Archive for the ‘Big’ Category

Service of Anonymity in a City: People are Watching

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Photo: thedailystar.net

Even in a big city strangers may notice you and kismet happens.

Starch in History

I told you about the neighborhood Chinese laundry man who asked me “what happened to lots of starch?” I’d just said “no starch, please” when I’d handed him a pile of men’s shirts and I’d not been in for a year. That was long ago.

Banking Coin

Photo: youtube

There’s a Chase branch near our apartment where I dropped off what seemed like eight pounds of coins we’d collected, wrapped in penny, nickel, dime and quarter rolls. As I entered, a customer service staffer asked how she might help and I handed her the shopping bag as I wasn’t sure what she’d want me to do. I began to search for my Chase customer card as we discussed cash vs. depositing to my account and she waved the card away saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” I am embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize her.

Lucky Bus

A most unusual thing happened to me during the early January 2018 storm dubbed bomb cyclone due to the wind exacerbating frigid temperatures.

The storm hit Thursday. Although friends and family suggested I stay home, I wanted to pick stuff up at the office and keep my appointment at Apple repair—which I wrote about in the most recent post. I usually walk but that day was planning to take the subway to Grand Central because stretches of sidewalk weren’t yet maintained turning patches into ice rinks. Plus the wind made the cold cut through my layers.

Photo: youtube.com

On my way I saw a bus on Second Avenue and 54th Street. I was on 53rd. I started towards the bus on the slushy, icy street. The bus had already closed its doors and was moving forward. Nevertheless, the driver stopped where I stood and opened the door. I expressed my appreciation—most drivers don’t do that once they’ve cleared a stop. We chatted until I exited at 46th Street.

Two days later, the temperature still in single digits, I headed to Trader Joe’s in the 30s. My cheeks were already wind burned so I’d again planned to take a subway when I saw a bus at 2nd Avenue and 54th Street. I was stuck waiting for the light at 53rd and made a mad dash across and up the street as soon as I could although it was a lost cause as the bus was already moving south. But again, I lucked out. The driver stopped to pick me up.

I was wrapped in the same fur headband and warm scarf—a Christmas gift—and as I scrambled up the steps I heard, “You again?” It was the same driver as on Thursday! He asked: “Where are you going today? You got off at 46th Street last time.” What a memory! What a nice man.

The sad end to the story for 2nd Avenue bus customers is that last Saturday was his last day on that route. The good news for Manhattan 79, 86 and 96 Street crosstown riders is that you might meet him driving east and west.

Sometimes a city doesn’t feel like such a big place and if you are lucky, people get to know you even when you’re not paying attention. Do you have similar city stories to share?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of Small Towns: Chaos and The 2017 Republican Tax Bill

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Photo: fedsmith.com

 

We have yet to see the fallout caused by the Republican tax bill passed so close to year’s end. For one thing, citizens and communities were unprepared, making plenty of mistakes amid chaos especially for those trying to save a buck by prepaying local taxes in states with hefty ones.

In New York State, for example, the governor signed an executive order on December 22, permitting citizens to pre-pay state and local property taxes which many did because of the $10,000 cap that kicks in next year. But this order happened five days before Federal guidelines were posted and plenty of folks moved fast, as New Yorkers tend to do, to take tax advantage one last time so they may not have submitted what they needed so they wasted their time.

The guidelines stated that “those prepayments could be deducted only in limited circumstances, a decision that appeared to invalidate many taxpayers’ efforts and raised the prospect that local governments could come under pressure to refund millions of dollars,” according to Washington Post reporters Peter Jamison, Jeff Stein and Patricia Sullivan.

“‘This is not the way to do legislation that will massively impact the entire economy. It sets off a flurry of action from people trying to save money, and they act as rash as the legislators who pushed this thing through,’ said Philip Hackney, a tax expert at Louisiana State University.”

After the executive order but before the Federal guidelines, local news reported people waiting in the cold for over an hour in certain Long Island towns. When we called our town clerk an administrator gave us the amount and she asked us to get the check to the office by noon two days later, Friday, the last working day of 2017. We could not prepay any of the school tax and had to pay all of the rest [no option, as in some communities, to make a partial payment].

Gov. Cuomo

When we spoke, the administrator hadn’t yet been informed, and we didn’t yet know, that to count, we needed the 2018 assessment to accompany the check. We subsequently found that out, once reporters got wind of the guidelines, and in time. I posit that many sent or delivered a check without the bill. Others based the amount of their check on a previous assessment. No go.

The day after we called, we visited the clerk’s office. The staff of two had neat files and boxes filled with bills on tables. Their work hours are only 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and yet they were ready.

This city slicker was impressed at how buttoned up and prepared they were.

