The People I Meet…

 

The current job I’m in as a grocer allows me to speak with many people everyday …some I know already, some I’m meeting for the first time…and yes, of course there are some I wish I had never met… “I’m sorry, (insert sir or ma’am here) this is a grocery store and you might have to wait in a checkout line for a few minutes…what makes you think your time is so much more important than anyone else’s?”…not that I would ever say that…

…and of course there are a whole new cast of characters who have entered my so-called life…the nice lady who calls me sport all the time…I’m 58 years old for craps sake, nobody’s called me that since my early twenties…the nice guy who wore his New York football Giants jacket into the store everyday…haven’t seen that jacket since the Eagles won the Super Bowl…and then there was the pharmaceutical industry conspiracy guy who spoke in whispers and who told me he was being black-balled out of the industry by his former employer…he actually took his groceries out to his car and came back into the store to share more of his job history EA164E10-C2FD-4190-A954-F50535481935and his thoughts on what’s wrong with this country…this was at 1:30 A.M. and after letting him go on for a couple minutes, I finally had to ask him to leave the store…he was too strange even for me…

…and not to be left out…the folks who stop over from the nearby gym…who love to  Flaunt the results of their winter spent working out in various forms of dress and not so dressed to do their shopping after their workouts…with warmer months coming…and there’s really no way to write this without sounding like a creeper…but, I can only imagine what they’ll be wearing or hardly wearing into the store…

but those are just a few of the people I see…this post is about a young lady who is a imageco-worker that I’ve gotten to know because she works at our Customer Service desk which is also part of the department I work in…she told me one day this week that she was a volunteer with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and that after work she would be visiting the home of a critically ill child where, thanks to Make-A-Wish, she would get to tell this child that his wish of a trip to Disney World had been fulfilled…

I only share this story because so many times I might hear someone of my generation be critical of “those lazy, little snowflakes”…this person I’ve met shows that just volunteering and giving of your precious time can help make life a little better for those living in life-threatening situations…so next time you’re standing in a check-out line fuming over the few minutes it’s taking from your day…be mad at yourself for picking the wrong line…or you can use that time instead to think about what you might do to make life better for someone who may not be as fortunate as you…

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Frederick X vs. We The People

We The People and Mr. Unremarkable battle another tyrannical King and his Intolerable Acts.

This is an Unremarkable work of fiction. Whether you believe it to be a work of historical fiction or a story created in the mind of an angry, Unremarkable old man is up to you. The resemblance of any individuals or corporations in this work to actual individuals or corporations is purely coincidental and in the imagination of the reader. Angry, Unremarkable old men occasionally need a villain to blame for the injustices which make them angry. Sometimes that villain is a king.

When in the course of human events…it sometimes becomes necessary for the rabble to rise up and challenge the financial strains placed on them by a king who resides far from their homes, yet uses them to enrich his vast coffers. That ruler, who sneers down from on high at those he believes not worthy, is FREDERICK X, from here forward referred to as FRED X, and who besides being an iron-fisted monarch, was a no-good, money-grubbing, glory-hound of a businessman.

And he was smart. Fred X surrounded himself with cut throats, lackeys, yes-men, idea-men, both good and bad, and a horde of lawyers to defend those good and bad ideas. It seems the only thing Fred X’s castle didn’t have were mirrors with which to look yourself in the face, and a singing conscious-guiding cricket. But even with all of the aforementioned pirates to help guide and defend his business, there was one thing that perplexed Fred X, how could he make the rabble pay his taxes and expenses from said business? His lackeys were stumped, his yes-men agreed with him…but thought he was crazy, and his idea men were clueless. It wasn’t until the cut throats met with the lawyers over lattes at a local coffee emporium that a solution was found.

And here born was the Independent Contractor. Independent as in refusing to be under obligation to others and contractor meaning someone who is party to a contract. This position the cut-throats and lawyers reasoned…as much as cut-throats and lawyers can reason, would sign what they laughingly termed an operating agreement to work for Fred X, and only Fred X, and in return Fred X would give them their own territory, a protected primary area of service it could be called. Those who bought into this skullduggery would think themselves entrepreneurs, like fools they would pay the king’s taxes, absorb some of his expenses, they would wear Fred X’s colors and display his coat of arms, and they work from sun up until sun down and later with not so much as a hint of overtime pay or paid time off.

