Service of Freebies

August 21st, 2014

Categories: Ethics, Freebies, Politicians, Taxes


In one of my first real jobs after college the policy was clear: If you interview someone who works for a match manufacturer, don’t let anyone even light your cigarette and don’t accept a book of them. I subscribe to this philosophy for myself today although I’m not always book of matchesas strict when observing others’ behavior.

Standing in line at a service station to pay for milk and a lotto ticket last week the cashier waved at a State Trooper, who’d made himself a cup of coffee, and called out, “Go on!” He did, without paying. Didn’t bother me. My husband thought he should have paid.

In “P.R. pros evaluate mayor’s free rides,” on, Andrew J. Hawkins reported that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t pay for his subway rides. I don’t think that police staff or MTA workers do either. So that didn’t bother me.

ItalyWhat did was when I read Michael Howard Saul’s article in The Wall Street Journal that taxpayers covered the cost of his white Mercedes and driver during his vacation in Italy, [his spokesperson wouldn't tell Saul what it cost]; his travel expenses to a family funeral in Massachusetts last weekend and to Atlantic City for non-work related reasons in May.

I thought of the matches when I read earlier that his children were given coveted City Hall internships–a leg up on any young person’s resume even if unpaid. The Mayor got the OK from the conflict of interest board. Legality isn’t the issue.

Back to Hawkins who wrote: “Other elected officials said they reimbursed the city for non-official travel, but the mayor’s office pointed to a ruling that allows him to travel on the public’s dime.” I wonder if employers/clients would welcome taxi/car rental charges from employees/consultant’s vacations on expense/out of pocket reports? Sure it happens. But should it? Remember the matches.

Where do you draw the line? Should public officials be models of behavior? Am I too straight-laced on the subject?

draw the line

Service of Call Me Crazy

August 18th, 2014

Categories: Instructions, Signage

pin the tail on donkey

After reading her post on Facebook I asked Jackie Herships if I might use her tale here. Jackie is a writer and marketing guru who co-founded Professionals in Media PIM, a LinkedIn Group, with Michele Hollow, a writer/editor/author. Her story is an example of how a local authority can make a person feel like they’re in a game of pin the tail on the donkey. The mask or scarf is in place, the next player has been spun around and is sent off to hit the target with arms outstretched.

Jackie Herships

Jackie Herships

The authority in Jackie’s instance was sharp and eagle-eyed to begin with and in follow-through became inefficient and unclear, creating a setup-to-fail dynamic.

This is Jackie’s story:

On my way to Healthy Bones, my Senior Exercise Class at the Millburn Library [in New Jersey], I parked in a handicapped spot – had a senior moment – and forgot to put up my handicapped placard. So, of course I got a Ticket! Bummer.

But Millburn, bless its heart, didn’t charge.

However, they did want to get their chance at dressing me down. So I dutifully went to plead guilty of forgetting, which I found, they’re pretty good at, too. That is to say, they put an address on the Ticket which appeared NOWHERE on the building, where there was also no mention of its being a COURTHOUSE.

Handicapped parkingIn addition, there was nowhere to park for more than 15 minutes in front or in the Wells Fargo lot across the street which has multiple signs threatening towing. The sign warned “This lot is for Wells Fargo Customers only.  All others will be towed,”

I lurked inside the entrance to the Wells Fargo lot until I saw another woman drive in, park, and walk across the road to the Courthouse.  I parked in a spot near one of the signs, figuratively crossed my fingers, and walked across to the Courthouse where I was questioned loudly by the metal detector attendant…”why are you here?” “I parked in a handicapped spot but forgot to put up my handicapped placard.” “Oh, what happened…did you drop it?” “No, I had a Senior Moment.  Are you the judge?”  “Nope – and he waved me in.”

When it was my turn, I held up my placard and my handicapped citizens card.  Judge looking at the clerk:  “Are those hers?”  Clerk: “Yes, they’re hers – I checked…They’re good.”  And that was that. 

The ticket itself called for a date and time – as did a computer generated reminder which declared that my court date had been rescheduled for the same date and time, leaving me to conclude that confusion and lack of clarity are not specifically senior conditions, but begin in early adulthood and get embedded into the system where they tend to remain until and only when they are blasted out by someone so frustrated that he/she is willing to storm the barricades. Would it be so difficult to call the Courthouse a Courthouse?

