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August 01, 2010

Odds and Ends

A few quick asks, collected from the past weeks.

Oh, and by the way, hello from Quito! I see the hotel has WiFi after all. Today we went to Antisana, a desolate volcano. (Though, have you ever seen a non-desolate volcano?) Tomorrow the group is heading into a research station in the southern part of the country, and internet will be spotty or nonexistent. But I had parts of this post saved as a draft, and I think it's just the right time to hit "publish."

1. Compensatory cookie?

My mom and I went to a cafe and restaurant we both love, but on that day the service was terrible. After we waited for more than half an hour for our salads, we asked the cashier what was going on and he confessed they put our food with someone else's to go order. It would take 10 more minutes. None too thrilled, I came up with a way to soften the blow.

"Could we have a cookie or something sweet, to make up for this long wait?"

The manager, who had since intervened, said of course. I chose a butterscotch chip cookie. Not a bad appetizer!

2. Shorter report?

Before leaving for this trip, I made a huge strategic mistake. I took on way way way more work than I reasonably had time for. Which means I ended up getting very little sleep and having little time to collect my thoughts or breathe before this journey. Well, on Thursday, I called one of my clients, who I've worked with for years and who I can be straightforward with, and I told him exactly that. (He also knew I took the work on a tight schedule, since he needed someone reliable to get the job done fast. So I felt extra comfortable asking for a break.)

"Hi! I'm trying to figure out how to cram 48 hours of work into the next day, and so I have a question for you: How short of a report can I get away with?" I asked. Usually he gives me a range, and now I was hoping for something a lot shorter than the short end of that range.

"Nothing less than xxx words. That's totally fine."

"Perfect. You're a lifesaver. Thanks."

Guess what happened next: I ended up writing something that fit the original maximum length. You'd think I'm a glutton for punishment... but actually, I just really got into the writing. Oh well!

3. Speaking of cafes... and wifi...

I visited a new cafe on a Sunday afternoon, recently, and I'm ashamed to admit the first question that came out of my mouth was, "Do you have WiFi?"

I was told they do not. I ordered a cafe au lait and sat down, realizing, suddenly, the freedom I had. I could read the physical newspaper someone before me had left on a long wooden table. I could write on my laptop and not take compulsive breaks every 10 minutes to check my favorite websites. I could people watch in that adorable new French style cafe. I could talk to Mr. A. while savoring that coffee sip by sip and taking the time to think about what I was drinking.

So glad they didn't give me what I thought I wanted.

4. Can I do anything to help?

I found out a friend and colleague was laid off. After taking about a day to process the info -- since it truly came as a shock -- I wrote him an email asking if there was anything I could do to help. It turns out there was. I would rather not go into the details here yet, since we're still waiting for certain specific results, but let's just say I ended up asking other people to help fight for his position at that institution, and they asked more people. Apparently this whole asking thing can really motivate a community to speak up.

I was floored.

I hope to be able to post some good news with the specifics of the campaign, soon.

4. Thai soup substitution?

I was at a subpar Thai restaurant about a month ago, eating lunch with a colleague. The lunch special comes with a tofu soup, and I am partial to the coconut Tom Kha soup. I asked the waiter if I could switch.

"No substitutions."

My colleague and I dissected this response over lunch. It was wrong in so many ways.

a) The restaurant is empty, so any extra effort to seduce a regular customer is a right move.
b) That area is filled with Thai restaurants, so this restaurant offers nothing special; it could have stood out, however, with a welcoming attitude
b) He could have suggested I upgrade for a small premium.
c) For what the soup costs them, it would have been a minor minor loss for a big win -- happy client who then brings more happy clients.
d) He could have gone a step further, disappeared and returned with this message: "Well, here's what I'll do. We're not supposed to do substitutions, but I asked my manager and she said it's fine. We want you to remember this meal and come back soon!"

Instead, I left feeling a bit blah about the whole meal, and I'm not sure when I'll be back. Too many other great options a block away.

5. TSA Investigation

At the San Diego Airport, there are three lines before baggage screening, where TSA employees check your ID and check your boarding pass. One is for crew, one is for first/business class, and the rest is for us common folk.

A few months back, Mr. A pointed out how wrong this is because TSA workers are government employees. They're not airline employees manning the lines and sorting people, but tax-paid workers. Since there is no civically recognized first class in the U.S.A., giving certain people permission to wait in a shorter line is undemocratic.

So when I was dropping someone off at the San Diego airport recently, I took it upon myself to ask why this system is arranged this way, and who's in charge. Here's a rough recap of the conversation I had with a TSA agent.

La Roxy: Why is there a line for first class flyers and a line for regular passengers? You're a government employee, right?

TSA agent: We don't monitor who come in these lines. It's the airport authority. So you need to talk to them.

La Roxy: So if I was flying and I came through the first class line, you wouldn't object to checking my documents?

TSA agent: I don't care one way or another.

La Roxy: So who decided to make three lines?

TSA: You need to talk to the airport managers.

I went downstairs and found the management office, which was open. There, I was directed to an Officer Castillo, who's in charge of security and logistics and who explained that -- of course!! -- the TSA is in charge.

She gave me the card for the TSA supervisor and told me to call if I wanted more explanations.

Which I haven't done yet, because I've been too busy. But it seems to me a reporter should start working on this story. I mean, really??

Ok, I'm signing out... hopefully I'll get to post something else soon, but if not... see you in a few days when I'm back in wifiland!

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