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Ripped off In Rio

In light of the Rio Olympic Games and hearing about Ryan Lochte and other Olympians getting robbed this is what happened to me in Rio. From the Book “Blue Collar Buddha”



 After eight years as a flight attendant based out of Dallas/Fort worth International, I changed my home base to Miami International for two reasons: I qualified for seniority in Miami and I shutterstock_210349615wanted to go to Central and South America, destinations that Dallas didn’t fly to. I still lived in Dallas so if I had a flight scheduled, I’d fly into Miami, take a trip for a few days, then fly home for four days off. work- ing out of Miami was awesome; over the first six weeks I went on four three-day trips with the same sixteen-person crew. They were young and cool and we had a blast together.


In 1995, a year after I transitioned to Miami, our crew worked a flight to Brazil and laid over at a beautiful hotel in rio de Janeiro. It felt like I was vacationing more than working. A bunch of us were lying around the big hotel pool, soaking up the sun, when the captain said, “we’re all going out for some great Brazilian steak tonight. My treat. And after dinner, we’ll check out a club.” I said, “Great! I’m in.” Four other crew members jumped in too. The six of us piled into a van and were dropped off at a Brazilian steakhouse in a central square filled with restaurants and shops. we had an incredible meal; everyone was talking and laughing and having a great time. After flying internationally for more than a year, I still found myself looking around fairly often, thinking, Man, what a life! whether it was Madrid, Paris, or rio de Janeiro, I was working with cool people and having the time of my life.


After dinner, we found a great disco for drinks and dancing. Around one in the morning, the cap- tain said we’d better wrap it up so we went outside and flagged down a couple of taxis. I ended up with the captain and another flight attendant in the taxi in front. on the way back to the hotel, which was on the other side of a mountain from where we were, I noticed that we weren’t going back the same way we came. Instead of taking the major highway, we took a mountain pass back. It was a gorgeous view, with the rio de Janeiro skyline behind us and the Atlantic ocean reflecting the city lights to our left.


Suddenly, we were slowing down and stopping. There looked to be a military vehicle on the side of the road. when I saw a uniformed man with a machine gun standing in the road, my first thought was that it was a military checkpoint, which is not uncommon in certain foreign countries. I wasn’t too concerned until our taxi driver started argu- ing with the military guy. Something about their rapid-fire discussion and exaggerated hand gestures seemed a bit staged. I nudged the captain and whis- pered, “I think we’re being robbed.” Sure enough, the taxi driver turned to us a minute later and said in english, “You must give him all your goods.” even though we half-expected it, we just stared at him, unblinking, like, Are you kidding me? This can’t be happening. The driver added, “You must give him everything or you go to jail.” when the military guy poked his gun in the window, we knew we had zero options. either we did what they asked or we’d be in big trouble.


Somewhere  during  my  transition  from  surreal to  terrified,  I  remembered  the  bulletins  put  out  by American Airlines warning employees about poten- tially  dangerous  encounters  and  situations  when traveling  internationally.  At  the  top  of  the  list  of do’s  and  don’ts  was  an  alert  about  never  wearing expensive jewelry on layovers. That never concerned me because I didn’t have much money or anything of value to worry about. But the captain was wear- ing a rolex—the operative word being was. The other flight attendant riding with us lost her wedding ring and  necklace.  His  wallet  and  her  purse  were  also seized.  when  my  turn  came,  I  offered  the  guy  my Iron Man watch but he wasn’t interested. I opened up  my  wallet  and  all  I  had  was  my  driver’s  license and three dollars. He gave me a dirty look and let me keep it. At the same time we were getting ripped off, another  military  guy  with  a  gun  was  relieving  the other three members of our crew of their valuables. Finally, the gun guys waved us on and we drove off. Once we hit the main road where there were lights and lots of traffic, the captain told the driver to pull over; he got out and walked back to the other taxi to make sure everyone there was all right. The taxi driver apologized and said how badly he felt but we didn’t feel like talking; it was a quiet ride back.


