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More Adventures In Travel

If you’re a fairly regular reader of this irregular blog, you know that things never go smoothly for me when I travel. Usually, the issues pop up either at the airport or once on the plane. While both of these happened during my most recent trip, there was a new wrinkle that brought home the fact that people’s jobs shouldn’t be taken over by non-humans. I’ve always believed that, but keep reading for the fun details.

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So, I recently traveled to Texas from SC. I made sure to book a nonstop both ways to avoid all the frustrations that come with hoping your plane leaves on time, hoping that the gate for your connecting flight is in the same zip code as the gate you arrived at, hoping your luggage makes it to your connecting flight (if you have to spring for checking your luggage which I rarely do unless I’m gone for a month – which I haven’t been), hoping the connecting flight leaves on time, and, well, you get the picture. luggage

 

 

When I made my reservation, the only seat available on the flying tin can was a seat in the very last row in front of the restroom. Since I had no desire to pay $40 for a seat a few rows up, I reserved that seat. So imagine my surprise when I finally made my way to the back of the plane and found a rather large, older man firmly planted in the seat. The flight attendant was standing right behind him in the aisle, watching everyone trying to shove their overstuffed backpacks into the teeny-weeny overhead bins. The rest of us who had carry-ons had to gate-check them since the bins on these bus-sized planes aren’t large enough to hold a cell phone, let alone a small suitcase.

 

airplane-seatsAnyway, I very politely asked the flight attendant if I was indeed at the right seat (I knew I was, but didn’t want to rile anyone up – there was no room for riling on this plane). The man said he thought my seat was across from his, indicating two empty seats. The flight attendant asked to see my boarding pass which was on my phone. It took forever to get my phone to access my boarding pass, but once I did, she made a hmmph sound and told me to sit in the empty seat across from the man until she figured things out. She was starting to stress about a couple who didn’t speak English and somehow had managed to board with a huge, quilted duffel bag which was half the size of the plane, which they were trying to cram into the minuscule overhead bin.

Wouldn’t you know it, but the moment I sat in the empty seat, a man made his way to the back of the plane and stood in front of me expectantly. “Your seat?” I asked, resignedly. He nodded and I squeezed into the area next to the restroom in the back of the plane, waiting to see what happened next. The flight attendant made her way back and told me as soon as everyone was on board, she would get me a seat in the front of the plane. I said that was fine since I didn’t really care where I sat, I just wanted to get a seat already. A few more minutes passed when suddenly, the man in what I knew was my seat literally jumped up, popped the overhead bin open and grabbed his cane, and excited announced, “This isn’t 5C!” He then barreled down the aisle to the front of the plane. I stood in shock for a moment, and then calmly reclaimed my seat.

texas-mapI had a great visit in Texas, doing lots of Texas-type things with friends and family. Then came the flight home. First, the line to get through security at the airport was long and snaky. Anticipating this, we had gotten to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I finally got to go through the X-ray machine with my hands in the air, and went to reclaim my carry-on, purse and shoes, when I saw that my carry-on was being held hostage next to the screening person. Fortunately, the TSA guy who was checking things out was young and cute and funny, so I wasn’t too stressed out. After he checked out the shopping bags of the girls in front of me who somehow didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to shove a nearly full bottle of water in their shopping bag to go through security, it was my turn. I asked what they thought they saw. He asked if I had a candle. Why, yes I did. I was very proud of having gotten a great deal at a store at the mall that had everything half price. He opened my suitcase, started undoing the great folding job I had done as he rummaged through my things, trying to find the candle, and finally found it. I toldcandle him it was Vanilla Cupcake which he thought sounded great and I told him which store I had bought it at, asking him not to confiscate it since he could go find one for himself there. Lucky for me, he laughed.

