Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Refer Back"

 A "propaganda "movie from 1936

When people say or write "refer back," it causes me Reefer Madness.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's not that easy bein' green

                                 Bein Green by Kermit the Frog:
It's not that easy bein' green

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think you could be nicer being red or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not that easy being green

It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over
Cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean
or important like a mountain
Or tall like a tree

When green is all that is to be

It could be you wonder
But, Why wonder, why wonder
I'm green, and I'll do fine
And it's beautiful, and I think it's what I wanna be

Like Kermit, I have had a hard time embracing “bein green.” I am pale green at best. Decades ago with the advent of the recycling bins I tossed something plastic into the trash and my friend asked me why. I told him I just really wasn’t that interested in the environment. What tiny difference would my contribution make…enough other people were doing it.

Then the indisputable argument: "What about the world your kids are going to inherit? And your grandkids?” Once I finally remembered to have kids, I had to care. I was moved to get a little greener.

Earth Day began in 1970. It went global in 1990 but that was still three years before I had my first child. Call me a late adopter but the truth is I haven’t even made a concerted effort to become greener until recent years.

Watered Down Attempt

I am perhaps the most well hydrated  person on earth.. I consume a minimum of five 21 ounce plastic bottles of water daily. I have then at work, I have them in my car, I sneak them into movie theaters in my purse. That means our household has to have a constant supply of at least three 24 packs from Costco on hand to feed my habit.
Supply enough for Armageddon

But then I learned from my son, who attends a “liberal arts” college, that plastic bottles just aren’t cool. Campus kids use refillable water bottles .All of them have a CamelBak or some other brand accessorizing their backpacks like the green badge of courage.

So, I started being “open minded.” The first step was refilling my plastic waters instead of throwing them into the overflowing recycling bin. To be honest, I didn’t do this, my husband (much greener) did it for me. 


And then, mirabile dictu, on Christmas of 2014 I asked Santa to give me a refillable water bottle. Now I can carry this proudly into business meetings and people don’t  look at me like someone who has just arrived with a small bag of turds.

My very own reusable bottle

Just Say No (if you can hear yourself)

Here’s one thing I will never go green on—the air drying machines in public restrooms. They are abhorrent and they don’t work. As my son once said, when he sees one of those he knows he will be drying  his hands on his jeans, a sort of modern day Mr.Greenjeans.

To raise the ante on office greenery, our adminstrators have installed the new and modern Dyson hand dryer. This thing is louder than sitting in the front row of a Rolling Stones concert (yes, I’ve been there,this is not an analogy). 

The Dreaded Dyson

I turn to the paper towel option immediately. I’m afraid the only way I will ever become more green in this department is with the return of the “ladies room attendant” who hands you a cloth towel at the sink.A lovely tradition. I think the last time I saw that service was at The 21 Club in New York City. Please bring them back America. It’s a jobs creator and environmental winning combo.

Paper towels, ahhh

Ways in which I have glady gone green:

Nailed It

  • Going to The Dry Bar to have someone else use their water and electricity supply to blow dry my hair.
  • Buying a Mini Cooper. My car-bon footprint is that of a toddler’s.  
  • Getting my nails done green

So I’ve made inroads into getting green. I'm green light. But I am afraid I will never be forest green. The color doesn’t become my complexion.

But as Kermit concludes by the end of his lament:

I'm green, and I'll do fine

And it's beautiful, and I think it's what I wanna  be

Now I think, at least.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Monday, March 2, 2015

Seat Back Impressions: First time on Frontier and Alaska Airlines

Frontier Airlines: Washington National Round-trip to Memphis 

First of all what the hell is an airline named Frontier doing flying that route? They also go from St. Augustine, FL to Newark. Perhaps I bring a personal bias about the term “frontier,” having grown up in the desert, the real "frontier." The word connotes the vast underpopulated regions of the unknown—like Yuma, or Death Valley—or  California--whatever comes next if you travel west from Tucson. Back in the day, Tucson had a tiny little airport with about five airlines. One of them was Frontier.  I envisioned a pilot in jeans, boots and a cowboy hat casually strutting across the dusty runway climbing the stairs two at a time before jumping into the saddle-fitted cockpit to take control.

