Having An Off Day

Friday, that is! I’m home for the day, which I scheduled off… God, about a year ago now, with the vague idea that I didn’t want to be at work on “Halloween Friday.” In years past, we used to make a much, MUCH bigger deal about decorating for Halloween and competing as teams and individuals for best concept, and in fact we used actually start building stuff or putting up decorations a week or more in advance. Not so much this year… a lot has happened, we’ve gone through a layoff cycle, we’re effectively between VPs until the new executive moves to the area, and the people that were the most competitive (and the most psychotic about crazy themes and wacky, elaborate costumes) have all retired, been fired, or de-hired.

Hmm. Possible corollary there.

Anyway, it’s been interesting at work the last few weeks, and looks to get more and more interesting in the weeks to come (in the Chinese proverb sense of the word).

There’s a lot I can’t say about some of the pressures and tensions that we’re under at work. I’ll see if I can do a little wire-walking, in the interests of documenting my current mind-set.

Where I work, metrics are hugely important. We’re measured on how long we talk on the phone, how long we work off the phone before becoming available again to take more calls, and how productive we are (total number of reservations logged).

I’ve been doing this, mostly on SABRE, American’s reservation system, for lo these 23 years. I’ve been with my current company for about half that time. Within the last couple of years, my company decided to mandate use of a different required tool (it’s kind of like a GUI) for making and modifying reservations, which is capable of handling most (but not all) of the tasks I need to do in a typical day that I now do with regular SABRE. We’re… pretty much required to use this tool as much as possible, and many of the quality metrics start off with “Did (did not) use required tool.” We’re coming up on the end of the year, and there are numeric goals we are supposed to hit, having to do with “call quality” and “technical quality.” It is not possible to make the minimum goal if the required tool is not used.

I’ll just say that my original distaste for this tool was entirely due to the poor quality of training we had the first time. An outside trainer was brought in, turned everybody in her classroom inside out and backwards for a week, and after 3 months, everyone had been trained… but almost no one was using the tool. The year after that, we all had to go through re-training. It was better, but only when it became a mandated part of the technical quality scores did most of the office resign themselves to using it. There were a few pockets of resistance, but I really started using it when I was assigned the new account – it was actually helpful since I didn’t really know the account that well and it added some of the required documentation. It’s been a bit bumpy in the year since my formal transfer to my current account, for various reasons. But I think I’m on the right track now.

I’m OK on “call quality.” I’m just under the wire on “technical quality,” but my “trendlines” are pretty good. I’d have been better off if I hadn’t stopped using the required tool as much the first half of this year out of peer pressure.

NEWSFLASH: It’s not that bad. It’s improved a lot. And it’s not going away, in spite of all the molly-coddling.

And then there’s various kinds of coaching. I absolutely hate, hate, hate having to trail off to a little cubicle in the back office to be coached. Even if my most recent score was above 90 (which is very good), I still hate it. It is as the tortures of the damned, to me. It makes my toes curl back on themselves with embarrassment to hear my voice talking to some traveler, knowing exactly where I messed up on the call with perfect hindsight. I will never stop hating it, because I see it as intrusive and slightly offensive. I try not to whine and grumble (but fail miserably), and lately I’ve adopted a rather faux-cheerful, yet tight-lipped aspect, because complaining about the tool’s shortcomings is useless (as is resistance). Fortunately, we are not required to listen to our own calls – it’s optional now. I always demur when offered a chance to listen, preferring to sit through the recap from the scoring PDF (that I’ve already read for myself).

It makes my skin crawl, and I don’t know exactly why.

Since I stopped complaining and learned to love the Bomb started using the required tool more consistently, my scores improved. In fact, I actually prefer to use it to start a new reservation now. It’s fine for that sort of thing. It’s just frustratingly slow off the mark and it takes a long time to resolve between screens, and I can’t really start to work until the fourth screen because I have some required marks to hit before getting there. With certain high-powered, VIP-type secretaries and travelers, I can sense their irritation and impatience while they wait for me to get where I can do something. Fortunately, now that I’ve used it more, I’ve learned to cover this part of the process with a bit of happytalk (which also hits some of the quality marks early in the call).

Probably the most irritating thing about having to use this tool, though, is that not everyone is using the damn tool. We’re also required to “import” everything we work on into the tool, if it wasn’t created there; this normally doesn’t add more than a few seconds to the process. But if the traveler was not profiled, oh! misery! Because the tool requires a faux profile be filled in, so that an “unprofiled” but otherwise perfectly formatted record can be imported.

And of course, there are those who will not use it at all, so every time I catch a call from someone booked “old skool” as an unprofiled traveler, my stats suffer because of the extra time that must be taken to do this “faux profile/import” process.

Yeah. This seems like a good place to stop, or I’ll have to set a password for this post…

Business Class vs. Coach Class

It’s a tug-of-war between the “bean counters” and the “been counted (unworthy of an upgrade)”. If you’re not on your company’s VIP list, good luck with getting business class to Singapore…

Cheaper business airfares still a tough sell in today’s economy – USATODAY.com

Trying to lure business travelers back into more expensive seats, airlines have slashed business-class fares to foreign cities. Many business-class airfares to Europe this fall are 33% to 66% cheaper than a year ago, an analysis by FareCompare.com finds.

While the cheaper fares are more attractive to cost-conscious companies, they are still a tough sell in this economy. In fact, some companies are requiring employees to buy only coach tickets, which traditionally are one-fourth to one-eighth the price of business class.

Delta Air Lines’ cheapest round trip, a non-stop New York-London coach ticket on Oct. 7, for example, was $716 for an Oct. 23 departure and an Oct. 30 return. The least-expensive business-class fare for the same flight was $4,634.

“The real question is: Will business travelers pay substantially more for a more comfy ride as companies move toward increased austerity?” asks FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney.

From what I can see, booking a lot of international travel for one major multinational client, the old days of expecting to fly business class are over unless you’re either a Vice President or other VIP with your corporation, or you luck into a free upgrade. It’s true that in some markets there are now heavily discounted, nonrefundable round-trip business class fares in the most competitive markets, but even then, they’re 4 or 8 times the cost of a discount, nonrefundable coach fare. AND they have bigger change penalties, in some cases approaching $300.00-$400.00 plus difference in fares. In the case of the company I’m currently “tied” to, there are now directives in place that state that a manager or higher must approve the purchase of a business class fare, via email in most cases. However, it’s a lot easier to get a “yes” if it’s a nonrefundable fare of, say, $3500 versus a refundable fare of $7,000-$8,500.

That said, the upgrade certificates that many corporate agencies administer on behalf of their accounts are now worth their weight in gold. They’re often given out in packs to companies that have corporate discount deals with international carriers, as a way to sweeten the deal.

As for domestic travel, some airlines are really good about offering either “free upgrade” coach fares that automatically get rebooked into the forward cabin when priced (typically they are booked in the last 2 or 3 pricing categories to sell out). Others are really good about upgrading frequent flyers as soon as they detect a new booking by a high-mileage traveler has been ticketed. Yet others don’t give out a lot of upgrades unless your mileage is stratospheric… but they do hand out a fair number of tightly controlled “free” tickets. As you might think, profitability is a problem for a couple of the examples I have in mind.

Still other airlines are operated like airborne cattle cars, yet continue to be profitable without any forward cabin at all. Why? Because they provide reliable, reasonably priced, friendly service (well, Southwest/WN, anyway).

Hmm… ironically, they’re getting the business without bothering about the class.

British Airways Means Business New York – London City

BA started business-class-only flights from JFK to London City Airport yesterday. Inflight Internet access, full-recline seats, aimed at a niche market of go-bag executives. As in “It’s called a go bag because I keep it in the trunk of my car (NCIS)”

Club World London City – British Airways

Club World London City is our Business Class only service, with just 32 seats on board, flying between London City and New York JFK.

Your entire journey has been designed to minimise airport travel time and check-in times whilst maximizing your productivity on board with OnAir capability allowing you to send emails, text from you mobile phone and connect to the Internet throughout your flight.

It is, in short, the most productive way for you to travel Business Class between the heart of London and New York.

