Dancing With The Old Farts, or Tourists on Parade

I’m in Barcelona, briefly recovering from an eleven-day Transatlantic cruise from Miami. I heard the average age on the ship was fifty-nine. Therefore, I was a youngster on the cruise. This frightens me. (I also had my Mom with me. That will be the indulgence I claim to get away with the rest of this post.)

So after the cruise and today, I would like to apologize to the entire world for Old American Farts on package tours. I may have done this before, but I need to do it again.

Yes, the French always sound annoyed, Germans always sound angry, and Australians often sound drunk, but Americans can sound ignorant and arrogant at the same time, and that is worse.

First, I really must apologize to the Universe for all the assholes who have money and no sense of decorum. Being rich does not make you right. (I’m looking at you, Jerry Jones.) In fact, this behavior should just be called the Jerry Jones Syndrome.

For example, no matter how much you paid for your cruise, demanding a dish from one (surcharged) restaurant while dining in another (free) restaurant on the other side of the ship is a bit much. Yes, I saw this onboard.

When you are seated at a table, and the restaurant manager immediately arrives to see what’s wrong today, before the waitress even takes your order, you are assholes. Chill out. You may be rich, but that is not the same as privileged.

Now, it’s possible that the couple I’m considering spent all their remaining money for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise before one of them died of a rare disease, but bitching about absolutely everything will not make it a perfect vacation. Also, wearing an obvious wig that looks like a helmet is not a disease, unless bad taste has been upgraded while I was away.

I almost started a new non-profit this week. It’s tentatively called “Take a shot, Chill the fuck out.” (The name may need work.) It provides free drinks for people who desperately need an attitude adjustment immediately, before someone kills them, as a mercy killing, just to save the crew. I’ll post when the website is ready for donations.

Actually, it may be faster to just print some business cards that say “If everything were perfect here, it would be Heaven. Keep acting like you do, and you will never know. Tell Satan “Hello!” for me.” Well, “Congratulations. You’re an asshole.” would be cheaper to print, and easier to understand. I could have handed a few out this week.

I have to say that the staff and crew of the Norwegian Epic were cheerful, friendly and worked tirelessly for eleven days across the Atlantic to make sure all of the passengers had a good time. I just hope they were spitting in some food, just to save their sanity.

Back on dry land, I had the questionable joy of sharing a breakfast buffet with some different Old Farts in Barcelona this morning. The level of amazement expressed at simple things (“Clark! They have BREAD here! Ohmigod! EGGS!”) is really vastly annoying to me – mainly because I had not had enough coffee. After the coffee kicked in, I was just horrified.

People, the world is not all the same as at home, that’s why you travel, but in some places, they do have better food than your local Hampton Inn buffet. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve been there. it’s called France, and Spain and Germany, just to name a few. Stop being shocked every time you leave the USA.

By the way, yes, the ham here in Spain tastes funny, it’s Iberian ham, and they don’t have it at Shop-Rite. They have it in Michelin-starred restaurants, and Spanish hotel buffets.

Now, I’m sure with the weakened eyesight many of them have, it must seem like the buffet goes on forever, but the one this morning wasn’t really that abundant, compared to some I’m seen in Europe. I’m not complaining, it was very nice, and I love this hotel’s staff, but I really don’t think I would swoon in joy over it, or loudly name each item to my companion. Unless she was really blind.

My beloved Spousal Unit told me I was overreacting (well, she told me to shut the Hell up), but I don’t understand how someone can live to that age, have enough expendable income to take a trip to Europe, and then be totally confused by a buffet, even if English is the third language on each sign. If you can’t recognize pastries without a sign, you’ve got issues.

Oh, a bonus observation – almost any European coffee beats the crap out of Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Just sayin’.

Maybe it’s me.

My real issue this morning was the Old Fart Shuffle – the famous dance step where some one stops short, looks in confusion at a common item as if seeing it for the very first time (“Clark! Butter here is mantequilla!”), then staggers forward and doubles back to look at the item next to it. This is only dangerous when the person in question is between me and my coffee, in a hotel where there is no coffee in the room.

The Old Fart Shuffle is not to be confused with the Salmon Waltz, which is when one person (say, for example, my Spousal Unit) wanders to the buffet, glances at the bountiful items – not the massive number of people already in line – and promptly swims upstream against a herd of tourists, because the one item she wants is near the end of the buffet.

It was much the same later today at La Sagrada Familia, although it’s a church, so people are supposed to shut the Hell up, and for the most part, they did.

As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the staff remind you it’s a church, and tell people to remove their hats and pipe down, while they also charge admission, have two gift shops and give guided tours. I guess “Eighteen Towers of Jesus” didn’t test-market well, so they named it La Sagrada Familia. They’ve been building it since 1882. This is before most of us were born, but significantly after most churches in Europe were completed.

Since most of the famous churches I’ve seen in Europe are surrounded by scaffolding, I give the Spanish points for actually admitting they’re not done yet. They could tell most Americans it was damaged in the Greek Rabies War of 1673, and the tourists would just nod, so kudos for telling the truth.

At the church, and most famous sites, tourists do the Fashionista Strut, where they blindly walk into everyone else’s photos. Granted, an iPhone is not known for its ability to capture architecture, but still, take a look around you when you walk. Unlike photo-bombing, which is cruel but funny, the Fashionista Strut is just people not paying any attention to their surroundings. If you see someone with a camera that doesn’t fit in a pocket or receive texts, and he is staring through a little hole in the back of it while twisting a long thingie on the front, he may be composing a shot. If you wander directly in front of him, and then stop just briefly to check Facebook, you will be in his shot. Often, you will completely block his shot. Beware. This is the same crime as getting between a man and his coffee at the buffet. Perhaps worse.

All these tourists, wandering around, completely oblivious. Then, they wonder why Barcelona has pick-pockets.

Back at the hotel, a guy just had a five-minute argument with the bartender because he had never heard of a gin martini. Dude, first of all, she’s a great bartender, she’s my bartender who runs a tab for me, so don’t mess with her, and if you don’t know the proper way to make a martini, just get a damn beer. (He finally did.)

After all that, I’m pretty sure, in spite all that I’ve done, when I am finally sent to Hades, the reason will be the number of times I thought “Jesus Christ! Get out of my goddam photo!” while in a basilica.

I just hope God remembers that I took my Mom along on the trip and I didn’t make her read this.

So it goes.

Fish Fries And The Hunger Strike

I’ve had some interesting food in Malaysia. I had noodles with pork for breakfast one day, Japanese pastries stuffed with a hot dog (it looked like a big kolache) for lunch, and an Asian breakfast burrito (I have no idea what the true name is, but it was really tasty.)

All the sausage seems to be chicken, since pork is avoided. The chicken sausage has been very good.

So, I had tried new and exciting foods, but I was on the way home at last. There was breakfast on the flight from KL to Hong Kong, and I was hoping there would be a non-Asian dish available. The flight attendant was asking if people wanted fish fries. I was surprised that they don’t call the fish they were serving fish fingers or fish sticks.

I kept hearing “Fish Fries”, which I thought was a Burger King name for mini-fish sticks. However, they would be good airline food, since they reheat easily.

As the flight attendant got to my row, she was asking if we wanted an omelet or fish fries. I hadn’t heard “omelet” before. Although I decided fish fries would be good, I had the omelet on the way to KL, so I chose the omelet again. It’s breakfast food.

The omelet is very tasty, and it comes with chicken sausage, so it’s a good breakfast, even if you’re not on an airplane. So, even though I haven’t had fish sticks in forever, I had the omelet.

