Monthly Archives: April 2013

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

In the new world order, you have to learn how to pick your fights.

In the pre-9/11 days, when searches of airline passengers and their carry-ons were somewhere between perfunctory and non-existent, The Curmudgeon would occasionally be infuriated by the variation between airports.   Orange County, California and Tampa, Florida?  Very nice.  Erie and Pittsburgh, too.  Philadelphia?  Kinda vile.  It came to a point where, when approached by security personnel in Philadelphia, The Curmudgeon would start to loosen his belt while asking security personnel if they wanted to perform a cavity search (fortunately, he never got past lowering his pants down to his knees).  Once those airliners struck the Pentagon and the towers in New York City, however, he knew those days were over.  He now arrives at the airport plenty early, dresses more respectably than he once did when traveling, keeps his eyes lowered, and bites his tongue if he feels the urge to speak out against the stupidity of the manner in which he – and his fellow passengers – are being treated.

All this came to mind when The Curmudgeon recently read a newspaper report about a family that was removed from a flight traveling from Denver to Baltimore after they complained about the movie that was being shown.

Now this wasn’t just one more complaint about someone being forced to watch one-trick pony Sacha Baron Cohen’s failed attempt at a second trick in The Dictator.  No, this was a mom who felt that the movie being shown throughout the plane – not in individual movie players – was too violent for her children.

She asked if someone could turn off the movie in the section of the passenger area where her family sat.  She was told that was impossible.

She asked if the pilot could help.  When she received no response, she asked for the pilot’s name; she was told she could ask him herself at the end of the flight.

The next thing they knew, the plane was setting down in Chicago so that what the pilot announced as the “security threat” – the dangerous family with the young children – could be removed from the plane.

So there’s a lesson for  you:  if the peanuts are stale or if the soda is flat, just shut up and keep it to yourself.

Because if you don’t, you could find yourself staring into the business end of an air marshal’s service revolver – especially, apparently, if you fly United, which once upon a time invited potential customers to “fly the friendly skies.”

Friendly skies?  Now, not so much.

air marshals 1

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The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Stairway to Heaven

The Kennedy Center recently honored Led Zeppelin and assigned to the Wilson sisters of Heart the unenviable task of performing the Song That No One Else Should Ever Dare Try to Sing.  Well, surprise surprise, the Wilsons knocked “Stairway to Heaven” out of the park:  a rousing version infused with creativity that left even Plant, Jones, and Page enthusiastic – and Plant possibly even a little teary.  Or maybe he was just a little blitzed.  See for yourself here.

K-F-C Gets it W-R-O-N-G

Anyone who’s every donned an apron and cooked a meal understands that a good deal of the flavor of chicken comes from the bones (and if you don’t believe that, try making chicken soup without bones.  Won’t work).  Bones impart big-time flavor – it’s as simple as that.  This is why boneless chicken meals are generally boneless for presentation purposes only, certainly not flavor reasons.

This comes to mind because The Curmudgeon just read that those geniuses at KFC – you know, the people who a few years ago tried to sell America on the idea of a chicken “sandwich” in which the “bread” that held the chicken was actually two pieces of boneless, deep-fried chicken – now plan to place greater emphasis on selling boneless chicken.  They want to sell more individual meals and fewer buckets of the Colonel’s finest.

But let’s read between the lines here, shall we?

What the folks at KFC are really telling us is that in the future, they intend to make more of an effort to sell us chicken that has less flavor.

Now there’s a new marketing gimmick they probably don’t teach at the Wharton School:  trying to boost sales by lowering quality.

 

“Pawn Stars” Takes a Wrong Turn

It was like at first sight a few years ago when The Curmudgeon first caught an episode of the History Channel’s series Pawn Stars.  It’s an interesting premise:  people take things they own that they think have some value to a pawn shop, where they then negotiate a sale to the pawn broker.

