Archive | January, 2012

Warning: Not very pithy, served with a dose of politics. Sorry.

31 Jan

The other weekend I had a quintessential DC moment. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out for a walk. I’d ventured down to the MLK library and walked back past Franklin Square, where homeless people were huddled around eating food that had been distributed by So Others Might Eat.

This is NOT the S.O.M.E van. But wouldn't it be awesome if it were? "Oh hells yeah! I'm gonna get me some wildlife from this van!"

Whenever I see the white S.O.M.E. van, it reminds me of my first winter in DC, when my college friends Brent and Marcus (my then-roommates on Capitol Hill) volunteered to help deliver food. I remember Marcus’s eyes, wide like saucers, recounting the experience after their first time out.

“It was crazy, man,” he said, and I swear his voice had a slight tremble. “We pulled up and it was like a bank heist – we’d be all organized and spring out and start handing out the food as fast as possible. Someone would stay at the wheel in case things got violent and we needed to leave fast.”

Another casualty of delivering food? “People get sick. If it’s the first thing they’ve eaten for a while, it just doesn’t sit well,” Marcus explained.

Apparently Marcus wasn’t exaggerating, because last weekend when I was walking, just after passing the group of people who were eating their S.O.M.E. meals, I looked up and accidentally locked eyes with a man standing with one hand on sign post, projectile vomiting. If you’ve never made eye contact with a stranger puking, I don’t advise it.

The thing that made this experience weird (other than the eye contact bit) was that he was just very matter of fact about it. So calm that I actually found myself scrutinizing the pile of vomit as I walked past it to make sure my eyes hadn’t deceived me. (Confirmed!)

And once he’d finished tossing his cookies (or – more accurately – clam chowder, by the steamy looks of it), he turned around and successfully hailed a bus and disappeared. HAILED A BUS. I didn’t even know a person could do that.

Dude. Only in Canada. They have KITS for this.

Estimates of DC’s homeless population range from 6,000 – 12,000 people. To put that in perspective: my hometown in Michigan has a population of 5,800.

There’s something wrong with this picture. Even with high unemployment rates, we live in a country where most homes have multiple televisions, cars and an extra bedroom. And yet we leave people to sleep without shelter, to scrounge their next meal, while we argue over tax rates for those of us fortunate enough to have a job.

I swear, I’ll get back to the pith (and vinegar) in my next post. I just figured this might be a good reminder – right when we’re in the throes of filing taxes and acutely feeling how much money we didn’t get to hang onto this year – of exactly what we have.

To quote a friend: Love your neighbor, not your wallet.

UPDATED: Unless your wallet looks like this. In which case, you totally should love it:

Making friends in confined spaces.

30 Jan

Last week I committed two faux pas while riding the rails from Boston to DC. The first occurred on the Boston to NYC leg. The timing worked out so that I needed to eat dinner on the train, so before sitting down, I went to the Café Car. If you’ve never taken the train, let me assure you: the Café Car on Acela is not like what you see in movies.

NOT the Acela.

There’s no white tablecloth, and definitely no silver. While it’s not fine dining, there are still some decent options, which is how I came to order Legal Seafoods’ Clam Chowder. Since we were departing Boston, it seemed fitting.

That’s about as much thought as I gave it – until I sat down back on the Quiet Car and removed the lid. At which point, the seafood smell of it rose up like a fist and punched me in the face. Yes, I was that person. The one who buys a tuna sandwich and opens it up on a plane right after take-off, ensuring the entire cabin smells like fish.

Horrified, I channeled my embarrassment back at Amtrak in the form of outrage: Why on Earth would they offer this on their menu? This should only be served at establishments with open-air patios! Fortunately, since I was on the Quiet Car, I knew no one would actually confront me, so I just kept my eyes on the bowl so I wouldn’t have to endure any angry glances.

Not wanting to make the same mistake on the NYC to DC leg the next day, I picked up a quesadilla at Penn Station for the ride. Once I was settled into my seat on the train, I began producing the items for my meal: quesadilla, salsa, napkins, soft drink, fork, Purell.

That’s right: Purell. Have I mentioned that I’m slightly OCD? And that I get sick almost every time I travel? Those two factors have combined to make me a religious user of  liquid hand sanitizer. I have a refillable dispenser that looks like a highlighter and sprays the Purell almost like a squirt gun.

So as I tucked into my meal, I pulled out my Purell highlighter, gave it a few pumps and rubbed my hands together. And — nothing. There was no Purell on my hands. I looked at the dispenser to see if it had run dry, and then I realized: the spray hole hadn’t been lined up with my hands.

No. It had sprayed out fine. Just not on my hands. With a sense of dread, I started looking around to see where it might have landed. And that’s when I saw two quarter-sized blobs running down the laptop screen of the man seated next to me. Gah!

Fortunately, he was standing up at the time, placing his coat in the overhead bin, so he hadn’t seen me spray down his MacBook Pro. Hoping to eliminate the evidence, I leaned over with my napkin and started trying to wipe his screen discreetly. About this time, I noticed the man across the aisle scowling at me, clearly thinking I was tampering with a stranger’s laptop. Which, in fairness, I suppose I was.

I gave him my most disarming smile (which, I believe, looks I’m channeling Amelie from the French movie, but actually probably more accurately looks like a baby filling its diaper) and abandoned Operation Wipedown, turning to stare out the window. At just this moment, my seatmate sat back down and began typing.

I continued to face the window, my shoulders shaking as I silently giggled, praying that he wouldn’t ask me why his laptop had a clear schmear across the screen. And I could not stop laughing. To say it tickled my funny bone would be an understatement. I sat there, silently shaking, until I had tears running down my cheeks.

