David Lowenschuss

David Lowenschuss
virtual general counsel
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 21 August 2008
Temperature: 70 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: park grass
Wind: E at 6 mph

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TT with HD: David Lowenschuss

Ann Arbor Burns Park Teeter Totter
Totter 2.0 on location:
Burns Park

[Ed. note: Discussed below is the LinkedIn public profile for David Lowenschuss.]

HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!

DL: Oh, thanks!

HD: Let's get this thing going up and down. Is this going to be all right for you?

DL: Yeah! Oh, yeah. The thing about using that teeter totter is that just as you are getting into it, the kids are done.

HD: And when you say that teeter totter, you're talking about the one with little ducks on the end or whatever they are--they're like chicken-shaped.

DL: Yeah, I don't even know what they are, actually.

HD: So you have experience with your own kids on that teeter totter?

DL: Yeah, uh-huh. And they like it for a little bit, so you don't get a really good teeter tottering in.

HD: So you have ridden it yourself with them?

DL: I have. Depending on the age--I have three. I have a son that's nine, so with him you can do it a little bit more, but usually the three-year-old will get on and will do it, and the one-year-old will go on with his mom on the other side. The thing that I remember the most about the teeter totter was the Brady Bunch episode ...

HD: ... there was a Brady Bunch episode??

DL: Yeah. Let's see, the two youngest--I forget what their names are--they wanted to set a record on the teeter totter.

HD: Well, there was Greg, and then there was--oh, for heaven sakes ...

DL: ... was it Bobby?

HD: Bobby was one of them.

DL: I think he was the youngest. So it was Bobby and Cindy. And they wanted to set a record on the teeter totter.

HD: Okay. And did they manage to do that?

DL: No. They made it a while, though. I remember they were eating on it.

HD: And do you remember, was the device that they were sitting on like mine? Was it like this one?

DL: It was a teeter totter.

HD: So it was a legitimate teeter totter? I'll have to go back and see if I can't find that episode.

DL: That's the one that always sticks out in my mind.

HD: The actual holder of the world teeter tottering record lives out west somewhere. And she was going to come to Ann Arbor last year for one of the football games, and for some reason it didn't work out. But she was going to ride.

DL: Oh, wow!

HD: Brandi Carbee is, I think, her name, if I remember correctly.

DL: So, wait, how long was she on for?

HD: Oh, it was days! She and her teeter tottering partner went for--it was multiple days. It was some ridiculous number of hours that made me think, Okay, well, you know, I'm not ever going to do that, I'm just not.

DL: Oh boy, you've got to train for that, obviously.

HD: I would think you would have to train. Or you would at least have to plan. Guinness has a whole set of rules for endurance events ...

DL: ... so they allow little breaks here and there?

HD: I think that bathroom breaks are allowed. So how often would you say that you're over here at Burns Park with the family?

DL: Pretty often. My son goes to school here, so we're here a lot for that. The kids love to come here, there's a lot of different things to play on.

HD: I was impressed that there are still tether balls.

DL: Yes!

HD: I would have thought that somebody would have removed them because there is the risk of strangulation. Or else stolen them. A ball on a piece of rope in a public park?! And it's still there?!

DL: They do replace them fairly often. But no, you don't really see that much anymore. But kids love it.

HD: So the direction I'm facing, I'm facing north, right?

DL: That is--yeah.

HD: I was just wondering as I rolled up this morning, and surveyed the land, and looking out at the sky there--and you should be able to assess this, because you have a masters in urban planning--would we be able to see this 25-story project that is proposed for 601 South Forest?

DL: Oh, that's a very interesting question. I'm trying to think, I don't think we would, because we can't see--is that Tower Plaza or U. Plaza? Which is also the huge one down on ...

HD: ... or is it University Towers? I just can't get those names right.

DL: That one and the one on William. I always get them confused. But I think that because we can't see that, that we wouldn't be able to see it from here. But it's a really interesting question that I hadn't even thought about until you asked. [laugh] But yes, there is that possibility. Potentially the cranes, we would be able to see.

HD: Cranes for the construction, right.

DL: Because they will be higher than the actual building.

HD: That makes sense--in order to bring the stuff up that tall they have to be at least incrementally taller. And, so do you have a view on that project? Is that something you're involved with studying at all?

