“The Middle.”  That’s what my wife called the Midwest when I first met her.  Like so many people who grow up on one of the coasts and do their traveling to the other (she grew up in New Jersey and went to college at Cal-Berkeley in the Bay Area), she had no idea what was in between.  She is long past that view, and we bring the kids back to western Michigan where I grew up each summer.

When I get back to the Midwest each summer, I absolutely must do a few things.  If you happen to be headed to “The Middle” anytime soon, feel free to borrow my little checklist and save yourself the 40+ years it took me to create it:

•    Grab at least 12 bottles of Bell’s Oberon, a summer ale, and make darn sure to drink every one of them before you leave.  Bell’s is a small brewery in Kalamazoo that tops my list of the best micro-breweries in the nation in terms of top quality beer, although others like Deschutes Brewery out of Oregon are almost as good with stronger marketing and wider distribution.

•    Watch “High Fidelity”  or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to get into the spirit of the Midwest’s capital city – Chicago.  John Hughes (“The Breakfast Club”, “Weird Science”, etc.), the recently passed screenwriter/director bard of a generation that “was born between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Bicentennial” in the words of a NY Times obituary, was also a Midwesterner – raised in Detroit.  He wrote the latter movie and helped discover the former’s star John Cusack in one of his earlier films – “Pretty in Pink”.225fitzopen

•    Finally and most importantly, listen to Gordon Lightftoot’s ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” at least 5 times on your trip.  This song, more than any other, is the anthem of the Midwest and Great Lakes region.  Many of you probably haven’t even heard of it, but ask anyone who grew up from Minnesota to upstate New York, from Ontario to southern Indiana about it.  It is such a hardwired piece of a Midwesterner’s soul that they will refuse to believe there is anyone in North America that doesn’t know the song or the shipwreck that inspired it.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore – 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

Many people I know are shocked when they first realize you can’t see across Lake Michigan, or any of the other Great Lakes. These are no inland lakes, but rather a group of inland seas that hold more than 20% of the earth’s fresh water.  The waves get big when the wind is piping.  If you ever really want to understand the power of water or waves, Sebastian Younger writes an enthralling summary near the beginning of “The Perfect Storm.”

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T’was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

Take a quick guess at the waves that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald?  She sank in 30 foot waves.  In my five years in the Navy, I saw those kinds of seas only once on the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  The waves were so large on Superior that fateful November day in 1975 that she planed up on two of them and the bottom literally fell out of the ship.  She was gone in less than 2 minutes.

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it’s been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

On this past summer’s trip, my kids were 7, 5 and 3 years old.  They love digging in the sand of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  And of course they want to swim every day.  We had big waves most days this year, and even my oldest son can get knocked flat on his back by a 3 foot wave.  So we stood within twenty feet of shore much of the time, lifejackets buttoned up, and yelped with glee as we jumped the incoming waves while holding hands.

In the next summer or two, my older ones will be out on the sandbar, battling the waves alone.  They won’t need me nearby then.  In four or five years, they will be body surfing out there and wondering why I don’t have the gas to keep up with them.  But we started them slow and got their feet wet, so they could learn the power of the surf and gain confidence quickly while still near to shore.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

Getting your feet wet with online scheduling

I am reminded of that analogy as I sit here in the office.  The more we work with customers, the more calls we take, the more launches we provide, the more obvious it becomes that the customers who are most successful get started immediately but with some small steps initially.

You see, the flip side is that we have people call us to ask about literally every add-on product we have listed on our website.  And they are extremely useful products, don’t get me wrong.  But the reason people come to us is a scheduling problem, and somehow with all those questions they lose sight of the core problem.  Instead of getting off the beach and adjusting to the water temperature, they are busy planning how to swim to Milwaukee.

Shiftboard in 6 Minutes

As we observed our customers, especially during the first week or two of them having access to the system, we sat down internally here and said, “We have got to get our customers started quickly and cleanly.  They each need some quick wins to get confident with the system and online scheduling as a process in the first day or two.”  We thought hard about that, and the more we thought, the more we felt that we had to get to the core of the issue.

So we created an initiative called “Shiftboard in 6 minutes.”  There is a training video to kick off your Shiftboard experience, and you should be ready to go in 6 minutes.  You will be up and running and actually putting shifts on the calendar the first time you sit down and log into Shiftboard.  Whether your gig is event scheduling or nurse scheduling or volunteer scheduling, have your credit card ready when you call us, because we are going to be urging you to take the first few steps into the surf FAST.  And trust me, the water feels nice.  All you need to do is get your feet wet.

-Rob E.

The full lyrics to Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad.