Getting Personal: Al Klein

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Paul Wood chats with Al Klein, chairman of the Champaign County Democratic Party. In the Sept. 23 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Erika Harold, Urbana native and former Miss America who was a candidate for the 13th District seat in the U.S. House this year.   

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

It's wonderful to no longer wake to an alarm every morning. I usually rise by 8, make a carafe of coffee and spend an hour or more listening to NPR and reading the New York Times and The News-Gazette. Eventually, I get around to the email. By then, my wife has joined me, and we have a light breakfast.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

My wife concocted a fusion dish of cheese grits topped with greens, pine nuts, dried cherries and steamed eggs. Fantastic. We talked about plans for the Democratic convention and our fall dinner.

Best high school memory?

I just returned from our 50-year reunion; it was great and will now be my best memory for a while. Before then, it was perhaps our senior class ski trip to the Boyne Mountain region of Michigan.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

I hate shoelaces and for many years got ribbed for my Wolverine Hush Puppies. During my suit-and-tie years, I conformed to business fashion, but since retirement, I wear Birkenstock Arizonas almost everywhere. They don't even have a back strap.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Going out to brunch after Mass with my wife (and son and mother, when available). Then shopping, sightseeing, perhaps a movie. Maybe prepare barbecue for dinner.

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

I started reading the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout in junior high and eventually collected all of them. I still reread them when I need a diversion from reality. Good plots and great writing, especially the dialogue. One of the few mystery writers from the '50s who is still in print. Try "Fer-de-Lance" if you want to start from the beginning.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I'd like to revisit the Rockies from Jackson Hole to Casper, Wyo., to see for myself how things have changed since our vacations there years ago. There are few states still unvisited, and some of them would just be a chore, except for Alaska and Hawaii. Those are on the list.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

We had a dog who was my pal until first grade. Then we moved to a larger house with a smaller lot, and the yard dog was replaced with a house cat, who much preferred my sister. Haven't had a pet since.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

Like my mother, I like to read almost anything; like my father, I enjoy good conversation. Both are valuable assets.

What would you order for your last meal?

"Bacon and eggs," as James Beard famously said. But I want mine in the form of Thomas Keller's "Spanglish" broiled BLT sandwich, with mayo, cheese and a barely fried egg. It's a treat so loaded with deadly ingredients that it may well be my last meal every time I indulge in one.

What can you not live without?

My hard-earned pension. I believe that people my age should be able to retire and open up our jobs for the next generation.

Who do you have on your iPod?

I don't even own a music player; my Droid is enough to bother carrying around, and I can listen to news or music with TuneIn. As a member of the high-fidelity generation, I prefer real A/V media and equipment, or at least my laptop, for music and entertainment. I have a library of DVDs, CDs and vinyl for serious listening. Mostly classical, with show tunes and rock from the '50s and '60s.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

My wedding and the first vacation my wife and I took together (to the just-opened Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in upper Michigan).

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Michael Kinsley, Steve Martin and Gail Collins would keep any conversation going.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

I took a course in American Party Politics from a former county chairman just to satisfy a social-science requirement. He advised us that people have many reasons for working together politically, including shared ideology, business relationships and personal ambitions. But a party chair must realize that the only force that reliably unifies the members of a contending partisan American political party is the partisanship itself.

What's your best piece of advice?

See the last question, but meanwhile, here's a tip: When local fuel prices are volatile, forget about market timing. Consider using GasBuddy and dollar cost averaging to accumulate gallons. For example, buy gas in fixed $40 batches at the current lowest price.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Walk-up window at McDonald's, about $1.20 then. I was hired under the assumption that, as a math major, I could handle calculating the bill in my head, as was necessary in those days.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

Two decisions: In grad school, I transitioned from mathematics to computer systems when I realized that I enjoyed designing real things more than exploring abstract ones and that the job prospects would be better. Then, toward the end of the technology boom in the '90s, I switched from the university environment to the private sector for the sake of change and a higher salary. It was quite an education, and I learned that everything you read in "Dilbert" is true.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

I like to talk with people, but I can get garrulous.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

When things go sour, I take the extra minute or hour or day to consider the situation before acting impulsively. Don't get emotional. Get a cup of coffee. Walk around the block. Think about contingencies, make a choice, remember why you chose it, then move ahead. Whatever happens, there will always be a way forward.

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welive wrote on September 23, 2012 at 9:09 am

great story