random musings


If you read my post from last year, Prank Envy, you will have met our friend Terry and his highly-developed sense of humor.  He decided to give it another try this year to see what kind of results he would get this time around.

It’s kind of a social experiment, isn’t it?

Once again, Terry posted his “Cat Found” papers strategically around the neighborhood.  On my way into the office this morning, I stopped in our neighborhood coffee shop for some much-needed caffeine for my early-morning drive.  I saw several other early-morning punters clustered around the bulletin board and laughing.  After ordering, I wandered over to see what was so funny.

Here’s what I found.

“doesn’t this guy know that’s not a cat?”

One lady was about to call and wake up Terry because she thought he was mentally challenged and needed to know that this was a wild creature, not a pet, before he was bitten.  She was very concerned.   I didn’t say anything, preferring to see how this played out.    I also figured if Terry was awakened at 6:45am, it was his fault.

The next guy figured out it was a prank and thought it was the funniest thing he’s seen in a long time.   He also played along, telling the concerned lady that he hoped the possum wasn’t in the guys house.  The other two guys standing around picked up their coffees, took a picture of the board to post to their facebooks, and left.

By this time the workers at the coffee shop were interested, and all came out to read it.    I was putting sugar in my coffee and stirring it nonchalantly, when I heard “hey – that’s a possum!” and “gee, should we call and tell this poor guy?”.   I nonchalantly  walked up, took a picture with my phone, and said that I’ve seen that possum before, and wanted to double-check to see if it’s the one who lives in my back yard.

That got me a few stares.  I then walked out and enjoyed a good laugh in the car.

By the way, the concerned lady had her cell phone out as I left.

I wonder if Terry got his wake up call after all?

Maybe it’s because my BFF is a well-known stylist, and over the years some of her good fashion taste has rubbed off on me, but I now see fashion trends walking around on the beach, and while there are some really great looks out there, there were some where I wonder just what these people see when they look in the mirror.   Here are a few that really stood out:

  • The biggest laugh this trip has come from seeing guys pull their boardshorts as far down on their hips as possible without getting arrested.   It actually looks great if they’re doing it to show the pattered boxers or compression-shorts that they’re wearing underneath.  However, on those who are doing it without anything on underneath, it brings all new meaning to the term ‘shortage’.   Dudes – unless you’ve really got something to show, all this does is show what you don’t have, if you get my drift.  We are not impressed.  In fact, the smiles you see are us trying very hard not to laugh.   So put on some boxers or pull up your shorts – please.
  • There are less mother-daughter matching bikinis roaming around this time, which is a nice trend.  I guess they read my last blogpost “Bikini tops don’t tie at the waist”, and realized just how sad that looks.  Nice going, ladies!
  • Banana-hammocks are in short supply this year, even from the Europeans staying at our condo complex.  A very nice trend that has earned applause from everyone.  My nephew Harald saw one yesterday on an older gentleman, and even at 9 he knew it was So Wrong.  His comment was “didn’t he know how funny he looked?”.  Pearls of wisdom there, gentlemen.  You do look funny to the rest of us.
  • Hats are in!  Guys, gals and kids are all wearing head-protection, and that’s just great to see after all the years when I’ve been the only one at the beach with a brimmed hat.  Hat shops and kiosks have sprung up all over the island.   I was even able to find a sun-visor at Cruise in Whaler’s Village that’s made of bathing-suit material that I now wear while swimming.   Just rinse it out at night, and it’s ready to go the next day.   Several ladies at the pool asked me where I got it  and the next day there were a whole bunch of them in the pool.  Nice to start a skin-saving trend.
  •  Awesome beach cover-ups.   I’ve seen beautiful pareos, lovely tunics, and even a few pairs of sheer palazzo pants with matching tunics that were very fetching.
  • Full body-suits for kids is a great trend that must have dermatologists applauding everywhere.   This protects their skin and reduces the risk of skin cancer later on.  We’ve seen it on a lot of babies and small children, and I think it’s awesome.  Good work there, Moms!

I’ll leave you with this parting comment – - His and Her muumuus and Hawaiian shirts went out of fashion 50 years ago, folks.  If you want to advertise that you’re from Hickville, go to Bubba Gump’s for fried fish, not to Hilo Hattie’s.   Hawaiian shirts with orange parrots really need to be confined to the poker table, and when it’s combined with a plus-size muumuu on your honeybunny, it makes our eyes bleed and wish we had a camera to catch the sight and record it for posterity.  You get bonus points if you wear socks with your sandals.

May the Fashion Gods be with you.  Please.

The UBM office. Note the newsroom setup.

As the first full-time teleworker for the company I work for, I haven’t had a true office desk in the past 14 years.  Early this year, I started the long commute to our San Francisco office once a week to help out our new staff – as a favor to my boss.

I discovered how different it  was to have something called co-workers that didn’t have to be interacted with virtually.

 

  • It was strange at first to have someone near me speaking in something other than Cat.  I had to re-learn English – although I still growl when annoyed.
  • I  hate the commute.
  • Humans tell jokes and are fun to have around.
  • They also appreciate the fruits of your baking efforts.  My husband and son regard them as a right, and complain when I experiment and something is not perfect.  The office is just happy to have anything sweet.  The grand marnier brownies I made a few weeks ago underwhelmed my family, but the office loved it.  I could get used to this.
  • You indeed get less done, but the thrill of helping others around you more than compensates for getting a bit behind.
  • Did I mention how I hate the commute?

The view from the office sundeck

  • It’s fun to get dressed up in something other than shorts and t-shirts and to put on shoes for a change.  My BFF is a talented stylist and she’s set me up with a wardrobe most people would kill for.  It’s nice to be able to use it when not on a business trip.
  • Our office in San Francisco has an awesome view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Bay.
  • The office also  has a gorgeous sun deck for the days when the sun comes out.  It’s nice to be in California and have an office with a sundeck, complete with cushioned chaises, tables for lunch, and of course, this view.
  • I really do hate the commute, but it’s nice once I’m there.
  • The office is fully sustainable, with advanced recycling, energy efficient everything, and it’s open, airy, and full of really fun people.  I’ve been in most of my company’s offices around the world, and I have to say this is the nicest as far as space planning.

To make things stranger, I have an actual desk in this snazzy office.  Frankly, it’s the first time ever that I’ve been working in an office setting and haven’t had a private office, but I’ve adjusted pretty well.   I have the requisite kid picture of my son in his graduation tux, and I also have a picture of Alexei swinging a golf club that was taken by my Uncle Bob.  I can tell when people are golfers – they stop by my desk and comment on how much money they’ve paid to get a swing that will never be as good as his.

I’m not going to mention how much money I paid to get him that swing.  Nope.  Won’t even mention it.

I also have the required office trinkets.  A small elephant statuette that I brought back from South Africa.  A pair of wind-up shoes given to me by a long-time client.  Other stuff friends have given me over the years.  The required company awards that were cluttering up my office closet at home.  That kind of thing.    Apparently it’s not enough.

Todd Was Here

We have a lot of other colleagues from offices around the country visiting San Francisco.  I’m convinced it’s  because they really want to get away from the weather wherever they live.   As a result, my desk is used mostly for visiting executives.  Apparently, they got together and decided my desk looked a bit to severe, and needed some more decoration.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Todd was here from his home office in Atlanta.  Todd started the tradition of leaving me a gift to let me know he WAS THERE.  I was touched.  He took a picture of himself and printed it out.   I came into the office a few days later and saw his mug tacked to the divider-wall.

Dang.  It really needed a “Best Wishes from Todd”  or a “Loved Using Your Desk” on it for me to keep it up there as a permanent fixture.  So, I put it on one of the shelves below my desk and told Todd the next time he came out here he needed to sign it or he couldn’t sit at my desk again.