 

 

My plane boarded on time, which was a thrill, and I discovered that this plane was even smaller than the previous one – more like a flying minibus where you had to kneel to board if you were taller than 5’6″. I busied myself looking out the window. After awhile, I realized I had been looking out the window for an awfully long time. Finally, the pilot announced that we were waiting for the first officer. We all looked at each other – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering if this guy had partied too hard the night before and had slept through his alarm. About ten minutes later, the pilot finally announced that the first officer had arrived at the airport – on another flight that had obviously come in late. Great scheduling on the airline’s part. About a half hour later, we finally left.

 

airport-parkingSo we got back to SC about 45 minutes late. I had parked in the economy lot which is a bit of a hike from the airport, but it was a lovely day and I was just happy to be back. I got to my car, pulled out my ticket to get out of the lot, and drove up to the machine to pay. I inserted the ticket in the slot. It shot right back at me. A mechanical voice told me the ticket was invalid. What??? I checked the ticket. It was the right one. It wasn’t bent, it wasn’t damaged. I made sure it was perfectly straight and inserted it again. Same thing. Third time. Same thing. No people in sight, although there are still booths. So I pressed the help button. I heard a ringing sound and then a recording came on telling me I should leave a message. Believe me, they wouldn’t have wanted to hear my message. There is a second lane for credit cards only. Fortunately no one was behind me in either lane, so I backed up and tried the next machine. It spit out my ticket and told me it was invalid just as heartlessly as the first one. So I resigned myself to the fact that I might never be able to leave the parking lot. I backed up, turned around, and parked once again, muttering to myself as I stormed back towards the airport. But then I looked up to see two older ladies in uniform, smoking and yakking in front of the booths on the other side of the street. I had never seen a more welcome sight. I was so busy ranting and raving, I don’t think I said anything intelligible other than the fact I needed help getting my car out of the parking lot. I proceeded to add that the airport had no right to take people’s jobs away by automating things when people still need other real-live people to help them. They thanked me for my concern about their jobs and finally, I was able to leave. The woman did tell me my ticket was damaged when she also tried to insert it. The damage must have been internal.

And that was my trip in a nutshell. I await the day we can get beamed to our location without need of airports or airplanes. Although with my luck, my molecules would end up scrambled and I’d have no way to complain to anyone.

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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

 

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But I Have A Coupon

writerLet me start this post by acknowledging that it’s been awhile since I’ve felt up to writing. My brain seems to have been rewired the past year due to a series of events that felt like literal slams to the head, and it’s become more difficult for me to write something longer than 140 characters. But in the past few days, I’ve had some silly First World problems that  fell into a pattern that was so inane, the only place it made sense to gripe about this nonsense was this blog.

It all had to do with brick-and-mortar stores and coupons. For those of you who don’t know me, I need to tell you that I absolutely LOVE coupons. I’ve been known to drive many miles out of my way if I’ve got a coupon for an amazing deal. No one should take that pleasure away from me, since I ask for so little in life. When I get a shirt that was originally $50 for $5 between sales and coupons, it almost makes up for the fact that all I can eat these days without getting sick, is food that tastes like cardboard.

First, I went to my favorite chain drugstore yesterday with two $5 coupons in hand. drugstore-makeupThe makeup area had little yellow signs everywhere that if you spent $20 on certain brands, you would get a $10 coupon as a reward. Who could pass that up when my brand was included? They’re practically giving the makeup away at that point! So as I started picking up some blush and concealer to bring to the register, one of the salespeople was nearby and informed me that the special did not start until 4:00 PM that afternoon. It was only 1 o’clock. I said I had never heard of such a thing at a drugstore. She said she had put the signs up early so they’d be ready, and pointed to a teensy weensy dot in the upper right-hand corner of the sign that she assured me said the special started at 4:00. I had to take her word for it since that caveat just looked like a dead gnat when I peered at it without my reading glasses. I sighed and put everything back. However, I did return today and did buy what I needed to stock up on, got to use my $5 coupons, and got the $10 coupon in return. But, seriously, it was kind of ridiculous.