Fred X was beside himself with delight. The cut-throats and the lawyers had done it. And as thanks he would give the cut-throats the new title of Contractor Relations. The lawyers he knew would get their enjoyment finding new ways to plunder future Contractor earnings. He would also allow them to discharge his yes-men. They would have fun doing that, and if needed he could hire new yes-men later. And most important, those zany financial talking heads would adore his company and heap praise upon the genius that was Fred X.

Like all great rebellions, it’s not exactly known where or when its seeds were sewn. Employee unions and Fred X’s largest competitor spent time and money railing against the Independent Contractor model. We The People were not businesses they screamed, but simply mis-classified employees being used by the king. And as the word spread, more and more lawyers around the country arrived in courts to sue Fred X for his terrible mis-treatment of The People… and to put their own hands into the pockets of The People. Lawsuits were filed in far away courts on the left coast, still others combined multiple locations and jurisdictions into one bundle to be ruled on by learned judges of higher courts.

“We strongly disagree with the challenges to the Independent Contractor scheme”, Fred X and his lawyers repeated over and over again. But legal challenges  to the king’s business model mounted and the lawyers soon saw the hair on the wart that was the Independent Contractor lie. So the lawyers and the cut-throats met once more over lattes and came up with another business scheme. This one they called PIS, short for Provider of Independent Service.

This time even Fred X was initially taken aback by the level of deceit the lawyers and cut-throats had established. Their new business plot was both brilliant and devious and oozed with the legal sliminess only the most talented lawyers could invent. Single service area contractors, the backbone of the Independent Contractor model will be required to purchase additional areas of service or sell out to other providers. If they are unable to do so…we will thank them for their years of service and financial investment, take back their service area and assign it to a different provider. And all of this legal jibber-jabber will allow us to announce that we are no longer working with Individual Contractors and that we only work with businesses that use employees. The owners of these new employing-using businnesses will be allowed to negotiate with Fred X the value of their services. And, here is the best part, these new businesses will sign away their right to sue Fred X in the future as part of the PIS scam. Past lawsuits with The People could now be settled for pennies on the dollar. Fred X nearly passed out as he sat upon his golden chair, thankfull there were no mirrors upon which to look himself in the face or singing crickets offering conscious-guiding advice.

But this my friends may not be the end of this tale, this assault on We The People. For many of these businesses Fred X works with are the same Independant Contractors he abused before, just re-branded to fit into the king’s new PIS model. How long will it be until they experience the same level of displeasure with Fred X’s new model? How long will it be before they learn the art of contract negotiation with Fred X, which is to say, no matter how much you value your business contribution to Fred X, it will be the king and his court of jesters who will determine your worth to the king. How long will it be until dissension among The People sets in as they learn through the grapevine the value of one business vs. another?

And now, in a Podunk little town in the southeast corner of the newly re-named territory of Wentzylvania, new voices cried out to just themselves. Older voices, long-time servants of  Fred X, disturbed by the amount the bundled lawsuits were settled for. If We The People were indeed employees of Fred X, then these settlements come nowhere close to our investments into the King’s business. The attorneys in the action of We The People vs. Frederick X had settled, and We The People had been weighed on the scales of justice…and have been found wanting. Congratulations King Fred, the riches of the kingdom remain yours…but don’t spend them all in one place. This isn’t over until We The People say it’s over!

 

People Acting Douchey…

I was trying to come up with an adjective to describe some of the people and their behaviors we encounter each day. Here, presented absolutely tongue-in-cheek and in the Second Person viewpoint is my interpretation of people acting douchey…

 Most people who know me would say I’m more of a glass-half-empty person, a drain, not a fountain. I don’t always look on the bright side of life, and I won’t make lemonade out of lemons. Sometimes, I think we need to return-serve some of the lemons aimed our way every day.

Not surprisingly, the word douchey was one of the first words I came up with. Surprisingly, it is in the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary and is defined as obnoxiously annoying, offensive, or dislikable <a douchey guy> or <douchey behavior>. There are also some who when asked about me would tell you “takes one to know one.”

