Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Road Again

I spend my fair share of time in hotels. Generally it is a pleasurable experience because the industry has become very competitive, so if any hotel doesn't treat me like the valued guest that I am, I simply cross the street and offer my business elsewhere. Don't are not perfect. There are still things they can do better like design room doors that close securely without slamming in the middle of the night. Also, at the coffee station, don't put the little containers of half-and-half, Coffee Mate and Flavored Coffee Mate in one big bucket. That results in thoughtless guests standing there and searching for the coffee lightener of their choice while the rest of us grow old in line. Put each type of coffee lightener in it's own container so guests can pick the one they want and move their fat asses out of the way. I get cranky when I can't get to my coffee!

That kind of brings me around to today's topic. While hotels have tried to get better in recent years, hotel guests have become impossible. It's as if, when traveling, all rules of civilized behavior are suspended and people can feel free to act like thoughtless morons. Hotel management can't do much to eliminate these behaviors because they are trying hard to get guests to come back. Some of the better hotels make an effort because they know that if paying guests are upset by thoughtless ones, they are not likely to return. They might put polite little signs around the property in an effort to get inconsiderate guests to behave like humans. These signs have little effect on the people they are aimed at because, after all, they are assholes. They need signage that is more to the point and in the language understood by assholes. Here are a few suggestions.

As you probably know from my constant bitching about it, people coming down to a hotel dining area in bare feet makes me want to strangle them. Here I sit, about to cut into my waffle, when I am confronted with the worst pair of naked, deformed feet ever seen outside a circus side show. Not only do they appear barefoot, but they tuck their legs under them while they eat so that the seats on which I must sit are contaminated with their stink. This is an abominable habit which should never be tolerated by a hotel. It is not only that my sensibilities are offended, it's a health issue for heavens sake. People who do this will not respond to subtlety; they need a sign in the dining room that makes the consequences of such repulsive behavior very clear.

Children can be a problem in public places like hotels if not controlled by their parents. Some people think that when they are out in public, their children's behavior becomes the responsibility of their host. I know kids will have a tendency to run wild in new surroundings if their parents do nothing to stop them. Running wild in the pool, acting out in the restaurant, running in the hotel's natural for them to constantly test the limits. Normal people understand this and make an effort to keep their hell spawn on a tight leash. A small few feel under no obligation to rein in their little monsters, and so I propose this sign to get their attention.

Public displays of affection are not high on my list of appropriate hotel behaviors. I'm not talking about a hug or a peck on the cheek, I'm talking dueling tongues at the dinner table. I get it, I really do, you're away from your trailer park home, Lou Ellen has on her best Sears dress, and your libido has been fueled by the six Jack Daniels shooters you just had at the bar. This is a night for romance. Here's an idea Billy Bob, take her up to your room. Don't make me push away my Steak-a-la-Polynesian because you can't keep a lid on it. You're twice my size so I can't tell you how I feel, but maybe this sign will do the trick.

I'll make this my last nightmare guest's similar to the barefoot Contessa described above. I realize that the expression casual dress has almost no meaning anymore. People appear in public in get-ups that would be more appropriate for the annual Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. Have you ever seen someone on the breakfast buffet line that looks like they were just rescued from their beds during a four-alarm fire? You know the type...spiky bed hair, wrinkled t-shirt that you know they slept in, and those pajama bottoms that are supposed to pass for casual pants. Please. These slobs really move the needle on my disgust meter, and this sign is just for them.

I'm thinking of writing to Hilton to volunteer to act as a hotel evaluator. There are things I see that they certainly could improve on. Sadly, I think they'd be reluctant to adopt my "plain language" signs. Too bad... their guests would be infinitely better off for it.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Doctor Will See You Now

My friend Joe D. will understand what this blog is about. He writes about his misadventures with the medical profession on his blog site at:  

As we get older, more time is spent in doctors' waiting rooms. Medicine has become a business. The kindly old family physician who rarely prescribed anything stronger than chicken soup has been replaced by a team of corporate types who pay closer attention to insurance company billing loopholes than they do to medical journals. The musty old waiting room of long ago filled with two-year old National Geographic magazines has become a gleaming sanctuary where patients spend a good part of their day sitting in uncomfortable chairs watching bad reality shows on big-screen TVs. I don't know why they bother making appointments since they are never kept. Brusque nurses shuttle them from one waiting room to another until that magical announcement finally comes..."the Wizard will see you now."

