fall’ of Twitter

I recently heard a colleague describe Twitter as a kind of “echo chamber,” for journalists, pundits, news junkies and assorted fans of assorted sports teams and pop culture icons.

Hello, WhatsApp.

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Source: WikiMedia Commons
When I spent six months in Belize last year, I began using WhatsApp to send free messages and make free phone calls to family and friends in the U.S. I also found that Belizeans use WhatsApp quite heavily to message and talk to each other within the country.

If you are unfamiliar with WhatsApp, here are the basics:

So, now you’re asking: How does WhatsApp, which sounds like a utility, qualify as a social media platform? How do people get news from such an app?

Percentage of people using each service at least once a week

Stats

Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

While in Belize, I was invited to join a WhatsApp group called Newz@Ur Finga Tipz. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was intrigued. Soon, I saw that the curators and users of the group were sharing details about car accidents, severe weather (flooding and tropical storm activity especially), missing persons, and other tidbits that you might normally expect news outlets to report.

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In Belize, where newsrooms are not always staffed to keep ahead of breaking and developing news (especially on weekends), Newz@Ur Finga Tipz was delivering information in a timely fashion to a group of “subscribers,” if you will. There were rumors bandied about, but the group’s curators and members took pains to debunk and/or confirm and then spread the news.

My job in Belize involved public relations and marketing for the nation’s leading cultural and historical institutions, including the Maya archaeological sites around the country that provide employment for Belizeans and draw tourists and researchers in (for Belize) huge numbers.

In the wake of August 2016’s Hurricane Earl, I jumped on Newz@Ur Finga Tipz as one channel for providing updates on which archaeological sites were closed due to storm damage, and which other venues (e.g. the Museum of Belize and Bliss Center for the Performing Arts) had been affected by the hurricane.

In Belize, WhatsApp is free way to inform and communicate, but the platform is even more widely used for sharing news and views in other countries–countries where tweeting or posting a news item could get you into trouble with government officials, religious authorities and others with the power to make lives uncomfortable.

Just take a read about how China has WhatsApp in its censorship sights.

WhatsApp is private. So, as long as you know and trust people you connect with, it’s a safe means for connecting.

For its latest Digital News Report, the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism worked with YouGov to survey people in across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The study was sponsored by the BBC and Google among others. A total of 71,805 people were questioned in January and February to generate the data.

Key findings

  • Facebook is still the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries – Japan and South Korea – where, respectively, YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.
  • Sharing news stories and chatting about them appears to be on the rise within private instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular.
  • WhatsApp is now the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations, and the third most popular platform in a further five countries.

“Some of the biggest growth we’ve seen is in places like Turkey, where it’s positively dangerous for people to express anti-government preferences on open networks like Facebook…. As a result people are using closed groups where they are more confident of expressing their views.” — Nic Newman, Digital News Report

Another attractive quality of WhatsApp is that content is not selected by journalists. The gatekeepers are WhatsApp users. According to a BBC article about the Digital News Report, some news organizations are trying to jump on the WhatsApp bandwagon (of course), but: “….part of WhatsApp’s appeal is that users don’t get interrupted by brands, making it a very pure form of messaging. That’s something [its developers] will really try to hold to.”

Here’s a look at WhatsApp usage in many countries (Percentage of YouGov respondents who report using WhatsApp on a weekly basis)

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Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

The Digital News Report survey did not include Africa (which is odd), but guess what? WhatsApp is huge there.

Facebook and WhatsApp

Wondering how Facebook feels about the rise of WhatsApp? The world’s dominant social network acquired the hot, new upstart in 2014. Now, naturally, Facebook is looking to monetize the app, so it will be interesting to see how that works out–given that WhatsApp users may be flocking to the service because it’s devoid of advertising and other money-making features.

Stay tuned.

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Not your average Saturday in Cleveland

Saturday, June 24, was weird. I woke up to a sweet Lake Erie breeze coming in through the huge windows of the loft-style apartment where I’ve been living since February. The sky had that look that indicates it will be a sunny, mostly clear day.

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Hundreds of yogis took part in a mass yoga class on the streets of downtown Cleveland on June 24.

I did some work after drinking my coffee, with the news on television. There was nothing too horrible in the headlines—or perhaps I am getting used to the new normal in these tumultuous times.

Breakfast. For a few weeks now, I’ve been going to a locally owned place called Yours Truly on either Saturday or Sunday. There are several around the Cleveland area, and I can walk to one downtown. It’s just shy of Playhouse Square.