With all of that being said, “Let’s pull the pin on this grenade”

You’re stuck in slow traffic during your morning commute. You’ve been waiting in a long left-hand turn lane. Finally…it’s your turn. You slowly inch into the intersection, knowing the only chance you will get is when the opposing traffic stops. The light changes to yellow (okay, amber), the last car clears, it’s now or never, you start your turn…WAIT! The first shout-out goes to that guy who leaves you hanging in the middle of the intersection, as he, (could it have been a she?) blows through the intersection on a red light. In fact, not only did Mr. Red Light Runner leave you hanging, but he sped up to do it, while talking on his cell phone!” Well, isn’t that special?

“Let’s see if there is a pony under this pile of manure.”

After an irritating, thanks to Mr. Red Light Runner, but mostly uneventful drive, you arrive at your Wawa or some other convenience store of choice. You figure a quick top-off on the gas tank, buy some food for the rest of your commute, and you’re out of there, except every single gas aisle is full. So you choose an aisle and you wait. The customer at the pump decides it’s time to wash his windshield, and every other window on his car! And then you hear it, that click of the pump that says his tank is full. Yet, he continues to wash the most useless of windows, the rear passenger side window. Patience you say to yourself. And then Mr. Clean Windows out-douches even Mr. Red-Light Runner. After putting the pump back and replacing his gas cap…he smiles at you on his way into the store. Without moving his car. What a douchey thing to do!

“Let’s not try to run and tie our shoes at the same time.”

Clean Windows finally returns with a bag of groceries and a small bottle of water, waves, and gives you a warm, “Have a nice day!” Finally, after filling your tank, you move your car to a parking spot, and play the parking lot version of the game Frogger as you make your way into the Wawa or other convenience store of your choice, still seething over your run-ins with Mr. Clean Windows and Mr. Red Light Runner. You get your breakfast sandwich, or your 3 donuts for $2.00. You pour your large cup of 100% Columbian coffee, grab a handful of creamers and sugar packets, and race to get in a line 8 people deep. You’re patient, you bide your time making it all the way to third in line…they open up another register…and the employee announces, “I’ll take the next customer in line.”  You do the polite thing and offer it to the person in front of you, who looks at you…mockingly…knowing full well…you don’t stand a chance. You gather your purchases, sprint around the counter in what feels like near-world record time, only to find that customers who were at the end of your former line were able to out-race you to the head of your new line. You’ve gone from almost second in-line to dropping back once again to a disappointing 5th in-line. And Ms. Store Clerk, who called for you, the next person in-line, won’t even acknowledge your existence. Will the douchey behavior ever end?

“We’ve got ’em by the short and curlies.”

Still in line at the convenience store of your choice, you wait patiently as a good and loyal  customer and responsible member of the human race should. But then, a few places ahead of you in line, you see it. Two customers, getting chummy. No, not that kind of chummy. Take your minds out of the gutter, please? Did they come into the store together? You’re not sure, but your spidey-senses tell you, something stinks here. They weren’t always in-line together. Customer 2 just walked up and placed his stuff next to his friends, or as you would describe him to the police, his co-conspirator. Should you say something, do you make a stink about it, what are you going to do? You say nothing, you ASS-U-ME they will check out at the register as one customer. But then it happens. They split their purchases. Or, to put it bluntly, Customer 2 just slapped you in the back of your head on the way to cutting to the front of the line. Still making lemonade are we? Or is it almost time to start returning-serve on those lemons?

I don’t want to put a ceiling on your blue sky, but…”

You put in your 8 hours in the old salt mines, or the place where you also call work. Today you’ve decided it’s now time to finally get that helmet you call your hair, cut. You no longer go to the barber with the spinning barber pole outside, they’re all gone. Much to your dismay, you now have to go to one of those uni-sex hair cutting establishments. So you suck it up, and you usually try to get there right after work. Entering the shop, you look around, only one customer waiting staring stupidly at his cell phone, with 4 cutters working. You check-in, where they tell you your 5th in-line. “Say again, I’m what?” Four other customers checked in on-line, they’re just not here yet is the reason. Like everything else on this day, you decide to take your chances and wait it out, spending your time obsessing over Mr. Red Light Runner, Mr. Clean Windows, Ms. Store Clerk, and Checkout Line Co-Conspirators. And now, for some reason, Mr. Cell Phone, begins to annoy you as well.

