Friday, July 4, 1997

ust when we all thought it was safe to go back outside after the federal building bombing mass murders in OKC, right wing nut religious militia shootouts in Ruby Ridge and Waco, fully automatic assault weapon daylight robberies in LA, the Nation's annual 221st Independence Day has arrived with a bang and it'll soon sound like we're at war all over again. Watch out for those errant fireworks: it's a perfect day for our God-given right to hurt, injure, maim and kill each other.

Our National Sacrifice.
It's amazing just how many Americans can take wonderful cuts of meat and BBQ (read burn) the living shit out of them in a few short minutes on a grill. Most people should stick to hot dogs and drop the kill it and grill it mentality.
Like Druids sacrificing to the pagan gods, we char, burn and immolate everything that's edible and turn it into charcoal-coated treat. The plumes of smoke wending their way skyward from the altar grills can be seen from backyard to backyard to picnic ground. We seem to be the only carbon-based life forms that do those stupid tricks.
And if we're not grilling and burning, then we're exploding fireworks and losing fingers, hands, eyes or lives. Second and third-degree burns are badges of fun on that beer-fueled day.The pure joy of hurting or killing ourselves is amazing. We also seem to be the only carbon-based life forms that do those stupid tricks.
Finally, to top it all off, we kill not only ourselves but others in record numbers each year in holiday traffic accidents. Careless driving on a mass scale. DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) are very prevalent on this Holiday, with thousands of shit-faced people drunk from BBQ-partying all day long and then driving deadly weapons. This is the worst so-called national Holiday for death (read slaughter) by vehicle. Thousands of people will die needlessly. Actually, the ones who really need to die murderers, rapists and child molestors are safely locked in the prisons. Again, we also seem to be the only carbon-based life forms that do those stupid tricks.
If we're truly thinking, rational human beings, why the hell do we (collectively speaking as a nation) do such stupid things?

A Restful Holiday.
I've had enough of the death and destruction of past Independence Days. Been there, seen all that. Don't want any part of it.
I just want a quiet day without the hourly body counts and injury stats, please.
After seeing hundreds of July 4th fireworks displays over the years and especially the awesome NYC July 4th Celebration in 1976 I believe I'll opt for something quieter on this particular evening. Seen one, seen them all.
I think I'll go into work tomorrow, as usual, and help out some gardeners. I don't hear many reports of people killing themselves with trees, shrubs or perennials. This is a traditionally busy weekend and I'm expected to be there.
The first July 4th Holiday after I opened in '91, I threw a BBQ for all my employees and their families; close to 250 people showed up. We had a good time getting things ready, until... Oh shit, I forgot to close the front gate and customers started streaming in all day long. Nonstop, all day long. I didn't get anything to eat or drink all day, but everyone else had a great time. I vowed to chain the gates from that point forward if a party is ever again imminent or in progress.
But the successive years have gotten even busier and BBQs have taken a backseat to being OPEN on all Holidays. We're the only Garden Center or Nursery in the southern York County-northern Maryland area that is available to people on that day; everything else is buttoned up tight and they're partying their brains out, too. Could it be they know something I don't? Probably. Hmmm. Stop to smell the roses and all that stuff...

Since the USA Today article on us appeared two weeks ago, I've gotten hundreds of notes from people all over the world asking about starting an operation like mine. It seems that midlife changes are becoming more and more pervasive as us Boomers move on in life.
My answer is always the same: spend time working for a local garden center or nursery to see what they do right and especially what they do wrong, then research the local and regional markets for a speciality product that no one else markets. Take copious mental notes. Don't be a generalist; be a specialist in an area of horticulture. Find an unusual area to star in. There are way too many generalists out there and they all fight and kill each other for market share. Be a specialist and you'll own that market segment, and although the universe of customers will be smaller, everyone will be a buyer.
Positioning is everything. Find a niche and own it. The work hard for 5-7 years building the initial business, and enjoy the success and fun along the way. Been there, did all that and then some.

When the heat becomes oppressive, everything suffers. Crops stall and die without moisture. Plants wilt. Animals and people succumb to dehydration and heat exhaustion. Nothing is as it should be. And when higher than normal levels of humidity accompany the heat, it becomes unbearable.
Wells, aquifers and public water supplies are stretched to the limit and can substitute only so long; real rain is needed soon. Drizzle only whets the mulch and grass. Long days and nights of slow, soaking rains not gully washers that simply run-off and don't provide any in-depth relief are desperately needed. Local farmers are saying that their crops are wilting and curling and that, if we don't get rain very, very soon, they'll have to plow it all under and re-sow the fields. What a shame: those people have it hard enough as it is making a living.
It's Sunday morning at 9am, and the outside thermostat on the east side of the retail complex reads 110F already. Shit, how can it get so fucking hot and not thunderstorm and rain? Static electricity should be building for thunderstorms, at least by now with this kind of heat. Something, anyway!
Things are steadily getting grimmer everywhere. I'm still meeting 20-30 customers per week on site for landscape consults or evaluation meetings, and see terribly pervasive drought and heat damage. It manifests itself on both new and old plant material. Specimens I've admired or just remembered for years just turn brown and are gone. Newly-installed jobs gone bad with stressed-out plants. 110F+. This is Miami or New Orleans Summer weather, minus the rain storms.
I'm now postponing several large landscape jobs until ground temperatures decline, moisture is back in the ground and it's safe to install material once more. Even with soaker hoses and electronic timers, I can't be sure people will take responsibility for their expensive landscape jobs. And there's just no point in risking it in this weather.

