Russ Collins

Russ Collins
Executive Director and CEO, Michigan Theater
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 1 June 2007
Temperature: 76 F
Ceiling: very cloudy
Ground: grass needs cut
Wind: calm

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TT with HD: Russ Collins

HD: Shall we mount?

RC: Yeah!

HD: Now, notice I didn't give you a choice, I'm just putting everybody on that end these days.

RC: Yeah, that's great!

HD: Before we get to tottering, let's get the tottering shot taken. And I apologize for the condition of the teeter totter. I didn't have time to remove that bird crap.

RC: It's alright, I'm not sitting on it, and neither are you! [Ed. note: photography ensues] Okay, is this going to work? Now you are what, six-four or something?

RC: Six-three. Used to be a little taller!

HD: You used to be taller? I'm just trying to make sure you get adequate leg extension.

RC: No, this is good for me. How's it for you?

HD: Oh, this is working fine. Welcome to the teeter totter!

RC: Thank you! This is great!

HD: I hope we don't get rained on. We should be okay until the afternoon--we're in that weather cycle where the heat builds up through the day, and then we get afternoon thunderstorms. So we should be fine.

RC: Right. Our brief flirtation with what it's like in Florida. [laugh]

HD: Is that how the weather works in Florida? I've never been there.

RC: Well, I haven't been there much, but yeah that's what I hear--that it rains almost every day in the summertime because of that heat and humidity build-up and then releases in the evening or late afternoon or whatever.

HD: So I think it's probably a testament to both of our midwestern roots that we're able to so easily talk about the weather.

RC: That's right! [laugh]

HD: For probably as long as we need to.

RC: Exactly.

HD: So you grew up here in Ann Arbor, right?

RC: I did. I was born in Detroit and moved here when I was two and a half.

HD: So you have no real memories of Detroit.

RC: Not as a baby, no.

HD: Well, you know when Susan Pollay was here on the teeter totter, she mentioned that you had said to her that Ann Arbor goes through these 20-year cycles of people wanting to change something and grow, and there'll be a flurry of activity and concern--like we're experiencing now--about every 20 years. So was she pretty much accurately representing what you had said?

RC: Well, what I was referencing was my observation about stuff that had happened in the arts in particular. There was a period in the 1980's that a lot of things happened. The Michigan Theater came online as a community project, and the Ann Arbor Symphony changed into a professional orchestra, and Ken Fisher came to the Musical Society, and the Performance Network was set up, and the Kerrytown Concert House was started. And all of this happened within a 10-year period, essentially in the 1980's. And that was when baby-boomers were coming into their adulthood, and that's 20 years ago at this point, or getting to be. The generational cycle is 20 to 30 years, so many of those organizations have become just considered standard part of Ann Arbor.

HD: They feel like they've always been here.

RC: Right. The Musical Society almost has always been here, but its current configuration, which is much different than it was 25 years ago, feels like it's been here for a long time--a kind of multi-ethnic, not just directed towards classical music, but a more diverse kind of programming. But as you said, the Performance Network, the Kerrytown Concerthouse, they've been here long enough that they feel like their beginning point was so long ago that you don't think about it.

HD: So you weren't really talking about this recent current interest in urban design and development and planning of downtown?

RC: I think that those two things integrate quite effectively, because the arts tend to flourish in a 'downtown' environment. I guess going back into the 60's is when the high-rise buildings were built--in '68 the Campus Inn was built, and that's about when Huron Towers and University Towers were built--in that late-60's, mid-60's time period. Then 20 years after that was that 80's period. So I guess I think it's kind of a generational thing. The baby boomers are approaching retirement and the Gen X, Y, the Millennial Generation--whatever [laugh] they're going to be called--are coming into their adulthood at this point, with their new ideas and how urban culture intersects with the internet, intersects with perceptions of suburbia and family, and all of those kind of things.

HD: So I read recently that the Michigan Theater has received the deed from the City of Ann Arbor for the building?

RC: Yes!

HD: For the whole building now, or is it just the part of the building that houses the theater?