“It’s a sh*t sandwich, but we all have to take a bite.”

  • Customer #1 arrives. Young male teen with what looks to be a case of permanent bed head. “I checked in on my cell phone.”, he thinks everyone wants to know. After several suggestions from his “stylist”, he decides he wants to look at a book they have of different haircuts. Really, with that hair?
  • Customer #2 arrives. Female, guessing mid-40’s. She would like her hair colored and styled like Lady Gaga had at this year’s Oscars. Since nobody knows what that looked like, three cheers for Bed-Head Teen  for taking the time to find a picture on instyle.com using his cell phone.

“It’s also how I checked in!”, he reminds everyone.

Barber #4 uses this opportunity to call it a day, exhausted from a long 4-hour shift.

  • Customers #3 & #4 arrive. Twin elementary school-aged girls you guess, with their mom who wants them to get their hair cut like Tinkerbell. They’re going to Disney for summer vacation. She just can’t decide which one, Tinkerbell from the cartoon Peter Pan or Tinkerbell Julia Roberts from the movie Hook. Again, another big smolie-olie to Bed-Head Teen for finding pictures of each on his cell phone.

…he’s been here almost 30 minutes and hasn’t had a single hair on his head cut.

Mr. Cell Phone who was waiting when you entered the shop is still engrossed in his phone. You decide you can’t take it any longer and leave in a douchey huff. As you exit the store you here Bed-Head Teen exclaim…

“Give me a High-Lo Fade and a Medium Pompadour!” 

…and you say to yourself, “how douchey.”

My Americana..Part 2

Planes, trains, tram cars, cars, and nepotism as part of My Americana.

Everyday travel in my Americana was always simple. The car. Did I have one, could I borrow one, or could someone please pick me up? Growing up, my family owned just one car, and depending on what time my Minor League or Little League baseball games or practices started, my parents work schedules sometimes made it hard to get there. I did get one valuable piece of advice however that went something like…

“Don’t worry, if you’re any good, they’ll find a way to get you there.”

Most of our family vacations consisted of driving to the Jersey shore for the annual V.F.W. convention. We didn’t take long cross country trips to National Parks or hop on an Eastern Airlines flight to Disney World. It was always Wildwood in June for the convention…and we tramloved it.             It wasn’t until I got my own car that I even saw anything west of the city of Philadelphia. I always knew places called Valley Forge and Reading were there, history and geography books told me as much.

On my 18th birthday, my mom gave me a gift called nepotism when she got me a job at the Evesham Waste Disposal Treatment Facility. If nepotism doesn’t define Americana, I don’t know what does. What my mom didn’t know is that I was so close to running a sub 50 second 440 yard dash in track for my high school. That was a really big deal. But, instead I would be making the unheard of salary (for a high school senior in 1978) of $5.18 per hour plus overtime (?), call-in pay(??) and all the tomatoes (think about that) I could ever want…shoveling sludge for the township we lived in. Screw those kids flipping burgers for that orange-haired clown, I had a career, I was gonna be rich!

Shoveling all that sludge allowed me to take that trip to Florida in 1981 that my familyft lauderdale never took, driving down in a customized Philadelphia Flyers Dodge van with a couple of friends for Spring Break. Since none of us actually went to college, let alone could spell college, I didn’t understand why we were going all the way to Ft. Lauderdale…until we got there. The Jersey shore was fun, but this place was an all-day, every day party. Both fun and frightening all at once. I did however, much to my chagrin, leave Ft. Lauderdale the same way as when I got there. And I don’t mean in a van. Like most 21 year-old males, my brain wasn’t always in charge of the operations…

…we don’t need no stinking reservations…

We were just about out of my neighborhood when I posed the question, “Where are wepaper staying?” After some uncomfortable head nods and some awkward shoulder shrugs, I was told we had no hotel reservations, “We will find a place when we get there.” Does anyone see the potential flaw in this plan (rhetorical)! But they were right, and 35 years later, I still stand corrected. However, I’m really ticked about the conspiracy to keep that little piece of information from me until I was in the van, the driver already pulling away from the curb.beach

The trip down was mostly uneventful, the agreement not to drink until we got there was easily the best and safest choice we made for ourselves and other motorists all week. The thought of getting pulled over by a ruthless, but certainly well-meaning, Georgia State Trooper, just looking to toss some intoxicated, trouble-making cretins just passing through his state on the way to Spring Break into a Georgia jail overrode the desire to drink and drive.