I then decided to get some exercise in by walking around the mall. It’s just been too hot to walk outside this summer unless you want to melt into a puddle of skin and bones. The problem is, I feel the need to reward myself with some retail therapy after, which isn’t a great thing for my budget. I suppose it’s better than rewarding myself with a hot sundaefudge sundae. My favorite department store had a coupon for $10 off $50 which included not only regular and sale priced-merchandise, but also clearance, which is practically unheard of. But if you were buying less than $50 of merchandise, they were offering 25% off, which was actually a better deal. So I found a few things I liked, waited on a very slow-moving line for about 10 minutes, and presented my merchandise. The salesgirl agreed with me that the 25% discount was the way to go. She rang up my merchandise and scanned the coupon. A concerned look came over her face and she informed me she’d have to try the $10 coupon after all since for some reason the other coupon wasn’t working. Then she tried that coupon and it didn’t work either. She asked where I had gotten the merchandise and I pointed. “Oh,” she said, with a disappointed look on her face. “Those are doorbusters and you can’t use a coupon for doorbusters.” “What?” I practically shrieked, very grumpy after standing on that line for so long. “But this coupon says it’s for all merchandise.” But of course, it wasn’t. The one exclusion was doorbusters. I told her to forget it, except for the clearance shirt I got for $6.

Today, while running errands, I stopped at a smaller clothing store where I had a coupon for 50% off your highest-priced item if you spent a certain amount. They outletwere also having a sale of 40% off everything in the store, but you couldn’t combine the two. I found two things I really liked, went to the register to pay, smilingly handed my coupon to the saleswoman and, guess what? The coupon wouldn’t work. Why not? Because in tiny little print it said it was only for their outlet stores, and was only good through tomorrow. Well, the nearest outlet store is 45 minutes away, so that wasn’t my first option – not this weekend. I ended up settling for 40% off plus another small discount for being a frequent customer, or some such thing.

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What’s the takeaway? Many brick-and-mortar stores aren’t doing so great these days, especially with the ease of ordering things online. My suggestion? Don’t make it so hard for customers who really want to shop in your store to get their discounts.  Don’t make coupons that are so limiting or confusing that the coupons will only work for 1% of the merchandise. Because you’re gambling that we’ll buy your stuff anyway. But many of us will put the items back, storm dramatically out of the store, and have some not-so-great feelings about returning another time. Of course, there are still those of us who will return another day – as long as you’ll take our coupons.

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

 

In Search of Middle Ground

Head in HandsI’m aware that I’m lacking patience, particularly recently. There are things that I used to let slide, or maybe even laugh at, that I just don’t want to put up with anymore. Our lives are filled with lots of things that are annoying and frustrating, and most of them don’t need to be. I know we’re supposed to learn not to sweat the little things, but when things that used to be enjoyable now become nerve-wracking, I find myself biting my tongue so that my true feelings don’t come spewing out.

So, I did some walking in the mall this weekend, and stopped in at what used to be my favorite lotion and hands.1potion store, thinking I might buy some hand cream. I used to love shopping there, before they remodeled and turn it into some kind of harsh, futuristic nightmare. There is nothing even remotely relaxing about shopping there these days. It used to be enjoyable, stopping and checking all the soaps, gels, and creams and trying all the samples until I either smelled like a fruit orchard or a bakery – either way, delicious. But now, everything is very white and sterile-looking and not fun-cluttered, just difficult to navigate.

But stepping through the open portal into that glaring world was just the beginning. Within the span of approximately one minute, I was approached sequentially by four overly cheerful salespeople, asking what they could help me find. I told them, one by one that I was just browsing. For some reason, that stumped them. I guess browsing is no longer encouraged. In fact, it seemed to be frowned upon. How could I possibly not have a purpose upon entering this store?

One girl couldn’t let it go. She pulled out a sample of one of the creams I had just checked out.

“How about this one?” she asked. “Here, it’s my favorite. Why don’t you try it?”

Why do salespeople think that if it’s their favorite it must be my favorite? Is the ringing endorsement of a girl younger than my children really going to influence my decision? But I tried to be nice.

“Oh, thanks. I checked that one out already, and I’m still trying to decide,” I told her as fake-nicely as I could.

puppies.playingBut she followed me, like a playful puppy. I do love puppies. I didn’t love this girl, however. She didn’t know how to take a hint. “Well, what do you like?” she asked.

And so began the tongue-biting. There were a lot of things I felt like saying. But I just told her I was still in the midst of the decision process, and I turned around to check out the samples again. I guess she got tired of looking at my back, so she moved on to more welcoming customers. Now please understand. I have worked in retail. I have had to approach people and offer services the store provided. And 99.9% of the time, I got a palm held up two inches from my face. So I have empathy for those who have been instructed to do the same. But in a tiny store, they should not have every person on the sales floor going up to every customer who comes in and persistently insist that they can help them find what they need.

I was approached by another salesperson. “So, have you decided what you like, or can you use some help?”

I don’t know if these people now work on commission or they’re just instructed to be as annoying as possible. But I promise, I was not feeling happy or relaxed at this point. I let my teeth show in an approximation of a smile.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I replied through said teeth.

“OK, just let us know if you need anything,” she said cheerily.

beach.blogAnd so it went with the other two salespeople. Finally, I found a beachy-type of scent that I liked and I went to stand on line. The salesgirl carrying around the samples obviously misinterpreted this as a signal that she could once again approach me. I tried to avoid eye contact, but she barreled over, anyway. “So, you found something you like?” she asked, smiling approvingly at the tube in my hand.

I nodded. “I did. Thank you,” I said, attempting to match her enthusiasm. The fact that I was holding an item I was planning to buy seemed to be code for letting her know her job with me was done, and she walked away. Like magic. I tucked that nugget of information into a deep corner of my brain for future use, as if I might actually remember it.

But then I thought about the choice I had made. Maybe I liked the cherry scent better. Or the citrusy OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone. Or even the tropical one. So I left the line for a moment to make sure I had chosen wisely. I thought about switching, since I really did like the cherry one. As I picked the sample up in order to try it, I turned around. In the few seconds since I had abandoned my place in line, there were now at least 15 people who had taken my place. Pretty much like everything else in my life. You snooze, you lose.

I knew then what I had to do. I put the hand cream down, turned around and left the store. In my mind, the salespeople were waving me back, assuring me they could help me. That they had all the answers.  While it’s nice to not be ignored, it is not nice to be bombarded by both sensory input and overly eager salespeople who make it impossible to enjoy the experience of just browsing.

maze.blogThere are some stores where you could jump on the tables and do a song and dance while stripping off your clothes, and still, no one would bother to ask if you needed help. I do appreciate a little attention. I appreciate being asked – one time – if I need help, and if I say no thank you, just let me know you’re available if I change my mind. But walking through a crowded, shiny maze while being jumped at by multiple people who won’t leave you alone is like navigating a nightmarish video game.

Boing boing boing – no, thank you. Really, I mean it. Have a nice day.

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

You’re Right, I’m Wrong

picasso-coloring-pages-6So, back in April I wrote about the mess with our cable company insisting that we all get boxes on every TV we own so that we can continue to have the privilege of paying a small fortune in order to watch our TVs. For a few weeks after finally getting said boxes all working, things seemed fine except for the fact that the images frequently looked like works by Picasso or Seurat. Faces and bodies were not necessarily attached to each other, or they just became a giant collection of dots. I’ve been told this is called “tiling.” Whatever it’s called, it gave me a migraine.

But soon, things went from bad to worse. Every few days, the cable would just go out completely. Usually right in the middle of something I actually cared about watching. Like what ingredient to add to my stir-fry after the asparagus.

