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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Freedy Johnston show a reminder of the treasure that is Saratoga's Caffe Lena

As I sat at Table 15 about 10 feet from singer/songwriter Freedy Johnston during his 90-plus-minute set Sunday night at Caffe Lena, I wondered why in the world I do not take advantage of this treasure of a place more often.
Its intimacy and simplicity create an almost magical venue.
Freedy Johnston at Caffe Lena in
Saratoga Springs Feb. 23, 2014.
Caffe Lena, with two f’s, is the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the country. It’s in a small upstairs space on Phila Street that’s easy to miss from the sidewalk, especially if you’re understandably distracted by Hattie’s restaurant, another local landmark, whose entrance is next to the door that opens onto the stairway to Lena’s.
The coffeehouse was founded in 1960 by Lena Spencer. After she died in 1989, Caffe Lena was converted into a nonprofit entity, which, as its website says, “continues as a living legend: breathing in ideas, dreams, and possibilities—breathing out music, poetry and theater. Caffè Lena has always been a place where people renew their faith in the power of music.”
This was Johnston's third time at Caffe Lena and the second time my husband saw him there; I was out of town. Somehow we missed the first visit of Johnston, who was Rolling Stone's songwriter of the year in 1994. 
Last time I remember being at Lena’s was for a local talent night to hear The Real Vandals, my son Joe’s high school band with Chris Chambers, Ryan Koella and Cameron Pilkey. So it’s been a while.
Lena’s stays busy year-round with a variety of local and national performers. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable, as are the prices of the menu of mostly cold and hot coffee drinks, chocolate chip cookies and a couple of sandwiches. There’s absolutely no pressure to buy a thing. 
The place is clean and cozy, with local artwork on the walls, exposed brick, a worn wooden floor — it couldn't be less pretentious if it tried.
Just as I am incredulous when people fail to take advantage of the world-class offerings at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, I can’t understand how people would never ever make it into Caffe Lena. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Workplace bullying isn't just on the Dolphins

I moan and groan when it’s time for the mandatory company harassment training class. Yet I am glad it’s a requirement — not merely to protect our corporate butts from legal action, but because we’re serious about wanting people to feel comfortable at work, free from any type of harassment.

Workplace culture — including codes of behavior — must come from the top. That applies to every workplace — a newsroom, a repair shop, a retail business, a professional sports team.

I didn’t read the National Football League’s 144-page report about bullying on the Dolphins, though I’ve read stories and columns about the report and the incidents that prompted it. One person who did read the report was Stephen Ross, the team owner. He said in a statement:  “I have made it clear to everyone within our organization that this situation must never happen again. We are committed to address this issue forcefully and to take a leadership role in establishing a standard that will be a benchmark in all of sports.”

His feet should be kept to the fire on that commitment — by the NFL, by players and their families, by staff, by fans, by his attorneys, by the media and by his conscience , not necessarily in that order.

Ted Wells, the attorney hired by the NFL to write the report, called the ongoing harassment “a classic case of bullying, where persons who are in a position of power harass the less powerful,” as reported in  Ben Shipgel’s Feb. 14 article in The New York Times.

Yet, Shigpel continued, “after presenting his findings, in often vulgar and explicit detail, Wells’s conclusion was restrained: ‘We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.’ ”

Rules would be a start. But owners and bosses have to know what’s going on and must set the tone about what will and won’t be tolerated. And they need to be sure people who feel harassed have a place to turn.

Workplaces in general have changed for the better from the days when people didn’t think twice about comments, gestures, jokes and touching that are now, thankfully, considered inappropriate.

But there’s plenty of room for improvement, and not just in the Miami Dolphins locker room.
Earlier this month, John Ostwald, a Hudson Valley Community College professor whose bi-monthly columns appear in The Record and The Saratogian, wrote about how workplace bullying is so pervasive that there is movement afoot to address it legislatively in New York. (You can learn more about the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates and the status of the legislation at
I hope the Dolphins case causes employers to consider their own workplaces, and gives employees the courage to speak up against bullying and any other type of harassment.   

This isn’t about boys being boys or political correctness. It’s about common human decency.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Congrats to John Gray, Emmy nominee

I'm delighted to share the news that John Gray has been nominated for an Emmy for his TV piece about a local man who was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For his "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago.

John Gray should be a familiar name and face. A Troy boy, he has been in local television news for 25 years, currently as a news anchor in WXAA-Fox TV 23 and ABC's WTEN News Channel 10. He also writes a column that appears in both The Record and The Saratogian, online and in print on the opinion page. 

His columns, which he began writing 20 years ago at the behest of Editor Lisa Lewis, have won awards in the journalism industry. I admire his unpretentious style and the way he tackles all kinds of subjects to which readers can relate. The column, though, is a hobby. His career has been on TV.

I've actually only met John a few times, and he is always friendly and gracious. He has stepped up when asked to emcee special events, and I am sure the promise of his participation helped draw people to them.

The Emmy-nominated piece was about Gordon "Gunny" Gundrum, who, as a member of the U.S. Park Service, was assigned to protect King that day.

"I'm a long shot to win," Gray mentions with typical humility at the tail end of his Feb. 12 column.

We're rooting for you, John!