Toledo’s legacy in song ain’t exactly “New York, New York.”
There is the infamous “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” by Randy Sparks, an unflattering portrait of boredom and condescension. “You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio/Well, I spent a week there, one day,” Sparks wrote.
British rocker Elvis Costello has also written about Toledo, in a song named after the city: “Do people living in Toledo/Know that their name hasn’t traveled very well?”
There is a mention in a song by bombast purveyors Yes, in “Our Song,” but at least it’s positive: “Toledo’s got to be the silver city/In this good country.”
Need more for your iPod? There is “Mean Ol’ Toledo” by Detroit’s The Soledad Brothers, Toledo-inspired instrumentals by George Benson, Spyro Gyra and Art Tatum, and a few side-of-the-mouth mentions in a dozen other songs.
The latest addition to this ignoble tradition comes courtesy Greg Laswell, on his CD “Through Toledo,” in which the Glass City becomes a melancholy metaphor for a slightly depressing stop on the way to something bigger.
To lachrymose piano chords that evoke John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Laswell sings: “Another hum drum grey day … I’m not sure I belong here anyway … Yeah I figure one day I’ll snap out of this … Yeah one day soon I’ll take that drive out.”
The twist is that Laswell is not singing about Toledo at all; he is singing about his life in Long Beach, California. Toledo is just the atmospherical setting for his depression and sense of restlessness. “I wonder if this rain passed to Toledo,” he sings.
In Laswell’s song, Toledo becomes a lyrical device to describe pensive transition, a place that’s sort of, kind of good enough for now, but is a means to an end. It’s brain drain set to music. Laswell discussed the metaphor during a May 24 phone interview.
“As I was working on the album, close friends of mine were moving to Toledo for a job; that was their path to New York,” he said. “As I sat across from them at the table and they told me they were leaving, I asked, ‘Why?’ They had a great life, great friends. They looked at me and said, ‘To be where we want to be, we need to go through Toledo.’
“In that moment, those words struck me, and I wondered, what is my Toledo? What do I have to go through to get where I want to be? I loved the sounds of the words
together, they were symbolic, and that was the only song I could name the album after. I named the album before I wrote the song.”
So how are his relocated friends doing? Are they still looking to move from Toledo?
“Actually, they fell in love with the place, and have adopted a son,” Laswell said. “They go to Ann Arbor sometimes, where I’ve played. I think they’ll be in Toledo for awhile.”
Laswell said he has been through Toledo twice and toured the area.
“I’ve visited my friends there twice and I’ve played Ann Arbor and Dayton,” he said. “Whenever I see the city limits sign, I smile.”
Laswell said he often hears from Toledoans.
“I get more e-mail from Toledo than anywhere,” he said. “People discover the song and want to share their thoughts.”
Laswell, who is finding success with a dreary and mirthless cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” may have set the new standard for writing a song about Toledo. Finding a way to tap into a community’s identity crisis as a metaphor for West Coast restlessness isn’t easy.
Laswell has to stop here on his tour, right?
“Absolutely,” he said, laughing. “We’re working on those plans now.”
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.
Archive for May, 2007
I wrote a few months ago about a day I spent at Beverly Elementary School, shadowing principal Linda Meyers. I mentioned that during my visit, I learned a parent donated many computers to the school when his company purchased a new system.
These computers were sitting unused, waiting for the one person in TPS who is allowed to set them up.
They sat while a parent volunteer could have had them set up immediately. I wrote that did not seem to be in the best interest of the students.
Not long after, the computers were installed and are now up and running. It may or may not be
coincidence that action happened after a small bit of needling from a newspaper, but the bottom line is that the students can now access the computers.
If only fixing all the problems at TPS were as simple as connecting a few wires and updating some software. There are myriad issues, but new Superintendent John Foley is fully aware of the obstacle course he is facing. As a TPS insider for three decades, none of the problems should catch him off guard.
There is a levy on the horizon, but TPS is facing an extremely difficult battle in getting it passed. Personality conflicts on the school board, testing controversies, possible school closures, union issues and questions raised by such activists as Ben Williams, Steven Flagg and Chris Myers need to be addressed.
