Archive for June, 2024

Service of Keep it Down: Use Your Indoor Voice Please

Thursday, June 27th, 2024

There are 58 posts in the travel category of this blog. I may have covered this aspect previously but not recently.

I’m no stranger to traveling on Metro-North. For some 25 years I took the train upstate every Friday and for 15 back to the city as well. There were bad trips such as the one I described in 2015 in “Service of No News is Not Good News.” It starts, “In the time it took us to get home on the 7:06 [pm] from upstate NY Sunday night, [normally 2 hours], we could have been in London.” You get the gist.

I love traveling on trains, both here and in Europe however, I suffered one of the worst rides last Sunday evening.

The woman behind me did not take a breath. She screamed into her phone for 1.7 hours. Her voice was raspy and irritating. She mostly spoke in an indecipherable foreign language sprinkled with English and on occasion, a shriek of laughter. I wondered if the person on the other end had left the room because the woman literally didn’t stop talking the whole time.

And I didn’t have my earbuds with me.

Something told me to tolerate the intrusion as awful as it was. I couldn’t see her: was she fierce? Unhinged? You ask, “why didn’t you move?” The train was full.

The conductor might have suggested she take it down a notch had he noticed, but either he didn’t or he wouldn’t. Mary was an old school conductor on the 5:19 upstate out of Grand Central on Friday nights for years. She counseled “her passengers” not to reprimand another passenger. That was her job, she said. I heard her tell a commuter babbling incessantly into her phone to lower her voice. The next time she walked by, when nothing had changed, she asked her to hang up. Mary retired years ago.

What would you have done in my spot? Have other passengers ruined a trip for you?

Service of Junk Fees Galore: Did You Want Wheels with That Car?

Monday, June 24th, 2024

This post about junk fees and transparent pricing is a cousin of the one I wrote recently, “Service of the More You Pay, the Less You Get—in Sneaky Ways,” and of another one I wrote in February, 2022, “Service of Irritating Add-On Charges.” In the former I wrote about expensive stationery and socks with cheap envelopes without glue and holes after a few months, respectively. In February I mention airline and digital news subscription surcharges as well as exorbitant charges for popcorn and drinks at movie houses.

Marisa Lagos wrote on “In July, a new state law in California will require businesses to disclose all costs up front — a ban on so-called ‘junk fees’ on everything from hotel rooms, to concert tickets, to restaurant food.” California has always been ahead of the pack.

Here are my observations.

Isn’t the Interest from My Money Enough?

I have a savings account at a retail bank but no other account there. I was charged $10 for the clerk to cut me a check.

Include it With the Prayers, Please

I am having a mass said for a friend’s mother who is recovering from a terrible accident. I’ve ordered these from Catholic churches all over the place, mostly after someone has died, but for the first time, I had to pay extra for a mass [card to send my friend].

Charge Less for Seconds and Use a Bigger Glass

This example would have been a better fit for the February post. At a pricey Manhattan restaurant, at lunch, I was charged full price for each of four iced teas served in tiny glasses. The same week, also at lunch, at a Hoboken, N.J. restaurant, we were offered free second glasses of soda. The first glass was a nice size. Good for them!

Pass the Bread

Some restaurants no longer serve bread unless you ask for it and often, there’s a charge for what came with the meal in the past.

Two Tickets, Please, Drop or Reduce the Fee

When I take up an organization’s invitation to attend an event, and I sign up online, I resent being charged a juicy surprise fee when I’ve done all the work—chosen the seat, printed the e-ticket.

Fees and Taxes Sneak Up on You

Somehow a $1.49 bottle of water bought at a drugstore on a boiling hot day cost well over $2.00 due to the bottle fee and tax.

Have you been hit with charges that, like wheels on a car, should come with what you’ve bought?

Service of the Beauty of Diversity in NYC

Thursday, June 20th, 2024

MetLife Building lobby last Saturday.

I never know what I’ll see from day to day when I venture out and about in New York City–which is thrilling. Here are some photos I took over a few days.

In addition to eavesdropping on conversations in countless languages all over the city there are innumerable fascinating sites and interactions that underscore the diversity and often the toughness of newcomer New Yorkers.

In the elevator this week I asked what language a young fellow tenant was speaking after she stopped chatting on her phone. When she confirmed my guess—Turkish–I remembered “allah is maladek,” a formal goodbye. I liked her smile [probably because of my accent]. She didn’t seem the slightest bit surprised.

