Would This One Be The Greenestest?

A Belated Threepeat in Environmental Auto Journalism

In October 2021, Steven’s work won a third AJAC Award for Environmental Journalism. The idea? A blast of reality for electric vehicles (EVs).

Last year, the second place winner wrote about driving electric vehicles around frozen hellscapes of rural Quebec to see how well the batteries would last. A great idea. But most EV drivers are urban commuters.

This article tests a suite of EVs on the highways in the GTA in late winter. It appeared on AutoTrader’s Canadian site but, for your ease and with the permission of the author, it is re-published below. Enjoy.

A Newbie’s Guide to Battery Life: Testing EV Functionality in the Realer Canadian Winter.

“Uh-oh. This ain’t good.”

It’s Sunday, February 21. Welcome behind the wheel of a Cooper SE, MINI’s first fully electric vehicle. It boasts a range of just 177km per charge.

Ranges are government-approved estimates based on assumptions but we’ll talk more about that soon. Right now, you have a problem.

On this cold winter’s day, after the charger at a rival automotive producer’s head office didn’t recharge the MINI EV, its range is down at an anxiety-enflaming 13km. You left the MINI here to be charged while you charged around in the rival brand’s own first fully electric vehicle. Good news: BMW’s head office where you’re driving is just 5-ish km away. In other news: you’ve never trusted range numbers which we’ll also discuss soon enough.

For now, you’re asking: will you make it? We’ll find out later. Now, another question hits you: In the age of anxiety — when you haven’t seen your neighbour’s full face for a year — how can range anxiety still exercise such power?

First, the important question: how did you get here?

This is a test. Last year, a writer from another publication tested the longevity of EVs in the harsh rural Quebec winter. You gotta admire such dedication, especially if you’re a craven bedwetter like me.

But why would this other writer want to drive in the frozen countryside? EnerGuide stats, those government-approved numbers estimating mileage and fuel efficiency, are also the result of tests. But they’re conducted in ideal conditions without traffic, changing weather, or a driver with a heavy foot and ADHD. Since 2015, the reported numbers have come closer to reality, but vehicles are still functionally driven on treadmills in big refrigerators and saunas. That’s why your vehicle’s EnerGuide numbers may still seem what marketers call aspirational.

Back to why: According to Statista.com, 81.48% of Canadians live in cities. Moreover, most EVs are pitched as city/suburban solutions, not to be taken out to rural Quebec. Why not conduct tests that measure the life of different EVs’ battery charges on a large Canadian city’s highways?

The idea’s a win-win. First, a goodly proportion of the target-market drivers do the majority of their driving (and waiting to drive, inch by frustrating inch) on highways in and around Canadian cities.

And second, if the worst happens and the charge evaporates, the writer doesn’t risk frozen death, just, less dramatically, a late dinner. The CAA will tow a spent EV to the nearest charging station. Haven’t renewed your CAA membership since 2012? You can do it from your phone and still get assistance in minutes! Win-win!

The following measures 3-hour spurts by EVs on GTA highways in winter.

Is what’s here reliable scientific head-to-head comparisons? Not really. The weather varied radically throughout this story’s five testing days. Not all the EVs were fully charge upon pickup — charging demands greater palaver than filling a tank. And the traffic was dependably inconsistent, magically manifesting snarls out of nothing or suddenly speeding through construction zones.

Then again, what is a fair scientific test? After all, no EnerGuide-approved testing facility’s ever been interrupted by an Amber Alert, flash flood or glassy-eyed crackhead with a squeegee. So, here are the numbers from the ‘tests’, accompanied by some anxious observations. In all cases, the car was simply driven in the default mode (i.e. not sport, eco or ‘ludicrous’).

Tuesday, March 2, 10:15am – 12:25pm: The last e-Golf in the Volkswagen fleet, from $37,895.

Ever stored your iPhone in an outer pocket on a frigid day only to see its store of power plummet from 90% to zero? Like a Speedo on a swimmer in Maine, coldness can sap a battery’s power. It’s one reason EnerGuide testing began including treadmill drives in extreme temperatures a few years back. It’s more honest.

Speaking of extremes, over the 36 hours that four of the seven EVs here were tested, temperatures ranged between minus 15 and plus 10. The e-Golf suffered the worst of the cold. Its ‘3-hour test’ was truncated to 2:10.

Did you know the e-Golf is being retired? This tester was the last ever to appear in VW Canada’s press fleet. Indeed, it was about to be shipped away for auction when my request to test arrived. Its winter tires had already been replaced with all-seasons, which would affect the mileage positively if slightly. Luckily, despite the frigid temperature, there hadn’t been any precipitation in over a week. Road conditions were dry and no one was endangered in this quasi-scientific experiment. Let’s motor!

Good fun to drive, the e-Golf was a compromise model, adapted from the fuel-powered VW Golf. So, unlike most EVs, the floor isn’t covering a spread-out and anchoring battery. Later this year, VW will introduce the ID.4 which has been designed from ground up as an EV.

When we left VW’s head office, the estimated range, “Max” as the dial called it, was 174km. When we returned, it had driven 172.1km. So, the battery was low. However not as low those numbers would suggest. The range estimated 27km left till empty. No wonder the computer intervened and flashed onscreen “Limited convenience functions.” Mind, I had already turned the heat off — didn’t need it with my own temperatures rising. Still, we made it with some juice to spare.

The drive from VW to the next EV was 60km away, expletive deleted.

Same day, 1:25 – 4:30pm: 2020 Chevrolet Bolt, from $44,998.

Each EV boasts its own nomenclature and information presentation. While the e-Golf had shown “Max” the Bolt reports “Fully Charged” and an estimated 307km till the battery’s kaput.

Chevrolet began selling the Bolt in 2015. Clearly, they’ve been taking notes from buyers since. When I dropped it off three hours later, it had only emptied the juice to slightly below the graphic’s 25% line. The exact percentage doesn’t show, just a decreasing bar like most gas tank indicators.

Interesting. Do exact percentages matter to drivers as much as approximate clicks left in the charge? Maybe not. The Bolt delivers a range estimate: useful. When returned to the dealership after three hours on GTA highways, it reported an anally specific 79 to 93 kilometres remaining.

On the highway, the ride was grippy and the steering was satisfyingly tight at speed. We’d covered 227.6km which is exactly 79.4 fewer than the originally predicted 307. Chevy’s been taking notes.

Wednesday, March 3, 9:15am – 12:17pm: Nissan Leaf Plus SL, from $52,898.

Nissan was the first major manufacturer to sell EVs in Canada, arriving in early 2011. I drove the first generation a decade ago in the first ever AJAC EcoRun. This EV’s come a long way but still feels delightfully like the different animal every EV is. It hums mellifluously when accelerating and glides gently to a halt when not, without need for braking. Like a bumper car.