Have you been confounded by poorly written instructions either by the government or other entity adding insult to injury in your attempt to fix things according to Hoyle?

dade county courthouse


Service of Words II

August 14th, 2014

Categories: Education, Interior Design, Words


In an article, “The Friendliest Place in the House,” Amy Gamerman advised Wall Street Journal readers not to call a porch a deck. She wrote: “As porches have grown in popularity, ‘deck’ has become the new four-letter word of high-end home design. ‘We never use the word deck, it’s a pejorative term; we always use the word porch. It could be any covered outdoor space,’ said Stephen Vanze, a partner in Barnes Vanze Architects in Washington, D.C.”

deckArrogance aside, what puzzled me was that to me a porch doesn’t resemble a deck, a covered deck is just that, so why use the wrong word for the sake of fashion or to confuse?

I take words literally. I was studying the online catalog of a prominent NYC continuing education venue to promote appropriate classes to members of New York Women in Communications. I noticed that the prices were listed “From $385” or adult education class“From $485,” or “From $Something” so I called customer service. In that context, “from” meant that the prices started at $385 or $485 and I wanted to learn what might cause them to fluctuate upwards. The customer service person confirmed that these were the prices. I suggested he ask someone to delete the confusing word in every course description and he giggled and asked why—“if they have a question they can call customer service,” he said.

Do you change terminology after reading an article like the one about porches/decks? Have you questioned a word in instructions, regarding prices or a procedure enough to have to call someone about it?


Service of Hit and Run

August 11th, 2014

Categories: Caring, Help, Hit and Run

falling down

A good friend raised my goose bumps when she told me two men deep in conversation ran into her on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Station three months ago, knocking her to the ground. They kept on walking, never looking back. Another man and a policeman helped her up and checked that she was alright. She is.

A few weeks ago, inside the station, a man slammed into me with such force that he threw me into the path of another man and I bumped into him. I apologized, he looked at me as though I had nerve and the first person, long gone, never said a word.

danger of falling down stairsAnother friend reached her upstate New York stop one Friday night on a commuter train with a dog that was so anxious to hit the grass she dragged her down the stairs so she fell. Did the passenger behind her stop to help her up? Nope. He hopped over her as though she was a puddle and dashed off to the parking lot.

Years ago I flew in the air and then to the ground on a subway platform as I walked from a local to an express train. The young man who crashed into me because he was running on the platform at top speed was mortified, apologetic, helped me up, and kept asking me if I was OK as I hobbled into the second subway.

So what’s going on today?

helping someone upI’ve lived in this city most of my life. I had a kind of antenna that guided me through crowds, across busy streets and on swarming sidewalks with zero contact most of the time. Is the city more crowded now? Are there no more unwritten rules of navigation?  Wherever we live are we so deadened to what’s going on around us we can cause injury and not even realize it?

child helping up another


Service of Patriotism

August 7th, 2014

Categories: Investment, Patriotism, Retail


I cheered when I heard NPR Radio’s coverage yesterday morning of drugstore chain Walgreens’ decision to keep its headquarters in Illinois rather than in Europe where it had considered moving to save on taxes. It is in the final stages of purchasing pharmacy chain Alliance Boots headquartered in Switzerland. At the end of the segment the reporter noted that the stock was down 15 points.

WalgreensUSA Today’s headline on Adam Shell’s story was “Walgreens move to keep HQ in USA gets thumbs-down from Wall Street.”

In The Wall Street Journal’s Marketplace section, Damian Paletta and Dana Mattioli wrote: “The Walgreen situation has been widely watched because most tax-beneficial merger deals lately have been in the pharmaceutical industry, where many companies have substantial profits overseas.”

double punchLater in “A Double Punch for Tax ‘Inversion,’” Paletta and Mattioli reported: “Companies, especially ones in health care, have been busily striking inversion deals in the past year. But lately, a chorus has risen against the deals. President Barack Obama last month dubbed them ‘wrong’ and called on Congress to do something about what he termed an ‘unpatriotic tax loophole.’”

Just whom do the American investors think would make up the loss in tax revenue? Can’t you hear some of these same people sniffing self-righteously that they’d never invest in a company that made firearms or cigarettes? Had Walgreens headquarters moved abroad there would be more than lost tax revenues: What about jobs in the Land of Lincoln?

While microscopic potatoes as compared to Walgreens and its some 8,200 stores [this estimate according to Paletta and Mattioli], I’ve written previously about a renowned southern living history museum that once sold American-made reproductions. My husband and I have stopped buying their wares. The tavern glasses we subsequently ordered from their catalog weren’t near the quality of those we’d bought in the gift store. Further: The second set was made abroad.

What’s with us? Why have investors become so numb? Is patriotism old fashioned, out of sync with life today and no longer a factor in the public’s buying decisions?

what's up doc

Service of New York Experiences: Surprise Elegance and Not

August 4th, 2014

Categories: Courtesy, Customer Service, Restaurant, Service, Service Personality

Panama hat

I recently bought low-priced items from people working tough jobs in uncomfortable circumstances with very different service experiences.

