Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Fliers? Not the Problem

We've all been there--the security line at the airport. I'd be willing to venture that NO line is more dreaded than this one. The lines to get on rides at large amusement parks, like Six Flags or Disney World, are infinitely longer than the airport security line, but I'm not sure any of us ever remember the line--we remember the ride. It is quite the opposite at the airport. At least in my case, I have a much more difficult time remembering the details of the ride--a ride I paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of traveling on--than I do recalling the security process and the line that process ultimately creates.

I've done far less traveling in recent years, but I've seen the progression of ever-more-ridiculous steps in the security system to where we are today. I remember when we had to start taking our shoes off because of ONE GUY, who never should have been allowed to fly in the first place. I remember when those massively controversial body scanners appeared in airports for the first time because of....gasp...ONE GUY WHO NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED ON A PLANE. Honestly, if our American tax dollars are disappearing in large quantities to fund Intelligence, the least that department can do is keep high risk people off of airplanes. Thus far, their "Do Not Fly" list has only prevented Ted Kennedy from getting from one destination to another.

My heart goes out to this woman because obviously her recent experience with security personnel in an airport caused her a great deal of stress. As annoyed as I am with the screening process as it currently stands, what drives me crazy about this situation isn't the fact that they pat down her hair. There's a big part of me that feels that is pretty ridiculous, but not necessarily a personal violation. The issue is how the security team addressed her:

'Hey you, hey you, ma'am, stop. Stop -- the lady with the hair, you,"

The "lady with the hair?" Seriously? What would you say to anyone else who ever addressed you anywhere like that? Imagine this happened in...a restaurant, a coffee place and a sales associate, who wanted to get your attention, addressed you like that. What would you say?

I'd be absolutely pissed off. And, I think we should be more pissed off about the attitude than the regulation. None of us, at this point, can argue directly with the people who are telling TSA what to screen and how to screen. However, all of us can take issue with how someone is treated, when it is entirely unwarranted, by these so-called security professionals. A lot of people who work on all ends of the airline industry tend to "boo-hoo" it about how customers treat them. I don't know about you, but I've been in customer service for a long time in various ways, and I don't have it any better. What I can say is that as long as I try and treat a customer well, no one can reproach me, and often, a bad customer attitude is gradually muted in the exchange. When I act like a jackass, and we all have our days, that's when I offend a customer and really raise their ire.

If TSA were more customer-service oriented, as opposed to acting like a sector of former-DMV bullies, parents who had their six-year-olds patted down may not have gone to the press and medical patients who pointed out various necessities wouldn't have been embarrassed.

The TSA could probably reduce their appearance in the news by 50% or more if they taught their employees how to behave like human beings working with human beings. I'm not holding out hope for my next trip to the airport.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Hello, welcome to McDonald's...."

I once read a statistic that claimed 33% of all Americans have worked, at least at one point, at a McDonald's. Given the prevalence of the restaurant throughout the country, I can certainly believe that without taking a leap of faith.

In fact, I am one of them.

Working at McDonald's was my first job. My mother decided that getting a job would be "good for me" when I was about 17 years old. In retrospect, she was probably right. The application process fourteen years ago is probably the best indicator of how the job market has changed--I picked up probably about two-dozen applications from as many chain stores and restaurants as a suburban town can generally offer. In one or two cases, I sat down right away with managers who were all too eager to sign me up for their shop's patented variety of menial labor. I can't say what made me settle on McDonalds exactly, but I am sure my experience would have been about the same, if less grease covered, anywhere else.

I worked there for a year, and overall, it wasn't terrible. I spent a lot of time relegated to the drive-thru window, which was connected to the kitchen via conveyor belt. There were a lot of really great people there, actually, but there was a drawback--the later afternoon and evening shifts were entirely staffed by kids, none of whom had yet reached the ripe old age of 20.

Giving any measure of power to someone under 18 years old is a drastic mistake, and one that the owner of this McDonald's made many times over. None of the managers had yet graduated from the local high school, and good judgement under most circumstances was suspect at best. By far, the worst offender was this guy Sean who was conveniently dating the owner's daughter at the time. Sean would take any and all available opportunities to increase his self-esteem by making other staff members' lives as miserable as possible. At one point, five minutes before my shift ended, he demanded that I mop the floor of the entire restaurant, even though my mother had to come across town to pick me up. Sean quickly recanted this order, realizing that a frustrated, delayed parent could probably curb his power-high pretty quickly. He was also the worst offender when it came to unlocking register drawers and moving money around for no apparent reason--the result of this behavior pattern was my being "sanctioned," which basically meant being closely watched and relegated to the grill, because money had "disappeared" too often from my drawer.