Often, there are legitimate questions about the value or authenticity of the items people are trying to sell.  Is that a first-edition Hemingway or just a later press run?  Is that musket from the Revolutionary War era or the Civil War era or is it a prop for a Hollywood movie?  Is that an authentic signature of Babe Ruth on a 1927 baseball card or a forgery?  To get the answers to these questions, the owners and employees of the show’s pawn shop have a series of experts they consult to examine the goods in question – they’re always referred to as “a buddy” – and some of the program consists of these experts explaining the potential significance of the item in question, evaluating it, and suggesting how much it’s worth.

The highlight of the program, though, is the sale price negotiation between the pawn store people and their customers.  It’s important to note that most of the customers are fools – fools because they come into the store with no idea of the potential value of the items they bring and fools because, if they think that value is great, they’re bringing such items to a pawn shop, of all places, and expecting to receive anything approaching real value.

For a few seasons The Curmudgeon enjoyed watching people haggle over price.  The pawn store people seem to negotiate from the premise that they want to purchase whatever is being offered to them for about fifty percent of its likely resale value.  The negotiations then consist of the seller trying to get more – some of them don’t understand why they can’t get $800 for something the expert values at $800 – and the pawn shop people trying to hold onto as much potential profit as they can.

But in the program’s latest season, The Curmudgeon has detected a slight change in the show’s approach.  Maybe it was this way all along and he’s only just noticing, but now, when the sale is completed and the customer leaves, the pawn store owner turns to the camera and explains that he thinks he got a great deal and will be able to sell the item in question for a lot more than the customer or the expert thinks it’s worth.

In other words, he’s bragging about taking advantage of his customer.

The Curmudgeon recognizes that these pawn brokers are in business to make money, but this epiphany has totally extinguished the program’s charm for him.  It’s not much fun to watch a show where the objective of the stars is to con their customers out of as much of the value of what they’re trying to sell as they possibly can.  It’s not nice and it’s no longer entertaining.

So The Curmudgeon is no longer watching.

There Must be NO Gay People at All in Cherry Hill, NJ

What other explanation could there possibly be for a sign like this outside a Cherry Hill, New Jersey public elementary school?IMG_0993

Low Velocity From Travelocity

The idea behind travel web sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz makes sense:  instead of scrambling around to a bunch of sites to find good airfares, hotel accommodations, or car rentals, you can go to a single site that brings all of that information together for you in one place.  The Curmudgeon, not exactly an avid traveler but always a careful shopper, has used these sites with success in recent years for flight arrangements and car rentals; he has his own ideas about accommodations and they don’t include the kinds of big places that offer package deals on the internet.

This year The Curmudgeon decided to use Travelocity to help plan a brief April vacation in Florida; he’s used Orbitz and Expedia in the past but always makes mistakes when typing the letters “z” and “x” and therefore decided to steer clear of those sites this year.  Getting a good airfare was surprisingly easy and took as little time as he has ever spent on such matters, so about a week after booking his flight, he turned his attention to finding a car.

Now The Curmudgeon is not a boy who particularly relishes luxury, but one luxury he permits himself on vacation is a car rental from a company based in the airport, as opposed to taking a shuttle to get a less expensive car.  It costs more, he realizes, but on vacation it’s worth it.  So decided, he identified the car rental companies with counters in the Tampa airport and checked the prices for a compact car for six days.  Avis and Hertz, as usual, were extravagantly expensive, leading The Curmudgeon to question, as he always does, why anyone ever patronizes those companies.  His best guess is that few of their customers are paying with their own money; instead, they’re probably business travelers paying with company credit cards and paying no attention to price.  To his surprise, the other major car rental companies with desks in the Tampa airport – Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, and Thrifty – offered the exact same price for their compact cars:  $215 for the car, with taxes and fees bringing the total to $285.  (By the way, not directly related to the subject of this little essay, but if a person from Philadelphia is a Philadelphian and a person from San Francisco is a San Franciscan, what do you call a person from Tampa?)

