journeys, people watching, society, travel, wanderlust

observations on oz

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

Every journey begins with one small step. In this case, it began with one very long flight. Fifteen and a half hours from LAX to Sydney. (I think I slept for part of it but that’s still up for debate). I’ve had a few weeks back in my real life to process everything I did and saw during my two week stay in Sydney. I originally thought that the trip would inspire an entire series of blog posts (and likely will still) but for now I’ve decided to take the easy way out and  to compile a list of the things that stand out the most. So, in no particular order and without bias, here goes:

  • When opening the drain of a sink or flushing the toilet, the water really does circle the drain in the opposite direction. Watching it do so is not, however, as exciting as my mind had built it up to be.
  • When planned and executed correctly, public transportation can be as, if not more, effective than personal transport. It took me a few days to figure out the buses and the transfers, but by the middle of the first week I was commuting like a local. Busses, trains and ferries criss-crossing the Sydney metropolitan area are clean, always on time and easy to navigate. I was starting to feel like a pro by the end of my stay and it was actually kind of weird to have to drive myself to work when I got home instead of catching a bus down the street from the house.
  • Only pretty people live in Sydney. No, seriously. I stood out with the rest of the tourists. The locals are easy on the eyes and in great shape- all of them. I was starting to get really self conscious walking around town. 
  • There is no free parking. Anywhere.
  • Fish & Chips taste better on Bondi Beach paired with a cold beer and good company. 
  • Apparently there are people who think Bruce Lee was in The Karate Kid. WTF?
  • Whilst Australia might be home to more creatures that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet, they are surprisingly  hard to find. I still checked my shoes before putting them on though. 
  • Despite all of the jokes I’ve heard about it, national healthcare isn’t bad. Two companion trips to the hospital for tests and imaging and I found the staff to be friendly and the process to be rather efficient. The main waiting room did have a slight “people of Wal-Mart” vibe going. 
  • I’m ashamed it took me well over 40 years to go to a professional rugby match. I’m hooked.
  • Meat pies. Thanks for teaching me, Shay. They aren’t as sketchy as Sweeney Todd sings about them being. I was a bit concerned, though, over what was meant by “Australian meat.”
  • Australia’s politics don’t lean quite as far to the left as I has assumed. While I was there, there was heating debate among politicians and citizens about marriage equality. I had assumed it has passed in Australia along with the rest of the Commonwealth well before it did here in the States. 
  • After several days of being driven around town, an American can almost get used to riding as a passenger in the seat they are use to driving in. The left turns still feel like they are taking you head on into oncoming traffic.
  • Higher Education bureaucracy may be the one constant in the universe. 
  • The coffee is the best I’ve ever had. I think I may be swearing off of Starbucks (except in drastic airport and convention center circumstances).
  • Kangaroos (especially joeys) are much cuter in real life and koalas are so fucking over you and your photo op.

Sydney. Sydney. Sydney. You have won me over. You are far more beautiful and welcoming than I ever imagined. You are full of life and damn fine coffee. In the end,  it wasn’t really about the tours, the opera house or the amazing climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The most meaningful thing I took away was the importance of, and the respite found in, being so far away from all that can drag you down (like office politics, Facebook bullies and partisan politics).  It’s about spending unhurried time in the company of one of your best friends and being made to feel like part of the family- so much so, in fact, it was a jolting reality the last night to realize you actually live somewhere else. 

Time to put the pennies in the piggy bank and figure out how to do it all again.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

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Uncategorized

songs from the big chair

Say that you’ll never, never, never, need it
One headline, why believe it?
Everybody wants to rule the world.

Life has a soundtrack. Mine does at least. Moments, time periods, adventures, vacations… even moments of great happiness and deep hurt. I find that a song coming on the Pandora or one of my playlists can trigger memories and emotions.

I think, too, that most people have a song or an album that sticks out as defining in their lives. The Beatles’ White Album, Pink Floyd’s The Wall  or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Mine was Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair. Let me take you back.

The soundtrack of my early life was primarily country music. Willie, Waylon Kenny, Dolly, Kris and Merle made up the majority of my parents’ music collection. Don’t get me wrong, there was also the entire Beatles’ catalog in there, too, but it was on vinyl and so wasn’t part of the playlist for family road trips in the Ford Econoline (shag carpet and all). At the time I had limited exposure to what would have been contemporary pop and rock music when I visited my mom at work where station Z93 FM was always playing.