The person next to me chose the fish fries. He received fish and rice. So, I think I need a hearing aid, since FishRice sounded like Fish Fries. For twenty rows.

The omelet was good, as usual.

That was the trip to Hong Kong. The next leg was Hong Kong to San Francisco, which was exciting because it was a tight connection, and we were late getting in from KL.

If this were a stand-alone blog post, it would be called “11 1/2 Hours Of Random Kicks From An Adopted Cleft-Palate Chinese Baby”, but that seemed really long.

When two gate agents meet the plane with your connecting flight on a sign, things are not going to go well.

One of the agents counted heads, got enough of us, and said, “Follow me!” Apparently, her goal was to make the plane, and keeping the group together was up to us. If I could dodge and weave that well, I’d still be playing soccer.

It would be easy to follow a young dark-haired, slim Asian woman in a red dress in the Hong Kong International Airport, except that describes most of the employees of Cathay Pacific.

We made the train to switch terminals, got to security, went through the crew-only line (woo hoo!), then made it up the elevator and down two sections of moving sidewalk to the gate. They were still boarding.

Our bags were searched (for appearance sake) and we got on the plane. I had booked a middle seat in the bulkhead row only because it was the only bulkhead seat left on the plane.

How bad could it be?

So, I have an old guy on one side and a Yuppie-Hippie tattooed Dad with a lap child (the baby in the too-long title) across from his wife (Earth Mother) and three other kids. Kill me now.

At times like this, I prefer to think there is no God, since I had said a quick prayer when I got onboard. Granted, He’s busy fixing people’s brackets this month, but a guy hogging the armrest on one side and a lap baby on the other? How much have I pissed Him off over the years?

Of course, I later found that a younger Italian-looking guy had switched seats so Dad could be parallel to the rest of the family instead of behind them. One row behind them.

I was beginning to think God really hates me.

During the first meal service, a really old Indian gentleman behind me didn’t get his vegetarian meal. The flight attendant tried to explain that you need to confirm special meals, but he refused to talk to her after she said it wasn’t onboard. This is the ultimate cranky old guy – she doesn’t exist anymore. The supervisor came by, offered to make him an alternate vegetarian meal, but he just muttered at her. Finally, he accepted. When she delivered it, he refused it. So, now I have a hunger strike in the row behind me.

This shit never happened in business class.

My little friend just took a dump for the ages. When Third World people get an “I smell stink” look, you know it’s an impressive one. I’m glad she was over by her Mom, not that I was spared much.

Baby comes back to Dad. Every time she rotates in his lap, I catch a whiff. Somebody didn’t bring the wipes, I guess.

A few hundred miles later, and the baby goes on a crying jag. Dad wanders off with her. Some of the poop smell lingers. Maybe the old guy next to me isn’t just belching. (I have never heard someone burp this much, and I used to drink in college.)

The hunger striker just agreed to green tea. I’m beginning to see rum in my future.

Six and a half hours to San Francisco. Oy vey.

The hunger striker was coerced into eating something. I would have thought an average hunger strike would last longer than a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but Cathay Pacific are taking no chances. I guess if the overhead bins are full, there’s no place to put a body. I wonder if a dish is still vegetarian if someone has spit in it.

I need a nap. I am not going to need white rice for quite a while.

One of the kids had an extended coughing fit. It went past medical into “Somebody notice me.” If that kid can hit a drum with the same rhythmic accuracy she can cough, we have the next Ringo.

Even flights from Hell eventually end. This one ended with my bag being almost literally the last bag delivered, which meant I was late through Customs. That meant I was running through my second airport in 24 hours to make a tight connection. There was another train involved, as well.

One other moment of excitement – Cathay Pacific hadn’t issued a boarding pass for my Dallas flight. The American kiosk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass since it wasn’t an American flight (it’s a code share.) Luckily, the agent printed me one. So much for self-serve.

That got me into the Priority Access security line, where businessmen and random stupid people collide. There should be a quiz for passengers before they are allowed to book travel. If people don’t know by now to take their damn shoes off, when my taxes are paying for a TSA agent whose only job seems to be droning, “Take your shoes off”, I guess that’s why airlines still have to explain how seat belts work.

I had my first window seat in quite some time, so as I watched the ground crew finishing up, I saw a truck come up with late bags, and saw mine going onboard. It’s time to go home.

Here’s when you know you’re back in the States. You can buy a glass of iced tea that has ice, and is more than six ounces. Here’s when you know you’re on a US flight – you get a can of Dr Pepper and a lot of ice. After 14 hours of juice poured into a small cup from a liter box or Coke from a liter bottle, it’s nice to be back to cans. Plus, the flight attendant’s name tag says, “Oh Miss”. Sarcasm, how I missed thee.

This is now officially the trip that will not end. I will explain.

My iPad battery is dying, my phone is dead, and we’re still flying. So, I got my GPS out to see where we were. It got a lock fairly quickly. We were almost to Albuquerque.

Then, the Captain came on the speaker. “We have a medical emergency in the back. The closest airport is Albuquerque.” So, at least the GPS works.

We landed in Albuquerque and taxied near a gate.

Paramedics took a passenger off in a wheelchair. His wife followed behind, with her head down. I don’t know if she was embarrassed or avoiding the hate stares.

Now, we have to top off the tanks, take off, and get a new landing slot at DFW. We were doing 580 knots back to DFW. Somebody at AA corporate must have decided paying for hotel rooms would be a bad idea.

The first estimate was an hour or so late into DFW. I am very glad I am done with connections for the day.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I left the hotel in KL at 5:00pm Thursday, Dallas time.
I crossed into Texas at 7:00pm Friday, Dallas time, per GPS, and yes, I cried a little.
I landed at DFW at 7:40pm Friday, Dallas time.

Of course, our gate was blocked, so we had to wait to get to the gate. The crew asked that people without connections let everybody trying to catch their next flight get off first.

It was like a clown car. I was in row 16, and I never realized there were 367 rows behind me.

Now, to get home.

First, I had go find my suitcase. The sign said carousel A16. The agent said A15. After a handful of bags, he said they were all off on A15. Mine was not there. Of course. So, I waited until the carousel stopped, and went to report my suitcase missing. The same suitcase I had seen go onto the plane in San Francisco.

My assumption was they pulled it for the medical emergency man by mistake.

It was on A16. I’m still wondering how bags from one flight ended up in two carousels.

Home at 9:15pm Friday, Dallas time.

28 hours, 15 minutes. It’s the fifteen minutes that really made it tiring.

Almost Acclimated

I’m in Petaling Jaya to attend a seminar that starts tomorrow. I was going to have meetings with the local team today, but as the local team is only one person, and we met yesterday, I’m just working from my hotel room this morning. I know where the coffee is, somebody will bring me food if I call, so why would I walk next door to the office where I don’t have a desk?

I suppose I should be annoyed about traveling here early but I slept until almost 5:30am this morning and I will have to be in the seminar for six hours or so tomorrow, so the extra rest is probably good. I do know I went to Australia once for three days, and was still jet-lagged from Australia when I got home, so the extra time to acclimate is helpful.

I did visit the office yesterday and wandered around the Innovation Center, so that’s another one crossed off the list.

I was probably the only one in the bar last night having a wee pint for St Patrick’s Day. I had to settle twice – first, I went to the Cigar Bar (the Havana Club, which according to a glass by the register is actually a rum brand), and asked for Jamesons, but they didn’t have Irish whisky, so I had to settle for Scotch. Well, they learned it from the Irish, so that’s close.

