Thursday, August 26, 2010

The people you meet

In my travels for my job I often find it interesting and a pleasant way to pass the time when I meet new people.  And I'm not one of those who interrogates his seatmate every time I get on a plane....I've been victimized by enough of those to last me a lifetime.  But I just returned home from a business trip and found a couple of the people I encountered to be interesting.

For example, on my flight home the lady who was scheduled to sit with me spoke up, politely, and asked if Lexington was home for me.  I answered that it was, and then asked her the same question.  "Louisville," she responded, and that led to about fifteen minutes of chatting about airports, travel, jobs, etc.  Turns out this lady is the mother of three, ranging in age from 17 to 9, was in the ministry (!) for seven years, and now is in marketing for some sort of collective buying cooperative that sells primarily to non-profits and church-related entities.  And we also established that she, as I, matriculated at the University of Kentucky, graduating in the same college (Business and Economics) as I, but seven years later.

The best part about this chance encounter is that our chat ended when the plane took off and we both settled in for our flight (Atlanta to Lexington, only an hour flight), I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and fired up the iPod, and she reached for a book.  No pressure to continue talking, no one got their feelings hurt, pleasant conversation, wished each other a good evening, and went our separate ways.

Same trip, first flight yesterday (if you live in Lexington, there are almost always two or more flights to reach any given destination).  Changed flights on very short notice to get home early (thanks again, Delta!), so I was stuck with a window seat on a commuter jet.  Cramped for a guy my size, but doable.  Anyway, a soldier boarded with his enormous standard-issue backpack.  I asked him if he was coming or going (meaning to or from active service) and he explained that he was heading home to Utah.  We'd just begun chatting when the ground crew called his name and he arose as though he expected the call, said, "Well, I guess I'm not going home after all" and left.  Left me with a vacant seat, for which I was grateful, but I would probably have enjoyed more conversation with him while waiting to take off.

Once, many years ago, I was on a plane home from Richmond, VA, where I'd traveled for a job interview with a company for whom I really didn't want to work.  But I'd just been laid off from a job and was feeling the pressure of locating a new opportunity.  Happened to sit with a gal who simply commented that it looked like I had a lot on my mind, and so I discussed briefly my reason for being in the air, etc.  I remember so well her advice---"Never settle."  Good advice if circumstances allow.  The other thing that stands out is that she was not quite five feet tall but insisted on storing and retrieving her massive computer bag from the overhead compartment without assistance.

And in a business context I met about a dozen people with whom I was not previously acquainted on this trip.  Learned a lot about people's feelings about grown children who return home after a divorce, post-partum depression, how readily some people will allow a two-year-old to sleep in their bed, that racing midget cars is an all-consuming passion for some kids and their families, and so on.

The next trip may hold more possibilities.  Or not.  I suppose that's the fun of it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gathering a few stray thoughts

It's Friday, and we're heading toward the Labor Day weekend, slowly but surely.  Time for a bit of a brain dump with some random comments about random subjects.

Has it been hot where you live?  Excuse me, I meant to say "HOT."  This has been a summer of ridiculous temperature extremes in central Kentucky, and I know from traveling it's been that way in a lot of places.  You know it's hot when dedicated golfers elect not to play on a Saturday.

For the first time in a number of years, the Reds are in serious contention to make it to post-season play (we used to simply say "the playoffs" but now there's more than one round of playoff series leading to the World Series), so baseball has a different significance for me this year than in years past.  Usually, at this point, I'm interested to see the prospects that the Reds have promoted to the big club to see how they perform at the major league level, as they're often hopelessly out of the pennant race.  Not this year.  The Reds are a team of grit, heart, and perseverence, which is the way baseball should be played.  Hard.  All the time.  And I love it.

Oddly, though, football is about to start, and I'm a little ambivalent about it.  The University of Kentucky's football fortunes have been led by the sturdy Rich Brooks for the past seven years, with the last four ending in a bowl game (three of those wins).  But Brooks has now retired, and former offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips takes over.  Some changes in the coaching staff have occurred, but it looks like most everything else will continue as it has.  But, frankly, it's hard to divide one's concentration between my Reds and my Wildcats.  But I'll do my best!