At one point, I thought I had composed myself well enough to apologize, but I turned around saw the schmeary outline of the gel on his screen and just lost it. He gave me an odd look and returned to his work, no doubt wondering what kind of nutjob he was sharing a seat with.

Ultimately, I wasn’t busted. But I can’t exactly say I got away with it. Because I’m pretty sure he was sitting there writing a blog about the freakshow next to him who alternately sprayed Purell and convulsed for the duration of the ride.

Actually, now that I think about it, he probably should’ve thanked me for the material. Or at least for disinfecting his screen. You’re welcome, Amtrak Stranger! Now pay it forward…

Am I the only person who hates the word “meme”?

29 Jan

So we’ve all seen Sh*t Girls Say and the subsequent variations on that theme, right? If not, this might be the point when you just keep your mouth shut and google it so you don’t reveal how out of touch you are with viral videos. Or, conversely, you might want to throw your laptop out a window and admit that technology has out-paced you.

For those of you who do know what I’m talking about, I present my nomination for an award I’ve just created, called Best in Meme:

You are welcome.

Keep it classy, Captain Schettino.

29 Jan

I’m still mildly obsessed with the cruise ship that sunk tipped over two weeks ago, for one reason: Captain Schettino.

The guy sounds like a real piece of work, doesn’t he? First, the accident was allegedly caused because he deviated from the course to provide a show for the people on land. Apparently no one taught him that pride cometh before a fall. Also? I now know where the term “show-boating” comes from.

Then, in response to having beached his vessel like an awkward whale, what does he do? Does he take charge and give his crew orders to organize passengers for evacuation? Does he begin a role call to assure all passengers are accounted for? No. If the rumor is to be believed, rather than do either of those useful things, he called down to the kitchen (galley?) to order dinner for himself and a woman he was entertaining.

Wow. I think we can agree on two things: #1: He demonstrated fantastically bad judgement; #2:  This guy takes “calm in a crisis” to a whole new level.

By the way, how mortified do you think his date was? We’ve all been out with that guy – the one who tries too hard to impress you, who ends up making an ass of himself with grandiose gestures that completely backfire. I’m thinking the conversation in the cockpit (or whatever you call it on ship – the bridge?) went something like this:

Captain: You really MUST see the port up-close. Let me zip in a bit for you.
Date: I’m good. We should probably just stick with the regular route. 
Captain: No! I insist! You must see this. 
Date: Um. What was that shudder? Why aren’t we moving?
Captain: Ah, that’s totally normal. Here, let me call down for a bottle of wine and some food.
Date: Actually, I just remembered – I left the iron on at home. Gotta roll! 

And then, when he does realize there may be grave consequences, rather than spring into action to save the lives of his passengers, he’s one of the first people off the boat. Granted, he claims he “tripped” and fell into a lifeboat, so we’re not supposed to fault him for that, but if you’ve read the Coast Guard transcripts, you know that he didn’t exactly mount a campaign to re-board the ship and take command of the situation.

Don’t get me wrong – self-preservation is a biologically driven urge, and it would take some serious over-coming to force yourself to stay on that ship. But when you’re the person who caused the situation, it’s kind of your responsibility to make sure you aren’t killing people.

I’m sure we’ll learn more in coming months when the lawsuits start to mount. Given his track record for chivalry, I’m waiting for him to throw his date under the bus and claim she was actually the one driving when the ship ran aground. And in keeping with his character, he’ll shrug and say, “What? Everyone knows women can’t drive.”

I actually was in the car with a client once when this exact move happened. I'd like to note: the driver was a man in that instance.

Top 10 Reasons: Rail Travel Rocks

26 Jan
Like the Acela, but cooler.

Like the Acela, but a wee bit slower, and with less leg room. Still better than flying.

Top 10: Reasons Trains Beat Planes in Rochambeau*

  1. Even when someone reclines their seat, I still have an extra foot of arm-room for my laptop.
  2. I don’t have to wait for a flight attendant when I’m thirsty. Two words: Cafe Car.
  3. No seatbelts. Or annoying announcements from the pilot telling you to put them on.
  4. The bathroom is large enough to install a phone and conduct business. Tip: If you board at the originating station, consider locking yourself in the commode and treating it as your private office for the duration of your trip. I think this is – literally – where the term “Squatter’s Rights” comes from.
  5. The Quiet Car: no one can talk, use a cell phone, play music without headphones, etc. While you might think this is awesome because you can work uninterrupted or take a nap, the real reason it rocks is witnessing the enforcement of the rule. If you’ve ever wanted to see an introvert on a power-trip unleash a can of whoop-ass, this is where to sit. For supporting evidence, read this
  6. If you’re not in the Quiet Car, the best thing is eavesdropping. Last night I overheard one woman describe the BRAT diet and a guy get quoted $900 for a one-day rental car. I also heard someone offer up their credit card digits (including the security code and expiration date) and wondered how many people actually wrote it down.
  7. No TSA workers to flag me for a random screening. Getting to board without taking my shoes off, pulling out my laptop and removing my coat? Amazing. Not having to limit my liquids to 3 oz in a plastic baggie? Priceless.
  8. No “unplanned landings” caused by obnoxious passengers midair. On Amtrak, if someone becomes unruly, they can just get tossed off the train at the next stop without delaying anyone.
  9. My seat cushion doesn’t double as a life preserver. (BTW: is that not like the most twisted version of “Would You Rather?” Your options: would you rather a) Drown after surviving a plane crash, or b) Float in icy, shark-infested water with a cushion that has absorbed countless farts pressed to your face?)
  10. When the train shakes, I don’t worry that we’re going to fall out of the sky.

*Using my best Cartman voice: If you don’t know what Rochambeau is, then dude, you totally need to watch this clip from SouthPark.