Book your ticket now and be one of the first to experience this new service, for travel from 29 September.

Wow, that’s a tiny amount of seats for the price they’re charging for a ticket with a change fee. Check out one likely set of roundtrip flights (they have 2 conveniently-timed departures each way):

1 BA 2I 20OCT T JFKLCY SS1 640P 715A 21OCT W /DCBA /E
2 BA 1I 27OCT T LCYJFK SS1 1230P 615P /DCBA /E

1- USD4000.00 544.90XT USD4544.90ADT
XT 32.20US 5.50YC 7.00XY 5.00XA
2.50AY 127.00GB 39.20UB 322.00YQ
4000.00 544.90 4544.90TTL
NYC BA LON2000.00IRCLC2S BA NYC2000.00IRCLC2S NUC4000.00

1- USD9746.00 544.90XT USD10290.90ADT
XT 32.20US 5.50YC 7.00XY 5.00XA
2.50AY 127.00GB 39.20UB 322.00YQ
9746.00 544.90 10290.90TTL
NYC BA LON4873.00CRLCS BA NYC4873.00CRLCS NUC9746.00

So for the penalty fare, it’s about $4500.00 roundtrip with a $500.00 change/cancel penalty, and a hefty $10290.90 for the fully refundable fare. I’m thinking they’re planning on making a fair amound in penalty charges, since this product appeals most to the type of traveler whose plans chnage constantly. With the inflight wireless, you can start using your mobile phone and connecting to the Internet once reaching 10,000 feet… or within 10 minutes of takeoff.

I may even book a few of our East Coast guys on this once in a while. The flight numbers are easy to remember – the old Concorde numbers (BA001, BA002, BA003, BA004). Some of them are just “go-bag” enough to need the extra convenience and connectivity.

Very interesting to see if BA makes a go of it (or not) since it’s a lot fewer seats than I expected from the aircraft. The cool thing is the flight makes a “refueling” stop at Shannon airport in Ireland on the way to the US, and all passengers clear US customs there instead of JFK… so they come into the Domestic part of JFK and avoid the scrimmage.

Oh, and First class is even higher. I didn’t go there.

Smile Police? I’m A Hardened Criminal Frowner

If they ever introduce face-to-face webcam/phone interfaces at work, my career in travel is so over. I’m what you might call a… hard-featured woman. When in repose, I always look like I’m frowning slightly. Gravity has taken its toll on my face somewhat, and it takes extra effort to lift it into a smile, so most of the time, WHY BOTHER?? unless I actually have something to smile about. As you might have guessed, I’m not a natural smiler, don’t have a particularly attractive smile anyway, and can’t stand people who walk around with big smiles on their faces all the time, when there is nobody else around even. What are they smiling at?? What drugs are they on?.

When talking to a complete idiot who wants me to do the impossible 15 minutes before closing time on a Friday, I sometimes have to put the caller on hold to roll my eyes, grimace, grumble, and vent to my neighbor before going live with a silky-warm sounding “Thank you so much for holding, I was able to make that change for you…”

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Rail staff face ‘smile police’

A Japanese rail firm has introduced a system to check that staff are smiling enough at all times.

Computerised scanners around 15 Tokyo stations will measure the smile’s curvature to ensure it is broad enough.

Oh, good LORD, I hope this is a crock.

A few years back, the Safeway grocery chain instituted a “look them in the eye, smile, and call them by name” policy, which eventually had to be scuttled because too many male customers became Beavis and Butt-Head when a female checker followed company policy.

Second Life May Impact First Life Someday?

Second Life provides virtual meeting space, may replace millions of airline seats annually someday. May need to learn building skills in SL beyond rezzing a box… New World Notes: What the US Navy’s Undersea Warfare Center Is Doing in SL (Updated)

The last time I tried to visit the Second Life islands owned by the United States Navy’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center several months ago, I was blocked from entering most of it. This machinima above shows what they’ve been doing in Second Life, including rapid prototyping, data modeling, and VoIP-driven conferencing, much of it between other branches of the US military which also maintain a Second Life presence. Leading to a sentence I never thought I’d hear, outside of science fiction: “What you see here is the United States Coalition of Second Life having a weekly meeting. Representatives of the Army, Air Force, and Navy, meet in virtual space to discuss about collaborative issues and common practices in virtual worlds.” Direct SLurl Teleport

The quote that caught my corporate travel agent RL ear ws this: by 2012 an outfit called Gartner predicts 2.1 million airline seats will go unused because participants are using virtual conferencing capabilities

Uh, hmm. That means about $3.5 billion travel dollars going unspent according to the Virtual Worlds News article. I wonder if my employer is thinking about virtual conferencing at all? They certainly subscribe to various web and phone conferencing solutions; I’ve had to attend 2 “international destination training” sessions in the last two weeks, hosted online in a chat room format that requires phoning in for audio conferencing, and logging in to a website for PowerPoint and chat.

So now I’m slightly curious as to what my company might think about this. Several years ago, apparently, they were looking at using SL for some kind of training, but that probably got dumped in favor of the system we use now. For the non-technical, it’s difficult enough getting everyone logged in by phone and on the web, and it would be an EXTREME pain getting n00bs set up to attend a virtual conference unless the interface on some mythical “My Corporate Travel Island” was set up with very simple avatars all set to go… preferably sitting at the table.

Which got me wondering, would my company be exploring conferencing for clients? If they can’t get the airline travel dollar (realistically, we’re usually on a fee-per-transaction basis rather than commission-based now) perhaps they might be thinking of whizbang conferencing services, or bundling various packages for corporate clients. And it could well be that they might need some building done if they decided to go with SL as one possible virtual conferencing choice, since it doesn’t require special hardware beyond 1) a voice-enabled headset if voice is required or desired for the conference. Video conferencing requires webcams, screens, or real-life conference rooms equipped with suchlike.

I could see myself hosting, if not building, in a virtual conference. Possibly also scheduling or facilitating, such as making sure that all participants are briefed on required hardware/software, chat guidelines, and on how to move themselves or their camera while inworld.

And I have JUST the right seasonal kimono to wear, too.

Week In Review

It was the first full week of work after the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, it was the first full week as a true member of my new work team (gradually, all the little hold-overs and pending stuff have dropped away), and it was my first full week of relatively good health after getting through a nasty, brutish, but mercifully short bout of sinus infection-with-cough.

It was a good week, all told. I like my new team, and I’m having a lot of fun with my new neighbors. I feel like the last… five years or so on my original team has been one long slog, and I was never really accepted as a buddy by the clicques, although I was well liked by anybody hired recently. Not that I can blame my former teammates: about 6 years ago, I was the Quality Enforcer and was keeping track of agent error rates for the team leaders to use in counseling agents that put me at the top of some people’s Shit Lists (these were simple format errors, not true customer service issues).

Well, it was kind of mutual; the people who made the most errors were the ones who left messes for others to clean up, quite often me or one of the other agents for whom “quality” really was Job One. Because of my “in-between” position (especially when I wasn’t on the phones, just hassling coaching people about using correct formats) I became the de facto troubleshooter; some teammates appreciated the help and some, not so much. The younger ones tended hand off with a big sigh of relief; it was partly gratifying, partly annoying. Especially when I was no longer an official troubleshooter… but because I used to be one, people tended to assume I knew how to fix stuff. And they were (mostly) right.

I left that baggage behind, it’s in a metaphorical Lost Luggage office now. Fresh start, and all that. It’s all good.

Big Red Snow Beast


Last night’s snow (or as I originally typo-ed, slow), dumped only about 4 inches on suburban streets in the area, but the traffic was horrendous and there were enough minor accidents to put corks in all the bottlenecks. And due to the way the east-west arterials around here are blocked by large tracts of parkland or shopping malls, there’s only a few ways to get between work and home. If there’s bad weather, or traffic, everything gets choked off at one of two places.

I started out pissed, as I had a late “hit” call where someone needed an exchange ticket issued by the end of the day, and there were technical problems getting it done. I call down curses and imprecations on high-mileage status travelers who upgrade themselves before the new ticket issues! But I was able to get through to an airline res agent (miraculously; it’s an airline that outsources a lot of calls to India)
and downgrade the traveler. Heh, that’ll teach them not to mess with their records… I felt very unsympathetic.

