What a year, what a decade. Had someone told me at the beginning of 2010, that within five years, I’d start writing my first novel, let alone publish three books, and become an award-winning novelist, I would have laughed in their face, and checked for a pulse.
Yet, here we are. The end of 2019 is nigh, and it appears I’m ending it with a bang. I just received an email on the last day of the year, that my debut novel, Last Exit to Montauk, is the 1st Place Winner, Multicultural Category from TopShelf Magazine, and International Publication, with over 50,000 visitors, 250,000 views, and millions of hits every month. What a way to end the year and the decade!!
This year alone, I’ve traveled across the United States, promoting my books, meeting new fans, and visiting with old friends and family. What a Blessed Year it’s been. I am so very thankful for all The Lord has provided my family and me, even the ability to have my youngest son’s wisdom tooth pulled on the last day of the year/decade, the Yang to my 1st Place Win Yin, I suppose.
To everyone whom I had a chance to see this year, thank you for your friendship and hospitality. I am so looking forward to the new year and decade and seeing where The Lord will lead this burgeoning scribe.
My next novel, Searching for Sarah, comes out in the Spring of 2020. My publisher and I are in the process of editing and getting it ready for prime time. A select few have read a rough draft and provided me with tremendous feedback, which again, I appreciate. I hope you’ll all enjoy the final version, and remember to post your reviews online.
Lastly, I wish all of you a Safe and Happy New Year!! May the Lord Bless and Keep Every One of You!!
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.” (Strength to Love, 1963).
It’s as true today, as it was in 1963. Fortunately, for me. The Lord continues to surround me with examples or character. From my beloved wife to family and friends, both old and new. People who set the standard for me, what it means to be, a man.
Speaking of old friends. I recently had the pleasure of re-connecting with an old friend. Someone I hadn’t seen in about thirty years. We spent about three hours over dinner, getting reacquainted.
We discussed it all. No stone left unturned. From our marriages, to our children, to our lives, struggles, joys, and things we do for fun. Him, golf, me, writing. It was a truly glorious evening spent sharing and laughing. It’s like we never skipped a beat.
The following day, before heading to the airport, to rinse and repeat the cycle of life, I took a detour. Over dinner the previous evening, I learned that my old friend’s mother also lived in town. And while her home was in the opposite direction of the airport, I knew I had to drive over to see her.
She wasn’t just my best friend’s mother. She was also one of my former high school teachers. The type of educator that made a difference in my life. A person full of grace. Of love and compassion. Education wasn’t just a hobby for her, it was her passion. Her calling. She loved teaching, and it reflected in everything she did.
I was able to spend an hour and a half with her, reminiscing on life. I shared with her my personal journey, from accepting Christ to marriage to parenthood to where I am today. She gave me the cook’s tour of her lovely home, making me feel as special that evening as I did those many years ago in her classroom.
Based on the many comments I received across social media, I clearly wasn’t the only one Blessed by this beloved woman.
Before leaving, she said a prayer over me, which continues to touch my heart. It was truly a blessed moment. One I will cherish for a long time.
As I drove to the airport, I thought about thought about Fred Rogers. The “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor…Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” guy.
Back in 1997, before giving his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, Mr. Rogers reflected upon the many people who helped him get to that evening. Some were there with him in the audience, like his lovely bride. Some were far away. Some were even looking down on him from Heaven.
He stated that all of us have special ones who have loved us into being. He then asked the audience, near and far, to join him in taking ten seconds to think of the people who have helped us become who we are. Those who have cared about us and wanted what was best for us in life. He asked for ten seconds of silence, and then offered to watch the time.
As we approach the end of another year. Another Decade. Another cycle around the sun. Let’s all take a moment to reflect upon the many people who’ve cared about us. Who’ve loved us through the good times and bad. Who’ve wanted the very best for us in life.
What would you do with an extra $1403.16 in your pocket? Would you pay your bills? Put a deposit down on something? Put it in the bank to collect interest? Well, this is the same question I asked Allison, the single mother of two, customer service agent @Spectrum when discussing my bill.
Yesterday was “paying bills day” in the Vega house. And, as I do every month, I opened my spreadsheet, yes, I’m one of those and started paying my bills, one by one. From the mortgage to utilities, to credit cards, to college loans. When I got to the cable bill, I noticed a $17.05 increase from the previous month. It’s not a lot, but it’s a few cups of java at Starbucks.