As soon as we got back to the hotel, the cap- tain alerted hotel management, who summoned security. They quickly converged on the taxi driver; he pleaded ignorance but security was on to him. It turns out this scam had happened before and they were certain the driver was in on it but couldn’t prove it. It almost sounded like they were giving him a scolding. I don’t know what, if anything, ended up happening to the driver. I was just glad to be alive. The robbery itself was scary but we were probably more shaken up when it finally sunk in that we could have been kidnapped or killed. That’s when it struck me that another airline bulletin had cautioned us to be aware of scams that were designed to take advantage of our helplessness in certain situ- ations, particularly ones involving the police and other authorities. It made perfect sense: what better time to rip off tourists than late at night when they were vulnerable and a little tipsy. The taxi driver takes a different route back on a dark, secluded road. everybody gets scared, nobody gets hurt, the taxi driver claims innocence, and the bad guys get away with the loot. It’s genius, actually.


once security had assumed command and we were no longer needed, the six of us retreated to the hotel bar. we were all still in shock a bit and needed to process what we had been through. even though it was late, nobody wanted to go back to their room and be alone. The captain told us to order whatever we wanted and put it on his tab, and we were happy just to drink ourselves past the point of caring.


Needless to say, getting ripped off in the moun- tains of Brazil was a huge wake-up call. Glancing at a bullet point in a memo doesn’t have quite the same impact as having actual bullets pointed at your head. I’m a lot more cautious today than I would have been had that robbery never occurred. Now, whenever I get into a taxi in a foreign country, I make sure it’s well-marked, I make a note of the driver’s name and number, and I interact with him to establish a cer- tain degree of comfort. while I feel badly that my coworkers lost wedding rings, watches, and other expensive jewelry, all I lost was my naïveté. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Ripped Off In Rio

Your Life, Your Thoughts

what are three things you can do to keep your awareness high when you’re traveling internationally or domestically?


what are three things you can do to protect yourself and your belongings when you feel vulnerable in an unfamiliar environment?



“NO EXCUSES” Are you making excuses that are holding you back?

Advanced Lighting Systems was the get-it-done company. We were a huge success because we delivered products that were built right and on time. If you’re scratching your head and thinking that doing what you said you were going to do should be a given instead of a competitive advantage, I’m with you. But in the entertainment industry, most of our competitors were either inefficient, incompetent, or incapable of producing the kind of quality products we specialized in. Honoring our commitments was more than just a good business practice, it was a matter of personal integrity.

Our closest call was an optical-fiber curtain for the Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The curtain was going to be the major backdrop for a new show and we were running behind. The show opened on Friday and the glue finally dried on Thursday. Once we got the curtain packed up, it was too big to air freight, and sending it by truck wouldn’t get it there on time. My dad and I looked at each other, and without a word we knew what we had to do. We rented a big cargo van, loaded up the curtain, and hit the road around 7 PM. Eighteen hours later, after winding through the mountains of Tennessee, we pulled up at the theater, helped install the curtain, and left as heroes.

Did I have options? Sure, if you include not keeping your word an option. We could have double-talked our way into a delay by blaming the wait on other vendors, on technicalities, or even on the customer themselves. I’m sure we could have gotten away with that but we would’ve never seen another order from them. On top of that, show business production folks typically jump from project to project and theater to theater. If we hadn’t shown up on time and the show had to be canceled, that news would have gone viral and our market share in that entertainment hotbed would have plummeted. Instead, we drove all night to deliver the curtain on time. Did the customer know that? Nope. They just thought we had great customer service. Ultimately, in show business you have no choice; you have to show up because the show must go on.

Our decision to compete on service came down to a two-word mantra: No excuses. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, how sick you might be, or if your personal life is in upheaval. You have to do whatever it takes—whether that means pitching in on the production floor, getting your hands dirty in shipping, or driving cross-country—to get the job done. Once you make that commitment to be all in, your mind becomes clear to focus on solutions instead of excuses, and you end up getting a euphoric high from accomplishing the impossible. The second you start making excuses, you might as well lock your doors and shut your business down because someone else is going to come along who’s hungrier than you are.

In 2002, we bid on a big fiber-optic curtain for Britney Spears’ tour. We wanted to get it because featuring her name on our client list would open even more doors for us. Unfortunately, Jack, who was in charge of Britney’s team, selected FiberFan, one of our competitors. Three weeks later, on a Monday morning, I got a call from Jack. “I just checked in with the people we gave the order to,” he said, sounding a bit desperate. “They’re running a week behind and the show starts this Friday.” When I asked Jack how I could help, he asked if I could make the curtain. I said, “Well, I’ve got all the materials but we’re super-busy. Let me see if I can reprioritize any of the projects I have on the floor that have some extra time built in.” I huddled with my floor manager and we determined that we could move some things around and squeeze in the job, but that it still would take some serious miracle-making on our part to get the curtain finished and on a plane in only three days.