RC: Just the theater. The Michigan Theater office building has always been a commercial property. And the Michigan Theater Foundation, if it had control over that it was very brief, and it was long before I was involved with it. So no, it's just the theater.

HD: So the deed transfer hasn't made you landlords now?

RC: It hasn't made us landlords, no. No, no no. Actually, we are landlords, but of the Cadillac Building, which is where Laura Ashley and Talbots used to be. There's landscape architects that are in that building, and the Red Cross used to have an office there. Actually it's what our screening room and restrooms are a part of. We had a very generous donor who bought that building for us, and has arranged a very wonderful deal where we will eventually own that building.

HD: So has the transfer of deed had any obvious effect on operations, or is that largely a symbolic gesture?

RC: It hasn't and will not have any operational impact, simply because the Michigan Theater never received any direct benefit from being associated with the City--in that the employees were never City employees, we didn't get free water or electricity or gas, nor did we even get a bulk discount via a City contract. We carried our own insurances and fully maintained the building--the City didn't do any maintenance work on it. So the in terms of operations, there won't be any difference at all. The reason that this was important was because, we were investing the resources to make the theater operate and raise money from the community to restore the theater, but we had a lease with the City and the lease was going to expire in 2011. Now that the theater has been operating for 27 years as a non-profit organization, people feel very comfortable that the theater has a future and will have a future indefinitely. Well, that being the case, it gives us the opportunity to raise endowment or planned gifts. However, if we have a lease that expires just a few years down the road, people are going to go, Well, if I give an estate gift or an endowment kind of gift, how do I know that it will actually be used at the theater? If something happens with the lease ...

HD: ... if someone's planning their last will and testament they want to know that whatever they're leaving as a legacy is going to actually be there.

RC: Exactly. And in a configuration that's generally understood at the time that they gave it. That's the important thing, and that's why we were so desirous of it. You know it also provides us a little bit of business flexibility in that we now have the deed, so I suppose we could use the building as collateral--although that's not the kind of business that we run. Part of giving the Michigan Theater the deed was very stringent deed restrictions.

HD: So you basically have to keep the theater going.

RC: We have to keep it going, we have to keep it a historic building, we can't add five floors of condominiums onto the top of it, it has to be used for a non-profit purpose, we can't sell it to a developer to do something else. We didn't have any problem with those deed restrictions, because they align 100-percent with our mission. That's the other, I think, tremendous benefit to the citizens and to anyone who's giving an estate gift--there's essentially two lines of protection. The Michigan Theater Foundation, that has the specific interests of the Michigan Theater at heart, now controls the deed, and as long as we do our job, it will continue to function as a vital community project indefinitely. But if the Michigan Theater Foundation for any reason gets in trouble or 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the road, they just get tired of it and they just say, Aaah, we're going to sell it! If they go to sell it to a commercial developer, there's this restriction that it has to be operated as a theater.

HD: So they could sell it to a developer, but that developer would have to accept as part and parcel of the deal that they're going to be operating a historic theater?

RC: Yeah, I suppose so. Except that because it's just the theater, and again, part of the deed restriction is that you can't remodel the inside of it to turn it into something else, you basically have to keep it in its current configuration.

HD: So you couldn't even say, split it down the middle and create two smaller theaters side-by-side?

RC: Yeah, not unless there was specific approval from the City to do so. Which is also true for historic properties, that there's an approval process that you go through for that.

HD: So how big a gap is there between say, the revenues from operating the theater--ticket sales and concession stand sales--and what it needs to operate? In other words, how close is the Michigan Theater to being a self-sustaining enterprise with no need for additional donations or gifts?

RC: Well, I want to answer that in two ways. These kinds of projects require subsidy. In fact, the national average for a historic theater or a community theater project like this is that half of the revenue comes from earned sources like you were talking about--theater rental ticket sales, popcorn sales, things like that. And half of it comes from contributions. Our particular budget, 60-percent comes from earned sources, and about 40-percent comes from contributions.

HD: So a bit better than the national average.