The race was on.   The next visitor to use my desk was my boss, Bob.   He flew in to escape the heat in Chicago, see the view, and soak up a bit of fog and blessed coolness in San Francisco.  Oh yeah – he also needed to work with the team, but they all say that.

 

Bob's few cents worth.

Bob has a delightfully dry sense of humor, and one never knows just how it will manifest itself.  I received an IM from him that day that said the picture of Todd on the shelf below was creeping him out.  A few jokes went back and forth, and when I came to the office a couple of days later, I found Todd’s picture back up on my wall, and a little present from Bob arranged in a nice zen pattern on my desk.

I kind of like this trend.  First a picture, then cash.  Things are looking up.

I still hate the commute, but I do like the presents.

I won’t be going to the SF office now for a couple of weeks, and there will be quite a few people visiting our office to escape the heat/rain/humidity/smells in their own cities.  Oh, yes, and to do a little work too.  I’m expecting to have several more presents left on my desk.

I’m particularly fond of orchids, folks…  Just saying.

Have you ever wanted to mess with people just for the sheer fun of it?  Or wondered just how many stupid people there are out there?  C’mon – admit it.  We all have, but few actually figure out a clever way to do it.   Our friend Terry came up with one of the cleverest schemes I’ve seen in a long time and it’s too good not to share.

I have to set the scene – Terry has a highly developed and deliciously warped sense of humor.  He’s a legend in our circle of friends for his practical jokes and off-beat comments, and his wife is a saint.  At Halloween he’s famous for making kids answer history questions, and then gives them not only really good candy  no matter whether their answer is right or wrong, but also a glow-necklace to help keep them safe as they go door-to-door.  That’s the great kind of guy he is.

Here’s what he came up with a few weeks ago.

Did you lose this cat?

Terry posted these flyers on on the neighborhood power poles and community bulletin board at our local family market.  Gleefully he waited to see who and what would call his mobile phone in response.   He was not disappointed.  He got two really great calls.

The first call was someone pretending that it was his cat.  Terry said ‘That cat is vicious, man!  We had him in the house, but he’s not housebroken.  He started tearing up the place, so we had to put him outside.  I’m not sure if he’s still in the backyard, but I can go check”.   He then said with his head turned from the phone “Honey, is that cat still out there?  You can’t find it?   Maybe you should look outside”  The guy on the phone told him “Duuuuude, that’s not a cat, that’s a possum”, obviously not realizing HE was the one being pranked.    Terry responded  ” Hey – did you lose a cat or didn’t you?   Why did you call me then?”  Click….  Hmmm – maybe the guy finally caught on…

Next call was from some giggly girls, and he played the voicemail they left for me – it was priceless.  I can’t replicate the California High School Girl accent in print, but here is what she said “We lost our cat in the Rosegarden.   It might be our cat.  (giggle, giggle) Can you see if it responds to his name?   Please?   It definitely has rabies, so don’t put your fingers in his mouth. (hee hee)  Bye – I hope it’s not an inconvenience (giggle, giggle)”  click.

Awesome.

The flyer was up for 2 days before someone took it down.  Terry now knows who puts these things up, but wonders who actually takes them down?

He’s already planning his next prank.   I can’t wait to see what it is.  Knowing Terry, it will be REALLY good, and if he gives me permission, I’ll share it with you too.

Yep.  I have Prank-envy.  I admit it.

I read an article this morning about how the US is the “no vacation nation”.   It is disturbing to read just how true it is.  Yes, I’m guilty of  taking my mobile phone with me during the day while on holiday – even to the beach.   I feel better because pretty much everyone else is doing it too – either that or they’re playing Angry Birds poolside.

Yeah – I vote for the Angry Birds too.

Not everyone in the US gets ANY paid vacation leave at all.  There is no law that requires any PTO (paid time off) for full or part time employees and there are companies out there that exploit that ruthlessly.   One of my friend’s husband has an important position in his company, and consequently does not get any paid vacation – period.   He’s lucky if he can sneak away for 4 days off around Christmas or Thanksgiving.  My friend takes her kids on vacations alone, to be joined by hubby on weekends.  She told me he’s just glad he’s working.