As that extended name suggests, this tester contains a longer lasting battery — hence that price. The language and symbols the Leaf uses to express what the driver needs to know is a simple “100%” with a battery icon beneath, flanked by the Leaf’s predicted range: 351km. When dropped off after exactly three hours, its same dial indicates 12% and 45km. Having covered ugly highways to Oakville, Markham, Ajax and back to south Etobicoke, the odometer’s increased 227km. Quite good.

Same day, 12:30pm – 3:40pm: Kia Soul EV, from $42,995.

Unlike yesterday’s distance between testers, the pickup spot for the Soul is just five minutes’ drive from the Leaf’s drop-off. A quick check of the dials before launch: The battery is charged to 100% and there’s an estimated total of 348km left in the electro-tank before you would need to call and renew your CAA membership.

Another circuit around the GTA’s foulest stretches of tarmac prompts moody ponderings. Like saying a familiar word over and over again till it starts to sound wrong, so much traveling around Canada’s densest area after so long stuck in one place alerts me, afresh, to just how bloody ugly the GTA is. Blah!

But the Kia Soul EV, an unabashed rolling breadbox, helps sweep away the gloom. Before you can count to 180 minutes, three hours have flown by and we’re dropping it off. We’ve added 244.8km to the odometer and there are still 86km in the battery. Mind, it was 17 degrees warmer than yesterday’s first drive.

Monday, March 8, 11:10am – 2pm: Hyundai Kona EV, from $44,999.

Note the time. Some paperwork and red tape consume the first minutes of my schedule. Soon I’m behind the wheel, reading the stacked stats in the Kona EV: “Battery 89%, Range 334.” Outside, it’s 9 degrees and sunny.

Today would have been the first day of March Break for many Ontarian students but … you know. After a leisurely 45 minutes and owning the highways, I note to myself how empty and civilized these once-crammed roads have become. Big mistake! Maybe my optimism suddenly stuffed the ‘park’ into Don Valley Parkway. We sit and crawl for 15 minutes. Then, for no apparent reason, this huge Slinky unbunches itself and we’re off again.

After nearly 3 hours, the Kona is back at Hyundai’s HQ. We’ve traveled 263km and there’s still 17% left in the battery. If that has you feeling good, don’t forget you still haven’t delivered the MINI which is running on empty. But there’s one more EV to measure before then.

Sunday, February 21, 10am – 1pm: Volvo XC40 Recharge, from $64,950.

This brief spell behind the wheel of Volvo’s first fully electric vehicle is actually the second half of a launch event that went pear-shaped in January because of … you know. Usually these launch events are a logistics ballet and manufacturers do all they can to execute them flawlessly but Volvo couldn’t overcome a lockdown. Which is why I’m surprised to note the XC40 Recharge isn’t fully recharged. Their car jockey admits the previous driver hadn’t charged it.

At 100% the XC40 EV’s purported range is 335km but 93% proves plenty. After nearly three hours, we’re back at Volvo and its battery is emptied only to 13%, with an estimated 35km left. I had not been gentle.

A warning: The Volvo XC40 Recharge adds 20 pounds to your right foot. With that price comes 486 lb-ft of torque and 402 HP. It’s a quiet cannon.

Back at Volvo, I dropped the key in the after-hours slot, unplugged the charger, re-entered the till-now charging MINI and pushed Start. The dial soars from zero to 100%, then recedes back to 13km. Which is where you came in.

Same day, 1:20 – 1:29pm, MINI Cooper SE, from $42,956.

Why hadn’t the MINI charged more higher than 2km in range? Had I inadvertently unlocked it when Volvo’s detailer hooked up the charger? Perhaps the charger was defective. After all, the XC40 wasn’t fully charged. Regardless, here we both are. A warning flashes “Electric range severely reduced” as if I need to know. If I were hooked up to an EKG, it would read: “Heart palpitations severely increased.”

It’s a breezy -2 degrees but the heat stays off. We don’t engage the brake, just coast-stop to red lights and stop signs. That’s the charm of most EVs. They simply halt when you lift pressure from the accelerator. But you need power first. Will we make it?

At 1:28, redemption is ours! We arrive at BMW HQ!

I plug the MINI in without needing to call anyone to bring an extended extension cord. FYI, unlike every other EV here, the MINI’s being dropped off after nearly a week’s loan. The protocol for such agreements is the writer washes the vehicle first. Deciding it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission (a lesson learned after a year of nothing to do but observe my dog) I don’t risk the extra 3km to the carwash.

We probably could’ve made it, though. There’s still 8km left on the dial.

Who’s the Greenest of Them All?

It’s been nearly 7 months, but I’m still pleased to ‘announce’ my latest auto journalism award. In case you can’t read the text in the photo, it’s the 2020 AJAC Award for Environmental Journalism. Second time it’s happened. Go Steve!

Why did it take so long? Umm, normally I could hit you with ‘I’ve been busy’ but the past 14 months have consisted of nothing but work, TV and drives to the liquor store. I’ve also taken up running again. (See the second-most recent addition to this blog for context.) 

This year of 2021 will tally the tenth that I’ve been a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). My side hustle as an auto writer been one of the biggest surprises of my adulthood — right up there with actually making it here with all my limbs and digits still intact. 

Meaning? I’m pretty ignorant about most things that go faster than a bicycle. But maybe that’s what makes people like my auto writing. We’re learning how these things work together. In fact, so convinced was I of my lack of auto writing skills that I never entered the story competitions till 2014, when I won Journalist of the Year, Runner Up. (See a few blog entries down for context.)

Anyway, here’s the text from the latest award-winning story. Its original title was ‘Let’s Stop Pretending EVs Are Modern Hair Shirts’ but I had changed the title before submitting it. The published title in ViCARious Magazine is ‘2019 Alberta EcoRun: Electrifying Rides Across Scenic Alberta.’  But you may as well read the below. Enjoy. 

Take it away, past Steve! 

Part One: Competition.

In late June, the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) hosted its eighth annual EcoRun, but first ever in Alberta. The event is an ‘un-race’, wherein writers from across the country take turns driving ecologically friendlier vehicles as efficiently as possible in staged legs over two days. After each leg, fuel efficiency numbers from each vehicle are fed into a complicated algorithm which somehow levels the playing field between a Chevrolet Colorado Diesel pick-up and Toyota Corolla Hybrid to determine how efficiently the driver fared. The most efficient driver after three days wins The Green Shirt. 

A lifelong city dweller who wouldn’t know where to plug in a campfire, I’ve requested access to as many electric vehicles (EVs) as possible. Given their lack of exhaust and limited range, they make good solutions for urban driving. 

At least that’s the popular story we tell ourselves. The truth is EVs are an absolute blast to drive and battery technology has improved so much in the past five years, as to be Prozac for range anxiety. But we’ll get back to that. First, there’s this strange backwards competition. 

