Archive for August, 2023

Service of Small-Town America

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

My sister, Elizabeth Baecher, welcoming the French Deputy Consul General and other guests to the ceremony in honor of the 125-year-old monument.
Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, NY

I’m a native of Manhattan with city sidewalks in my veins. For years I considered that anyone who settled in a place with a few blades of grass lived in the country. Then we bought a house in upstate New York in deep dish country in a town with, I suspect, more beavers and deer than people [1,500 of the latter].

I’ve been gone long enough to once again be charmed by small-town events and to acknowledge the best of life there. Last weekend I attended a ceremony in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette in Fishkill, NY, population of around 2,100. It was the 125th anniversary of a monument to him in the Rombout Rural Cemetery on Rte. 52.

Turned out that Lafayette convalesced for a month in the Brinckerhoff House up the road from the cemetery. In 1898 the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a monument to him, hence the celebration.

Each of the speakers were interesting, [and brief], and many of the attendees were friendly. Damien Laban, French Deputy Consul General in New York, was the special guest and my sister, Elizabeth Baecher, read the welcome remarks in French. In addition, there was the Presentation and Retiring of the Colors by the Town of Fishkill Police Cadets Color Guard and taps played during the laying of the wreath.

The day didn’t end there. After a lovely brunch as guests of the Brinckerhoff House, now an inn, we visited the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y. in its 177th year. It was my first visit [although for 25 years I lived 40 minutes away from the fairgrounds and attended many a craft fair there]. I was taken aback by the thousands of attendees on the last day of the weeklong event and especially enjoyed the exhibit of vintage farm equipment still in working order and chugging away. We saw the old machines that turned stones to gravel, removed corn from cobs, sawed medium to giant tree limbs or pumped water. We enjoyed the fiddler, banjo player and country singer too—and so much more.

I’m a New York city person through and through but there is something civilized and charming about small-town America and its traditions, don’t you think? Are there local traditions that you enjoy where you live or visit?

Dutchess County Fair

Service of Perks Denied

Monday, August 28th, 2023

This restaurant charges for [very tasty] bread.

The custom of offering free coffee, iced tea or soda refills has never been universal and differs between communities and restaurants but I’ve always enjoyed it when it happens. In 2010 in “Service of Bonuses” on this blog I remembered books of Lifesavers sent to my mother at Christmas time because she was a stockholder. I’ve never received any goodies from corporations in which I hold stock.

And who doesn’t love encores at a concert?

In The Wall Street Journal Dawn Gilbertson wrote “This Hotel Perk Used to Be Free. Not Anymore. Visitors wanting to check in early or check out late are surprised to find they have to pay up.” It can cost from $25-$150 depending on the venue, she reported.

One of my friends goes nuts when she’s charged for a cup of tap water and ice after she’s bought a substantial number of sandwiches and chips at a deli.

Restaurants used to provide a basket of bread and butter or olive oil with a meal. In many NYC restaurants you must now ask—and pay for—bread and even extra sauce.

Five years ago Beth Landman wrote “The most outrageous restaurant overcharges,” in the New York Post. There’s a notation that the article was updated since 2018 but it doesn’t specify when. Still, you get the idea. She reported:

  • $12 for freshly grated wasabi at Tetsu
  • $2 for a [homemade] marshmallow on hot chocolate at City Bakery
  • $9 per person for bottled water at the Pool
  • $3 for steak sauce at BLT Prime
  • $6 to $7 for bread and butter

My credit card rewards seem to have shrunk while my charges have increased.

Have you noticed that you are now paying for things that once were free?

According to a customer review on Yelp, The Smith offers both still and sparkling water free of charge.

Service of What’s Mine is Not Yours

Thursday, August 24th, 2023

There have been countless news features about people breaking windows and display cases and wholesale robbing jewelry and handbags from high fashion stores as well as swooping items off drugstore shelves and goods from the ground floor of department stores.

Many of us have been impacted as well by cybertheft.

Some theft is subtler than what happens when thieves break into stores and smash display cases. Manufacturers of luxury goods and foods have long fought counterfeiters who charge a few hundred dollars for fake $5,000 handbags or palm off cheap versions of pricey cheese or wine as the real thing.