That is no way to live, working for Scrooge Enterprises.

My friends and colleagues from outside the US think we Americans are too focused on work, and staying ahead.   I tell them sadly that it’s not staying ahead these days, it’s staying employed.  The unfortunate reality of recession is that employers can take advantage of employees in ways of cutting benefits, time off, and the employee can’t do anything about it if he or she wants to keep the job.

Now enter another reality – the economy in the US is getting better as is the job market, and employers who take gross advantage of their employees are going to see valuable talent walk right out the door in search of better benefits – including vacation.   It’s already started – I know many people who have left their version of  Scrooge Incorporated in all it’s various industries for a nicer environment and a few days of rest.  It seems so simple,  but in looking after the bottom line, many companies are ignoring that it costs more to hire and train a new employee than it does to offer vacation and benefits that will keep their skilled workforce.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Ghost of Vacations Past would visit some of these latter-day Scrooges and scare them into treating their staff  better?   Yep.  I think so too.

It’s times like this I realize how lucky I am to work for a company that understands the importance of employees who can mentally function, and consequently not only give generous vacation benefits, but also prod me to take as many of my annual days as I can.   Consequently, I don’t mind sitting at the beach with my blackberry, making sure all is good back at the ranch.

No, I’m not playing Angry Birds.  Really I’m not.

It’s dejà vu all over again.

A little over a year ago I was anxiously watching another volcano erupt and eventually disrupt my vacation plans.   Now I’m watching yet another volcano do the same thing, and my first thought was “glad I’m not traveling”, and my second thought was “how selfish!”.  I know some of my friends and readers are planning trips, and my disinterest is not particularly charitable.

I’ve learned that prior planning can make these kinds of natural disasters irksome, but not catastrophic for travelers.  Here are some tips to help keep the anxiety at a minimum.  If you’re looking for what to do if they cancel your flight, click here or scroll down to the previous entry.

1. Trip Insurance – If you’re booking a flight to or from Europe or Argentina/Chile, or within Europe or Latin America, it’s best to spend the extra for insurance.  READ the policy thoroughly to make sure ‘acts of God’ such as volcano eruptions are not excluded.  If they are, look at another carrier.    If insurance is not an option, contact the airline to find out what they will do if your flight is cancelled due to ash cloud problems.  Most will allow you to rebook with no change fees, but not all are so nice.   Best to double check ahead of time.

2. Hotel bookings – try to stay away from the hotels and booking services that require you to pay in full up front.  There are many lovely boutique hotels that you can book without having to pay in full weeks in advance.  Look carefully at their cancellation policies, and call or email them if it’s not on their website.  Many are run by caring individuals that will give you a break if you’re stuck because of the ash cloud.

3. Alternate destinations.  If you’re traveling to Europe or the Southern Cone of Latin America and it looks like you may have issues getting to your primary destination, have a backup plan switching your flight to another city or nearby country and then take a train, boat or rent a car to get you where you need to go.  If you’re coming to the US from Europe, Argentina or Chile, try taking a train to a country or area not likely to be affected and fly out from there.  Once you get to the US, you can take a flight easily from any airport to anywhere you wish to go, and there are pretty inexpensive fares available to most destinations.  Don’t be afraid to get creative.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. Pack clothes that can stand a few extra days.  If you do get stuck, you don’t want to have a suitcase full of clothes that are dirty and can’t be worn.   Pack a shirt and underthings that can be washed in a hotel sink and hung up to dry overnight.  You’ll be glad you did!

5. Have a fully charged mobile phone that works in the country you’re traveling to.  Most local phones will not function outside your home country.   Contact your carrier before you leave to see what needs to be done to make your phone work in your destination country.   A SIM card is usually all that is required.   If that option is too expensive, consider renting a phone when you reach your destination.   That way if you need to rebook a flight, or find another hotel in a hurry, you won’t be looking for an internet cafe.  You can also notify the car service, hotel, friends or family if you are late arriving.