Grizwald Got Us There
Foxy Got Us Home

But it turns out this Frontier Airlines is NOT your father’s Frontier Airlines. The new Frontier was launched in 1994, is based in Denver and serves 76 locations.The old Frontier Airlines existed from 1950 to 1986 and the first president and co-founder was my husband’s namesake, Harold (Hal) Darr.  We discovered Frontier when looking for cheap flights from Washington DC to Memphis, TN where my son attends college.

The Frontier flight I was on was a brand new plane, out for its third excursion. When the flight attendants were wheeling the cart near me I heard one of them inhale deeply and say “Ahh, I love the smell of new airplane” with much the same relish as Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore when he said “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” in Apocalypse Now.

Frontier Airlines name their planes after animals. Oh yes they do. Per the company website “Our spokesanimals represent our character, commitment to service, and humorEach airplane carries a unique spokesanimal from their "stable” of 50. Read their bios at Frontier's stable.  My favorite is Oscar the Otter whose quote is: "Mi aeroplano es su aeroplano."

The Stable

We flew on Grizwald the Bear outbound and Foxy the Fox on the return. Their images are on the tail and disturbingly, also on the wing. If you are seated on the wing and look out the window, it appears an animal is there. It’s a bit like that 1963 Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” where the man was convinced that he saw a "gremlin" on the wing of the plane. [Millenials, please refer to Nightmare at 20.000 Feet]

Humor in air travel is a core value of mine. It helps me forget I am flying. One of the best lines was when a Southwest flight attendant, during the safety announcements, said: “If you are traveling with a small child today, what were you thinking?”  So when I received a thin paper napkin with an image of Grizwald the Bear saying that the napkin could also be used as an eye mask, I thought that was pretty good. Plus the staff refers to the plane as said animal throughout the flight. Gotta love airplane anthropomorphism.  

Alaska Airlines: Washington National Round-trip to Seattle
The "Smiling Eskimos"

Alaska Airlines, on the other hand, has a “smiling Eskimo” as the logo on the tail. We don’t know his name, his likes or his dislikes. He represents the no-nonsense nature of this airline. When I booked my reservation I was slightly disturbed by the low flight numbers. DCA to Seattle was Flight Number One and the return was Flight Number Three. Really? Why do all the other airlines have flight numbers in the thousands?

Are we the virgin flight for this leg? Reading the history, there is nothing virgin about Alaska Airlines. It started in 1932 with a Stinson single engine three passenger aircraft. Glad I missed that. But not so glad I missed 1967, when to celebrate the Alaskan centennial, the flight attendants dressed in Edwardian outfits. Alaska gets nothing but praise in the industry—in 2010 it was ranked the most efficient airline operating in the United States. In 2014, JD Power and Associates ranked Alaska Airlines highest in customer satisfaction of traditional airlines for the seventh consecutive year. I can see why.   

Alaska Airlines flights are all-business and yet the pilots are kind enough to keep you informed and reassured about the progress. I find this comforting. I hate radio silence from the cockpit. It makes me think something is wrong.

Was it the Hat?
I liked the airline as soon as I boarded because the two flight attendants greeting me told me I was cute and fawned over me. I was wearing my red winter hat with a black flower pinned to side.Who cares about complimentary drinks when you can get free compliments?

