Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

14 November 2018

Driving For A Living


As someone who's driven for nearly fifty years, and who's made a living at it for most of the last eight years, I have a couple of observations. Bear with me while I rant, okay?

Most people think they are “above average” drivers. Obviously half of them are wrong...maybe more, I was never very good at maths. People claim to be good drivers by pointing out that they've never had an accident. This means nothing. All it tells us is that other drivers have been good at avoiding being hit by them. Miracles do happen.

Everyone is Mario Andretti. And one thing you can never do is question another person's driving ability. They'll take it as a deeply personal insult. There is a strength of conviction that is almost religious in fervor.

Guys feel as if they own a certain amount of space in front of their car. God forbid that you violate this space (by, say, changing lanes and pulling in front of them). Instead of just slowing down and readjusting that following distance, they will demonstrate their displeasure by riding your bumper, honking their horn and/or other, more graphic gestures of anger.

On a boulevard (e.g. two lanes in each direction), a guy will dawdle along slowly in the left lane, blocking traffic. He may be focused on his phone, or lighting a joint or whatever, but he is oblivious to traffic around him. Until... Until an opening appears in the traffic and you try to pass him on the right. Then he will suddenly wake up, and it's “race-on!” Happens every time. Every time. Guys do not like to be passed. It's a masculinity thing. They think it's a threat or insult to let someone get over on them or get by them. Guys really are way too competitive, especially behind the wheel.

Which brings us to my pet peeve: Americans simply don't understand the concept of “keep right.” They don't realize that it applies everywhere, yes, even on roads that are not Interstate highways. And on those Interstates, people will doggedly plod along in the left lane, sanctimoniously believing that they're perfectly fine and legal as long as they're going the speed limit. Which is false. Nobody appointed you to be a traffic cop, a controller of vehicle speed other than your own. Just keep to the right and let those bastard law-breakers go by. Karma or the real police may catch up with them eventually, but it's not your call.

I could go on, but I won't. Driving for a living can be a frustrating experience until you learn to just let it go. For me, driving is not a competitive sport. If someone wants to go around or get ahead of me, I just let them. No big deal. It's not a race. Plus, I'm judged and rated on my driving now; too many dings for unsafe driving can get you permanently deactivated from Uber. And yeah, that happens.

I don't know where I fall on the good/bad driver scale, but I try to not make people who are riding with me feel like we're about to have an accident. And if you can make paying passengers feel safe, I guess that's got to count for something.

07 November 2018

Customer Service - And The Lack of It


In last week's installment I wrote about experiences I had involving two companies that are seeking to use technology to reduce the number of actual human employees on their payroll. In the Comments section, my friend Bob opined,

”As for McDonalds... anything to enhance their employees' ability to take an order and get it right would be welcome.”

And there's the rub. That part about getting the order right.

Whether the customer inputs his/her order via a kiosk or tells it to a clerk behind the counter who does the same, the possibility of getting the order screwed-up does not change if the food is cooked/handled/bagged/distributed by a human.

I went into our local McDonalds early one morning recently. The drive-thru line was long, so thinking (erroneously, as usual) that I'd be in and out more quickly, I parked and walked in. I was the only customer at the counter, and one of only three in the whole place.

I ordered a "two burritos meal" by number (let's just say it was a #7). The young girl behind the counter asked if I wanted hash browns with that? I said, patiently but somewhat sarcastically that I believed hash browns came with the #7. She seemed surprised. After ringing me up she grabbed a medium soda cup and plunked in onto the counter. I shook my head and asked for coffee. Again, it was breakfast. She withdrew the soda cup and stopped, looking confused.

Someone eventually appeared from the back of the store, carrying a bag, looking at me and announcing, "One breakfast burrito?" I sighed heavily (as I do) and corrected him. This resulted in a call for the manager, a beleaguered middle-aged woman who looked like she really didn't want to be there. Said manager looked at my receipt, rolled her eyes and told the guy with the bag to get me another burrito and a hash browns.

The cashier turned to the manager and said (and I shit you not), "But he wants a coffee, not a soda."  The manager sighed again and poured me a black coffee. This McDonalds does not put out cream and sugar at the soda/ice tea station. Does nobody drink McDonalds' crappy coffee anymore? I had to give it back to her and ask for cream and sugar to be added. But she had filled the cup so completely that there wasn't any room for cream.

All in all, three humans screwed up every aspect of my McDonalds breakfast - which was inputted correctly into the computer! I should add that on my way out of the store I fished the hash browns out of the bag and tossed them in the trash can by the door because they're horrible. I didn't care about them so much...I just wanted my two damn burritos and a coffee! And that's what I just should have ordered.

I had to laugh. Well, it would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Customer service has gotten really bad in the U.S. - not just with fast-food dispensaries but in general. The people behind the counter seem to forget the "service" part of the phrase.

High school kids in America used to be grateful to snag a job, even a part-time entry-level job at a fast-food joint. They used to be proud to work! Not anymore. Now they view jobs as some sort of inconvenient obligation, and all they need do to get paid is show up and socialize with the other employees. Actually doing the job well is not a requirement.

In my Uber the other day I picked up a young woman at her apartment. She was headed to work at the mall. She asked if we could run through the McDonalds drive-thru so she could get a Mocha-something. It was already close to nine a.m. ”What time do you have to be at work?” I asked, knowing we were still a good ten minutes away from the mall. ”Nine,” she replied, "but they give us a fifteen-minute grace period."  

I was dumbfounded...literally speechless. Employees are so bad at being on-time these days that companies are forced to give them “grace periods.” Just try and make it here between ten and ten-fifteen, mm-kay? Un-bleeping-real.

Heck, maybe we're seeing the unintended consequences of having fast-food restaurants at every major intersection in every Podunk town. Maybe there are too many entry-level, minimum wage jobs.  Trouble is, here in dinky Pensacola we have so many fast-food places that they all can't even stay in business, much less keep an adequate staff of employees.  Google Maps shows eleven McDonalds right here in the Pensacola area.

The Hardee's (on a busy street right near the airport) closed and moved up the same street to a shopping center with a Winn-Dixie supermarket. The new location doesn't seem to do much better than the old. The Arby's which was right next door to Hardee's also closed but did not relocate. (I suspect that the Arby's chain of restaurants may not survive. None of them seem to be doing well when I drive by.  Or it may get conjoined and siamesed with another fast-food place like so many Taco Bell's and KFC's are now.)

The Burger King on the mall property! closed and a brand-new one was built just up the road not far from where the Hardee's and Arby's failed. The shiny, new, modern-looking BK store just recently opened.  It's right near my house.  Every time I pass it looks ominously deserted. The store is open and yet it has big banners outside announcing that they do walk-in hiring on Monday and Tuesdays. Didn't they staff-up before the Grand Opening?

Fast-food franchises used to be gold mines. Has the tide turned? Will lower sales volume and ever-increasing labor costs result in a downturn in that industry? I kind of hope so. More competition for the available jobs might make the people who actually need them and get them be more appreciative of having them. And then maybe, when I walk up to the counter they might say, "Good morning! May I help you?" instead of just staring at me blankly and then getting my order wrong.

31 October 2018

Job Elimination in America

The other night I ordered some food from Domino's Pizza's website. They've got a great pizza to begin with, but also a bunch of other tasty pasta dishes (and desserts!) on their menu. I selected my usual, the 16" hand-tossed Honolulu Hawaiian.  Add some breadsticks, a 2 liter bottle of soda (there are three of us here)...and we're up to $50 before the tip. Pricey but worth it, I think.  The Domino's website is super-easy to use, which is why I do.

The Domino's store is not far from the house, and the food always comes surprisingly quickly. Indeed it was the case this time. The cheerful, friendly delivery driver brought the food right to my door in record time.  I gave her a nice tip for I understand their plight (and, because she was cute).

Back to the online experience.

After I placed the order, I immediately got a popup screen asking if I would like my pizza delivered by an automated car? It's no secret that Domino's and Ford have been experimenting with cars that are modified into driverless pizza delivery vehicles. The popup window mentioned that I would have to meet the vehicle at the curb and retrieve my pizza myself. I chose, “No.”

When I did, yet another popup window opened. It wondered (rather indignantly, it seemed) why I would not want to use this wonderful service? And it gave a list of five reasons with boxes to be checked. For example: “I don't want to leave the house.” I chose, “Other.” Of course it asked for an explanation and I wrote one. I said, “Just how many jobs can we eliminate in the U.S.? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

HERE is a YouTube video explaining the new concept. 

By the way, it was only after participating in their survey that they mentioned the automated delivery service is not yet available in Pensacola, but they were trying to gauge customer reaction.  Well they certainly got mine!

Look, I'm not stuck in the past; I'm all for automation and the use of new technology to make our jobs easier. But as a society, how far do we go in using technology to eliminate those few remaining entry-level or minimum wage jobs?

When I was up in New York State recently, I happened to stop at a Service Plaza on the NYS Thruway. In it was one of those newfangled automated McDonalds in which you put your order in yourself via an oversize smartphone-looking device without talking to a human.  Great, more use of technology to cut down on the number of employees.  Still, I had to try it.


Using the touchscreen to order my food was cumbersome, confusing and time-consuming. It took longer than if I'd just told the kid at the counter, “I'd like a number nine to go, please.” Evidently McDonalds did not fully think it through before rushing it into service.

Despite the late hour, the place was crowded. The three hapless employees behind the counter were swamped and overloaded and seemed lost.  The computer wasn't making their lives easier either.  It couldn't predict how many people were in line (or headed in the door) and thus how many loads of fries they needed to drop to stay ahead of the unexpected rush.  And, despite my ordering on the computer screen, they almost managed to screw up my very simple order of a Chicken Sandwich Meal, which took a long, long time to get.

If this is the wave of the future, I'll pass.  Some things just call out for the human touch, and a computer cannot always replace us.

24 October 2018

Care Overload


The media is constantly bombarding us with things about which we should care deeply. The President did this...the democrats did that...on and on and on. Every bleedin' thing, no matter where in the world it happened or how insignificant it was gets thrown in our face as if it's a matter of utmost urgency. It's all designed to get a rise out of us – one way or the other. But it's having the opposite effect on me.

I don't know about you, but I get to a point of care-overload. My Care-O-Meter pegs and then breaks. And then suddenly I just don't care about anything. I know it's wrong; I know that there are things that we should care about. But lately it's getting harder and harder to tell what. It all comes across as just so much noise and chatter. It feels as though I'm being bludgeoned with a news cudgel.

Friends and family complain about President Trump. He's awful! He's a game show host!  He's a joke!  He's a disgrace!  They wonder incredulously how anybody could still support him? I just shrug. For I don't care. I know just as many people who'd be saying the same things if Hillary had won. The country will survive; it has up until now and not even a Donald Trump could destroy it. And see, if he's really a horrible president, then he'll be voted out of office in the next election. That's how our government works. And I love it.

I guess I'm just getting too old to get really worked-up about stuff anymore. Temporarily annoyed or peeved...yeah. But pissed-off and shout-at-the-TV-angry? Not so much.

18 October 2018

Hurricane Michael: A Close-Call (For Some)


I'm sure that by now you've all seen the pictures of the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael. The Gulf Coast of Florida was where the storm made landfall. Particularly hardest hit was Panama City and the town of Mexico Beach, the latter of which was literally obliterated.

My friend Matt's mother, Carole lives in the town of Lynn Haven, just north of Panama City, almost directly under where the eye passed. Her house was not built to withstand 150+ mph winds. We begged to her to come to Pensacola, but she unwisely decided to shelter-in-place. Carole takes in a lot of dogs and cats that are awaiting adoption, and it would have been difficult to bring them all anywhere. So she stayed, along with some others who lived in even more vulnerable locations and came over to her house to ride out the storm.

Miraculously, the house stood. Carole lost nearly all of the shingles on her roof, along with the siding on one side of the house. A backyard tree had fallen on the house but thankfully did not compromise the structural integrity of the roof. Of course she lost power and water.

After the storm. Matt went down from Atlanta with a chainsaw and some plastic tarps. He cut down the tree and did what he could to minimize any water damage if it rains before repairs can be made.

As I've mentioned, we here on the Gulf Coast have gotten pretty good at responding to disasters of this nature. This time was a prime example. Emergency and relief services were in place well in advance of the hurricane's arrival, ready to leap into action. Trucks and bulldozers were out getting the roads cleared almost immediately. Crews began repairing power lines. Churches and shelters began distributing hot meals. It's nice to be able to get something to eat without having to cook when you've been cleaning up your property all day and are exhausted. And truly, getting everything back to normal is as daunting a task as you can imagine.

Gulf Power published an estimate of when affected areas might have their electrical power restored. Lynn Haven, where Carole lives was in a big area marked “TBD”...to be determined. They said it could be months, depending on the damage to the infrastructure (substations, etc.)

Within a couple of days, Carole happily reported that her water was back on. They could take (albeit cold) showers again. Huzzah! And then, not even seven days after the storm had passed, her electricity incredibly came back on. We could almost hear the cheering 80 miles away here in Pensacola.

You have to be impressed at the effort that everyone from government agencies to big corporations to churches to regular individuals put into making things right after such a devastating event. You read about the stories and see them on TV. It is truly heartwarming to know that so many people care and will go the extra mile to help those in need.  Makes you proud to be an American.

Matt and I were talking the other day. ”You know,” said from the comfort of his house in the hurricane-free zone of Atlanta, Georgia, ”if that storm had hit Pensacola it would have been worse than Ivan.”

He was referring to Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm that hit us in 2004. Ivan was awful for Pensacola. We were both here for it. The destruction was shocking. It took a looooong time...five years at least...to recover from it. And yes, Michael would have been worse. I did not leave for Ivan. I should have. I didn't get any damage but I was very, very lucky.

I live in a strong brick house with a relatively new roof – and I'm about eight feet above my street and 100 feet or so above sea-level. Even so, we were watching the storm track with anxiety. I would have left if Michael hadn't made it's last-second curve to the northeast and spared us – as all the weather forecasters were promising. But it's easy for me: Single, no kids and no pets.

10 October 2018

Hurricane!


Every area of the country has its pluses and minuses. Californians have to deal with earthquakes, draughts, mudslides and wildfires. The central part of the country is called “tornado alley.” The northeast gets winter weather and the occasional “snowpocalypse.” Here on the gulf coast we get hurricanes.

The good thing, if there is one about hurricanes is that we usually know well in advance that they're coming. The various weather forecasting services have gotten fairly good in predicting where these storms are going and how strong they're going to be.

Right this very minute as I type this, the gulf coast is bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Michael. The center of the storm should happen somewhere near Panama City Beach, Florida (the red dot in the picture above), perhaps just to the east. 

Currently Michael is a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph. Thankfully, that wind velocity doesn't usually extend out very far from the eye – 30 to 40 miles or so. As you move further from the eye, the wind diminishes. But still, even if you “only” see 100 mph winds, that can do some damage.

The threat from hurricanes is threefold.  First is the wind, with its attendant damage to roofs, trees and powerlines, etc.  Ahead of arrival of the eyewall, such high winds also push water ashore, generating devastating storm-surges along coastal zones. Finally, heavy rain bands can cause flash-flooding.

Big storms (e.g. tropical storms and hurricanes) have a counter-clockwise rotation. This means that when the storm is out over open water, the worst weather will be on the east and northeast side. When the storm hits the coast, the best place to be is on the west side. There, people will see winds out of the north and much less precipitation. So when we're watching the storm track on the Weather Channel, etc., we hope and pray that it will go off to our east. Such was the case when Hurricane Michael began seriously strengthening south of Cuba a couple of days ago.