The previous Saturday I’d gone in, and a server told me I couldn’t sit in a window booth because it was reserved. There was no sign or anything on the table. He said the reservation had just come in. OK, fine. The other window booth was occupied, so I sat elsewhere.

On my most recent visit, after another server told me I could sit in a vacant window booth, server #1 swooped in to say it was reserved. I pointed out that I was told I could sit there and he said server #2 didn’t know about the reservation. I was furious. And I usually don’t get furious.

I asked to be seated elsewhere—not in server #1’s section—and to see the manager. After outlining what had happened, I received an apology and assurances that I was in the right. There was no particular explanation for the way server #1 behaved, but I was offered my meal for free.

Then, the general manager came down and gave me his card. Another apology. Oh! And both told me the restaurant doesn’t even take reservations; it’s first come, first served.

I don’t know what actions the manager took; I could see server #1 working as if nothing had happened.

So, what should I conclude?

  • Racial discrimination
  • Gender discrimination
  • Solo diner discrimination (a.k.a. fear of meager tip)
  • Some combination of the above

I posted this experience on my Facebook Page and many friends opted for the racial discrimination explanation. As I left, I noted four black women were now seated in a window booth.

Needless to say, I took to Yelp and TripAdvisor to share my frustration. A sad experience, since I really like the Yours Truly Barcelona omelet. (Blog continues below map)

Still steaming, I walked toward Playhouse Square, where the universe instantly tried to make up for what had happened at the restaurant. The area’s busy intersection was blocked off from traffic for the huge Tri-C Jazz Fest stage, surrounding which sat hundreds of people on yoga mats, waiting for the session to begin.

The vibe was just as you might expect: reggae music floated through speakers and the yogis–mostly women—murmured, chatted, and stretched. I stayed around to watch for a bit, not being a yogi myself: Quite a sight! I felt better.

Next, I wandered down to the area near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where people were lining up to get into the Cleveland Pride Festival. There were smiles and laughter everywhere.

After that, I headed over to Public Square where the Cleveland Pride Parade was about to begin. I noted with interest that the largest contingents represented the likes of Walmart, USBank and Giant Eagle. Churches were well represented, as were a handful of political candidates.

To see the exuberance and joy in the faces of the people marching made me emotional.

Realization: This is what it looks like when people, long marginalized and worse, can celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So, I wrapped up my morning rambles by heading back to the apartment. It was not quite 1 p.m., and I was spent.

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USBank employees carried this massive flag in the Cleveland Pride Parade on June 234.

The Podcast: Auditory perfection? 

What is it that’s so cool about podcasts? The little burst of excitement I feel when a new one is ready reminds me of getting letters or cards in the mail back when people used to send letters and cards.


Perhaps podcasts are like magazines; so many subjects and themes that there is something for everybody. Even better, the podcasts you love don’t have annoying perfume sample inserts.

It’s not likely that most people who podcast will become overnight millionaires; advertising is sparse for the smaller players (which is part of the charm). Some podcasters get donations a la public radio; others sell swag like t-shirts. Crowdfunding is another option. 

Still, as it turns out, if you have an attractive concept and a devoted, growing audience, you might attract venture capitalists to back you.

An article at NiemanLab.org says “We can mark 2016 as the year the podcast business came of age.” Ad revenue is growing, according to stats in the article.

Podcasting is a form of story-delivery that accommodates a wide range of voices, as this article from the Knight Foundation describes. Anyone can do it. Not everyone will cash in.

Here are the voices I am listening to:

  • Snap Judgment
  • LORE
  • Somebody Knows Something 
  • Crimetown
  • Moth Radio Hour
  • True Crime Brewery
  • New Yorker Radio Hour
  • Serial
  • Fresh air 
  • This American Life

Related: How to start podcasting 

Flashback: 5 photos from the end of World War II

My father, Al Edgell, will be 93 years old in 2017. He served as a medic in World War II, and was stationed in Berlin after it was over. 

As I help my dad edit his memoirs, I’ve come across many photos he took, including these from his US Army days. They came to mind as I took in the coverage of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 28.


6 Uber drivers you might encounter in St. Louis


Spending the holidays in the US after six months in Belize, I have employed a variety of transportation methods: borrowing my sister-in-law’s minivan, renting a car and using Uber. 

Side note: Uber is the Craigslist of the transportation space: Once you’ve gone Uber you realize just what a big opportunity taxidom missed out on!

 


It’s fascinating to chat with an Uber driver; each one has his or her own style and reasons for driving strangers around in their car.