My seatmate was a Millennial.  When he saw that I was reading David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, he warmed to me right away. There’s no better way to bond with a Millennial than to be reading a book by a drug-addicted suicidal author. We talked about the writer's brilliance  and went immediately to the big DFW question: “Have you read Infinite Jest?”  He said he had not but he knows someone who has. I doubt it. I don’t think anyone has finished it. That’s why it’s called Infinite Jest, suggested one writer friend of mine—David had the last laugh on us. I asked The Millennial if he had flown Alaska Airlines before and how he liked it. He said no, and he didn’t much care for the cold attitude of the flight attendants. I said: “They liked me. They told me I was cute.”  The Millennial said: “It’s the hat.” After a suitable interval of witty repartee, we parted ways to sink into our isolated activities of choice for the next seven hours.    

The flight was flawless.

I Just Wish They'd Told Me about the "Salmon Thirty Salmon"

Saturday, December 27, 2014

See, saw Seattle

Seattle by night
Seattle by gray

Portland, they say, is the place young people go to retire, Seattle is the place young people go to work themselves to death. Fortunately Portland is just down the coast.  If these young Seattle people can survive a few years of well paid 100 plus-hour work weeks, they may be able to comfortably retire there or anywhere. Seattle is the home to Microsoft, Amazon, and Real Networks and Dwellable* which generate annual revenue of $13.6 billion and account for 188,860 information and communications positions. One of my son's best friends just became number 188,861.

He graduated  with a double major in math and computer sciences in three years and was "signed" by Microsoft with a bonus, just like a star athlete. He moved to Seattle in August. It is a blessing and a curse to be thus gifted. He is only 21 and nearly everyone else in the company is 30 something. It is hard to make friends. He works all the time. He has two roommates similarly afflicted, they live the life of Microsoft Monks. On a "normal" work night they order a pizza at 7:16 p.m., they play a video game until 7:36 p.m. when one of them walks down the street to pick up the dinner. They eat, they sleep, they get up early and wait at the convenient Microsoft bus stop to take that hour long ride to Redmond, WA HQ of MS. Lather, rinse, repeat.

He took me to a charming coffee house in Fremont, an "edgy" neighborhood where many young people congregate and occasionally sleep. My latte swirl was designed as a perfect flower. Before he picked me up, I asked if I should wear a raincoat with a hood to protect my hair. [As any regular reader of my blog will know, I am a big fan of the Dry Bar where I pay to have my hair washed, blown out and flat ironed.] He was right on top of the radar and said the rain was coming later in the day. As he saw me struggling to walk down his street in heels opened an umbrella for me when it started to drizzle he said: "In Seattle no one wears heels because of all of the hills and no one cares about their hair."

How did he like Seattle? He looked outside at the gray day and grimaced. "Well, when the sun is out it is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the world." Apparently Seattle is surrounded by water, lakes, streams, the Puget Sound and two breathtaking mountain ranges the Olympics and the Cascades;  with Mount Rainier "in full view" according to the fact sheet produced by the City of Seattle. I saw none of these things.

Seattle is gray. Seattle needs to go see my hairdresser Blaise.They say in Ireland you never realized there were so many shades of green. Not so the grays of Seattle. It's just one gray.

My Hotel

I was there on business, and I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Seattle on a Federal government rate. There is a note in the office travel records which was made by my boss' s former assistant, who left the job about a decade ago. It states a preference for handicapped accessible rooms. Although neither my boss nor I are disabled, the assistant was convinced that this would guarantee us a more spacious rooms. When the desk clerk told me that my handicapped accessible room was ready, I  told her I had no need for that type of room. She said that it was stated clearly in my record as a preference. As many times as we have tried to purge this "request" we have not succeeded. When I arrived on the 14th floor the housekeeper dropped  what she was doing and came running to me to help me with my briefcase, unlock my room, turn on the lights and in every possible way be solicitous of my needs.  I cannot say I objected to this. The room was spacious and there was one very groovy feature, a switch by the bed that allowed me to raise the blinds. Since I stayed on East Coast time (going to bed at 9 p.m. and getting up at 3:30 or 4 a.m.) I was able to stay in bed, flip this switch and get a gorgeous view of downtown Seattle aglow from my ADA aerie.