RC: Yeah, we're better than the national average. But these kinds of projects need subsidy funds. And, because the community is interested in the project, those funds are forthcoming. So part of our job is to operate the theater in the interest of the community so that the community feels good enough about donating money and to do the kind of projects and programs that people feel like are beneficial to the community. That contributed revenue source is really just a revenue source, but it's a very special revenue source, because you are essentially asking people for a donation. And they have to feel very strongly that what you're doing is the right thing and that you're doing it in an ethical and proper way, so that you're making the best use of their money. That's part of our job to make sure that all of those things happen. As well as working to operate as efficiently as possible in the way that a for-profit business would.

HD: As long as it's come up--the issue of the concession stands--I wanted to ask you specifically about the Stucchi's ice cream.

RC: Yeah?

HD: What's the situation with the Stucchi's ice cream?

RC: We don't sell a tremendous amount of Stucchi's ice cream, but we're glad to sell that and Zingerman's products, as well as the more traditional kind of concession items. But we had our little freezer break down.

HD: Okay. Yeah, when I went to see a screening of Zeitouna recently--my typical meal at the Michigan is French Silk Stucchi's and buttered popcorn and a soda, and I kind of feel like I haven't had the whole Michigan Theater experience unless I've had my meal. So I was shocked and dismayed when the guy working at the concession stand pointed to the empty space and said, We don't have it anymore! So I think maybe the word didn't get passed down clearly that it was simply a matter of getting the freezer back in operating order. I thought it had been discontinued.

RC: Well, I'm imagining we'll bring it back. And a lot of it depends on what folks request. [Ed. note: Teeter Talk readers can do their part by requesting Stucchi's at the Michigan Theater. In person. Via email. By phone. Demonstrate with signs. Just do something.]

HD: Um, I'd like to request that we bring the Stucchi's back!

RC: [laugh] Alright! Well, popcorn and soda pop sell enthusiastically, but pretty much ...

HD: ... not so much the ice cream?

RC: Well, actually that's kind of true for every other item other than soda pop and popcorn. So the brownies and even the candy selection, there aren't very many hits. It's interesting to look at that. But pop and popcorn are also the high profit-margin products and ...

HD: ... and it's also what people want!

RC: And it's also what people want. You can change candies, and a few people complain if you drop something that they happen to like. I always liked Dots and, you know, Dots don't sell very well.

HD: They're little ice cream things?

RC: No, they're like a gum drop without the sugar on it. They're like juji fruits, except softer. Also Raisinettes...

HD: ... they've discontinued those?

RC: No, they come and go over time. Even things like Raisinettes and Goobers and the--oh, I can't think of them ...

HD: ... like the Twizzler stick things?

RC: No, the Twizzlers, they sell pretty well. They didn't used to, 20 years ago, but they're pretty good sellers. But you'd think that Raisinettes and Goobers would be your quintessential movie candy. They do okay, but they're not really outstanding. Chocolate bars, you'd think that they'd do pretty well, but they're kind of ebb and flow in terms of how they do in sales.

HD: I'm trying to think if you can get that kind of stuff at Showcase and Quality 16. When's the last time you've even been in a place like that?

RC: Oh, I go to commercial movie theaters relatively frequently.

HD: Really? And you don't feel the least bit bad about it? [laugh]

RC: Well, if I want to see--I mean, good movies are everywhere.

HD: So you're not like a theater snob about it? You don't say, I'm loyal to my historic theater and I will only see movies at the Michigan?

RC: Well, I see many more movies at the Michigan Theater and the State Theater than I do other places. And as a percentage of product, the Michigan and State Theater have films that are well-reviewed and essentially vetted by public exhibition around the world and around the country--more than the cina-malls, Quality 16 and Showcase and other kinds of theaters like that have. Just because, if your primary product is commercial films, you don't know what Spiderman is going to be like, until it gets released. With a foreign film, or an independent film, they've been at a lot of film festivals, so you're usually getting the pick of the litter with almost all of those films that come out. So they've been vetted to some degree.

HD: So will you typical have seen every film before it's shown there or sometime during its run?

RC: I see the majority of the films. I don't see too many of them before they show at the theater. If I've happened to see the film at a film festival, then I get to see it, but I don't get a preview copy of stuff.

HD: So you'll typically just sit in the movie theater and watch the movie with everyone else?