Tell a gaggle of automotive writers that they’re competing for a t-shirt and you’d be impressed at the depths of safety-last behaviours they’ll stoop to. Before the first leg is complete, between Edmonton and Red Deer, a straight drive of about 150km—you don’t need to make this stuff up—an especially keen competitor is pulled over by the RCMP for drafting behind a semi. I decided early that I would not do anything unsafe or even atypical of a daily commute. Sure, you could achieve fuel efficiency of 2.3 L/100km with such-and-such hybrid CUV, but you need to leave the A/C off even in 50-degree weather and consider killing the engine after cresting the top of a hill. In the name of delivering a purer story, your author would not conduct any extreme hypermiling practices.

At least that’s the popular story I tell myself. The truth is EVs are an absolute blast to drive and I have enough t-shirts. A different animal than a car, your EV doesn’t contain an internal combustion engine. So, there’s no progression through a set of gears; it’s either on or off. And if you want it, there’s a trebuchet of torque in even the most anemic looking EV. 

Remember Luke Skywalker’s first leap to light speed in the Millennium Falcon? It’s a bit like that. If you want it, an EV is no eco-apologist’s hair shirt, never mind path to a green t-shirt. And if you live in a city like mine, you want it to win the race to the next traffic light. 

Part Two: City Traffic’s Best Solutions?

Every year, doesn’t it seem like the roads in our cities are getting busier? That’s because they actually are. It’s the unfortunate reality of the principle of ‘induced demand’, which essentially means if you build it, they’ll come and park there.  

Moreover, those roads require maintenance, so they’re continually under heavy construction. An expectedly slippery devil like EcoRun 2019’s Jaguar I-Pace enjoys a distinct advantage over gasoline-powered brethren, the way city raccoons have become a different animal, cleverer and larger than their rural brethren. 

Not that you need the sexy I-Pace. Indeed, I fully endorse the far homelier choices I drove during the two days. No one expects you to slip by so easily.

Not that EVs are perfect outside of cities. The infrastructure in Alberta is growing and improving but not without teething problems. A storm you’ll read more about below must’ve knocked out the power stations juicing my last day’s ride, the Nissan Leaf Plus SL and the sexy I-Pace, long enough to zero them. Consequently, the I-Pace’s driver and I had to cancel the leg to Longview and, instead, proceed directly with our 30% charges to the powering stations in closer Canmore. 

Ever seen Canmore, Alberta? It’s a hiker’s paradise that induces Rocky Mountain High. Being stuck there for an extra hour while a Level 3 charger inflates your EV’s range is hardly penance. Moreover, on the drive there, the Leaf Plus’s sweet spot at around 100km/h maximized the efficiency of the limited range we had. (The Leaf’s instrument panel has always trained its drivers to pilot it most efficiently, thus ecologically gamifying the driving experience.) We could’ve proceeded all the way through to the next destination in Banff. But then we wouldn’t have enjoyed an hour in Canmore with its Thursday morning farmer’s market and legion of superb coffee shops. 

Part Three: Fun. 

The Chevrolet Bolt sounds like a ‘50s superhero and, depending on which angle you assume, looks a BMW i3 beat up a Prius and took its jockey shorts. But, oh, is it a thrill to push and tilt. Like many EVs, it’s designed from scratch, not adapted to a hybrid format and the battery lies flat across the base of the car. Such weight so low anchors even the wildest pinball-style drivers to the tarmac. Hence the pushing, tilting and thrills.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t win the green jersey, but the eco-conscious can share stories about ‘on-demand regen’ during vegan dinner parties. Translation? Without pedaling the brake, the driver can decelerate the Bolt with a tap on the steering wheel paddle. It converts some of the energy you’d lose from braking, into electricity, micro-recharging the battery. If you’re driving slowly enough, like most city driving, you can save more energy by simply removing your foot from the accelerator. Any EV will slow and stop lickety-split! Why brake and use the juice?

That is, if you’re driving slowly. It’s hard to resist playing somewhat with such a fun little vehicle in the hoodoo-capped, dinobone-infested badlands of Alberta.

Badlands? These scrubby desert hills look somewhere between a Road Runner cartoon backdrop and a layered tiramisu. Indeed, during our four-hour visit, the local geography was dolloped with creamy cumulus clouds. The roads here are temptation made tarmac. Twisting and disappearing around these preternatural formations, they’re a driving junkie’s fall from the wagon.

Again, I didn’t win the green jersey. In fact, the Chevrolet Bolt was the first car to arrive at the dinosaur museum on the outskirts of Drumheller.  

Part 4: Frustration.

EVs are fun, but you need to be patient. Take our final driving leg of EcoRun. Four hours wasn’t enough time to recharge the Hyundai Kona EV at the newly installed Level 2 charging stations behind the Drumheller arena. The profound humidity and beating sun slowed the unanticipated but necessary extra 1.5 hours’ wait even further. (It’s not like we could wait inside the Kona with the A/C blasting while it slowly charged.) 

This EV’s range is an impressive 415km but it hadn’t even charged to 130 when I was expecting to leave. The drive to our Calgary hotel was 140km. The AJAC EV expert strongly advised that I and a government department rep who was along for the ride wait till the battery charge reached at least 200km. That would make me an hour late for a conference call with an important new client, which put me in a foul mood. We finally left when the meter showed a range of 199km. 

‘Lovely’ is how to describe the rolling prairie on Alberta’s Highway 9 when the weather’s gorgeous—and to our south, on the left, the endless green fields and infinite blue sky were lovely. 

‘Terrifying’ succinctly describes an approaching northerly weather system that would be enough to turn all the lights off later during a welcome ceremony on the Calgary Stampede fairgrounds. On our right, you could see it coming from scores of miles away. (Somehow, ‘miles’ sounds better than kilometers on prairie.) The invading sky was the colour of the inside of an old teapot; when the tempest within was nearly on top of us, at about the 70km range, we caught a lucky break: our straight western route started to zig-zag southwest. 

But now we were in a race with the sky. In front and south, we were driving towards the aforementioned lovely. But sweeping our way, swallowing all in its path and threatening to cut us off any minute, was a manifestation of Stranger Things’ the upside-down

How can we add stress to the situation? Easy! A semi containing a cargo of cattle dawdled behind a farmer driving an old tractor, slowing our progress to a third of the speed limit. My conference call was approaching two hours late. All the while, the Wizard of Oz tornado music is playing in my head. 

Time for a few words about the eco-conscious driver.

Consider the Kona EV’s maximum 415km range and our own 199km limit this afternoon. Those numbers are a bit like those EnerGuide fuel efficiency estimates you see when car-shopping. The figures are averaged out from tests in ideal circumstances without dawdling farmers, late meetings, and approaching apocalypses. If you drive carefully without taxing the drain on energy in the vehicle, you can attain the limit, even better it. We did neither.

