Tuesday, May 31, 2016


As I was picking up some things from Amazon, last week, I took the opportunity to buy the movie “Spotlight.”  I’ve been meaning to see it ever since my parents raved about it when they saw it last year.

Best movie I ever saw.  Non-sensational, unsentimental. Should be required viewing in all journalism schools.”  ~Bluz Mother

Every time we spoke on the phone, they’d be, “Have you seen Spotlight yet?  You’ve got to see it; you’ll love it.”

I didn’t doubt it; it’s just that Spotlight isn’t the kind of movie I go to see in the theater.  (The new X-Men movie is… which I also saw that over the weekend… definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the franchise, regardless of how it was reviewed.)

Then Spotlight won all those Oscars… and was then referenced by President Obama during the Whitehouse Correspondent’s Dinner.  So yeah, I’ve been meaning to see it and I finally got the chance over the weekend.

The verdict?  Phenomenal.  Great movie, one of the best I’ve seen in ages.  It should do for modern journalism what “All the President’s Men” (about the Watergate break-ins and cover-up) did for print journalism in the 70s.

In a nutshell, it’s the story of how four Boston Globe reporters from their “Spotlight” team investigated the practice and systematic cover-up of child abuse at the handof Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
The Spotlight Team; Movie Version

They start with one complaint and slowly begin uncovering more and more instances of sexual abuse committed by clergy.  Then they begin to peel away the other layers: the lawyers who secure settlements with the church in exchange for silence, the evidence that disappears from legal files, and the whack-a-mole relocation of predator priests from one parish to another, leaving them free to cultivate and assault new victims.

The pervasiveness of the criminal acts was astounding.  The film noted (in context by quoting a researcher on the subject) that 6% of Boston’s priests had been involved in acts of child abuse.  Six percent of Boston’s clergy totaled to approximately 90 priests.  Ninety!  All of whom were shifted from parish to parish, with stops at “rehabilitation houses” in between, where they would receive “treatment,” only to be let loose to abuse again, year after year.

This behavior was no secret, either.  The reporting team found “smoking gun” emails that went all the way to the Archbishop.  (Or is it the Cardinal?  I can’t keep all the hats straight.)  I also remember from news stories of the time, that during Pope John Paul II’s term, Popus Emeritus Benedict was the guy at the Vatican who ran the Whack-a-Priest program.

This scandal ran to the highest reaches of the Catholic Church and they did absolutely nothing to protect the children from abuse.  Their only concern was to keep a lid on the story.  They paid off victims, bought their silence, had physical evidence stolen, records redacted, and looked the other way while pedophile priests continued to destroy young lives.

I swear; I almost wish I hadn’t given up on Catholicism all those years ago, just so I could quit now.  It’s such a massive case of misplaced priorities.  And here we are in 2016, bending over backward to appease their self-reverential “religious freedom” demands against providing insurance to cover birth control for those who want it.

I don’t see how anyone can listen to anything they have to say again.  It’s a morally bankrupt institution, who is in the business of regulating morals.

My other reaction to the movie is on the journalistic side.  “Spotlight” demonstrates the difference between journalism and the sloppy, rumor-laden, unsupported mess that passes for news, online or otherwise.

There are still organizations that practice journalism, you just have to hunt to find them.  Too often, our nation’s finest journalists are lumped together with the hacks that populate other less than reputable sites, which lowers the esteem of the entire profession.

Investigative journalism isn’t just writing what you think, or even writing what you know; it’s writing what you can verify.  Competent journalists require sources, usually more than one.  Their work is vetted by department editors and sometimes even the editor-in-chief, if the story is important enough.

Politicians hate journalism; that’s a given.  Politicians have an interest in controlling what you know; it lets them get away with what you don’t know.  So the last things they want are journalist poking around their investments, or their previous jobs, or exactly what they’re up to.  

And who do they blame when they’re caught with their hand in the cookie jar?  The journalists, of course.  Shoddy journalism, two-bit hacks, the dreaded “liberal media”… on and on they go in an effort to blame the messenger.

