Man About Town

This is my pledge to you: I’m not going to tell you where I was or what I was doing on Sept. 11 at 8:45 a.m. Countless columnists and journalists have covered that territory, many of them beautifully.

But this phrase, “Back to normal”—I can’t help but notice that no one, pundit or pedestrian, has been able to use those words very comfortably in the last few weeks. Back to normal? I don’t think so. Back? To what? The world had its problems already. The economy was spinning out of control. Many of my friends had lost their jobs. And “normal”? That’s a pretty spooky word for a democracy, don’tcha think? Whose version of normal?

So, collectively, we seem to have reached an implicit understanding, often made quietly to ourselves as we listen to a frequently brilliant, sometimes heartbreaking chorus of speakers: We’re not going back.

If not, we must be going forward already. And we’ll each choose our own path, thank you very much. My first real steps will be down a jetway at LaGuardia Airport. By the time you read this, I’ll be in Chicago, getting back to work on an exciting project I’ve been tackling since August. Then it’s back to New York, and then down to my home in Alabama—all with the same spirit of adventure and respect for the miracle of flight that I’ve had since I was a boy. And I’ll probably have a lot to think about, too.

Like the fact that this may be a good time to roll out the blueprints of our lives and take a fresh look. Are they the lives we want to be building? Do we need to renovate?

In my case, it’s simple. This column should really be called Man About Towns. I have divided loyalties (with the emphasis on loyalties) to the Shoals Area in northwest Alabama (my hometown); New York City; Los Angeles and San Fran cisco; Chicago and Atlanta; Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Charlotte, N.C.; and Jacksonville, Boca Raton and Miami-South Beach, Fla. I’m a proud product of 20th century America, and I’m not prepared to cede any part of the personal landmarks or places that make this life and this country uniquely my own. Certainly not at the dawn of a new century.

Many of you may be questioning not only the geography of your lives but the value of what you’re doing, wherever you are. All I can say is, “Easy, tiger.” Odds are (if you’re even bothering to read this, for example) that you’ve probably invested an awful lot of yourself in this business. What are you going to do? Quit?

We all want to do something to help. But we don’t have to look far. Look around your own company. Is there an agency in the business that hasn’t done countless pro-bono projects? Find out what’s going on and pitch in. I think of Allen Tomlinson, who has a small, sharp agency called A. Tomlinson/Sims in Florence, Ala., and the countless imaginative ways he’s helped my hometown over the years. You could be doing the same, if you aren’t already.

I think of Ginny Bahr, who will celebrate her 50th anniversary at J. Walter Thompson in December. She is one of advertising’s true foot soldiers, having led JWT New York’s blood drive for more than a dozen years. I bet the next time people at your firms ask for donors, they’ll reach their goals a lot quicker.

Here’s another way to help: Next time you’re interviewing someone or looking through their portfolio, think to pay a little more attention to them as people. They don’t quite have “the stuff”? Tell ’em what they’re lacking, invite ’em back down the road and mean it.

Best of all, recommit yourself to your clients’ businesses. Really.

You get the drift. Most of you have already whipped out your checkbooks. But don’t forget to check on yourselves. What makes you fabulous? Are you really doing that voodoo that you do so well? Are you making the most of your job, or is it getting the best of you? Don’t forget that charity begins at home, so be kind to yourself. I weep when I think of all the lives lost, not least because—from busboy to pilot to CEO to fireman to broker, and on and on and on—most of them were simply doing their jobs.

I hope you’re doing the job you desire. And I sure hope we don’t see droves of you heading for the exits as you search for something more fulfilling. If so, we’ll miss you and wish you well.

For those of you who stick around with the likes of me … what shall we do? Well, what the hell! Let’s be smart about the world around us, considerate of our neighbors (near and far), attentive to our friends and family. Let’s nurture our spiritual selves and, dammit, be just as fabulous as we can possibly be!