Rants & Roadkill

1 Bad Apple?

Posted on: Thursday, January 12th, 2012
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A few days ago, Apple inspired me.  Not in the usual way—with fresh innovation that changes the world—but a with an indifference and boorishness that makes Burger King charming.  Now that Steve Jobs has gone to the other side, I wonder if anyone considers the other side of the ubiquitous Apple influence.

Apple stores differ.  But mine (in Rosedale Mall) is usually more noisy and uncomfortable than a school bus.  They make you wait and want you to hang around.  But even a simple stool can be impossible to score.

Sure, many great people work at Apple.  But sometimes, the Apple attitude turns sour—and takes devotees with it.  What have I experienced or pondered?  Behind the sweet products and branding, here are some unpleasant flavors that can linger…

  • Rude. If an employee (genius?) is smarter than the customer, that’s great.  But when the employee gets short—or forgets basic greetings manners, that’s foul.
  • Arrogance. Rude’s older cousin often shows up (especially on the phone)—and seems to enjoy making others feel inferior, slow, or uncool.
  • Cunning. Apple’s marketing represents American materialism at its best (or worst).  No entity has consistently made us crave the fruits of what’s newest, next, or better.  If you don’t keep up?  They may make you feel 1.0—or lock you and your old gear out of their party.
  • Conniving. Sure, some Apple products perform amazingly for their price—even if it’s usually more than the competition (if there is any).  But like buying a car, the spending only begins with the purchase—and Apple has mastered the art of trapping you into upgrades, replacements, repair, and more more more.
  • Self-important. Beyond the mercenary, what, exactly, has Apple done to exemplify generosity, compassion and valor?  Some might say Steve Jobs was no Bill Gates.
  • Narcissistic. Examples are everywhere, but a friend’s Christmas story was particularly personal:  This year, at his large family holiday gathering, about 75% of the people were staring down at their screens.  He missed the good old days, when “just us” was the point.  What lexicon did Apple push for most of the products?  i.  i.  i.

But enough ranting.  For now, let’s not even bite into the new waves of research about phenomena like tech addiction, texting while sleeping, and online shopping while drunk—to say nothing of the challenges digital-mania presents to parenting, teaching, coaching, and the grand old art of civil conversation…the kind some Apple folks don’t have time for.

Mr. Jobs and Apple changed the world.  For better AND worse.

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What’s the Hurry?

Posted on: Monday, October 3rd, 2011
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  • On the freeway, dude in the pick-up behind me talks on his cellphone, snarfs a sandwich, and tailgates like we’re attached until I leave the lane.
  • Downtown, woman in high heels texts while j-strutting through frantic traffic.
  • At the supermarket, suburban Momma barks at her bluetooth while ignoring her kids and budging to the front of the 10-item line (with 22 groceries in her cart).

Just another day, right?  Does anybody ever catch up, slow down and smell the fall colors any more?

5 ways to stop rushing

  1. In the morning, upon waking up, stay in bed a while, and decide to do something (that isn’t on your to-do list) soothing that day.
  2. Mid-morning, go outside for a walk, bike ride, or any other exercise bit.
  3. At lunch, before you munch, give thanks, and remember the many that are hungry.
  4. In the afternoon, when you’re feeling sleepy anyway, take a silence break—meditation, catnap, siesta; doesn’t really matter what you call it.
  5. Before bed, unplug and play some mellow music, or just listen to some if you’re musically challenged.

As for me, the days that I don’t do some of those things (among other ‘habits’) are the days that feel lost—no matter how much I accomplished.

Seems modern-day survival relies on speedy multitasking.

But how much of that obsession actually amounts to anything?  How can we so value productivity yet admit we dislike our jobs, go deeper in debt, and suffer from crippling unemployment?  Wouldn’t it be great to recalibrate our collective priorities?

Maybe we’d use our time differently.  Maybe we’d take our time—literally—now and then.

Big-time BreakAways can wait.  But small-time breaks always await—and demand far less energy than they give back.

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They Paved Paradise…

Posted on: Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Blog | One comment

Downtowns are supposed to be places where we can walk, gawk and escape our routine.  Make some celebration.  Stumble on an odd adventure.  And feel the beat of the streets.  When traveling—whether to New York or to Tokyo—who doesn’t wander, eyes agog, to take it all in?

  • Diversity ≠ danger

I took this picture in the spring of 1981.  After an all-night Greyhound ride from Chicago, I awoke in Minneapolis and took my first stroll down notorious Block E.  The Prudes That Be said it was squalid and scary—and thus eventually tore everything down to erect a mall that has failed.