I seriously considered going into journalism when I was in college.  Like many, I loved to write and I was moved by the work of Woodward and Bernstein in “All the President’s Men.”  I thought it would be a worthy pursuit.

And it is… it just wasn’t for me.  I’m totally the wrong personality type for the job.  It’s no job for an introvert.  No way could I spend my life cold-calling strangers for information, or heaven forbid, just showing up at their doors.  I’d have had an ulcer by the time I was 25.

I would be much better suited to be Publisher, Managing Editor or something.  I’d be perfectly fine with sitting around going, “Run it, boys.  Good job.”  Or, “Don’t do that again or I’ll reassign you to the obituaries.”  

Unfortunately, there aren’t many entry-level managing editor jobs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Entertainment This Week

So far this summer, my entertainment options have been limited to movies and baseball games.  And no, that’s not a complaint.  I’m doing what I enjoy. 

What with it coming up on summer blockbuster season and all, I plan to keep myself occupied.  As I’ve been at the movies and watching trailers, I’ve been making notes to myself on which titles look worth attending and which I might look for on DVD.  The list is getting pretty big, though.  I may have to whittle it down as the summer progresses.

As soon as I got home from Florida, I went to see "Captain America-Civil War."  As a fan of the Marvel movies, don’t get me wrong, it was a great movie; but I had mixed feelings about it.  I don’t like to see the Avengers fighting amongst themselves.  Much like with Batman v Superman, I don’t want to see Mommy and Daddy fighting.  Everything is much more enjoyable when they’re all on the same team, fighting bad guys.

Last Saturday I went to see “Money Monster,” with George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  You may have seen the commercials; it’s basically a hostage drama, with a side of financial malfeasance.  The premise is that Clooney does a kind of clownish investing show, sort of like Jim Cramer on CNBC, with more flash.  Julia Roberts is the director in the control room. 

During a live episode, some poor schlub, who lost his life savings by following Clooney’s advice, sneaks onto the set and slaps an explosive vest on the host and holds everyone hostage.  It was the cinematic equivalent of when Jon Stewart got Jim Cramer to come on the Daily Show and roasted him over touting Lehman Brothers long after he should have been onto the scam.

While the hostage drama has been done to death, the interesting part of this movie was how they followed the money trail to get answers on what led a giant firm’s stock to suddenly tank (causing a loss of 8 billion dollars to investors). 

Clooney and Roberts crackle with energy, chemistry and snappy dialogue, just like you’d expect from such old pros.  You may not need to see it in in the theater but it would make a good rental.

I usually only go to the movies to see big FX-laden blockbusters, but I did thibngs backward this weekend.  After seeing a mostly single-set, dialogue-heavy drama in the theater, I then picked up “Deadpool” on Blu-Ray to watch at home.  By my usual standards, I should have gone the other way around.

If “Antman” was a step or two lighter for a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, Deadpool was several leaps darker.  It was far more violent, with lots of R-rated language and gratuitous skin and sexual references.  It was also hilarious and wildly entertaining.  It fairly drips with pop culture and movie references, breaks the 4th wall repeatedly, and is by far the most cleverly written of any in the MCU.

This movie is from the X-Men corner of the MCU, rather than the Avengers side, so naturally they had a couple bottom-tier X-Men show up, which led to a line that exemplifies the kind of snark in which “Deadpool” revels.

One of the X-Men, Colossus, wants to bring Deadpool back to the School for the Gifted, to talk with founder Charles Xavier.  Deadpool quips, as he’s being dragged off, “Which one, McAvoy or Stewart?”  (James McAvoy plays Xavier in the “flashback” X-Men movies while Patrick Stewart plays him in the present day timeline.)

I love “meta” schtick so I ate this stuff up.  Ryan Reynolds was perfect as the fast-talking quipster, with mad ninja skills and the power to heal from any injury.  Of course, the downside is he looks like a 3rd-degree burn victim, and so must wear a full face mask most of the time.  In fact, in the movie, in another brilliantly meta moment, he described himself as “a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a shar-pei.”