Shall we add more stress? The heat and humidity made it necessary to expend some of the severely limited energy on air conditioning because without it, the windows fogged up like a Turkish bathhouse in August. The range number was descending faster than the distance to our hotel.  

But what seemed most important at the time was how the route hereon, displayed on the nav system, contained a good deal of bending. What if the farmer was driving his tractor to our hotel? Stranger Things have happened, as it were. My client would be beside herself if I called four hours late. The oncoming lane was never bare for more than 30 seconds except, it seemed, on huge extended turns where you couldn’t see what wasn’t coming. 

During the next long visible straightaway, I unleashed the Kona’s trebuchet of torque, teleporting us past the semi and tractor in under 20 seconds. My drive partner groaned like Chewbacca.

Upon arriving back in our lane, the Kona wasn’t simply exceeding the speed limit, we were nearing the sound barrier. My passenger’s grey-hair count increased by 10%, synching with the sinking range, which plummeted by an impressive 30km during the single 1km we used to pass. 

“Please DON’T do that again!” she didn’t need to plead. I was rightly chastised by the judgmental instrument panel. Mind, it was an exhilarating one kilometre. We arrived 40 minutes later in central Calgary with 11km still on the range dial. We even spent the last 200m with the A/C on full blast. 

‘Full blast’ is a great way to describe what driving an EV is like. Environmental hair shirts and t-shirts be damned.

Lonely madness of the long distance runner

This is the mid-run musings of a marathon I ran in probably 2007, maybe 2008. My friend Jonathan’s family hadn’t decamped to Montreal yet because they’re mentioned at 21k. Back then Daily XY hadn’t been purchased by Pursuit.ca and was probably still named XYYZ.com. So who knows which publication to credit. It’s funny how times have loosened us up. Note the preponderance of “friggin'” and “screw” when we know what I mean. Take it away, old Steve …

Bochenek’s Mid-Marathon Report

Our writer Steven Bochenek is a regular if embarrassingly slow marathoner. This is his 15th full marathon, 11 of which he ran here in Toronto. None were fast. As thoughts occurred during the race, he left them on voicemail to type up later. Don’t worry; we only relate the interesting ones. (He wasn’t exactly lucid when the copy arrived last night.) Read about this annual celebration of masochism and be thankful you weren’t there.

Mel Lastman Square – Ground Zero
My 15th marathon and still surreal giddiness moves through me and my wobbly bowels on race day. I want to barf and simultaneously scream with glee. Thousands of nervous and cold runners with morning breath cluster about awaiting the gun. Most are over-hydrated and desperate to pass fluids. I wonder why hundreds are lined up for Johnny-on-the-spots with the acres of nearby bushes. And who wouldn’t want to piss all over a place named after Mel?

Sheppard & Yonge – 1km
This phone’s an encumbrance and getting on my nerves. Not a great sign this early into the race.

Sheppard Bridge over Earl Bales Park – 4k

It’s funny how on race day you feel all those aches and pains you never noticed the other 280 run days of the year. I see Toronto’s farcical 100 ft drop ski hill from the bridge. I wish I was skiing.

Downsview Subway Station – 5k
Oh great, “The End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys just started playing in my head. I know I could get on the subway here and be home in less than a half hour.

Ross G. Lord Park – 9k

It’s too early in the morning for the local crack dealers to grace this ravine park. Too bad; I could use the energy.

Steeles & Bathurst – 12k
I smirk at those unfortunate saps who don’t: a) read the papers b) surf the net c) listen the radio or d) watch TV. Consequently, they didn’t know about this annual event. They stew in their cars, honk horns and swear at the police and runners. I pick up an oversized orange pylon and use it for a megaphone. “Thank you for your support. We appreciate the carbon monoxide.” An old lady gives me the finger.

Steeles & Yonge – 15k

A major psychological milestone. We’re now heading into town. The middle-aged American (Stella? Pearl?) whom I’ve decided will be in a conversation with me does her best to speed away as I bore on about the longest street in the world.

Mel Lastman Square – 18k
Back here again? As usual Mel just doesn’t know when he’s outlasted his welcome. A cameraman is finding a great shot for the cover of one of those subway rags you get for free. I flash my tits for him. People whoop and clap.

Yonge at Don Valley Golf Course 29k

Descending into Hogg’s Hollow. Nearly halfway there and I’m feeling good.

Yonge just past York Mills – 20k
Ascending Hogg’s Hollow. Still almost halfway there and I feel awful. $##@! Hills! Cars stuck waiting to cross angrily honk. I break off the course and circle a couple, pointing at them and laughing. “May as well run. It’s faster.”

Yonge and Bedford Park – 21k

North Toronto. Folks here wish you well, provided you’re not blocking their way to Starbucks. Designer children whose strollers cost more than my bike hold signs. Way to go Mom! Love, Cody & Tyler! Dad looks miserable.

Yonge and Lawrence – 21.5k
I see a very good friend and his daughters. They’re as close as family and we spend holidays together but, for the first time ever, the girls don’t want to hug me.

Yonge and Roehampton – 23k

My hands feel icky. I’m irritable. Why the hell do they offer the water first at the rest stations, then the Gatorade after? Any bonehead can see you’d want the water second, to rinse the stickiness off your hands. I smell like a diaper pale in July while obsessing over messy hands. Weird. This sort of rumination aren’t healthy but are typical.

Yonge & Davisville – 25k

We turn off here. The half marathoners never circled back to Mel Lastman Square and get to continue south down Yonge from here while we detour well into Forest Hill. Lucky bastards. Mind you, I even envy the lucky stiffs laid out at the Mount Pleasant cemetery 100 metres down the road. I see my wife in the crowd. She’s laughing at me.

Spadina in Forest Hill Village – 28k

The rest station people are handing out banana pieces. Now my hands are sticker than ever. Wiping them on my soaked singlet does nothing to alleviate my agitation. I start kicking garbage forward and chasing it for distraction.

Forest Hill Village – 28.5k

Like the nights in university when you drank and smoked yourself sober after 30 hours, I’m losing my mind. It’s kind of fun and want to share the feeling. I run to the side of a bank and throw my fist against it, asking a nervous woman in Lululemon pants and big bright nails, “What’s this?” Pause. “I don’t know?” she uptalks. “I hit the wall! Ha, ha.” Nobody laughs. Screw em.

Casa Loma – 30k

A man’s cell phone rings. I take out my phone and act like it was me who called him. Again, nobody laughs. Tough crowd.

Davenport and Bedford – 31k

I’m having a conversation with a runner from Germany. I ask if he heard about the German tourists who were murdered at the Delta Chelsea last month. He begins inching away. That’s okay. I’ve learned that the German for run is lauf. It becomes my next distraction. I holler lauf at people.

Belmont & Yonge – 32k
I decide I’m sick of these well meaning liars on the sidelines telling us we look good. I grab a pylon and use it for a megaphone: “Attention, audience members. You’re not fooling anyone. We runners do not look good. We look and feel awful.” Finally, some people laugh. Unfortunately, one of them’s my wife who agrees I look awful.