DL: You know, I think it's always a hard balance. It's not great, there is already a huge wind tunnel down there right now, if you ever walked down there. But if the outcome of that for some of the neighborhoods is going to be less-dilapidated student housing--there's always things that sort of mix it. So I guess I'm kind of torn in some ways.

HD: I think actually in Bloomington Indiana, it has to some extent had that effect. That they have built these relatively tall apartment buildings that cater to the student demographic--they've got health and fitness clubs, they've made it very appealing to--are you okay?

DL: Yeah, yeah.

HD: Very appealing to students. And the result has been that some of the neighborhoods that have had rental housing, houses that have been partitioned into apartments, have started to turn over into single-family ownership again. People have analyzed Ann Arbor's situation as different, because the quality of the housing stock we're talking about is so poor that I guess people aren't prepared to believe that those houses would be very attractive to somebody to take back over into a single family dwelling.

DL: And with the housing market being so bad right now! But I don't know, I think it's a tough call. You just see so many houses sort of on the periphery, that are just in bad shape, because the landlords aren't really keeping them up, because the students don't really care that much.

HD: So you mentioned a bad housing market. Did you get a sense of really how bad it was, in that you contemplated moving away from Ann Arbor in connection with Pfizer--because you were corporate counsel at Pfizer, right?

DL: Right. I was.

HD: So now you set up your own private practice?

DL: Yes, I have my own private practice, that's right.

HD: So was it ever an option, that you said, Okay, I've actually got to move with Pfizer or we've got to move away from Ann Arbor?

DL: You know, early on, we said that we're not going to move, and that we were going to stay in town. In fact, at the time of the announcement we had been in the process adding an addition onto our house. And that would have been the perfect time to say, Okay, we're not doing the addition! But we went and we did it, and ...

HD: ... so you finished off the addition?

DL: Yeah, we finished off the addition. And we just decided that we were going to stay, and we were going to figure out how to make it work. And it was a good opportunity to go out start my own firm, and work with some of these early-stage life sciences and technology companies in town.

HD: So is it intellectual property, is that the general area that you work in?

DL: No, I do more corporate transactional work. My vision of what I do is kind of like a 'virtual general counsel'. So providing that every-day counsel, for a small company that doesn't have the ability to hire somebody full time, to have a look and feel having somebody in house who knows what's going on.

HD: So somebody so that people can say, 'I'll have to run that by our attorney', and you are the guy?

DL: Right, exactly. And actually have somebody, as opposed to thinking, Well, now I have to find somebody, I've said that! [laugh]

So the housing market, just from friends who have moved out of town we have just seen people are taking really big hits on their houses. We had good friends that moved to Atlanta--their house was on the market for two years and they got one offer. They ended up having to bring $115,000 to closing. Because they had just built a big addition on ...

HD: ... so it cost them $115,000 to sell their house?!

DL: Yes.

HD: Holy crap. So I guess their reasoning was in two years it could be $250,000 that we have to bring to closing?

DL: Right. And they are paying as they go anyway. So you've got that and the taxes and everything else. I mean, we are a lot better off than lots of places in Michigan. There's a fairly stable housing market in certain respects. Because you've got the University and the hospital.

HD: So, are you learning Spanish these days? I watched the School Board meeting last night on CTN, and they are rolling out a system-wide Spanish program. But you guys in Burns Park--this is coming up on the fourth year of Spanish instruction?

DL: Yes!

HD: So your kids would have been learning Spanish then, right?

DL: Right. There was a small group of us a few years ago now, who put together this Burns Park Foreign Language Initiative. Actually what we did was, we approached the school district and asked, We want to do this district-wide, we'll start it here, and let's try to grow it out.

HD: So it was conceived as a pilot project?

DL: Right. And they said, No, just do it, we haven't figured out how to do it. And it has been very successful. The kids love it. The kids are speaking with amazing native accents. Which has been amazing to see. The kids just absorb this stuff. At our age, ...

HD: ... yeah, past puberty you have very little shot at ever developing near-native fluency.

DL: Right, and then so I think that the district program will roll out next year [2009]--it's going to be, I think, two times a week for--I forget which grade.

HD: I think third grade is one of the grades?

DL: I think maybe it's third through fifth. So I know that they are partnering with the University ...

