March 15, 2009
So, I checked my blog and realized I was overdue for my twice a year post.
Sorry, for the few tumbleweeds that might actually read this drivel, and a solemn promise to think, guiltily, about what the point of this blog is, periodically, before squeezing out another post around September.
So, my wife has been laid off, and as an educator with Los Angeles Unified School District, I often wonder how long my professional career is for this world. For the record, I did not get my pink slip on Friday, the supposed Union-imposed deadline by which teachers have to be notified regarding their employment status for the upcoming year. Twelve teachers at my school were “on the list.” Can I be added to the list at a later date? Am I safe for one more year? Who knows. Magic 8 ball, anyone?
Okay, so the subject has turned to how to cut costs. And the easiest “pork” spending in this house is cable TV. We have a DVR, and enjoy watching, commercial free, some occasional network dreck. But for the most part, we’re just not that interested in what’s out there. I guess we finally passed that 18-36 demographic, eh?
What do we watch? Ghost Whisperer. Treacly, trashy, maudlin and cheap, but Jennifer Love Hewitt is a binky biscuit and I love her. Her cleavage is also a factor. Besides, I’m a shameless sap, and 50% of the time the maudlin and cheap stuff actually chokes me up. With tears, even.
We were watching Battlestar Galactica, but that started mainlining J.J. Abrams-style plotludes (plot interludes, or “occasional glimpses that there’s a point, only to be roundly ridiculed by the writers, who long ago gave up having one.” Perfected by Chris Carter and the X-Files) to the point where I started wondering if I wasn’t a cylon myself. The groovy sado-masochistic soft-porn mental manipulation dynamic between Six and Balthar had all but disappeared, and that was my primary reason for liking it in the first place – because face it, Tricia Helfer is a binky biscuit and I love her and her spray-paint-applied red dress until I jizz in my pants. Ahem. And thanks to Mike and Melinda for showing that Saturday Night Live has proven the law of averages, and was funny for one out of seven million skits.
So lacking that very compelling, uh, plot, the show degenerated into a meandering mess, and I could no longer tell if Apollo (Jamie Bamber) or Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) was the “girl” in the main plot, cause damn, Katee, yer more man than most, and all that that implies.
And we’ve been watching “Xena-light,” Legend of the Seeker, and the only reason to do that is to watch Bruce Spence chew scenery with demonic relish (“A fella, a quick fella, might have a weapon under there. I’d have to pin his head to the panel.“), or wait for Kahlan’s (Bridget Regan) boobs to pop out of her preposterous Ren-Faire corset. Richard (Craig Horner) looks like David Cassidy and hops about in the battle scenes like a Pez junkie on a pogo stick. Sadly, my wife really likes the Sword of Truth novels, and so onward we go. I kind of liked them, too, until I realized I could save myself reading the last six by reading Atlas Shrugged.
Much as I adore and worship Hugh Laurie (and he doesn’t even have breasts!), I find that House has firmly dug its trench and nothing remains but to admire long past victories. Over, and over, and over again. In a world where Bernie Madoff exists, being a curmudgeonly misanthrope only gets you so far, when you still actually, y’know, help people. Besides, I recently lived my very own episode of House (I’m waving at you, you arrogant, pompous boor, Dr. Lawrence Leiter – don’t worry, your very own blog post is a’comin’!).
And we adored the hokey over-the-top seriousness of Heroes, but again, the tightly scripted hijinx gave way to stunt plotting, and healthy doses of J.J. Abrams-style plotludes.
Frankly, all of this can be watched on the internet, or wait three months, and on Netflix. Without having to fast-forward through the damn commercials. Which are set at a 100% higher volume level. Rant on that forthcoming.
And so all I’m left with is caring about the NFL Football package, and frankly, with a kid and having to take Sunday classes to get credits, to get salary points, to get a raise (the only way you get paid more as a teacher – merit? What’s that? Go take pointless classes, stat!), I wasn’t even getting to enjoy football. And while we did enjoy PBS Sprouts as an adjunct baby sitter, frankly, the boy enjoys Pixar movies more (and so do we. Although Nina on the Goodnight Show… and, I’m a gonna stop right there).
So why TV at all? About $60 a month in savings – add that up over a year, and that’s real cash. So we may be dumping that very soon indeed.
Four years ago we decided to drop home phone service, given that we only used our cell phones. We’ve never looked back. That said, I think having access to local news (“Yes, Andrea, I’m standing here in front of the Wild Fires, and they are still burning. Stay with us for more as it never develops!”), and the broadcast football games (the Patriots games are usually on as the network game) might be worth it. If I could get ghetto-local service for like, $10 a month…? Maybe I would. Maybe I should, y’know, call someone about that.
What really needs to happen is the a la carte model of ordering stations. You could take a free 30 day preview, and then decide to add the station. You could add or remove stations at any time. This would work wonders for advertising revenue models, and advertisers would know precisely how many viewers they were reaching, and moreover, that those were HIGH QUALITY viewers; i.e., the demographic they wanted – because those viewers are self-selected. Oh well… as grandpa Gould used to say, “If it makes sense, you’re doing something wrong.”