6 Uber drivers you might encounter in St. Louis:

1. The chauffeur. He wears a sweater vest, a tie, and a crisp white button-down shirt. His vehicle is immaculate and smells of the peppermints he offers passengers. He also provides small botttles of water to the thirsty. Car: Dodge Grand Caravan

2. The as-needed driver. This is a young man who tells you he’d rather be watching football but needs to drive a few hours to pick up a few extra dollars. Turns out he played college football and is in limbo while he decides on his next move. Car: Chevy Impala

3. The single mother. She indicates you should sit in the front passenger seat because the back seat “is a mess.” Her routine is to drop a bunch of kids off at school in the morning, Uber until the school day ends, and then pick up said group of kids to deliver them home. The group includes her musical genius high school daughter who is already being scouted by prestigious conservatories. Car: Kia Sedona

4. The full-timer. This driver tells you he’s started driving up to ten hours a day because he was recently laid off from his job or recently lost his disability benefits. He studies YouTube videos posted by expert Uber drivers who provide tips on maximizing the system. Knows the city like the back of his hand. Car: Toyota Corolla or Kia Sorrento.

RELATED | Chasing the surge: 3 tips for maximizing Uber earnings

5. The NRA member. Conversation quickly turns to the fact that Uber doesn’t allow him to carry a gun while driving, but he does have a pocket knife on his person. Turns out he used to work as a repo man, so he may have reason to fear passengers. Car: Volkswagen Jetta.

6. The juggler. He Ubers in the city for several hours most mornings (including Christmas Day), then heads to the county (far west) for his full time job at a nursing home. In addition he serves as a Kurdish and Persian interpreter at a local center that provides support services for new immigrants. Car: Nissan Quest.

Do you Uber?

10 steps to muffler repair in Belize

I was tooling along Princess Margaret Drive in Belize City recently when I heard a repeated scraping sound as my little Nissan surmounted speed bump after speed bump.

Following the policy of “ignore it and it will stop,” I kept driving. Just as I passed the entrance to Marion Jones Stadium I heard a clanging, and glimpsed my muffler rolling to a stop on the road side.

Allow me to explain how you can handle this situation if it happens to you:

1. Get out of your car and retrieve said muffler when there is a break in traffic. Stow it in the trunk.

2. Drive to your mechanic George who, with a good-natured chuckle says, “You need a new muffler.”

3. Get referred by George to a “bally ‘pon Cran Street,” who does mufflers.

RELATED: Vroom, Vroom: 5 automotive tips for Belize

4. Crawl along Cran Street around 9 a.m. looking for signs of a mechanic. Because you have no muffler, the bally and his colleagues hear you coming and wave you down. (See photos of premises below).

5. Show William and Jerome your muffler, which William measures.

6. Learn you will need an 18-inch muffler from Westrac. Call ahead to find out if they have it and how much it costs: $58

7. Drive (loudly) to Westrac on your lunch break and buy the muffler.

8. Return to William’s place the next morning for the procedure.

9. Sit in waiting area to watch (see photo below). There are a lot of sparks involved.

10. Pay William $35 (and a $5 tip).

The waiting area (above)

 

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Vroom, vroom: 5 automotive tips for Belize

1. Buying a car. There are few dealerships of the kind you’ll find in the U.S. and other bigger countries. However, the streets of Belize City can be considered one giant used car lot. Just look for vehicles with large white dollar sign and phone number decals on their rear windows. Call the number for a quote and test drive!

Or, you can go to the Facebook Group “Belize Buy & Sell,” where you will find a number of posts showing photos of cars along with prices and contact information for the sellers. (You can also find clothes, cell phones, jewelry, and just about anything else you can think of).

I opted to buy a used car from a broker-dealer named Brian who has a mostly empty lot along the highway and a great website, where I spotted my intended. His office is a tent, or the driver’s seat of a car he’s trying to sell.

I paid cash for something called a Nissan Platina, made in Mexico. Someone said to me later, “Oh, that’s a Third World car.” I took this to mean it was hardy and could handle the rigors of dust, iffy fuel and rough roads. Fingers crossed on that one.

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Say hello to my little friend.

Anyway, Brian defines full service! He drove me to the Traffic Division to meet the person who hired him to sell the car so we could transfer the title. The seller was a nun named Sister Rose. The car, I should say, is more than 10 years old and has only about 50,000 miles on it. It’s not fancy, but it runs and doesn’t guzzle gas. Sister Rose took great care of it.

Next, Brian drove me to the insurance company of my choice, where he waited with me until I was duly insured. Finally, he recommended a mechanic he trusts.