The balance of the movie is about his efforts to find the guy who made him this way and force him to fix his appearance, so he could get his girl back, (played by the delectable Morena Baccarin).

Anyway, great movie, but clearly this one is for the grownups and not impressionable children… or impressionable grownups, for that matter.  All I can say is that as soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again.  (But I didn’t because the Preakness was coming on.)

I went to see three Orioles games last week, Sunday against the Tigers, then Tuesday and Thursday against the Mariners.  The O’s lost all three (after winning the first four I attended), so I’m on a bad mojo streak.  Went by myself on Sunday and sat in the lower bowl, down the 3rd baseline.  Tuesday, I went with Sitcom Kelly, who had her mom’s company seats behind home plate.  (Of course, it drizzled the entire game.)

On Thursday, though, the Orioles were playing their only home weekday afternoon game of the year.  I like to take at least one “Ferris Bueller” day every season, so this one had to be it. 

“Sa-wing, batta!”

I sat among a lively group, including a cute 40-something woman attending with her parents (sitting in front of me) and a nice young couple of recent college graduates beside me. 

We were in row 7 of the lower bowl between 1st base and the outfield wall and I was the 2nd seat from the.  In the aisle seat, there was an old baseball “lifer,” which I surmised from the bag of snacks he brought and the battered baseball glove.  He never said a word the entire time.

Around the 4th or 5th inning, he got up and headed up the stairs.  A minute or so later, the lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew the guy on the end. 

I said, “No, why?

She said, “Because he just fell down on the stairs here.”

I looked and there he was, lying in the aisle about 2 steps up from our row.  The ushers were attending to him and eventually got him on his feet and took him, I presume, to an ambulance. 

But on the bright side, I got some elbow room.

I had thoughts about asking out the woman in front of me.  She didn’t have a ring on and she seemed to spend a good deal of time turning around and talking to me, but I thought better of it.

First, she was there with her parents.  There must be some kind of rule about asking a girl out in front of her folks.

But more importantly, some other big-head dude came and sat with her for a couple of innings.  They seemed mighty familiar with each other, but not overly so.  I thought he might have been a brother, but he pretty much ignored the parents and only said perfunctory goodbyes.  Anyway, it was enough to spook me out of the moment.

Still, we had a lot of fun for the afternoon.  That’s why I keep going to games by myself.  You never know who you’re going to meet.

With all my regular TV shows winding up for the season, I’ve been relying on DVDs to fill in the holes in my life viewing schedule.  Last month, I picked up the first two seasons of Ally McBeal.  Yes, I know that doesn’t seem like something I’d watch, but I started with it during the first episode back in 1997 and watched every week until it was canceled. 

It was kind of like LA Law on hallucinogens… Law office staffed by weird, neurotic, gorgeous people.  I absolutely adore Calista Flockhart and might have even formulated plans to win her for myself, but unfortunately, she’s married to Harrison Ford.  And nobody steals Indiana Jones’s girl.  Or Han Solo’s or President Marshall’s.  So that’s pretty much a dead end.

(Funny aside: Calista Flockhart played Supergirl’s boss on “Supergirl,” and in one scene, she comes into the office talking on her cell phone, “You tell Harrison Ford I’m not going out with him.  He’s too… OLD. And too married.”  I love that meta shit.)

In the second season, they added Portia de Rossi and Lucy Liu to the cast.  First of all, I forgot how smoking hot a young Lucy Liu was as “Ling.”  RAWR! 

But Portia de Rossi’s character, Nell?  I almost did a spit-take when she came on.

Nell had a very strong resemblance to my old college roommate, “Diane,” who you may remember from my “Summer of Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow” posts.  I don’t know how I never saw it before, during the original run.  And then Nell mentioned how she’s turned on by sex in public.  Almost choked.

I had to sit for a minute and figure out if there was any possible way “Diane” could have given up her career as a technical writer and gone to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune (and Ellen Degeneres) as Portia de Rossi.  (There was not a possible way… the ages don’t line up and Portia is Australian.)