Is this “real” Parmesan?

The Parmesan cheese people in Italy have come up with a new way to fight the makers of fake parmesan by putting a chip in the skin of their wheels wrote Joanna Partridge in The Guardian. When I heard about the embedded microtransponders I thought of jars of pitted olives or cherries and how even with the pitted claim, I’m careful as it’s so easy to munch on a rogue pit and crack a tooth.

I don’t think we need to worry about swallowing or chomping into these teensy chips—she says that are about the size of a grain of salt inserted in the label—because neither I, nor most others, eats parmesan’s hard outer skin and certainly not the label.

Partridge reported that parmesan, which she noted was first made by Benedictine and Cistercian monks over 1,000 years ago, “is one of the most counterfeited cheeses in the world.”

She continued: “The cheese, which can trace its history back to the middle ages, gained the EU’s prized protected designation of origin (PDO) status in 1996. Under those rules parmigiano reggiano – the only kind which can be called parmesan within Europe – must be made in a small part of northern Italy, including in the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia.”

The extensive PDO list is fascinating. It ranges from brands I’ve never heard of such as Dons wine from Southern Denmark and Lapin Puikula, a potato from Lapland to Abondance, a cheese from Haute Savoie, and the better-known Champagne and Camembert de Normandie. 

The chip should help to confirm that stores, where PDO rules prevail***, are buying and paying for the right 88lb wheel of parm but I’m not sure how consumers will know whether the chunks they purchase are knockoffs or real. Partridge reported that “Last year, the PRC was successful in blocking the US food giant Kraft Heinz from registering the ‘Kraft parmesan cheese’ trademark in Ecuador, and hailed this as a notable victory, given that the EU’s PDO status is not recognised everywhere outside Europe.”

***The United States does not recognize it. Should it? Do you wonder, when paying a lot or a little for well-known products, such as parmesan, that you may not be buying the real thing?

Do you think that the chip will help discourage faux parmesan sellers in the EU and UK and effectively protect the brand? Have you seen other ways luxury brands protect their goods? Can you think of more effective steps food and wine producers and manufacturers can take?

Coach on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

Service of Get Real

Monday, August 21st, 2023

These peaches were $5.00/lb at the Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan

I wonder about the decisions editors and reporters make in choosing to cover a topic or to follow a story. I am thrilled when they select to run my clients’ news–natch. This post isn’t a criticism. It’s more of a reflection of how out of it I must be for zeroing in on the following instances.

I love reading advice columns but one of the questions New York Times Ethicist columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah chose made me roll my eyes. I couldn’t help saying “really???” out loud. How many of us would like to have this issue and I suspect so few do so why cover it?

The question came from a person who had been married a decade and was 44. He never told his spouse that he had a trust fund that spun off $25,000 a month and keeping the secret was weighing heavily on him. Should he tell his spouse?

I could see Appiah responding to readers seeking advice because they secretly owed $millions or had done something dastardly that would soon be exposed. I can’t help but feel that the reader was showing off his enviable financial situation.

And then there was the scrumptious looking dessert that Yotam Ottolenghi wrote about in “Every Peach Shines in This Tart,” in the same paper. Had Ottolenghi noticed the price of peaches this summer? I made a nectarine pie for a party I attended earlier this summer as they were not selling for almost $1 each or $4.00+/lb. [They ran $5.00/lb at the farmers markets.]

Because it is a favorite fruit I looked into why they cost so much this summer. Will Jordan explained in southeastagnet.com: “The 2023 peach harvest will look different than usual with an estimated 90% crop loss this spring due two adverse weather factors. The lack of adequate winter chill and the spring freeze growers experienced in mid-March combined to decimate this year’s fruit production.”

In writing the subhead Ottolenghi must have felt a pang about singing peaches’ praises: “Peaches are at the height of summer perfection right now. But even the most mundane stone fruit manages to thrill when wrapped in flaky pastry.”

Have you ever thought: “why did this publication cover this topic?”

Service of It Never Gets Old

Thursday, August 17th, 2023

A young receptionist at the eye doctor’s office this week and I had a good laugh. I commented that the doctor had downgraded the pens with the medical group logo that patients are urged to take. She said he didn’t like the other ones because they “looked old-fashioned.” [Photo below.] I wondered, in a whisper, if he’d observed the average ages of his patients! I thought the faux blue glass of the original ones looked elegant and unusual for a giveaway. The all-plastic, while sleek, looked and felt ordinary.