The Havana Club reminded me of the Ice Bar on the Norwegian Epic – from an employee standpoint, it probably sounds like a really good deal, but then you realize there’s not a lot of traffic (I was pretty much the only customer the whole time I was there last night – my wife and I were alone in the Ice Bar last year), so it’s actually pretty boring. I’m pretty sure in both cases, it’s treated as a promotion – “You’re going to be the bartender at The Havana Club! You will have your own bar!” – but then you get there, and you realize “your own bar” means working alone, and while there are a lot of cigar bars around, there don’t seem to be a lot of cigar smokers. Actually, I was told most people come in, buy some cigars and leave. I felt a little hypocritical having asked for a non-smoking room and then going to the cigar bar, but so it goes. Plus, because I went, I heard the basics of the career aspirations of a cute 28-year old Malaysian woman who doesn’t smoke cigars and is really tired of being alone at work for long stretches.

It just occurred to me that was probably good training for me to be an old, crotchety bartender as my second career. Wait. Wasn’t she supposed to be listening to my problems? It’s a bit awkward to be in a bar when you’re getting hungry, but you feel the need to have one more drink, because the bartender is not finished with her story yet. So it goes.

One interesting note on the Havana Room (for those who don’t follow @xriva on Twitter because I mentioned it there last night, I think), the walk-in humidor has a biometric lock on it. So, the bartender had to lead me into the humidor to choose a cigar after opening the door with her fingerprint. I should have checked if she was packing heat.

This was the second biometric lock I’ve seen in a couple of months – the other was on the SoftLayer Data Center in Dallas. So, I have now have had a cigar that is as secure as the computers running the systems that turn startups into millionaires.

Since I hadn’t had a Guinness for St Pat’s, I stopped in the lobby bar on the way back to my room, but they had Carlsberg on tap, so I settled again. By this time, I was starving, and there was a small tray of sad somethings rotating in a warming oven, so I asked if there was any food available. The waitress brought me a menu, and then brought me another one. The second one was the room service menu. (The first menu seemed to be a subset of the room service menu.)

Another good idea. (Norwegian does something similar on their cruise ships – they will bring you a pizza wherever you are on the ship.)

So, I had a cheeseburger. It was amazingly good. I may have one for lunch, in fact.

Here’s an interesting question – the hotel has a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and an Asian-inspired buffet (where I had lunch yesterday, including sweet corn ice cream), so where does the American food on the room service menu originate? I would actually rather go to the restaurant and have a steak for dinner than try to eat it on the same desk as my computer, but the only place you can get cheeseburgers, sandwiches and mozzarella sticks seems to be from room service, or from room service in the bar.

An interlude – Sweet Corn Ice Cream. Now, when I saw that small tag, I just assumed it was another instance of mis-translation, and it couldn’t possibly be what we call “corn.” I steered clear of it anyway, and took vanilla, which looked very yellow, which means there’s a lot of cream or fat (or something.) 

Back at my table, I took a bite, and it didn’t really taste vanilla. It tasted like … sweet corn. Wow. Now, I’m not saying I would come back here just for the sweet corn ice cream, but once you get over the weirdness, it’s not too bad. It’s just .. weird. 

So, the physical part of acclimation is done – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and almost sleep through the night. (Didn’t I have to learn this as an infant?) Tomorrow, comes the schedule acclimation – starting at 9:30 am (maybe 9:45 am) instead of 8:30 am or 9:00 am at home, eating lunch at 1:00 pm (ouch) and finishing, well, when we finish, I guess.

I’ve learned to ask about schedules ever since I had a workshop in Stuttgart years ago, and about 11:30 am, I hit the end of one of the modules, and said, “Well, let’s break for lunch” and my host said, “We’re going to lunch in about an hour and a half.” Oops. Time to keep talking. So, always ask the locals, because not everybody in the world is on the same lunch clock.

Will It Go Round In Circles?

I almost remember the first time I heard the term “FAQ”, and it was a long time ago. It’s a TLA (a three-letter acronym) and it means “Frequently Asked Question”.

After I learned what a FAQ was, I actually had a job where I was supposed to generate them. Technically, I was supposed to generate answers to questions that we had not necessarily received, but we called them FAQs, anyway, because we assumed we would receive them frequently, eventually. Assuming people didn’t read the FAQs first.

I always thought it was strange to predict what questions would be asked frequently and answer them before they were asked. I suppose it’s the one time we could have used a psychic on an IT project, other than predicting completion dates for development projects.

Then, I found Cruise Critic, and I was enlightened. Cruise Critic is designed for people to review cruises they’ve been on, ask questions of other people on cruises, and discuss cruising in general. So, like most hobby bulletin boards (yes, I remember computer-based bulletin boards), you get a mix of newbies and old farts. These groups do not mix well.

Here’s the major issue – there are no FAQs there, other than metadata about using the website. So, while there are many frequently asked questions, there are no answers easily found. So, the same questions come up over and over.

Part of this is that people are ignorant. Not in the pejorative sense, they really don’t know yet. This is why you have a book on cruising called “What Time Is The Midnight Buffet?” You don’t know something because you’ve never done it before. The truly ignorant don’t even know what questions to ask. This group is blissfully silent.

Part of this is that people are lazy. If you do a basic search through the forums, you can find an endless number of previous entries and responses about almost any topic. However, even without search, you can look at the subject lines and find pretty much any of the frequent questions within a couple of pages. They’re that frequent.

Part of this is that people are ignorant (again)  – they don’t understand how bulletin boards and mailing lists actually work. They’re public. You see everything, not just your stuff. (I’ve had people on my digital photography mailing list [5000+ users] complain that they’re getting all sorts of conversation and not just the specific answer to their question.)

So, a lot of the usefulness of these sites are compromised by not only the same questions, but by the same complaints when the question is asked. Repetition scares off the people that know the answer, and then the new people can’t get any replies.

Meet some of people that ask the questions.

First of all, is the clueless newbie:

  • “What time can I get on the ship?”
  • “It depends, but it is probably printed on your cruise documents, the cruise lines’ website or both.”
  • “You’re mean. Can’t you just tell me the exact time?”

This basic conversation will repeat almost daily.

Then, there is the helpful newbie who doesn’t grasp the whole picture:

  • “Since this is the Report The Senior Staff board, I can tell you we had Captain Stubing on our trip.”
  • “WHAT (*(#$*)( SHIP? WHEN?”

Apparently, someone did not know that a cruise line may have more than one ship. I’ve lost count of how many posts are in the current year’s crew discussion board don’t mention the ship or the sailing date.

Some newbies require reassurance:

  • “I just booked a ten-day cruise from Miami and I’m in the corner cabin. My family will be with me. Is this a good idea?”

What are you going to say? If your family is prone to seasickness, no. If you can’t afford it, no. f you can’t get to Miami, this might be a bad idea. How many people are in your family? How many will fit in the cabin?

Then, you have the inadvertent war starters. For example, in the Norwegian Cruise Line section, somebody will ask about removing or changing the automatic tipping (a hot-button subject) every other day, and the same firefight will break out. I know it’s the same firefight, because someone actually said “Here we go again.”

The interesting question becomes – who’s fault is this? The people who don’t do any research and ask the same question somebody else asked three hours earlier, or the people who take the bait over and over?

I’ve actually considered whether some of the “newbies” are actually just old farts laying down flamebait to watch the other old farts rise up in fury. If so, well-played. I’m sure you’re laughing hysterically somewhere.