That all changed in the summer of 1985.

We had made one of our regular drives up to visit my grandparents. I’m thinking it would have been in June before the heat, humidity and mosquitoes in Michigan got to be too unbearable.

One afternoon we found myself, as always, in the back room of my grandparents’ house. (It was a small bedroom off of the kitchen with easy access to the back yard and the freezer on the back porch where my grandfather kept his endless supply of fudgesicles). To clarify, “we” consisted of myself and three of my cousins- Heather, Danny and Adam. We always ended up grouped together as the oldest of the cousin lot and relatively close in age. In fact, Danny, Adam and I we’re all born within a 12 month timespan.

I digress.

That particular daly were were in the back bedroom listening to the stereo. Danny and Adam had just bought Songs from the Big Chair on cassette. I have no idea how many times we listened to it. It was brilliant. Shout*, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels. Don’t ask 12-year-old me to pick a favorite. It was the first time an album actually spoke to me. I don’t really know why. I don’t know what about. I do know it connected in a way the countless singles I had bought before ever did.


*Shout would make a bit of a resurgence for me my senior year of college. It’s  part of my relationship with the guy who remains my best friend to this day. 

Header image subject to copyright.

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rant, society

crowdsourced entitlement

Don’t get me wrong, I use social media. Some days, I even like social media. It’s how I keep up with several close friends and family members that don’t live nearby. At times, one picture can bring a smile or make you feel included with something happening next door or on the other side of the world. I’ve accepted, however, before then end of this exercise I’m going to sound like one of “those people.” There has a significant societal paradigm shift the last several years. Social media has, in fact, made us far less social in some regards.

But what do I mean by that?  I’ll do my best to steer clear of United Airlines in discussing it.  I know we’re sick of that example, too.

As we’re busy hating on each other from behind then safety of a screen name and avatar, wen also seem to be rapidly gaining a sense of entitlement. I blame the selfie, frankly. I’ll spare you all of the psychology behind why I think that’s true, but will sum it to say you can’t expect people to constantly take and post pictures of themselves all day and not begin to believe they’re the center of the universe. Problem is everyone can’t be the center (although in an unrelated event in Japan it seems everyone can be Snow White). It seems every time someone’s coffee isn’t refilled fast enough, the cruise line doesn’t give them a free upgrade or they’re subjected to watch someone pray in public they white on Facebook or Twitter and wait for the pilers-on to agree with them and how u justly they were treated- regardless of what the rest of the story was.

Case and point.

There was a viral story about two years ago covering the unjust service a couple received  on New Year’s Eve and how events in the restaurant made them feel unimportant.

“I will never go back to this location for New Year’s Eve! After the way we were treated when we spent $700-plus and having our meal ruined by a watching a dead person being wheeled out from an overdose my night has been ruined… The manager also told us someone dying was more important than us being there, making us feel like our business didn’t matter…”

Initially, they lady who posted her story got sympathy from people on social media. People began calling for the restaurant to make it up to her. A few days later, the manager replied with the rest of the story. It went something like this:

“First of all, the ‘overdosing junkie’ that you speak of was a 70-plus-year-old woman who had a heart attack… But I can completely understand why you think being intoxicated (expletives) that didn’t understand your bill should take priority over human life.”

This incident has a relatively happy ending. The customer who suffered a heart attack survived and the notoriety of the story help raise $15,000 towards her medical bills on GoFundMe.

The author of the Facebook post later claimed that someone hacked her account and that she is not responsible for the rude post. She then deleted her account. I wish more people would delete theirs.

It’s kind if that whole idea about “I’m not wrong just because you’re offended.” You’re not a victim just because you think you deserve better.

Images:  Top imaged sourced from Flikr Creative Commons.  

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headlines, media, society

on citizen journalism

Something has been weighing on me for a while now. It became more evident during the final weeks leading up to the election and then became top of mind again for me with the United incident last weekend. I’m not going to go into any details of those. I think we’ve all read and seen about enough.

We have historically relied on mass media to keep us informed about local, national and global events. Relentless journalists who exhausted every lead and overturned every rock to protect the greater good and help keep us honest. That’s one of the reasons I originally chose to get my undergraduate degree in journalism. That was longer ago than I like to think about and things have definitely changed.

There has been an understandable decline in profits and circulation of print media. So many things are available in the immediacy of a digital format and by the time news hits the front page of tomorrow’s papers it’s not really news any more. There are several speciality magazines that continue to thrive (Men’s Health for example) and an increasing number of iconic titles, such as US News & World Report,  have ceased print publication. This hasn’t diminished the bombardment of messaging and “news” at every turn.

We all have our preferred media outlets for news (mine happens to be Reuters). Why do we have favorites? Because we follow and trust the outlets that we agree with.  You pick your news source because you agree that they are “fair and balanced” or you like the fact they provided the questions to a particular candidate ahead of a debate or maybe because the debate moderator is showing favoritism to the person you plan to give your vote.

Journalism, in its purest form, is the collection, editing and reporting of facts. It is not the presenting of opinions or sensationalism. Let me be very clear here- those in the media are not necessarily journalists.

Don’t believe the media sway popular opinion at their whim? Think you’re being protected by legions of true journalists out trying to fight the good fight? Try this on for size. There are basically five actual news outlets. That’s right, five. If we remove Facebook and Alphabet (Google) then five media conglomerates control 90 percent of mass media in the United States. All of them have ties to the establishment and the power-elite in this country.  Viacom, News Corp, Bertelsmann, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company control most of the newspapers, magazines, books and broadcast stations in the United States. This gives them the leverage to manipulate, and even control, our social, political, economic and moral values.

With the majority of mass media reporting on behalf of “the man,” investigative and cause-based news became everyone’s obligation. Everyday citizens armed with a cell phone, Twitter account and an opinion began to report the events and injustices of their surroundings. I’ll talk about a sociological shift from this a bit more in a few days.

During the Twitter Revolution back in 2009, Iranians began going around state-controlled media to protest election results on Twitter. This was a brave, groundbreaking and seismic evolutionary event. While this wasn’t its exact genesis, citizen journalism was born out of this civil disobedience. Yes, it had existed on a small scale before then but it dominated the world stage and on this day revolutionaries wrote the world’s headlines. How amazing it was.

Fast forward to present day and things aren’t so amazing. In the years since the elections in Iran, the need for citizens to report the truth has grown exponentially.  The statistics shared earlier about media conglomerates speak for themselves. Remember though, people like to get news that agrees withy their views. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that people also like to report “news” that backs up or reinforces their views and personal biases. That’s not to deny the need for citizen journalism. People need to take out their phones and record abuse by the system, human rights violations, wrongful yielding of authority, unsuitable living conditions and countless other matters. So often a video goes viral and the Internet reacts. We all jump on the hate wagon- I did as much just this week. It’s important to stop and think about what else is going on off camera and outside the frame. What other factors, people or events are driving the scene that everyone is watching? Just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it injustice. Just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it news. And just because something is recorded and posted doesn’t make it criminal or illegal. Sometimes, though, it very much does. Viewers and consumers of media need to learn to tell the difference. We all need to separate the factual wheat from the sensationalized chaff.

Here’s an alternative, a challenge. Put down the camera. Society needs the documentarians to capture the fight and tell the story. But what it needs more is the planting of feet and locking of arms in defiance, the common belief that good will always win, the extending of a hand to help someone whose been pushed down, a hug of compassion, a word of kindness, a tear of empathy and a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Put down the damn camera and act. Don’t capture the act- be the act.

When the smoke clears, the protest signs come down, the rights are wronged and skies clear, we must find beauty. Pick up the camera now and capture a smile. Film a belly laugh. Photograph the embrace with those you love and those who love you back. Record a toast and the singing of a song of praise.

Injustice needs to be captured, it needs to be shared, it needs to be forced into the collective field of vision. But so does joy. So does beauty.

header photo is not my own. 

 

 

 

 

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rant, service, travel, wanderlust

holding the reservation

I was in the gate area waiting  to board a flight from Tampa to Dallas in late February. The Tampa airport, like so many airports, has the absolute worst acoustics. Background music, crowd noise and competing announcements from several gates all echo and mingle together into audio chaos. This made it near impossible to hear the assortment of “more-special-than-me” groups being called out by the gate agent. We were all huddled under one speaker asking each other who was called and what was going on.

By happenstance, I received an email later that day from American Airlines outlining their new boarding process. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. First class becomes Group One, Executive Platinum becomes Group 2 and so on. The first four groups are considered priority boarding and get to board through the lane marked, surprisingly, “priority.” General boarding is Group 5 and onward. I told you, so simple it’s genius.

The next day I received an email from Citibank explaining how my boarding group and status would be affected by the changes at American. I have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive Mastercard. [There are several Citi AAdvantage cards and this particular card has the benefits and perks I find the most valuable (we can discuss those in another post). It comes with some great perks and one of them is priority boarding. I covet priority boarding, not because it makes me feel special to use the boarding lane that’s separated from the inches to the left of the general boarding line by a station, but because it usually guarantees I’ll get space in an overhead bin and not have to check my bag.] As an Executive cardholder I will be boarding in Group 4, remember this is the final group classified as Priority. Boo-Ya!

I get to DFW Airport later the next week for another trip and check-in in at the kiosk. As I headed to the TSA Pre-Check line I noticed I was assigned to Group 5. Huh.

Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

From the Seinfeld episode, The Alternate Side

I waited for the line to die down and approached the gate agent to ask. I told the agent how much I loved the new boarding process and explained that I understood I would board in Group 4 but was assigned to Group 5 and asked if there had been a change to the new process. She said no and told me that credit cardholders were in Group 5. She pulled her cheat sheet out of the drawer to show me. I pointed to the Group 4 box that clearly said Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive Mastercard. She looked baffled. She wrote Group 4 on my boarding pass and suggested I talk to customer service.

I called customer service later that day and was told, ” credit cardholders were in Group 5.” I referenced the boarding process page on their website. She had no response and suggested I fill out the form on the AAdvantage website. I completed the form and included a link to the boarding policy and a screenshot of the emails I had received. Customer Service replied a couple of days later to thank me for my inquiry and letting me know they would get back to me. It’s now mid-April. They never did.

I had two more business trips where the same thing happened only with the gate agents upgrading their response to eye rolls and, in the case of the guy at the gate at  DFW two weeks ago, yelling at me.  After he yelled I did what any sensible person would do- I called out @AmericanAir on Twitter. Boy do they respond quickly. They asked me to DM them and give them all of the details. I did . Explanation, screen shots etc. The whole thing. Two weeks later there’s no definitive answer from American Airlines other than I should check in for my next flight, see what happiness and then let them know if I’m not in the correct boarding group.

RANT:

I don’t understand. You send me emails and post things on your website and then not only don’t follow through with them but don’t seem to care and don’t have a way to fix it. You can send tubes of metal at 500 miles per our whilst 40,000 feet in the air but you can’t manage the relational database behind your passenger profiles?

I don’t need to feel special, I just want you to do what you said you were going to do. I just want you to “hold the reservation.”

photo is my own taken at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

 

 

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rant, travel

we’re all special to someone

I’ve worked in and around marketing long enough that I understand the fundamental logic behind loyalty and reward programs. There is so much competition in most markets and with most commodities that rewarding people for sticking by you is critical. People like to be rewarded and feel they are part of a bigger tribe. People are also fickle. They’re loyalty can be bought with color coding and insincere gratitude.

Guilty as charged. I’ve done it, you’ve done it and, heck, I bet we’ve all done it at one time or another. I’m more than happy to use my free Marriott wifi and have a drink in the Club Lounge. Even my airport parking earns me a status level that comes with no actual perks or benefits.

I think the worst offender on this, by far,  are the airlines. I was waiting to board a flight between DFW to LaGuardia about a year ago and the fare I booked included Group One boarding. I was afraid I would have to gate check my bag so I was excited I could get to board in an earlier group and be able to secure a coveted overhead bin.

Thirty minutes before departure the gate agent starts the boarding announcements and, Group One boarding pass clutched in hand, I waited for my turn.

Here’s how it went down: First Class passengers and active duty military followed by Executive Platinum, Pro Platinum and then Run-of-the-Mill Platinum. Next, we moved on to Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond, Peridot, Quartz, Sodium Nitrate and a litany of other precious medals and gemstones. After that was exhausted it was time to invite all of the OneWorld Alliance codeshare passengers whose status involved some sort of Bedazzling.  Honestly, I’m quite convinced there aren’t that many combinations of precious metals and gemstones on display at the Tower of London.

Finally, they got to the AAdvantage Tin Foil group. I waited for the gate agent, my boarding pass still clutched in my hand, to call Group One. I felt a bit like Ralphie Parker fantasizing about his essay grade to be called out by the teacher in A Christmas Story.  Instead , she said “All passengers in all groups are invited to board at this time.”  How could this be? I was special that day. I got to board earlier than other passengers. Then I came to the realization that there were only six of us left at the gate.

We were flying a 737-800. American’s configuration of that plane seats 160 people. Turns out 154 of them were more special than me.

 

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rant, service, travel

traveling pants {logic defied}

I was traveling. I bought pants. Then it got crazy.

First, let me be upfront that I know I’m not the demographic of Superdry.  I stumbled upon them last year in Times Square. I didn’t “get it” at the time. Besides, it was damn cold outside and I needed coffee.

Fast forward about a year (to the week, in fact) and I stumbled across their newest US store at Disney Springs. If you’re not familiar with Superdry, here’s how they’ve been described:

A British international branded clothing company, Superdry products combine vintage Americana styling with Japanese inspired graphics.

Yeah, not me. I thought. I had time to kill and a few extra dollars left from my conference per diem. So why not? I wandered through the aisles for about twenty minutes with increasing realization they don’t sell things in “dad size” and beginning to suspect the Japanese text on the clothes probably doesn’t mean anything. [I digress. I do that a lot.]

I found pants. Basically uber-comfy sweatpants. They were on sale. I thought they might be comfortable for an upcoming 15 hour flight when I’m crammed in the back of economy. The sizing is really weird on there clothes so I tried on an XL. They were, much to my delight, a bit too big. I decided to buy the Large. I grabbed a pair off of the shelf that has an L sticker on the folded leg and paid for them.

Two nights later I was back home and unpacking my suitcase. As I was going to pull the tags off of my new globetrotting pants I noticed something awful. Remember that little sticker with the L that I mentioned was on the leg? It was wrong. I had bought an XL- the size that didn’t fit when I tried them on in the store.

So here’s where the breakdown and head shaking starts. Try to keep up.

  • The next day, I logged on to the website and reviewed the return and exchange policy. I dealt entirely with orders that had been placed online.
  • I called the store at Disney Springs and explained what happened. The sales associate explained that I had to call the central customer service number to make the exchange (remember this part, it’s almost funny later).
  • I had to wait to call customer service because they are in the UK, don’t work weekends and have that whole 7 hour time difference.
  • The agent I spoke to told me I had to submit my request by email and provided a top secret email address for me to use.
  • About 36 hours later I received a reply from the customer service folks in the UK telling me I would need to call the store where I bought the pants and work it out with them because the customer service office didn’t have any merchandise in their office so they couldn’t swap them out for me (see, I told you it would be funny later).
  • Always one to follow directions (drips with sarcasm) I called the Disney Springs store the next day and explained what happened. They were confused and didn’t know what to do or how to help me. They gave me the number of a location in Brooklyn that had a warehouse and would be able to exchange my pants.
  • The number didn’t work.
  • I called Disney Springs back. They gave me the number to another NYC store and sent me on my way.
  • I called the NYC store, asked for the manager on duty and went through my entire adventure thus far. He asked why they didn’t have me call the store in LA because it’s closer to me. WTH?!?
  • He does take pity on me and has me text a picture of the pants to him so he can check their inventory. He does, and says I can mail mine to him and he’ll mail back the correct size.
  • I trek out and pack the pants in one of those spiffy free priority mail boxes at the post office. I also enclose a return shipping label and an $11 stamp for return postage (based on the estimate from the self-serve postal kiosk). It costs an additional $15 to to mail everything to NYC plus $3 for the packing tape.

Keep up with all of that? I’ll spare you all of the details about how the package arrived in NYC 3 days ago but no one bothered to tell the manager it was there until I called with proof of receipt yesterday.

I still don’t have my new comfy pants, but that’s not the main point here.

I am completely baffled that it is, by my best guess, 2017. I made a purchase from a company that not only has an e-commerce division but also a supply chain for  brick and mortar stores in several countries. How do they not have a central and efficient return and exchange process? If it’s too hard for you to figure out then just pay Amazon to do it for you like the rest of the world does.

Rant over. Now mail me my damn pants.


April 13 Update: I talked to the NYC store manger last Saturday, April 8th. Today I received a text from him asking what size I needed because they had done inventory and the pants he had set aside for me had been re-shelved. Um, if you had mailed them Monday when you said you would then we wouldn’t be having this convo.

April 22 Update: Still no pants.


Since I’m entrenched on a project at work dealing with open resources I feel obligated to admit the photo above isn’t mine.  Found it in a google search.

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