Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Don't Belong Here...

When we last left our hero, he had just picked up his rental car with visions of sugar plums still dancing in his head. But a couple oddball moments….

It was some scorching weather in Iowa, so on Wednesday I wore my ironic Costco golf shirt. When I arrived at the client’s office he said, “Nice shirt.” First, he doesn’t seem to be the type to offer such a compliment. Second, not only did it cost me just $10 or some other ridiculously low amount, but I don’t golf and I hope I didn’t give them the impression that I do golf. I don’t think they got the irony. Crap. I need to remember only to wear it around people who know that the only time I set foot on a golf course is to roll around on the fairway when I’m feeling nitrogen deficient. My only hope is that he was meeting my irony with a dose of satire.

Next, on Tuesday night I headed over to my Cedar Rapids hangout - the Irish Democrat Pub & Grill. Good food, amusing servers/barkeeps, and a nice flat screen to keep me occupied. I had gotten a giant salad there the night before – it was in one of those deceptive bowls in which pasta is usually served where you eat and eat and eat and forty-five minutes later it doesn’t look like you touched your meal. But I was looking forward to the baby back ribs the following night. Fall off the bone deliciousness. As I approached the area I noted some trees down due to the storm that had passed through and some traffic lights were also out. The parking lot was unusually empty and when I walked in the manager told me the power was out and they were closing down. Crap. It was like a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break. And I wasn’t even wearing my ironic shirt.

So I capitulated and ended up at Texas Roadhouse, for lack of knowing any other options for my BBQ fix. The food is decent and the service is pretty good, but it’s just a little too cheesy and packaged for my taste. This coming from a guy with crushes on Crystal Bernard and Shania Twain. But I digress.

I mosey in and take a seat at the bar, and I’m greeted by the bartender with “Hi, can I get you something to drink, maybe a Fat Tire?” That’s cool – I don’t mind being mistaken for a guy who might enjoy a Fat Tire rather than the margaritas they seemed to be pushing on everyone else that night. I later found out there was a drink contest going on - you know, where they offer some sort of prize like sex with the assistant GM for the server who pushes the most specialty drinks that night. After I ordered, she then asked, “I’m sorry, I forgot your name.” I told her and she said, “I know I waited on you before.” She was correct – it was a slow night last time and, like oh so many others, I got most of her life story. But I still thought it was odd that she remembered me from one visit back on April 13. I looked it up on my expense report. That’s over two months. So that means she remembered me after all that time because I was either incredibly good looking or incredibly creepy. Crap. I know I’m not that good-looking. But I couldn't have been that creepy. Right? She spent most of the time standing over by me and initiating conversations. Some of the other servers even came by and joined in. All I know is that I’m paranoid now and I’m afraid to go back.

The general rule of thumb if you ever see me – just pretend you don’t know me. We’ll all be happier that way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hertz So Good

Well I'm a highway junkie
And I need that old white line

Flying can suck it. I’m not afraid; I actually enjoy the experience of flight – the power of lift off, the aerial views, and managing to finish it all without a mangled, fiery mess. However, airports, the TSA, and the airlines themselves have sucked any joy from the experience. Between ridiculous fees for actually wanting to bring baggage on my trips to fees for having to scratch my balls while flying over Tulsa; from having to disassemble my carry-ons so that the TSA can see what kind of douche I use to having to watch Grandma Moses get strip searched for a suicide bra bomb at security; and to be treated by everyone involved as more of an annoyance rather than a customer, I’d rather just hop behind the wheel of a large automobile and ask myself, where does that highway go?

So when I have to make my routine trip to Cedar Rapids or any other location within 250 miles, I book a car with Hertz, load the iPod up with some road trip music and hit the highway. Hertz is a little more expensive than some of the other companies, but I learned my lesson after an ugly experience with Thrifty that it is usually worth it. My experience with Thrifty in New Orleans many years ago involved an unnecessarily long shuttle ride, marveling at the inefficiencies of the check-in process, and a prolonged “discussion” with the branch manager over a scratch which I thought was going to end up in a cage match to the death. I prevailed but since then I’ve been pretty loyal to Hertz, who have consistently provided good locations, decent customer service, clean cars, efficient pick up and returns, and even a slight inkling that they seem to appreciate my business.

When I’m not flying and renting from an airport location I use their “Local Edition” locations, most often a branch about two blocks from my office. As a somewhat regular customer it was easy to get #1 Club Gold status, which streamlines the process even more. It essentially allows you to pick up your car by using a secret handshake and a wink. However, as I picked up my car this most recent Sunday it didn’t go as smoothly as it usually does.