What are some of your favorite scenes that celebrate the diversity of where you live?

African food on Second Avenue, a favorite haunt of bicycle delivery people.
Construction workers choose homemade lunch from a popup chef.
Work break at a construction site
Fruit and veggie vendors remind me of mail carriers as they are out selling their produce regardless of weather.

Riches from the Wednesday farmer’s market on east 47th Street

Service of What’s the Difference?

Monday, June 17th, 2024

The often-told story about the little boy and the starfish is attributed to an essay by Loren Eiseley although I suspect, like a game of telephone, the version I heard recently might be quite a leap from the original.

Here’s the story I heard. A little boy was tossing starfish back into the ocean at low tide. A man walking by asks him why he bothers because there are hundreds on the beach, and he can’t save most that will die before the tide returns. “What difference will you make?” asks the adult. The child responds, as he tosses another into the ocean: “It makes a difference to this starfish.”

The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, world hunger and disease were the beached starfish mentioned in the talk I attended. We were told that we are not expected to fix these things but to think of what we can do, even if it’s the equivalent of saving only one of the thousand starfish.

Almost daily I walk by a homeless person begging outside a church, restaurant or drugstore because I have been warned over and over only to donate to legitimate charities that, in turn, are set up to help. Last Friday I passed parents, who appeared to be foreign, sitting on a sidewalk under scaffolding on Second Avenue. Their two young children crouched between them. A pedestrian, holding a hard hat, handed some bills to the father who made the sign of the cross and thanked the donor. Oh my.

There are politicians whose visions and perspectives I support but I could empty my bank account in a few minutes placing myself in the poorhouse if I donated to each or a significant amount for me, to one.

Do you feel overwhelmed when you consider all the needy, issues and wars that result in life or death? What metaphoric starfish do you save?

Service of Initiatives That are Both Just and Unjust

Thursday, June 13th, 2024

A side street on the East side in midtown.

There are some programs, initiatives or fights that have both intensely just and unjust components complicating decisions about which is the right way to go. Pondering where you come out can turn your brain around like a ball on a spinning roulette wheel. Elements of both sides of the argument make good sense, so you agree and disagree in equal measure.

Congestion pricing for Manhattan is a perfect example. Passenger cars that drive below 60th Street would pay a $15 toll which would be more for larger vehicles and less late at night and for motorcycles. The toll was almost set to go when at the last-minute New York Governor Hochul pulled the plug for now.

Our streets are jammed with cars and trucks creating traffic and pollution nightmares. The Metropolitan Transit Authority needs money to install elevators at subway stations for strollers and handicapped passengers as well as to extend the Second Avenue Subway.

On the other hand, retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses that have barely recovered from the impact of work-from-home programs that sucked millions out of midtown during Covid shudder at the anticipated reduction of customer traffic. Most will need to increase prices to compensate for what shippers pass along to them to cover the cost of their tolls. Consequently, citizens in the impacted area will pay more for what they buy as well as for taxi and car services that swing in and out of 60th Street.

A long-term impact might be that companies that can will move their businesses out of NYC which would impact the Big Apple’s tax coffers.

If you never need a taxi that crosses the toll boundary, don’t require a vehicle to carry heavy tools for your job or a disabled friend, client or relative, don’t live and shop in the affected area, and never go to theater or concerts from a neighborhood with nonexistent or unreliable public transportation, the decision is much easier.

Can we trust that buses and subways, already jammed at times and too often delayed, will sufficiently compensate for anticipated additional passengers?

What other issues make you go round and round when you weigh the pros and cons to decide on which side you stand? Where do you fall on congestion pricing in Manhattan?

The cars in the bus lane on Second Avenue in the 50s do not belong there.

Service of When Everything Goes Right

Monday, June 10th, 2024

Arrangement by Allan Woods Flowers, Washington, D.C.

These days I celebrate, and I’m surprised, when plans based on the cooperation of vendors fall into place and/or we request changes from large corporations, and they happen.


My CPA asked me to change the account from which my business phone bill was paid causing me to make a dreaded call to Verizon. I finally did and based on experience I feared the worst. When the bill appeared in the right place this month, I was shocked. Sad that I’m so distrusting, right?

Happy Anniversary

My friend suddenly realized that it was her sister and brother-in-law’s anniversary and she wanted to send them flowers that day. She called Winston Flowers, one of the finest in Boston, asking for the name of a florist of their caliber in the Washington, D.C. area.