On the answering side, you also have the usual band of suspects:

Then, we have the Admittedly Ignorant, Yet Opinionated:

  • <any question known to man about <some cruise line>
  • “I don’t know about your question because I’ve never been on <cruise line>, but I think that Carnival’s scones are the best at sea.”

Seriously, if you don’t know, shut up. I know you have an unlimited data plan, but that doesn’t mean you need to post all the time.

Next, are the Search fanatics.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “Haven’t you searched?”

If someone is asking a question, I would like to think that they searched and didn’t find an answer. It’s possible (probable for newcomers) they haven’t. However, answering a question with a question is pointless, and starts the usual ranting for answering a question with a question. (These people should be paired with in Hell are the people who start questions with, “I didn’t have time to search, so …“)

Finally, are the Scolding Moms.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “We discussed this at length LAST WEEK. Scroll back and find it.”

Isn’t it faster to just cut and paste a summary? You might remember it, since you remember when it was discussed. That may actually help the person asking the question.

The problem with this system  is that the newbies are scared away from discussions because the old farts tend to get high blood pressure and yell at them. It’s not really yelling, but it seems like it if it is your first innocent question and you just haven’t realized yet that  it’s everyone’s first innocent question.

I’m an old fart on cruising. I have my seventh and eighth cruises scheduled this year – which is no Captain Stubing, but it’s a lot more than a first-timer. I do my best to be helpful, but it does get old. Quite old.

Hopefully, someday soon, Cruise Critic will learn to post realistic guidelines on the use of the site. Here’s some I considered: 

  • The first source for information on your cruise is your cruise line’s website. If you can find this website, you can probably find theirs.
  • The more definitive the answer, the more likely it is an opinion.
  • If you have a question, you are probably not the first one. Look around first or put on your asbestos underwear.
  • Please remember this is a world-wide site, with differences in experience, culture and language. Think before you hit “send”.
  • Religious wars happen in all hobbies (Carnival vs Norwegian, Ford vs. Chevy, Democrat vs. Republican.) If you have an opinion on a specific question, please join in. If you’re just going to point someone to “your brand”, please don’t bother, it’s not helpful.

If they can have a post that you reminds you that you can’t link to Facebook always show up at the top of the topics  list, you think they could add something like this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell someone what time he can board the ship.

Class Warfare on the High Seas

Where to begin?

Cruise Critic asked yesterday on their Facebook page for opinions about the “ship within a ship” concept, such as The Haven by Norwegian. This is a private area of the ship with suites, a private restaurant, and higher service levels. It is more expensive than the rest of the ship, so it is more exclusive. I expected a few people who have stayed there to say, “It’s nice”,  a few to say, “Don’t care, can’t afford it”,  and all the Carnival fanboys to say, “Norwegian sucks. I would never travel with them.”

That wasn’t the case.

Apparently, a lot of people are really, really upset that there are suites on a ship. There were howls of protest, and calls of class warfare and elitism. Seriously?

I’m still trying to wrap my head around “It’s not fair.” I’ve flown over a million miles in First, Business and coach, and I’ve never sat in coach, looked at the front of the plane and thought, “The fact that First Class exists isn’t fair.”

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I stayed in the Haven on the Norwegian Breakaway last year. It was really nice. I liked having a butler, even though I really don’t have any idea what he can do for me. The concierge was great for getting seats for the shows and solving problems. The private restaurant makes it easy to get breakfast in the mornings. It’s pricey, but we got a last-minute upgrade offer on our Transatlantic cruise, and I figured since it was all sea days, that would be a good time to have some extra services. So, we spent the extra money.

We’re in the Haven this year on our Transatlantic sailing, as well – mainly because my Mom is going with us, so we needed a cabin that holds three people. We thought about just getting two cabins, but it was more cost-effective to just get one large suite with two bedrooms than two balconies next to each other.

According to some people, if we’re in the Haven, we shouldn’t be on a Norwegian ship at all, we should be on a luxury cruise line. Wow.

I’m going to tell my butler I expect him to check the door to the Haven every day for people with pitchforks and torches.

This has nothing to do with class. It has to do with the personal allocation of money.

People today associate money with class (the upper classes have money and the lower classes don’t – and it’s not fair), and the two do not necessarily go together in all cases. There are people who have money and will only sail in an inside cabin, because it’s the cheapest way to go and then they can take more trips. (I don’t have the time to take a lot of trips, so I tend to spend more on the ones I take.) If you go to South Dallas, there are people who live in shacks that could probably be condemned and there is an Escalade parked out front. Some people like driving expensive Cadillacs. It’s their prerogative. It has nothing to do with class. It has to do with how people decide to allocate their money, and what is important to them. Cars are more important than housing to some people.

I am going to spend more on my cruise than some of the other people on the ship. It’s my prerogative. It has nothing to do with my social status. I am not going to look down on the others on the ship and think, “I’m better than you.” I may think, “Wow, I know how to dress better than you”, but that’s a different discussion altogether.

I might be able to afford a luxury cruise line (where some of the complainers think I belong), but I choose not to do so – because it costs more than I’m willing to pay. It’s my prerogative.

I don’t understand people who think just because they can’t afford something, it shouldn’t be allowed. These people are pissed about suites on ships, and First Class on airlines. If you don’t want to spend the money, you don’t have to spend it. If you’re in an inside cabin or a balcony or a suite, the ship is going to the same places. You still get room and board included in your fare. You still get free entertainment. What is the issue?

If you persist in feeling bad about yourself, because you’re not in some exclusive area of the ship (or the plane, or the train), that’s between you and your shrink. It’s not my fault. You can’t deny people services they are willing to pay extra to receive just because you can’t (or won’t) pay the same amount.

As far as I know, virtually all cruise ships have different types of cabins at different price rates. Should ships be built with only one type of cabin so nobody feels bad? Suck it up, Buttercup. This isn’t fourth grade soccer where everyone gets a trophy. This is real life. In real life, companies cater to different people by having different price points.

An interesting question – how many of those complainers would turn down a free upgrade to a suite, because, after all, the suites should be eliminated? 

If you are going to complain that people in the suites are trying to get away from the riff-raff, you are probably admitting you think that you are the riff-raff. That is just sad. Really, you should have a higher opinion of yourself. Even if you can’t afford to stay in the Haven.

A year ago

One year ago today, my Dad passed away. His was one in a series of deaths that happened in rapid succession, so when I went back to look at my blog post about it, I realized I never wrote one. I think I set up his memorial website (http://www.johnvgilhooly.com) and linked it on Facebook, and that was about it for social media. It’s interesting living in an age where I have dead friends on Facebook.

We had just lost my wife’s Aunt in December, and I had created a website, helped write her remembrance, help choose readings for the service, and was just back from the service when Dad died. So, in a way, the death checklist cycle just started over, and I never really thought much about it – I just went through the motions again. A death can be surreal, especially when they happen close together. (From December 2013 to February 2014, we lost my wife’s Aunt, my wife’s cousin (a beneficiary in her Aunt’s will), one of our friends from baseball, and my Dad. So much for deaths in threes.) 

I lost a Dad and gained a Mom, since I’ve now spent more time with my Mom in the past year that I had since I left for college. My parents were a true partnership, and duties were divided, which meant when one partner left, the other may or may not have any idea about how some parts of life’s enterprise operated. Luckily, my Dad was an attorney and everything was pretty well documented. He even wrote his own obituary. This was someone who pays attention to the details.