Grand HyattSeattle

The Grand Hyatt Seattle has the old fashioned solution for triskaidekaphobia by eliminating floor 13. But a clever person can decipher that floor 14  really is floor 13.  Doesn't it seem an odd  choice then to make this the floor for persons with disabilities? Some disabilities are invisible. Take head injury for example, or epilepsy, or...triskaidekaphobia.

City view comes right up
Huge marks for excellent service: I had to call for regular coffee pods in the middle of the night (between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. when neither room service nor housekeeping are open) and the staff member in charge of insomnia came running. I had to have housekeeping fix my clock and an engineer determiSne the source of a banging sound, After waiting for hours to be able to order food, my breakfast in bed couldn't have been more nicely presented or served. I had to ask the bellman for directions and requested the fastest, easiest route. He deadpanned that he prefers to give long and convoluted, confusing directions instead. Irreverence in the bellman! Extra points.
Flip the switch

Any breakfast in bed tastes good, but particularly the one you anticipate for three hours

The only flaw, my dear Grand Hyatt Seattle, is claiming to have a spa, Elaia. There is even an Elaia Spa button on the phone to line up your services. But, snap, the spa is NOT ON SITE. The spa is at the "Hyatt at Olive 8," about a block and a half away. You know what this means? Dressing up, walking outside, risking more hair frizz,and then making the long return. Not right.

Per Google maps: One minute/.1 mile from Grant Hyatt. Who has that kind of time?

Sweeping generalizations

All the [young] people in Seattle wear big black framed glasses. How many of the glasses are providing any correction is anyone's guess.They also all wear those hats that have two braided strings in front so that they look like Heidi or Heidhim.

They really drink coffee  all the time. The line in the Starbucks near my hotel was as long as any I've been in. And it's understandable there, it is damp and cold and gray and everyone is working overtime. But just think of the gift this led to the rest of the country when *$ started spreading its way East.

Street Protest

Sunday night as I was walking down Pike, I saw a street protest and then a "lie-in"  (I am not sure if they are called "lie-in's" or "die-ins, but I am ecstatic that they are not called "lay-ins."  There were hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection, first some speeches about racism and then the massive lying on the street closing this intersection to traffic,  There was a jumble of black framed glasses and braidy hats, North Face jackets and sensible shoes.

Lying, not laying in

The Original Nordstrom-The Grand Finale

It had been a long work week, I was tired,but when I walked into that store at 7 p.m., I felt as if I had just downed a 5 Hour Energy Drink. All you have to do there is exist and someone will help you. First the Christian Dior makeup salesman swept me away to purchase several items. He tied a ribbon bow on my bag handle just for that special ON (Original Nordstrom)  touch.There was a saleswoman in the shoe department who was dressed like a character from the Wizard of Oz. I remember a riotous combination of neon colors, orange top, green skirt, bright yellow tights and dazzling dyed red hair. She went on break before I could get her photo.  My buying burn rate  per floor was cut in half by a phone call from home. Probably just as well, I have two college tuitions this year.

Moments from  my hotel

I have a friend who was planning to move to Seattle and bought her house in July, a month of little rain, abundant sunshine and spectacular vistas. But she couldn't move there until December. A classic bait and switch move. "You know you are  here during the worst time of year," she said.

Nothing stopped me from enjoying Seattle -- not the fog, not the gray, not the bad hair day, the difficult walking in heels. I saw what people see in Seattle and I liked it.

* Shameless cross promotion for vacation rental blog that has invited my guest submissions.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

God, I Love Hotels

Meets all my basic needs
I am in a room at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, New York to visit my son during Parents' Weekend at Skidmore College. I find there are few things better than a hotel room and time on your hands.  This room meets all my basic needs. It has a coffee maker, it has a microwave oven, it has a refrigerator to store my orange juice and water, it has a flat screen TV, it has wireless. Plus, this room is huge. There is a workout room one floor away where I did the StairMaster yesterday and might do the stationary bike today (unless that bike hog is there again). There is room service. I just treated myself to breakfast in bed--granola, fruit and milk. The total was $8.50 including tip. 