I called Jack back and said, “Listen, here’s the deal. We’ll get it done. I’ve got a dedicated crew that’s willing to work all night if they have to. But this thing might show up literally an hour before the concert on Friday.” I could hear him breathe a big sigh of relief. When I told him I wouldn’t charge him a penny more than our original bid, he protested and said he was ready to write a bigger check. I said, “No, that’s not necessary. What I want is your business in the future. I don’t want you to even consider another company.” Without hesitation, Jack said, “No problem, you got it.” Continue reading

Do you know how much that old light bulb is really costing you?

Let’s break it down.

• Every time you turn on a 65-watt A19 Bulb (a typical table lamp bulb), you’re using 65 watts of power. Multiply that by 10 (typical household quantity) and you’re using 650 watts. If you have these lamps on for three hours a day (typical home usage), that adds up

to 1,950 watts per day. Multiply that by 365 and you’ll be consuming 711,750 watts of power annually.

Those 711,750 watts equal 711.75 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Multiply those hours by your electric cost of .11/kWh (U.S. average) and you’ll be contributing $78.29 to the utility company every year to use those old outdated bulbs. Factor in that those 10 old bulbs need to be replaced every year, and you just spent $103.29 per year on lighting. That means you’ll be shelling out $2,065.80 for inefficient lighting over 20 years.


Ah, but here’s an easy way for you to save big bucks with better bulbs! Just spend $120 for 10 energy-efficient 9.5-watt bulbs that will last around 20 years (at 3 hours per day usage).

10 bulbs x 9.5 watts = 95 watts x 3 hours per day x 365 = 104,025 watts of power annually compared to 711,750 watts with the 65-watt bulbs. That’s a whole lot of energy saved. But how does that affect your wallet?

Given that 711,750 watts will cost you $103.29 per year, then 104,025 watts will set you back only $11.44 per year. Over 20 years, your total cost of using the 10 new energy-efficient bulbs (including your initial investment of $120, which works out to just 60 cents per bulb per year) comes to $348.80, or $17.44 per year.

That’s an annual savings of $85.85 on your power bill. But wait, it gets better! In five years, you’ll have an extra $429.25 in your pocket. In 10 years your savings grow $858.50. Over the 20-year lifespan of the new bulbs, you’ll save an amazing $1,717.

Think about that: for a $120 investment today, you’ll save $1,717 over 20 years—a return of more than 1,300 percent!— and that doesn’t even include lower replacement and maintenance costs. Plus, as a bonus, you will have enjoyed 20 years of better quality lighting and the satisfaction that comes from knowing you did your part to conserve energy.

Remember, the more bulbs you have the more you save! The savings can be even greater for businesses because they tend to have far more lamps than households do. When you come right down to it, why would you choose to pay the power company all that money when you could be pocketing it for yourself?

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Paul Streitz Lights up Boston “Art and Light”


 October 7, 2013





October 7, 2013 Minneapolis, Minnesota based Pixzel Effects; a manufacturer of cutting edge LED displays announced today that it is the company responsible for the fabrication and technology behind the lucy light forest interactive art installation that opened in Boston on October 3.

DSC_0503 IMG_0869 IMG_0797 IMG_0812The lucy light forest is an interactive light and sound experience created to celebrate movement and the women who love it. It was designed to be a celebration of movement and when you walk, run, or bike through it, you feel the exuberant, life-affirming feeling that you get right after a workout, said Laura Etheridge, president of lucy®, the California-based active wear chain. The forest is a bit larger than a football field and consists of more than 10,000 solar powered LED lights. Amber hues of light and complementary tones of sound are activated by movement through the forest along the DCR’s Charles River Esplanade in Boston, Massachusetts. The lucy light forest will illuminate the Charles’ edge through Oct. 13.

“Pixzel Effects began working with mono, a Minnesota based adverting company in 2012 to help them fulfill and implement their creative vision for the lucy light forest project. mono and lucy® wanted to integrate lighting, sound and motion in a very interactive way. Our client had a very specific vision and expectation for this celebration of light and movement, and I believe Continue reading

Owning It The truth will set you free


When I was seventeen, my dad, a union leader for all the local auto dealerships, knew a guy who was getting a truck ready for Monster Truck pulls. You know, one of those BIG, high-performance trucks with an engine bigger than a house. One day, he called my dad at the union office in a panic; he was in danger of losing his house and had to sell off some assets. Since I was such a gearhead, my dad bought the guy’s monster truck and towed it home; the truck was so built up that he couldn’t drive it on the streets. He came in the house and motioned me to come outside with him; then he pointed to the driveway and said, “Look what I bought, Continue reading