So, a year later, I’m re-reading my eulogy, and I’m trying to remember the day.

I do know that I had been in St Thomas Aquinas Church hundreds of times – I had even served Mass there for years, but that day was the first time I was ever in the pulpit. I remember my brother and I were both frantically trying to find the lectern – he’d never been in the pulpit, either. So, I spoke from the pulpit. How we were spared fire from the heavens raining down is still a mystery to me. 

I tend to find something to obsess about during times of extreme stress, since if I have something to concentrate on, I won’t freak out about whatever is really happening. It’s the mental version of biting your lip to keep from laughing or crying. Distraction. I was actually obsessing about trying to remember which of my friends from work I had seen before the service, so I could thank them later, and I was obsessing about having addressed Abbot Peter Verhalen from Cistercian as “Fr Peter” when he is actually “Fr Abbot”, but I think he forgave me. It helps that I knew him before he was even “Father”, since he graduated right after I started there.

I’m not sure why I remember all that.

Here’s what I said that day – although I’ve been told that reading it was not as funny as seeing me deliver it. I don’t really like saying “deliver it” because it makes a eulogy sound like a sketch, which it should not be, unless I’m delivering it. Then, all bets are off. However, the best (and easiest) laughs are produced at times of crisis or sorrow, because nothing is funnier than when it is inappropriate to laugh. I really hoped people would laugh. I hate crying. I also thought echos of laughter in an acoustically sound Church would sound really cool. They did.

I said:

Reverend Fathers and Deacons, family and friends,

For those who don’t recognize me, I’m Kevin John Gilhooly. My Dad didn’t want a “Junior”, so I have his name as my middle name. I realized this morning, that had I been a Junior, people would now be saying, “Look, it’s Littlejohn”, so, my Dad was a wise man. For those who thought I was Stephen, he’s my younger brother. He’s next.

My memories of my Dad are very distinct moments in time, rather than a wash of almost 53 years, which is how long we knew each other.

My Dad was a first-generation American. My Grandpa Gilhooly emigrated from County Leitrim, Ireland early in the 1900s, and settled in Providence, RI. So, since this is about someone of Irish descent (and technically an Irish citizen), it starts with a drinking story and it ends with a drinking story.

This is the story of my first official drink. I was already 18 and I was working in a liquor store, so it was not my actual first drink, but this was the first one Dad bought me.

Dad had invited me to lunch, which was a bit unusual. We went downtown, which was a bit unusual. Since we were downtown, and the restaurant he chose was next door to St Jude Chapel, he suggested I go to Confession since we were “in the area”. I’ve always wondered if tricking someone into going to Confession was a sin. Probably not.

We went into the restaraunt and he ordered a bourbon and Coke. Dad asked me if I would like a drink. I said, “I’ll have a Jamesons and water.” He hadn’t realized that people that work at liquor stores get discounts, and that causes rather expensive taste. I think he was secretly impressed. It was a very good drink.

Now, some random moments.

My Dad and I did one “traditional” father-son activity together. The YMCA had a program called “Indian Guides”, a father-son activity. I was most excited since we got to choose Indian names for ourselves. After much consideration, I chose “Running Deer”. When the leader asked my Dad for his Indian name at the meeting that night, he just looked tired, and said “Walking Deer”. At least we sounded related. It was either about a six-week summer program, or that was how long Dad needed to discover he was not Native American. (Surprisingly, my brother Stephen was never an Indian Guide.)

There are many occasions where at the time, it seemed we didn’t understand each other at all, which is probably common with parents and children. These are the moments life lessons are passed down. Sometimes.

Two life lessons about food.

When Stephen and I were growing up, we usually attended 9:15am Mass on Sunday. As a special treat, some weeks, we would go to Kip’s Big Boy after Mass. On one of those visits, I was told I couldn’t have my original order because it was too expensive. So, I changed my order. (This was all before the waitress arrived, since orders were generally pre-approved.) Then, Dad ordered himself ten Silver Dollar pancakes. I was incensed. Ten dollars worth of pancakes after denying my reasonable request for extra bacon? (Or whatever it was.) Then, our breakfasts arrived. My Dad was paying a dollar each for some of the smallest pancakes I had ever seen! I finally had to ask why they were a dollar each. Dad had to explain they were the size of silver dollars. I had never seen a silver dollar. So, life lesson: never assume your parents are insane until you do the research.

Another morning, Dad made English muffins and asked how many I would like. I said four. Moments later, he arrived with a really large pile of hot breakfast treats. More than I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure I could finish that much. So, I asked, “Why are there so many English muffins?” He said, “You asked for four.” He counted muffins pre-slicing. I never realized I had been eating half muffins. Important lessons a parent can teach.

Life lessons about music.

In 1974, Joe Cocker had a hit song called “You Are So Beautiful”. There are not many more lyrics in the song than those in the title. Basically, “You are so beautiful to me. Can’t you see? You are so beautiful to me.” For a 14-year old who had been writing poetry in English class for homework, it was a moment of clarity – pure emotion in a minimum of words. For a 44-year old corporate attorney in the middle of a seven-hour drive to visit his in-laws, it was not. He said, “You think they would have bought a few extra lyrics.” To each his own, I suppose.

My first concert was the second Texxas Jam in 1978 at the Cotton Bowl. It was an all-day show, with multiple bands. My Dad was my date. Actually, he invited himself so I wouldn’t be maimed or murdered. I had never smoked pot, but I did recognize it when the guy next to my Dad tried to pass him a joint. (He declined). In fact, later on, Dad mentioned in a rather loud voice that he really didn’t like the smell of marijuana. We had more room around us after that, since I’m pretty sure everyone thought he was a narc.

The only band Dad liked was The Little River Band, and that’s because they closed with “Return To Sender”, a song older than I.

Fleetwood Mac closed the show. As Stevie Nicks sang, “Rihannon”, Dad leaned over and said, “What is she saying?” I was in the middle of a “You Are So Beautiful”-poetry moment, but I managed to answer, “Rihannon. She’s a Welsh witch.” That was the last time I got the “You kids these days” look. I suppose the lesson is that some music does not cross generations.

Some life lessons about business.

My Dad was part of the Bob O’Links Homeowners Association. In fact, he was the President for a time. That was the group that successfully fought to keep Bob O’Links Golf Course zoned for single-family homes while the owners were trying to get the City Council to change it to allow apartments. So, if traffic is a bit heavy on Abrams at times, think what it would be like if the area from Abrams to Wendover and Bob O’Links to Sondra were all filled with apartments. Thanks, Dad. Fight the good fight, because sometimes, you win.

I worked at TI for a couple of years after I moved back to Dallas after college. My Dad actually helped get me in the door. I was on a small team that produced ad hoc reports for people – in the days before PCs, only the IT staff could access information easily.

I had a report requested for someone in the legal department, and had done a number of iterations, but I couldn’t get what they wanted. I finally asked who the report was for. In a hushed voice, I was told “John Gilhooly.” So, I went over to my Dad’s office and asked what he was trying to prove. A couple of hours later, he had his numbers. So, find out who is in charge, and ask them. That was actually a real life lesson. Also, you may never know how important your Dad is until you see the level of fear in his people’s eyes as a deadline approaches.

I will close, as promised, with a drinking story. This one happened last Monday night, the day before Dad passed away. My wife Virginia and I went to visit him while my Mom was teaching her grief counseling class. Technically, we were Dad-sitting. He was asleep when we arrived. Since he was on pain killers, I thought he might sleep the entire time we were there.

Mom showed us where everything was (which was in the same place since 1972 when they bought the house.) She said he could have orange juice to drink if he wanted something. She wasn’t sure he would want food.

A few minutes after she left, I heard Dad calling me. He was awake and wanted to get out of bed. I helped him into his wheelchair, and brought him into the living room, so he could be with us.

I asked if he wanted something to drink and he said, “Yes. A Bourbon and Sprite, but only half a jigger of Bourbon.”

I thought for a moment. On one hand, here was a cancer patient on hydrocodone asking for alcohol. On the other hand, it was only half a jigger, and he’s Irish. Plus, he had a twinkle in his eye that meant “I know I’m being bad”. So, I made him a drink.

He said he was hungry. My (Italian-American) wife Virginia made him some dinner. She also gave him a piece of cake she had brought over.

So, the last thing I did for my Dad was fix him a drink, and the last thing Virginia did was feed him. Somehow, that seems appropriate. I am very thankful for that evening.

Goodbye, Dad. See you on the other side. I’ll have a Jamesons and water.

Thank you all for being here with us.

Short and sweet.

It’s interesting to read that piece again today, because the first time I re-read it, I realized that almost everything in the eulogy happened before I was eighteen or the day before Dad died. There was a long period of time where we were at odds with each other, over any number of issues. However, as the elder son, it was my job to fight all the battles, so my younger brother would know which battles to fight and which to pass.

I remember that almost being”Littlejohn” actually occurred to me as I was walking up to the pulpit, so I wasn’t exactly focused before I got started. The question about tricking someone to go to Confession is much, much funnier if there is a line of priests and deacons on the other side of the Sacristy that you can pause and look at, inquiringly. That’s when everybody laughed.

I don’t think I really cried until the piper started playing at the cemetery. I never knew my Dad wanted a piper at his funeral. In fact, obsessing about why an Irishman wanted a Scottish player at his funeral almost kept me from crying, but some songs make me cry.

It all seems like a long time ago, now. In a way, it was.

When you’ve been estranged from someone for a number of years, losing him is actually very awkward. Everyone expects that you had the same relationship with him that they did, but nobody else was his eldest son. It’s different.

My wife still thinks “I should call Mom” constantly and her Mom’s been gone for over five years – but they were very close. She thought about calling her Aunt for advice on doing her Aunt’s estate. My family does not have this type of closeness, for good or bad.

I haven’t thought “I should call Dad” very much in the past year, since I wasn’t thinking that when he was still there to call. We had managed to get from “estranged” to “distant” or “formally cordial” by the time he passed, so we were making progress. We just weren’t there yet. I guess we’ll finish on the other side.

He was still my Dad, estrangement, arguments and all. He’s still gone. That still sucks.

Principal for a Day

Dallas ISD and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce with a number of business partners sponsor an annual Principal for a Day – where business people shadow a local principal for a day and see what life is like within Dallas schools. I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I volunteered. 156 or so others from the business world agreed with me, and volunteered as well.

There are actually a number of schools in DISD that I could claim a connection with – although I went to private school all my life. However, I know teachers all over the district through mentoring and IBM Summer Camps.

That said, I requested Dan D Rogers Elementary School since it was five minutes from my house, and I played football on their team when I was in third grade (I waited too long to sign up and the St Thomas Aquinas team was full. Never play against your classmates if you are on the offensive line. They tend to just knock you down and ignore the actual play).

I had a full day of activities. I met with Lisa Lovato, my Principal, before the actual day to discuss how I could assist her and what I could do during my visit.  She seemed surprised that someone had been assigned to her school, but when I explained five minutes versus the hour-long challenge that is my daily commute to Coppell, she understood. She had a long list of possible assignments for me to do – much more than a day’s worth. I was surprised to find some of my fellow Principals for a Day spent as little as a couple of hours at their school. While I understand time is tight, there didn’t seem to be much you could accomplish in two hours.

On my day as Principal, I shadowed Ms Lovato for part of the day and also managed to do lectures for a couple of classes – and do lunchroom duty! There is a lot to do in an elementary school.

The most stressful part of the day was doing the morning announcements – I was warned ahead of time, but the script was a bit longer than I expected, and I had to remember which were my lines and which belonged to the students assisting me!  Also, nobody told me the bell was going to ring in the middle of my speech. You cannot speak over the bell. Afterwards, one of the students was celebrating a birthday, and part of the announcement had been to remind him to come to the office and get his birthday pencil, so I got to sing “Happy Birthday” to him while presenting the pencil. At this point, I wondered if this was actually a Principal’s regular duty or just a wee bit of hazing.  Considering my singing, I think the student was more traumatized than I was.

One of the teachers actually called during my announcements to find out what a Dallas Principal for a Day was going to do – she had transferred from a district where students were principals for a day, so she didn’t know what to expect. It is always good to strike fear in the hearts of those working for you.

Ms Lovato and I did spot checks in a couple of classrooms – observing how the teacher was delivering the day’s lesson plans and taking notes for later discussion. We also visited the special needs pre-school classroom and visited with the kids, who were doing counting and color matching exercises. It was impressive to me how many of the students she knew by name – across all the grades.

Since I am the President of Sparky’s Pals and I do humane education as a volunteer, I did our “Be a Tree”  presentation on bite prevention to two of  the second grade classes and later to all four of the kindergarten classes. The presentations went well, and I had a lot of good questions from both classes. The only part that threw me off a bit was at the end of the kindergarten presentation I was asked “How does a dog smell?” I wasn’t sure how that was part of the presentation, but I said, “With his nose, like you do. If you don’t wash him, he smells bad.” {Ha, ha.) Next question – “How does a dog see?” Hmm. “With his eyes, just like you do.” At that point, one of the teachers mentioned they had been discussing the five senses just before they came to the lunchroom to hear me. Suddenly, the questions became clear.

I did lunch duty for the fourth and fifth grade, which is mainly reminding the students that there is a limited time to eat – but there will always be time to chat later in the day. It was also a good chance to talk to some of the students and get to know them, even though they were supposed to be eating. I was asked why I was so scared doing the morning announcements, and we had a good discussion on my lack of Spanish-speaking ability. If a student says, “I don’t speak English at all. I really don’t. Just Spanish.”, he may be fibbing.

It seemed like both a short time and a long day. I left before the parents started arriving to pick up their kids, since I could have been blocked in the parking lot. The staff was worried about my being able to leave on time, since there was a reception in Uptown for all the Principals for a Day and their “real” Principals. I reminded them I was still Principal for a Day and could just declare early dismissal. They all laughed politely.

Ms Lovato said a number of students asked if it was true I was the new principal. I guess “for a Day” was not emphasized enough.

Because of my time in the school, I’ve been asked to present at their upcoming Career Day, to be a reader at Dallas Reads (11/12/13 and 2/28/14) and I was also asked to help judge the Science Fair. So, I’ve gone from driving past Dan D Rogers on my way to work each day to being much more involved with the school. This was an added benefit.

I did see two of my IBM colleagues at the reception, so I was not the only IBMer. Hopefully, next year, we can find more volunteers.

I will be able to tell my colleagues that want to “help” in the local schools – the best way to volunteer is apparently to just show up – the principal and teachers will find something for you to do!

I will have to update my resume to include DISD Principal (for a Day) (Retired.) Well, I’m retired until next year, at least.

