Lessons Learned Too Late - You've got a friend

Do you remember your best friend from Grade Five? How about your coworkers at your first job? Or the people who attended your wedding (the first one)?

In days gone by people, especially family members, often lived in the same place, more often than not, small towns in the country. In places like the East Coast of Canada, the whole town might all be related, which makes dating a challenge. As time went by and the world got smaller and careers got less traditional and we moved out of the horse and buggy age and into the era of fast planes, families started living further and further apart, often only connecting at holiday times like Christmas, or family reunions or, much worse, funerals. You lost daily contact with your immediate family, your brothers and sisters and possibly your Mum and Dad, and cousins, well, they were soon distant memories.

Going back into the fifties and sixties, long before the technologies we have today, or sites like FacebookLinkedIn or Ancestry.com, you kept track of your high school friends with the yearbook and maybe a few phone numbers. You made all sorts of promises to stay in touch but you never did. You might have carried a small address book, but it soon became out of date as everyone moved around or away from your hometown. As you changed jobs you lost contact with everyone at your previous job. As you moved, maybe miles from your hometown, maybe even across the country, you lost touch with family and friends. You made new friends wherever you went, but they too moved away or you moved again and you lost touch. If, like me, you look back on a lifetime of jobs and places I've lived, you soon realize that you came into contact with hundreds and hundreds of people over your life and you often wonder "where are they now?"

Sites like ClassMatesFacebookMySpace and so on are growing even more popular because they allow us to not only interact with our current friends, but they help to find long lost friends and family members we have long since forgotten. When I first joined ClassMates and registered under my grad year, I soon discovered many of the people I had gone to high school with. It was a real treat to learn where they had ended up, what they were doing now, and to reminisce about times we spent together. Sites like ancestry.com are devoted solely to tracing your family back through the generations. It isn't as popular or useful as a Facebook because it's not free and it needs people to go looking for you or your relatives. A combination of this site with Facebook would be ideal for getting in touch with old friends and colleagues.

In my own case, my parents moved me out of downtown Toronto to the middle of the country, north of Streetsville when I was only twelve. I lost touch with all of the friends I went to public school with because, first I no longer went to that school and, secondly, if I ever had anyone's phone number it was long distance to call them, so I would never have called anyway. I vowed that, as soon as I got my driver's licence, I would go back and visit them. Never happened. I went to your typical three-room schoolhouse in Churchville, Ontario and made many great friends, most of whom lived in the village of Churchville. I met my first love, Roxanne Rollings, in Churchville. I met Dave and Doug Fraser, Wayne Wilson (who I later learned married my Roxanne), and so many more guys and girls who were my life. A lot of them moved on with me when I graduated to go to Streetsville Secondary school, but, again, as important as they were in my life at the time, I lost track of all of them. Even the guys I was in the bands with, who were closer to me than my brother at the time, all drifted away. My first band, The Tempests, was with Chris Hayes, David Kirk and Don Thurston. No idea where any of them are today. I went on to be in bands with Doug (Buzz) Sherman, who went on to be in Moxy, but died tragically in a motorcycle accident some years later, Paul (Zak) Marshall, one of my best buddies ever, Nolan Yearwood, who was the Commissioner of Finance for the City of Toronto, Alan Macquillan, every bit the star. I really miss him and his stories. Victor Dimitroff, who I did find a couple of years ago on Facebook. These were all guys I played with over ten years of being in a band and they were an important chapter in my life.

My career spanned several employers over the years, most in and around Toronto and Brampton, but then I moved to the Okanagan in 1993, leaving there in 2007 to travel to Panama, then returning to Toronto in March 2009, and then to London in September 2009. It has been a journey and along the way I have met many wonderful people and I'm happy to call many of them my friends. Given all the time apart I don't know if those I consider to be good friends would still feel that way about me. Some I have hurt, unintentionally, like my previously oh so solid friend, Bianca, who came to me in my hour of need after my father passed away suddenly in 2005, and who since helped me out when I was struggling in Panama, for which I have not repaid her. I feel terrible that this has cost us our friendship and I hope one day to be able to repay her and rescue our friendship.

Facebook allows me to keep track of friends and people like those I met with what is now called the Okanagan Club. I get to make comments on their page, but hardly anyone ever comments back because they either don't know me or have long since forgotten when I was on the executive. It's kind of funny that, at the time, I put forth a proposal to widen the approach of the club to not just skiing, which it was at the time. Took a couple of years and a new exec but they finally bought into the idea.