So, I hopped online to see what specials @spectrum was offering for Black Friday. If I can save money, then why not, right? I logged onto their site, and chose the option for new customers, just to see what they were offering the open market. This is America, after all. As my mother always told me, buyer beware. Be an educated consumer.
To my surprise, they were offering new clients the same package I currently have, for the “special rate” of $114.97/month versus the “not-so-special rate” I was paying, $231.90/month. A net difference of $116.93/month or $1,403.16/year, which brings me back to my initial query. What would you do with an extra $1,403.16 in your pocket?
Now remember. @spectrum is currently advertising themselves as the “no contracts” company, right? Uh-huh. Anyway, in the past, if I had an issue with my bill, I’d go to the local outlet, they’d see what was available on the open market, in my area, and make the appropriate adjustments, lowering my bill.
NOT ANYMORE, FOLKS!! Instead of going to the store, I hopped on the phone, and called customer service, educated about the current offerings, prepared to discuss my issue, and hoping for a positive resolution.
Sadly, I forgot, hope is not a strategy. Damn you, Benjamin Ola Akande, economist, scholar, and Dean of the Business School at Webster University in Saint Louis!!
First, I dealt with Alison. A friendly, single mother of two who understood and agreed with my issues. When I asked her if she would fight for $1,403.67, and would it make a difference in her life, she told me, yes, but sadly, there was nothing she could do for me.
So, she passed me to a “member of her leadership team.” Yes, that’s the exact phrase she used, for her team lead, a person sitting two or three cubes away from her. Now, when I hear this phrase, it usually refers to someone in the C-Suite, but whatever. Regardless of how ridiculous I find the faux-title, if the next person can help resolve the issue, you can call them The Pope.
Haley, the “member of the leadership team” was anything but helpful. After lecturing me on my faux pas of “logging into the WRONG SITE,” like it’s against the laws of the universe, she rudely informed me that the only thing she could do for me was to review my bill and remove services, potentially saving me $20. When I objected and tried to express my dissatisfaction, she spoke over me, never allowing me, the paying client, to vent my frustration.
Eventually, I just started calling her name. “Haley…Haley…HALEY!!!” Clearly, she wasn’t accustomed to either losing an argument, dealing with people, or was simply trained poorly on dealing with clients. I point to the latter.
Frustrated, I asked to speak with her supervisor, Laurie. I shared my experience with Alison, a nice person, and Haley, a RUDE person, and how ironic the name of the company is @spectrum, and how opposite ends of the spectrum these two employees were. One extremely lovely, and the other extremely rude.
As many of you know, I sell software for a living. Have for close to thirty years. I share this because, Laurie’s response to my plight made and still makes no sense to me. After explaining to her that in the past, whenever this issue occurred, all I had to do was walk into the local store, and they’d make the appropriate adjustments.
She informed me that she’s been with the company for 14 years and never heard of that. And it was “PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO ADJUST MY ACCOUNT TO THE BLACK FRIDAY RATE.” Again, I sell software for a living, so I know, that statement is “PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE,” as I know programmers, know how to apply specials or rebates to accounts, which I explained to her.
She then explained that according to their disclaimer, this rate only applies to new clients. Here’s where things get interesting. I read the disclaimer. I had it up on my screen. And nowhere on the disclaimer does it say, “This special rate only applies to new clients,” which I explained to Laurie, and everyone else I spoke with prior.
I even went so far as to offer to share out my desktop, which I do all the time, because, again, I sell software, and have to often demo my solution, via the web.
“No, that’s okay. There’s still nothing I can do for you, except review your bill and see which service we can remove, saving you $20.”
Frustrated, I asked, “So, what you’re telling me, Laurie, is that there’s nothing you can do for me and that my only choices are to switch to a new vendor, or reduce my bill by $20? Is that what you’re telling me? That you want Spectrum to lose a longstanding client?”
“Sorry, sir, but that’s all I can do.”
Even though it’s going to be a hassle, I found a new vendor. Did I want to switch? No. Do I still want to change, even though I spent a better part of my afternoon, dealing with that nonsense? Again, no. I have no issues with my service. I get good reception. Everything works. My only challenge is my bill, or rather, wanting to keep $1,403.67 in my wallet, versus in @spectrum’s.