Initially, it would go out for a few minutes, and then come back on. Annoying, yes. But screamingTelephone-coloring-page on the phone annoying, not quite yet. That came shortly after, when not only would the cable go out on a daily basis, but it would disappear multiple times a day, for at least an hour each time. I started calling the cable company at the start of each occurrence in the pathetic hope that I might actually get this problem fixed in a timely manner, plus maybe even receive some kind of monetary compensation for my time and trouble. One can dream.

 

tool.kitAlmost every conversation with the cable company’s reps would begin with me being told that this was only a problem in my house and had no relation to the fact that we had been required to hook those stupid boxes up to all the TVs just a few months earlier. (I had the temerity to try to get the reps to make that connection, since there had never been such problems prior to the boxes. But of course, they insisted that one had nothing to do with the other. My bad.) They told me I had to schedule an appointment for a repair person to come to my house. In the beginning, I made the appointments – which were always scheduled 2 or 3 days after my phone call – and would end up cancelling after the cable came back on. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed wasting my time in this manner multiple times per day. Plus, when I would call back later that day when the next outage occurred, there would be a recording telling me it was an “area-wide outage,” so what would be the point of having a tech come out to my house when the problem was not at my house? I’m sure you can follow my reasoning here. But very few of the reps could.

 

earAnyway, after several weeks of this nonsense, I was no longer able to stifle my shrieks when I called and insisted on talking to a supervisor, because I was not going to explain what was going on for the thousandth time to a rep who had no power to do anything and who would insist that I needed a repair person. So I got a supervisor who actually sounded like he was listening to me. “I hear you,” was said multiple times in a reassuring voice. “I’ll look into it and get back to you first thing tomorrow.” Uh huh.  I wonder if he heard me yelling at his supervisor two days later when the promised phone call never came.

 

So, in a world of few choices, I thought about switching cable companies, but didn’t hear great blonde-girl-is-laughing-coloring-pagethings about the options that were actually available. And eventually, things got better. Until today. I was preparing dinner, enjoying a rerun of one of my favorite shows that still has the ability to make me laugh – and I promise you, these days I am in desperate need of laughs – when at my favorite part, suddenly all went dark. No, I thought, not again. But yes, it was again. So I called. And got a self-righteous young rep who obviously knew everything and, in spite of my explanation of all that had come before, insisted that I needed to have a repair person come to my home.

 

“Did you not hear me?” I asked, gritting my teeth. “I’m sure it’s area-wide, even though you don’t know it yet, because most likely all my neighbors are so sick of talking to you people that no one is picking up the phone to call anymore.”

The know-it-all voice came back at me. “Mrs. Rechtman, we can’t help you unless you let us have a repairman come out to your house. It could just be your house that’s causing this problem.”

WHAT?

“Uh, no, in all the prior conversations, it’s been area-wide, which you people would eventually figure outBatman-Coloring-Pages-Picture-28 hours later, and they had to have lots and lots of busy little bees working in some hidden Bat Cave to get everyone’s cable back. My house is just collateral damage, not patient zero.”

 

I could hear the annoyance in her voice. Because of course, she, like all the reps, knows so much more than I do. She repeated, talking over me, “Mrs. Rechtman, we cannot help you…”

 

televisor-sony-trinitron-29-111_big“Whoops, the TV’s back on, never mind. Just make sure you put this outage on my account so I can try to get some money back from you greedy bas…”

“Mrs. Rechtman, would you hang on so you can take the survey for the service you received from me today?”

 

I try not to curse. I’ve learned to bite my tongue so unpleasant words don’t come tumbling out of my mouth, even when so well-deserved. No matter how much I wanted to tell her that in no way, shape or form, did she want me answering that phone survey. So I did what I could to stick to my principles. I pretended I didn’t hear her. In my cheeriest voice, now talking over her,  I said, “Thanks so much for your help. Bye!” Disconnect – on so many levels.

Remind me to share my stories about switching trash companies next time. There’s always someone who knows so much more than I do. You, too? Yes, I hear you.

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved