Image courtesy Jeep

Better Days Ahead

Mock me if you must, but I’m now ready and willing to own up to the fact that even though I may not have a Jeep, that doesn’t stop me, every single time I see their commercials, from singing along with my Jeep-owning friends.

Editor’s Note: This article by Bob Fizzolio was mistakenly attributed originally to Mickey Friedman. We apologize to both writers for the error, now corrected.

As the COVID-19 death toll surges past 100,000, there are, of course, a lot of people to thank for their brave and heartfelt response: your first responders, doctors and nurses, attendants, the folks behind the scenes who keep our hospitals going, those mopping the floors, and, of course, the transit workers making sure those hospital workers make it to work. They’re the ones people in big cities cheer every night.

Now, I imagine many of you are focused on the twin tragedies of coronavirus and police violence, and of course, our burning cities. As well you should, but I, in the midst of this darkness have yearned for light and hope. You may think I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one.

Just maybe what’s worked for me might work for you. If I understood Instagram, I might have an account. If I didn’t hate workshops, I might host one. All I have is this.

So, allow me please to offer my special thanks to Jeep. Maybe they’re not on the front lines, but they are a little ways back. Yes, Jeep, for relentlessly reminding me, reminding us — along with the able and, I hope, very well-paid theme-song singers of OneRepublic — that “Better Days Are Ahead”: ministering to our spiritual needs, acknowledging our present pain, while pointing to our soon-to-be resurrection.

I’m not sure I could have made it this far without their clarion call for perseverance — talk about moving from park to drive, then going the extra mile. Even in the midst of our multiplying and unimaginable tragedies, Jeep is willing to offer payment assistance and 24/7 support, and the very convenient, surely in these difficult stay-at-home times, very necessary option to shop at Jeep.com.

Maybe it’s just me, but I like to think of their 24/7 support as an always-available helping hand. Feeling a bit sad, and tired of social distancing, distraught with the image of George Floyd, yes, feeling sorry for America, feeling sorry for myself, and yes, missing my ex-wife, Louise, I myself was ever so close to calling them one 3 a.m., and I don’t even have a Jeep. In the end, I decided not to take up valuable space on the 24/7 Jeep.com virtual couch and selfishly pre-empt someone who’s been hearing crunchy sounds in their transmission.

Truth is, I’m not really a Jeep kind of a guy. And I’m willing to admit, I’ve always considered myself a bit too New York, New York, for that. Doesn’t a Jeep really need dirt and lots of rocks and 2 feet of snow? Still, it’s hard to deny how tempting their 0% APR Financing for 84 Months is.

And it’s hard to ignore those seductive siren calls snaking their way around that oh-so-primitive part of me that thinks just maybe, if I did some more push-ups, concentrated on my core, there might be a Jeep guy somewhere in there completing my transformation.

“Drive Forward,” I can hear them softly calling. Yes, there’s that open road waiting for you. See those hills up ahead. The sun falling into the sea. Those better days. And I have to say with that all-in-caps offer, “WITH NO MONTHLY PAYMENTS FOR 90 DAYS,” my own private sky-writing suspended just a few Jeep lengths ahead in the near distance, it’s so much easier to imagine myself behind the wheel.

Mock me if you must, but I’m now ready and willing to own up to the fact that even though I may not have a Jeep, that doesn’t stop me, every single time I see their commercials, from singing along with my Jeep-owning friends:

“Oh, I know that there’ll be better days
Oh, that sunshine ’bout to come my way
May we never ever shed another tear for today
‘Cause oh, I know that there’ll be better days.”

Speaking of New York, I can’t help it, but every day I check in with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his Corona Update. And I’d like to imagine, even though I’m up here in the Berkshires, I remain New York Tough. Like he says: “We’re going to get through it because we are New York and because we’ve dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart. You have to be smart to make it in New York.”

Image courtesy coronavirus.health.ny.gov

“And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can’t do. And because we are New York tough … tough in a good way.” Yes, Gov. Cuomo, I mutter to myself, tough in a good way, which means “Smart, Disciplined, United, Loving.”

I watch religiously and have grown fond of his children, especially Mariah who did the 30-second video contests about mask-wearing, though, like the governor, I sometimes wonder about the intentions of Mariah’s “The Boyfriend.” Like all of you, always wishing and hoping for even more flattening of the curve, but frankly there are times when I sometimes lose faith.

So yes, I’ll admit there are moments when I’m watching those Jeep commercials and wondering if it’s possible that OneRepublic really isn’t singing to me at all, even worse, that maybe lead singer Ryan Tedder just doesn’t give a hoot about me. That he and all the other Republics — Zach Filkins, Drew Brown, Brent Kutzle, Eddie Fisher and Brian Willett — are mostly concerned with their bank accounts and their upcoming fall tour, sending their better-days thoughts to only those with an actual real-life Jeep in their real-life driveways, with a real-life ownership manual in their glove compartment — Jeep owners who keep up with their scheduled maintenance and change their oil every 3,000 miles, thinking about a trade-in or new lease, or those about to buy for the first time.

So yes, I’ll admit it is occasionally embarrassing when you want most of all to be New York Tough, New York Tough through and through, and to wholeheartedly believe there is nothing you can’t do, but, but, but, at the same time feeling ever so vulnerable, wondering if just maybe living in the country, even for these few months, so very far from Zabar’s, has made me South Berkshire Soft — soft enough to order smoked salmon online.

Image courtesy Zabars.com

I don’t know if you believe in miracles, if you believe in those very unlikely moments when everything comes together in such unexpected and unlikely ways, when dispiriting darkness turns to light. But I speak from personal experience. I was watching Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC talking once again, as she often does, about her days in the Bush White House, when she announced she’d be back in a minute or two with a special guest.

All of a sudden, there was OneRepublic and Jeep, this time with a brand new 30-second spot. Maybe you think I’m delusional, but yes, I knew in the very marrow of my bones that it was a special message to me. Ryan, Zach, Drew, Brent, Eddie and Brian singing loudly and clearly with great conviction, all leading up to this new clarion call from Jeep: “We are all one Jeep community.”

Call me crazy but I’m convinced Jeep knew I was hurting, that I had begun to doubt. Yes, reminding, reassuring me, that we were one Jeep community, not just those with brand new red Renegades, not just those with brand new blue Wranglers, or the Cherokees and Grand Cherokees — even those with their all-new Gladiators. No shaming, no blaming or pointing fingers just because I’m unlucky enough to be driving an aging Subaru: only a crystal-clear appreciation of my pain coupled with their generous offer. Yes, they emphasized: “And we can help.”

I thought, if I’m being completely honest, I could use the help. Yes, help. And this time, that powerful Jeep voice offered another crucially important hint. This wasn’t just like last time, with the comforting reminder that “Better Days Are Ahead,” but a declaration even stronger this time: “Better Days Are Just Down The Road.”

Closer than before. So much closer than ever. And just in case I had forgotten, if, as they imagined, my need was strong enough, with the option to shop at Jeep.com.

For some reason, maybe it’s the fresh air, I go to bed an hour or two earlier in the country. But this night I was restless and woke up a little past 1 in the morning. And try as I might, just couldn’t fall back asleep: I heard, “It’s time!”

Somehow I knew that it was time to get up out of bed and venture out from my safe, socially distanced psychological space and take that one small but absolutely necessary digital step in search of the new me. I put on my jeans, took a deep breath, and turned on my Macbook Pro, determined to slowly but surely drive down the digital highway to Jeep.com.

I’ve always made it a policy to speak frankly and honestly to you, even if it means sharing my frailties, my bruises and blemishes. Like some of you, I like to think I’m braver than I really am. Of course, I don’t need you to tell me that all sorts of folks, from every corner of our country, land on that home page. But I was a man on a mission. When I finally made it to Jeep.com, I was wishing and hoping as hard as I could that there was a message for me, a suggestion how I might find the courage to take the next critical step to strengthen my connection to the Jeep community. It took only a moment. It was right there waiting for me on the homepage.

If you could spare a moment, please take a look below and ask yourself: Don’t those Jeeps look beautiful, idling by the river, captured on the-morning-before-Memorial-Day in all their splendor?

Image courtesy Jeep.com

Even through the grogginess, imbued with a sense of adventure, I scrolled down just a bit and found what I’m pretty sure said: “These are challenging times for all of us. We’re all facing uncertainty in what each new day will bring.” I was nodding my head. “Absolutely,” I might even have said aloud, because I knew firsthand that uncertainty. And at 1 in the morning, it’s really not that hard to convince yourself that that shiny new Grand Cherokee had winked, suggesting you both drive across the country.