I paid $10 for something from a street cart and was impressed by the vendor’s elegant approach. There was nothing stylish or surprising about his goods or merchandising. His scarves, hats and paraphernalia looked like those on similar carts around the city. The temperature was flirting with 90 and the typical NYC summer humidity was enough to make anyone feel grumpy and lethargic if they were stuck on the street all day.



I handed the money to his young assistant who’d been helping me which she gave to him. [It was the first time I saw him.] She asked me if I wanted a bag. I said I didn’t want to eat into the profits. He took my item, opened an “I love NY” plastic sack, placed my purchase inside and handed it to me as though it was an important purchase wrapped in the finest paper bag with elegant logo and ribbon handles. His expression: “we do things right here.” I’ve been treated with far less decorum by sales associates at luxury retail establishments. 

A few days before I was on lunch break from jury duty in one of the handsome buildings seen on the “Law & Order” TV series in downtown Manhattan. Given the time I had to eat and return to the jury waiting area I decided takeout was the wise option. Heading toward Chinatown I saw a short line of men wearing suits or business pants and shirts. They were outside a tiny establishment that accommodated two people at the serving counter and sold only dumplings and buns. The shabby shop on a narrow street nevertheless had an A sanitation rating.

Chinese dumplingsThe middle aged woman taking and fulfilling the orders barked at customers if she spoke at all. The customer behind me was familiar with the routine and guided me. I can’t blame her: Given the scorching hot dumplings—I had to wait quite a while before I could eat them without burning my mouth—imagine standing behind a steam apparatus that heated the food on a summer afternoon. I didn’t feel air conditioning inside. The dumplings cost $1 for five. I ate most of 10 on a bench outside a playground in the shade of a giant tree.

I was happy with my purchase from the street vendor because of his positive approach. The shockingly modest price of the toothsome dumplings and unconventional lunch [I usually eat yogurt and popcorn at my desk] balanced the unfriendly communication with the restaurant server. [I say restaurant as there were a few stools for those who wanted to eat in.] Who expects a smile with $2 worth of dumplings?

Do you anticipate reduced treatment when you don’t pay a lot and are you at times surprised?



Service of Paying Your Bills

July 31st, 2014

Categories: Bills, Responsibility

Paying bills 1

At the time I thought my mother was obsessive when she’d send money to her credit card company before leaving on an extended trip. She had a good credit line so she didn’t need to worry about using it up. She pre-paid because she wouldn’t be home to mail the bill in on time. I can’t point fingers at the behavior now as it has rubbed off on me.

Seems thousands of Detroit’s water department customers don’t share this practice. Some 17,000 of them ignored their water bills—including giant corporations, the city and state. I heard Sarah Cwiek describe the situation on NPR. Water at most—but not all–of these accounts was shut off at once.

Drinking water 3Exceptions to the shutoff were General Motors that owes $millions and is disputing the bill and Chrysler that paid its debt. The city owed $20 million for its municipal buildings, has paid $4 million with the rest in review and the state owes $5 million. The state says it isn’t responsible for leaky pipes on the fair grounds and therefore doesn’t owe the money.

Darryl Latimer, deputy director and chief customer service officer of the Detroit water and Sewerage Department told Cwiek he couldn’t say why people ignored their water bills.

Drinking water 2The water department took what some describe as this dramatic step in an attempt to restructure a bankrupt and poorly managed service in record time. In spite of receiving shutoff warning notices with past due bills some felt that before initiating a massive shutoff the department owed its customers a major, widely publicized warning and before shutting off the water, someone should have researched which of the accounts served customers with young children and the elderly. Some approached a UN Panel because they felt the shutoff was a human rights violation. The panel declared it would be such a violation only if it affected people truly unable to pay.

Since I heard the program and began to write the post, Hannah Hendler at The Agenda Project wrote the following in a July 24 email: “DETROIT’S WATER WARS — Detroit placed a temporary halt on dangerous water shutoffs following concerted action by the Detroit Water Brigade, People’s Water Board Coalition, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, We the People of Detroit and many more.”

Are you easygoing or rigorous about paying your bills? Are you more diligent about paying some bills than others? Do you believe that Detroit’s water department should have taken a softer approach to get the money due it? Should there have been any exceptions to the shutoff? How do people expect a waterworks to function without the money to run it?

Water faucet

Service of Beating the Odds: Paul Wittgenstein & Joe Biden

July 28th, 2014

Categories: Beat the Odds, Music, Politics

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein

These instances aren’t news. I became aware of them recently inspiring today’s post and me.


In NPR’s coverage of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this morning, Tom Huizenga focused on the “Music of Conflict and Remembrance.” He also covered Austrian-born pianist Paul Wittgenstein whose career was literally shaped by the war.