Normally, our property tax is paid by our mortgage company—it’s part of what we send them monthly—so we notified the company that we had prepaid. The town clerk’s office will also verify this and we expect the mortgage company will refund our payment. Fingers crossed.

Jamison, Stein and Sullivan wrote that Virginia counties don’t mail their assessments until February [and no doubt counties all over the country are in similar binds]. In addition, “The tax law explicitly states that the $10,000 deduction cap cannot be avoided by prepayment of 2018 income taxes but had left open the question of whether it applied to prepaid property taxes.”

So who knows if prepayment will eventually be disallowed? Think of the mess and confusion refunds and tax revisions would cause.

  • Will the fact that some have prepaid because they could and others can’t, for whatever reason, disqualify all who tried to save money?
  • Will a governor’s executive order count in the end?

This is one tiny example of the fallout from such a sweeping change followed by so little time to implement guidelines. Did those who voted for the bill realize the bedlam they were creating by their last minute vote simply to satisfy their egos to show they got something done in 2017?

In a country where big rules and is most admired, can you think of other instances where small works more efficiently?

 

Photo: community.aras.com

Service of Ears to the Ground: Boards that Listen

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

ear to the ground

Last September I wrote a post “Service of Bigger is Better,” about institutions feeling pressure to grow bigger no matter what or how, a kneejerk impulse I disagree with.

Little Red Schoolhouse Photo: Thomas Schoeller, New Preston, CT

Little Red Schoolhouse Photo: Thomas Schoeller, New Preston, CT

At the time the school I attended from first through 12th grades was seriously exploring a move to a larger building. Responding to uproar from alumnae the board of trustees subsequently scotched that move. Good for them! My guess: trustees feared a deafening sound–the click of closing purses–although there were countless other sensible reasons to stay put.

In that fall post I also mentioned the Frick’s plans to expand which are again derailed. Granted the reason for the turnaround was to save the garden, not a protest over expanding simply for expansion’s sake. It  certainly counts as an example of directors listening.

Sarah Cascone shared details in artnet.com in “New York Times Reports Frick Museum Board Backs Down Over Plan to Destroy Garden.” She quoted an anonymous museum official: “There was just a number of voices out there, and we heard them.”

This is the fourth overturned Frick expansion since 2001. Cascone referred to all the other fat cat museums–Whitney, MoMA and The Metropolitan Museum of Art–and their dramatically increased exhibition space that must sorely tempt the Frick to follow suit.

Frick garden. Photo: Timesunion.com

Frick garden. Photo: Timesunion.com

Cascone wrote that her publication “was among the first to advocate for the preservation of the garden as an important green space and visual respite in the neighborhood” followed by the president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Charles Birnbaum, who let it be known that the garden was the only example in NYC of landscape architect Russell Page’s work. Bringing up a 38 year old press release, Birnbaum parried Frick Museum director Ian Wardropper who called the garden a “temporary placeholder for an addition.” The release described the “garden as a permanent addition to the institution’s grounds.”

The list of voices against destroying the garden grew louder, from a former Frick Museum director to a “Unite to Save the Frick” initiative involving high profile protestors such as architects Robert A.M. Stern and Maya Lin as well as former directors of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Quoting Wardropper, Casone wrote: “Preserving the unique residential character and intimate scale of the Frick will remain our top priority.” And that’s my point.

Have you seen happy endings like these? Do you think the Frick trustees will try for a fifth expansion? If an institution can’t grow physically, what does an art museum director or president do to make his/her mark? Is growth and change necessary to keep an institution alive?

Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

Service of Bigger is Better

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Bigger better

I don’t believe institutions need to occupy more space to be better, and see few benefits apart from the jobs expansion generates.

The private school I attended has hired a company to find it a larger building. It currently inhabits a big and several smaller ones. With so many talented architects and interior designers who know how to squeeze the most out of space, getting something bigger seems like a waste of money. Spending the money on teacher salaries, scholarships and upgraded computer capabilities would be a better plan. My checkbook will remain closed when I receive the anticipated requests to support a bigger and better building.

Delaware Art MuseumThen there’s the Frick that’s about to swell and the Delaware Art Museum [photo right] that felt forced to sell artwork to pay for its expansion that, in the end, didn’t positively affect attendance. The latter museum’s administration is being scolded by its peers for selling its treasure, a stopgap measure at best. Deborah Solomonaug covered the intrigue in The New York Times in “Censured Delaware Art Museum Plans to Divest More Works.

Adding to the debate, here are highlights of our recent visit to a bigger–so it must be better–museum.

Guides directed us to a parking lot at the expanded, new and improved Clark Museum in Williamstown, Mass. [photos below left and right] which we’ve visited many times before. Formerly we parked outside the main entrance where the admissions booth was. Where we parked last week clearly wasn’t the main lot. As a result, we began a preposterous trek that helped accentuate the ungainly plan of the  new place.