RC: Correct.

HD: So do you find yourself watching the audience a lot--more than the film--just to see how people are experiencing the theater?

RC: The answer to that is, Yes, but it's actually more visceral than that. It's very hard for any of the Michigan Theater staff to watch whatever is there, because you're so tuned into the building. It's like your house--you walk into your house and you can tell immediately if there's a heating problem, or if the floor creaks in an unusual way. You go, Well, what's the problem here? Is there a leak? Is there a water spill, or something that's creating this different kind of sound? You walk into your house, and the hiss of whatever it is, the water running or not running, you know what's going on in your house. And so with the Michigan Theater staff, that's what it's like when we go in there. We're very tuned into the sound of the cooling and heating system. We're very tuned into the way that the audience is experiencing the building, how traffic flows work, so you can identify problems and issues. And most of the time there isn't one. You see a light leak someplace and you go, Aaah! What is that!? And it's just that somebody has opened the door a little bit and then they close it. But your attention not only is distracted by the fact that you know there was a light leak, but what was the cause of the light leak? Was it a big problem or a little problem, and do you have to go figure it out? Then every little sound that's there--every little click, every little knock, every little hiss--is something that you're tuned into. The audience that's there, they don't notice those things, it's not their house [laugh]. And then also, you know, we're there to serve the people who are there, so the most important thing that we do is make sure that the audience is happy. If there is a problem, or if someone has an idea and just wants to talk to you, then it's necessary to respond to them, which may disrupt my particular enjoyment of a film or a show, but, hey, that's my job! [laugh] But sometimes it is a relief to go to a movie at another movie theater, because you get to focus on the show.

HD: You get to be just a member of the audience.

RC: Right. And that's particularly true if you go to a film festival, because nobody knows me at a film festival.

HD: Well, except for maybe the Ann Arbor Film festival!

RC: That's right. Well, an out of town festival!

HD: Did you watch all the films at the Ann Arbor Film Festival this time?

RC: No, I didn't. Again, because there's so much going on--and things happen in personal lives that you have to pay attention to--that I didn't get to go to all of the programs. I saw many of the programs. You know, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is always a great and odd experience.

HD: Yes. I went for the first time this year. I figured this is something you read about, and you hear about, and it's been around for such a long time that you oughta at least go once just to experience it.

RC: Right.

HD: So I was all set to really like it. I think it was the second evening of the festival and there was this film called--what was exactly the name? Foggy Mountains Breakdown More Often than Non-foggy Mountains? Or maybe less often--it was either less or more often. [Ed. note: HD had it right the first time.] And I was all prepared to really like that film, because I do sort of play the banjo, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown is famous banjo tune, but, you know, for the first time maybe in my life, I had to walk out of the movie. It was just I felt like it was a complete assault on the senses. And I felt bad for having to walk out. As you probably remember, that film was crowned the Best Film of the Festival, so obviously my taste in cinema did not align perfectly with the judges'. Did you happen to see that film?

RC: I didn't. But that experience is more common not just with the Ann Arbor Film Festival, but with any film festival. The Cannes Film Festival just finished and the news at the end of the festival was, Shock, shock, shock--the festival jury actually chose what the critics and the festival audience thought was the best film this year! [laugh] And I know from last year's Sundance Film Festival, the films that were picked as best of the festival were not the films that I enjoyed or found the most appealing. But that has a lot to do with what the nature of the film festival is. Because the nature of the Ann Arbor Film Festival is an experimental film festival, ...

HD: ... yeah, well, Foggy Mountain Breakdown was definitely an experiment that ...