It’s an overwhelming situation; here’s hoping Foley receives the support he will need to rewire TPS. It may require a major reboot, with painful changes.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In May of 1977, when I was 12, my mother and I went to Showcase Cinemas to see a little film called … “Rollercoaster.” It also happened to be the day that another little film called “Star Wars” made its Toledo debut. You can imagine my chagrin. “Rollercoaster” is all but forgotten today, but “Star Wars,” as they say, is forever.
I had seen the “SW” trailer the previous January at a showing of “Silver Streak” and was drawn in, hook, line and sinker. It was like nothing I had seen before and was “coming to your galaxy this summer.” Summer? How would I live until summer? At that time a science fiction fan had to be content with the likes of “Logan’s Run,” or re-runs of “Star Trek” or maybe Godzilla Week on the “Big Show,” but that quick glimpse of “SW” blew them all away.
Spring came and summer approached and my dad told me I had to wait to see “SW” until we came back from a family trip (he wanted to see it, too). Armed only with a “SW” edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland, I bided my time and wore that magazine down to its staples. We returned, August rolled around, and on my sister’s birthday we all went to see “Star Wars.”
Then it took over my life.
“Star Wars” became such a part of me, such an integral piece of my being, that I could think of literally little else. This situation became so pronounced that I damn near flunked the 7th grade at Rosary Cathedral because of it. To this day I can still hear my mother chastising me after she came home from a parent-teacher conference, demanding to know why her straight-A student was now getting Cs and Ds.
I look back now, 30 years later, and I marvel at how much I, well, needed something like “SW.” Sad but true. That amazing universe of George Lucas, peopled by aliens, spaceships, and pushy princesses (yes, I crushed on Carrie Fisher), filled my cargo hold to the limit. Every creative and artistic impulse in my young body was heightened and strengthened by that film, and I was flying high.
I wanted to be part of “Star Wars.” I wanted to look at it, talk about it, draw pictures of it, and write my own stories about it. It was the most complete fictional world ever (at least to my youthful brain), and my passion for it was complete.
That passion has dimmed over the years, through the Dark Days after “Return of the Jedi,” through three debatably worthy prequels, and into rapidly approaching middle age. But I’ve never forgotten what the thrill of first seeing droids and Jawas and lightsabers and Sith Lords was like on that summer day in 1977. Never.
And, wonders of wonders, after “SW” became a part of me, I became a part of it … from a certain point of view. In 2002 I submitted a script to Dark Horse Comics, publishers of the official “SW” comic books, which was accepted, illustrated and printed. It was the tale of a 12-year-old Luke Skywalker and how he first tried to get off the rock he called his home. See, he wanted to become part of a much greater world and his single-mindedness blinded him to the dangers of failing. Hmm, I wonder where that came from?
Happy Birthday, “Star Wars.” You lit up my life. But if I ever meet Mr. Lucas, I’m going to tell him he owes my mother an apology.
For thousands of local 30- and 40-somethings, May 25, 1977 is the flashpoint for all things pop culture. On that day, the Showcase Cinemas on Secor Road debuted a little-heralded film called “Star Wars,” which changed nearly every aspect of the entertainment industry, especially marketing, special effects and merchandising. The film redefined the concept of cool and fostered an obsessive devotion that has survived 30 years of hype, a shoddy prequel trilogy and Jar Jar Binks.
Here, in tribute, is one fan’s list of the 10 greatest characters from the Original Trilogy, before the Special Editions, before the George Lucas revisions, before the Roman numerals: “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
10. The Emperor. Played by two different actors (Clive Rivell in “Empire” and Ian McDiarmid in “Jedi”) to one great impact, the Emperor made a shocking first appearance. To see the black-suited personification of evil, Darth Vader, kneeling and supplicating himself, was to understand that even the Dark Lord’s merciless wickedness could be surpassed. Shudder. That promise was fulfilled in “Jedi,” as the cackling Emperor pit father vs. son in a hellish match to the death.
9. Jabba the Hutt. Lucas isn’t the most subtle writer, so for him to portray greed and corruption in the form of a giant smelly slug was an obvious, borderline lazy choice. But the effects team created a gangster icon in Jabba, who murders as casually as he stuffs his bloated, rotten face. Jabba proved to be a lousy businessman, but for an immobile and soft blowhard, he came as close as anyone to terminating the rebel heroes.