HD: ... right, it's U of M education students who are providing the instruction.

DL: So we'll probably end up melding our program in. And it was really great to see that. I think the new superintendent [Todd Roberts], because he came from a district that had Spanish or foreign-language at the elementary level in Birmingham [Michigan], when he came in he was very supportive of this program.

HD: One of the things that they stressed last night--let's see what's going on with this? [Ed note: The totter begins squeaking pretty loudly.]

DL: What's going on with it?

HD: Well, it does that after a while, I'm not sure why. I need to adjust it, simply because it obliterates the sound sometimes.

DL: Oh, got you. [laugh]

HD: But where was I--oh yes, one of the things that they emphasized over and over last night at the board meeting--multiple speakers emphasized this point--that this language instruction that they are going to roll out was not going to be just singing songs and learning dances.

DL: Right.

HD: So, any singing of songs or learning of dances going on at Burns Park Elementary?

DL: Actually they're not. They try to mold it into the social studies program, so they're learning vocabulary, it's being put into their actual curriculum during the day. The teacher makes a difference, too. We have a great teacher who is able to really get the kids to respond. And the kids at this age are very responsive to learning. You just challenge them to learn more and more. And she also has a program after school for students who feel like they want to learn more. I think it goes way beyond that [songs and dances], the kids are really learning so much more. When I go back to when I had to learn language in school ...

HD: ... which language was it?

DL: Spanish. It was a horrible experience.

HD: Oh, really? [laugh]

DL: And I wish I had learned it.

HD: Do you blame that on the teaching--the actual teacher--or was it the materials, or?

DL: I think it was a combination of things. I think it was probably the way that it was taught, and I think it's too late in some ways to teach kids ...

HD: ... what age did you start?

DL: I would have been probably 14 or 15. And I think that you are more embarrassed, and less really open at that age in a group setting. And you don't have that with young kids.

HD: Well, if singing songs is a part of it, then asking adolescent boys, whose voices are changing, to sing songs in a foreign language is not a good strategy. [laugh] I can tell you that. I started in eighth grade learning German, and it was with the old audio lingual method that involved memorizing dialogues.

DL: Yes!

HD: Did you have to do that?

DL: Yes, exact same thing for Spanish.

HD: Do you remember any of the dialogs?

DL: I couldn't tell you. I just remember that they had the reel tape, it wasn't like a cassette, ...

HD: ... the reel-to-reel tapes, yeah.

DL: And I just remember that they played that. It was basically just memorizing. I was just memorizing what was coming out, and I wasn't really learning how to use that. Or conversationally, you weren't really getting the context. I cannot remember one thing other than writing down the words that came off the thing and memorizing it for the test.

HD: We had to memorize it, and then perform it. There were slides that went with each little dialog snippet.

DL: We didn't have that visual aid. [laugh] That would have helped probably.

HD: Maybe. I still remember the very first dialog, both parts to it.

DL: Really?

HD: It was these two guys who accidentally bumped into each other in Berlin, they were 'old friends' you know? It went: Verzeihen Sie! Ach, du, Walter, du bist in Berlin?! Ja, ich bin zur Messe hier.

DL: That's amazing!

HD: And later it was revealed that one of them was an architect and the other one was a businessman. I mean it was hilarious, and it is still hilarious to me now thinking back to Architekt Koehler, und sein Freund, Walter Fischer. But I continued on with German on way past that, so that might be the reason I remembered.

DL: Right.

HD: So are you training up for the Big Heart Big House 5K run?

DL: Actually yeah, we'll be doing that. We have a very good friend and a neighbor who was just diagnosed with ALS. So I think a lot of people will be joining us.

HD: Right, that [ALS fundraiser] was actually the original impetus for the folks who founded the run, wasn't it?

DL: I'm not exactly sure, but I know that there is definitely ...

HD: ... what the heck is that, that's not the blimp again is it?

DL: That's just from Ann Arbor Airport. I do remember that there was quite a contingent last year, because friends of ours had a coworker who suffered from ALS, and had just died, and they were raising money. So I think actually that may be what was going on.

HD: So you did it last year, yeah?

DL: Yes. I did it last year. We did it pushing a double jogger--no wait, did we have a double jogger? Yeah, we had a very young like one-month old or something, along with a 2 1/2 year old.