6. Have the airline’s non-800 number written down in an easily accessible place.  If you have to change your flight, the 800 number that is on your ticket, or on their website is not accessible from mobile phones or many landlines in Europe or Latin America.   Don’t rely on the ticket counter at the airport to give you the correct phone number.

7. If you DO get stuck, stay calm.   Turn on that charged mobile, pull out the non-800 number for your carrier and start booking yourself another flight, and a hotel if you can’t leave until the next day.   Pack a few extra videos or toys for the kids along with an extra book or two to keep you interested while you’re stuck in the airport.

Best of luck to everyone traveling during this summer.   I hope the Travel Gods are kind to you.  If not, remember the best way to foil them is to be prepared with alternate plans!

After working within the airline systems on innumerable countries, with flight cancellations, re-booking and so on, I observed positive and negative behavior amongst my fellow passengers. I got first hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips for anyone looking to be prepared for the Wrath of the Travel Gods. I hope these are helpful.

1. Before you leave, get NON-800 number contact information from your airline carrier. The 800 numbers they hand out for US-based carriers do not work from mobile phones, and finding a landline in an airport is impossible.

2. When you check in, ask the desk agent what the procedure at that airport will be in the event of a cancellation due to weather or other Acts of the Travel Gods. Take notes – it’s different at each airport, and you want to know ahead of time to avoid the panic when the cancellation is announced.

3. When cancellation is announced, stay calm and don’t lose your temper. The ground staff for the airline are doing the very best they can, and in many cases, they are operating under strict guidelines. Don’t push them. They can’t clear the weather or cause a broken airplane to move, and they are not responsible for their airline’s policies. Start working on your own Plan B.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. If you are flying economy, you’re on your own for rescheduling. In some cases there will be no ground staff at the airport who can reschedule you, and if there are, the lines will be very long. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone with you, and call as soon as you can. If the line is busy, keep trying until you get in. Stay patient. The agent who finally answers your call will be able to re-route you. It may not be for a day or two, but they will get you on another flight. If you are flying in business or first class, go to the desk in the lounge and ask them for rerouting possibilities.

5. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Look into flying back overseas from a different country, or to a different country.  If Southern Europe is affected, try to reroute through Germany or England. If Northern Europe is affected, look into Madrid or Rome.  If you’re traveling to the US, try a train to a country not affected and fly to the US from there.   Don’t be afraid to fly to another city in the US if that is all that is available.  Flights within the US are plentiful and there are inexpensive fares usually available online.   If you’re in India, look to Singapore or Hong Kong.    If there is no connecting flight available and you’re traveling to a destination on the same land mass, look into high-speed or regular train option.

6. Be aware the airline may not offer you a hotel voucher, and if not, do not argue, do not get angry. There is nothing you can do about it. Quickly get on the internet and book a hotel before the other travelers do.

7. Don’t demand an upgrade in flying class as a result of a cancellation. You won’t get it by being demanding and argumentative. In most cases, there will not be any seats in the other classes available. There are a lot more seats in the economy section than in anywhere else – you’ll have a better chance of getting out flying in the cheap seats than waiting for an upgrade.

8. Try to calm down the passengers around you. The airline ground staff will bless you for it. You might even get an unexpected reward.

9. Finally, smile at the agent or ground staff and tell them how well you think they are holding up and handling this situation. They have an impossible job, with people yelling at them all the time, trying to make stranded, stressed-out people happy. In most cases, they get no thanks at all before moving on to the next upset passenger. Hearing a nice word from you will help lighten their burden. The grateful smile you get back will be the nicest thing that happens to you all day.

The above was learned first hand last year when my flight home was cancelled due to ash cloud issues. Yes, I did try to calm down the other passengers in my group. Yes, I was nice and patient and smiled. I told them I thought they were doing an excellent job in these trying circumstances, and in one case told a fellow passenger to get off the lounge staff’s back.

My reward – when I got my ticket re-booked on another airline, it was for First Class.

Remember the Golden Rule. It works.

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