Clark MuseumWe followed a path to the closest entrance which landed us in museum offices. A helpful administrator jumped up and showed us to a door which led us through a research library. They were expecting company: At the end of the library’s main aisle was a guard stationed to wave us forward and no doubt to watch that we didn’t take a detour through the stacks.

As we left the library he pointed to our next door, which took us outside again. He told us to be sure to admire the new water pools—where the original parking lot was. He mentioned the number of doors we should bypass to get to the cashier. Off we went on another stroll. I couldn’t help think what such a ramble in and out would be like in bitter heat or cold, rain or snow. The guard said we could take a golf cart back to the parking lot. I saw one wandering around the property carrying a large family. The kids enjoyed the ride. It didn’t seem efficient.

We entered the correct door but still no admissions desk in sight. Following an arrow we walked down a long hall passing the gift store and finally, to a gracious foyer at the back of which were information and admissions desks. This was the new part of the museum where additional special exhibition spaces are.

However, to visit the main museum, our old friend, off we went again past the gift shop, down the long hall and into another entrance where, that day, you couldn’t buy a ticket.

Clark museum 2Critics gave the expansion rave reviews. Evidently the media didn’t zigzag as we did. The addition is attractive yet the architect had a lapse when joining the old with the new.

More to the point: Was the expansion practical or necessary? How many people will be able to avail themselves of exhibits in the expanded space? Williamstown is charming but inaccessible by public transportation, though as we left town, we saw a Peter Pan bus parked outside the local inn.

Do you think that institutions must increase their footprints for survival or in some cases, is such expenditure the first step towards doom? What is really behind such expansion: ego and folly perhaps?

Big floorplan

Service of Brand Loyalty

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

loyalty

I don’t usually identify brands when I have something negative to write, but since Ann Zimmerman let the crayon out of the box in a front page story in The Wall Street Journal, I decided to comment about the reaction she described to a product introduction, Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles.

The title and subtitle of her article summarize parents’ experience with the $10/bottle February launch: “Crayola’s Colorful Soapy Bubbles Leave Indelible Memories…When They Burst, as They Always Do, Cleaning Up Can Be Challenging.”

bubbleZimmerman reports “The problem: when the bubbles pop [or the solutions splash], they leave a neon-bright-and, parents complain, often permanent-mess. Despite the large type on the front of the bottles that says ‘Washable.'” Zimmerman continues that along with staining skin, according to “product review sites such as Amazon.com and Twitter, it is best to keep the floating bubbles away from walls, carpets, driveways, decks, grout-and just about everything else.”

The bottle features an unusual thing for bubbles: A long warning. While Zimmerman notes that most have none, Crayola’s alerts parents to first test surfaces for staining.

chemistIt took years for the brand to introduce its version of colored bubbles. Meanwhile, Tim Kehoe collaborated with a chemist to invent Zubbles in 2005, which received Popular Science‘s Grand Award for General Innovation. Kehoe ran out of money to mass market his bubbles and sold Zubbles, Zimmerman reported, which she noted nevertheless gets “glowing” praise in Amazon comments. It is available online and in select toy stores.

A few weeks ago a darling 2 ½ year old child’s visit to the office reminded me of just how deep-rooted the Crayola brand continues to be. She is the grandchild of an office colleague. Her sandwich was in a plastic container the shape of a standard white or whole-wheat bread slice, decorated with the Crayola logo. Her granddad joked about storing crayons in her sandwich box and she howled with laughter and noted, between guffaws, that “you shouldn’t eat crayons!”

I am disappointed with Crayola. This new product is designed for children to play with; it’s not hair dye or textile finishing spray that usually comes with warnings to test first! How come a giant corporation couldn’t concoct what a few entrepreneurs did?

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you gave a child a gift of these bubbles and they ruined the walls or floors of a friend or relative’s home? Do you think management thought through the ramifications of releasing such an imperfect product? And as a consumer, if you can’t trust a brand like Crayola, what can you trust?

trust

Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad

Monday, April 4th, 2011

computerglitch

I know of three recent instances in which large corporations made small business people look incompetent or irresponsible. I had to share.