Rosedale Valley Road – 33k

Mind’s wandering and wondering: Why am I so in need of distraction? It may be that I didn’t train properly for this race and don’t have a specific goal beyond finishing the race. What if I were to quit and finish now? Then would I have reached my goal? “Lauf!” I start to shout and kick garbage ahead of me.

Lakeshore beneath the Gardiner – 37k

It’s cold and dark within this concrete cave. The drivers resent us. I’m thinking I might vote for whichever mayoral candidate wants to tear it down.

York and Front – 39k
Home stretch. Every year I notice how flat Toronto isn’t, rising gently from Lake Ontario. “Lauf!”

University and Dundas – 40k
I want to punch the people who keep saying you’re almost there. Yes, almost, but NOT there.

Queen’s Park South End – 41k
Who’s the sadist who decided we have to circle friggin’ Queen’s Park to finish the race? I pour it on to finish with panache but barely move faster.

Finish – 42k
Queen’s Park. The end. Hello Dalton. I never realized I love you. My time was 4:41 and change, an hour slower than my personal best but considering the annual death rate in Toronto marathons, I’ll gladly take it. Where’s my wife? I wanna go for wings and beer.

Another “New” and New Normal Post

10 Things You May Not Know About American Whiskey: A Conversation with Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller. (Last year this was published by Pursuit.)

Row of Jack Daniel's'sYesterday, Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller of Jack Daniel’s whiskies, walked me and a satellite radio announcer through a flight of his company’s six most lauded offerings. We were scheduled for about 45 to 60 minutes. But we ended up chin-wagging our way through two detailed hours in the sort of dark bar you’d expect from this brand. Among a distiller’s essential skills is a gifted tongue, not just for tasting and assessing but for storytelling. Here are just a few of the interesting things we learned.

One: All bourbon is American whiskey but not every American whiskey is bourbon. Let’s back up to explain: Any whiskey — and that’s whisky without the e in Scotland — is simply spirit produced from distilled grains, be they barley, rye or corn and even rice. So, there are sub-varieties of this liquor not just in the spelling of the word.

By law, bourbon must be made in the USA (one of the actual 50 states, so fuck you, Guam!) and from a minimum of 51% corn mash. There are other bourbon peculiarities but those ones are the biggies.

Two: If you love bourbon, you probably have a sweet tooth. Why? Well, corn has more sugar than, say, rye, registering on a different part of the tongue. So, if you love rye? Your preferences are probably towards spicier tastes. Rye features a peppery assault versus bourbon’s caramel sweetness.

And if you love both bourbon and rye? Congratulations. You may have a drinking problem.

Three: Arnett says Old No. 7 could be bourbon. Yes, No. 7. It’s that notorious Jack Daniel’s logo you’ve seen tattooed on people like the Møtlëy Crüé drummer in his wedding night video and it just MAY be bourbon, though many people say it ain’t.

Arnett flashes a cheeky smile while arguing his point. No. 7 is made in the USA and satisfies the legal minimum content of 51% corn mash. Hence, maybe it’s bourbon (see One above).

What sets it apart, he says, is this liquid’s drip-filtering process through ten feet (just over three of our Canadian metres!) of sugar maple charcoal.

So, like some proud papa, he seems to see this drink as bourbon and something more. A sort of bourbon with benefits, or baggage, or a diverting war story.

Four: Nobody knows why No. 7 is what the original Jack Daniel named his original product. Seems he was a gentleman of some mystery.

Nonetheless, seven still figures prominently in the company’s legend and culture. Example? Our private interview with Arnett was at a secret location in downtown Toronto which we’re not at liberty to share (why do so? keep in mind, bourbon is made in the USA where it’s your constitutional right to pack heat, plus the burg this product is produced in is actually called Lynchburg). The secret bar is called Jack Daniel’s Room No. 7 and I had to knock seven times on a plain steel door down a generic lane to gain entrance.

Five: Yes, there was a dude called Jack Daniel. At least his name is no mystery. However, that is Daniel in the singular, not Daniels. Moreover, the apostrophe just before the end of the products’ names is the correct English possessive case, like the word ‘company’s’ in the first sentence of the previous fact. #grammarbooze

Six: Since the original Jack Daniel left Room No 7 to join the Angel’s Portion in the sky, there were only five master distillers until our host Arnett took over. That’s a total of seven in since 1866.

Imagine that! Pretty damn consistent. There’s been eleven popes since then. How many singers have those Jack Daniel’s enthusiasts Van Halen had? Hell, even Roseanne had two Beckys. Arnett understands that he is a steward of an iconic brand that countless people love — have you ever tattooed a Girl’s Night Out sparkling wine logo on your arm? — and is not out to outshine the brand. (See above regarding constitutional right.)

Seven: The company has produced all its whiskeys in the same spot since 1884 with water that falls into in a cool hollow on their property. Which leads naturally to the question: just WTF is a hollow anyway?

Eight: Though not unique to the South, a ‘hollow’ is a topographical quirk many of us THINK we can define, because we read Huckleberry Finn in grade seven. If fact a hollow is a small valley that tapers to a point, like the space a single slice of Southern key lime pie leaves.

Nine: In 1947 clearly unwoke entertainer Jackie Gleason introduced the not-much-more woke Frank Sinatra to Jack Daniel’s No. 7. Frank and Jack (No. 7, not Gleason) were rarely apart thereafter. Indeed in 1955, Sinatra allegedly tippled a rocks glass full of JD in front of an audience and dubbed it “the nectar of the gods.” Which, ya gotta admit, really puts horns of frothy ale and amphorae of virgin-trampled wine in their place!

Today, such an endorsement would be like Beyonce and Drake hooking up with several Kardashians but imagine them doing it unsolicited, then continue reading after you stop laughing in a few minutes.

Sales skyrocketed and it took the nectar’s producer over a decade to catch up with customer demand. After all, you can’t instantly purvey twice as much of a product that takes at least four years to make. Well not here anyway.

Ten: According to Arnett, the popularity of bourbon arose due to the sweet tooth of the American public. Before its invention American whiskeys were largely ryes.

But times and tastes change. You’ve probably noticed how hip gins, vodkas and ryes have become over the past decade. Here in Ontario it may be law that producers of rye are required grow Victorian strong man beards and wear flannel shirts.

A tad late to the party, Arnett and company did release a single-barrel rye whiskey in 2015, and what he calls a Tennessee Rye in 2017. He notes how most ryes are distilled from as much as a 95% rye mash. To set theirs apart and perhaps lure rye-wary JD fans, Arnett composed theirs of 70% rye, 18% corn and 12% barley. For a touch of sweetness. Speaking of sweet, at the end of our conversation, he signed and gave me a bottle.