Anyway, it’s been enjoyable to watch again.  Eventually, I’ll pick up the next season, but in the meantime, I just ordered two more shows to fill up my unplanned nights, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “House of Cards” (1st seasons for both).

Both are Netflix series so I haven’t had the opportunity to watch.  But everyone has told me I’d love House of Cards, which I don’t doubt. And Tina Fey produced Kimmy Schmidt, so I’m sure I’ll like that one too.

Next time I’m this hard up for ideas, I’ll let you know.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait

Everyone knows that Comcast has a terrible reputation for customer service; we’ve all seen the horror stories recounted online.  Nevertheless, I decided to get (deeper) into bed with them and naturally, there’s a story.

It all started with my crappy Verizon internet service.  Starting last October, upload and download speed slowed to a crawl.  In fact, it was slower than my old pre-2004 dial-up service.  It would literally take several minutes for a simple Facebook screen to load.  When measured, I was getting about 1 MB or less per minute.

Because I hadn’t changed any settings, I believe they were trying to give me the squeeze.  See, I’ve had the same uncapped internet service since 2004, for $30 per month.  They weren’t making much on me, that’s for sure.  I’ve heard from internet message boards that they’ve been known to throttle service to prod the consumer to call them, where they then are sold a more expensive data package, usually with data caps.

So I figured, rather than fight with Verizon over this, I’d use it as a cost-saving opportunity and let Comcast sell me a cable/internet/phone Triple Play package.  I’d been paying Comcast $155/month for cable and Verizon about $100/month for phone and internet, so if they could come across with something for under $255/month, I’d be in Fat City.

(Yes, I know that’s already a lot for cable, but they get you for everything… HD service, DVR service, HBO, sports package for NFL and NHL channels plus Big Ten Network.  Plus the laundry list of fees and taxes; it adds up.)

So, Friday, April 1st, (I should have known), I called to pull the trigger.  Sales rep quoted me a price of $177.92 for internet/phone/cable, including HBO and Starz.  Said it would go up by $10 after a year.  I didn’t even care about Starz, but what the hell?  I’d be saving about $80 per month.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any installation openings until the following Friday.  But no worries… I’d just work from home that day.

They would contact Verizon to port over my phone number, but first I had to call them to unfreeze it.  In years prior, I had my phone service “slammed,” wherein a third party changes my phone service to their own, on my behalf… without my permission.  So I had Verizon freeze my account so I’d have to call personally to approve any changes.

The next evening, someone from Comcast called me to see if I’d removed the freeze yet.  I hadn’t.  I told them I would on Monday.

There was another message on my machine when I came home from work on Monday, asking if I’d made the call.  So I made the call and then called Comcast back, at the number I was provided for this purpose, to tell them my account was unfrozen.

The next Friday came and I didn’t hear a peep from anyone during my appointed “window,” from 10:00 to 12:00.  About 1:00, I called in and learned they had cancelled the installation… without bothering to tell me.  They couldn’t even tell me why it was cancelled.  But they said they could get a guy out the next day, on Saturday.  The rep was very nice about it all.

The installer came out at the specified time and got me all hooked up.  He had to do run some cable because it comes into my apartment at the opposite side of the main room from the computer.  The cable would have to cross my sliding glass doors and my front door, so he stapled it up over the doorways, running it up along the ceiling rather than down by the baseboards.  (I made sure they brought white cable.)  I wish he would have tucked it in a little better, though.
Everything worked when he left.  TV was up, I had a new remote, internet service was crisp and fast, and my phone worked, albeit with a temporary phone number until they could port over my original phone number.

The first thing I noticed was that when my temp number was called, only the phone plugged into the new modem rang.  But when my original number was called, it rang on the phone in my bedroom (an old corded phone I have for emergencies and power outages).

Unfortunately, this arrangement remained long after my number original number should have been active.  I then spent the next two weeks calling Comcast to ask them to fix it.  All the while they were very nice and quite polite.  And each time, I was given a date 2-3 days in the future when everything would work as advertised.