Customers filled in the general bell-curve of cooperative-ness. One guy, a guy I recognized from the local church my family attended, faithfully came to the restaurant and sat in viewing range of the main counter, eerily eyeing the male employees and often offering consistently refused rides home from work. Tuesday night was kids night, with a corresponding reduction on happy meal prices, and the restaurant and outdoor play area would be swarmed with poorly supervised, young children. I'll never forget the one time I hosted a McDonald's birthday party. The staff member originally assigned to the task hadn't showed up that day, so I took the job, and it was a disaster. I'll never forget the general disapproval from the lower-class parental clientele at this event. One of the oddest requests I ever got from anyone was a "cheeseburger happy meal without the meat." Although I applaud a mindful parent, I have to ask why he/she came to McDonalds, of all places, if the main ingredient in all meals is well known to be meat-based protein.

I only worked at McDonalds for a year. The following summer, I opted for a more civilized and higher paying position as a hostess at an Olive Garden.

Recently, the McDonalds of my memory was closed, which surprised me a great deal. How ANY McDonalds can close baffles me, but the owner perhaps decided to focus on the more lucrative, and less crowded by rivals, restaurant he purchased in a neighboring town. Sad to see this staple of the local strip mall boarded up, and I often wonder what happened to the many people with whom I worked and did not stay in touch. One thing is true--when I start talking about working at McDonalds wherever I am and whenever I need to break the ice, at least one or two other people have similar stories.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remember this Gap commercial?:

Or this one?:

They're both from Gap's heyday in the late-1990s/early 2000s. Now, here's the question--does ANYONE buy Gap clothing anymore?

When I was in college, I always made the obligatory stop at Gap in the mall whenever I went clothes shopping. Sometimes, it was a blockbuster experience--flattering fits, great colors, and practical styles would ensure that I walked out of the store with at least one bag stuffed to full capacity. Occasionally, it would be more of a bust. At one point, for example, the Gap designers were suddenly inspired by the 1960s hippie era, and stores were filled with racks and racks of long, patterned cotton skirts and linen tank tops. I must not have been the only person with reservations about looking like a throwback from 40 years ago because within two months, all evidence of this fashion moment in time had disappeared.

In recent years, my purchases at Gap were pared down to a certain fit of jeans and their Favorite-T line of shirts (which unfortunately only come in grey, white, and black). Only one or two styles of their clothing caught my attention. I passed most racks by without a glance.

Recently, I noticed this article. First off, I had no idea that any of these mall brands actually HAD their own designers to fire. Second, I realized that the last time I made any significant purchase was in 2007, presumably before either this guy got hired or before his impact could be felt on Gap stores nationwide.

Why wasn't this guy successful? I mean, he did come with quite a resume.

Here's my theory:

He designed clothes for the models in the photos on the walls happily skipping around in Gap's latest styles. He didn't design one pair of pants or one shirt that would look good on anyone who wasn't, at most, a size 2.

And, Gap's empty stores and lagging sales are direct evidence of just how few women in the world ARE 5' 10" and 115lbs. Not only does Gap now have such a small demographic to draw from, but, even if every single skinny tall chick spent $200 at Gap for its overpriced clothing, the profits still wouldn't hold a candle to Gap's more successful satellite, Old Navy.

There's a part of me that can't entirely blame him for making this mistake. I am sure that while working at Giorgio Armani, his delusional world of one-size-fits-all women was probably born.

I'll still buy the T-shirts, though. They don't seem to be subject to the same laws of the recent Gap universe.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I have to admit that I was one of the many people who released a boisterous, inner cheer when I read this article.