8. Millennium Falcon. A spaceship with so much impact, it serves, like the Death Star, as an organic character in its own right. Anyone who’s ever owned a POS car can identify with the Falcon. From its sleek design to the fuzzy dice hanging in the cockpit, the ship with the “special modifications” deserves its place in the pantheon.
7. Ben Kenobi. A hermit and desert rat with a crazed reputation, old Ben also happens to be one of the greatest of all the Jedi Knights. Calm, wise and still powerful enough in old age to out-wit the Empire, Ben and his “certain point of view” defined the ravages and sacrifices of war.
6. Slave Leia. Princess Leia made her mark as a strong leader and rebel fighter who stood her ground against Vader’s darkest torture devices, but these are basically boys’ movies, so the iconic Leia, cinnamon bun hairdo not withstanding, is the metal bikini-clad captive in Jabba’s palace. And she still kicks ass, taking out Jabba with her bare hands and the chains that bind her. Lucas kept sex far, far away from his movies, but as everyone from Kevin Smith to the nerd on “Friends” can tell you, Slave Leia launched a lot of young libidos into orbit.
5. Darth Vader. After seeing Vader’s helmeted visage on everything from cereal boxes to Taco Bell toys, it’s tough to conjure the original power of his character. But the first time he walked on screen, silently surveying battle damage, strangling a rebel officer with one hand and confronting the princess, Vader established himself as one of the all-time great villains. That he was allowed to be even more cold and evil in “Empire” adds to the legacy, even if you can’t shake the image of pre-teen Anakin yelling “Yippee!”
4. Boba Fett. Cons: He barely speaks five lines. He wasn’t even in “Star Wars.” He dies like a chump. Pros: Coolest uniform in the galaxy. Second-coolest ship in the galaxy. Backtalks Vader and lives. Inspired MC Chris’ “Fett’s Vette.”
3. Yoda. Another Lucas example to don’t judge a book by its cover. If Yoda were as big and fierce as his warrior spirit, he’d be larger than a dozen wookies. Best Muppet ever.
2. R2-D2. The real hero of the entire saga, the little astrotech droid is shot, swallowed in a swamp, captured by rodent Jawas and forced to endure C-3PO’s nonstop complaining. Fearless, loyal and as human any character in science-fiction.
1. Han Solo. Pirate, mercenary and scoundrel, Solo offers a welcome shady alternative to Luke Skywalker’s callow farmboy. Cold enough to blast Greedo out of his chair and smooth enough to win a princess, Solo, as brought to life by Harrison Ford, is the most fully realized of any of Lucas’ creations. He emerges from carbonite deep-freeze with less cynicism and more sentimentality, but he still has the coolest ship, the best co-pilot in Chewbacca and a mouth as fast as his gun. Plus, he gets to play nerf-herder with an intergalactic hottie (see No. 6).
Perry Ferrell, formerly of Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros and founder of Lollapalooza, will release a new CD, “Ultra Payload,” May 29 with his new band, Satellite Party. Farrell was recently interviewed by Dan McClintock, senior rock programmer for WRWK and WXKR, Cumulus Broadcasting.
Dan McClintock: I’ve had the chance to hear a good portion of the Satellite Party record. How did you come to work with the Jim Morrison estate and access the Morrison vocal tracks?
Perry Farrell: Well, it was one of those beautiful, beautiful miracles that sometimes happen in life, kind of like meeting your wife or something like that. I was given permission to work on these tracks. There is one track that you heard, I actually have another, too. It’s a song that was recorded 30 years ago, by, Jim Morrison and The Doors. And when Jim recorded it on Sunset Blvd., a few days after that, he took off for France, and we all know what happened from there. This track has never been heard before, and it tells a story of a heavenly host who’s looking at the world from the vantage point of space and the heavens, and he calls the world, “the woman in the window.” And he tells us of her majesties and her travesties. He incites the people to do something good for the Earth. He says that he’ll be doing great things for the Earth, he and his angel agents. And he says, “just try to stop us, we’re gonna love.” And that became the mantra for our project.