That seemed odd, and probably deserving of attention from the U.S. Justice Department, so The Curmudgeon decided to overcome his aversion to typing “z” and “x” and to check Expedia and Orbitz, but they had the same prices for the same companies for the same cars.  Next, he decided to shop around for discount codes that might offer five or ten or even fifteen percent off.  Alas, no luck.

With everyone touting the same price for the same car, The Curmudgeon decided to rent from Dollar, the company from which he’s done most of his renting in the past, but to do so directly from the company’s own web site and not from Travelocity.  There, he again found the same deal:  $215 for the car and a total of $285.  In very small type on the screen, however, was a suggestion to follow a link to an even better deal.

The Curmudgeon did, and was well-rewarded:  Dollar offered the special rate of $140 for the same compact car offered by Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, with fees and taxes bringing the final cost to $195.  Surprised (and pleased) to find such a good deal, he started reading the fine print, guessing that this great price was for renting a Dollar car from a non-airport location.  Nope:  it was a legitimate deal, pick-up was in the airport, and The Curmudgeon jumped at the opportunity to save $90.

But the larger question, and the reason for raising it here, is why Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz didn’t offer the same good deal for a Dollar rental even though they represent themselves as showing the best Dollar has to offer.  Are these travel sites as good as they claim or is this one of those situations in which the convenience of using them could cost users a lot of money?  Or is The Curmudgeon, a cautious but not frugal guy, making too much of a savings of nearly one hundred dollars – which in the perfect story he could say can buy a lot of Pina Coladas by the pool but alas, since he is a notorious teetotaler, he can only say could buy a lot of grouper sandwiches and Salvadore Dali Museum admission tickets in central Florida?

If It’s on “E,” It Must Be Awful

While sitting around in his underwear reading the newspaper yesterday morning, putting off for just a few more minutes the start of a few errands and some housework, The Curmudgeon also indulged in a little channel-surfing and saw an ad on the “E” (stands for “execrable”) cable network for a new program called What Would Ryan Lochte Do?

Might be an interesting premise, might not, but The Curmudgeon has just one question:

Who the @#%^$ is Ryan Lochte?

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: The Other March Madness

Even though he is a somewhat avid sports fan, The Curmudgeon previously expressed serious misgivings about college sports – misgivings that go all the way to questioning why intercollegiate sports even exists.

Now, as so-called “March Madness” reaches its climax, take a look at a video clip that puts a whole different spin on the concept of college basketball and madness.

Hospitals Can be Hazardous to Your Health

Growing up, The Curmudgeon was an active boy and would occasionally suffer the kinds of orthopedic injuries best treated in a hospital emergency room (yes, he knows, you were certain he was the kind of kid who barricaded himself in his room, reading books all day long.  Wrong).  The family joke is that his mother was so familiar with Philadelphia’s Nazareth Hospital that once, when a nurse said he’d go for an x-ray as soon as an orderly was available to take him, his mother turned to that nurse and said, “That’s okay, I can take him myself.  I’ve been here often enough that I know the way.”

The family doctor was not amused by this anecdote.  He told us that unless we were afraid we were having a heart attack or possibly bleeding to death, we were not to go to the neighborhood hospital and should instead take ten extra minutes to get to another, better hospital (a hospital that, ironically, went out of business long ago).

This bit of family lore came to mind recently when The Curmudgeon’s seventy-eight-year-old mother took a spill, breaking her arm (the upper arm, or humerous, although there was certainly nothing funny about it) and hitting her head and knee fairly hard.  She lives within reasonable proximity of three hospitals and chose as her emergency room the one that was farthest away (only 4.4 miles and perhaps a twelve-minute ride) because she has several doctors there whom she likes.

Big mistake.  Big, big mistake.

You may have heard of Holy Redeemer Hospital.  It was in the news nearly two years ago over its botched attempt to merge with Abington Hospital, another suburban Philadelphia institution.  Neither hospital can make it on its own in the brave new world of health care, but they’re a regular Jack and Mrs. Spratt:  Holy Redeemer is strong on outpatient care and soft with its admissions numbers and Abington is strong on admissions and weak on its outpatient business.  One could say they were a match made in heaven but that would be pushing the pun envelope because the deal foundered over matters that literally involved heaven and hell:  Abington performs abortions, Holy Redeemer is a Catholic hospital and forbids them, and even though mergers between such philosophical opposites happen all the time, this one failed because the people in charge were too inept to manage the transaction with even a modicum of skill.

But we digress.

Back to the emergency room.  Baby sister took mom to the hospital and the two older brothers joined them about a half-hour later.

And there we sat.

One hour.

Two hours.

Three hours.

Four hours.

Four-and-half hours.

No doctor – ever.  Just a physician’s assistant.

Two trips for imaging:  an x-ray on just the arm and then, apparently at the request of a consulting physician who couldn’t be bothered actually seeing the patient, a return to imaging for a CAT scan of the arm and the brain (because of the fall).

No attention to the head wound at all ­– not even a damp cloth to clean it and prevent infection.  The family was still picking debris out of mom’s forehead a week later.

No inquiry about the patient’s ability to care for herself at home in her injured state (the family doctor, upon learning this, was furious at the hospital).

So to summarize:  four-and-a-half hours in a hospital emergency room, never seeing a doctor, incomplete care, and inadequate discharge arrangements.

The Curmudgeon wrote to the hospital’s president about this – surely that won’t surprise you – and received an apology only for the amount of time it took to receive “emergency” care.  The hospital president’s letter made no reference to the quality-of-care issue and did not respond to the portion of The Curmudgeon’s letter that asked

Aren’t hospital emergency rooms supposed to be staffed by actual doctors?  If not, is there a meaningful difference between your ER and a CVS “minute clinic” or any other “doc-in-a-box” operation that hospitals love to malign but that appear to offer, at least based on this one situation, no less than what Holy Redeemer offers?

The following week The Curmudgeon received a second letter from the hospital’s president – this one addressing the quality-of-care issue.  Among other things, he wrote:

I want you to know that we have undertaken a review of your mother’s case.  While there is always room for improvement, we feel that the care she received was both appropriate and complete.

Later, The Curmudgeon learned that the family doctor who expressed displeasure with the quality of care delivered in the ER was “ripped a new one” by hospital officials (according to mom, and if you think it’s not more than a little disturbing to hear your elderly mother use a term like “ripped him a new one,” think again) who apparently don’t know the meaning of their own hospital’s name.  If that happens again, the CEO of the hospital and his COO and medical director – you know, Shemp and Larry – are going to be on the receiving end of a curmudgeonly publicity blitz and fury the likes of which they and their hospital have never seen.  The same is true for the virtual platoon of hospital staffers who invaded The Curmudgeon’s LinkedIn profile after the letter reached the hospital (no doubt after doing Google searches and, who knows, maybe even more.  Maybe a background check or something involving Intelius).

There’s a lesson to be learned here:  if you ever find yourself  driving by Holy Redeemer Hospital, just outside of Philadelphia, you should do exactly that:  drive right on by and do not – do not – do not ­– stop.  Your good health may depend on it.

A Really Tough Room

The Curmudgeon’s younger brother had knee replacement surgery three-and-half years ago.

The Curmudgeon’s father had knee replacement surgery a year later.

The Curmudgeon’s mother’s orthopedist recommended that she undergo knee replacement but mom, seventy-six years old at the time of the suggestion, said that if the doctor could guarantee her ten more years, she’d happily do so.  He couldn’t, so she didn’t.

And The Curmudgeon’s baby sister was told just last week that one of her knees is shot and that she should begin thinking about where and when to get a new one.

So when The Curmudgeon showed up at a family gathering last week limping slightly because he tweaked his knee, guess who received not a hint of sympathy from the gathered?