Fast Food

I have a dream that people will stop fucking whining all the time. This week, it’s the “huge” population of vastly underpaid fast food workers. They’re on strike for higher wages, except it’s not really a strike. They just didn’t show up for work so the press would cover it. It’s interesting that in the USA Today story, it mentioned a couple of restaurants didn’t actually close completely and others re-opened as soon as the press left. In other words, this is actually a publicity stunt since they are not organized. Actually, I assume it is organized by the unions who are desperate for new members now that union rules have destroyed the auto industry. I also assume that even though the workers aren’t educated enough to get jobs outside the fast food industry, they are intelligent enough to realize if they’re posturing on the front steps, they’re not getting paid.

Some of the whiners on strike probably haven’t noticed the smarter workers just went to work, because they need the money. They probably haven’t also noticed that the store can run without them because anybody off the street can work fast food. They won’t do it well, but once you learn the motions, it’s not a difficult job, if you can deal with the tedium.

The strikers all need to shut the hell up and get my  damn order right when I go through the drive-thru. Then, they might be worth minimum wage.

If a customer can walk into a fast food restaurant off the street and order their own food by pushing colorful buttons on a register that’s just been turned around backwards, you are not a highly skilled worker. If a customer can walk into a restaurant, choose a steak from a cooler and cook it himself on a grill, you are not a highly-skilled worker. If you can’t feed your family of six on minimum wage, you need to make more than minimum wage, or perhaps you shouldn’t have a family of six. The real issue you have is that once you have a family of six, it’s a bad time to find out you can’t afford them.

If the Churches that are organizing the protests would just provide day care for their members instead, some of the protesters wouldn’t have the issue, and some of their members could have baby-sitting jobs. Problem-solving is better than complaining, people.

I’m still trying to figure out what minimum wage really represents (if anything) – not fiscally, since it’s $7.25 per hour in the USA which is easily researched, but in reality. The Department of Labor just says minimum wage is the least you can legally pay someone. It doesn’t say how that number was calculated. If you work minimum wage forty hours per week for a year, do you make the poverty level? Are you at the seventeenth percentile or some Congressional number? I have a feeling it’s just a number somebody made up at one point, that has been occasionally adjusted for inflation over time when somebody needed re-election.

I finished that last paragraph, and I decided to do the math.

The minimum wage times forty hours times fifty weeks (we’ll assume even the grossly underpaid need a vacation) is $14,500. The poverty level for a household of two is $15,510, according to the US Government statistics. So, if a married couple both worked fast food jobs full-time, they would be above the poverty level. In fact, they could afford a child or two, according to the poverty tables.

I wouldn’t recommend it, since kids are expensive and unpredictable.

So, if the strikers claim they are living in poverty, they’re basically lying, unless they have more than four people in the household or only one worker. It’s also possible they’re not working full-time.  Of course, lately, all the news about people not working full-time has been about companies avoiding paying benefits. I’m sure any of these are the case for some of them. Frankly, that is their problem, not the government’s. Well, the avoiding benefits problem was caused by the government, but that’s another argument.

My assumption on the minimum wage is that it’s not supposed to be a living wage, it’s just a number. However, it’s a number that affects pricing of everything, since it helps businesses calculate their minimum costs for labor.

Before I get the usual hate mail. I will say that I worked in fast food. I worked at Wendy’s for two years in high school and part of one summer in college before I found a job at a liquor store which had much better benefits – discounted liquor beats cheap cheeseburgers.

Working fast food is tedious. You have to learn the proper way to make all the menu items, you have to learn the lingo, you have to learn how long you can keep items before they are trashed (french fries have a shelf life of five minutes), so if you make too much, you’re wasting food which pisses off the manager and if you make too little, the line keeps growing which pisses off the customer, you have to do the same thing over and over unless you change stations, you have to cook items to a customer’s specifications and you have to make sure everything you produce is pretty much the same – all quarter pound cheeseburgers should be the same size, for example. In other words, it’s just like working in a professional kitchen as a line cook – for anyone that watches Food Network or MasterChef or Top Chef.

I am not saying fast food is the equivalent of top-quality restaurant food. I’m just saying you go through the same motions. (I remember Anthony Bourdain has actually said immigrants (legal and otherwise) run the kitchens of NYC. So, maybe instead of working at Burger King, you should just apply at Les Halles.)

Working at Wendy’s is actually a fun job as long as you are surrounded by your peers – I worked evening and weekend shifts with almost all my neighborhood friends – and as long as you’re not working full-time.

That said, I did work during the day in the summers and I did work full-time whenever I was off from school. I noticed that the older people who worked days were usually much crankier than the people I worked with in my age group. They were also much more protective of their hours, but they didn’t seem to enjoy their time at work.

I remember thinking at that point – “These people have made a bad career choice, and they know it.”

I had no intention of being a line cook for my entire life. My dream at that point was to be a store manager.

I was blessed by managers who either were willing to train an eager recruit or just hated doing paperwork. By the time I was seventeen, I was regularly closing out registers, ordering supplies and I was in charge of new-hire training for all of Dallas. In other words, I did more than was expected of a regular worker. I wouldn’t say I worked my ass off, because some of my friends did just as much work as I did – and a couple moved to another restaurant as managers. I just did more than the minimum. I also got raises – not much, but enough to be more than just symbolic. Again, more than the minimum.

I was one of the few people in my group that figured out that doing the manager’s paperwork was a good way to be excused from cleaning the grill or running the Bissell through the dining room.  (Either that, or everyone else really hated paperwork.) This is one of the important lessons required to have someone suddenly desire to go from blue-collar to white-collar. (Ironically, the Wendy’s shirts were blue and white, so everybody was both. I just realized that.) That was an “ah-ha” moment – “Wait. I can sit in the back in air conditioning, and read a form to a woman on the phone and I don’t have to scrub floors?”

My parents were not pleased with my career plan. At all. They did not consider becoming a fast-food manager a valued career. So, they squashed it. Loudly and cruelly (at least it seemed at the time.)

If I were a Wendy’s manager today, I would have a lot less stress in my life. Mainly, because I could not afford a wife, two cars, a house and five sickly dogs. So, I would be alone in an apartment near my store, because that’s all I could afford. Occasionally, I would try to sleep with one of my co-workers, as long as she was legal, even though that would cause complications down the line. It would be a rather painful (yet quiet) existence.

Hopefully, had I become a store manager instead of going to college, I would be at least a regional manager by now. Then, I might be able to afford the wife and maybe a couple of sickly dogs. I doubt that I could have paid for my son’s college, though.

So, fast food is not a good long-term career. The first clue is that you don’t get paid very much. The second clue is that anything you are required to do you can learn in two hours on a Saturday morning from a seventeen-year old. This means the work is not very complex – and not very complex doesn’t pay well. The last clue has been automation – if they can build a register that anyone off the street can figure out without any training, then the employees running the registers are not very significant.

I understand the plight of people who didn’t make it through school and can only work fast food because it’s one of the few jobs that requires very little training (and it’s indoors, which is critical in Texas). However, as my parents wisely told me (quite loudly), it is not a career choice. It is supposed to be a job that you do while you are learning a skill so you can get a better job or start a career. If you never learned a skill, that’s why you only make minimum wage.

McDonald’s and Wendy’s et al make millions at the corporate level, but you have to remember that many of the restaurants where the workers now think they deserve more than an entry-level nurse are actually franchised operations (and company stores are being converted to franchises regularly) – and those local owners are not usually high margin operations. So, if you take a much higher percentage of the “vast income” from that store, that store is going to close. Then, you can multiply your hourly wage by anything you want, because anything times zero is still zero.