For me, LinkedIn is gradually getting to be a sort of Facebook for business, as I widen my "network" more and more. It doesn't help a lot to rekindle old relationships at companies I have worked at and, in fact, some of them, like Shaw Fiberlink, are long gone anyway. Most of the people I worked with at the TD Bank, when I was only nineteen, are probably dead by now. I was just a kid.

My point in all of this is that, if you are young, or if you have kids that are young, get them to include their friends in their Facebook group, or at least get email addys for them. Email addresses, particularly ones like @hotmail, don't change with the provider, like Bell or Rogers, so they will probably stick. Encourage your friends or your kids to get @live.com or @live.ca email addresses with their full names, so that they are reserved, for women, at least until they get married. Long ago I got my full name, garycjones, at all of these - hotmail.com, gmail.com, live.com, and live.ca, so I will be the only one in the world with my name. This site is also the same, so if someone remembers my name they can pretty well find me.

Do all that you can to stay in touch with your friends. They are the family you choose.


Business Idea

To give you some background, many years ago, in fact, almost two decades ago now, I was putting in a computer network for a company, Banush and Skelly Sales, who distributed a wide range of products to retail chains, such as the Bay, Sears, Wal-Mart and so on. At the time my sister, who owned a plumbing and heating store in BC, and was also a smoker, also had the habit of sharing her cigarette with her husband. They were forever trying to figure out a way to temporarily put out the cigarette, then relight it when they wanted.

Realizing that oxygen kept the cigarette going, she came up with cutting a small piece of copper pipe about an inch long, which she then rounded out the edges on so it would stand upright in an ashtray and hold the cigarette. Because the diameter of the pipe was only slightly larger than the cigarette, once the cigarette was placed in what we called a "butt-out" at the time, it went out instantly. Relighting it was also not a problem and there was no bitter taster either.

Back then I believed we had a fantastic product because I saw numerous applications for this device, from using it in an ash tray, to places like airplanes and buses and trains and anywhere people, at the time, smoked. Being a smoker myself I was forever leaving the house and wondering if I had put my smoke out, so my slogan was "The Butt-out. Now you know it's out." I put a proposal together for Banush and Skelly, who were very enthused about the concept. They happened to be heading to a meeting in New York with a company who marketed various products, similar to a K-Tel at the time. When they showed the product to them they went rummaging around in a closet and brought out a molded ashtray with what was a similar piece in the middle to snuff the cigarette. It was a product patented by Ronco, but they said they never really did anything with marketing or developing the idea.

Remember that this is back in the days when smoking was pretty well allowed everywhere and cigarettes were cheap. Now the whole world has changed, of course, and smoking is banned everywhere, plus the cost of cigarettes has sky-rocketed. People are forced outside to seize every opportunity to grab a few quick puffs anywhere they can, usually outside of buildings or restaurants or bus stops and so on. Because there is no easy way to snuff a lit cigarette I have seen the better part of full cigarettes lying on the ground - a very expensive thing. Not to mention that butts are everywhere you look, and they will be there for a very long time if no one cleans them up. Because you are dealing with a lit cigarette people are hesitant to throw them into the garbage for fear of setting it on fire, so the butts end up on the ground.

So, first we have the litter problem, which affects everyone and, secondly, for the smoker, we have the need to be able to have a smoke and either snuff it for later or dispose of it safely.

The SnuffIt looks like the old fountain pens, but it contains a copper sleeve that serves to instantly starve the oxygen and safely extinguish the cigarette. The smoker can then relight it later, saving a fortune, or safely dispose of it in the trash and soon as it has been extinguished. Problems solved.

There are numerous options on how to market the product. It could be sold to municipalities to give away when they introduce heavy fines for littering cigarette butts, in a Keep London Butt Free campaign, for example. It could include an ad sleeve and be used as a giveaway as part of advertising campaigns by the cigarette companies, who have had their advertising opportunities severely limited. It could be distributed by targeted companies most affected by butt litter, such as people like Greyhound, local bus lines and Via Rail. Possibly upscale versions, similar to expensive fountain pens, could be sold retail.

No smoker wants to draw attention to the fact that they still smoke; however, we also don't want to be seen as imposing on other people who choose not to smoke. Every time a smoker throws down a butt or steps on it to put it out, they look around nervously to see who's watching. It is also a pretty well-known fact that butts are not biodegradable and those butts will be there for decades to come if no one cleans them up.

The time is right for a product like this. Even though smoking is on the decline, the thousands of cigarette butts you see everywhere clearly shows that a lot of people still enjoy a smoke.

I approached a couple of companies to market the product, but got nowhere, even with companies who marketed environmental products, which I thought would be a perfect fit. Someday, someone will make a bazillion dollars off this idea.