RC: ... right. And that's what was rewarded. So the technical execution of that film, the innovative qualities of that film, that was what was rewarded by the judges, not especially the entertainment or the enjoyment of the film. The Sundance Film Festival, the jury chose both foreign and domestic films that were very representative of independent film, which tends to be very personal dramas that usually aren't very happy. So the films that won were the films that I found, the characters weren't likable and they were in very difficult circumstances, and although they were wonderfully made and very well carried off--the direction, the look of the film, the acting, was wonderful--they're the kind of film where at the end you just want to slit your wrists and go, Why should we go on? Life is a veil of tears! Which is true, you know, but a lot of times independent films have that reputation of being that kind of film, in the way that experimental films as a genre have a particular quality to them. So the juries that are at those kind of festivals tend to pick those kind of films. The film, Once, which opens up June 8th [2007] at the Michigan Theater, it's a musical, was very well reviewed--I don't know if it won any prizes. But the film that was most immediately enjoyable to me was a film called Son of Rambow, which is a British film about these junior high school age kids, who one summer--or actually I guess it was late spring, they were still in school--decided they were going to make their own kind of Rambo movie. It was set in the 80's when the Rambo movies came out.

HD: So this movie is about people making a movie?

RC: It's about kids with their video camera, not really knowing what they're doing, imitating in a very play-school kind of way, what they saw as a Rambo film. But it's really about the kids' interaction with each other, and the social dynamics in schools. It was a very clever, entertaining, a very, very well-made film. But it didn't represent the kind of independent, bleak quality that sometimes those independent films represent.

HD: I suppose yesterday you probably talked about this on [WEMU's] Cinema Chat--that is every Thursday, right?

RC: Right, yeah.

HD: Without fail? No breaks at all through the year?

RC: Pretty much, yeah.

HD: So anyway, even though you probably talked about it yesterday, is there anything besides the films you just mentioned that you're particularly keen on seeing? Like Sicko? That's coming up, right?

RC: Yeah, Sicko is the 29th [June, 2007].

HD: Have you seen that one already?

RC: I actually did, which is unusual. Michael Moore came through and he has a pretty strong relationship with Ann Arbor. And he showed the film to about a hundred acquaintances of his in town to get some feedback. And so I got to see the film at that point in time.

HD: It'd be interesting to see what changes, if any, he made from the version he showed then.

RC: Yeah, from what I understand, he didn't make a lot of changes. It was a very rough cut. Technically it was rough, and so it'll look a lot better than the version that I saw with timecodes and other things like that on it. But it reminded me more of Bowling for Columbine, which I actually liked quite a bit. It ended up being a riff on why Americans have this culture of fear. They seem to relate to this culture of fear--they have security systems and have anxiety about their personal safety--which seems to trump reality in a certain way [laugh]. And so it was like, Why are we like this? What are we so afraid of? And why do we act this way? And it related to gun ownership, but more it was like, Why do we act so fearful in our neighborhoods, and in our lives that our kids are in danger?

HD: And the similarity to Sicko, then is a riff on a fear, namely the fear of dying?

RC: No, the similarity to Sicko is that it's the same kind of riff on the health care system. So if you take a look at England and France and Canada, they have these health care systems that include everybody. The way he quoted the statistics anyway, the life expectancy is longer and people seem to be just generally healthier as a function of the population. So why don't we take care of each other in the United States the way they take care of each other in these other countries via the health care system? And, you know, it's polemical in the way that ...

HD: ... that Michael Moore typically is.

RC: In the way that his movies tend to be. But it's an interesting point of view. And whether you agree with it or whether you don't agree with the particulars of the film, the question about why do we as a culture make some of the choices that we make, or why do certain things resonate or not resonate with us, in terms of fear, or in terms of taking care of one another, I think that's very interesting to think about, and I enjoyed that.

HD: Before we hop off the teeter totter, I wanted to ask you about your car. Because you drove a convertible over here, and from that I conclude that you enjoy driving.

RC: I do enjoy driving, yes!

HD: So you enjoy the aesthetic experience of piloting your automobile down the road.

RC: Well, it's true. But this is the first convertible that I've owned in my life.

HD: Really! How long have you had it?

RC: Three years.

HD: So you like it well enough that it's featured as your MySpace page icon, or your token ...

RC: [laugh]

HD: ... or--I don't know the MySpace vocabulary--but it's the thing that's in your profile, right?