Tamara, at Winston, gave her Allan Woods’ contact information. She called and mentioned the Winston Flowers connection where she spoke with Jeff in D.C. and after she’d placed the order, she asked if, by chance, her sister was a customer. “Yes, for years!” he replied.

What are the chances? The arrangement is stunning [photo above].

I remember an office friend’s angst when the long-stemmed red roses she’d expected to receive from her boyfriend arrived two days late although his request had been in the works for weeks.

The Quicker Picker Upper

I ordered paper towels which never arrived, although I’d received notification of delivery. I reported this to the owner of the website and learned that it had used a partner to fulfill the order. The website contacted the partner. Customer service apologized and wrote that they’d ship another box immediately. Friday, I realized that the towels hadn’t arrived, and it had been too long. Saturday morning I received a response! They will soon be here, I’m told. Fingers crossed. Pathetic that I was elated just because someone answered.

Do you expect everything to go right these days? Do you have examples of instances in which they do?

Service of Do We Use the Tools We Have?

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

You might’ve heard this parable before, but it’s worth repeating. Ian Bassin retold it on Nicolle Wallace‘s show “Deadline: White House” on MSNBC the other day. Bassin is cofounder and executive director of Protect Democracy.

The parable starts: a minister is drowning and prays to God to save him.

A canoe comes by and the paddler invites him to jump in. The minister refuses and says “No thanks. God will save me.”

Next a motorboat stops to pick him up. He thanks the helmsman, passes on the ride and says, “God will save me.”

Finally, a helicopter buzzes overhead and drops a ladder. From a megaphone the pilot urges the minister to climb the ladder to safety. Again, he declines the offer and says, “God will save me.”

He drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he asks God why he didn’t save him and God says “I sent you a canoe, a motorboat and a helicopter and you turned down every offer. What more could I do?”

The point, said Bassin, we often have the tools to solve our issues and challenges, yet we don’t use them. It also has to do with stepping out of our comfort zones. [I’d be afraid of climbing that ladder to the helicopter but, as my mother used to say about other issues, “it’s better than the alternative.”]

Years ago before social media I had a friend who was an uber talented interior designer who asked me for suggestions for attracting new clients. She already belonged to the right organizations and designed rooms at decorator showhouses. I said she should show before and after photos of her work that addressed design challenges and present them—taking questions—to the groups of affluent people. She was attractive and articulate but refused to do any public speaking.

On the other hand, I shudder to think of opportunities I followed up on that I shouldn’t have. I took a new business meeting a few days after my husband died. I should have passed as goodness knows what version of Jeanne Byington showed up. It turned out to be a nonstarter as the business owner dragged me back for months, changing her goals each time. Eventually, after the umpteenth proposal, she sent me $500, thanked me for my time and said she wasn’t ready for PR.

What do you think of the parable? Have you missed opportunities or grabbed at inappropriate ones?

Service of Spring Cleaning Whether You Like it Or Not

Monday, June 3rd, 2024

‘Tis the season where list makers are in their glory. Each chore seems to create tributaries of additional ones. I suspect most on my lists are only applicable to people who live in small to modest sized apartments.

On mine there’s the dreaded biannual wardrobe change from winter to summer. Out of the closets go my winter clothes headed to the mule chest that held my summer things. This involves extra laundry, most of which is by hand for sweaters, down vests etc.

The closet project sets off a trip to Goodwill Industries–I never give away enough–and to the dry cleaner. [Mine is near my former office, a hike if you’re lugging stuff.] The clothes headed there has diminished dramatically but the bill hasn’t.

In preparation for the building’s yearly check/change of air conditioner filters I move as many plants as I can to their summer home on the balcony. That also causes subsequent tasks such as repotting or propagating. So that the wind doesn’t keep slamming them down, I cut off the tops of my tall plants. My potting shed is my kitchen sink.

The night before the building staff arrives, I move the rest of the remaining indoor plants and furniture around the windows elsewhere so the handymen can get to the units hidden behind the AC cabinets. Back it all goes once they leave.

A switch out of cotton duvet covers creates a giant ironing opportunity. While I was at it this year I found new places to squirrel away last year’s business and personal tax files/backup.

And then there are the things I won’t mention because I’ve neglected to do them year after year.

Do you have a spring-cleaning routine you must follow whether or not you’re in the mood?

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