Thursday, November 22, 2007

watch your step...



The unfortunate little beast upstairs howls almost constantly now. Blind, deaf and thanks to its incontinence, now has to be housed in an infant’s playpen. It’s stubborn owner selfishly refuses to have put it out of it’s misery, choosing instead to live with it’s cries, like some sick canine version of Johnny Got His Gun.

This situation brings to mind something a much too honest friend of mine told me after the dissolution of a recent relationship, “You’ve never been able to finish anything and you can’t ever accept when something’s not working. That’s a bad combination.” (much like being impatient and slow moving....). She was right.

The whole relationship had turned into a really bad scene. He was my friend. She was my lover. I overestimated his friendship, and underestimated hers. They ended up together. His betrayal hurt more. My much too honest friend saw it coming. All of my friends did, actually.

The prickly emotional minefield that Memory Lane has become seems like some masochistic game of hopscotch that I can’t stop playing.

The dog upstairs refuses to die, like the memories, and the kick in the gut that accompanies them. They’re the kind of good memories that were over long before they were finished, like a great television series that has gone on 2 or 3 seasons too long. In the end you just wish that you had gotten out before the ending tainted the good times.

This minefield is over two years old now, even overgrown by other minefields in some places, but I’m still stepping on those memories and they still go off with brutal and terrible efficiency.

Monday, September 03, 2007

the price...



If you think about the most iconic portrait, which one comes to mind? Is it Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl?, or maybe one of the many amazing images by Annie Leibovitz , Walker Evans, , Robert Mapplethorp , William Allard , Helmut Newton , or Richard Avedon?

Portraits are the most difficult of the photographic pursuits. The skill of the portraitist is to capture a revealing moment that peers into the soul of it’s subject… it reveals the unseen, it moves us.

"Photographers are like hunters who possess the killing instinct, but not the desire to kill."
--Peter Coyote, "Exposure"

Stuffed animal heads on the wall, or portraits, same thing, both trophies of the hunt.

Some tribes believe that photographs contain the soul of their subject. That puts a heavy burden on the photographer.

Do we have a responsibility for the images we take?

Do hunters have the same kind of burden of conscience over their "body count”?

Some of my portraits have begun to haunt me.

The price we pay for the portraits we take is that they end up owning a piece of us.

I don’t have portraits on my walls any more…

Saturday, March 31, 2007

U S Airways: Taking The Short Bus To Customer Service


I arrived at the airport early to relax a little before my noon fight to West Palm Beach (connecting through Charlotte), for the Candidate’s speech that evening. (I would also be traveling to Miami early the next day for another shoot with the campaign photographer).

I treated myself to a breakfast of a Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger (truly the best burgers anywhere). It was really divine and I thought it a great way to start my day…

At 10:40am my flight was cancelled. No reason was given. I called my travel guru, who takes care of such things at the office, and she began desperately working on the problem of getting me on another flight to West Palm.

The barely audible announcement said to go to the “U S Airways Special Services” desk for “Re-accommodation”. What I had no way of knowing was that the term “Special” wasn’t so much a designation as it was a description. (Special, as in short-bus/crash-helmet special.)

I waited in line with 75 other people to be “re-accommodated” at the speed of lithium by the ONE attendant at the desk. The airline quickly cancelled two other flights within the next 30 minutes, increasing the line, but not the assistance at the counter.

After 45 minutes I was loosing my amused grin at the absurdity of it all. The travel Guru had me on speaker as she was dealing with the confused travel agent, who kept insisting that my flight wasn’t cancelled, and that she couldn’t really do anything until it was.

A few other attendants came and went from the Special Services Desk. None of them stayed long enough to help anyone.

My favorite was the one who approached the counter via the Dunkin’ Donuts stand. She perused the selection for a bit, chatting it up with the cashier, poured herself a cup of Joe and mixed in her additions like it was a science experiment. She finally sauntered around behind the desk, looking over the attendant’s shoulder for a bit, then left as slowly as she came, making sure to avoid any eye contact and ignoring anyone who tried to get her attention.

I noticed Flight 1223 direct to West Palm Beach was boarding and I walked the counter, abandoning my place in the re-accommodation line. With the Travel Guru still on the phone, I asked the attendant if there was any way I could get onto this flight, but before I could finish, he growled at me over the rims of his black plastic frames.

“There is NO WAY you can get onto this flight. I can’t help you. You NEED to get back into the Special Services Line.” I expected a couple of finger snaps to go with the headshake.

I stood there for a second, my eyes wide. US Airways: Where Customer Service always comes with a healthy dose of “FUCK YOU!”

The Travel Guru was amazed as well.

After 90 minutes in the stagnant line, my will to live was being sucked out of me quicker than a trip to Walmart.

My thoughts immediately ran to my luggage, namely the camera case. If that didn’t make it to my destination, there wasn’t much use in me going at all.