Finally, three weeks after installation, my phones were in working order.  Well, except for the one in the bedroom.  They never mentioned that the wall jacks would no longer work.  Had to figure that one out on my own. 

In order to keep a phone in the bedroom, I’d have to get a new phone set.  I didn’t mind that because one of my wireless handsets was getting wonky and I really didn’t like that landline phone.  It had belonged to Temporary Girlfriend and much like her, it was clunky, inefficient and didn’t work out as advertised.

So late last week, I got my first bill… for $427!  I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?

I found the problem right away.  They were billing me for two full bundles; one with Starz and one with HBO.  Plus, they had me down for a pro-rated amount that almost matched what I was already paying just for the cable.

So, I had to call Comcast again, this time from work.  I talked with a very nice rep, who agreed that I had been double billed and incorrectly assessed my pro-rated amount.  She gave me a new figure, which I asked to have emailed to me.  I’m certain that when I pay this new amount, my next bill will contain an “overdue” portion, with late fees.  I wanted proof of my new amount.

She also wondered why my original pricing was only for 1 year.  She said they didn’t even HAVE a Triple Play package that featured both HBO and Starz.  I said I really didn’t care about the Starz; that was what the first rep volunteered.  She also said it would go up by $60 after a year and not $10.  Both reps told me that when the time comes, to call back and arrange a new package to avoid the upcharge.

She ended up comping me not only Starz but Showtime as well.  (I still have to check and see if I’m actually getting it.)  All told, I should be looking at a monthly bill of around $190, which will be a $60/month savings if her quote is actually true.

See, I have to wonder about that because when I finally did get that email, it said my bill was $10 higher than the rep quoted me.  And even after I paid the bill, my new Comcast app still shows a bill for $427.

When I got home from work that night, I went to watch something I’d DVRd over vacation and what do I find?  DVR service was not working.

So I had to call fucking Comcast AGAIN.  I think that’s how I’m going to enter their number into my new phone directory: Fucking Comcast. 

By now I know all the recorded prompts…

We have an address associated with this phone number, is it…”


UFC 130 is this Saturday. Do you want information on…”


I talked to another very helpful representative and it seemed when they updated my package, they hadn’t included DVR service.  So there was the extra $10.  He got me back in the game, though.  For now.

I know Comcast is cognizant of their reputation for lousy customer service so they try to be extra polite.  But that’s not their problem.  From my experience, it’s not the attitude of their reps but a total inability to follow through on what they say they’re going to do.  Besides all the issues I just told you about, I was promised an email describing my situation during each conversation I had with them.  The only email I ever got, ever, was that last one with my adjusted bill.

And each time they promised an email, they’d ask for an address and I’d give them my new Comcast address, which they’d just set up.  Every time.  Where did this information go, a black hole?  The last guy even started out by saying, “I see we don’t have an email address for you.

I wanted to pimp-slap him right through the phone line.

Anyway, I assumed knew what I was getting into with these guys, but I obviously underestimated that amount of follow up I’d need to get this thing going correctly.  In the end, you just have to be more stubborn than they are.  I don’t think I’m going to change anything again until I’m retired.  Then I’ll have nothing better to do than fight with the cable company.

Last Saturday, I thought I had one more atrocity to report… When I was about half-done charging up my new cordless phones, I saw the readout said “No line,” and when I checked, I didn’t have a dial tone.  Thinking I’d done something wrong, I looked at the instructions and I saw a line that said, “If you subscribe to telephone service from a cable company or a VoIP service provider, contact your cable/VoIP service provider for more information.


But then I noticed that my internet was down and the cable was out too.  I figured they either bombed out my whole account or there was an area-wide service issue.  After calling in, I heard a recording saying it was the latter.  Whew.

That’s when they recommended getting their phone app, so I could track the expected repair time.  It was pretty nifty, I’ll give them that.  And it also has your current charges, so that’s how I know how much they think my next bill will be.
But has anyone else ever been relieved to hear there was a complete cable/internet/phone outage in their area?  Service ended up coming back after another couple of hours.  No harm done.