I do things wrong all the time.
June 19, 2008
April 26, 2008
It’s being widely reported that the owner of the Lakers and Kings has unveiled the stadium construction plans and site, including a completed environmental impact survey, for an NFL stadium in LA. What I love about it is that he’s upfront in saying there will be no taxpayer dollars used to finance the stadium. The last owner to do that was Bob Kraft, owner of our beloved Patriots. Why the disgustingly rich Paul Allen couldn’t do the same in Seattle for the Seahawks is a question Washington State residents ought to be pissed about.
So the question now is, what team? No expansion plans, which means we steal from someone else. Since we’ve had our franchise stolen, I guess I don’t feel too bad about it. Widely regarded as the most vulnerable are “the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers because of their stadium uncertainties.” Cripes, Jacksonville just got that franchise, are you kidding me? San Diego wouldn’t be too bad, since the fans down there probably wouldn’t notice it if they left, notwithstanding the last three years of pseudo-success.
March 27, 2008
UPDATE: Walmart has apparently dropped its claim – and points to online blogs and petitions as helping them to, “step back and look at a situation in a different way.”
CNN reports on how Walmart has decided to exercise their right to reclaim damages awarded to Debbie Shank as a result of her successful suit, in order to repay their health care expenditures used to care for Debbie since her accident.
I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to pay a cent or two more to make sure people like Debbie are cared for. Thing is, with 90 billion in quarterly revenue, we’d be paying more like a hundredth of a cent more. While Walmart is within their rights to claim this money, the question is, why would they? Can they truly be that heartless? Is this the health care system we want, when the businesses mandated to support the health care of employees must act as opportunist predators to “keep costs down”?
I find this contemptible – and I’m pretty sure the fault does not belong solely to Walmart. Our obsession with bringing down prices in our lives must yield a weakness somewhere. You can’t get something for nothing as our entitlement-hungry society seems eager to forget. Sooner or later, someone has to pay. This time, it was Debbie Shank.
March 10, 2008
My wife and I recently vacationed for a week in Seattle and the San Juan islands, and had the opportunity to eat at a number of restaurants, from greasy spoons to fancy high-end joints. I’m a serviceable cook, so when I go out to eat, I like to try things that are beyond my ability to make, and I like to enjoy good service. Unfortunately, the second thing is vanishing.
It seems that people in the service industry are more and more clueless about the experience they are creating, and nowhere has this become more apparent in the last decade than in the restaurant business. So my wife and I collected some of our biggest pet peeves so we could share them with you, my two readers. Somehow it makes me feel better.
Servers put up with terrible behavior out of misguided “brotherhood” loyalty, and so frequently forgive, and therefore, forget, some cardinal sins when it’s their turn to sling the plates. One of my dearest friends has worked in the restaurant and bar industry for over ten years, and so puts up with – and apologizes for – a pretty high level of unacceptable service out of a sense of forbearance for their suffering. Hey, servers, if they don’t like the service industry, don’t take it out on me – in the words of Quentin Tarantino as performed by Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, “I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type.”
And so, presented in the order of the meal you’re likely to encounter them, the tips for professional waitstaff and servers:
1. For Bartenders – I don’t want a glass full of ice, and please learn to pour.
Whether it’s water or soda, most bartenders will scoop a glass through the ice bin, then fill it. It’s fast, it’s easy, and then they don’t have to sit there with the soda gun forever because the ice makes it fill up faster. Unfortunately, this is not customer focused, this is server focused, and the result is that I get three sips and then an iceberg slides out of the glass and punches me in the face.
Bartenders may say, “hey, fine, we’ll slow down the entire process to fill your soda, pansy-pants, but don’t come crying to us when your drink order takes 30 minutes.” This is the wrong attitude. This would be a problem, certainly, but this solution only takes care of half the issue. Drinks are timely, yes, but they’re not good drinks – which is really the most important part, isn’t it? If this is such a crippler, put a soda gun where servers and bus staff can get at them. Either way, stop doing it.
As for beer – stop pouring it before it spills all over the glass. I guess they figure I can’t complain that they didn’t fill it up all the way. Unfortunately, this leaves me with a wet, slimy, sticky mess. I don’t want to feel the beer; I want to drink it. Learn to pour, or at least wipe the glass off before you hand it to me.
2. At least pretend to write down my order.
I don’t care how clever you think you are; invariably, I get an order screwed up by a waiter who insisted on taking it verbally. I want enough things “my way” – whether on the side, extra crispy, extra tomatoes, whatever – that there are plenty of chances to screw it up.
Even if you do this all the time, without error, ever – the bottom line is this: when you don’t write down my order, you cause me to stress that it’s going to be wrong, and that directly detracts from the reason I’m there in the first place – to enjoy myself. I know some people think this makes the experience “more magical;” well, it never impresses me, but always causes me anxiety, thereby lessening my experience. And make no mistake – I’m only there for the experience. I can cook most of these dishes myself.