Business travel is dicey this time of year, since there's such a continual threat of severe weather throughout the southeastern US.  And from Lexington, where my flight plans originate, all roads (well, most, I guess) lead through Atlanta.  Returned from a trip Tuesday night with both outbound and inbound flights being slightly delayed, although not due to weather.  Gotta love flying through Atlanta, as with an airport that large you see all manner of people and things, most of which leave you either chuckling or shaking your head.

Rental cars are a bit of a pet peeve for me, too, and fresh in my mind, since I just had a rental Sunday through Tuesday.  My company has a preferred company for car rentals, and I have elite status with them, which means I should simply be able to show up, prove my identity and drive away.  Not so on this trip.  And what passes for an "intermediate" car is most definitely open to interpretation.  This week's rental was a Volkswagen Jetta, a brand and model of car that we used to own.  "Used to" being the operative phrase.  Not much headroom or hiproom, and a smallish trunk.  Not a good combination when traveling with golf clubs.

I suppose that's enough complaining.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flying the "friendly" skies

As I believe I've noted here before, I fly a fair amount for my work.  Not traveling this week, thank God, or else all of the talk in airport gate areas and on planes would surround Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who lost his cool and stormed out the rear of an airplane onto the inflatable slide and into airline folk history, as well as custody.

Most of my travels are on Delta and its affiliated regional carriers, and that's largely by choice.  From my home in Lexington I have far more options to get just about anywhere when I fly Delta than if I use competing airlines.  But let's be clear, I've flown most every airline that services the state of Kentucky, and have had what I would charitably call mixed results in terms of service and cooperation from flight crews.

For about two years I traveled long distances regularly, as I managed a sales territory in the mountain time zone of the western US.  That meant a flight to a hub, then on to cities like Denver, Phoenix or Salt Lake City (and sometimes beyond).  So on each given trip I would have a commuter flight with one attendant, then a large aircraft with as many as six or eight attendants (I don't do headcounts, but that's my recollection), so the quality of service rendered can vary greatly by the passenger-to-attendant ratio.  And my thoughts have been colored more and more by upgrades to first class, where the attendants simply cannot do enough for you, as they have far fewer passengers to serve.

But I want to make it clear that I've seen more polite, helpful, friendly and cooperative attendants from just about all airlines than I have those whose behavior is less positive, boorish, confrontational and the like.  I was on a commuter jet recently from Columbia, SC to Atlanta, and the single attendant on that flight was very much like a drill sergeant, if a little quieter.  She sternly instructed my seatmate to do or not do several things during a tarmac delay, and was equally abrupt with several other passengers within earshot.

But on the connecting flight home to Lexington (which was also delayed significantly by weather in the Southeast US) the attendants could not have been nicer or more accommodating, and they were held up themselves in much the same way my flight from South Carolina was.

How does this happen?  How is it that some people wear a bad day on their sleeve, while others could have a bucket of water dumped onto their heads and never lapse into a frown?

Not sure, but I like to think, at this stage of my life, I'm more the latter category than the former.  And when one travels, one has to accept what's within and not within his control.  With practice, I've done that.

It's a shame that Mr. Slater didn't master that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reality, indeed

I don't watch very much "reality TV," unless you count HGTV (my wife's favorite channel), the Food Network and the Travel Channel among that category.  No, I'm referring to shows like "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" and others that run on the big four traditional networks, as well as some of this other unscripted stuff that pops up on MTV, VH1 and the like.

But, first, a quick aside....does anyone remember when VH1 launched?  It was supposed to be music videos for the rest of us, that is, those of us over 20 years of age.  And their original lineup of veejays included such luminaries as Don Imus and Rosie O'Donnell (no, I'm not kidding).

But I digress....