Wittgenstein [1887-1961], lost his right arm when he was shot in the elbow yet he was determined to perform and “commissioned composers including Maurice Ravel to write pieces for the left hand alone.” Huizenga reported that Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith and Sergei Prokofiev also wrote such pieces.


Vice President Joe Biden stuttered as a child. Evan Osnos wrote in “The Biden Agenda,” in The New Yorker: “When Biden reflects on his childhood, he lingers on the experience of having a stutter.” His nickname was Joe Impedimenta.

Biden told Osmos he overcame the stutter by anticipating “what you think you’re going to be confronted with.” He’d practice the response as in, “how ‘bout those Yankees?” And he “Took to reciting passages—Yeats, Emerson, the Declaration of Independence—and by his sophomore year in high school the stutter was giving way. He won a race for junior-class president and won again the next year.”

Today Biden doesn’t like reading aloud so he avoids teleprompters–and written speeches–and prefers to speak extemporaneously.

There are countless inspirational examples like these in which people pursue a goal regardless. Please share some of your favorites.

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden

Service of More Than Expected at Bergdorf’s and Blue Water Grill

July 24th, 2014

Categories: Restaurant, Retail, Service, Value Added


As a result of a weak and fluctuating economy we increasingly find treasures–people in service positions they might not ordinarily have yet who enhance customers’ experiences exponentially. They perform their jobs magnificently and in good spirit even if what they are doing may be unrelated to their vocations.

Walking a Mile in His Shoes

Bergdorf's. Photo: Wikipedia

Bergdorf’s. Photo: Wikipedia

A colleague and Bergdorf Goodman shopper shared this anecdote. Her salesman asked her for what occasion she was looking for shoes and she told him the Matrix Awards. He knew all about the awards, he said, as he’d seen the full page New York Times adverts about the New York Women in Communications-sponsored annual event.

I’m acquainted with a former magazine editor-turned shoe salesman at Bergdorf’s-turned top marketer for another major luxury retailer so I jumped to the conclusion that this savvy salesman was on hiatus from a post as communications director somewhere or maybe he was a fashion designer or artist in his other life.

Courting his Customers

Blue Water Grill. Photo: venuebook

Blue Water Grill. Photo: venuebook

Seven of us met for lunch at Blue Water Grill. Our waiter, Christos, was the best I can remember having in NYC for so many reasons.

As you arrived he asked if you’d like a drink. He made you feel as though you were at a friend’s home. If you said, “Not now, thanks,” your friend would move on to another subject and ask you again later. Christos’ reaction was similar, yet he wasn’t familiar. [Everyone ordered something to drink eventually.] As he described the restaurant’s raw fish bar, he mentioned that if anyone wanted just a taste, they could order one of any item. He tempted but never pressured us. We were comfortable. I was cheering inside.

My guess was that Christos had been to umpteen restaurants where he disliked the rolling eyes and impatient attitude of wait staff that tries to cajole and flatter customers to order food and drink that they don’t want. He was always ready to describe, suggest and serve.

Before we arrived, Elaine Siegel, who organized the lunch, had asked Christos for a separate bar bill. He raised the bar. At the end of lunch he handed each of us our bill and each was accurate as to food, drinks, coffee, and appetizers. Remember: We were seven. I can’t count the times I’ve been discouraged to request checks for three credit cards. And he hadn’t written a single order. Not only that, he took the orders at random, when he sensed the guest was ready, not in the order in which they were seated. What a memory!

Christos’ other life: he’s a writer and film director which he admitted only after we pressed him.

Have you basked in such intelligent service?

Cat basking in the sun

Service of Shouting

July 21st, 2014

Categories: Communications, Shouting, Speaking, Yelling

shouting 1

Americans—or maybe people in general–seem to think that if they raise their voices, they’ll get the reaction they hope for.

One of the comedians at an event I attended recently wasn’t getting the laughs she’d hoped for. Seeking to make the phrase witty she raised her voice, expecting that the volume, in addition to the repetition, would resuscitate a tired, overused expression. The audience was neither deaf nor stupid nor did most react to the ear-splitting noise: I looked around and saw straight lips and glazed eyes.

PatientI noticed a similar attempt to inspire a reaction at an in-law’s bedside. The patient couldn’t move or speak so visitors thought yelling at her would help. They’d lean over and shriek, even after her son assured them she could hear perfectly well and asked them to please lower their voices. Soon they were shouting again because she still wasn’t responding.

Ever hear Americans communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English? They slow their words and speak as loudly as their lungs will allow expecting the volume to perform the trick of translation.

Are there other instances in which people feel volume enhances communication? In a brief Google search I wasn’t able to learn the reason. Your guess?

 Shouting 2

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