“RETURN TO SENDER” How to give the best customer service and get sales


“Return to Sender”

My mother was a homemaker who always stayed close to home. She didn’t drive and didn’t pursue any interests outside of her family. I realize now that she spent a lot of time waiting for my dad to come home from work, or for one of her three boys to get home and drive her somewhere. But I don’t ever remember her complaining. She just cleaned and organized and made sure our home was perfect.

smart-sales-callMy mother is why I’m so conscientious about not keeping people waiting. I saw what it was like on the other end to be waiting for someone or something. Promptly responding to others is more than just common courtesy, it’s a sign of respect and a tangible way to convey to others that they are worthy of your attention.

Not keeping people waiting is also one of the biggest reasons behind my business success. That’s no exaggeration; here’s an example with real-world results: Shortly after I began working full time at Advanced Lighting, I got a voicemail from Tom,

Continue reading

Forward to Paul Streitzs book Blue-Collar Buddha by Tom Gegax

Had you met me back in 1989 when I was forty-two, you would’ve seen the facade of the classic American success story. I had the handsome family, the beautiful home. Every week I had time for church and shooting hoops with pals. I had a growing company and prominence in the community. I would’ve told you with an ear-to-ear grin and a firm handshake that life was good. Real good.

That’s when life went all Humpty-Dumpty on me. Without warning, a triple trauma of divorce, cancer, and a company cash-flow crisis had me flattened on the pavement, surrounded by the shattered pieces of my life. My nerves were twitchy, downed power lines, forcing people to walk on eggshells around me as I tried to glue things back together. I lashed out at anyone who dared suggest I look in the mirror. I remember snapping at a friend not long after my divorce: “Show me anywhere in writing where it says it’s healthy to feel my feelings!” One by one, my defenses were splintered by the wicked storm brewing inside me. I pummeled myself for six months: You really screwed up. You hurt your family. You ruined your business. There’s no way out of this one. I was a dead man walking. Nothing in my life was going right, and it seemed like nothing would ever be right again.

I thought I had been Mr. Got-It-Covered. Instead, after many months of hard work, intense self-reflection, and even more intensive self-honesty, I realized how clueless I had been. The scary part was that I didn’t have a clue that I didn’t have a clue. Eventually, I returned to work and life a changed man. For the first time in my life, I was balanced, peaceful, and truly happy, both personally and professionally. In 2000, I sold Tires Plus, the retail tire store chain I had founded, for tens of millions of dollars. My journey back to wholeness, happiness, and abundance is chronicled in my two books: Winning in the Game of Life: Self-Coaching Secrets for Success and The Big Book of Small Business: You Don’t Have to Run Your Business by the Seat of Your Pants.

Today, I find it enormously satisfying and rewarding to guide and mentor smart, savvy entrepreneurs who can benefit from the hard-earned wisdom I accumulated through my own struggles and successes. One of my prize pupils is Paul Streitz. Sensing he was at an important crossroads in life, Paul called me in 2004. He was forty-two, the same age I had been when the ground shifted under my feet. From our first meeting, I could tell there was something special about Paul. He was bright, funny, and an excellent businessman, but his seat-of-the-pants management style and lack of self-confidence were blocking him from greatness.

What especially impressed me about Paul was the ethical and transparent way that he ran his business and his life. His talent for both left-brain (logical and linear) and right-brain (intuitive and creative) thinking was rare among business leaders, as was his natural ability to be simultaneously extroverted and introspective. Perhaps most importantly, he genuinely cared for his employee family.

From the start, I was startled by how self-aware, honest, and non-defensive Paul was about his own flaws and insecurities. He was a good listener, a fast learner, and remarkably receptive and responsive to coaching. He wasn’t satisfied with being really good at what he did; he wanted to be great. It was a pleasure to work with him, get to know him, and watch him blossom. Today, Paul is a trusted and valued business partner, and I look forward to many more years of mutual success and friendship.

The stories that Paul shares in this book are filled with uncommon wisdom and valuable pointers that can help anyone be happier and more successful while leading a balanced life. His experiences and insights are especially valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs, given that he founded and grew a vertically integrated company in a highly competitive industry. With visionary leadership, he guided his business through all the growth stages that a healthy, profitable enterprise demands, ultimately selling it for a handsome sum. In all aspects, Paul is a winner in the game of life, and I’m confident that he can help you become a big winner too.

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