And thankfully, no more calls to Comcast.  At least until I get that Balance Due notice for that $427…

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I Did on my Summer Vacation Pt 1

As is my custom, I went down to see the folks in Florida over Mother’s Day weekend, Thursday through Tuesday.  (Hence no post last night.)

I had a couple nice surprises on the flight down.  First off, I scored the coveted “Empty Middle Seat!”  "Wahoo!  Armrest, you’re all mine!"  The other cool thing was that I was in a brand new 737-900ER.  The overhead luggage racks folded way up out of head-bumping range, AND, there was a cool, interactive video touch screen on the back of every seatback.

Not only could you track where you are and get all the flight data, it offered games, music and video streaming.  Not that I used any of that, but it was a nice diversion.

On the second leg into Pensacola, I had no such luck.
“Where is my damn touch screen?”

I get spoiled so easily.

You know, every time I see the wing flaps come up upon landing, I expect to see clothes and luggage come flying out.

Random question: I wonder how many celebrities I’ve passed in airports, without noticing, because I was so focused on getting where I had to go?  I’m usually pretty focused on my destination.

This day, I had about an hour and a half to kill so I figured I’d get lunch.  I then had the best fried chicken I've had in years. Who knew it would be from a place in the Atlanta airport?  Crispy, tasty and juicy all the way through.

Funny, I just wanted something light. My Airport Eats app said there was a Nathan's on my concourse. I figured a couple of dogs would be just right; I'd have something to do to kill the time without ruining the big dinner I was anticipating upon my arrival.

I went to where the app said it was, but no Nathan's. Checked the terminal map, which confirmed it. So I had to troll for someplace else to park it and grab a bite.

Then I saw this Southern Fried Chicken place, Pascal’s, and once the smell hit me, it was all over. I only ordered a 2-piece, which I thought would be light. Then I saw it came with two sides. And a biscuit.

Oh well, I tried.

And somehow, I managed to eat dinner too.  Oy.

Going down to see my parents isn’t exactly a thrill-a-minute ride (nor do I want it to be).  But each day we usually have one particular event or excursion to do.  On Friday, it was going down to Joe Patti’s fish market.

Subtlety is their middle name.

The place was jammed and I could see why.  There was a huge assortment of fish laid out on ice.  I swear, with this many fresh fish options, I could give up meat.

After Joe Patti’s we went to a place called Five Sisters Blues Café.  Wouldn’t you know, they also specialize in fried chicken and blues music.  So I had some more tremendous fried chicken.  (Dad had a rack of ribs, which were also delectable.)  Sorry I’m omitting so many food pictures… by the time I thought to snap a pic, the meal was gone.

We got home in time to put on the Buccos game.  I rarely get to see the Pirates play, but Dad has the MLB package and on Central Time, the games start early.  Was nice to catch up.

Because we were all pretty jammed, it was a light dinner of crock pot back macs and salad.

Many childhood memories are contained within a crock pot.

By Saturday, I remembered that maybe I should enjoy the pool! 

My last couple of visits, the weather was pretty crappy. But this week, it was absolutely glorious out.  No clouds, blue sky, all week.  Score!

Even the famous Weather Stick was pointed in the right direction.  (Or maybe it was just glad to see me.)

I’ve always enjoyed watching all the geckos run around in the backyard, but this week, I learned that my mom is naming them.  There’s Maurice, Cecil, Marcel and Cedrick (pronounced Ceedrick).  I don’t know why they’re all boys and skew European.  I guess when you’re retired, you have time to work on stuff like this.

I’m not sure Mom can tell them apart, though.  My theory is that the first one she sees on a given day becomes Maurice, and the others are named from there.  They probably fight over who gets to be Maurice that day, because Mom says he’s the one in charge.

TV was the big excursion for Saturday… The Buccos came on even earlier, then there was the Kentucky Derby followed by the Penguins playoff game vs the Capitals.  For such an auspicious occasion, Dad broke out the good stuff:

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey.