I’m probably the wrong person to write this post because even in my 20s I loved antiques. The thought that someone over 300 years ago had placed his elbow on my 17th century tavern gateleg table was thrilling. Still is.

I am surprised at how popular vinyl records have become [while I count on YouTube and WMNR through my laptop for music]. Ben Sisario reported October 2021 in a New York Times article updated in June of this year that in the first half of the year there were $467 million sales in the U.S. –17 million records. In this period, according to the Recording Industry Association, wrote Sisario, revenue from CDs was $205 million. Nevertheless, streaming accounts for 84 percent of revenue.

Snoopy has been around since 1950 when Charles Schulz introduced us to him. He’s always been a favorite of mine and millions of others. Mr. Schulz has been gone for 23 years yet his Instagram handle, @snoopynoofficial, has 35,200 followers and generates 2,600 likes per post. In my apartment the Peanuts gang is on a monthly wall calendar as well as on a daily calendar. The characters never get old.

Three years ago, Audrey Hepburn was the subject of a documentary. Joanne Woodward is still with us but no longer acting. Nevertheless, Ethan Hawke directed a documentary about the professional lives of Woodward and her husband Paul Newman last year. And the Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett collaboration was a joy to watch.

The subhead of Margaret Roach’s New York Times article “Why Are People Still Pressing Flowers? It’s a Form of Storytelling” is “For 500 years, we’ve documented the science and beauty of the natural world by pressing plants. It’s a tradition that anyone can join.” The article ran yesterday.

In a society that worships all that’s new, have you noticed new lives for things and people long gone?

Service of “Sorry About That” or Blah Blah Blah

Monday, August 14th, 2023

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As I write this, I’m humming the song “Show Me” from My Fair Lady, where Eliza sings to the love besotted Freddy:

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars Burning above; If you’re in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you’re on fire,
Show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don’t talk of spring! Just hold me tight!”

The lyrics—the first lines especially–apply to many, but thank goodness not all, businesses.

It wasn’t so long ago that the manager of a restaurant raced to give me his card when a waiter spilled cream on my wool jacket. He wanted me to give him the dry cleaning bill. Just the other day a waiter gifted my friend her dessert because of a misunderstanding.

By the way, I dislike the words “Sorry about that**.” But in the next examples there were no apologies–not even this obnoxious one. [**The expression falls in the same irritating category as “No problem,” in response to “thank you” which drives me nuts when employees have completed their jobs.]

I told Deb Wright about the tweets I received from Tina at Best Buy for the TV purchase debacle I wrote about August 3rd. I’d posted highlights of the mess on the social media platform.

At first Tina offered assistance—but there was nothing more to do. She asked for basic information—my name, phone number, email and order number and for more details but she couldn’t link to my blog as it was against company policy, so I had to send screen shots. [More of my time spent.]

She then wrote: “I’ve had an opportunity to read your message along with your blog. I appreciate you sending this information our way. With the details of your experience and the feedback you have provided, I can see that there are some hits and misses that needed to be brought to our attention. Please note that I have documented this into our corporate system to be reviewed by the appropriate teams.”

I’ve read this and previous tweets a few times and didn’t see the word SORRY anywhere.

The wording reminded Deb of a response she received from her complaint for a far more dire circumstance than the wasted time and countless communications and appointment ball droppings by Best Buy. The night before she was to go to the rehab place—the hospital was, in her words, kicking her out after a knee replacement –the insurance company announced that it refused to pay. She lives alone, her bedroom is upstairs, recovery requires strong pain meds and she’d been to the rehab place after her first knee replacement and knew how crucial this step was. Deb texted: “After many communications, I got the same response you did: ‘we are documenting your complaint and it will get our full attention.’ Bah! Humbug!”

The insurance company is lucky Deb didn’t hurt herself or sue for the anxiety its decision caused.

Can you share examples of nonentity responses with no sorry attached from corporations or organizations when they have dropped the ball? Why do you think this is?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Service of Inflation—I’ll Say!