Bonus Eleven: Arnett’s signature surely increases this unopened rye’s collectability and value (not that I’ve floated it on eBay) but I’m sorely tempted to crack open and empty it right now.



Sea to Sky ‘Adventure’? OK, but in Sensory Stimulation

IMG-6759It’s Day 114 of the month-long lockdown that Ontario’s been under and I’ve decided, finally, to amass many of the stories I scattered around the media over the last decade. Why? Well you’ve probably noticed that stuff’s been falling apart lately. How can I trust publishers to save my stuff if I don’t do the same?

So anyway: Last spring a luxury 3-day all-expenses-paid trip to British Columbia fell from the sky. I got word that I’d be going on the Wednesday night and the flight left Friday morning. I was just getting over the (below mentioned) shingles and was ready for some fun. The trip included 4 nights in Fairmont hotels with all the indulgences you can imagine sandwiched into the days. Everything from a private aerial tour of the Sunshine Coast in an ancient Cessna, to zip-lining down one of those toothy Whistler mountains after consuming several gallons of sushi. IMG-6872

Published in ViCARious Magazine, the link below take you to one of my favourite stories from last year. (Normally I’d just co-publish here my site but Jeff Voth at ViCARious employs a superior art director. Welcome to yet another new normal.)

Look for the reference to my old friend Kirstie Lang, aka activist Sally Buck:  VICARIOUS007_StevenBochenek_BMW

The Genre (sic) Bending Genius of David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’

Screen Shot 2019-05-22 at 1.23.48 PMI’ve had shingles for the past month and, in this busy AF AngstaGram world, have found time to reflect on some great stuff I’ve been reading. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is probably the best — easily the most technically ambitious — novel I’ve read this past year. And that includes Jane Smiley’s Century Trilogy, which I posted about on FaceBank a couple months back. Unlike, say, Welsh’s Trainspotting, which is ostensibly a suite of shorts stories loosely linked with a loud finale that blows everything up, The Bone Clocks is a tight package of first-person novellas that also could easily have been sold as one-off character studies. Their gender, class, age, even the time in recent history that you read about them are disparate as chalk and cheese and pus.

For instance, it opens with an utterly self-obsessed teenage girl from a working class ‘80s family in southern England who has the World Figured Out and is on a mission to show her parents what idiots they are. In other words, a teenager. But what could be a stand-alone novella deftly drops breadcrumbs for this book’s own explosive climax 600 pages later, though it’s more of an elaborate card trick than carelessly lobbed grenade.

The 3rd novella is my fave! Meta AF. A failing middle-aged English novelist whose career had started at the top — he was the bad boy of Brit Lit (see above) 15 years earlier — and you meet him on the messy ride down. The acid bile that Crispin Hershey — of course that’s he’s called that — loathingly muses about everyone, including himself, is exquisitely bitter. Imagine Oscar Wilde channeling Kurt Cobain.

Another favourite story within the story is the adrenaline-junkie foreign correspondent who inadvertently causes the death of his two fixers in Fallujah during the Gulf War. Two acronyms describe Ed’s section: PTSD ASAP!

However, these careful character studies are surprisingly just mechanized pieces within a larger tight and highly imaginative but utterly impossible plot. Which is where Mitchell goes genre (sic) bending!

On the surface, Mitchell is the sort of Ladies’ Tuesday Book Club fodder that Eleanor Wachtel interviews at Harbourfront to quiet applause. You know: Aht! Picture it: Lots of Cambridge bicycling chaps in black gowns with the clotted cream from crumpets staining well-thumbed books of poetry.

BUT then he goes all nerd sci-fi, bravely (or crazily) thumbing his nose at convention with immortal souls doing psycho-bolt battle in a 1000-year old invisible living Cathar temple. Yes, the invisible ancient temple is alive, albeit usually slumbering (only evil presences in nerd-fi slumber; the rest of sleep). The gowned Cambridge chaps are actually from Slytherin.

As Lindsay observed regarding The Bone Clocks, “It was so well observed and brilliant … except for where it was really stupid.” I concur with the first bit.

Back to genre bending. If Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood’s transatlantic bastard mindmelded with Hilary Mantel, you’d get Mitchell. If Salman Rushdie wrote The X-Men you’d get Mitchell.

Verdict? Let’s call it not sci-fi but Psy-Lit: aka Aht. People who read to understand the world through another’s eyes, become more empathetic, and elevate their soul will love The Bone Clocks. Dorks who won’t accept that GoT Season 8 and the Avengers’ universe have finally set will love The Bone Clocks too. Save Itchy Torso Boy a seat at both the Ladies’ Tuesday Book Club and the Elf Lords’ Virtual Round Table. Somehow, I doubt those subcultures will hook up anytime soon. But kudos to Mitchell laying the track-cum-breadcrumbs.

Because We’re Not in McCansis Anymore

Introducing my podcast, SB AND … The letters stand for Steven Bochenek’s Advertising Nowadays Discussions. Like many marketing veterans, I find myself increasingly gobsmacked at the fraying conditions of the modern advertising world. Now that everyone’s a brand, you could argue that advertising is everything everywhere. Likewise, you could say now that everyone’s a brand, advertising is dead and gone but for the occasional Russian bot you friended on Facebook.

Either way, we’re not in McCansis anymore.

So, I try to re-orient myself, talking with people who are working at the edges of the advertising universe — on the 1st & 3rd Wednesday of every month. We discuss where the ad industry is at, where they think it’s going, and whether its frequent flyer points will still be valid when it gets there.

Example? The first episode is a chat with Elliott Smith the Executive Creative Director of Deloitte Digital. Yes, the consulting behemoth has its own in-house experiential shop! If traditional agencies aren’t nervous, they aren’t paying attention. As of posting this, Apple and Stitcher don’t recognize the SB AND… RSS feed but you can listen here.

Portfolio ‘Update’, 15 Years Late

Recently Terry O’Reilly (spelled correctly) lamented how the Canadian advertising industry doesn’t document its work, much less have a museum showing off its most famous campaigns. I could relate. Most of my physical portfolio was destroyed in a flood we had some years back and, like my country, I’m too distracted to save my work.

Sure I could post what I’ve done for you lately, but most of my own award-winning advertising work happened while I was full-time in agencies. (Nobody hires freelancers to do the fun stuff.) So I was pleased to find a few of these pictures, taken by my friend Ronnie Fung who typically photographs hot cars and not 20-year old advertising.

Newish piece # 1: Adecco HR stunt, from when I was VP Creative Director of Lowe RMP

Adecco Cards 2

The creative problem: our temping agency client, Adecco, wanted to be top-of-mind precisely when human resources managers needed to hire clerical, finance or light construction staff. We had very little money in the budget (as always).

“What do HR people even do?” someone asked. “They probably just sit around and play cards all the time until they suddenly need to hire someone.” Presto! Sometimes the concept writes itself.