As I headed west towards home, I puttered along at about 5 miles an hour. It took about 30 minutes just to get to where I could turn off my “bottleneck” route to an alternate street that avoided the worst of the traffic. Then I had to navigate around some other obstacles, cut through a high-school parking lot to an outlet to residential streets that I knew of, and finally got back to a more direct route home. It turned out that my zig-zagging didn’t really save me much time, but it did give me a sense of accomplishment since I was moving rather than sitting in a jam-up.

David texted his location a couple of times… he started an hour before I did because he’s farther away, and it took him all of 3 hours to get home. I beat him home by about half an hour and had started using the Big Red Snow Beast on the driveway. It was still snowing pretty heavily and I had all my snow
gear on; boots, gloves, long down coat, muffler around my ears and face, fleece jingle hat with ear flaps, and had the faux-fur trimmed hood up as well. I was seriously rocking the Arctic look.

Of course, David had to take a picture. Fear the Beast!

(It is left up to the discretion of the reader to decide which is meant, the machine or the operator.)

I’ve recently gotten sucked into the time warp that is Twitter and was monitoring a few locals who complained of 3 and 4-hour commutes. It was particularly bad in the north suburbs, where there was more snow, no plows, no salting, and nothing but side streets and minor arterials that were all completely backed up.

I’m currently writing this at work in Wordpad while waiting for a call with my “ears” on, with the plan of sending the text to myself and updating at home. This is my first full week sitting with my new team, and I’m comfortably settled in with my new work-mates. I kept much more to myself on my former team,
partly because I’d formerly held a position that was between line agents and the previous team leader, and I was not popular because I was responsible for quality control at one time and was gathering data about error rates for each agent. That was years ago, but I sensed there was still some lingering… not resentment, but reserve. I wasn’t entirely to be trusted, I guess, and I didn’t bother to try to overcompensate by bringing in a lot of treats or being very social with everyone else. I don’t have this
baggage with the new team, and as it happens I work with a former team leader who stepped back to agent level whose company I enjoy. And I work with people who make me laugh and enjoy being here. It’s a pleasant change from my previous “anti-social” stance to actually chat with my neighbors.
There are minor drawbacks to the move, of course – there always are. But the compensations are: great coffee (they bring in their own bags of it and keep it in a thermos at one of the desks) and great cameraderie. It’s nice. Also, I’m closer to a window now that I don’t have to be hopping up and down
printing and faxing forms to hotels, and I have a view that looks along a tollway towards Chicago.

Currently, traffic is flowing. But don’t ask me to do constant updates. I will say that there’s snow on all the rooftops and the sky is a solid grey. Visibility is probably only a mile or two, and I don’t think we’re
on the flight path today because I don’t hear planes overhead. This may or may not be a good thing.

It’s kind of slow today. I haven’t taken that many calls. One of my mates from my former team and I send IMs to each other with questions and comments now and then, as we back each other up and she’s not physically located in the office. Now and then she sends funny emoticons and animated

I call this one “ZOMG! I’m In Crazy Town!”


It’s animated in the original format so that the background wobbles up and down, but I didn’t save it that way. My office mate sends me a lot of wacky crap like this. Most of them involve animals or weird cartoons expressing extreme agitation. I think there’s an underlying theme…

It helps to pass the time chatting, of course, but sending IMs is also dead useful when you can’t reach someone by phone, but they’re logged in to the messaging network. To ask questions like “WTF can’t these people put in the right format???” Both of us are crabby, perfectionists when it comes to formats, and unsociable; this makes us ideal IM partners.

Later, after lunch….

I continue to see more and more small signs of the bad economy. There are empty “big-box” stores on my way home, there are empty offices in my building at work, and just now I got waylaid by my hairdresser lady who said that they’re closing the hair salon downstairs. They needed to increase their visibility, and had lost a lot of regular clients because so many companies here pulled out and went away. It’s not a ghost building, but the trend is not an upward one. Anyway, she stopped me to give me a business card with the new address and phone number. They merged with another salon in the area and there are a couple of locations, but the closer one is farther to the east of me.

It may be that once they’re moved, I’ll get my hair done on choir nights, as I have about 90 minutes
to kill between the end of the day and choir, and this new location is not far out of the way to Holy Moly. So it could work out that I could keep going to Evelyn, because I like her and she’s willing to give me a simple, unfussy cut. And she likes long hair, which is a plus: some hair stylists are always on about “this long hair drags your face down.”

Dudette, I come from a long line of horse-faced people; there’s only so much you can do with a chin-length pageboy or an unnecessary (and damaging) body wave perm. Evelyn is happy to keep my hair long.  Done.

Actually, with short hair, I look a lot like Mr Crazy Town, especially without makeup. Let’s not go there.

Today’s weather has gradually cleared – the clouds that were overhead this morning are gone, replaced by mostly blue sky and fairly bright sun. It makes for some pretty shadows and contrast where the light is coming across the trees from the forest preserve across the way. By the time I leave, though, it’ll be dark. And I’ll be on my way to choir practice, so I won’t be home tonight until after 8pm.

For music this year at Holy Moly, we’re doing a modified “Lessons and Carols” format for Christmas Eve – for the later service at 9pm, that is. I’m not part of the earlier Family Service, thank GOD. It conflicts with work, anyway, as I’m scheduled to work until 5pm on the 24th. Bleh.

Anyway, the music will be good and lovely and I hope it puts people in the right headspace. One is especially good, as it’s not one of those standards you always hear: it’s called “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter. It’s gorgeous, with floating harmonies that shimmer. Even with our few, poor voices, it sounds good. We’ll have some “ringers” on the night, though, so it’ll be even better.

Some of the other pieces will be effective – some are kind of required favorites, but a few are nice arrangements that aren’t just the plain vanilla versions sung from the choir book. One of the traditions at St Nicholas is for people to bring little bells to ring, so there’s something for that as well. We’ll have something for every taste, high class singin,’ low-class ringin,’ everybody join in on the chor-e-us.

On my mind in the news: the sheer gobsmackery of Rod Blagojevich’s hair, and the special hairbrush called “the football” that was carried by an aide, ready for any photo or video opportunity. It’s going to be what used to be called a “mare’s nest” of countercharges, questions about members of the impeachment committee’s own “favors and perks” for friends and family, and will turn out to be a giant waste of everybody’s time. Blago reportedly is defiant and claims he’s done nothing wrong; impeachment proceedings were being floated around the General Assembly months ago because he was seen as incompetent and an obstacle to the legislative process, not because of any of Fitzgerald’s charges. Still, they add spice, all those recordings of Blago (and his wife) dropping the F-bomb. I keep an eye on the news via the iPhone while waiting for calls.

Nearing the end of the day here, finally; the number of calls picked up and the afternoon went faster than the morning. Time is weird that way.

I’ll get grumped at at choir, because I was sick last Wednesday and still not feeling great Sunday, so I’ve missed 2 practices AND a Sunday, le horreur! but it’s never a good idea to run around in sub-freezing weather with a cold. In my experience, it just leads to the cold going into a sinus infection or bronchitis, so I’ll take the dirty looks in my direction, because I got over the cold without further ado (or catarrh).

UPDATE: Made it home safely after choir practice. We sounded awful, not sure why. I think it was because Mary decided to rearrange us and we were “upside-down” musically (or more likely, sideways) and hearing a different blend. Also, it was time for Mary’s annual Christmas Hissy… the stress of the season gets to her, especially when we’re not sounding good after months of work (and after sounding much better in our previous configuration).

Also, my friend Kevin reminded me via Facebook of the very funny “conversation between Rahm and Blago” that was posted at dKos the other day. Heh. This is the best part of this CLEVERLY SATIRICAL PARODY.

BLAGO: What if I appoint Valerie, what if she takes it?

EMANUEL: What do you want me to say? We’d appreciate it, I’m not gonna fucking kiss your ring over it.

BLAGO: “Appreciate it”? Come on, this is a Senate seat we’re talking about. It’s worth a fuck of a lot more than appreciation.

EMANUEL: You asked us for a list, we gave you a fucking list, you want to make your own list then make your own fucking list. [Raising voice] But if you’re asking for anything else from me, or Barack, or Valerie, then you can fucking stop talking right now Rod.

BLAGO: Wait a sec there Rahm. Wait just a fucking minute. Who are you to talk to me like that? I fucking made you.

EMANUEL: You made me? You made me? Tell me you’re fucking joking.

BLAGO: No no no, you listen to me shit-face. You see this list I got, the names motherfucking Obama fucking wants for the Senate. I just ripped it in two. How you like that? Oops, Harris just dropped it in the shredder. Harris?

HARRIS (muffled): Yes sir?

BLAGO: Did you just drop that list in the shredder?

[Whirring, shredder noise]

HARRIS (muffled): I did.

EMANUEL: Do you have me on fucking speakerphone?

BLAGO: It’s in the shredder, Rahm. The list is bye bye.

EMANUEL: Hold on a sec — you got me on fucking speakerphone? Who the fuck do you think I am?

BLAGO: Who are you Rahm? Who are you? You’re shit, you hear me? Don’t come back to Chicago Rahm, it’s not your town any more.

EMANUEL: Pick up the phone Rod.

Also also, more holiday-themed “heh.”

funny pictures of cats with captions

Zabar’s Holiday Swag Basket

Too bad for the New York hotel that sent this very nice basket of holiday treats that I’m no longer a hotel group agent. But it’s lovely! And I’ll take most of this to Holy Moly tomorrow.

A true standing ovation! An overstuffed willow basket holds Elsa’s Story orange butter cookies, Almondina original almond biscuits, Zabar’s cinnamon rugelach, Zabar’s chocolate babka, Zabar’s cinnamon babka, Delancey cinnamon raisin rugelach, Zabar’s black and white cookies, Erica’s apricot-raspberry cookies, Beth’s ginger cookies, Dancing Deer Baking Co. lemon cookies, and Walkers short bread petticoat tails.

Via Zabar’s Broadway Bakery Basket-Kosher – Gift Basket

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas is special to me. Not only do I attend a church named after him (he’s our “patronal saint” in liturgical churchspeak) but he’s indirectly responsible for my 20-year career in travel. As he’s the patron saint of children, sailors, and travelers, this seems more than mere coincidence. How’d this happen?

When I was still living in Eugene, I was drifting along at a dead end job after I left college, working at a dry cleaners. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what I could do to improve my circumstances. More schooling seemed impossible; I had no more veterans’ or Social Security benefits left that paid tuition, and I’d pretty much wasted several years of my life goofing off and having fun, with no degree to show for it.

I’d become friendly with Eveline Elliot, a travel agent who worked down the street at the old Eugene Travel (which closed years ago). She was the person who got me started in the exciting and glamorous world of travel (oh brother) by hiring me to deliver tickets to her many clients on the University of Oregon campus. As a former student, I knew exactly how to find my way around the various office buildings on campus; I knew what “508 PLC” meant, where the building was, and that it was likely an English Lit. professor. After a short paid gig, I was asked to become an unpaid intern for 6 months, take all the free SABRE self-guided lessons in the computer system, and even travel to Dallas to American Airlines’ training center for weeklong classes, from the most basic to more advanced. The catch was the “unpaid” part, and since I didn’t wash out in the first month or two, they had a free employee with the understanding that if I got up to speed quickly enough, I might be offered a real job. Well, I couldn’t have gone 6 months without a paycheck, without Mom’s help. When I told her about it, she said it was no problem if it was what I really wanted. And my expenses were really, REALLY low: rent at the time was $125.00 a month, plus groceries and phone. Utilities were included.

As it happens, I got offered the paid position, but something had gone horribly wrong between h the owner of the agency and Eveline, and she was no longer working there (long story, owner was SO in the wrong: prison ensued on a later issue). But I was offered a better deal at another agency down the street because Eveline let them know I was available (an Apollo shop, so I had to totally re-learn some formats) and I was set for a year. Eventually, I got laid off from there (at Christmas, naturally; Eveline’s departure the year before was also at Christmas). More than a decade later, I was working in Seattle, not happy, and had met David, who lived in the Chicago suburbs. After a Christmastime trip with David to Colorado, I came home to the news that my employer was firing me (well, I really didn’t know what to do about that one big debit memo and put it off, can’t blame them). So I ended up working in travel here in the Chicago area, and now attend a church named after St Nicholas. It’s weird how it worked out that way. I just hope that my big job change (switching to another team sometime in the next week) is just another Christmas work-life development and not the harbinger of yet another holiday-time interruption in my continued employment in the industry. But I remain thankful for my job, which I suspect I may owe to the machinations of a Turkish saint who is very popular in Holland.

Eveline was Dutch, the seamstress at the dry cleaners was of Dutch extraction, and Eveline included me in her circle of friends. Eventually, this led to my participating in her annual Sinterklaas parties with other local friends. These were a lot of fun; the gifts could be quite modest, or even dug out of the trash and re-used, but they had to be elaborately wrapped and presented with a satirical poem that contained clues about the gift secreted somewhere inside the package, which could take any outlandish or mundane shape.

I remember Eveline one year had to work her way through a meticulously built cardboard steamer trunk, that opened on hinges and had little drawers and construction-paper clothes on hangers. It was lined with wrapping paper, and contained an itinerary that had the sprocket-holes along the sides just as the SABRE printers in her office produced for her clients. Eventually, she found something simple, like a luggage tag… that was the gift! Another year, an avid runner got a Nike running shoe, about the size of a breadbox. After reading the clues and taking it apart in the prescribed manner (there were several more installments of snarky poetry giving him clues) he eventually discovered a half-used tube of Shoe Goo.

You weren’t supposed to know who gave you the gift, and had to call out “Thank you, Sinterklaas!!” once you found your gift. Every now and then, someone would throw a handful of ginger nuts (also called pfeffernuessen)into the center of the group. This was to commemorate St Nicholas’ penchant for tossing gold and money bags through the windows of poor orphans and impoverished lovers.

Earlier today, I found the candy boxes from this years Fannie May fundraiser stacked on the front porch, dusted with snow. I knew UPS would be delivering it to the door, rather than to one of the St Nick’s parishioners, but I forgot to check the porch for it yesterday before the snow started. It should be fine, a little cold won’t harm fine chocolate. But as I brushed the snow off and brought it in, with David’s help, I couldn’t help calling out “Thank you, Saint Nicholas!”

From Benjamin Britten’s
St. Nicholas Cantata (1948):

Across the tremendous bridge of sixteen hundred years
I come to stand in worship with you, as I stood
Among my faithful congregation long ago.

All who knelt beside me then are gone.
Their name is dust, their tombs are grass and clay,
Yet still their shining seed of Faith survives-

In you! it weathers time, it springs again
In you! With you it stands like forest oak
Or withers with the grasses underfoot.

Preserve the living Faith for which yours fathers fought!
For Faith was won by centuries of sacrifice
And many martyrs died that you might worship God.

Help us Lord! to find the hidden road
that leads from love to greater Love, from faith
To greater Faith, Strengthen us, O Lord!
Screw up our strength to serve Thee with simplicity.

Benjamin Britten’s St. Nicholas Cantata (1948) – The Saint Nicholas Center

Via Madpriest

Jet Airways: Cutting Back

Oh, boy. Jet Airways/9W is the partner carrier of American/AA in India, and we use them a lot for flights to cities beyond Delhi and Mumbai. A LOT, akshully. But then, our main client is probably cutting back on the expensive “send the entire team to that small city in India for 6 weeks of training at the remote facility” trips, anyway.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Jet Airways lays off cabin crew

India’s largest private airline Jet Airways has laid off 800 employees as it cuts flights amid soaring costs.

The company said cabin crew hired for a planned expansion programme which had been suspended would lose their jobs.

Hundreds of members of staff gathered in the city of Mumbai Bombay to protest at the move.

UPDATE: As ***Dave notes below, the layoffs were rescinded. There’s a lot of internal conflict and political stuff going on, too.