To me, Block E buzzed with verve and authenticity; even the signage sings, if at times a raunchy tune.  So I hung out there now and then.  After attending Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, I ended up in Moby Dick’s and witnessed astonishing elation and conviviality.

  • Now the Hard Rock crumbles…

23 years later, the soul-less, mammoth mall that replaced Moby’s and all the rest is now nearly empty.  Hard Rock will close by the end of the month.  Generic chain joints like Applebee’s, Hooters, GameWorks, and Panchero’s are already gone.

Perhaps the saddest twist of fate is this:  The new owners who bought the building have big plans of tearing this iteration down to erect a $200 million casino and hotel.

If this is progress, call me old-school.  Like dog poop that you step in and then spread it all over, the porn and strip joints they shut down have simply moved a few blocks to other locations; at least they used to be mostly on one block (which anyone could avoid and where cops and bouncers were abundant).

You could get “a whale of a drink” at Moby’s and get a dang-good-and-cheap “filet de boeuf” at 2 AM at Best Steak House.  If the new owners get their way, you can feed your gambling addiction and their pockets instead.

  • Pictures preserve memories, if nothing else

Like all good career break and travel advocates, I’m also an unprofessional photographer.  Today’s news reminds me why.  There’s nothing fancy about this image.  Yet it becomes more precious as the years pass—both because it rouses inimitable memories, and because it preserves a vanished scene.

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A (Patriotic) Year in Tunisia

Posted on: Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
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DSC_0959_2Throughout the Middle East, nations roil like boats lost at sea while trying to figure out this thing called democracy.  They look to a beacon called USA for guidance, while simultaneously dissing our unsavory ways.  Tunisia offers an illuminating path for us, though, as thousands of youth there embark on a “patriotic year.”  

I heard this story on All Things Considered and found it quite inspiring; you can read the article here, or listen, if you are so inclined…

  • Protecting the…revolution                       

Demonstrations broken up by tear-gas, daily.  70 new political parties.  Countless citizen organizations.  A regime that’s ousted yet threatens to force their way back into power.  Sounds like just another day on Santa Monica Boulevard—NOT. 

We’ve much to learn from our faraway compatriots.  Here, we host two political parties that share only one love in common:  A love for gridlock.  Seems many American lives are lost in gridlock too, while a brave few dream of a debt-free life and something like a Gap Year. yet stay stuck in their swamp.

  • Imagine passionate patriotism in America

What might happen if a wave of American youth dedicated a year to improving our deteriorating land and demanding results from our government?  We could use that kind of grass-roots, kick-butt patriotism around here—not just the flag-in-the-lapel kind. 

Oh sure, it might get in the way of Facebook and Modern Warfare 2.  But imagine how savvy and mighty our society might be if we could recapture the passion, like our friends in Tunisia.

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Online = Service Dearth

Posted on: Friday, January 28th, 2011
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DSC_0590Isn’t the internet great?  Sometimes yes, sometimes not so much—like when you need serious assistance.  In the past week, I’ve gotten trapped in enough online snares to miss the good old days of Ma Bell Hell.  Here are just a few of these head-banging incidents…

Gift card / sports store. One offspring gets a gift card, so we go to the store.  As these things go, we find $200 worth of stuff though the card value is only $100…

Them: After ringing us up, the checker says, “Oh, this is an online gift card.  We don’t accept those in the store.”

Us:  “Hmmm, is there anyway around this?  We only came in bacause of the gift card.”

Them:  “No, but you can put back all your merchandise and then go buy it online, if it’s there…”

Autopay form / department store credit card. Autopay is a win-win-win, right?  It makes life better for the store, the customer, and the environment.  So when the online sign-up failed to function, I called the store…

Us (after a long, long wait and punching many digits—which eventually needed to be repeated to a Human):  “Hi.  I’m unable to complete the autopay form online, so you could mail me one?”

Them:  “Actually, for your convenience, you can just print it from our website.”

Me:  “Okay, but I’m not at my computer now, and my my printer needs ink.  So could you kindly just mail it me?  I’ll take it from there…”

Them:  “Actually, we don’t mail that form.  What number may I fax it to?”

Me:  “Actually, my fax isn’t hooked up and I’m not at the office.  Can’t you please just mail me one?  Or ask someone who can?”

Them:  “Well, we don’t do that, but let me talk to my supervisor.”

L o n g                              w a i t

Them:  “Okay, just this once, my boss said we can mail you one.  It might take a few weeks tough.  How else may I help you today?”

Vendor recommendation / municipality. The gardening to-do list takes a break during winter, yet dormant plants and a blanket of snow make it the ideal time to take down a dead, old ash.  My municipality prefers that you use vendors that have a proper local license, so I try to comply.  When my usual cutter does not appear on the online list, I call in…

Me:  “Hi.  I’m wondering if you can tell me if a tree service is still licensed and recommended by my fine city.”

Them:  “Great!  But actually, you can just find that information online.”

Me:  “Yes, I’m on that page right now, but my vendor is gone.”

Them:  “Oh.  Well, we may be behind on keeping that list current.”

Me:  “Great!  So tell me, should Grizzly’s Tree Care be there?  They always were in the past…”

Them:  “Hmmm, let’s see.  Ya, sure.  They’re current on the license and everything.  Go ahead and use them; they do good work.”

Us:  “Yes, I agree.  Nice to know someone does.  Thanks for your ‘help’”.

Having just returned from a BreakAway in Mazatlan, I’m temporarily smitten by the notion that, in some places, real people still offer unplugged service—and don’t just bat you back to your cold, lonely screen.  Because they probably don’t even have one.  Because they value things like human contact, attention, and having a job.

Thanks for listening.  I have to go now—to pay a bill online, renew an Apple service online, and resolve a payroll discrepency online.

Wish me luck.

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The Annual X-mas Rant

Posted on: Sunday, December 26th, 2010
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DSC_0127Christmas has come and gone.  Again.

Beautiful; we still take a few days to BreakAway from our jobs, routines, and rat race.  With any luck, we even reflect, rest, and renew old ties.

But the party is far from over.  Now comes the clean-up, the bills, the weight-loss angst, and the withdrawal from holiday hype.

  • What happened?

What’s happened to this sacred season, anyway?  What’s happened to our culture?  I mean, in an era of unemployment, austerity, and alleged rethinking of values, the season’s headlines obsess about retail sales.  It would appear that Christmas has become Growth Engine #1—and I’m not talking spiritual growth.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember the last time a Christmas carol lilted through a public school.  The radio and mall soundtrack is all “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Let it Snow.”  The Christian denominations are losing souls and houses of worship as fast as other religions are gaining them.

  • Where the GAINS are

Oh sure, you can find a few expanding strains of Christianity.  And they are likely to be heavily political and opinionated (in ways that may not agree with the Beatitudes).  Or they preach the poppy ME message of Prosperity Theology: “Make Me Rich.”  As uber-triumphant (and uber-rich) Reverend Joel Osteen puts it:

God has said that he will open the windows of heaven and pour such blessing that you will not be able to contain it!”

  • Self. Ish.

Oh well, people are just trying to be happy, right?  And when that’s the goal, it may be better to receive than to give.  Better to focus on a personal path than consider sacrifice for world needs or relationship growth.

But the truth (if there is one) of “happiness” may hide in big-hearted, old-school stories like Christmas, not just new-age websites, shopping malls, and self-help shelves.

Search “self help books” on Google and get 191,000,000 links to explore.  Search “self help” on Amazon and ponder 155,000 “results.”  The first “result” is a book with a title that starts, “When Am I Going to Be Happy?…”

Well, “happy” may be a simplistic, self-absorbed pursuit, anyway.  Jesus never promised happiness.  That’s just what we now ask of Christmas, spirituality, and so many things.  And of course, successful living in these times is all about the asking, not so much the sharing.

Was there ever a day when Christmass meant more than merriment, Macys, and money?

I believe.

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Rants & Roadkill from the World of Work

Posted on: Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
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DSCN1276The AP reports that “the squeeze with the sneeze” has gotten so bad that more that more than half of U.S. workers get regular calls from their employers when they’re not supposed to be working—including when taking a sick day.   That is SO sick. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 39% of private sector employees get no sick time at all. 

Is this any way to build loyalty and create leadership?  Heck, no.  Rather, such lack of respect and compassion brings out the beast in people—and smashes any aspirations for future hope and leadership, as another recent survey finds.

  • 24% of people being asked to take on new challenges are more excited to get to work
  • 62% of workers have no desire to assume a leadership role

These stats are outrageous and paint an ugly picture for the future.  We should all be fuming.  But work is sucking our collective energy and creativity away.  So who has time to fight (much less fantasize about Sabbaticals)?  People are tired, poor, and yearning to be free. 

A few folks are questioning these disturbing trends, though, including the Families and Work Institute.  Their president, Ellen Galinsky, smartly sums up work thusly:  

Work is a marathon.  We keep running harder and faster.  What we know now from research is that work is really much more like interval training.  You need time for reset and recovery.” 

Well put, Ellen.  Breakaways for all!

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The Painful Profiteering of Xmas

Posted on: Friday, November 27th, 2009
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DSC_0553What do your Christmas memories look like? With any luck, you see some heartfelt, colorful scenes of gathering, feasting, singing, baking, decorating, giving, gratitude and more. Let’s hope those traditions live on—whatever your beliefs. And that the holidays bring a BreakAway from cold monotony and a time for connection and reflection. 

Be careful, however, when you leave the house or turn on the media.  Out there, the “holiday spending season” has morphed into the biggest capitalism train wreck ever—a sad, sickening farce devoid of spirituality, generosity and gentleness.

Consider…

  • “Black Friday” has become responsible keeping our consumer-centric economy—and country—fiscally afloat. 
  • Shopping numbers move newscasts and stocks like news of war. 
  • Stores open as early as 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving.
  • Shoppers line up hours before then, even in rain, snow and gloom of night.
  • Violence happens routinely as crazed shoppers fight over bargains. 
  • A debt-riddled society dives deeper into arrears, only to bestow stuff others may not want. 
  • The materialism and waste piles up and the real messages get watered down, if not drowned. 

If Jesus were to visit, he’d probably weep. After all, the Bible says “The meek shall inherit the earth,” whereas in modern Christmas the earth is inheriting a greedy mess.

It’s not all one big Bah Humbugapalooza, however. No doubt individuals and groups all over the world still find significance in the holidays—and folks are fighting back against the meaningless money-fication of a holy season.

Just one such sign: More than 1,500 churches worldwide are participating in a program called “The Advent Conspiracy:

An international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.” 

There’s also a book.  It dares to guide people to give presence, not presents—from the heart, not Wal-Mart. 

So while there’s reason to rant about the roadkill that Christmas is in danger of becoming, there is also—and is this not the main message of sacred holidays?—hope. 

Keep the faith!

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BA Impetus 1: You Done Somebody Wrong (Right, Kanye?)

Posted on: Tuesday, September 15th, 2009
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How many reasons are there to take a BreakAway?  With this new series, let’s find out, one by one.  For Kanye West, a spontaneous inspiration arose when he rudely interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech during the MTV Awards to diss her and declare Beyonce more worthy.  Whatever…but now he needs a little Shame Sabbatical. 
 
Work, Work, Work
 
Poor guy.  Kanye works so hard he seems to forget to take time to practice good manners.  As he reflects on the Jay Leno Show, he’ll use this blunder to unplug the fame machine, learn from his mistakes and, well, grow up.  According to the man himself:
So many celebrities, they never take the time off.  I’ve never taken the time off to really — you know, just music after music and tour after tour. I’m just ashamed that my hurt caused someone else’s hurt. My dream of what awards shows are supposed to be, ’cause, and I don’t try to justify it because I was just in the wrong. That’s period. But I need to, after this, take some time off and just analyze how I’m going to make it through the rest of this life, how I’m going to improve.”
 
President Obama Calls Kanye a “Jackass”
 
One good gaffe deserves another, eh?  President Obama—off the record—responded to Kanye’s actions by calling him “a jackass.”  The comment was not intended for public dissemination.  But of course, we all know that in this digital day and age, no secret is sacred.  Especially when you’re the most powerful person on the planet. 
 
The President will learn that soon enough (or he, too, may need a Sabbatical!).  Meanwhile, we hope Kanye has a great break—really—and that others singing the done-somebody-wrong blues will consider taking time off to apologize, ponder and heal. 
 
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U.S. Vacation/Sick Time: Lame!

Posted on: Friday, July 3rd, 2009
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Blog | One comment

Yuck.  While some of us rant about taking sabbaticals, the average American Joe doesn’t even get vacation or sick time.  It’s bleak.  And the stats are humbling.  3 months off?  Some folks pine for 3 days. 

Read and weep:  The average PTO time in the U.S.A. is 14 days.  Brits get 24.  Meanwhile, French folks enjoy an average of 39—ooh la la!  As Seattle blogger Lucy Miller put it, “America needs to take a vacation.”  

Years ago, Congress passed the Family Medical and Leave Act, though it still apples to only about half the workforce.  Now they’re considering the Healthy Families Act, which mandates minimal (and modest) vacation and sick time.  Hey—it’s only 100 years late, but let’s do it! 

IF IF IF the bill passes, optimists claim it would be a boon for the travel industry, while also lessening stress and burnout expenses. 

  • Stress and burnout—killers of morale, health, and profit. 
  • Vacation and travel—rewards for a job well done. 

Canada and most of Europe take pride in awarding employees with free time.  Even China mandates three weeks of vacation. But the sad fact is, many Americans still work for low pay, get scant benefits, and often no vacation or sick days off.  If you need more fodder for your frustration, check out this insightful (if depressing) commentary by Marshall H. Tannick.  Then count your blessings for what benefits and freedoms you DO possess.

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