Things weren’t looking good. The Travel Agent’s computer still didn’t show that my flight was cancelled, and there wasn’t much hope of me making it to West Palm by 5pm, unless I could get to BWI airport in Maryland (fat chance, since I feared I would have to perform the 12 Trials of Heracles to rescue my luggage first).

The fall back position was a later flight to Miami to make the second shoot with the campaign photographer the next day.

I was next in line, the light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps? Wait, was that a whistle?

I was finally assisted, but not onto another flight. I collected myself and put away my frustration. Wearing my best Mid-Westerner smile, I said that I needed to get to West Palm Beach by 5-ish. It was a business trip, and it was really important, and could he help me out.

“Not a chance.” he said, his expressionless face seemed to be mocking the entire situation. I was told that I would not make it to West Palm Beach, no matter what airline I flew.

I didn’t believe him (he didn’t even check his little mystery screen in front of him, hell, his fingers never even typed anything in!), but what could I do? He offered no alternatives or suggestions, not even a fake apology.

I inhaled deeply glaring at his half closed, dispassionate eyes. “Where do I retrieve my luggage, then?”

“You have to go to the ticket counter.” He was already looking over my shoulder at the next person in line that he would refuse to help.

I walked to the other end of the world, past the security check point and back to the US Airways ticket counter.

The “Supervisor” told me to go downstairs, back the other way, to the Lost Luggage office in baggage claim.

My belongings were already considered Lost? This was going to end badly…

“Thank you very little…” and I was off to baggage claim.

I explained my situation to the people in the Lost Luggage office… twice. They couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that I wasn’t flying on a later flight. I told them that since I couldn’t make it there by 5 there wasn’t any point in going, and I just needed my luggage back.

“What flight were you on, Sir?”

“907”

“That flight was cancelled, Sir.”

Sigh. Slow Blink. Compose. Smile.

“Yes, I know. Where’s my luggage?”

She called the baggage room and was told that there weren’t any bags there from my cancelled flight, and didn’t know what flight they were put on.

I was told that my bags were probably put onto flight 1223, the non-stop that I was flatly refused entry on.

(I’m, frankly, astounded that my bags were allowed on that flight. Every time a passenger leaves a plane, or even fails to board, they lose their minds, stop everything and get their bags off. That’s the TSA and Homeland Security rule. So, how the hell did my bags get on that flight? No one could give me an answer on that one.)

When I asked when my bags might return I was told THAT THEY HAD NO IDEA!!!

(I am constantly amazed at how an entire industry can continue to run under such gross incompetence.)

“They could be on the 3:30 return from West Palm, if the bags make it there…”

“Wait, you just said that they were on flight 1223. So why wouldn’t they make it there?”

“I said that IF they were on flight 1223, sir…”

“You can’t track my bags? Isn’t that what the barcode on the tag is for?”

“SIR, we don’t have time to scan every bag. I can see you’re getting upset. When your bags show up, then I can call you and tell you when we can get them back.”

My eyes widened again. These are the people that are supposedly keeping my air travel safe?

These people were morons.

If it’s this easy to get an unattended bag on board a plane, I’m amazed that there haven’t been more terrorist attacks.

She handed me a laminated card and asked me to point to the pictures that most matched my luggage. I answered several descriptory questions and was told that when my bags “showed up somewhere” that I would be notified.

My late night flight to Miami to meet the campaign photographer had to be scrapped since I had no idea when my camera would be arriving.

Nice.

As I left the Baggage Claim office, I grumbled something about how this might be the only example of how government regulation could improve an industry. I can’t think of how the Fed could do any worse.

I took a cab back to the office, thinking that I’d be arrested if I stayed there talking to the drooling, inept employees at U S Airways. I was called about 2 hours later to say that my bags, apparently, had not made it onto flight 1223. They were still not located, and they would call me when they were.

By this time I was stuttering with astonished frustration. Every time I asked these people a question, they would just start jabbering on and never give an answer. I kept repeating my question, and calling her on her Clintonian dodges. She finally admitted, “Sir, I’ll be honest with you. I can’t tell you where your bags are, or when they’re getting back.”

I had to hang up or face prosecution for over-the-phone-man-slaughter.

I didn’t hear from Us Airways again until 10 pm. They said that my bags were at Reagan National. They would be delivered to my residence. Normally this is where a feeling of relief would wash over me and I would feel that an end to the ordeal was near, but that wasn't to be the case...

By 11:30 they hadn’t shown up. I called the 1-800 number and was told that the delivery people had a 1-4 hour window.