2. Servicing your car. You can take your car to one of the major dealers and wait a day or more for an oil change. Or, you can get a referral for a good mechanic who works out of his yard. The guy Brian recommended to me is named George, and it turns out he is the first cousin of my first cousin’s wife. And he lives around the corner from me.

When I called to make my appointment, George advised me to buy my oil and filter, as well as steering fluid (my wheel was stiff and making ominous sounds) and bring these items to his yard. I made my purchases at Westrac, a place—let it be said—that is an automotive paradise: You go in and sit at a kind of bar to share your vehicular woes with a sort of bartender/car expert who pulls the items you need. My filter had to be brought in from another store, but—no worries—they’ll get it in the same day. George serviced my car in less than an hour and drove it around the corner to my place.

3. Parking. There are a number of actual parking lots around downtown Belize City, which is a relatively new development. Parking there will cost about two Belize dollars per hour. Still, you will find yourself parking on the narrow city streets much of the time. In this regard it is helpful to have a Platina, which is about the size of a Toyota Tercel! Parking can sometimes be precarious, as many streets are lined with open drains and a few inches here or there can land you in their murky waters.

Thankfully, whether in a parking lot or not, there is usually someone to help. On the street this will be a random guy who appears out of nowhere and provides expert advise via hand movements, shouts, and thumps on the side of your car. He will be genial and quite pleased to help you. It’s not so different in a parking lot, although the guy helping you is an actual employee.

4. Getting a carwash. Once you have parked your car in the lot across from Brodie’s rear entrance on Regent Street, a shirtless man bearing a bucket will offer to wash your car while you go about your business. There is no set price, but I try to be generous.

There is a guy who combines parking and washing services in the area of the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts nearby. He must have a sixth sense about when I will be in the area, because he materializes out of nowhere–guaranteed.

5. Getting gas. Filling your tank in Belize will cost you about twice as much as in the U.S. One thing that might ease the pain at the pump is the fact that gas stations are full service. Young men in neat uniforms (and baseball caps) will do the honors and clean your windshield and rear window while you wait. They will also put air in your tires.

Happy motoring!

Pageant-ing in Belize: 5 things to consider before you don your sash

What must it be like to be a beauty pageant contestant in Belize in the age of social media? When I was pageant-ing in 1986, there was no way for members of the public to instantly criticize me and share that criticism with hundreds–even thousands of other people. I heard very few negative comments; I suppose my friends and family shielded me. The few I did hear were baffling as well as dismaying.

So, I salute the ten contestants in this year’s Miss Belize Universe Pageant, whose pageant month was full of public appearances and opportunities to be scrutinized.

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Yours truly with my predecessor–and friend–Romy Taegar! Circa November 1986.

Congratulations to Rebecca Rath of Dangriga! She is the newest Miss Belize and will represent us at the Miss Universe Pageant. Watch as she won on Sept. 10, 2016!

If I were to provide advice to young women about whether to enter a beauty pageant in Belize, here are a few items I would ask potential contestants to consider.

  1. Do you know what it feels like to lose? I suspect young women who know what this feels like will be able to face what’s coming. So, if you have competed before (e.g. in sports, academically, in other kinds of contests) and survived defeat with your ego intact, that is a point in favor of entering a pageant.
  2. Do you know how it feels to win? This is important because the minute you triumph you will become a magnet for people who want to be in your life, for better and worse. Being a gracious and humble winner can go a long way in keeping your ego intact.
  3. Is your support system strong and absolutely on board? Any ambivalence in the people closest to you can lead to self-doubt. Your friends and family love you, but they may not see entering a pageant as something they want you to do. Also, a ride-or-die crew will make sure you have the resources you need: They’ll help you find sponsors, be your cheering section, and remind you that you’re awesome no matter what happens.
  4. Are you confident? Confidence is not the same as courage. In my mind, courage gets you through something you may not believe you can actually survive. Confidence means that no matter what happens in the pageant, you’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll shed a few disappointed tears, but you won’t be shattered.
  5. What happens next? Do you have a plan to get on with your life, win or lose?

Would I do it again? Yes. I won a college scholarship (as did the 2016 winner, Rebecca Rath). I traveled to Singapore, Europe and all around Belize. I was probably too young; at age 17, my ego was fragile and the Miss Universe experience was overwhelming. Still, no regrets.

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Rebecca Rath (holding the water bottle, wearing black dress) joins her fellow Miss Belize delegates for lunch at Cafe Michel’le in Belize City.

Follow Rebecca’s road to Miss Universe on Facebook!

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