“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”

I don’t remember much about the drive down other than it was a good chance to learn, through osmosis, some of the songs that played endlessly for over 24 hours. It would have been better if we had a copy of Rosetta Stone.  We could have used our time productively to learn a language. Instead I came away with the ability to do the rap portion of Blondie’s hit song Rapture. Both important skills, but in no way interchangeable.

Driving through North Carolina into South Carolina gave me a chance to see what may have been the only point of interest on the whole way down. Those road signs that come almost every mile, announcing how many more miles are left until you reach South of the Border, the well advertised, too bright, fireworks selling, somewhat racially insensitive? (just look at the signs) tourist trap and rest stop along I-95 just south of the N.C.-S.C. border. I’m not sure if those signs were all placed there as a public service, or some sick joke meant to annoy drivers who needed a bathroom break, drawing you into their trap.

All Aboard Amtrak…

I’ve only been on a train a few times, mostly locals, however I did have the pleasure of traveling from Virginia to Sanford, Florida on Amtrak’s Autotrain. If you’re headed to, let’s say Walt Disney World in Florida, and prefer to have your own car with you, then the Autotrain might work for you, if you have 21 hours to kill. Which I did. It is also the same amount of time it would have taken for me to drive directly to Orlando from
Pennsylvania.image

My daughter had moved to Florida, and after two weeks of trying to match her car up with an auto carrier, I decided to just do it myself. If you’ve never been on a long distance train ride, it’s mostly enjoyable. I had a window seat and got a chance to see some of the little towns that the train passed through. Small, well maintained ranch homes with owners who obviously have learned to ignore the sound of a train passing not far from their front door…in the middle of the night.

Dinner, which was about the best food you can get on a train, was served in the dining car where I enjoyed speaking with other diners who were from south Jersey, close to where I grew up. The next morning the train rolled into the Sanford station, and after stopping for something to eat at another piece of My Americana called Dunkin’ Donuts I drove sugar-charged to Orlando where my daughter was thrilled to see her car again…did I tell you that she didn’t know it was me who was delivering her car? Want to guess what, not who, she hugged first? To wrap this up, if you go to Orlando often, avoid the I-95 drive and take this little slice of Americana, just remember to bring a good book, and unless you want to hear every conversation, some good noise cancelling headphones.

First In Flight?…

We all know the Wright Brothers and their contributions to America and the world in the field of aviation. But this section is mostly about Charley Furnas, a somewhat imageunknown but important name in American History. Charley is the precursor to what most of us would all become, what I would become, later in history. A passenger. Charley was the first person to fly with the Wright Brothers. We all recognize Wilbur and Orville as the builders of the first controlled, sustained power (not a glider) airplane. And in 1908, the Wright Brothers were attempting to sell their invention to the U.S. Army. The rub? The plane had to be able to carry a pilot and a passenger up to 125 miles at a speed of 40 miles per hour. Enter the hero of our story. Charley was offered the chance on May 14, 1908 to bravely go where so many of us now so easily go, the passenger seat on a plane. Charley had spent many hours working for the Wrights for little pay. They gave Charley the honor (I would have preferred cash) as a way to repay him for all of his hard work. But he also had a job on those first flights. The Wrights would focus on flying and operating the controls on the plane, and Charley would monitor the engine. Charley took two flights that day, one with Wilbur and one with Orville, making him not only the first passenger, and the reason we have flight attendants today, but the first flight engineer as well, and giving Scotty the chance to say…”I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!”