At 2:30AM I fell asleep. No bags. I dreamt of the raging phone call I would make the next morning, and the looming blog entry that would follow. I dreamt how the cc’d message to US Airways might actually reach a human person. I dreamt of how it was all so useless, and how this criminal enterprise called the airline industry would continue to survive and breed like a virus and continually operate on the bleeding razor’s edge of bankruptcy, with government bailouts, taxes, fees and surcharges to keep them afloat for just one more year. They would continue to restrict flights, passenger rights and privileges and maybe eventually ban human passengers altogether.

5:45AM my phone rings and my bags were delivered.

I would rather perform dental surgery on myself with no anesthetic than ever fly US Airways again.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

In Celebration of this Day of Days...


President’s Day.

This is the day where we honor the Commanders in Chief of our nation, both past and present. We honor their leadership and their sacrifice.
We honor them as only capitalists can: With mattress sales. Some crazy fat guy in a powdered wig and a frock coat, green-screened into a shot of a crowded store, beckons us with the promise of massive liquidation savings.
“I cannot tell a lie, these are the best prices of the year on Sealy Posturepedic and Sterns and Foster.”

It’s nice to have a day off, but what do we do to celebrate?

Some would say should we do exactly what our president would want us to do. The same thing he told us to do after the crisis in September of 2001. Spend Money. Contribute to our debts - I mean contribute to the growth of the economy.

I went to Whole Foods and bought some criminally priced steaks, what did YOU do?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tipping: Part 2 Electric Boogaloo



gratuity |grəˈt(y)oōitē| noun ( pl. -ties)

money given in return for some service or favor, in particular, a formal a tip given to a waiter, taxicab driver, etc.

ORIGIN late 15th cent.(denoting graciousness or favor): from Old French gratuité or medieval Latin gratuitas ‘gift,’ from Latin gratus ‘pleasing, thankful.’

I’ve previously railed against poor tipping at the coffee chain, now I want to look at it from the other side.

I want to tip. I like tipping. It takes so little to impress me toward gratuity. A basic understanding of a job, the smallest effort, it doesn’t take much.

But, I don’t tip if it’s not deserved. This isn’t a Mister Pink “I’ve been here a long fuckin’ time and she only filled my coffee once…” thing.

Bottom Line: Give me SOMETHING. Smile. Introduce yourself. Call me by my name. Fake it. But give me some small reason to want to tip you. It’s not a right, and in most cases, it’s not mandatory.

At the airport curbside check in, the Thrower dutifully helps me to check my 3 pieces of luggage, charges me the outrageous amount of $80.00 for excess baggage, then takes me to a machine inside to print my boarding pass.

“Can I get a receipt for the excess baggage fee.”

“You’ll have to go to the ticket counter for that. I’ll be the one taking care of your bags, sir.” She says in the well-rehearsed expectation of a gratuity.

“You can’t print me a receipt?” I usually tip a buck a bag for curbside. I look at her thinking; “You’re abusing the whole idea of gratuity. You’re asking me to go wait in line for a receipt when I used your service to avoid the very line that you’re FUCKING SENDING ME TO!!”

“No, I can’t print you a receipt, but I’ll be the one who TAKES CARE OF YOUR BAGS.” I remove one of the bills from the 3 in my hand, sighing disgustedly.

”thank you very little…” I mutter and stomp off to the fucking ticket counter line.

The woman behind the ticket counter barely speaks English. “We no print receipt, you go to where you charged, they print receipt.”

“The agent out there said she couldn’t print my receipt and told me to come here.”

She gives me the blank stare of someone who has just reached the dark outer edge of her understanding of the English language.

“I get Manager.”

The Manager, decked out in a pressed uniform blazer, informs me that he can’t print a receipt either. He’s sorry, but he can’t. I dicker with Blazer Guy for 10 minutes, mainly citing that curbside check in, supposedly faster and more convenient than waiting inside is, in fact, neither.

“I understand. I’m sorry.” He repeats this mantra 3 times

At the Manchester Airport, the hotel shuttle driver puts my bags in the back of the shuttle, drives me to the hotel, and drops my bags on the front sidewalk. He turns away before I can slip him his gratuity. He definitely deserves it. I want to give it to him. He drives off.

I drag all 4 of my bags up the walk toward the lobby. I’m my own Sherpa, with a big duffel one shoulder, a laptop case on the other, and a large pelican case in each hand. The guest entering the doorway ahead of me looks back, holds the door for a second, but thinks better of it, letting it close.

“You worthless, slobbering pile of dog-snot! I’m 5 steps away and you close the door in my face!” That fucker saw me, too. He witnessed my struggle with 4 heavy pieces of luggage lumbering up the walk, barely able to keep balance. Eye contact was made, which is an unspoken contract with your fellow man.

I stand at the door, stunned for a moment.

“No, that’s OK, I’ll get the door.” Setting down one case as the duffel slides off my shoulder, onto the ground, blocking the door that I’m trying to open, I mutter something about bastard fucker something or other.