Painfully punny headline: “Are you sure it’s just a decc o’ cards?” (NB: Sometimes a pun is OK. Just don’t fill your portfolio with them, kids. My all-time favourite pun was for a corn chip brand, announcing 25% extra volume: “Bonus nachos, Señor!” Be-duhm-tss!)

Adecco CardsWe didn’t need to hire an illustrator for the cards. Eric Bélanger the art director just scanned those centuries-old pictures from a random deck of cards and Photoshopped a receptionist’s headset on the king (#feminism), a hardhat and hammer on the queen (#ditto) and douchey suspenders on the jack. The copywriter was Micki Lubek, née Man. She sold the individual services on each face card.

Thanks go out to Shecky (the god of advertising) and apologies to offended hardworking HR people. I learned what they actually do on the day I was fired by Ogilvy.

Newish piece #2: Learning to Listen Foundation gala invitation, same agency

Learning to Listen 1Imagine being profoundly hard of hearing or utterly deaf for the first 10 years of your life, then having a cochlear implant. The cacophony would drive you mad.

Consider. You wouldn’t know what to focus on. The humming lights in an office, the background rumble of a passing streetcar, the distant barking of the neighbour’s dog. The Learning to Listen Foundation teaches these children quite literally to listen. The 2nd year we won Strategy Magazine’s Digital/Direct Agency of the Year, this client asked us to make an interesting invitation for their annual fundraiser.

Learning to Listen 2This piece arrived in the mail in a see-through vellum envelope with the recipient’s Learning to Listen 3name and address on one side and just this visual tease on the other with the headline, “Sounds can puzzle our children.” It captions a few torn bits of paper. You open the piece to reveal the piece reassembled to make a musical note with the kicker line, “Help us help them put it all together.” Wow!

I remember when Soledad Miguez-Gonzalez (why do art directors have the coolest names?) showed me the concept, which she seemingly just pulled from the sky. (I think the writer was Jef Petrossi, who now teaches at Mohawk College.) I knew it was a home run and wouldn’t be surprised to see the client clap at the presentation. It doesn’t happen a lot but isn’t unheard of.

Even I was impressed when the client saw it and immediately started to cry. Ask professional creatives you know whether that’s happened to them. #UseYourPowersForGood

Newish piece #3: Eaton’s Bridal Registry reminder postcard, still Lowe RMP

Eatons String frontRemember Eaton’s? That’s how old this one is. But the idea is still smart. Here’s the news we were trying to telegraph: For up 6 months after they’ve been forever transported into untold marital bliss, brides registered at Eaton’s were welcome to a 10% discount on those bits on their list that were left unpurchased. Soup tureen, yogurt maker, silver plated fish knives, all that vital stuff that brides blush without.

A smart milking of aging data on the client’s part, this Eatons String rearmailing was a reminder, which the registered received 3 months after their Happy Day. I think the veil and hand belonged to the art director, Carolyn Nicholo-Verkuyl (see above re AD’s handles).

More award-winning to come, soon. Soonish. Like maybe in 5 years.



Educating Steven: An Essay from My Master’s Degree

Every year when I’m being asked why I want a job teaching college students, I say that it scratches a lot of the same itches as creative directing. This essay was from my first and so far only post-secondary Business (with a capital B, dahling) course. It introduced the subject of professional coaching. I was utterly unprepared for how similar it was, too, to creative directing. Enjoy!

The Heartening Cacophony of Pennies Dropping

Significant Learning(s) About the Practice of Coaching

February 15, 2015

The following lists my most significant learning (among many) regarding coaching as a key element of good leadership, and the most profound ways EXMN675’s readings and discussions have changed my ideas about coaching.

First, Some Context and Background

The most significant learning was difficult to choose because nearly all readings so far have been revelatory. A business-course virgin and self-employed writer who has not had a day-job for over a decade, I have found all this material new and, usually, very sensible. Whitmore and Hunt and Weintraub’s books were especially illuminating; imagine someone suddenly lighting a darkened room where you knew, more or less, where everything was but moved slowly and cautiously through, lest you bash your shins.

I was once the creative director (manager/Don Draper) at assorted advertising agencies in the 1990s and early 2000s but could have been a far better one had I known some of what we are learning. I managed two types of employee: copywriters and art directors. Using Whitmore’s scale of traditional managers, it is easy to plot my style. A copywriter myself, I tended to dictate to the writers but often abdicated to the art directors (Whitmore, 2009). To be fair, I had zero training, and was schooled by crises under even worse managers. Still, if I had a nickel for every time the penny dropped these past three weeks, I would be less quick to grumble about learning late that I need not have paid nearly $100 for The Coaching Manager.

Now, That Most Significant Penny Drop

‘As a fundamental component of leadership effectiveness’ my significant learning had a clear winner: coaching is results-driven, existing primarily for the benefit of the enterprise. An ironic, or perhaps paradoxical, corollary of the concept is the (mis)understanding of time-use. Meaning? Many companies misinterpret coaching as a ‘touchy-feely’ waste of time (Hunt and Weintraub, 2011). Time is what most businesses — either overtly or unconsciously, as demonstrated through behaviours — value most over quality and employee learning (Whitmore, 2009). Yet, if these businesses only embraced the philosophies and benefits of coaching, the managers would find themselves with an abundance spare time to blue-sky and big-picture because their empowered, aware employees would quickly be raising the quality of performance throughout the organization.

Let’s view that paradox in context: the resistant traditional manager views coaching as a time waster. ‘I gatta latta baxes I gatta move aff the floah by the weekend’ is what one American retail advertising client used to lament when shown any concepts not within his preconceptions of how advertising should be. Though I was not his employee, this marketing manager’s words betray his attitudes and beliefs, incompatible with a ‘coaching mind-set’ (Hunt and Weintraub, 2011). And the paradox? By not taking time to reflect, he lost more time. My ‘creative’ stuff may be fine for other people but he had no time for such trivialities as ‘strategy’ and ‘targeting’. By focusing constantly and unmitigatingly on the present, this style of management burns out its staff, itself and ultimately its company’s future. It also swallows precious hours. Advertising superstar David Ogilvy neatly summarized this mindset of assuming you know your specialist’s job better than them: “Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself” (Ogilvy, 1983)

An interesting corollary of coaching being results-oriented and good for business is that it is also good for employees. Not ironically, these two goods are compatible, what Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, dubbed the now ubiquitous ‘win-win’. The wisdom of the concept is simple. When everybody is happy, everybody is happy.

Four Ways the Content Informed and Challenged My View of Coaching

First, let me reiterate that nearly all our readings have been eye opening (many of the professional coaching organization’s standards seemed unnecessarily obvious). However there were several points that took me from head nodding to pounding the table in agreement. The following are my top four.