30 Year High School Reunion.
Yes, it's time for that event; one that many people look forward to and dread simultaneously. I really wish I could go to this one, but this time it's not to be. I got the invitation several weeks ago; it's to be held in September in Itasca, Illinois, wherever the hell that is. It's been a long time since I was in that part of the country.
In 1987, I went to the 20 year Reunion of my pre-alma mater, Prospect High School, Class of 1967, in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. That was a few years before I got married, so obviously my wife now ex-wife wasn't along.
I grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago in the 50s and 60s, and it was very nice to see all my high school chums and hear about their lives since we last saw each other many years ago. There were some sad stories of people who died, did poorly or a few who couldn't handle it and went afoul of the law, but the vast majority had wonderful success stories, lovely families and positive attitudes in their everyday lives.
The invitation and reservation form had Linda's email (an AOLer) address on it as a contact point, so I sent her an email note saying I'd be working as usual but would look forward to the 35th Reunion of The Class of '67. She and another friend, Alan responded with a note (another AOLer) as well. Alan and I were in the Boy Scouts together Troop 7 to be exact and each of us made highly-coveted Eagle Scout rank. There are some very fond memories of those years still with me. To this day, I carry my original 1963 Eagle Scout card in my wallet; I'm very proud of it and what it meant then, and what it still means to me today.
I'll miss seeing my high school friends this Fall at the 30 Year Reunion, but the business always comes first. It's hard to believe that 30 years have passed this rapidly. Tempus fugit. Have a good time everyone, and hopefully, I'll see you all again in a few years.

A Sad Situation Gets Worse.
I knew from past year's experience that it was only a matter of time until it happened: dozens and now hundreds of plants in the nursery undergoing severe heat stress. Leaves turning brown and dropping is the first sign of a tree not receiving enough ground water. Dormancy is the second. Death is the final step. The compost pile is the end of the line for many of them once they're unsalable.
Dozens of specimen grade Japanese Cutleaf and Laceleaf Maples (Acer palmatum Dissectum) have gone brown. Most are dropping their leaves in clumps. Many will just shut down until Fall or next Spring; some will make up their minds to die. Nothing I can do about it, except move them to a shadecloth-covered greenhouse and keep them well watered.
Our overhead watering system sprinklers throughout the nursery, feeding from two wells, deliver 40,000 - 60,000 gallons of cool well water each night to tens of thousands of plants. It's apparently not enough to combat the oppressive heat and unending drought conditions. Time for some adjustments to the computer that schedules the watering cycles.
I've called all the customers whom we've done work for since April to remind them to increase the watering of the new plant material we'd installed. And even that extra measure won't be enough to insure the survival of all the plants. Many will die.

Spring 1998.
I have to plan way ahead in this business, since weather dominates all crops and consumer trends are highly unpredictable. The weather dictates what grows and what doesn't. what gets shipped and what stays in the fields or growing houses, and what's bought or what winds up being carried over until next year.
I met with my primary broker for nursery stock, who represents about 60 nurserys nationwide, and placed Spring 98 orders. I place several hundred thousand dollars in business with him each year. It behooves every garden center and nursery owner who purchases large quantities of nursery stock in this manner, to do so early, since inventories dwindle quickly on the supply end. By Fall, shortages develop and Spring inventory on the demand end can be scarce.
After a 3hr marathon session covering 31suppliers that I do business with, we went to lunch at Joe's Cafe & Seafood Grill, just up the road in Winterstown, and had a wonderful seafood bisque and exceptional 10oz broiled jumbo lump crabcake sandwiches. A cold beer would have gone well that that dining fare, but just one and I'd be asleep for the afternoon. I'd rather wait for a vintage cabernet tonight after I get home.
I'm now watching the ominous clouds roll by; still with no rain in them for us. It's just over 15 weeks since we've had any serious rainfall. And back then, it was too early to do any real good. Pisses me off.

Sometimes it feels good to just do nothing. Not a damned thing. I had one of those (partial) days recently and it rejuvenated me. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, and all day to do it.
I remember days especially on weekends where all that counted was what I wanted or didn't want to do. I didn't impose it on anyone else. I spent the day reclused from everyone and deep in Zen thoughts. Solitude at its semi-purest. I practiced Tai Chi and Tae Kwon Do for many hours. I read philosophy, theory, religion and marketing by the volumes. Listened to New Age Jazz on my Bang&Olufsen and Infinity music system. Slept when I felt like it; stayed up when I wanted to. Just basic niceties. Life was good indeed.
When I got the opportunity for another personal day albeit a partial day I grabbed it and ran with it. Solitude is good for the soul.

France Bites.
For years, I've hated the cowardly, communist-socialist and backward French scumbags. It's a country destroying themselves from within, and they're too dumb to even see it. Since they've now passed so-called laws requiring everything to be in that archaic, guttural, dead language of theirs, I've despised them even more. Stupid, lazy, ignorant socialist-commie scum people. Their wine tastes like urine, their food looks and smells like dogshit. Effeminate men; masculine, mustachioed women. Cultured people in business? Actually a bunch of assholes. Vive la France!
They've now suing American companies on the Net for not having the stinking French language predominate all others on a website. How fucked up is that reasoning? They even waste time by having an official government department to insure that the filthy French language is spoken everywhere. That's real communism in action. Same goes for the Quebec morons up in Canada's left-wing nut province. Lost all respect for that country too.
But I do have some remaining affection for France: around the turn of the century, the people gave America our beloved Statue of Liberty that stands in New York Harbor. Those were good, democratic citizens; pre-liberal, commie-socialist degenerates who ruin the country now. A pile of (shit) gen-x'ers who've got the heads too far up their asses for their and the country's good.
Read why France Bites The Big One.

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