watching the wheels

That's all right?


Most of us figure out even as children that the world does not operate as it should. There is unfairness. Sometimes some other kid gets a bigger piece of cake. Sometimes some other kid even gets away with doing something wrong by lying about it.            

Later, we learn of the unfairness of the world in more adult ways. The Yankees buy the pennant while the Red Sox and Cubs players can confidently make vacation plans for October. Untalented bozos gain public acclaim and great wealth while some gifted musicians, artists and writers struggle to earn a living.            

We learn, on a more global level, that some people happen to be born into wealth and some people are born in to extreme poverty, and where somebody happens to be born has a lot to do with what kind of life that person is going to have. And nobody gets to pick their parents or their place of birth.            

We learn that being a good person does not offer protection from the unhappiness of the world, and being a bad person does not always mean a comeuppance is on its way. We also learn--and this is one of the hardest lessons to take to heart--that sometimes a good person and a bad person are actually the same person, and we all have some of each.            

And sometimes the luck, good or bad, that comes a person's way in life is just inexplicable.            

Which leads me to this quote from Max Baer, best known for, three decades ago, playing the role of rustic numbskull Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies: "I could live for another 2,000 years and not have to work another day."            

By contrast, I could live for another 2,000 years and would pretty much have to work for...oh, about 2,000 years.            

So what's Jethro's secret?             Well, Max Baer may have played an idiot on TV, but he is not one in real life. In 1991, according to the New York Times, he licensed from CBS the right to use the Beverly Hillbillies name and image for gambling machines. CBS was likely happy to let him license those rights because at the time they probably weren't considered worth much. Baer then participated in the creation of Beverly Hillbillies-themed slot machines. As legal gambling has grown over the U.S., the money pouring into his pockets has become a flood. He has parlayed playing Jethro Bodine and some shrewd business sense into a massive fortune, a fortune that he is apparently more than happy to brag about in the pages of the New York Times.            

Is this fair? Is this unfair? Baer has certainly made the most of his gifts as an actor and a businessman. On the other hand, I would probably much rather know that Ellie Mae was living in the lap of luxury.             There are times, though, when it seems that things work out exactly right.            

One of those times was July 5, 1954. An unknown 19-year-old truck driver with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley was in the studios of Sun Records in Memphis, and between takes he and guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were fooling around, having fun with a pepped-up version of a blues song by Arthur Crudup called "That's All Right."            

And Sun Records owner Sam Phillips heard something in that between-songs fooling around that he hadn't heard in the ballads that Presley was recording that night. As the story goes, he asked what they were doing. They said they didn't know. He said, "Well, back it up, try to find a place to start, and do it again."            

Two days later, July 7, 1954, "That's All Right" by Elvis Presley was being played on the radio in Memphis, and listeners were going crazy.            

Think how this could have gone wrong:

· Somebody might have walked outside for a smoke instead of breaking into an impromptu song.

·Sam Phillips might not have heard whatever it was that was so special in that combination of voice and attitude and fun that created the first-name worldwide phenomenon known as Elvis.

·The radio stations could have been closed to new music (or, as most are now, owned by chains based 1,000 miles away) and never put the record on the air.            

Didn't happen. In that time and in that place, everything came together. In a lot of ways, nothing has been the same culturally since. The echoes of what happened that hot summer night in Memphis are still heard around the world.            

But, viewed from another angle, did this work out for the best? Was it a good thing for the man at the center of it? After all, Elvis achieved worldwide fame and a considerable fortune, but his was not a long or apparently particularly happy life. Would he have had a longer or happier life if Sam Phillips hadn't heard him that night, and if he had lived out his days as an unknown truck driver with a wife and kids in Memphis?            

Max Baer is a living wealthy cultural footnote. Elvis is a dead cultural icon.            

Maybe that's why so much stuff seems so unfair. If it were left to me to figure it out, I'm not sure I even know what fair is.

The best of Watching the Wheels from the past 20 years has been collected in a book. Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righteous Indignation, and Semi-Enlightened Opinion is available from and other online booksellers; from the Medical Center Bookstore, and from the Medical Center Hair Salon.



Identity Theft concerns leads to increased use of Vanderbilt ID number

Because identity theft is a growing problem, Vanderbilt Human Resources is phasing out the use of social security numbers as employee identifiers whenever possible in favor of a seven-digit Vanderbilt ID number.

According to a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. In the last five years, more than 27 million Americans have fallen victim to the crime, resulting in a total consumer cost of over $5 billion.

Human Resources recognizes the risk of identity theft and continues to increase the use of the Vanderbilt ID number as the primary identifier when communicating and processing HR information for faculty and staff.

With the anticipated implementation of an upgraded PeopleSoft HR system, Vanderbilt ID Numbers will be used even more to manage information.

Your Vanderbilt identification number appears as a seven-digit number in the top center section of your paycheck/payroll advice (it is listed as "Employee ID"). It is also located in your confidential record accessible online through C-2HR.


August 2004


Students in the Shooting Stars Pre-Kindergarten class at the Vanderbilt Child Care Center. Front row, left to right:Fletcher sanderson, Katie kronk, Laurel Rottman-Yang, Joshua Gabella. Second row, left to right: David Howard, Niklas Wilm, Patrick Wolff. Third row, left to right: Bibirosh Gladson, Takashi Fugitani, alex Kasynski. Back row, left to right: Chrostopher Damon, Carmen Canedo, Rahul Parkeh.


The Shooting Stars

One mom's memories of her daughter's child care class.