A friend thought he’d lost it when he tried to download a document to a major international office support business. No matter what he clicked or how hard he tried to follow the instructions, he couldn’t send it. He finally picked up his laptop and brought it to the store. When he got there–the branch doesn’t give out its phone number–the staffer said, “Oh, you have a Mac. You can’t always download from a Mac.” Couldn’t the website have noted this weakness in a warning? Is a customer’s time of no value? I empathize. When technology lets me down I always blame myself.

vintagetelephoneoperatorThe second instance happened to me. A client was setting up his booth at an exhibit in NYC. I was on call should he need anything as his partner wasn’t able to assist him. I didn’t leave my office from the time I knew he was scheduled to download at the dock at 12:45. I check the phone periodically–a habit–by picking up the handset to hear if the telltale quick dial tone indicates that I have messages. After 4, there was one. My client left it for me at 1:30. I was horrified. My voicemail is part of a major corporation’s package. It’s not the first time that the phone message system has let me down. I’ve been at work until 8 pm some nights and only the next morning do I get a message left for me at 4 or 5 pm the day before.

And then there are those missing emails. I know I don’t get all of mine. The proof: Just last week I read an email response sent to many people on a committee. I’m a member but I never got the original one. When I checked, I was on the first TO: list. Scary.

On the bright side, there was some service connected to these instances of big companies making small ones look bad: They translated into a post.

These examples are not a conspiracy to knock out the small guy. No company deliberately harms its customers. I nevertheless feel helpless and frustrated because I can’t control every aspect of my business. Can anyone? Do you have any similar examples?

juggler

Service of Big

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

big-and-small

America is founded on big is better, though pundits analyzing a downturn at Wal*Mart are noting that bulk purchases are going out of style and people are ferreting out better bargains at smaller drugstore and other chains.

Some people favor doing business with small companies or entities and others feel more secure with big ones. And many times, we have no choice.

In anycase, I’m  finding that suddenly some of the giants are dropping balls big time and all over.

Mail-errrr

envelopeThe USPS rejected all the cards I sent and re-sent to a friend who lives in Brooklyn. [I got back her Christmas card in late January!] After she got no support from her post office–the clerk told her that the address was incorrect when it wasn’t–I wrote the USPS NY district manager. It’s a matter of pride: She’s a foreigner and my postal service was messing up.

I got a phone call from a charming person in Manhattan’s customer relations who empathized with my frustration and another one sent me an email. One noted that to help substitute postal delivery staff I had to affix an apartment number to a multiple family dwelling, which hers is.

I explained she doesn’t have an apartment number, that there are three tenants in the house, she lives on the second floor, and one of the tenants brings in the mail from where the postman leaves it outside and the others get it from a table.

I agreed to add “2nd Floor” next time. I haven’t had a reason-or the heart-to send something to see if my efforts have unclogged the system when it comes to personal mail. [She gets bank statements, phone bills and books ordered online.] Yesterday a Brooklyn USPS customer relations person left me a voice message and we’ve played phone tag. I must have hit a nerve.

Meanwhile my sister’s Valentine took over one week to get from Westchester to Manhattan and a second card, from the Midwest, came two weeks late and the stamp wasn’t cancelled.

Untitled

Several times a week we see “data unavailable” where our cable company posts the title of a program. TV isn’t essential, but we pay plenty to get it. If I tune in when a commercial is running, which is most of the time, I’d like to know what’s on.

Dumbphone

smartphone1I bought my smartphone from a wonderful man whose business is connected with a major wireless phone provider. He has taught me all sorts of tricks to fix what periodically ails the device. I pulled out all the stops last week to no effect. All emails had stopped but the phone and Internet browser worked.

My phone maven wasn’t in the store that day-a first. The young man who “helped” me told me I hadn’t received any emails. Good luck. Then he tried something ineffective, handed back the phone, said it was broken, that I should take it to the [dreaded] repair office, turned his back on me and walked away.

Back at my office I found a toll free number captured from a previous breakdown [given to me by an upstate branch of this company]. Two hours after the tech person worked me through various remedies, emails appeared. [It should have revived in 20 minutes, but I was grateful anyway.]

Playing Hard to Get

I use a pharmacy connected to a chain that is gobbling up the competition. The revised Rx renewal system is sick. When the automatic refill computer voice didn’t recognize my prescription number, I called back with one option: To leave a voice message. [I used to speak with someone in the pharmacy department.] I  asked that someone confirm that my order is back on track and waiting for me. Nobody did. I went in, learned that they have a new computer system, that in transferring information much was lost and had to return the next day to pick up the order. The branch is a block from my apartment and on my way home from the office which is fortunate time-waste-wise.

druglinesI felt sorry for the counter person the first night I came in: Everything seemed to go wrong due to the new computer system. On top of my case, she was searching for a young woman’s insurance information. The computer had kept seven year old stats. I must hand it to her: She handled this–and a line that had grown to eight people–cooly and calmly.

Judgement Call

For 20 years a friend has told the Manhattan jury system about her married name yet they consistently send jury duty notifications to both names which then takes hours to untangle. Even this expert communicator is flummoxed.

Are these glitches exclusive to New York City? What big company malfunctions have stymied you lately? Is big really better?

bigsmall2

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