HD: So you weren't running it for a time ...

DL: ... oh no. We were just running to finish. [laugh] It was great. I guess last year they had to time it to be on a non-football weekend. This year they had to time it for a football weekend, because of the construction. On football weekends they button up the construction so that it's safe. So they would lose time by buttoning up on a non-football weekend.

HD: So they had to take advantage of the buttoning up that they were going to do anyway.

DL: Right.

HD: I didn't realize that. I didn't even noodle through the connection to the run. Of course, everyone knows that for the football games there is this issue with the construction. Even though I know full well that that is the deal, for this run that it finishes inside Michigan Stadium, but it never occurred to me that that was an issue.

DL: And that is the big attraction for people. I get to run into the Stadium!

HD: Absolutely. The only reason I ran last year is that you get to finish in Michigan Stadium! I had the best intentions of training through the year, and it hasn't happened. I also remember saying, I want to run every single one of these runs. Last year was the first one, so I at least have a shot. You know, you read about this--I forget what his name is the guy ...

DL: ... Dan Gamble.

HD: Right! Exactly. Dan Gamble, who has run every single Dexter Ann Arbor Run since the first one. So 50 years from now, when I'm 90-whatever I want to be that guy.

DL: [laugh]

HD: Dave Askins, who has run every single one of the Big Heart Big House runs. So I'm going to have to do it this year if I want to have a shot at that. I'm thinking, Can I even run 5K at this point?

DL: You just have to finish. That's what Dan has done for the last few years, he's just run to finish.

HD: But don't you worry--or not 'worry'--but doesn't it cross your mind--everything is on the internet now, so I know that your time for last year was like 30 minutes.

DL: Right. And that doesn't seem like a very good time.

HD: Right, because you're a fast guy, because you ran like a three-hour-and-20-minute marathon within recent memory, so how did you fade to 30 minutes for a 5K?? And you just explained it to me, actually. But not everybody has the luxury of that explanation. There'll be people who are looking around the internet trying to find more about you, who are going to say, Wow, in the space of three years, this guy just got really fat and lazy! Do I really want him as my legal counsel? A guy who let himself go so completely in such a short time?

DL: That's very interesting and it's true. Usually there's an explanation. Sometimes it's the more simple explanation. But other times it can be, he just let himself go!

HD: The other place I found you was on LinkedIn. We're like 3 degrees separated, which means that there's people who I am directly linked to, who are linked to people that you are directly linked to. Do you know a guy named Derek Mehraban?

DL: I don't think so.

HD: How about Catherine Juon?

HD: Catherine Juon?

HD: J-U-O-N.

DL: No. I've been working hard on my LinkedIn--for my business.

HD: Has it paid off?

DL: Interestingly, what I found using LinkedIn, pretty much what you just said, it's people that I know, who I think, Over at that company they could probably use somebody, some assistance. I'll go and see if I have a contact over there. So that I can talk to the person that I know, and say, You know so-and-so there and can you make an introduction? That's much easier than just sending something out of the blue.

HD: Yeah just a cold e-mail. You know, I send a lot of those. [laugh]

DL: [laugh]

HD: Trying to recruit people to ride the teeter totter. And it's one of those things where you can't assume that they have any idea what you're talking about. So you have to assume that they don't.

DL: But you can put your LinkedIn in your e-mail so that they can have a better idea of what it's all about.

HD: Yeah, maybe. I don't know. [laugh] I have come to believe that a lot of spam filters are calibrated to sense 'teeter totter', because it sounds vaguely dirty, right? [laugh] It could be that what I send is winding up in people's spam filters. Or it could be that people just ignore me.

DL: Or it could be the e-mail address? [laugh] [Ed note: homelessdave[at]homelessdave[dot]com looks 'spammy' to many people.]

HD: That's true. That's another one, too, I didn't noodle it through. And once you're into it, then becomes too onerous to change.

DL: You have to let everybody know, and ...

HD: ... right, at this point it's hopeless. So basically, I am on LinkedIn--I'm trying to remember who made me join that.

DL: Somebody sent you an invitation to it?

HD: It's the kind of thing where you kinda feel strong-armed into it. So people send you the invitation, 'I'd like to add you to my professional network', and if you don't, the implicit message is, I don't want to be in your professional network.