3. Don’t put the gigantic dollop of butter on my pancakes.
This is the fault of the kitchen, but a smart waiter would always tell them to keep the glob on the side. This was underscored when we visited a greasy spoon for brunch that didn’t do it – the butter was served separately in a small dish. Wonderful, and reminded us how much we hate this when they don’t. Admittedly esoteric list item, but with a baby, going out to breakfast has become one of our rare eating-out indulgences nowadays – and you’d be surprised how many “high end” places do this.
4. Remember “the customer is always right”?
In Montreal last fall, for Rob Sama’s bachelor party, at a $50-70 a cut steak house, I had my order screwed up – the waiter brought me a cut I did not order. The waiter reviewed his pad, confirmed he had written down the cut I did not order, and so concluded that it was I who was mistaken. Are you kidding me?
Never mind the fact that, when I ordered, he didn’t hear me the first time, so I not only repeated it, I pointed to it on the menu (this must be the source of the error, obviously). But I pointed to it on the menu. The other 8 guys at the table saw me do that. And yet he insisted I was mistaken because of his written “evidence.” I don’t care if I ordered a bowl of froot loops and then asked where my steak was when you brought it – the customer is always right. Make me feel good, make me feel happy, bring me what I ask for, even if it’s my fault. When it’s your fault, you sure as hell better not argue with me about it.
5. Let me actually taste it before you ask if it’s okay.
Eager to ignore customers until it’s time for the bill, the food is delivered along with a cheery, “how is everything?” I don’t know yet. I’m still picking up the fork. And considering stabbing you in the eye with it. You may want to ask, “do you need anything else?”
6. Stop overfilling the pepper.
More for management than waitstaff, except that I see the servers usually doing this job. What is it with pepper shakers? You shake and shake and nothing comes out; you unscrew the top only to be blasted with a volcanic eruption of ash from all the pepper jammed into the damn shaker. Leave some room in there, or it won’t come out.
7. Stop interrupting me.
Unless you’re Jack Nicholson in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, you go to a restaurant with someone. And unless you’re socially maladjusted, you talk while you eat. Unfortunately, it seems that most servers have begun to mistake good service for rude and inconsiderate interruptions. Excellent waiters have the instincts to know when you want something; more importantly, they never interrupt a conversation in progress to ask something as inane as, “everything okay?” And how is it they have the uncanny ability to interrupt the story right at the punchline / surprising twist / heartbreaking moment?
In an Italian restaurant in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island (one of the most expensive places in town, by the way), we were interrupted, mid-conversation, by three different servers. Our drinks were full, we were eating and talking – what the hell did you think we needed? Again, good service isn’t about pestering, it’s about being aware of the needs of your customer, and being available if they want you. Walk by, hover for a moment, let me see you – and when I don’t ask for anything, be on your way. If you’re worried that I’ll be too much of a wuss to “bother you,” then tell me you’ll do this up front, and let me know you won’t interrupt me, but when you are nearby, I can call you over. And don’t ask me anything when you can see my mouth is full.
8. Don’t make me wait for the easy stuff.
This is the most irritating thing; being constantly interrupted, and yet paying no attention to easily satisfied needs. You don’t need to interrupt me, you don’t need to ask – just keep my water glass full. Nothing brings a nice dining experience to a screeching halt like trying to survey the restaurant for your server as if you’re playing Where’s Waldo, and all you want is more water.
9. Don’t clear my plate while I’m still eating.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But I’ve literally had to slap the plate back down because my mouth was too full to say anything. If I’m still chewing, there’s a good chance I might want another bite.
10. Please box up my leftovers for me.
This one blows my mind when I’m at a nicer place, but it’s becoming more and more widespread. When they ask to clear the plate (excellent – see #9), and I ask to have my leftovers boxed, more and more often, they leave and bring back a box. Never mind that my table is cluttered with glasses, uncleared dishes, and other people’s elbows, or that you have much more space in the back – how is this service? It isn’t, and it leaves a real sour taste at the end of the meal.
BONUS #11 (Because this list goes to eleven)
11. Give the original receipt back with my credit card slip.
Too many servers mysteriously steal the original check when they return with your credit card and a bill slip. I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at math, and I typically use the tax to figure the tip (in most states, doubling the tax is about right). It’s not on the credit card slip. Also, by the time I put out my credit card, I’m ready to go soon; I want that decision to be mine, not the server’s – so I want to review the receipts after I get my card back. I can always have them run it again.
Well, there you have it… now I pray to the gods of viral internet sharing that this actually makes it to a waiter or waitress.
So why does any of this matter? Well, think of this… for two decades, as American industry moved offshore to preserve the illusion that we have no inflation (because prices are still low, right?), it has been touted that we are moving toward a “service economy,” although perhaps only to keep us from throwing crooks out of Congress. Well, if this is a service economy, then why is it that more and more businesses are derided for their lack of service? This is just one example; but in terms of America “staying competitive,” it’s not a long shot before we lose our service industry overseas as well, merely because it’s not hard to figure out how to be polite and customer-focused.