Out of Baghdad

VUMC nurse Debby Booth helps get the wounded out of the war zone and to the hospital in Germany.



one way to lose weight-have a buddy urging you on.


LifeFlight Honored

On its 20th anniversary, LifeFlight is recognized for service to the community.





Television actress Delta Burke, second from right, speaks at "GOAL! ( Go and live!)," a program on depression held July 9 at the Loews Vanderbilt Plaza. The event included a depression screening conducted by people from the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt, and Burke spoke of her own struggles with depression. Appearing with the Designing Women star were, left to right, P.J. Davis of the Mental Health Associations of Middle Tennessee, Ron Salomomn, M.D., associate professor of Psychiatry, and Virginia trotter Betts, commissioner of the Tennesse Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.


Vanderbilt employees can ride to work free

New program makes bus rides an atttractive option for staff and faculty


It's truly a sweet deal.

Vanderbilt full-time and part-time employees can ride Metro Transit buses to work and back free of charge.

Just swipe your Vanderbilt employee identification badge when you board the bus and Metro will charge Vanderbilt for the ride. For complete schedule and route information, visit the MTA Web site at

If the bus doesn't happen to go through your neighborhood, you may find one of Metro Transit's 18 park-and-ride locations to be convenient.

·When you ride the bus to work, you'll conserve natural resources, protect the environment and save on gas.

·When you ride, you won't have to fight rush hour traffic. Crochet instead.

·When you decide to ride the bus every day, you can quit paying Vanderbilt parking fees. Also, your car can be classed as a leisure vehicle for insurance purposes, which can mean substantial reductions in premium costs.

"It's like a salary increase," said assistant hospital director Charlotte B. Chaney, who helped bring about the program.

The purpose of the free ride program is to help preserve the campus. "Vanderbilt decided some time back that it would be best not to cover the campus with parking lots and garages," said director of plant operations Ken Browning, another who helped bring about the program.

"The free ride to work program is also an opportunity for Vanderbilt to assist the community to reduce air pollution levels," he said.

This is Metro Transit's first employer-subsidized fare arrangement, Browning said.

A Metro bus ride normally costs $1.45 for local service, $1.75 for express service.

Each time you board the bus and swipe your card, Vanderbilt will be charged a fee that matches MTA's calculation of the average fee per ride paid by holders of Metro's monthly $48 bus pass.

For each employee who decides to ride the bus every day, the University's cost will match what would otherwise have been spent to subsidize employee parking, Browning said.

The Vanderbilt free-ride program is for getting to work, for returning home after work, and for getting around during meal breaks. Metro Transit will provide regular reports of where and when employees have ridden the bus, allowing Vanderbilt to monitor the program.


Annual Report wins national award

VUMC's 2003-2004 Annual Report was named one of the Top 100 annual reports in the United States in the Vision Awards competition sponsored by the League of American Communications Professionals.

The report also won the Gold Award in the Health Care--Hospitals, Facilities and Services category.

From more than 1,200 entries received, VUMC ranked 74. Others with annual reports in the Top 100 included Pfizer, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Boeing, and Merck.

The Annual Report was edited by Wayne Wood, the assistant editor was Dana Johnson, and graphic design was by Diana Duren of Corporate Communications.



Vanderbilt Valet under way

Service runs errands for VUMC employees, students

Vanderbilt Valet   is a new service provided by VUMC to run personal errands for employees and students free of charge.

"This new service is designed to assist employees in balancing work and home life," said assistant hospital director Rebecca R. Keck.

"Our goal is to provide personal time back to employees," said assistant hospital director Charlotte B. Chaney.

Keck and Chaney co-chaired the committee that brought about the service.

To run the errands, VUMC has engaged a Chicago-based company, Errand Solutions. "They'll pretty much do any errand, as long as it's not illegal or immoral," Chaney said.

The most common types of errands the company is used to handling for customers include such things as oil changes, dry cleaning and laundry services, car washing, mailing services, film developing, jewelry and shoe repair, gift and ticket ordering, restaurant reservations, and gathering of estimates for various household services.

The service will be paid for by VUMC. Vanderbilt Valet will charge no fees and accept no tips from employees and students. Customers pay only the retail costs of the goods and services requested through Vanderbilt Valet. Errand Solutions will negotiate rates from local businesses for Vanderbilt Valet customers.

Vanderbilt Valet will have two cam-pus locations, in the Medical Center North second-floor lobby and on the second floor of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt inside the entrance from the pedestrian bridge. The MCN location will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; the VCH location will be staffed from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. VUMC employees and students can also request services any time over the Web at, or by calling the service desks at 343-1550 (MCN) or 936-8253 (Children's Hospital). When dropping off cars with Vanderbilt Valet, customers will use spaces reserved for the purpose in South Garage.

Before handling your errands, Vanderbilt Valet will need to register your name, your VUMC department, and your Vanderbilt phone number and e-mail address. For your convenience, they will also record your credit card information and your personal preferences regarding various errands. Employees and students may register at either of the Vanderbilt Valet service desks, or on the Web at (to register on the Web, use "Vandy" as the location code).

By helping to raise employee satisfaction and lower costs associated with employee turnover, the new service is expected to pay its own way at VUMC.

Since the first comprehensive survey of VUMC employee satisfaction in 1999, the Medical Center has sought to do more to help employees cope with competing demands of work and home life. Flexible work scheduling, drop-in day care, and adoption benefits are among the programs the Medical Center and the University have instituted in recent years to help employees in this regard, officials say.


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