DM: How did Satellite Party come to being? You have Nuno Bettencourt, arguably one of the most skilled guitar players.
PF: I met Nuno Bettencourt at Tom Morello’s house. Tom was having a birthday party, and back there by the keg of beer, was this quiet, shy, young guy. And Tom said to me, “That guy right in the corner is one of the greatest guitar players you’ll ever meet.” And I was putting together, at that time, programs for Satellite Party. I was writing it basically with computers and synthesizers and drum programs. And my next phase, my next step, was to put a live group to it, because I wanted that enthusiasm, that giant pageantry, the mysticism, the sensuality of rock. And so, I asked him if he wanted to come hang with me in my garage tomorrow, and it was the weekend, so he showed up with a small fender amp and a guitar, and he plugged in, and we started to lay tracks.
DM: Is Satellite Party a permanent line-up, or do you have sort of a rotating cast and crew of different musicians?
PF: I would say that the first thing that it is a party. So, I do have a great group of people that we are planning a tour with, on this particular record it will take us 18 months. So we plan to tour the world again and again, and we really have on the long term, a ten-year plan to start putting events on around the world, global events, that would be modular in size. They will vary from everything from 200,000 people in attendance to 2,000 people in attendance. It’s only just starting. Our first tour begins in June, and we’ll be doing Europe, doing the festivals and the clubs. And then we return into America, in late July, getting ready for Lollapalooza, which happens in August. From there we do America, so; hopefully we’ll be running into each other out there in Toledo.
DM: Talk about Lollapalooza and what we can expect at this year’s event.
PF: This year we’re three days, at Grant Park, headlining on our Sunday night is going to be Pearl Jam with their only American appearance this year. Following them is gonna be incredible live groups. Muse, Daft Punk, Ben Harper, we’ve got our O.G.s; we’ve got Iggy and the Stooges, Patti Smith. We’ve got Satellite Party, Modest Mouse, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’ve got Interpol. We’ve got some wild, wild women this year. We’ve got Amy Winehouse, and Regina Spector, and M.I.A. And we’ve got 130 other groups on the grounds. It’s gonna be an incredible, incredible weekend. One of the great highlights for American music in 2007.
The United Way of Greater Toledo’s Women’s Initiative Annual Luncheon provided benefits of an alternative educational approach called, “social and emotional learning,” that has been applied in a pilot program at a local public elementary school.
During the May 17 luncheon at the Riverfront Hotel in Downtown Toledo, representatives discussed the creation of a program using the educational approach called, “Successful Children, Successful Schools: Social and Emotional Learning in Toledo,” launched locally at East Side Central Elementary School. East Side Central is the first Toledo area school to incorporate such a program, which occurred at the beginning of the 06-07 school year.
Successful Children, Successful Schools: Social and Emotional Learning in Toledo is funded by the Women’s Initiative and involves the additional partnership of Toledo Public Schools, Toledo Federation of Teachers and Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel.
The program has been modeled after similar programs in other communities.
Social and emotional learning has been adopted by Illinois and is under consideration in New York, and has made New Haven, Conn. and its school system “a desired system for parents, educators and students,” according to a news release.
On behalf of the Lucas County Commission, President of the Lucas County commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak shared they had made a $5,000 contribution to be allocated toward the program, as she noted the importance of students “working harder at younger ages to become successful adults.”
“We learn from you,” Wozniak said to the Women’s Initiative members present. “We’ll take your guidance as we spend taxpayers’ dollars from now until the future.”
Elizabeth Ruppert, project chairwoman of Successful Children, Successful Schools: Social and Emotional Learning in Toledo, said when making a school-wide intervention such as this program, it is anticipated major and measurable changes such as an improvement in grades will occur within two to three years.
Ruppert confirmed plans and discussions are underway with several schools within the Toledo Public Schools district.
She said she expects to have definite plans established within the next few weeks.
Elaine Burton, principal of East Side Central, said as this is the first year of the social and emotional learning program at the school, it has been “rewarding, as well as challenging” for them.
To accommodate applying the program within the school, Burton said they made an increase in staff and have developed a strategy for students to become “more successful learners.”