@Spectrum, I am sharing this online, because I want you to hear about my frustrations. I want you to hear about your “stellar” customer service. You need to do something about this. My new provider arrives at my home on Friday, December 6, from 8 to noon, so you have between the time I post this to the time I return your equipment, which I plan on doing the moment my new equipment is installed and working, to not lose another client to your competition.
I’m sure your shareholders wouldn’t appreciate this story. I know I don’t enjoy sharing it, but since I couldn’t get through to your “leadership team,” maybe someone in the C-Suite will read this and do the right thing. If not, meh…you’ve lost another customer. That’s on you!
“Never leave home without a kiss, a hug and an I love you. Then remove the dog hair from your mouth as you walk to your car.” (Unknown)
I witness this every morning, as my beloved wife, leaves for work. She kisses all her babies good-bye, including this one, and as she approaches her car, removes dog hair from her lips, causing me to chuckle.
As we head into this week of Thanksgiving, I encourage each of you to pause for a moment, and give thanks for the little things in life, that keep you moving forward.
I’m not talking about the job, the money, the roof over your head, or the food on your table. While I’m not discounting them, and am grateful to have them, that’s not what I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about the little things. The “icing and cherry-on-top” moments. Like snuggling on the couch with your pups. The laughter of your children and loved ones. Meeting up with an old friend, and picking up right where you left off.
Or slipping into your favorite pair of sox. You know the ones. They’re soft, and warm. Formfitting, as you slip them up, passed your heel, and rest them warmly against your ankle, as you wiggle your toes.
This week, let’s put aside the partisan arguments. Let’s lay down our weapons. Let’s come together, as one family, and give thanks. Thanks for the big things, and thanks for the little things in life, that make it worth living.
I’m thankful for you. For all who read these words. For all who choose love over hate. Who’ve loved and supported me. Who continue to guide and provide me examples of greatness. From my wife, to my children, to my siblings, extended family and multitude of friends, old and new.
Thank you for all your love, and support. May you have a Very Blessed Thanksgiving!!
The results of the 2019 “Best Book” Awards have been announced.
Your book has been honored as a “Finalist” in the “Fiction: Multicultural” category:
Last Exit to Montauk by Phillip Vega thewordverve, inc.
Finalist Fiction: Multicultural
That’s the email I received this week, from American Book Fest. Apparently, the verbiage I’m supposed to use, according to the email, is the following:
Last Exit to Montauk is now an “Award-Winning Finalist in the Fiction: Multicultural category of the 2019 Best Book Awards sponsored by American Book Fest”
The 2019 Best Book Awards brought in over 2,000 entries, and Last Exit to Montauk beat out 75% of its fellow applicants.
To think, this all started on a random, rainy Saturday afternoon in August 2016. There I was, sitting on my couch, surfing the channels, looking for something to watch. As I did, images began dancing in my mind’s eye.
The images were the very story arc, I would spend the next six weeks documenting. I literally spent hours secluded in my office, listening to Bruce describe the screen door slamming, and Mary’s dress waved. Or Whitney proclaim her need to dance with somebody. Or Lauren Daigle sing that I Am Yours, as I pictured B proclaim the same words to her beloved, Mister.
How’s that old proverb go? The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
I’m still at the beginning of this curious journey, and doing my best to enjoy every minute of it. And not just the journey, but the people in my life, who have, and continue, to guide and inspire me along the way.
From my amazing wife, to my wonderful children. To my incredible extended family and friends. I am truly blessed, and can’t wait to see where this thousand-mile adventure takes us.
Thank you, American Book Fest for this honor. And thank you, friends and family for all your unbelievable support. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Had someone told me, in July 2015, that I’d appear on the Nationally Syndicated Doug Dahlgren Radio Program, or get interviewed by Author Voices, a self-described online, or web gazette to used to inspire authors and lifelong readers to discuss and promote my books, Last Exit to Montauk, and The Captain & the Queen, respectively, I’d tell that person that they were nuts, and needed to have their head examined.
As many know, pursuing the dream of writing and publishing books, was never on my dreamboard. It was not on my bucket list. It was never a personal goal. I was content living the life of a husband, father, and software sales guy.
Yet, four years after images began swirling in my mind’s eye, one rainy Saturday afternoon, in August 2015, while I attempted to watch tv, but felt compelled to document, and spend the next six weeks writing my first of over thirty manuscripts, I find myself, here, posting a new blog on my very own website, talking about pursuing your dreams.