Parents Weekend offers the maximum time to spend enjoying yourself and your child. I get up early, he gets up late, So for four or five hours I get to do some of my favorite things, read and drink coffee in bed (without the nagging feeling that I experience at home that I should jump up, put in some laundry, unload the dishwasher or start doing the bills), write, watch TV with full control of the remo, workout without leaving the premises. There is an assortment of wildly Technicolor trees outside my window. It's heaven.

I used to call business trips the working mother's vacation. This stay reminds me that I don't have to be at a luxury hotel to be happy. The gifts of time and freedom work in a variety of venues.

Here's what I really came to see--my thriving son, now a senior, music director of the Skidmore men's a Capella group, the Bandersnatchers:

Private performance for the visiting parents (Peter, right)

Monday, October 13, 2014

US Open Love-Love

 Billie Jean National Tennis Center awaits
The first thing you see on approach to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center complex is a big “Globey” (ref. Pee Wee’s Playhouse) which was built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and not, in fact, as the gateway to tennis heaven. And make no mistake; the US Open is tennis heaven.

Pee Wee's Globey
As a fan of both tennis and travel, I have always dreamed of going to all of the Gland Slams. But even the small goal of getting to the US Open in New York was not achievable until I emptied the nest. By the end of August, the school system has us by the throat. But this year the nest emptied just in time to make my first slam dream come true.

My friend Kathleen, who is both a good traveler and companion, with a fine sense of direction, jumped on the idea. She lined up the hotel and the transportation. I bought a ticket package called the “Premiere Wrap-Up Plan” to attend five sessions Wednesday through Friday of the first week. That’s key, because all the players are still in contention and the prices are somewhat reasonable. Our seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium were in the nosebleed section, but somehow it didn't matter because we were rarely there. You only need the reserved seats for that one stadium. Beyond that you are free to roam to any of the 16 side courts, and see some of the finest tennis players on earth at close range.

The vibe of the US Open crowd is high end. It helps to have some sort of corporate affiliation such as American Express (all cardholders receive mini earpiece radios which stream the live broadcast. This tool was a multitasker’s dream. I could listen to the announcers in one ear, my friend with the other ear, while walking, talking and even eating). Chase Bank members (Kathleen) were granted entrance to  a big beautiful air conditioned lounge with cold beverages and salty snacks. All I had was a membership in the Starwood hotels chain, which entitled me to spin a wheel of fortune for a chance to win a free trip. No luck.
Kathleen and I and "the thing in my ear"
The food plaza had offerings you won’t see at many other sporting events. Like Moet & Chandon and Gray Goose vodka, oh and pretty good food too. The only thing I have ever been offered at a Redskins game is a free topping on Papa John’s Pizza for every touchdown scored.

A little something for the high flyers
And the bubbly crowd
The tennis lovers

Being there is completely different from watching tennis in the comfort of your home on a big flat screen TV (most people’s default excuse for not attending live sporting events). I have always preferred men’s tennis to women’s. So kill me, I like men better. But being in the stadium when Venus Williams is playing brings out the pride of a (largely) US  crowd with tens of thousands of people cheering and willing her to win. It’s powerful. And when you think about it, the Williams sisters have done more for American tennis in the recent decades than anyone else, Even if they are women. I like them now.

Venus is down there, I swear
The first question everyone asks when you return is who did you see? I saw Venus, I saw Andy Murray, I saw Djokvic, I saw Sam Querrey. We also got a good look at the broadcast set-up for Hannah Storm and Chrissy and Brad. Tony Bennett took a bow for the crowd at an evening game. 