Some people’s kids…

At the check in counter I sign the requisite paperwork and there it is on the bottom of the form, a check box. “Would you like to have a $2 per day gratuity added to your bill for the house keeping staff?”

First of all, if there is a tip to be given, I’ll give it.

Second of all, I haven’t even SEEN this room yet. I check NO. Are they going to ask me in advance for a tip at the bloody restaurant as well?

Once I check in, I’m told that I’ll be getting back on the shuttle to get to the building I’m staying in. It’s the Bed and Breakfast around back. “Great, I can give the shuttle guy his tip.” He comes back, loads my bags into the shuttle and drives me to the other building. Dropping my 4 bags on the sidewalk, he points to a doorway about 50 feet away.

“Go up that ramp there. You’ll have to use your card key to enter.” He does an about face and takes off again before I can give him cash.

“Dude!” I would have tipped him $5 just to help me through the fucking door.

I 2-trip it up the ramp, through the door, load a luggage cart and trolley down the hall toward my room….

Well, not exactly to my room. To a narrow Old New England stairwell with a sign pointing up to where my room would be. No fucking elevator…

“Sunova… (deeep sigh… finding my cave… power animal… happy place…) Fine. Fine, whatever.”

It’s almost 9PM. I haven’t eaten since 1. I call the front desk for room service.

“Only the main building has room service, sir. You can place an order for pickup.”

I call out for Chinese. I order General Chicken and 2 egg rolls.

“Minimum order 15 dollar.”

“How much is my order now”

“12 dollar 15 cent.”

I ordered a crab Rangoon, and meet him downstairs 20 minutes later. I must have be the last order for the night, since his family was in the car, all decked out in kitchen clothes.

I tip him $4 dollars, since he put forth a little effort for a customer by driving back to give me my receipt.

At 8am I wake to the email that the event here has been cancelled and the office will get back to me on my fate for the rest of the day.

I call the front desk to ask where breakfast is being served.

“We don’t serve breakfast there anymore.”

“Oh. I was confused by the sign out front that says Bed and Breakfast.” A silent pause. “So, it’s just the Bed, then?”

“Yes. The restaurant serves breakfast until 10 am.”

10 minutes after 9. Still have to shower…

“When do you start serving lunch?”

“We don’t serve lunch.”

“OK, when you start serving dinner?”

“The bar opens at 5 and the kitchen opens at 6.”

“Does the bar serve food at 5?”

“Yes.” Another pause.

“What do they serve?”

“I don’t know. Bar Food I think.”

“Right…” This conversation can only get ugly. I have to commit to it, or walk away.

I have to eat, shower or no, so I trudge off across the barren wasteland toward the restaurant.

The Funeral-Home-Quiet is deafening. Two couples quietly eat their meals, and 2 single older men sit at their respective tables. I wait to be seated.

And wait.

For over 10 minutes not a soul comes out of the back kitchen. No waitress, No hostess, nobody.

I wait some more.

It’s like everyone in the restaurant is serving detention. No one speaks, just the soft clinking of silverware on china and the mildly disturbing songs of mastication.

A tall, pale, Concentration-Camp-Thin woman with long, dyed black hair walks out of the back, saunters really. A slow, loping gait that says “I’m so over all of this, I could just puke.” She takes no notice of me, straightening up an already straightened table on the other side of the room. A long, slow, laborious arm sweep to make sure that the tablecloth is absolutely free of any offending wrinkle or pucker. Lazily placing the unlit candle, salt and pepper shakers and the packets of sweetener in the middle of the perfect sea of white.

She eventually makes her way over to me.

“How many.” Her squarish black plastic frames don’t even rise to meet my gaze.

“One.”

“Follow me, Please.” she mumbles, taking 6 lethargic steps to my table. She drops the menu and ambles away. She comes back a few minutes later to ask if I want any coffee. I take the opportunity to order as there is no telling when she might return from her next walkabout.

Moving at the speed of Lithium, she gets my Hash and Eggs to me, never coming back to ask if everything is ok. (In actuality she does only fill my coffee cup once.)

A little attention to a detail or two would make a world of difference. If coffee is the first thing I order, chances are that it’s pretty important to me. Keep an eye on it. (Isn’t this waitress 101 stuff?) I don’t need her to keep coming back again and again to ask if everything is ok, but she wasn’t busy and she didn’t come back, even ONCE.

I know that waitresses don’t make great money, and their job is pretty hard work. The tips are most of their take home pay and I think of a standard 15% as rent for taking up space while I eat, although I almost always go 20%.

It comes down to this: If your take home pay depends on tips then getting tips becomes part of your job. One smile, or a ‘Good Morning’, one lousy ‘Is everything OK?’ is all it would take to get a tip out of me.

I tip this waitress EXACTLY 15%.

She deserves far less and I usually give far more.

Before checking out I leave some cash for the cleaning lady who gave me extra coffee packets and an additional box of tissues.