Recently, I had the “privilege” of having dinner with a dream-stealer. You know the type. A self-proclaimed expert with an opinion on everything under the sun. As we discussed my books, a topic he brought up, he slowly tried to chip away at my goals and dreams, as I continue to write books, and pursue publishing novels.
Fortunately, as the evening progressed, I realized what I was dealing with. A dream-stealer. Someone who never reached his full potential, let alone pursue the dream of publishing a novel, as far as I know, anyway.
Oddly, enough, when we discussed his goals and dreams, he became quiet, and changed the subject. It’s funny how that happens, when you take a moment to look behind the curtain.
After dinner, I thought about this enlightening encounter, full of snide and condescending comments. While they didn’t discourage me from pursuing my goals and dreams, it did cause me to think of others whose hopes and dream he as destroyed. People who sought his advice, only to be told he had “friends” who pursued similar dreams, only to fail miserably, implying that if they too, chose the same path, they too would achieve a similar outcome.
Well, to those people I say, go for it. Pursue your dreams. Don’t let the dream-stealers of the world rob you of your destiny. If not you, who? If not now, when?
Julia Child didn’t release her first cook book until she was 50. Vera Wang started her designing career in her 40s. JK Rowling received TWELVE REJECTION LETTERS before Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone was published. Morgan Freeman didn’t become a household name until turning 52.
What I’m saying is, it’s never too late. There are literally hundreds of examples. Don’t believe me? Google it.
Pursue your dreams. Live the life you were meant to live. Be the success story people point to. Want to start a blog? Want to do a podcast? Want to write a book? Open a business? Sail the oceans? Cure cancer?
Go for it! Humanity is waiting for you. Answer the call!
I’m sitting in my Florida office, as my faithful companion is curled up in her doggy bed and blanket, snoring softly, sleeping the afternoon away. Just beyond her, a window overlooking my backyard. The Florida sunshine beckoning me to join it outside, as its glorious rays bathe the blue sky.
Man, I just love the five senses, don’t you? That sweet blend of mozzarella cheese, red sauce, Italian spices and pizza crust as you take your first bite. The sound of children laughing. The tender touch of a loved one. The scent of her perfume. The look in her eyes…
The memories our senses stir…better than a selfie.
Which is your favorite? Here are some of mine from The Captain & the Queen:
“How is it possible that I can still smell her perfume after all these years?”
“I can still remember seeing her for the first time. It was the first day of my senior year—class of 1987—at our boarding school on Long Island…She stood there, staring up at the building with a look of uncertainty, as girls milled about her, entering and exiting the dorm. I couldn’t stop staring at her. I literally halted in my tracks, slack-jawed. ”
“Her lips were full, rich, silky soft, and smooth, with a hint of Raspberry Snapple Iced Tea.“
“Callie walked up behind me, wrapped her arms around my waist, and placed her chin on my right shoulder.“
“The love in her eyes penetrated the depths of my soul.”
“I enjoyed the sound of her voice. She had a unique accent. One I couldn’t quite put a finger on. Unlike my Long Island accent, hers was . . . I don’t know . . . worldly.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about cheerleaders. No, not the girls wearing short skirts, dancing around, shaking their pom-pom’s. I’m talking about the people in our lives who cheer us on.
The people who provide comfort in times of need. Who encourage when we feel lost. Who help lead us back to safety. Who watch over us, even from the distance, silently praying for us.
“You can do it.” “You’re awesome.” “Get up!” “I believe in you!” “Keep going!”
“I Love You.”
Words that heal. Heal the heart. Heal the soul. Heal the spirit.
The Encourager. The Cheerleader.
I want to take a moment to thank my cheerleaders, too many to mention, but loved and appreciated nonetheless. I want to let you know I hear you. I feel your prayers. I sense your presence in my life. You’ve made a difference and continue to do so. I’m not the awesome one. You’re the Awesome One!!
Fired up the BBQ. Burgers and dogs are cooking. Watermelon’s cut up and ready to go. Fries getting crispy in the oven. Beverages chilled in the fridge. Condiments out and paper plates are staked. All that’s missing is you.
The brave men and women, stationed around the planet, preserving and protecting our freedom. Freedom to sit back and relax. On the beach. In the pool. On the couch, watching the latest episodes of Stranger Things.
Thank you, members of the United States Armed Services. Thank you for fighting for our freedom in 1776. Thank you for continuing to serve in 2019.
May God Bless You and keep you safe. May His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He lift up His countenance upon you. And may you know His Peace.