“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” – Earl Wilson
Here it is late July and I’ve done almost nada as far as the blog goes. Life gets in the way. I would add work but I’m retired. Now work consists of household chores. The jury, being my own whims, is still out and arguing about whether or not I like retirement. There are times when I feel like my time can be better spent than puttering about the yard and cleaning the toilet bowls. And when I’ve grown sick of chores and projects there are times when I want to tear my eyeballs out just to relieve the boredom. And then there are times when I think retirement is a gift from god. Okay let’s give credit where credit is due because god had nothing to do with it. Retirement has been a gift from FDR for Social Security (such as it is) and LBJ for Medicare.
One of the definite perks of retirement is being able to take a three week vacation and not worry about all the work related madness. For the first time in over 40 years I’m taking three weeks. There’s only been one time in my work life when I took three weeks off and that was to take a trip to Italy. I was single at the time and the job wasn’t one that I was particularly married to, so when my boss denied my request I told him I was going anyway. I added that if he thought that he could hire and train someone to my experience level before three weeks expired then he was certainly a better man than I. He bade me bon voyage and told me my job would be waiting for me when I got back. I never again had the sand to try to pull off that kind of power play.
In the American workplace it’s gotten tough enough just to ask for a couple of days, let alone a week or two. At my last job we were encouraged to take time off to “recharge.” “Recharge”; that’s one of those new workplace buzzwords. You know the ones; words and phrases like, “one off,” “ping,” “out of pocket”, “synergy,” and one of my favorites, “team.” In what workplace besides sports are a group of workers really a “team?” The American workplace makes Congress look like a fraternity. Another favorite is “bandwidth.” Bandwidth used to describe radio frequency range. Now “bandwidth” can be taken to mean that “we’re going to give you another shit ton of work.”
My requests for a little “recharging,” were often met with a long sigh that dripped with “oh god if you must,” along with a strong admonishment that “your desk needs to be in order before you go.” No pressure – right?
And then just before vacation you cram two weeks worth of work into the last few days, think you’re all set and then one of your “teammates” gives you a priority project two hours before you’re slated to leave. And yes that’s actually happened to me. When my backup found me at my desk moaning with my head buried in my hands she kindly said she would get it done along with noting that, “Jay’s a jerk for doing that.”
Finally you get to those last delicious moments when you set up your out of office message. Mine always came with the disclaimer that I would have no phone or internet service – even if I was going to Chicago. Out the door, halfway home and, “Oh shit I forgot to leave an out of office voicemail. Oh well.”
Let’s not even get into the back to work, I wonder what blew up on my desk anxiety, or the stack of undone work. And I just couldn’t wait to open up Outlook to find 500 emails in my inbox.
Here’s the deal with emails. I’ve always made it a personal policy to kindly ask that nobody send me a “thank you,” email. I have enough emails during the course of any workday that I don’t need to be stroked with a “thank you.” If I pissed you off, then that’s fair game but if I took care of your issue let’s just leave it at that.
And so out of the 500 emails there’s always scores of “thank you,” “thanks,” “thx,” “gracias,” and even some “you’re welcome.” There’s also bound to be a thread or two with flags and all sorts of priorities that have life or death catastrophe written all over them. These threads usually start with two or three individuals and then progress to a few more and then are escalated to some middle managers and in a worse case get bumped up to corporate high command. “Oh god now what?” Six hours later, after you’ve gone through the last of the emails, your once recharged battery is drained and your vacation looks like it’s ten years back in life’s rearview mirror.
That’s all behind me now. Thank you FDR and LBJ.
The last few months have been consumed with trip planning; pouring through travel books, deep diving into the internet (“deep dive” is one of those annoying corporate buzzwords), making reservations and more trip planning. It’s what I do because long ago I got tired of wasting time and money by arriving at the destination hotel and asking, “Well, now what’ll we do?”
Now I have three weeks on a spreadsheet; Vermont to Montreal to Quebec City to the Maine Coast to New Hampshire, back to Vermont and home. My plans are always subject to last minute change depending on how long a planned activity actually lasts. A few years ago I reserved a tour of the Gibson Guitar factory in Memphis. That was supposed to come after a visit to the Civil Rights Museum. The museum was fascinating but very much larger than I’d expected. After getting about two thirds through we had to race through the remainder so that we could get to the Gibson factory in time to make the tour.
Plans are also subject to what I like to call “breaking news.” For instance, the plan for the Vermont part of the trip originally called for a visit to Ben and Jerry’s. Then I discovered that the tour is more or less an infomercial about Ben and Jerry’s social consciousness. That’s cool but you’re preaching to the choir. I’d rather you show me how you make ice cream. Ben and Jerry have been removed from the agenda.
A chunk of our trip will include Montreal and Quebec City, notably French in flavor and, I understand, in language. Conventional wisdom says I should bone up on my French but how do I bone up on something that I didn’t know in the first place – juste? Since for me French might as well be a dead language, I’m going to rely on a hope and a prayer that wherever we go some English and a little sign language will get us by. If not the Google translator is always a fallback.
We fly into Vermont from San Francisco and I’ve been advised that we need to be at the airport two hours in advance of departure, which is 6 AM – and yes that would be the morning. TWO STINKIN’ HOURS. That means that we are supposed to be at the airport at 4 AM – and yes that would be the morning. So we’re going to be late by about 30 minutes because I’ve scheduled my Lyft driver for 3:30 – and yes that would be the morning.
Oh, did I mention Lyft? I’ve never used one of these services before. I chose Lyft over Uber on the advice of my daughter. That’s fine because I’m not a big Uber fan. I never did like the way that Uber simply decided to go into business while basically saying “screw regulations and permits and if the cab drivers who went through all the processes are impacted well then screw them too.”
I wanted to make sure that I had a ride set up and so two days prior to departure I downloaded the app and managed to find my way to getting a ride scheduled from home to terminal 2 at SFO. At least I thought I did. Due diligence required me to make sure that the ride was indeed set up. I scoured the site for my ride and couldn’t find it anywhere. During my search I somehow managed to schedule another ride to terminal 2 at SFO; only this time it was immediate. I was informed that Boris was on his way. I sent Boris a message to cancel and Lyft informed me that Boris might be driving safely (one would hope) and might not get my text. So I called Boris, “Nevermind and I’m really sorry.”
I tried to find my scheduled ride again and once again I managed to schedule another immediate ride; Abib would be at my house in 7 minutes. I called Abib and once again cancelled the ride and apologized. I somehow managed to schedule a third ride that I had to cancel and by this time I treated the app as if it were a rattlesnake.
Between scheduling rides I didn’t want or need and then aborting those rides I visited Lyft’s help link to try to find out how I could verify my 3:30 AM pickup. The link, linked to almost nothing. The site asked me if my problem had been solved and when I clicked “no” it assured me that one of their customer support specialists would get right to work on it and get back to me.
A few minutes later I received a survey from Lyft asking me to rate my support experience with a fellow named Vonrhyan. Huh? I searched my inbox for the “support experience” and my inbox was reading “empty.” Usually I let those types of surveys go but frustration compelled me to take the survey and unload on both Vonrhyan and his employer, Lyft. Here’s the problem with these surveys. They never include in the multiple choices of responses the one that you are dying to give.
Based on my support experience how likely was I to recommend Lyft? Negative numbers weren’t available so I went with zero.
How easy was it to contact Lyft? Very difficult.
Was my issue solved? “You are fucking kidding me, right?” was not an option so I satisfied myself with “Not at all.”
Would I want Vonrhyan to help me in the future? Definitely not.
After this experience do you feel that Lyft care about you? Lyft does not care. What I wanted to say was, Lyft wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire.
The survey asked me describe the experience. It was a unicorn. It never existed.
Would I be willing to speak to Lyft via phone about my experience? It was a yes/no but I wanted to answer, “Given my anger level that might not be such a good idea.”
Just as I finished the survey I got a message that Lyft driver Jason was parked outside waiting for me. How? I hadn’t gone near the app. Lyft had become like the candy vending machine that goes haywire and keeps coughing up Snickers – only not as good. I went out and apologized to Jason and asked him if he would be so kind as to turn off the convoy of Lyft drivers converging on my house.
Confident that I’d staunched the hemorrhaging of Lyft drivers I carefully went back to the app. Wait a minute. What’s that little icon that looks like a car battery, hiding in the right hand corner? There it was. My scheduled ride. Crisis averted. Temporarily. I’ll believe it’s all good when I’m at the airport worrying about the glacial pace of the security line.
“[Airline food] is the tiniest food I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Any kind of meat that you get – chicken, steak, anything – has grill marks on each side, like somehow we’ll actually believe there’s an open-flame grill in the front of the plane.” – Ellen DeGeneres
As of this writing I’ve checked in with American Airlines, I’ve got my boarding pass and I’ve downloaded the AA app. I think we’re set. And yet the experience just last weekend of a good friend still haunts me. She flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco and it only took 13 hours from airport to airport. Hitchhikers make that trip quicker.
I asked her how it could possibly take more time to fly from Southern California to Northern California than it takes to fly from California to the Philippines. It seems that flights were rerouted, cancelled and delayed and Delta Airlines is averse to making their paying customers aware of changes. Look at the board and figure it out.
I’m never really comfortable with air travel until I’m finally settled in at my hotel. There’s always the nagging questions.
What if there’s an accident on the bridge on the way to the airport?
How long and slow is that security line going to be?
I’ve weighed my bag and it seems like it’s under 50 pounds. Is it really?
Will there be any delays that force me to miss my connection in Philadelphia?
Air travel used to be so much easier and airlines seemed to be much more attuned to customer service. Of course in those days they flew prop driven planes (I know because I flew on them). Now air carriers have no problem letting a plane full of passengers roast in a plane on the tarmac while some mechanical glitch is fixed. And who knows, they might even put your dog in an overhead thereby killing little Muffy.
I know one thing. If there’s any sort of problem I certainly hope it isn’t up to some guy named Vonrhyan to get it solved.
“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.” – Paul Theroux