Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Travel Agent Dan

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I have a great excuse. I know that having an excuse doesn’t change anything – but what the hell, I’ve got one anyhow.

I’ve been being our travel agent for next February’s trip to Vietnam, Laos and Sarawak in Malaysia. In the old days setting up a trip like this would have taken many weeks or months with letters or telexes traveling slowly back and forth to and from far off places. Now, with the Internet and email it’s almost easy.

Still, I had something like 18 different plane and hotel reservations to make. This was after the process of deciding exactly where we’ll go and how long we’ll stay in each place was completed. While most of the actual reserving didn’t take too long, discovering and investigating all the various possibilities is time consuming. But fun! It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – making everything come together just the way I want it to. Or, said another way, getting exactly what I want when I want it.

As I went through the process it was clear that the place most behind the curve is Laos. Responses were slow or non-existent. Certainty was harder to come by. As a matter of fact, there is still one incomplete item on my agenda – flying from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and back again. After some searching I managed to get a flight schedule (I hope it’s accurate) but so far I’ve been unable to locate anyone or anyplace where I can book the tickets. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take some more work.

Some people say I’m doing work that I should have a travel agent do. Not so. In my view no travel agent will take care of me like I’ll take care of me. They may have some contacts and access to some resources I don’t, but my thoroughness and zeal for getting it just right far outweigh the travel agent’s expertise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I’m an instinct kind of guy.

I trust my gut, my feelings, my first reaction. If I run into a situation that requires a decision and I see something that looks right, I go with it. I don’t contemplate long. I don’t keep looking for something better. I don’t agonize about it.

This is most obvious when shopping. For example, I like cantaloupes. I see a pile of cantaloupes in the store. I may check out one or two to make sure there are no rotten spots, but then I choose one or two and move on. It’s a hit or miss proposition anyway, right? It’s guesswork. I don’t know shit about what is the ‘right’ choice, so I just choose. And you know what? Usually what I choose turns out OK.

In this past week I’ve used my instinct to settle on tomatoes, corn, peaches and a new watch. I was in a watch store. They had hundreds of watches in dozens of cases. I saw one I liked, so I took it. I didn’t need to look further.

Now – full disclosure. The hands on the watch I chose proved to be hard to see clearly in certain kinds of light. Had to do with the glare of the watch face in combination with the glare of the glass covering it. I liked the watch and wanted it to work. But it didn’t. So I took it back. How did I choose the replacement? Same process as the first time. The only difference was that I made sure there was no glare that would get in the way.

I spent the next few hours bonding with my new watch. I liked it more and more. Now I’m attached to it – even more so than the first one.

Instinct works!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Who to Blame?

I saw a show on PBS last night that left me with a dilemma. It was about people who work hard, more than full-time, make a minimum wage, and don’t have the financial ability to take of their families.

I’ve been aware of the statistics for some time. It seems like Paul Krugman writes an op-ed piece in the Times every week on the subject. So much so that I get tired of reading about it. The point is not complicated: people at the low end of the earning scale are worse off year to year and decade to decade than those who make more money, especially those at the high end of the income scale.

Who should I blame? The low wage earners, because they don’t have the education or skills to command more money in the job market? Or because they have more kids than they can take care of? The employers, who pay the least they can get away with, provide no benefits and prefer younger people and high turnover to reliable experienced workers? The government, because the more people earn the more benefits are taken from them? The educational system? The economy? The liberals? The conservatives? Who?

The show gave me faces to look at as well as statistics. That makes a difference. I had a chance to be angry at one woman who bitched and whined about her situation and who finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel when she snagged a guy who wanted to marry her.

I empathized with the security guard who lived in a tiny room in an SRO hotel in the Tenderloin District of my fair city. He didn’t drink any more, sent money to his ex-wife to help support two kids, and was a soft touch for the homeless people he passed on the way to work.

I despaired at the insanity of the woman with four or five kids who took on responsibility for two more (grandchildren) even though she was making only $12 an hour in a nursing home.

I admired the woman who went back to school to get an Associate’s Degree, which helped her get a better job, and then decided to cut back her working hours so she could go on and get a Bachelor’s Degree.

I know that life isn’t fair. I know that we are all responsible for our own choices. I know that I shouldn’t have to pick up the pieces for others. But I also know that there is something wrong when in the richest country in the history of mankind children are denied health care because their parents don’t make enough money. Or when job training is not easily available to those who want it. Or when families become homeless or are put in seedy motels because they can’t pay the rent.

Like I said, I’m left in a dilemma. Who to blame? I’m left with just one positive thought. Since band-aids and short-term fixes won’t really make a difference, we should begin with a powerful context on which to stand and then work on the problems from that foundation. The context should be an expression of the kind of society we want. Let the solutions emerge from that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

South Park

I came a little late to the South Park scene and only started watching it this past year. But since they show re-runs pretty much every day I’ve had a chance to see a lot. This is an incredible show!

South Park is irreverent in the extreme. That and the large cast of unique, brilliantly portrayed characters are probably why I haven’t tired of it. There is no limit to what is fair game for ridicule. There is no limit to the quirkiness of the people around us.

Not long ago I saw an interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, South Park’s creators and ongoing geniuses. They emphasized the key factor that makes this show unlike any other: nothing is off limits. If they succumb to self-censorship for fear something will go too far they will have lost the game.

So they take on everything and everyone. All religions. All politics. All countries. All celebrities. All people of every color, ethnicity, national origin or physical condition. Sacred cows exist for them only as targets for skewering.

I love this show.