It's hard to blame doctors for their money-grubbing approach to healing. There are big bucks to be made in the world today for a doctor who understands the rules and how to bend them. Whenever I visited Dr. Iorio, my childhood physician, the first question his nurse Millie would ask my mother was: "What seems to be bothering your son today?" By contrast, the first question asked of you these days, even if you walk in holding a severed limb, is: "Who's your insurance company." They won't even look at you until you can prove you're not a deadbeat. Nurses are not chosen for their medical training or empathetic manner, but for how well they know claim and billing procedures. On my last doctor's visit the young lady sitting at the reception desk was dressed all in black, had several facial parts pierced, and was covered with tattoos. She looked like she should be biting the heads off chickens instead of taking my medical history.

The patients are a trip too. They will freely discuss their ailments and symptoms at length with anyone who'll listen. Medications are a favorite topic. I heard the following conversation between two women: Woman #1: My diabetes medicine works good on my blood sugar but it gives me gas and diarrhea. Woman #2: I know what you mean...I take Zoloft and I can never be far from a bathroom. (Fascinating information ladies, can you please speak more slowly so I can get all of this down.) Then there was the woman that approached the Goth receptionist and spoke no English. It sounded like she was speaking Russian, and just showed up on the assumption that someone could help her. Goth girl kept repeating that she had to be able to "verbalize" what she wanted if she expected help. The woman got angry and frustrated. I sat there thinking that shouting words like verbalize at this woman was not going to be of much use.

My personal doctor is a great guy...too great. He loves to chat everybody up while the people in the waiting rooms are backing up and grumbling. His wife Anne, who helps around the office, is constantly barging in on patient conferences telling him to speed it up. His favorite topic with me is his health. He tells me about his weight loss and exercise regimens. He tells me what medications he's on and how he likes to cut his own grass even though he can afford a gardener. On my last visit I happened to mention our recent trip to Sicily. This reminded him of his army days and the time he spent in Italy. Needless to say, after 30 minutes of this, Anne stuck her head in the door and just glowered at him. I make my best "not my fault" gestures as her heated gaze rests on me.

Modern medicine has come so far. So many diseases are treatable today, hell, so many more diseases are known today than ever before. I'm happy about this of course, but I never get the same sense of comfort from modern doctors that I got from Dr. Iorio. He wore a rumpled grey suit, smoked like a chimney, and sported a great walrus moustache on his kind face. Not your poster boy doctor to be sure, but when he told me I'd be running around again in a few days, I never doubted him.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Old Grey Lady

Time to drag out the soapbox. Actually, it's never far away since the next rant is always as close as today's newspaper. 

The New York Times, for decades, was the newspaper that set the tone for American journalism. In the media world, the Times was Babe Ruth; they set the agenda for the rest of the major media outlets. Not only did many smaller newspapers run dispatches from the Times wire services, but network and cable TV news programs often went to the Times when they needed to decide on their lead stories the evening. The newspaper was referred to respectfully as "the old grey lady" because of the careful, methodical way they checked and double checked their facts before publishing a story. That nickname also came from the paper's penchant for details...columns and columns of grey newsprint with very few pictures. The times (pun intended) have changed. Nobody pays much attention to the New York Times anymore.

The way people get their news has changed. Very few people under 40 bother to read newspapers any more. Frankly, they find facts and details boring. I'd bet one of the fastest declining careers in the world is "fact checker" for newspapers. Rather than read carefully researched news stories that are continued on page 27, readers want their news short and sweet. If the story can't be told in a "twitter or a tweet" they can't be bothered to read it. As for facts, they too are not what they used to be. The New York Times would not print a story unless it could be verified by at least two independent and reliable sources. Now, it is more about being the first into print; we can always check the facts later and apologize if we absolutely have to if we're wrong. Even better, if the facts don't support our agenda, let's take a few liberties with the truth if it makes better copy.