Jeep had more to share: “The Jeep Brand is working hard to keep our focus where it belongs — on supporting our owners, family, friends and neighbors. That’s why we’ve introduced the Jeep Drive Forward Program.” An early morning reaffirmation. I am a friend and I am a neighbor. Drive Forward, Jeep.com said. And more to the point: “We’re Here To Help.”

Ready to drive forward but tired enough to go back to bed.

The crows woke me up a little after dawn. It was a gorgeous morning. With a vague memory of an early morning online adventure, I began to make espresso. I took a moment to look out Louise’s kitchen window at Steffi the Subaru. I don’t know why, but from day one, she insisted her name ended in “i” not “y.” Ten years in, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more years she had remaining in her tank, thinking that if I was going to be spending more time up here in the mountains and less time on the Upper West Side, maybe four-wheel drive wasn’t such a bad thing — something to think about.

I knew I wasn’t ready yet for “Morning Joe” saying one thing three different times and interrupting poor, patient Mika, so I turned back to my Macbook Pro and logged back onto Jeep.com and quickly read, “Unforeseen circumstances can affect us all. If you need additional support or relief, or you just have questions, you can contact us through our live Vehicle Support chat.” Not enough caffeine yet for an online chat, I opted for clicking on the link to Jeep’s YouTube channel.

Another click on play. OneRepublic began with a few bars, then Mr. Narrator told Macbook Pro that “Jeep is more than a brand of SUVs. Jeep is a community that shares a spirit,” the spirit of that boy, flag in hand, his Mom’s Jeep just out of sight, making real our Jeep community. “Now we’re also sharing our employee pricing with you. For our select models, you can have 0% financing for 72 months and no payments for 120 days, all while you shop and buy from the safety of your home. We’ll get to better days together. Jeep will help you drive forward.”

Image courtesy Jeep.com

Invoking some poetic license, I decided to shop from the safety of Louise’s home, not my own: I decided to jump in and digitally build and price a 2020 Jeep Wrangler. I opted for Black Clear Coat Exterior Paint and a Satin Black Grille for $325; a Chrome Fuel-Filter Door for $195; and a Black three-piece Hard Top for $1,295. Their Jeep could be my Jeep for $31, 983.

Thirty-two really big ones. I took a break to find my checkbook, flipping through to find my balance: $1,242.74 with another few grand in savings. Maybe liquidate that life insurance policy? Just another stark reminder that when I came upon Robert Frost’s mythical, poetically licensed yellow wood and those two roads, I made a major tactical error. I took the road less travelled to stand-up comedy and found myself with $1,242.74 when I should have gone to NYU’s law school, grabbed that law degree, and quickly accumulated enough to easily afford that 2020 Jeep Wrangler with a Black Clear Coat Exterior Paint, Satin Black Grille and Chrome Fuel-Filter Door.

Building my dream 2020 Wrangler took an awful lot out of me, as did confronting my very limited nest egg. I appreciate the irony but I really needed Steffi to take me down to Railroad Street to SoCo for a hot fudge sundae with one scoop of coffee and another of black raspberry, which always helped more than you know. Louise has a little patch of fenced-in outdoors with room for a small garden and several large trees and some Adirondack chairs and one chaise longue — for me, a bit of magic. Disappearing the ice cream, while the trees swayed in the breeze, the chipmunks zipped back and forth, the birds in major chat mode

I’m always astounded by how quickly I move from awake to asleep. One moment I was admiring the ability of one impressive gray squirrel to fly Michael Jordan-like from branch to branch and the next moment I was making my way to a white folding chair at the Rose Garden about 10 feet from the presidential podium. There was an open seat with CNN’s Jim Acosta on my left and Yamiche Alcindor of NPR on my right. I wasn’t particularly happy with the lack of true social distancing but they all seemed used to it. If it were up to me, I’d move the chairs another few feet away from each other. Jim gave me a polite nod but Yamiche was focused on her phone.

I looked up and saw White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany making her way to me, a quizzical look on her face, then quickly gesturing to Kellyanne Conway, who decided to move toward me as well. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Anthony Fauci looking a little worried. I wasn’t crazy about the fact that neither Kayleigh or Kellyanne were wearing masks. They arrived about the same time, Kayleigh wedged between me and Jim Acosta and Kellyanne between me and Yamiche. I hoped to pre-empt their question by holding up my press pass, declaring “Opinion contributor for The Berkshire Edge, and you haven’t seen me before because I’m a Rose Garden Rookie.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Rose Garden. Photo courtesy AP

Kellyanne leaned in to whisper in my left ear: “You know, the president took decisive and immediate action at the end of January to shut down flights to China. I’m sure your readers would be interested to know that that was criticized by the WHO. It was criticized by other people as xenophobic and racist, convinced travel bans don’t work. Well, this one sure did.”