As we were leaving the stadium the final night, I saw Geraldo Rivera posing for a picture. He attended our alma mater, the University of Arizona when he was Jerry Rivers. So I tugged on his blazer and said: “We went to U of A.” He looked at me and, genuinely interested, said “Oh yeah? Bear Down.”  “Bear Down Arizona” is our football fight song. All you have to do is say “bear down” to prove your legitimacy as a Wildcat. It’s like a secret handshake. My mother was always amused by this phrase because she thought “bear down” was something you would more likely hear from a birthing coach than a football coach.

But the best thing I saw was not the pros, broadcasters or celebs. It was the thousands of people who care as much about tennis as I do. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Whirs and Growls

The helicopters pads are started to fill up again, the blades are starting to whir. The gentle purring of the the tigers is beginning to turn to a low growl and the claws are slowing emerging.

Walt Whitman High School opened a few weeks ago and for the first time in seven years I do not have a student enrolled there.

My children attended the high school about which The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids was written. I can’t provide you with a review. I think my bookmark is still at page 10. My son was about to start freshman year, and the book simply made me too anxious.

Walt Whitman  is known as one of the best public high schools in the country. People move to neighborhoods with the sole purpose of being in the Whitman “cluster” thereby ensuring their children’s academic future. Sometimes they buy houses they don’t even like, but, by God, they are in the right school district. College recruiters light up when they see an application from Whitman. Students get a few extra points just for going there, in addition to the fact that their grades are very high and their SAT scores off the charts. The student body is dense with genius and sparse on density.

I have nothing but praise for Whitman. My children got an excellent education there and made friendships that will last a lifetime.

But Whitman is stressful. Being so smart and self-aware, even Whitman even knows it is stressful and is doing something about it. There is a “Stressbusters” committee for parents; and last year a period of mindfulness was incorporated into several classes.

There is something for everyone at Whitman, drama, robotics, fashion design, computer science, business internships, student government, international community service trips and a range of academic offerings sure to satisfy any brainiac and his or her helicopter or tiger parents. The kids have a tremendous sense of school spirit, and regularly break records for fundraising efforts.

Once in the Whitman community, you receive on average 15 daily emails: did you pay your PTSA dues, did you subscribe to the student newspaper, did you eat at a certain local restaurant to raise funds for x y or z club, did you pay for the parking pass, did you know the boys’ volleyball team is the playoffs, did you get your health forms in and have your baseline concussion testing, did you want to sign up for a trip to France during spring break, have you paid senior dues, returned all your books? Will you go to club night, international night, homecoming, prom, take the spirit bus to support the girls’ soccer state championships? Do you know a good physics tutor, a chemistry tutor, how about a writing coach for college essays? The artistic talent flows in that school just as thickly as IQ points. The annual student-run Talent Show approximates a Broadway production, and can sell out a 1,000 seat auditorium for up to three nights.

The County has developed two tools of torture that can cripple a stress-prone parent. About as much fun as water-boarding, Edline is a program that lets parents access daily reports of every grade in every classroom. It fluctuates wildly like the stock market. This can be a blessing and a curse, there is kind of mother (whirring sound) who checks Edline every day and confronts his or her child about a missed homework assignment or a poor grade OR the kind of mother I became with my second child, unplugged from Edline. He shot my helicopter right out of the sky. I have to thank him, there was a corresponding drop in my blood pressure.

Whitman hosts a meeting for parents and juniors on how to navigate the college search process. At this meeting you are handed a sharp and dangerous tool called Naviance. This program allows you to compare your student’s GPA and SAT to the records of how Whitman students fared in college admissions over the past five years. My favorite moment at Whitman was when I left that meeting and was followed by a member of the Stressbusters committee who went into a tirade about why that meeting is always geared to the student with the 3.75 grade point average. I wanted to tell her that’s who the audience is; if a kid who attends that meeting with a parent, there’s no doubt he or she has at least that kind of GPA. Most parents come alone.

When the bell rang on the final day of senior year, I felt as if I had finished a marathon. I felt as if I were the graduate, flooded by relief. When I see the WHSS bumper stickers on cars I can only read the acronym one way: Whitman High School Survivor.