DL: Or I'm rejecting you!

HD: Right, I'm rejecting you, man. So now I do respond to requests.

DL: I'll send you one!

HD: Oh, great! I'm up to now, I think, a whopping 12 connections or something, I don't know.

DL: 12!

HD: You've got what, over 200 right?

DL: No, no I'm not there yet, I'm working on it. I'm probably up to about 100.

HD: But each and every one of those is somebody who you actually specifically targeted--you haven't just gone and said, Okay, blanket everything! Because there's probably like an automated way to do that?

DL: You can. There's a way if people want to send like a mass one, it's pretty easy. But that's a little--I think it's better if you know the people, you want to give them a little ...

HD: ... right, 'I think I saw you running through Burns Park the other day, and rather than chase you down, which I could do because I am very fast, I figured I would send you a join request!' Or whatever they call them.

DL: But you know, the other thing that I found is that tracking people down who you don't know where they are, or haven't heard from them. I found a friend from college who I hadn't talked to in 15 years. And I found them on there and said, Wow! Because I'd sort of been on and off searching in other places for that person. LinkedIn, because it gives you information that would tell you that this is the person, so you can go, Right, so he went to U of M, so I know this is the person, or I'm pretty sure that this is the person. So it's been a nice tool for that to sort of get back into touch with people that you haven't talked to in a while. And in case it's not the person, you don't feel as though you are calling somebody up ...

HD: ... yeah, that's all very nice, but I don't think I know you. Well, is there anything else you want to touch on before we dismount?

DL: I don't think so. I didn't think there was that much about me out there ...

HD: ... oh, there's plenty. I think I exhausted pretty much all of it. But it did cross my mind actually that you know, I don't know if this is the same guy for sure. If it turned out to be somebody different, then--I worry sometimes you know, what are we going to talk about, we could talk about the weather. I mean because you grew up in in the midwest, in Ann Arbor right?

DL: No, no. I'm from the east coast originally. I have been here since school.

HD: I guess for some reason I assumed that if you went undergrad here--but that doesn't make any sense, and obviously not.

DL: That was a funny story, because I was a senior in high school and I had no idea on the east coast anything beyond ...

HD: ... right, Michigan might as well be Iowa.

DL: Right, exactly. And I had no idea. I had a relative that lived out this way, and had come in to Atlantic City actually for a wedding. And he said you know, Oh, Michigan, you should apply there. And I said, Okay, what does the application look like?

HD: [laugh] At that time it was probably, What's your name, What's your SAT score, What is your grade point average, end of story.

DL: It was very minimal.

HD: No essays?

DL: No essays. And I said, Yeah, I could do that. And it was one of the only schools I got into! So I had limited options. And the funniest thing was that when I was coming out here, in my mind, I had this idea that it was Ann Harbor, so I was expecting these boats and a nice harbor ...

HD: ... [laugh] you thought it was on the water, did you?

DL: Yes. And for a long time I thought it was just around the corner.

HD: Didn't you pay attention in your freshman orientation?

DL: No, I didn't.

HD: That wasn't like a big part of it: By the way, no water around here! Actually that's not totally true, there is water, we have the mighty Huron River.

DL: Right, right, and that's not what I had in my vision. [laugh]

HD: Right it's not boats docked somewhere. So is that the kind of environment that you grew up in--when you say 'the east coast' you mean like right on the water?

DL: Outside of Philadelphia. But everybody goes to the shore so we would spend a lot of summers going to the shore. Atlantic City pre-gambling. [laugh]

HD: [laugh] 'Atlantic City pre-gambling', that's what they call the beach??

DL: No, I think at that time it was just 'the mess'. Atlantic City was not a very good shape at that time. And is not in very good shape now, either, after the gambling! But we would go there in the summers a lot. So we had a lot of going to the water, and I kind of missed that after a while. But I mean, I love Ann Arbor. It's really been a great place ...

HD: ... so it definitely feels like home, it is home actually, huh?

DL: Yeah.

HD: If you had been from the midwest originally, we could totter like another hour talking about nothing but the nice weather we're having.


HD: But I don't think you could keep up with my weather talk. So maybe we should dismount.

DL: Thank you!