  1. Coaching is not for retaining remedial employees but nurturing good ones.

Near their opening, Hunt and Weintraub declare that “Coaching can help, for employees who want to learn” (Hunt and Weintraub, 2011). Given Whitmore’s eerily familiar litany of authority figures, from parents and teachers to army sergeants (Whitmore, 2009) many of us default to viewing coaching as something for the weak and remedial, a grownup version of being sent to the principal’s office. We think it is imposed from the top down with coaches passing on years of experience to reluctant or, at best, passive employees — empty vessels to be filed. We would be wrong.

Instead, coaching is a way to turn employees with excellent potential into excellent employees. However, the employees must want to be coached: keen, participating partners. If anything, the employee does most of the visible work in the relationship, while the coach mostly listens, prompting with pertinent, provocative questions (Reichert, 2006). Furthermore, it is not for the coach to tell the employee what they should do but, instead, to make the employee aware of how they could solve their challenges themselves — a neat segue to my next revelation.

  1. You need not be an expert, just an expert coach (Whitmore, 2009). This thought sits within the other authors’ works, but is explicitly championed by Whitmore: coaching’s primary function is to help the coachee overcome challenges within themselves, rather than perceived external adversaries. Whitmore acknowledges that coaches are usually managers who are expert in their field, which is how they came to authority. I thought about this and expect he would agree: just because someone is good at cutting hair, it does not mean they will be great at inspiring others to do the same. These are different skills. Consider: should someone with zero training in managing people be granted the metaphorical axe, which could “end lives”, simply because he sold more widgets in the past five quarters? I think not — but most managers we all know are experts in their previous gigs, not management.

Whitmore introduced his example of “inner” ski coaches substituting for tennis coaching. The quality of their coaching — despite not having expert tennis skills — was equal and at times better. Why? The ski coaches did not have that distracting expertise to focus on the technical minutiae of the tennis student’s form. Consequently they spent time helping the coachee overcome self-doubts, which clearly manifested themselves physically. Excellent coaches — observers — and not tennis experts, they were able to address the underlying causes and not the technical symptoms (Whitmore, 2009). Brilliant!

  1. The ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’. Coaching is first and foremost, but not only, about results. The employee needs to come to his own conclusions and the coach is only there to provoke in the coachee enough confidence and awareness to recognize solutions. In this way, “Coaching is more about being than doing. It is more about essence than role” (Heemsbergen, 2000). Coaches need to care and be able to translate that concern. Fortunately, although there are born coaches or ‘naturals’, some managers can also become good coaches, but not all (Hunt and Weintraub, 2009).
  2. With the right mind-set, coaching can happen in seconds. While my management style often slid between dictation and abdication, I genuinely did used to coach most employees (although I would not have used the word coach) because, like Erich Dombrowski of Frankfurt’s post-war newspaper, General-Anzeiger, I could not do all the work myself (Hunt and Weintraub, 2011). This was especially the case with art directors because I had zero layout or design skills. At times, my ‘coaching’ was sporadic and inconsistent but I had a good rapport with most of the employees. Looking back on those days (reflecting) sometimes I definitely ‘coached’ in seconds with simple lightbulbesque questions. An effective creative director gets almost the same definition of the ideal coach: helps people find the best creative solutions to a marketing problem (because he does not have time to do it alone).

Still Much to Consider

It is this last revelation, perhaps, which intrigues me most. I ran an efficient creative department that was bringing in many awards and much prestige to the agency, while retaining good staff for abnormally long periods. If I had been a better listener — it requires no false modesty to admit I was/am a poor listener — I can only wonder how much more successful we may have been, especially if I had truly realized one could coach in seconds; that it was about the mind-set; that listening was more important than telling; that it was more about being than doing. Finally, if I had been coached instead of dictated to, I may not have left the one agency where I enjoyed the most professional recognition of my career so far.

There is no point in crying over spilled milk, but there is great profit in learning from one’s mistakes, or collecting dropped pennies.


Covey, Stephen R. (1989). Part Three – Public Victory. The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Heemsbergen, B. (2000). Coaching from the inside out: creating exceptional results. Banff: Leadership Compass, The Banff Centre.

Hunt, J. & Weintraub, J. (2009). The coaching manager: Developing top talent in business. London: Sage.

Ogilvy, D. (1983). Ogilyv on advertising. New York: Knopf Doubleday.

Reichert, G. (2006). Pin back those ears. New Zealand Management, 53(2), 46-47. Sunset North: Adrenalin Publishing.

Of Portland, Bridges & Eternal Damnation


Multnomah Falls, Oregan plummet hundreds of meters, just a few kilometers from Portland.

March 11, PDX Airport — Portland’s like Montreal. What, with the hilly dead-end roads, similar size and rotting ‘60s federal infrastructure bridging a powerful and economically vital river. But the similarity’s deeper, so to speak.

Any person who’s half-awake and noticed that the Big Clock’s ticking would appreciate these two cities’ denizens’ carefully studied, quasi-religious approach to leisure. But unlike Montreal, Portlanders emanate that endearing Left Coast flakiness — strangers will smile at you — that evaporates east of the Great Divide.


Left coasters are unabashedly flakey. Bless them.

I profoundly enjoyed this short visit. Been to California and BC many times but never here. Predictably, Portland’s in between (speaking of profound) but, culturally speaking, manages to better render the best of both.

Mind yesterday, after two days of biblically oceanic rain, we were blessed to have what my AirBnB hostess called ‘moving-to-Portland weather’. Never underestimate the power of sunny and 65.

Especially when your friends are freezing their asses off.

Speaking of flakey and religion, if only I’d photographed that billboard advertising — and I kid you not — “Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Jesus is Alive!” followed by some bible reference for proof (Julius 7:12 or something) where the logo normally lurks. What phrasing!

“Beyond reasonable doubt?” It sounds like Jesus got nailed for jury duty!


Topographically, architecturally and culturally, Portland is like Montreal.

Picture His dilemma for recusal. “Do I tell them I’m the Saviour, so they think I’m nuts? Or I could reuse My material from the early days: assume that far-off world-weary look and sigh ‘I must be about My Father’s business’. After all, they’d think, ‘SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy’ and rush to support The Family business. Good PR for a judge. But would either excuse be bearing false witness and, if so, would I have to damn MySelf.”

And you thought you had problems.

Maybe the billboard’s reference was from that embarrassing hole-touching stunt staged for Saint (aka ‘Doubting!’) Thomas; again, I was riding a bike on a busy road in a city where smoking dope is legal and didn’t take a picture lest I get hit by some tattooed craft beer producing truck driver sporting a Victorian strong man beard, and go straight to Hell.


No salt on the roads means years more life for concerned car cagregivers.

But I’d give up to three dollars to have sat in on the meeting where some earnest committee googled “5 Tips for Effective Billboard Ad Copywriting” before agreeing on those 6 words.

Yes, up to three dollars. Cash.


*Just noticed “‘Nailed’ for jury duty’”. Ooh, that’s gotta be another strike against.