Burton said if they could get this program in all elementary and middle schools, it could show students a “better way to address problems.”
Sue Rowe, intermediate special education teacher at East Side Central said the program was “really new” for them. However, she said she “believes in the process.”
The investment from United Way for this program “provides an opportunity for communication that does not ordinarily exist in schools,” she said.
Reliance Propane is working to meet the demand for propane gas tanks faces during the Memorial Day holiday, one of its busiest times of the year, after the recent explosion and fire at its production facility in Erie Township, Mich.
“We’re doing everything we can to see that our customers have enough product for the Memorial Day weekend,” said Jim McVicker, vice president of operations at Reliance Propane. He was planning to personally drive his pickup full of propane tanks to a customer in Lima as part of that effort to supply customers.
“It’s a Herculean effort by the Miller family, management and employees of Reliance to meet that demand under such difficult circumstances,” said David Rohrbacher, attorney for the family-owned business.
Reliance Propane would normally distribute from 10,000 to 20,000 of the 20-pound propane tanks used primarily for gas grills during the Memorial Day weekend.
The company is in the tank exchange business, refurbishing and refilling the tanks and delivering them to distribution centers in Michigan, Ohio and northwest Indiana.
Reliance would normally have seven to nine trucks that hold from 285 to 516 tanks running daily to meet the demand. They have four company trucks and some leased trucks distributing 2,500 to 3,000 tanks per day, McVicker said.
Locally, Reliance Propane supplies propane tanks to The Andersons, Sterling Stores, In & Out Marts, Stop & Go shops, hardware stores and other propane outlets in the Toledo area and southeast Michigan.
That production line at Reliance was destroyed in the explosion and fire that occurred May 8. Despite losing 20 percent of their tank inventory, the company is working to keep 40,000 tanks in circulation.
McVicker said it could not be done without the help of other independent propane suppliers who are their competition.
“In a catastrophe like this, you find out who your friends are,” McVicker said.
“Ron Garst has allowed us to load gas at his facility in Petersburg (Mich.) pretty much keeping us in business. Independents like Garst try to help you out,” he said.
Garst said their families are pioneers in the propane business and have known each other for years. When they heard what happened, they knew how it would affect their business.
“We’re just glad to help out until they can recover. We’re confident they’ll get through it,” Garst said.
Reliance is trucking more than 1,200 cylinders per day from Tri-State Cylinder in Reading, Mich., located near the Ohio and Indiana borders.
The day after the fire, McVicker ordered two truckloads, or about 3,600 tanks, shipped to Tri-State. Reliance ordered a total of 8,000 new tanks to replace the ones destroyed and maintain their service level of 40,000.
At the same time, the company is dealing with recovering from the damage caused by the explosion and fire. McVicker said they have not yet determined the total amount of the loss, but are working with Federated Insurance and expect a report soon.
Rohrbacher said he and company officials met with two senior safety inspectors from OHSA on May 21 and would have their report within three weeks. He also said they are working with OHSA to develop new safety standards for the production process.
Investigators from the local fire department, insurance company and OHSA determined that the probable cause of the explosion and fire was a static electrical charge causing the gas being vented off of tanks being refurbished to explode. The hot temperatures and low humidity contributed to the conditions where the work was being conducted outdoors, Rohrbacher said.
“Workers were doing nothing out of the ordinary that would have caused a spark,” he said. “Wilcox was working as he was trained to act safely in that position. Propane is only flammable in a narrow range of concentration.”
Robert Wilcox Jr. of Toledo was injured in the explosion that occurred where he was working. Wilcox was replacing valves and repairing tanks while following industry standard practices.
“We believed it was a safe practice,” Rohrbacher said.
The attorney said the company is changing the method used to vent gas from tanks so this kind of event can be avoided in the future. “It will employ a different practice to substantially reduce that risk,” he said.
Reliance has kept Wilcox on the company’s payroll instead of putting him on workers compensation, Rohrbacher said. It is also working with Wilcox to get him back on the job as quickly as possible.
McVicker said Reliance has been able to continue its commercial and industrial propane business without interruption. Home delivery and motor fuel filling was not affected by the disaster.