Next time you bitch about your wages, ask who owns your store. I worked for a company-owned store, one of the few in the area. Wendy’s is selling 72 Dallas restaurants to franchisees currently. So, it’s important to know. Corporations love franchises. You sell them logos, fixtures, building designs, and sometimes raw food. Then, you take a franchise fee and a percentage of all sales. It’s a lot less work than listening to under-skilled workers bitch about low wages.

If you work fast food and can’t afford to live in New York City, let me tell you – I know people with graduate degrees who make more than minimum wage that can’t afford to live in New York City. Move to Brooklyn, Jersey, or a Red State.

People deserve to be paid for their work. Some work is worth more than other work. If you are doing low-worth work, you will get paid a low wage. The government will make sure it is at least a minimum. That’s how it is. You need to do other work or more work. Bitching doesn’t make your work more worthwhile.

My memories of Wendy’s are very happy ones – it was a very happy place to work, as long as the workforce was a bunch of high school students from good schools who were working for date money (and to meet dates). Over the years, the store staff slowly migrated to people who had made fast food a career choice, usually by the sin of omission. (Like not planning, not finishing school, not using protection and suddenly having mouths to feed.)

As the staff changed from high school students working part-time to career fast food people working full-time, the mood changed. It became a much less happy place, for the staff and unfortunately, for the customers.

After a while, it was a pretty cranky place and nobody was really trying that hard. I would go in and count the inspection violations. It bothered me a lot to see the place fall down before my eyes.

Then, it closed. I drove by one day and it was gone. A few weeks later, it was a fried chicken place. It lasted a few years. Then, it was another chicken place, that lasted months. Now, it’s just there. So, now, people blame the location. It’s not the location.

Minimum wage is not the problem. Minimum motivation is the problem. I don’t think doubling these people’s wages is going to help with their motivation.

You have the right to work. You do not have the right to be rich. That you have to earn.

Baseball for Baseball’s Sake

I’m becoming an old fart. Some will say I’m already there. Specifically, I’m an old fart baseball fan. They’re the worst kind, actually.

You would think the most annoying part of a baseball game to an old fart baseball fan would be the umpires. You would be incorrect. The most annoying aspect is other fans.

Why? Because they are not fans. They are barely spectators.

I do not understand why people pay good money to purchase a ticket to something they don’t care to watch. If you don’t care about baseball, why do you go? You can find beer in other places that don’t have an eight-dollar cover charge.

Because people don’t want to watch the game, the team does all sorts of things to entertain the crowd. This includes having a blob mascot run up and down the top of the dugout to get the crowd into the game. My seats are just behind the dugout. So, I can’t see the game since the blob is right in front of me. So, I’m being punished because other people won’t watch.

Do the fans a favor. If you don’t care about the game, DON’T GO. You’re loud, you’re distracting and you’re wasting your money. Don’t take your kids to teach the teamwork. You’re teaching them ignoring the game is fine.

Baseball is the only major sport that has predictable pacing. Other than the teams changing sides at the middle or end of innings, an injury or a pitching change, the game goes on. It is easy to follow. You know where the pitcher is going to pitch. If you’re fanatical, you can keep score. You can keep yourself immersed in the game. You just have to pay attention.

This is especially true in the minors, where games aren’t usually televised. There are no TV time-outs. The game just plays.

So, I don’t think true fans need mascots. Or t-shirt guns. Or beer barrel races. They need the game to unfold in front of them, so they can enjoy it.

If you don’t understand baseball, watching the game will help you learn. Watching the mascot will not.

Can’t we go back to a time when fans watched the game? Maybe “in the old days”, people paid attention because they had to skip work to go to a game.

I miss those days, and I wasn’t even there. (That is the definition of an old fart, by the way.)

Please Sign My Petition

I’m beginning to wonder if the ease with which people can share their cause du jour online doesn’t do more harm than good. In many cases, people are actually spamming your friends. Since “friends” is a relative term in the online universe (thank you, Facebook!), we all may just be annoying people we only tangentially know. We may also be inviting people to support causes they actually oppose. (If done on purpose, this is funny. If not, it’s really annoying.)

The main cause of angst in the Facebook world is Causes. Causes is a lovely application for non-profits to reach out to their donors and constituents to keep them updated on the activities of the organization. It’s also a way to fund-raise. As the president of two non-profits, I liked it. However, it’s a separate application, which can make it a pain to use. We’ve actually pretty much retired it, since we can do most of what it does from our own Facebook page, and then, we don’t have to update multiple sites.

As a casual user, I hate it. I am bombarded by requests to sign petitions and support causes, and most of the time, the requests come from people that won’t even send me a personal note. If I get a request from someone I know, someone that I interact with regularly, then I have some hope they actually sent me the request on purpose. Most of the time, Causes just helpfully sends a note to everyone in your address book if you don’t tell it not to do so. This is called a “spambot” when a program does it without the user knowing.

It gets even more dicey when you’re not really “friends” with someone – you’re a co-worker, or a distant relative (or worse, in-law), or friend of a friend, or met them at a conference. Causes doesn’t differentiate. It also assumes that if someone signs one petition, they will want to sign more.

Here’s my personal issue – I’m the President of Sparky’s Pals, which does humane education. It’s an outgrowth of the years my wife and I have spent in animal rescue. However, I am not a vegetarian. I think the “PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals” shirts are actually a bit funny. I’m still annoyed at HSUS for trying to make Michael Vick a poster child. Now, many people in rescue will think I’m a bad person. However, they’ll know why I’m not signing their petitions.

I’m also the President of a community radio station, KNON 89.3 – the Voice of the People. However, I am not a raging liberal Democrat. I didn’t vote Obama. Twice. The only useful thing Obama has done is create the petition system on the White House site, because it lets people annoy him. I do not believe he will ever take action on any of the petitions. However, I do sometimes think Texas should secede, and that petition made the limit for a White House response easily. Then, they raised the response quota. Well-played.

The difference between Causes and the White House petition swamp is that the White House owns their system. Somebody there actually reviews the ideas. For Causes, I’m not sure the targets ever find out there are people annoyed at them.

Here’s my request – the next time you sign an online petition, think “If I had to put a stamp on this, sign it, and mail it somewhere, would I still sign it?” Before you click to send it off to all your friends, think, “Does <whomever> think this way, too?” If you don’t know, uncheck the name. If you don’t know for the majority of your friends in the list, ask yourself if they should be your online friends at all.

If Facebook wanted to make life easy for people, it would force applications to use the groups people create. In my case, baseball players probably don’t care about animal rescue. Animal rescue people don’t care about gun rights, at least not the way I do. Very few people care about my thoughts on religion. I know this. I could just uncheck name after name when I’m signing a petition, or I can just not use the system. I’m thinking about just blocking the Causes application to end the madness.

For anyone still reading that wants to send me a petition, here are my rules:

  • If it’s something I don’t believe in, I don’t sign it. If you don’t know if I believe in it, why not ask me? If it seems really rude to ask me, are you really my friend? Maybe it’s best to just not send the petition.
  • If it’s not local to me (say Texas or closer), I don’t sign it. While I care deeply about the plight of the cockatoo in Namibia, I really don’t think anyone is going to help it. People are starving there – do you think they care about animals?
  • If it’s not written in clear, correct English, I don’t sign it. Take some time to edit, people! I don’t believe anyone in authority pays attention to something that is not well-written.

Feel free to use my guidelines.

I would start a petition about this, but the irony would be lost on most people.

Finally, could you like this post? My wife said if I can get one million people to like this post, I can buy a Mustang.