Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wigdoll freaks me out and other recent photos

I have taken a few photos recently that I would like to share.

First is a sweet baby.

This little doll is bald. But she is modeling her favorite wig. She is a fan of Loretta Lynn.

I also saw the Statue of Liberty. In Tennessee.

Here Brad and Courtney sport a serious pose in front of Lady Liberty.

And here is Lady Liberty, cross in hand, in all her glory without the heathen blocking your view. She's in front of a massive church, across from a religious bookstore, a rent-to-own store, and a minimart.

Belated Christmas.

I dressed up for Christmas. I got the nose from my Secret Santa at work. I got the antlers at the office holiday party. Everyone got them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Escaping: getting out of London

View from the Tate Modern: People were evacuating. I didn't know that. I thought it was just cool to watch all of the people down below. Then I was told to evacuate.

Up and away. After three days in London, I’m headed home. I’m perched in row 12, mindful of my business class position as I stretch out to nearly horizontal bliss. Somehow, I have a terrible pinch in my neck which seems to be causing far more discomfort than the comforts I receive by sitting in my seat. Every time I lean forward or shift or prop my head up, I am fighting such severe pain, I am aware of my body’s newest limitations. Every seat adjustment, each time I try the tools designed to make the business class traveler more comfortable, I am more cognizant of this sharpness.

The three days were supposed to be a last posture against the overwhelming stress that seems to consume me. With luxury accommodations, museums and shopping, surrounded by London’s masterpiece architecture and throngs of culturally upbeat theatre-goers, the trip was to refresh me. I would be joined by a friend visiting from Paris. Together we would explore the Soane Museum, return to the Tate Modern and wind our way past the dinosaur bone casts and giant plastic whale in the Natural History Museum. We would peruse the shops along Kings Road, Fullham Street, and join the throngs of deal-seekers filing under the awnings on Portobello Road. Later we would carefully select a pub and kick back a couple of pints. I would seek out new places to shop, like undiscovered Hammersmith.

Everything I would do in London was actually done. It was not enthralling. It was a getaway. But the cold British with their odd interactions, the rush of traffic past Hyde Park, conversations overheard, and unreasonable prices make London exactly what it was to me. Quick getaways can make us appreciate our own hometowns, our own lives, and even our own stressors.

I liked London, as a city, on this trip. I had never really cared for it much in the past. I saw beautiful neighborhoods and interesting shopping districts. Manicured parks and circles looked inviting, but were gated to prevent entry from common passersby. The diversity is curious, with Africans in colorful folds, Indians in saris, the Chinese in Western wear, and pale English people -- fat and thin – with the empty expressions that are the trademark of the British.

Before and after: I sucked down a very rich hot chocolate at Paul, the French chain patisserie, in London.

Outspoken bigots. Being in another land, riding a different subway, listening to new voices, seeing prices in pounds. That’s what a quick jaunt to London should be. But I also heard much of the same and saw much of the same. Yesterday when I ducked into a local chicken shoppe, I quietly ate my chips, peeking up at the posters on the yellow walls. In wandered a Black man, with an accent suggesting he may have come from the Caribbean or Africa. He wandered table to table, asking to bum a fag and some pence. After he’d left the immediate area, the woman seated near the window turned to address the two of us who has been approached by the man. She was stout with a black top hat and a red-and-white striped scarf.

“Those people really should be removed. They emigrate over and simply beg. He’s not worked a day in his life. He spends it in front of the shop, doesn’t contribute to our society at all.” She smirked. “I know they make immigrants sign a form that says they won’t be on the dole, but these people just come and become indigents.”

I looked at her for a moment and returned to the chips, trying to dip them in what was left of my ketchup. She continued to talk, but the other person in the room listened to her and served as her sounding board. Her accent was one of those that sound like clips of English. I’d probably call it Eliza Doolittle, but I don’t know one bad British accent from another. I just heard lots of words. “Oh yeah, they certainly do.” “Never a day in his life.” “Lazy, they all are.” “Used to be a better neighborhood.”

It was a conversation that easily could take place anywhere in the US. I could hear it in Mississippi about the local Blacks, or in Michigan about the Mexicans. But you don’t usually hear it between female strangers in the presence of others. At least, not in 2008.

Americans don’t have a reputation for being the quietest and most polite citizens. But after hearing the boasting and loud shouts and the general lack of civility in London, I feel a lot better about Americans. Americans with their slight smiles and pleasant “Have a nice day.”

Being upsold. This morning, when I left my hotel, I waited for a hotel-marketed Hoppa bus. A shuttle that runs between Heathrow-area hotels and the airport terminals. Passengers must buy a £4 ticket. When I inquired about the next bus at the hotel, the first person told me it would arrive in a few seconds. The second told me it would come in two minutes. The bus came 15 minutes later. All the while I watched the free public buses passing by every two or three minutes in the direction I was heading.

I had taken one of those free public buses the night before. The ride from the airport took about five minutes and the bus had dropped me just a block from the hotel. Now I was wasting my time because they had sold me a ticket for an inferior service. I could have taken bus Route 140 again and skipped the Hotel Hoppa. Don’t listen to the people at hotels.