Most of the time, big storms will bend around and track to the northeast. That's just the way the atmosphere works at these latitudes. But not always! You may remember a little event called Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. It crossed south Florida and came into the Gulf of Mexico, tracking mostly to the northwest before finally bending straight northward and into New Orleans. It didn't start heading to the northeast until it was well to the north of Lake Ponchartrain. And even though New Orleans got most of the publicity because of the direct hit of the storm, the real impact and effects occurred along the Mississippi Gulf Coast where the destruction was simply devastating. Sadly, this area got proportionately little news coverage.

In the case of this Hurricane Michael, the satellite and radar images broadcast on the media certainly looked terrible for the last couple of days. It would be easy to assume that the weather within that whole storm was uniformly bad. Not so.

Seeing this and being concerned for my safety, my sister Elizabeth in New York contacted me this morning. She simply could not believe that my weather in Pensacola was so benign. But all morning long, and approaching noon as I write this, we've had very little rain and virtually no wind. However, it is quite a different story just 80 miles to my southeast. In fact, when I pulled up the straight-line distance on one of my aviation apps, I was surprised to see that the distance was so short considering the drastic difference between our weather and theirs. But such is the nature of these storms. I would hate to be 80 miles east of Panama City right now.

The thing is, we here in Florida have gotten good at dealing with storms like this. A local television news reporter mentioned this morning that there were 600 trucks from various power companies all over the country, staged here in Pensacola, ready to spring into action once the storm passes, to get power restored as quickly as possible. The tractor-trailers with water and other supplies are also staged nearby and ready. Presumably (and hopefully!) they won't be needed here in this area.

The good news is that Hurricane Michael will pass through the area quickly. The bad news is that the effects of the storm will be drastic and long-lasting, especially in Panama City and to the east. The good news is that, east of Panama City, not many people live there. With the exception of Tallahassee which is fairly well inland, the gulf coast in that area is pretty swampy and sparsely populated. The bad news is that my friend Terry and I had planned a motorcycle trip down through that area soon – which will undoubtedly need to be rescheduled indefinitely.

But even with the occasional hurricane, I still prefer living here on the Gulf Coast.

03 October 2018

Hypocrite!


I broke down and bought a Keurig. I know, I know...after all the whining I did previously (read it HERE) about the need for speed in our lives and how those single-cup coffeemakers were just...you know...silly...I went out and bought one.  It seems that along with drinking coffee, I like eating my words.

Why buy a Keurig? Simple. I make exactly one cup of coffee each day. To do that I boil water in a saucepan. Well one morning I made my coffee and it tasted suspiciously like the Progresso Vegetable Beef Soup I'd made the night before. Yes, I'd emptied the saucepan into bowls, and then apparently put it back on the stove (on an unused burner, fortunately). I'd obviously meant to wash it later but did not. Thus, my next morning's coffee tasted like soup.

Walmart sells the Keurig “Classic” for $99.00. Kind of steep. I didn't buy it, but went home to mull it over. Did I really want to spend a hundred bucks on a damn coffee maker? As luck would have it, as I was perusing Facebook Marketplace I came across a “brand-new” Keurig “Classic” for $25.00. I called the guy. He'd received it as a present but wasn't a coffee drinker and never used it – it was just taking up counter space. Thinking that I'd just stumbled on the Deal Of The Century! I agreed to be at his house in the morning. My friend Terry and I met for breakfast and he went with me on the errand.

Sure enough, the dang thing was brand-new. Looked and smelled like it had never been used. Even Terry (who has one of his own, of course) was impressed. Got it home, plugged it in and it works as advertised. Picked up a carton of K-cups from WM. $10.00 for 18.

As luck would have it, the very next day I was perusing Facebook Marketplace again, and whaddyaknow, there was a Keurig “Classic” for $10.00.  Ten bucks!  I felt like such a chump. I sent the link to Terry, who quipped, ”Tomorrow you'll see one that says, 'Free to a good home!'”

So now I'm expensively making coffee one cup at a time.  Cheaper than buying it at the convenience store, but still...  So yes, you can call me a hypocrite. At least my coffee doesn't taste like soup anymore.