From the zest-for-life files

‘Tis the season to pay tribute to some favorite people.

One is a gutsy young man in Boston. Christmas Eve he was driving a Uber taxi. He told me he recently drove to Rochester many times. To check out a building that had rental apartments and business spaces.

It is grotty, in a grotty part of town. Nobody wants to own it. That was obvious by its giveaway price. He decided to take the plunge.

He should stick a sign on it: The IF Building. IF he can clean it up. IF he can find tenants. IF they pay. IF they don’t trash the place. IF the thugs in the neighborhood leave him alone. IF the neighborhood gradually improves. IF those ifs come to pass, he should make a lot of money. From rents. And from the increased value of the property.

In other words, he will earn a hefty return on the capital he risks. IF he does not lose his backside.

Pin a medal on this guy. He is a capitalist. Willing to stake capital, his own or borrowed. In a jungle that teems with uncertainties.

If he does well, others will envy him. They will call him lucky. Or a slumlord. Or greedy. They will want to tax his gains and his income. If he rehabs his building and adds value, Rochester will come after him for more taxes.



I like this guy. Because his story is the story of millions of courageous folks. Those who stake their capital, trust their judgement and take their chances. They spurn guaranteed salaries and tenured jobs. They want to build businesses, build assets. They follow their dreams.

They also follow the tradition of founding father Benjamin Franklin. Like Jefferson, he was philosophical. Unlike Jefferson, he was practical. Jefferson inherited businesses but could never get out of debt. Franklin started businesses. He borrowed capital. He injected his own money. Took risks with his capital. Worked long hours. And succeeded.

Fewer Americans are doing such these days. Our taxes and regulations have scared them off. God bless any of our leaders who manage to reduce those taxes and regulations. Any upturn in entrepreneurship will be of great benefit to America.

Another favorite person is a hand-holder: A retired surgeon in Utica. He is a dear friend. One reason is that he is filled with compassion. He told me he always held his patients’ hands before anesthesia. “The patients placed their lives in my care. Their lives! Many were afraid. I wanted them to know I cared as much about their lives as they did.”

He is my kind of surgeon.

Another favorite guy is a man who visits Utica for a few minutes at a time. He runs the food service on the Amtrak train from New York to Chicago.

“NO YOU CAN-NOT HAVE MORE COFFEE!!! Can’t you count? You’ve had three cups already. Your mom, God bless her, she would tell you NO. So I am takin’ her place!” “And you! Yes you, lady. You! I saw you nodding off. Look, we run this train up the Hudson for you to enjoy the view. Now get with it, lady! You paid for this view, so don’t waste it! If you ain’t gonna enjoy this view I’ll change your seat for somebody who will. I will. Don’t you let me see you snoozin’.”

He is outrageous. He is funny. His is a mundane job. But he injects it with fun and joy. For him there is no wrong side of the bed to get out of.

He reminds me of another outrageous guy from Utica of 60 years ago. His ho-hum job was delivering Wonder Bread to small groceries north of the city. Like our family’s.

There were thousands of Wonder Bread men. But only one “Johnny the Breadman.” We could hear him from a mile away. As he rolled through villages, he leaned on his horn and bellowed at folks he had met over the years. “Damn you’re lookin’ fat, Smithy. Keep walkin’. Keep walkin’.” “Why looky who’s got a new hairdo! Wow, wow, wow!! Hey, Molly, if your Fred don’t appreciate you, you just let me know.”

He bowled into stores. “And how the hell are ya, George Morgan? Damn you look grumpy. And why the devil do you let that Holsum Bread guy take my shelf space? Are you on the take, or somethin’? Is he plying you with jelly donuts? C’mon next door (to the hotel) and I’ll buy you a drink.”

Once in a while I dip into my Zest-For-Life file. It is packed with such colorful and wonderful and inspiring folks. You must know a few. Don’t they re-charge your batteries?

From Tom…as in Morgan.

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