RC: Right, yeah. Well, I set up a MySpace page, because it's a social networking thing that a lot of entertainment aspects are using, so I needed to get on there. And a year ago, when I set that up, my wife had put together a decade birthday party for me--my 50th birthday party. She did some goofy things, including taking a picture of me in my car, so it was the one that was the most available and least revealing in terms of what I actually look like, so I went ahead and posted that [laugh]. I thought it fit more with the MySpace gestalt [laugh] than other stuff. There was a certain irony to it. For a 50-year old guy to be on a MySpace page, just as kind of a networking experiment, I thought it was the best kind of photo ...

HD: ... so is that something you kind of actively monitor and actively use as a networking tool?

RC: No! [laugh]

HD: Well, I was going to say, you're kind of lagging behind in terms of your total number of Friends--that's how you keep score on MySpace, right?

RC: Right, I'm a terrible MySpacer. I rarely check it. You know, the Michigan Theater has a MySpace page, the State Theater has a MySpace page, and a few of our younger employees have connected, and that's pretty much it. And then a few film festivals and things like that have, but I actually find it more annoying. Because it seems like there are just these kind of miscellaneous people that ...

HD: ... who are just trying to increase their number of Friends?

RC: Right.

HD: And they want you to add them as a Friend, right?

RC: I never do.

HD: You never add them?? Even when people ask?

RC: Well, I find that they all seem to be 20-year-old women, who are selling some kind of ...

HD: ... oh, well, you must add them immediately, Russ!

RC: [laugh] Well, I don't! Sometimes, because I check so infrequently, by the time I get to them, it says that they've already been deleted from the MySpace world.

HD: Oh, so their whole account has been deleted.

RC: Yeah, yeah. So I don't think they were there for social networking reasons, probably more for salacious marketing reasons.

HD: Well, one of the reasons I mentioned your car, and the thrill and pleasure of driving, is that I went to this community public meeting about what to do about Huron River Drive. There were a couple of speakers who were actually, I thought, quite eloquent in speaking about the pleasure of driving a car, for driving a car's sake. And I've been hanging out in the alternative transportation world for so long that I'd sort of forgotten that there's people who enjoy driving a car, just to drive a car. And I thought that it's a perspective worth keeping in mind. And I suppose you would fall into that category of people? You like to go off and drive, just to drive around?

RC: I do. And I must say, cars are evil dirty beasts, they really are, and we've organized our society around this kind of very inefficient mode of transportation. And I kick myself. I live about two miles away from the theater [Ed. note: Readers will notice that HD apparently does not absorb the 'two miles' comment], and the best kind of workout program for me would be to walk to work, to and from work everyday, the perfect distance for that workout.

HD: How long would that be?

RC: It takes thirty minutes, thirty to forty minutes.

HD: So like maybe two miles?

RC: Yeah, it's two miles.

HD: Okay.

RC: Yeah, exactly. So there's been part of me that goes, I should just sell--I have this convertible and I have this old Jeep Wrangler--so I should just sell the cars so that I don't have any car to rely on, and so that I force myself to walk. Because for my health and for the environment it's the right thing to do. But that being said, it seems like all things that are evil, like alcohol, and sex, and movies, [laugh], there's an awful aspect to them, but. And show business--show business can be just awful in terms of trying to grab money by producing entertainment that's directed at the lower, ...

HD: ... basest ...

RC: ... yeah, the basest kind of titillation that happens. But at the other extreme, you're experiencing the transcendent truth in ways that you can't get at any other way--through a movie or a play or orchestral piece or any kind of art form. So there's this kind of very base quality of entertainment that distracts you from reality, and there's this kind of profound transcendent understanding that can be communicated by the same vehicle. And I guess in the dualistic world that we live in, that automobiles are the same way--that there's this kind of visceral pleasure you can get from motoring around with the top down and the fine weather and feeling the speed and the liveliness and the kind of cleverness of the human imagination to create this machine and your ability to experience it. And then the god-awful waste of energy in the manufacture of the vehicle, in the propelling of the vehicle, and then the environmental damage it does just by turning the key.

HD: So do you from time to time ever walk to work?

RC: From time to time I do, but I would be misrepresenting myself if I say that I do it with any regularity.

HD: Is the actual walk itself an obstacle? I mean, is the path you would have to take aesthetically a problem?

RC: I walk basically right down Dexter to Huron.

HD: Dexter to Huron. Okay, so you go past, there's that Y in the road?

RC: Mmm hmm.

HD: With the Party Center.

RC: Yeah, and Mallek's, the service station. No, no, there's no impediment at all. You know, I'm healthy enough to do it, the amount of stuff I would carry I usually take my computer and my schedule book ...

HD: ... so not even during the month of May, Curb Your Car Month, you weren't inspired?

RC: [laugh] I like riding my bike, too! I like riding my bike--my wife and I like U of M football games and we usually ride our bikes to the U of M football games to avoid the traffic.

HD: Because even if you decided to drive, where would you park?

RC: Yeah, exactly! So riding bikes to work, it's custom and laziness, that's the only impediment for me.

HD: So you have season tickets to the football games?

RC: Yeah!

HD: So you have any thoughts on the upcoming season? I mean, do you follow it at that level where you know who the incoming freshmen are ... ?

RC: ... no. No, in college I was in the marching band and ...

HD: ... really?! What instrument did you play?

RC: Saxophone.

HD: Wow. Alto?

RC: Tenor. And then I grew up in Ann Arbor, and as a Boy Scout I ushered at the Stadium ...

HD: ... did you make Eagle Scout?

RC: I didn't make Eagle Scout!

HD: Me either. How far'd you get?

RC: I was a Star.

HD: Well, I made it to Life, which is one rank above Star!

RC: Yeah, exactly.

HD: Do you still remember the Scout Law?

RC: I do.

HD: Could I challenge you to hold forth?

RC: Well, the Scout Oath: On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my Country and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself morally--mmm--alert, physically strong, and mentally awake. Something like that.

HD: Hmmm, I think, morally strong? Wait a second, it's morally straight, right?

RC: Physically strong, morally straight and mentally awake. And then like: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Clean, Brave, and Reverent. [laugh] [laugh]

HD: Alright, you get a passing grade on that. Listen before we hop off, do you have anything else on your mind this morning that you wanted to make sure that was recorded for all of history on the teeter totter?

RC: Oh, my goodness, that is a deeper request than I could possibly manage here! But this is a terrific kind of dialogue and community forum that you've provided. So thank you very much!

HD: Do you think it rises to the level of 'dialogue'? Because after watching Zeitouna, where 'dialogue' is this fairly key and deep notion that they use, ...

RC: ... right ...

HD: ... so I wonder if the conversations that happen on the teeter totter, is that dialogue or is it just 'talk'. Or is there even a difference between dialogue and talk?

RC: Well, I think there is. And you know I suppose that because the teeter totter is a few minutes in duration, it's more talk than dialogue. But I think that's more a constraint of time.

HD: So maybe dialogue has to have more longitudinal quality?

RC: I think so. And probably more intimacy. And you know, we just met, so it's hard to be ... !

HD: ... and you're twelve feet away.

RC: Yeah, I'm twelve feet away. [laugh] So, two aspects that diminish dialogue. But you know, for example, I don't usually talk about automobiles, or University of Michigan football, or Boy Scouts. There's a movie playing right now, After the Wedding, which is a Danish Film, nominated for an Academy award, Best Foreign Language Film. And the Washington Post review says that this movie pulls out the fact that it's not the setbacks that we should focus on, it's the encounters and the people that we meet as we go through our life that's really the important part of what we do. And I thought that was very important and a good message to send. And I think [Teeter Talk] facilitates that on a community basis, because I'm always fascinated to look at who you've interviewed and what they've had to say, because they don't have a camera pointing in their face and because ...

HD: ... and awkward pauses get deleted ...

RC: ... awkward pauses get deleted, for sure! And also if you're being interviewed for a newspaper, they're looking at a very narrow piece of information--necessarily. And consequently, you have to be very clear in terms of what you say to a newspaper and that's definitely not dialogue. It's definitely 'talk' or 'sound bites'. So this is much closer to dialogue than reading most of the newspaper articles--again necessarily. And so I think it's a wonderful community service that you provide, so thank you!

HD: Well, thank you very much for saying that. And for coming over to ride!