I became aware of the "quiet car" phenomenon when I lived in the United Kingdom. I spent the entire year without a car, which, to an American, is completely shocking. Fortunately, public transportation was a more than adequate option, and I visited many attractions, cities, and villages by train. Into the late spring and early summer months, I realized that timing was truly everything. Wandering bands of undergraduate students, newly released from university, traveled by train in groups of 8 or more with an outlandish quantity of luggage, to visit a variety of seaside locations. Although it wasn't a guarantee, the best option by far was to retreat to the quiet car under these circumstances. You had about a 50/50 chance that the overworked conductor would actually enforce the rule, and those odds were enough to keep younger travelers from venturing in and taking a seat.

The United States train system, as underused as it is, actually did catch on to this trend, and Amtrak started designating one car on its longer trains with multiple stops as the quiet car. On a recent train trip south, my boyfriend and I thought this was a brilliant innovation, and we immediately claimed seats. We realized, however, that the success of the quiet car was entirely dependant on whether the assigned conductor actually enforced the rules.

Scenario 1: My boyfriend and I got on a train to return from my parents' house, and it was a lot busier than either of us anticipated for a late-morning trip on Saturday. We chose seats in the quiet car after observing a traveling group of 30 poorly supervised students, and, when the train proceeded forward, we thought that we had escaped the danger of a long, loud trip. Unfortunately, we failed to notice that a woman sitting in front of us, seemingly having traveled from New York, was watching a film on her laptop computer in front of us. Now, even by the standards of the quiet car, this isn't problematic in principal. Two things made this a straightforward violation--first, she refused to use headphones, so everyone within a ten-seat radius could hear every line of dialogue with perfect clarity. Second, she, of course, chose some ridiculous, mind-numbing "shoot-'em-up" film, complete with automatic weapons and a massive quantity of shattering glass. The conductor walked by many times, and probably had many more times before we boarded the train, but he never said a word to her for the entire remainder of the ride.

Scenario 2: I was on my way south on the same train line a few months later. Again, I selected the quiet car for the trip. After the trains started moving from the station, the conductor began his rounds to clip tickets. As he made his way up the aisle, he became aware of a woman who was still on her cell phone long after the "emergency situation" time frame had expired. He told her to turn it off. She had a fit. And, this was his response:

"Look, there are seven more cars on this train where you can talk
however long you want, however loud you want. This is the ONE CAR
where the people sitting in it do not want to hear you blab on for
hours at a time. This is the QUIET CAR. There are signs everywhere,
and I presume you can read them. Now, either you can turn off the cell
phone and sit quietly like everyone else is here or you can move
somewhere else--your choice, but in this car one of your choices is
NOT talking on your cell phone."

I think everyone in the car came close to a cheer, but we stifled it in fear that we would be the next travelers spoken to on the quiet car rules.

I am sure it comes as no surprise that the lady was livid. She was more pissed off about being called out in front of everyone than about being retold the very clearly stated rules. However, NO ONE thought she was treated unfairly. She was being unfair to everyone else, and she got what she deserved.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deciding to go to the gym is the ultimate battle of mental and physical wits. I am sure there are people out there who love the gym. I've honestly never met one, but I can imagine they exist. I have to believe, for example, that the huge guy with the perfectly sculpted biceps and abs or that little chick with the 24" waist in the tiny, spandex outfit either is evidence that God exists and does indeed grant wishes or that going to the gym 8 hours a day does produce an idealized result somewhere other than in an Angelina Jolie film.

Recently, I moved from an all-women's gym with terrible hours (seriously, a closing time of 6:00 p.m.?) to a more standard version. I started out just doing the cardio thing--it was safe, it was somewhat convenient, I kinda knew how to work the equipment, and if I missed a good TV show, I could watch it to distract myself. I always knew that I would have to branch out into the weights section eventually--not because I was really that desperate to shrink the size of my backside, but because I needed to preserve my sanity. Fifty-five minutes on an elliptial machine actually makes it possible to identify not with the boredom that an assembly-line worker must experience, but the insatiable grinding that the assembly-line itself goes through 12 hours a day for the sake of the American economy.

Unfortunately, there are a few phenomena that characterize a gym's weightlifting section:

Groups of college students, newly released from academic bonds, that visit the gym in herds. These are generally single-sex units that congregate around a piece of machinery or a lifting apparatus. They will assign roles as follows--one lifts, one spots, and two or three more will giggle incessantly, tell ridiculous jokes, or discuss how much more weight they can lift than the one actually doing the lifting, never to prove their claims.