Reliance is already working with Rudolph|Libbe Inc. of the Toledo area on plans to rebuild the facility. The company plans to use local sources for design, materials and construction of the new plant, McVicker said.
Reliance received hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters of support from clients, competitors and business associates following the disaster. Many offered to help the company in whatever way they could, McVicker said.
“The entire OPGA family was saddened to learn of the fire at Reliance Propane in Michigan. Our hearts go out to Harold Miller and his staff,” said David Field, executive vice president of the Ohio Propane Gas Association in an e-mail.
An informational open house, presented by the Met-roparks of the Toledo Area on May 22 at the Sylvania Library, revealed plans for the 2007 exterior restoration of the historic Lathrop House.
Once completed, the house will serve as a museum offering educational programming about the area’s involvement as a major stopping place on the Underground Railroad.
Now under the ownership of the City of Sylvania, the Lathrop House itself is believed to be a former “station” of the Underground Railroad.
It contains sections constructed in 1835 and 1847 that were joined together, and now resides in Harroun Community Park after being moved from Main Street in the summer of 2004 to avoid demolition. According to an informational brochure on the Lathrop House, the new location placed it in the same ravine system that fleeing slaves used as they journeyed through the woods from the Harroun Barn (another local Underground Railroad “station”).
Friends of the Lathrop House, a chartered volunteer organization of Metroparks of the Toledo Area is renovating the home and Metroparks will provide technical and planning support for the project.
James Speck, Metroparks director of planning and construction, said plans are 65 percent complete for Phase I of the restoration project. Phase I consists of securing the house to make it structurally sound and preparing the exterior so it’s weather tight.
The final set of plans will go to Sylvania City Council for approval in June before proceeding to bid out the project, which will occur in July and August, Speck said.
Sue McHugh, president of Friends of the Lathrop House, said they expect project bids for Phase I to total $350,000 to $400,000 with overall project costs totaling in excess of $1 million.
Since they already have funding in place for Phase I, McHugh said they are already looking at raising funds for Phase II.
Phase II will involve site work, exterior restrooms, restoring the basement and new vertical circulation. Additional phases include lead paint abatement, mechanical and electrical work, furnishings and restoring the second floor and attic.
McHugh commented this area was on the route runaway slaves took as they funneled to Canada.
“I’m surprised how little people know about [Northwest Ohio’s] involvement in the Underground Railroad. This is our chance to open [the Lathrop House] to the public to help make them more aware of that history,” she said.
The former homeowner, Lucian Lathrop, was known as a minister, an Ohio state representative, a postmaster colonel and later an outlaw when he broke the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 when he allowed runaway slaves to stay in his home, according to McHugh. Lathrop came from five generations of abolitionists, and passed laws that were “very progressive” that provided for the education of black children and allowed fugitive slaves to be present at their trial and have legal counsel, she said.
McHugh said the Lathrop House “has things to teach us — not just historical lessons, but also moral lessons.”
The Metroparks of the Toledo Area will raise additional funds to benefit the restoration project at its annual gala from 7 to 11 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Pinnacle in Maumee. Anyone who wishes to share old photographs or memories of the house may contact Speck at (419) 270-7513.
An increasing number of people are discovering Black20.com, a Web site that offers original comedy, and it’s turning Toledo native Neil Punsalan, 29, and his partners into the rising stars of Internet video. Founded barely six months ago, Black20’s smart and prolific work has already attracted the attention of Jeff Jarvis, founding editor of Entertainment Weekly and director of the interactive journalism program the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, who earlier this month announced he has invested in the company.
“These guys are talented, funny, ambitious, smart and tireless,” he wrote in his blog, BuzzMachine, on May 10. “I’ve just invested in the studio of the future.”
But this is not a story of overnight success. Punsalan moved to New York City four years ago, and says the roots of Black20 can be traced to his back yard in Oregon in the 1990s.
“In the summer, my brother would make me put on a fedora and run around the backyard like Indiana Jones,” he said. “That’s how I started. He made me do it.”
Meanwhile, Punsalan’s partner, J. Crowley, was having the same childhood in Massachusetts.
“He had an older brother who made him do it,” Punsalan said. “And we just happened to find each other.”