This stuff was seriously smoooooth.  Probably the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  Thanks Dad!

The Penguins played the night before I left for Florida and the night I came home.  There was only one game while I was there, which meant I only had to bring one game jersey.  For once events conspired to help me pack light.

My carefully selected game jersey mojo failed me though, as the Pens went down in flames.  I’m going to have to sit in another chair next time I’m there for a game.  Pittsburgh never wins anything when I’m watching from the folks’ house.

Mother’s Day was Sunday but that didn’t keep my folks from making their weekly pilgrimage to Walgreen’s.  If they don’t show up Sunday, the cashiers start calling the hospitals.

After some more pool time, Dad grilled some steaks to go with Mom’s chicken, sautéed mushrooms and roasted potatoes. 

We tend to pick the “off days” to go down to the beach, so that was our Monday excursion.  We had lunch at a new place right on the beach, beside the pier.

Their fries were kind of strange… I’ve had curly fries before, but these were like curly wedges. 

It was like you had to corkscrew them into your mouth.

It was conveniently placed so that we could enjoy a post-lunch mosey along the pier.

Shot from the pier, you can see why they call this the Emerald Coast.

There’s a lot of weird stuff on the pier, from excessive signing explaining the myriad of things you’re not allowed to do, to this guy.

I think this is a warning to prospective kitchen help, demonstrating what happens if you screw up an order.

Tuesday was the first rainy day of my trip and luckily, that’s the day I came home.  (I heard through the grapevine that the weather stick looked very sad to see me go.  Not so sure about the parents, though…)

You may think that all we did over this trip was swim, run menial errands, watch TV, have cocktails and eat… Well, that IS what we did; what’s it to ya?  That’s my kind of vacation.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the great good hospitality!  Tell the geckos I’ll miss them.

Director's DVD Commentary: Part 2 of this series will continue after my annual Ohio vacation, this August.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Benefits of a Highly Attuned Bullshit Filter

One of the best things about getting older is that you’ve had a lot of practice at sniffing out deception from sales clerks, public service reps and other people you encounter throughout your day.  It can turn you into a really suspicious SOB, that’s for sure.  But it comes in handy.

Take, for example, a couple of weeks ago when I was heading home from work via the Baltimore Metro subway.

When I got down to the underground platform at the Shot Tower stop, I heard them making an announcement.  Not that I could actually hear what they were saying.  Even after I took my earphones out, it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Whonk whonk whonk…”

Everyone else must have understood, though, because they all started heading back up to ground level.  I joined them but when I stopped at the little glassed-in room where the attendant is, she was hollering to the crowd, “The subway is closed.  Please go to the nearest bus stop up on the street.  They know what is going on and will take you where you need to go.  And I am NOT taking any questions.”

OK, there’s so much to dissect there, but first off, you’re “not taking any questions???”  What kind of civil servant are you?  There’s mass confusion here and you’re actively promoting it by withholding information!  So that got me all jammed up right off the bat.

Still, I waited until the crowd thinned out a bit and she started talking with more people.  Ever the rebel, I dared to ask a question, “Did you say the whole subway line is shut down, or just this station?

She said the whole subway was shut down.

That got my BS detector pinging.  I figured, there are only two things that will shut down the entire system.  One is a massive, area-wide power failure (which we obviously weren’t having).  The other would be a bomb threat.

While a bomb threat was certainly possible, I thought it was highly unlikely.  Why would anyone care about our piddley one-route subway line, when you’ve got a much more expansive and widely used subway system right down the road in Washington?  Or one that was much more heavily traveled in New York City?

Nah, something was off here.  Most likely, someone fell or jumped onto the tracks and ate a subway car.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

The other thing that I was skeptical about was that crap about just going to the nearest bus stop and waiting for a bus, who would know what’s going on and where to take everyone.  Huge, steaming pile of BS, right there.