Texters who use "down time" on lifting machines as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family on their unlimited phone plans. Of course, a series of reps on any machine requires a short recovery, but a 20 to 30 second count often is not enough time to reflect upon what that girl was wearing or what he did last night in the appropriate OMG language. This results in a lot of bench-sitters, maximizing machines they aren't using, and they generally come away claiming they had a full one-hour workout when that workout was actually disproportionally divided between actually working out and making sure their Droids and iPhones live up to their warrantees.

Non-sprayers, who use machines in sweat-splotched clothing, but because they weren't on those machines for more than 5 minutes, they feel no need to spray it off for the next person.

Members of the opposite sex who insist upon staring at you when you're in a compromising position. I can only reflect on this from a woman's perspective, and I can honestly say that there is nothing more ridiculous than a guy taking a peek when you're on one of those thigh machines. Seriously, guy? You're that curious about how boys and girls are different down there, STILL?

On the other hand, watching all of this happening does distract one from the workout that me, among so many others, can't stand in the first place. I suppose there is always a trade off.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

His Story, My Edit

One of the biggest stories in the news today is the weather. No matter where you live, something notable or unusual has happened lately.

Here in New England, snow (in the winter) is nothing to speak of. Whether you're in the more temperate bands along the coastline or farther inland, in higher elevations, snow happens. We cope. That's about all we can do. We buy vehicles that can shift into 4-wheel drive at a moment's notice. We put tires on our cars with deep treads, studs, and even chains for better traction. Our weatherpeople know better than to sensationalize an upcoming storm unless they KNOW for SURE what's going to happen, how much precipitation we can expect, and what the timeline is. Administrators cancel school, and they even have calling systems that will alert every single parent in a school district in five minutes.

Last week, we experienced an unfortunate combination of weather circumstances that truly made travel, no matter what you were driving or how you were driving it, dangerous. It was below 10 degrees outside; it started snowing that powdery, sticky snow that was impervious to any treatment other than physically plowing it off the road. Of course, this all happened during rush hour, and I refused to drive on the highways under these circumstances. I made a one hour trip to work (20 miles between two "major" cities) on the regional bypass road. It was a white-knuckled journey, but, as long as I drove slowly and no one else did anything stupid (a tall order at times), I knew I would make it there safely.

I turned on the news when I returned home that evening. The top story was the morning commute--38 accidents were reported on major interstate roads, and the trip from Manchester, NH to Boston, MA had increased from 90 minutes to four hours at one point. Television crews from the local news station managed to get out to the site of one of these accidents to speak with the victim.

Here's the story he told the reporters:

"I was driving on (insert main in-town one-lane road name here) on my way to a job interview. I felt that I was getting too close to the car in front of me. I know they tell you not to hit the brakes hard, but I did. The car veered into a snowbank and flipped over. I'm Ok, though."

Here's what we know really happened:

"I left for that stupid job interview at a time I figured would get me there 15 minutes early. Once I hit the road, I realized how long it was going to take. If I were late, even in these driving conditions, I may not get that job. I started on my way, watching the clock on my dashboard like a hawk. I knew it would be tough with the front-wheel-drive only sedan and those cheap tires, but hey, I live here--this is what we deal with. First couple of turns resulted in classic car fishtailing--whew! Then, I got on the main stretch of road. I was going along just fine until I wound up behind one of those slow people. I mean, come on! I had somewhere to go! How dare this guy drive the recommended 30 miles-and-hour speed limit! I tailgated him hard at first--yeah, maybe that will make him think about pulling over. such luck. I backed off a little, but I was still frustrated. I looked at that clock again--10 minutes! When I looked up again, the guy in front of me was slowing down. I hit the brakes hard to avoid a rear-end job that would cost me....and I flipped my car. I got off easy--more than the prime asshole I am deserved."

Listen, guy, you don't ever have to hit the brakes hard unless you're either not paying attention, you're tailgating someone, or both. And, if you do have to hit them like that under those conditions, you must have really been incredibly far up the ass of the guy in front of you to actually FLIP YOUR CAR.

Did I buy this guy's sob story? No friggin' way. My only hope is that perhaps this gave one guy pause for thought whenever he decides to act like a jackass on the road again, no matter what the conditions are.