They found each other while working as pages at NBC, began writing together and were ultimately hired to produce a broadband series, “Out of Context,” for the same network. Then, with the show’s pilot episode already in the can, the project got bogged down in big business, never to be seen, and the two nascent producers decided to strike out on their own.
Risk is part of any new venture, but Punsalan and his cohorts took it to a new level when, in order to finance their new company, they took half their NBC production budget, drove to Atlantic City and bet it all. Though Punsalan is contractually obligated not to divulge financial information, he said the bet was more than a few hundred dollars.
“It was a decent piece of change,” he said. “It’s an amount that if we lost, in all likelihood it would have gotten us in a bit of trouble.”
But they didn’t lose. They doubled their money, and won a name for their new company as well when the roulette ball dropped into black 20. The event was recorded, of course, and the big win can be viewed on Black20.com.
Since then, the core group of six, plus a handful of occasional writers, technicians and actors, has been producing and posting “net-work,” an office comedy featuring episodes including “Super Awesome Office Makeover” and “Rogue Cursor”; “Black20 News” and viral videos in the tradition of Punsalan and Crowley’s first Internet hit, “The Easter Bunny Hates You.”
For Punsalan, a Clay High School grad, the atmosphere at Black20 makes for an ideal work environment.
“It’s exactly what I, as a kid, wanted to be involved with,” he said. “A collaborative group of guys who lock themselves in a room with a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and just say, ‘We’re going to make this funny, and we’re not going to leave this room until it’s done.’ And that’s generally how the process works for our team here.”
He said the group also uses some guerilla tactics to get the job done.
“I abhor going to the City of New York and asking for a permit to shoot on the subway,” he said. “I’d much rather just sneak my camera onto the train and do it fast.”
Fast is important, since Black20 posts new content every day.
“It’s a little bit raw, and we like it that way,” he said. “We like it to be raw and real and fast and funny.”
It’s also surprisingly clean, so viewers don’t have to click off the site mid-vid when a kid — or a mom — walks into the room.
“Every once in a while we’ll do something a little risqué; someone will swear,” Punsalan said. “But I feel so fortunate to have found comedians and writers and producers who don’t want to take the easy way out. To me, that’s what swearing and sex jokes are — the easy way out.”
The group will continue producing exclusive broadband content, Punsalan said, but has some other irons in the fire as well.
“We have a licensing deal with Direct TV, and we’ve been talking to HBO about a possible content deal,” he said. “We’ve got some good corporate support behind us, and we’re hoping to be able to grow.”
With Jarvis behind them — and other investors who remain unnamed — growth seems likely, and it would be understandable if this group of twenty-somethings was a little puffed-up over their success. But Punsalan is refreshingly humble, generous in praising his colleagues and proud of his hometown.
“I always thought I would move to New York and do TV, then I would go back home,” he said. “I’ve found a little bit of success here, so I’m going to be here a little bit longer than I expected, but still, home to me is Toledo.”
Renowned investment strategist and real estate expert Glenn Mueller of the University of Denver will be visiting Toledo May 31.
For part of his visit, he will advise city businesses how to improve themselves and the community through investment strategies.
The purpose of Mueller’s visit is primarily to meet with a potential corporate client, however he has agreed to speak to a group of local business leaders in a luncheon organized by Mansour Wealth Management, senior managing director Rita Mansour said.
“If it were an athlete, it’d be like the Michael Jordan of basketball coming to Toledo,” Mansour said. “GE (General Electric) waits for his economic commentary before they choose to invest.”
In addition to Mueller identifying markets with the largest growth, local business leaders can expect to hear him speak on the status of the economy and use his information to incorporate the best practices for helping the community, she said.
“My visit is to help the people of Toledo do a better job at investing their money,” Mueller said.
Mueller is the real estate investment strategist for the Dividend Capital Group and serves as a professor of real estate at the University of Denver. He is also a visiting professor at Harvard University.
Mueller has received numerous awards for his work, including a Graaskamp Award from the American Real Estate Society. He also serves as co-editor of the Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management. He has 31 years of real estate industry experience, including work on the national and international level with macro- and micro-economic analysis.
Mueller is scheduled to speak at a private luncheon May 31 at The Inverness Club.