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

The pack on the right cost $20 for 48. The pack on the left, $24 for 28.

It was 10 years ago this month that in my blog I hit the subject of inflation head-on even though we’ve been hearing about it more recently for a few years now. Some price increases of late have taken my breath away.

According to US Inflation Calculator, “The annual inflation rate for the United States was 3.0% for the 12 months ended June, according to U.S. Labor Department data published on July 12, 2023. This follows a rise of 4.0% in the previous period.”

OK, I’ll be a sport and give a company or service the green light to increase their prices by 5 percent. But that’s not what’s happening.

Energy

I go through AA batteries like a hotdog stand does mustard. When I run out–in about a year and a half–some Connecticut friends buy me a giant pack from Costco. The previous purchase cost $20 for 48. The new pack costs $24 for 28. The manufacturer claims that these last longer. They had better!

I was away for 10 days in early June, and nobody stayed in my apartment which most would describe as small. Con Edison reported that I’d used 27 percent less electricity than the previous period. Huh?

Here’s to Your Health

I just got a notice from my supplemental health insurance to expect my premium to increase 12.4% next year.

Don’t Go There

Cars taking the nine MTA bridges and tunnels that don’t have E-Z Pass will pay 10% more.  As of last Sunday, those with the pass, +5.5%.

By the end of the month, bus and subway riders will pay an additional 5%.

Anticipated congestion pricing of $23 in Manhattan gives many of us the shivers.

Hop into a yellow taxi at rush hour and before you move one inch, you’re facing $9.00 on the meter.

Do you have examples of services and manufacturers that might be taking advantage of all the talk about inflation by stepping on the gas with their prices?

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Service of I Refuse

Monday, August 7th, 2023


Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

For at least two years the topic of high-profile people refusing to do what a boss or superior has asked of them has been bandied about dinner tables nationwide. We’ve seen examples of vibrant lines in the sand.

A colleague was approached to market a powerful organization he didn’t approve of. The accompanying fee was juicy yet he passed without regret. I’ve refused to do things asked by clients, bosses and high-powered acquaintances. “Big deal,” you say. That’s because you’re not a people pleaser. Those who succeed in service businesses usually are. My husband often wondered aloud how I could take some of the things that crossed my path in my PR role. He felt plenty of pressure in his work but the difference was that folks wanted what he was selling. He was an international banker.

Someone asked me to share insider information that the agency I worked for had access to. That was easy if awkward. I just glared and didn’t answer. In another instance, a client ordered me not to go to the press room to greet the editors and reporters I’d invited to his event. It was the most flagrant of many disagreements between us. A whistle blower told me this client signed my name to material I’d not written and distributed it. I resigned that account.

When in the days of mailing press kits a boss told me to follow up by “calling all media we haven’t heard from to learn if they received the package.” I never did. I thought, “That’s what return addresses are for and a busy person doesn’t want to hear that stupid question.” If there was important new information to share, that was a different story.

One boss, trying to save money, told me to use a line drawing from a book to accompany press materials. She’d deleted the credit I’d placed by the image. After a brief discussion I suggested we remove my name as a contact on the press releases. The drawing/book credit remained as did my name as contact. Another time I argued against a special activity in conjunction with an event proposed by a client. The activity remained on the schedule but appeared in none of the press materials I’d written. The client approved them all.

Nobody lives or dies as a result of all but one of my protests or silence. Imagine the potential risk if you disagree with policy and you are an air traffic controller, surgeon, emergency room doctor, nurse, pilot, medical researcher, teacher or politician to name a few essential occupations.

Are there instances in which you have drawn a line in sand and refused to answer a question or to do something that didn’t seem right even if a boss has ordered it? Are there examples in which you give a pass to someone who goes against their better judgment and follows a boss or client’s faulty instruction?


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay  

Service of It’s Simple: Do What You Say You’ll Do When You Said You Would

Thursday, August 3rd, 2023

New TV sits on an antique table [so it’s slightly askew].

I learned a lesson from my first encounter with a remodeling contractor who kept disappointing us by missing deadline after deadline without warning. If you’re going to be late let customers know so that they aren’t shocked and angry on discovering that the toilet or countertops aren’t installed as promised adding acid to the frustration.