First off, apparently weekends like Father’s Day are big business for local rental companies. I’m guessing all those small town kids who leave for big city life rent cars to go visit their neglected parents back on the farm. Hijinx certainly ensue when Pauly Shore comes along. This leads to a little more pressure to turn over the fleet more quickly, and to do it with the skeleton staffing during the limited weekend hours.

Further, I showed up shortly after opening before the local agent had time to prep the pick ups for the day. And the agent was filling in at this location, and like that substitute teacher you had in 5th grade it didn’t exactly go without hiccups. This is where your business lesson begins. This lesson follows three simple assumptions:

1) Sexism is alive and well.
2) Men are dumb.
3) #1 and #2 do have their limits.

I guess now is a good time to mention that the agent was a young lady in her early 20’s, cute, with disproportionately large breasts, and wearing a shirt that certainly did not hide them, even less so when she bent forward to pick up keys, answer the phone, reach the printer or give the secret handshake. Did this influence how annoyed I got while waiting for my rental? See #1 and #2. Yes, it did. I was far less annoyed than if the agent had been a sloppy, unshaven, 20-something hipster doofus named Lance.

But now to Rule #3… my annoyance grace period would have expired rather quickly had she thought that a peep show excused her from actually fulfilling her duties of getting my ass in the driver’s seat of a large automobile. But I’m happy to report that she couldn’t have handled the situation any better.

There were three of us there, and customer #1 did not have a previous reservation, was not a Gold customer, and was being a little difficult. She got him somewhat placated, then jumped over to me and #3, then excused herself to make sure she had three clean cars up in the garage. When she returned, she asked #1 if she could get me and #3 going since we had existing reservations. He deferred and I stepped to the plate. There were some additional problems, either getting into the computer system or getting the contracts printed so she had to call for some support, but she kept me engaged by letting me know what was going on the whole time, making some small talk, and by bending forward to accomplish menial tasks. She thanked me for my patience and used my first name. I thought this was somewhat casual for a business transaction, but you know what, I felt pretty good being called Sid instead of Old Man F’er or Sir. And to top it all off (no pun intended) I got a nice new fully loaded 2010 model, and she gave me a free tank of gas to further thank me for my patience.

So there you go, Hertz. She’s a keeper. And to all you other businesses out there, I've said it before – if you have a largely male clientele and can find a good-looking girl who can use her brain as well as her looks, make her an offer she can’t refuse.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

The best part of my trip to Vegas earlier this week:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Very Gray Matter

Because I’m an old man, I was listening to elevator music at work today and the station played Strangers in the Night. You know, exchanging glances, what were the chances….

But it set off a strange thought progression – remember in grade school when you used to get a little catalog of books that you could order through your class? You’d have like a week to fill out the order form and bring a check from mom, and then like two weeks later the order would show up? This was apparently before bookstores were invented and before the Internets and the Amazon were discovered. Like I said, I’m old.

But I remember one of the books I ordered was a songbook of tunes to play on your touchtone phone. Yes, I was a very strange kid. For example, if you have a touch tone phone or a mobile phone that simulates the touch tones, you too can play Strangers in the Night by pressing:

4-8-8-4-8, 4-8-6-8-4

Of course, make sure you’re already dialed into another working number (preferably a friend who already finds you annoying) or else your Strangers in the Night jam will get you connected to a woman in Poland named Ludmila who is not amused by your serenade.

Then I recalled that you could also order joke books through school and I remember getting the politically incorrect Official Polish / Italian Joke Book one time.

But I digress. I just found it strange that somewhere in my brain there was a dusty old neural pathway making the connection between Strangers in the Night and those stupid books from 30 years ago. The same brain can’t remember to pack a pair of underwear when I ride my bike to work. But I am half Polish, so that might explain it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mental Hopscotch

Walking home from the train the other day, I turned down my block and stumbled across some sidewalk chalk drawings – nothing unusual. But the header caught my eye:

Yes, instead of your typical 1, 2, 3, 4-5, 6, 7-8, 9, 10, this one didn’t just go to 11, but seemed to stretch down the block:

I tossed my stones (not a euphemism), hopped, scotched, stopped at a rest stop for some orange slices and Gatorade, used the Port-o-Pottie, tossed my stones (totally a euphemism this time), hopped and scotched some more and several blocks (or maybe houses) later I finally reached the end – 150.

The kids in my ‘hood don’t half-ass stuff.

Bonus Feature - Quote of the Day:

"I'd rather go see Miley Cyrus with my imaginary friends."