The First Automobiles…

Or actually, my first automobiles. Because of the job my mom got me at the sewer plant, I was able to purchase a real nice ’78 Pontiac Firebird from Burns Pontiac in Marlton. It was candy apple red (or some shade of red) with red velour seats, had just 5,500 miles on it, and was only driven by the owners daughter back and forth to work. It was a great car, and my dad, who was also purchasing a sporty Pontiac LeMans at the same time, made me buy it…however, I wanted the jet black Camaro with the T-Tops, but was somehow outvoted by my dad and the salesman. Funny how that happened.

Five years later I traded that Firebird, after beating it half to death, maybe due to some deep seeded resentment for missing out on the Camaro, on a 1983 Trans Am. I didn’t share that information with my dad…I didn’t want him to try and talk me out of it. I was an idiot. I had no idea how to negotiate and I’m pretty sure I got beat but good. However, I loved that car and nobody was going to change my mind. It was a combination of Kitt from Night Rider and the Bandit Trans Am with black and gold trim and my favorite accessory ever…T-Tops. That car made weekend drives to the Jersey shore fun and it was the only car I’ve driven irresponsibly over 100 mph. Unfortunately it was also a piece of crap, and after it was damaged during an attempted theft, I decided it was time to get rid of it. Joke was on the thief, the alternator was bad. The only way that car was going anywhere was on the back of a tow truck.

Finally…

Americans didn’t invent the automobile, we just figured out how to improve them and build them in quantity. Ransom E. Olds was the first, producing in quantity the Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Henry Ford built 18 million Model T cars by 1927 thanks to his use of the modern assembly line. Dr. Emmet Brown didn’t design the DeLorean, he did however invent the flux capacitor required to make it a time machine. And with that, a list of my favorite cars…other than the ones I’ve owned and in no particular order…

  • The Batmobile-in 1955 the Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division built a concept car called the Lincoln Futura. It cost $250,000 to build and in 1965 Barris Custom City converted it into the Batmobile we know from the classic television show.
  • 1977 Pontiac Trans Am-I knew I would buy a Trans Am one day after watching Smokey & the Bandit.
  • 1956 Ford Thunderbird- (white) of all of the cars in American Graffitti, Suzanne Somers made this one the best.
  • 1978 Pontiac Firebird- almost as nice as my ’78 Firebird was Jim Rockford’s sierra gold model.
  • 1976 Ford Gran Torino-(red w/white vector stripe) Starsky & Hutch made this car popular from 1975 thru 1979.
  • 1971 Pontiac LeMans-not really a favorite car as much as a great movie. Popeye Doyle used this car in The French Connection in one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history. The movie Bullit had better cars, a 1968 Ford Mustang GT and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, and arguably the greatest chase scene in movie history, but even I spotted the green Volkswagen, all 4 times.
  • The Munster Koach- built using the bodies of 3 Model T’s and has an engine from a 1966 Mustang GT. The Munsters had the coolest hot rod on television.
  • 1959 Corvette-if you’ve ever seen the movie Animal House you know that Delta House rush chairman Otter owns the red ‘vette used in the movie.
  • 1966 Lincoln Continental- another entry from Animal House. Why is this one of my favorites? Because of what it became…the Delta House Death Mobile.
  • 1974 Spirit of America Chevy Vega- Chevy also offered Nova and Impala editions in red, white, and blue color option. Chevrolet also released the iconic t.v. commercial that year which gave us baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet as 4 pillars of our Americana.
  • 1978 AMC Pacer- AMC made some ugly cars, and the Pacer certainly takes the imagecake. In May of 1976, Car & Driver Magazine called it “The flying fishbowl.” The 1977 Pacer was used as a model for Goofy’s car in Disney’s A Goofy Movie.
  • 1921 Oldsmobile 43-A Touring car…with the rear half of the car removed and replaced with a platform and 2 chairs, Granny and Elly May had somewhere to sit on the Clampett family truck.
  • 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon- or the Wagon Queen Family Truckster which took the Griswold family to Wally World. And I’m assuming back again.
  • The Captain America Chopper- made famous by Dennis Hopper in the movie Easy Rider and at times the center of arguments on who really built the bike. Not even going to guess on that.image

There are so many more muscle cars and motorcycles, especially bikes from Harley Davidson and Triumph that should be on this list, but I’ve already gone on much longer than a bad writer should. If you’ve made it this far reading my incoherent ramblings, thanks and I hope you will come back for my next look at My Americana.