Louise Bourgeois' spider under gloomy London skies: I 've seen this in a few other cities.

Protecting us from terrorists. This morning, I arrived at Heathrow and headed toward the security lines. I was stopped by one of Heathrow’s 4,000 employees who have menial security jobs. I was told to put my suitcase into one of the metal cages to see if I could take it on the plane. This is a suitcase I’ve carried on at least 500 separate planes. It fits in the overhead bin, front window to aisle, minimizing the amount of space taken up in the bin. When the woman at the airport set it on top of the cage, it didn’t slide right in. I took at and pushed it in. I showed her it fit and she said, "OK.” Then I tried to remove it and it wouldn’t come out. I picked up the giant stand attached to the cage and turned it over to shake out the suitcase. Suddenly four of these employees surrounded me telling I had purposely jammed it in there. One employee helped me remove it and then told me I would have to check my bag. I told him I would absolutely not check my bag, I would take out more stuff so it would fit in the cage and then I would put the stuff back into my suitcase.

I did exactly that. In a huff. And I left London.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The monster I’ve become

Flying here and there. It has been a while since I’ve been on a flight, so I haven’t had an opportunity to be forced to sit in a seat and write in my ejournal. But there I was on my last flight in seat 14 C for about five hours on a US Airways flight from San Francisco. The A321 was my home at 35,000 feet while I watched the heartwarming Nanny Diaries and a M*A*S*H episode on the cabin screen. The thing I noticed about the aircraft was that all of the aisle seats leaned toward the aisle. I guess all of the people in aisle seats who have flown to Charlotte over the last ten years made a bit of a dent. None of the aisle seats had a structural support on the aisle - just a curved bar that floated above the floor. So all of the seats leaned. You’d think they could fix that. You would think so, but this is US Airways. So I sat in the leaning seat. And that’s where I became an ogre.

First, let me say that I actually think I’m a nice person. As much as I admonish myself for taking out my anger on Walgreen’s employees, I am nice to most of them. I always thank the bus driver. I strike up conversations with seniors who look lonely. I think people are generally good. And I’m kind to children. And most pets.

Cruelty. I remember as a child, it seemed that there were always mean adults on the plane. And on my last flight, I was the mean person. Even though I really did nothing mean.

As the six-year old girl in the seat behind me colored snowflakes with her father, she continued to kick my seat. Not intentionally, I am certain. I overheard their tender conversation and put my headphones over my ears, concentrating on the US Airways in-flight entertainment: an advertisement for the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. But finally, I turned around, forced as polite a face as possible, and asked the child, looking at her father as I spoke, if she might try to be very careful and not kick her feet against my seat. Her face flushed with the look of shame, as if she’d been discovered doing something evil, like skipping school or punching her classmate. And the fact that another adult had spoken to her about her behavior in front of her father made it a very uncomfortable experience.

I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid. I kicked seats before I ever realized that other people had the right to the space around them. And then I was scolded by adults who were not my parents. The adults were probably very nice to me, but I remember the experiences with horror.

The girl’s father apologized and said she probably didn’t even realize she was doing it. He explained to her that the man in front of her (I was that man) could feel her feet pushing on his seat. I flashed a harmless smile, offered a meek “thanks,” and retreated to my forward-facing direction.

Somewhere in the middle of the flight, the girl’s parents traded seats. Her father moved back to 16 D and her mother moved up to 15 B. The child remained in 15 C. And at some point during the second half of the flight, the jostling began again. Those little feet, restless as they are, started bumping and pushing against my seat. I tried to meditate and remain calm. But I couldn’t even close my eyes and rest with the swinging of little feet. So, I did it again. I pivoted on my knee and peered over my seat to the eyes staring up at me. Eyes that showed a look of hate. I squinted up my eyes into the friendliest look, putting on a face that showed patience. It showed that I recognized that it was a mistake and a that I was a really, really nice guy who didn’t want to shame her but really, really just wanted her to remember that her feet might accidentally be tapping the back of the cushion. And it wasn’t a big deal, but I just wanted her to remember that we’d already talked about this issue. Her mother apologized and told her daughter the same thing the girl’s father had said earlier.

Arrival. When the flight landed and everyone jumped up to get their belongings, I turned around to give one more sweet smile to the girl behind me. But she had been replaced by a baby who had been sharing seat 16 D with the other parent. The baby smiled. Maybe the baby would tell his sister that I was nice. That she shouldn’t be ashamed. And that someday she’ll ask a child to stop kicking her seat.

Anyway, that was my first flight of two to get from San Francisco to Washington, DC, via Charlotte. On the second flight, another child, perhaps age three or four, sat behind. She had a complete meltdown, kicking and pounding and screaming. My seat shook with each kick. And I sat calmly, contemplating how I’d destroyed the life of the sweet little girl with fidgeting feet on the first flight. And I let the little monster kick the hell out of my seat. And I didn’t say a thing.

Speaking of airlines

In addition to the pleasant US Airways flight I describe above, I’ve been getting around lately.