That was decades ago but nothing’s changed. Communicate, confirm, adjust and update or a dissatisfied customer you’ll make. That’s me today.

All I wanted was to buy a TV to replace a broken one. Before I enumerate the remarkably long list of missteps by Best Buy, I want to note that I grade some of the employees I encountered very good to excellent.

High-speed cable

There was no communication between sales, consulting, appointment staff and installation for which I fault Best Buy.

I chose the TV on my visit to the store. I didn’t order it outright because it didn’t come with a pedestal base and I needed to confirm that the table that two feet would rest on was long enough. Further, TV’s no longer come in the size of the one I was replacing, and I needed to check that a larger one fit in the tight space.

The salesman wrote up the order and chose a time for a virtual visit from a consultant to confirm the space and table issues. When I got home, I measured the table. All OK. Nevertheless, to satisfy the store I waited for the phone call/virtual visit scheduled for 10:30-11:00. When nobody called—I had an email confirmation–I contacted customer service that told me my call was scheduled from 2:20-3:00 p.m. and when that also didn’t happen, I called again.

Before I did, I’d tried the associate’s number—it was on the email confirmation–but his voice mailbox was full and he didn’t respond to my email.

Customer service called the associate who immediately called me. He’d never heard of me nor what he was supposed to do. Further, he was unable to accept emails or texts [!] –no Internet connectivity [!!]–so I couldn’t send him a still photo of the space.

So much for a virtual review with a consultant.

It concerned me that the store associate and phone consultant’s measurements between the feet that had to fit my antique TV table didn’t match. In fact, the associate argued with me over terminology. When I said that my table was 33-1/2 inches long, he said they call that the width.

I’d spent enough time on this so we went ahead with the order.

I was alarmed by the confirmation. Missing was my apartment number—there are 500+ apartments here–but more important, I specified delivery could only be made between 9:15 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The invoice stated deliveries happen between 7 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. As the associate said he would be able to read emails once he left the store I asked for these adjustments both by text and email. No response. Was this supposed to be a pleasant experience?

In addition, I emailed to him a Certificate of Liability Insurance form that apartment management requires of any company sending a worker with equipment. He waited until the next afternoon to fill out and return the form. He never assured me the installers knew of my building’s time constraints and apartment number.

There was an online checklist for customers to fill out before a TV installation. One of the items is: “I have secured a place for the service provider to park.” I think that for NYC residents this item should be deleted. I wouldn’t check it.

I learned that the charge for the installer to remove the old TV was $40. I brought it to the garbage room myself for $0.00. But it gives you an idea of the pretty penny I was charged for installation.

By 5:00 p.m. the day before delivery I hadn’t learned the two-hour delivery time range, as I had been assured I would. I called the customer service number. Nobody works on Sunday. I called and wrote the associate who took the order.

Around 6 p.m. I learned the TV would arrive between noon and 4 p.m. [Two-hour window?] 

Nevertheless I could breathe again. My TV wasn’t going to be abandoned in the package room uninstalled if it was allowed inside.

The next morning I received a second email confirming the time frame. I had errands to run and as I stepped out my front door at 10:30 a.m. the installer called. He was arriving in 15 minutes. Is 10:45 a.m. the new noon?

The Geek Squad installers looked surprised that I didn’t expect them. They did a spectacular job except the cable connection didn’t work. The expert installer diagnosed this as one of two potential problems. I rushed off to buy a high-speed cable and he left for his next appointment. He returned, as promised, to see if that did the trick. It seemed to. The other choice was to contact FIOS for a new cable box. Dealing with another giant corporation would have been overwhelming.

The first night it took a few tries to reach my Netflix account and even though he connected the volume function to the remote, it didn’t always work. My fingers are crossed that everything else goes right. I plan to live with glitches as I don’t have the strength to deal with this operation anytime soon.

Did I mention that Best Buy sent me a survey immediately after I purchased the TV but before the installation? I didn’t fill it out until the TV was working.

How can people who need to be at an office or job work with such slapdash business practices, faulty updates and lack of confirmation? Have you encountered so many problems surrounding one purchase?

I was not planning to secure parking for the installation crew and did not check the box.
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