Before I had a chance to reply, Kayleigh, who had wedged herself between me and Yamiche leaned in to my right ear to tell me: “I don’t know whether you’re a Democrat, but you should understand that my boss, President Trump, is against the Democrat plan to politicize the coronavirus and expand mass mail-in voting without a reason, which has a high propensity for voter fraud. This is a simple distinction that the media fails to grasp.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say because quite frankly I wasn’t sure what I was doing in the Rose Garden in the first place. Jim Acosta nodded, turned to me, then said, “It’s not easy. And it doesn’t get easier.”

The president hadn’t come out yet and I was thinking that if I was smart, I’d get the hell out of there. I was just about to get up when I saw Dr. Fauci headed my way. At least he was wearing a mask. I’m pretty sure he smiled beneath his mask, as he took this little portable digital thermometer out of his white lab coat and pointed it to my forehead: “98.3 — No problem, you’re good to go, for the next hour or so, at least. Between you and me, I wish we had more testing. You know, I don’t have your email address, but I’ve been wanting to tell you —” and he moved close enough so that Jim and Yamiche wouldn’t hear. “It’s important you know, even in the time of COVID, that we are all one Jeep community. And that better days are ahead.”

Have I told you how much I hate those automatic car-door openers, that god-awful beeping? God knows why, but Louise’s next-door neighbor, Bronson, can’t take the extra minute and a half to put his effing key into the effing lock and turn it, so four or five times a day, I have to listen to that stupid beep — in this case, the beep that sent Dr. Fauci who knows where.

I stumbled back indoors and downed the now-cool espresso. While I had been daydreaming, MacBook Pro had logged onto Jeep.com’s YouTube channel. It was all a bit spooky, almost as if Jeep.com could hear the crows and blue jays and had watched the chipmunks and the squirrel. There was a new message that seemed so very appropriate. I read the words out loud:

Image courtesy YouTube.com/thejeepchannel

“It happened in cities and towns all over the world this spring. While we were keeping our distance, nature returned, to remind us that we’re in this together. Electrified capability is coming soon. Because it’s in our nature to adapt.”

Of course, I clicked “play.” OneRepublic must have taken the day off, but Jeep brought in some stirring strings as background to some amazing images of sika deer in Japan, and a coyote in Chicago and a bear in North Carolina, mountain goats in Wales, and a jellyfish in a Venice canal, all while I heard:

Image courtesy “Nature Returns” ad, Jeep

“Nature was all around us all along. And while we were keeping our distance, nature came in closer. It wandered our streets, our sidewalks. Our skies and waters became clearer. Nature returned to remind us that we’re not apart from nature, we are a part of it.” (To an image of an electrified Jeep 4×4. And the title: Coming Soon. And as the music fades we see NATURE RETURNED. LET’S INVITE HER TO STAY and JEEP THERE’S ONLY ONE)

I love nature — well, not all nature. I don’t like mosquitos, flying red ants or sharks. I do like clouds. Actually, I think even Chicago Coyote and I would have something to talk about, a frank discussion. Like I’m pretty sure Dr. Fauci could easily afford the electrified Jeep 4×4, but she is definitely out of my price range.

The more I thought about it, there was no better way to celebrate a renewed realization that we’re not apart from nature but rather a part of it than with a trip to SoCo for some more black raspberry ice cream. I went out to the driveway, but for the first time ever, Steffi wouldn’t start — just wouldn’t turn over. I tried several times but didn’t want to flood the engine. I sat there for about five minutes until I gave up and locked the driver’s door behind me.

As I took a step back to the house, I heard: “How about you call Jeep! I’ve heard they have 24/7 Support.” I wasn’t sure whether I was hallucinating. And so I quickly turned back to Steffi, who wasn’t done yet: “You can take your OneRepublic and shove it, I’ll stick with Stephen Sills and his animals!” Then, all of a sudden, the car radio was playing:

“And there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with.”

I might have stammered a bit, stunned. Then Steffi said: “As for me, I know I’ve got better days ahead. As for you, you’ll be walking.”