A couple of stories in the news recently made me think a little harder than usual about reality television.  One was the arrest of someone called "Snooki" from a show on MTV called "Jersey Shore."  Now, I've never watched this show, but have recently seen some clips on various news programs, mostly on cable.  Snooki apparently also announced recently that "Obama" (note:  not PRESIDENT Obama, or even Barack Obama) was the party responsible for taxation of tanning beds or the use of them.  If I'm not mistaken, this was part of the recently passed healthcare reform bill, and the tax was a kind of sin tax, not unlike taxes placed on cigarettes or liquor.  But Snooki went so far as to say "Obama put the tax on tanning against us," or something similar.  Now, let's think....this show is about some young people who happen to be on a reality show on a somewhat minor cable channel, and many of the show's cast indulge in tanning, but for her to think that the President of the United States would do ANYTHING as a direct affront to this group of people is pretty silly.  Even for this group.

There's another young man who's in the cast of this show whose nickname is "the Situation."  I have no idea what that means, nor do I really want to know.  At all.

The other reality star who's been in the news the last few days is Michaele Salahi, who's 1/2 of the White House state-dinner-crashing couple that were in the news a while back, and who's now a member of the cast of yet another of the "Real Housewives" franchise, this time in D.C.  Apparently some or all of the cast were on "The View" this week and Mrs. Salahi was making some point or another and Whoopi Goldberg, one of the talkers on this show, emerged from backstage and tapped Mrs. Salahi on the arm to get her attention.  Sometime later Mrs. Salahi publicly accused Whoopi of hitting her.

Really.

Apparently this gal has a history of this, as I read this morning of a similar instance in a courthouse somewhere in which Mrs. Salahi accused someone of striking her, when they were simply tapping her on the shoulder, again, to get her attention.

Touchy.

The other more distasteful instance of reality television influencing, well, reality, was the "balloon boy" incident a few months (or more) ago in Colorado.  Apparently that child's parents, particularly the father, had been trying desperately to get the attention of one or more reality TV producer and determined that this stunt, which did NOT endanger the child as originally thought, would be the way to go about it.

These reality TV folks don't know what they're missing.  Why, they could come to my house.  Right now.  And film me for a couple of days.   Working, talking on the telephone, writing E-mails to my employees, co-workers and friends.  Exercising.  Showering.  Eating.  Sleeping.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it?  I suppose "The Truman Show" isn't as far off as it seemed when that little gem of a movie first came out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Promises, promises

Today's installment is about commitments we make to others, and how unimportant they appear to be to some people and entities.

First, let's all give a round of applause to British Petroleum, the fine folks who brand their overpriced gasoline as BP and who have been promising us for over three months that they're doing EVERYTHING they can to stop the uncontrolled flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.  A lot of blathering, a lot of bumbling, a lot of excuses and one CEO later, it looks like that might finally be happening.  And to make matters worse, what we've been hearing for some time is that BP is trying to coerce Gulf are residents (particularly those who operate businesses adversely affected by all of this mess) into accepting lump-sum settlements with the added provision that the recipients of these settlements WILL NOT SUE.

Don't sign them, people, I don't care how much is offered.  We just don't know what the long-term effect of this disaster will be, so signing away your rights for any future compensation probably isn't a good idea.

Now let's turn to the former First Daughter of Alaska, Bristol Palin, and her would-be husband and baby daddy Levi Johnston.  They're a committed couple.  Wait, no they're not, Levi is a selfish jerk who should surrender his parental rights.  Then they get back together, and now comes news that Bristol says it's over (again) and that she was "played."  Ironic that this comes right on the heels of mom Sarah's pronouncement that the female governor of Arizona is, shall we say, better genitally equipped than the male President of the United States.  Anyone else a little uncomfortable with the entire Palin clan?  In the Andy Warhol parlance, I'll be glad when the family's fifteen minutes of fame are up.

And now we come to the man who is so indecisive that he should own a Waffle House franchise, Brett Favre.  Somehow I remember writing something like this about a year ago, but here we are again, listening to all of sports radio and television breathlessly await his retirement decision.  Just like the last three year.  Give us a break, Brett.  Play or don't, but make up your mind.  Oh, and if this is all designed to have people make you feel wanted, you're rather pathetic, despite all of your career accomplishments.

All of that said, I promise that I'm finished.  And I am.

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