Each bus has its own route and there are dozens of them running throughout the day.  What are the odds that the closest particular bus is going to run in the direction I need to go?  Minimal, if you ask me.  I was NOT going to go get on some random bus.  Lord knows in what kind of urban hellscape I might end up?

So I came up out of the subway and began to consider my options.  One of them was to walk about a block and then jump on the east/west Charm City Circulator line to take me over to the light rail.  (The Circulator is a free commuter bus service for downtown Baltimore.  The light rail is a 2-car on-road rail line, powered by overhead electrical lines.  It runs straight north/south through Baltimore and the surrounding areas.)

So as I was waiting for the Circulator, it dawned on me, “Dummy, this is no good.  So what if you get to the light rail?  Your car is still at the subway parking lot!  You’d still be stranded.”  (The subway and light rail only intersect near Lexington Market, in downtown Baltimore.  My home neighborhood is another 10-12 miles north.)

I stepped away from the Circulator stop and decided to go back to the subway.  I figured I might be able to pull out some more information.  The MTA website was no help.  Service had been shut down for 20 minutes and they still showed “On Time” status for the subway.  Useless.

When I got back to the subway, there were two guards at the top of the escalator, preventing people from entering the station.  There were several clusters of people standing around, peering at their cell phones.  I went up closer to the guards and overheard them tell another passenger that the problem was at the next station over, Charles Center, where they thought someone got hit by a train.

Aha!  Just as I thought.  This is highly relevant because I know for a fact that whenever there’s any kind of incident at a subway stop, they just close off that stop and continue service on either side.  They either provide a bus to bridge the gap or fly straight through without stopping at the station in question.

My original plan was back in play.  As I was reasoning it out, I was joined by another commuter, a woman with a nice “Island” accent.  She asked what was going on, I told her what I’d heard, and what I was considering next.

I told her I was going to jump on the Circulator Orange Route, take it the 11 blocks west, then walk a few blocks north to Lexington Market station and catch the subway on the other side of the station closure.  She wasn’t familiar with the Circulator routes, so I invited her along.  It’s much more fun to have a travel buddy.

So that’s what we did and it worked like a charm.  Once we got to Lexington Market, we heard several more versions of what happened back at Charles Center.  It’s funny how word travels on the street.

When these things happen, the MTA never tells you anything, like they’re afraid of getting sued, or of bad publicity.  I think it would help their cause if they could demonstrate that they were truthful and cooperative, rather than dishonest and evasive.

The Lexington Market station was crowded with others who were scrambling to find their ways home.  We saw two trains heading back in the direction from whence we came before one finally came along from the right direction.  Of course, it was packed, but by that time, I was happy to jam onboard under any conditions.

All along, I knew I could use this occasion to try Uber for the first time, but I kind of kept that in my back pocket.  I’d rather demo Uber when I’m not in a state of duress, but I knew I could always use it if nothing else panned out.  But as it was, I went from “Holy shit, I’m stranded downtown with no way home,” to getting on the train at another station an hour later.

I’ll take it.  I know many people who have had it worse when faced with an unexpected subway closure.  But it would have been so much worse for me if I hadn’t disregarded almost everything I was told by subway “officials.”

At work the next day, I talked to some people who DID get on the bus and they said those bus drivers didn’t know squat about what was going on.  They didn’t even know how to get where they were supposed to go… the passengers had to direct them.  It was a total clusterfuck.

There was practically no coverage of the incident in the local media.  The only thing we found was a short blurb from a minor news page, giving only the minimum of information; someone jumped onto the tracks, was hit, but survived.

The important part, of course, was that I was inconvenienced during my daily commute... LOL.

No, really, the reason I’m telling this tale is to highlight the importance of a healthy skepticism.  Public officials lie to us, misdirect, or obfuscate constantly, so it behooves us to develop a stringent BS filter.  If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, especially given the general incompetence of those they’re talking about, it should be sifted through the filter and disregarded.

Or else the next thing you know, you could be trapped on a crowded bus heading for parts unknown.  It’s enough to make you want to jump on the tracks yourself.