And what stories do our readers want to know about over their morning coffee and bagel? War in Afghanistan? Floods in India? Earthquakes in Japan? No silly, they want to hear about what mentally deficient, ego-tripping athlete Kim Kardashian boinked last night. What is Brangelina up to, and who got bumped on Dancing with the Stars? What's even worse, while media outlets used to be content to report what was happening in the world, they now feel compelled to invent or distort stories to fit their own agendas, the more sensational or scandalous the distortion, the better. A classic example is the way NBC News doctored a tape to omit significant details from a supposedly verbatim 9-1-1 recording of George Zimmerman talking to the dispatcher about the Travon Martin shooting in Florida. They later apologized and characterized this gross distortion as an "error", but we all know what was going on here.

Liberal media outlets tend to be more guilty of intentional bias, but the Conservative media do it too. Opinion belongs on the Editorial Page; it should not be presented as "news" and used to inflame public reaction. This is tantamount to falsely yelling "fire" in a crowded theater; it just fans the flames of hate that are already burning too bright in this country. The apology for reporting "errors" that inevitably appears on page 19 never gets read, and the damage and misinformation created never gets corrected. Media outlets need to be held accountable for what they release. Mistakes can happen, but deliberate omissions or distortions to advance an agenda, if proven, should mean someone is going to jail.

The dumbing down of America is happening very fast. We can't afford to be without an independent press that helps inform us by reporting the news accurately and objectively without putting their own spin on it. The minute the media dances to the tune of politicians on either side, then we are no better than the oppressor countries we have always condemned. FDR may have said it best: "If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free."


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Will it Take to Put You in This Car Today?

As a public service, I try to heighten awareness of situations that push the agita meter into the red zone. I do this to spare those around me the anguish I have known; forewarned is forearmed. Today's topic is that all too familiar minefield, buying a new car. We have always had two cars in the family, usually about two model years apart. At present we have a 2007 Toyota Corolla, Jasmine's car, and a 2009 Toyota Camry that I mostly drive. I know, I know, we should buy American cars, but to be honest, Toyotas run rings around our domestic cars, and I console myself with the fact that many of them are made right here in the good old U.S.A. It's about time to replace the 2007 Corolla, and so the dance begins.

Car dealers have a reputation for being sleazy, dishonest and unscrupulous. Actually, they're not that good. Their commercials try to convince you otherwise, but they just can't change what's in their DNA...they are crooks. Anyone whose negotiated with a car salesman (or woman) knows what I mean when I refer to "the dance". You go to the showroom fully prepared. You know what the car is selling for and try to get it for around that price. The salesman's first response: impossible! You show ads from other dealers and get up to walk away. Now it comes...wait for it... "Let me talk to my manager to see what we can do." Is the car salesman the least empowered employee in all the world? Not really. Actually, he has the authority to meet a target price, but it looks so much better when he disappears into the back to "go to bat for you."

He comes back, his tie loosened, beads of sweat on his forehead, looking like he physically wrestled the manager in an all out effort to get a price reduction. "I tried my best..." he lies, "...and although he won't budge on the price, we will throw in at no extra cost a factory undercoating and the console cup holder (both standard equipment by the way) as a way of putting you into this car today". He smiles expectantly as if awaiting your thanks for hammering out such a swell deal. Your harsh laughter seems to confuse him as you get up to leave. "Wait, wait, he pleads, let me try again; I know there's some wiggle room on this car and I want you to have it". The dance goes on, and if you have the patience to play your part, you can usually get the car for around the price you expected to pay, but not without getting that hangdog look from the salesman like you were taking the food out of his kids' mouths.

I try to short circuit the dance if I can. I tell them I've done my homework and I know what I'm prepared to pay for the car. I ask them to give me their best number up front, and if I like it, I will write them a check in full on the spot. No financing, no haggling, and everybody saves time. I wish I could say this works, but apparently the band is playing and the dance must go on. To avoid this, we have bought many cars from an Avis dealer in New Jersey. They are leased cars that are sold after they reach a certain number of miles. The cars have been well maintained and you can usually save good money if you don't mind taking a year-old model. The salesman is a 90 year-old guy named Jack Morris who served as an airplane mechanic in WWII. Jack doesn't know the meaning of high pressure...he just quietly tells you the asking price and leaves you with the feeling that if you don't buy today, the car will be gone when you come back looking for it.

We trust Jack because in all the years we have been buying from him, we never got a bad car. I hope Jack lives to be a hundred so I can walk in to talk business and leave my dancing shoes at the door.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association