Last month I got a taste of Northwest’s best. I am convinced that Northwest is the worst domestic airline. The aircraft was a 757, old and crusty like the ones United flies. But Northwest does not show movies, even on a long flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis. Northwest does not have pillows. Northwest does not have blankets. And the seat was the most uncomfortable airline seat I’d ever been in: no cushioning in the middle. Maybe only pointy bodies had sat in it.

Northwest does not even give you a small bag of pretzels. You must purchase one of their snacks in order to eat anything at all. And their horrible snack boxes are designed by doofy Minnesotans who are all obese and diabetic. When we landed in Minneapolis, we were told by flight attendants that if we were continuing on the next flight, we could leave our carry-on luggage aboard the plane. Of course, we did that and went to get food. We came back to discover they had taken all of the bags off the plane and put them on the wheelchairs in the gate area. Stupid. Horrible airline.

I also got a typical Continental experience last month. I missed my connecting flight. This happens about half the time I fly Continental and change planes in Houston. The Continental aircraft was clean enough, and Continental offers blankets and pillows unlike their horrible partner NWA. But Continental is severely customer-service challenged. They have the worst airline desk staff in Houston. The flight to Houston took an extra hour to get there, but no announcements were made to indicate why the flight time was so long. And no announcements were made saying that they recognized we were an hour late and would probably have missed our connecting flights. This seems to be the way they operate: denial. At least they should announce that we’re really late and a customer service agent will be available to help us reschedule our flight.

And then there’s United. Which I also flew last month. And I tend to fly often because their hub is in San Francisco. Granted, it’s a lame hub without nonstop flights to most major Midwest and Eastern cities. And they operate only one flight a day to key Southern cities. But still, they operate the most flights in California. United’s 737, 757 and 767 aircraft are old and in serious need of updates. On the plus side, their seats are usually comfortable, they have blankets and pillows, and they have movies and TV on all flights except their 737s. But I was also screwed up by them last month due to mechanical problems and a crew that timed out. They don’t have enough pilots so they’ve been canceling flights left and right.

Someday, I won’t travel as much. Until then, I have trips planned to Washington, London, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles in the next couple of months. And will probably have about 50 more round trips this year. I will acquire miles and not look forward to redeeming them.

I would support consolidation in the airline industry. I think there’s the potential for better customer service and more travel options. I wouldn’t mind a Delta-United combo, and anything that would make Northwest go away would be a good move. But even if airlines consolidate, they’ll still be crappy. And I’ll still buy whatever is the cheapest ticket I can find for most of the journeys I take, as long as I can hold a seat in advance.

I look forward to a lifetime of leaning seats being kicked by 5-year olds. Old Joey Goldman, with an unhappy butt and bad snack boxes.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Creamy products and wine

Brad and I recently stumbled across an amazing selection of creamy products at remarkably reduced prices: the maxx for the minimum. We were in Tennessee trying to kill time by shopping for shoes in a Germantown strip mall. And then we hit payday. Zia rich and natural skin cleanser for $2.00. Some Australian brand of body polish for $3.00 that would reduce the appearance of cellulite. A rich fancy looking moisturizing hair gel for $3.00 (regular retail price $15.00). H20 body scrub at far less than H20 prices.

Productos. I tend to get excited about things like this, but I’d never seen Brad get so excited about cheap body products. He was having me look up the various products on my handy web-browsing cell phone to see whether they were indeed valued at the “original prices” listed on the tags. A bottle of Zirh men’s cologne that was selling on the web for $48 was being sold in Germantown for $14.00. It found a place in the shopping basket for a few minutes while I read the review of the product on-line: hints of cinnamon, musk, berries, mint, copper. We opted to skip the purchase, deciding that a good deal shouldn’t trump the ability the actually sample the scent first.

I bought a humungous bottle of EO lavender conditioner that normally retails for something like $30. It was about six bucks, but now I’ve got enough conditioner at home to moisturize not only my head, but also every chest hair for the next four years.

I had made a pact with myself sometime in 2007 to stop buying products. I have enough. And I end up collecting little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and moisturizer and face cleaner and soap during each of my 30+ hotel nights each year to keep me fully supplied so I should never have to buy any personal care products again. But this time it was Brad’s fault. He was excited about the products and his excitement convinced me that I should be excited, and therefore I purchased. And it was also the fault of handheld access to the Internet.

The Internet has been coming in handy for retail purchases. If something seems like an amazing deal, but I’m not sure, I find myself typing in the name of the product into my phone and doing a little corner-of-the-store research before making my purchase. When Brad was out purchasing wine for my big 40th birthday bash, I sent him to the Grocery Outlet store and told him to call me once he was surrounded by the options. It was the ultimate “phone a friend” lifeline as he read wine labels to me and I looked them up, checking not only the value, but also the reviews. We ended up with some fine wines at cheap prices.

So that’s it. I’ve become one of those annoying people who consult the Internet all the time. No longer is it just for airline tickets. It’s for email. It’s for checking Facebook status. It’s for buying creams and wine.
About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman