March 4, 2010 – Airport – Cancun
Our plane is delayed. We were scheduled to board at 1:10 or so for our 2:10 direct flight to Cleveland. It is now ten of two, we have been moved to a different gate, and our plane has not yet landed. I wouldn’t be concerned, except the gate worker just told me that the flight originated in Cleveland. The Cleveland to Cancun flight normally lands at 8:30 AM. Six hours behind schedule is an issue, even in Mexico.
We are ending a near-perfect vacation in Cancun. I have been to Mexico a half a dozen times. Each trip was better than the last. The tourist areas provided wonderful food and service. The Mexican people have always been welcoming and friendly, happy to share their land and their culture with those of us who choose to visit for a week or so.
My last trip to Cancun was in 1998. Developers and hurricanes have both struck since then. But my life and even the way I vacation have undergone more changes than Cancun. Thankfully for both the city and me, we all appear to have weathered our storms.
This is my fifth annual trip with Sally, AKA the girlfriend. She is a terrific travel companion. No airport line is too long. No snafu is the end of her world. Where others (or one other in particular) viewed any minor problem as a personal attack that required my immediate attention in some futile attempt to avenge her honor and restore her smile, Sally is simply happy to be on an adventure. The glitches, the mistakes, help to make the trip more memorable.
Last night was just that type of adventure.
We stayed at an all-inclusive adult resort. No screaming babies! No eight year olds in the adult pool while we are trying to play water volleyball. The fact that most of the women were topless at the pool and on the beach was just a happy bonus. The food, service, and facilities were all significant upgrades over last year’s trip to Punta Cana, and we loved the Dominican. Last year’s vacation was nice. This was that much better.
The resort had six restaurants serving dinner each evening. Two, the Asian and the Italian, required reservations. Two were buffets. The other two served Tex-Mex and seafood. We never ate in the Tex-Mex. We hit the buffets for breakfast and lunch. The made-to-order omelets were incredible. Monday evening’s dinner was in the Asian restaurant. Tuesday’s, Italian. Blessed as we are in Cleveland with large active Asian and Italian communities, we know these cuisines. Hell, we ate at Tuscany the night before we left. What the resort restaurants may have lacked in authenticity was more than compensated by their excellent service and tasty, fresh ingredients. We enjoyed these dinners almost as much as the meals in the seafood spot.
The restaurants were filled with round tables suitable for up to four diners. We arrived yesterday evening at the Bellavista, the seafood restaurant, promptly at 7. There were five of us, two Finnish girls celebrating their 50th birthdays, a guy from Utah who was playing slap and tickle with one of the twins, Sally and I. Every table was taken and we were only the Maitre d’s second problem. Ahead of us was a party of eight that had been promised a table the night before. This restaurant didn’t take reservations, but this guy had blown a lot of money to be a member of the resort. The most basic of his privileges was a table for his guests. He was a big guy from upper state New York and he was doing a slow burn. The Maitre d ran next door to the Italian restaurant to find some open tables.
“I told him we would be here at 7. Eight of us. I dropped 50k on this. I don’t think I’m asking for too much.”
Since he was talking in my general direction, I figured it would be rude to ignore him. “I totally agree. You gave him plenty of time to be prepared.”
I had a new friend.
The Maitre d returned a few minutes later. After intense negotiations it was resolved that my buddy and his guests would retreat to the poolside bar, 20 feet away, and be seated by 8 PM. We would be next, also by 8. More trusting, I led us to a quieter place to have a glass of wine.
When we returned at 8, the Maitre d was gone. My buddy and his guests were seated. Most of the tables were still occupied and there was a line of hungry people waiting to be seated. Proceeding to the front of the line didn’t enhance my popularity. Crowded at the door, the line was getting restless. The servers seemed to be moving in slow motion. The entire vibe of the restaurant was off kilter. Minutes went by, and except for a couple finishing their meal and leaving, nothing changed. No one remembered when they had last seen the Maitre d.
Two tables had been open for awhile. I walked up to one of the waiters and advised him that we were next on the list, a party of five.
“Senor, these tables are for 4. Five is too many.”
These guys were lost. Their manager was MIA and they didn’t know what to do.
“Not a problem. Let’s put those two tables together and we’ll get my party seated. I’ll be at the desk.”
He started to move the tables and I took my pen out of my pocket and checked the list. “OK, who is Woods, party of 2?” My Finnish friends were scandalized. Sally was smiling. The crowd at the door didn’t know what to think. One by one I verified the list, joked with the patrons, and put a couple of the single diners together, cruise ship style, to get us all seated. I grabbed the menus and sat my group and promised to return in a few minutes.
“Schmidlap, party of 4.” By now everyone was totally into the moment. One guy tried to slip me a 20 peso note, which is about a buck and a half and way more than I was worth. The wait staff, sensing that everything was back to normal, picked up their pace. Everyone was seated and I was back with my group before the drink order was taken.
We had a lovely dinner. I was really proud of my three waiters and our one busboy for rising to the occasion. So if you are ever in Temptations Resort in Cancun, make sure you try the shrimp and scallop brochette. And tell my guys I said “Hola”.
I was standing amongst the terminally single. Not asexual. Not gay. These men and women are simply oblivious to the opportunities that surround them. Some are emotionally deaf and blind. Others may have been so badly hurt, sometime in their past, that they have subconsciously turned off their receptors. They don’t want to be alone, but they have no idea how to change their lives. Two such individuals caught my attention.
Calling them a couple would have been an exaggeration. They were on a pre-date. There was an innocence about them that was both pure and painful. I watched her face, her eyes, when he talked. There was that glow of admiration that the wives of politicians are so often forced to fake. And even when she was, ostensibly, speaking with someone else, he was paying close attention to everything she said. She didn’t know what that meant. And he was totally unaware of how long those eyes had stayed focused to the side of his face.
Don’t let the setting, a bar, or the beers they were holding, fool you. Katie and Robert were still stuck in Mr. Morgan’s seventh grade home room.
Quietly, separately, I took each of their temperatures. And then I gave them both a gentle push..
The young parents had their arms full. Standing in line at the Beachwood Winterfest, our chamber of commerce’s annual community pancake breakfast, they were trying to keep three small children close while holding five Styrofoam plates. The parents were talking with Mark Nolan of WKYC. Local politicians, several of whom had their nominating petitions conveniently available, were kvelling over the little boys. The kids just wanted to eat pancakes with blueberries. They didn’t care about the festivities or the celebrities, but no one was asking for their opinion. It took awhile, but eventually we all knew what the children wanted.
My friend Marc lives in Israel. His mom lives in Menorah Park. I visit every other Sunday. This week I brought chocolate.
Menorah Park is the most beautiful, best staffed, nicest nursing home I have ever seen. If I wasn’t Jewish, I would schedule a meeting with a rabbi just to make sure I could move in there when I get older. But, it is still a nursing home. Fantastic facilities and wonderful, dedicated caregivers can’t hide that fact.
The elderly men and women in the area I visit never forget that they are in a nursing home. They are constantly reminded of their physical limitations. They are painfully aware of how dependent they are on the staff for their most basic needs, things we take for granted. One example is going to the restroom.
Many of the residents are incapable of transporting themselves from their rooms to the dining area, from the dining area back to their rooms, from the comfort of their chairs to the restroom. They all can’t be moved at once. Invariably, many wait while someone is being assisted. Every moment of waiting reinforces their helplessness. Every unanswered call reminds them that they no longer have any independence. And every moment spent alone waiting for the aides makes them feel even less significant and more invisible.
I think, sometimes, that our job is to search for the invisible and let them know that we can see them and that they are not alone.
Love. There are people who love their computers. They proudly carry their little MacBooks and Netbooks wherever they go. There were over a half-a-dozen at last night’s meeting of the Lake Erie Moose Society, our blogger group. I do not share their affection for all things high tech in general, or for computers in particular.
I don’t have a love/hate relationship with computers. I’m closer to tolerate/hate. I view the computer, that black box on my desk, the dusty keyboard, and the lovely flat screen as a tool. I expect it to function, like a hammer or a screwdriver, every time I use it. True, computers are more like automobiles than hand tools, but I can’t help myself. I just expect the damn thing to work every time.
You know that’s not going to happen.
I was switched from Outlook Express to Outlook three secretaries ago. I did not move without a fight and the transition was less than smooth. I confess that the participants were a large part of the problem. It took awhile, but I adjusted. Until today.
My Outlook is totally screwed up. I’ve got an email with a large attachment stuck in my Outbox. Microsoft’s online trouble-shooter had four ways to solve this rare problem. I tried options 1 and 2. My secretary’s attempt at option 3 has made all of my extra folders disappear. We can’t get rid of the email and its attachment breeched in my Outbox, but we were able to eliminate several hundred emails that encapsulated my two terms as president of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce and my last, and most interesting, divorce of 2005-2006.
Agitated? You betcha.
Looking for a distraction, needing a way to clear my head, I escaped to Facebook. That didn’t help. Today was my day to get switched to the newest, least useful, version of Facebook. Goodbye LiveFeed. So long friends who disappear for hours at a time. It got to be so frustrating I went back to retackle Outlook.
This is, of course, no time to discuss impenetrable insurance company websites. Outlook to Facebook to Anthem. Repeat. My blood pressure was spiking.
I hope to have someone in tomorrow to make this ferchackta machine work. I have become painfully aware of how often I scan and email documents both for my insurance business and for the chamber. I’m currently dead in the water. Worse, I just can’t grasp the cause of the problem or what can be done to resolve the issue.
I can’t imagine ever loving my computer. It seems like I would just be setting myself up for disappointment. That, and it would make my pen jealous.
One more thought – A nice dinner, a trip to the whirlpool, and a CAVS win have all contributed to the relative calm of this post. Right now I’m watching Jon Stewart spar with Newt Gingrich on the Daily Show. For those of you who might be tempted, Mr. Gingrich will be in Akron next Wednesday as part of his “No Innuendo Left Unspoken Tour”.
My child has excellent attendance at Charles Dickens
I was stuck behind an ancient Dodge Caravan at a traffic light on Cedar Road. Bored, and positive that I was going to be here for at least one more cycle, I stared at the bumper sticker in front of me. There had to be a reason to put this message on that minivan. It wasn’t placed there to hide a dent or scratch. It would have taken a lot more than one bumper sticker to do that. The plainly worded unadorned vinyl wasn’t attached to the vehicle to enhance its appearance.
It must have been the message. The owner of this vehicle was proud that his/her child had excellent attendance at, presumably, an elementary school.
We have all seen the clear window stickers proclaiming a child’s attendance at a particular university. An elementary school aged child making the honor roll may generate the need for a parent to share his/her pride with the world via a bumper sticker. I can even imagine announcing perfect attendance.
This isn’t perfection. This is simply very good. Have we really given up? Are we really willing to be mired in good enough?
There was an award for perfect attendance at my elementary school. It was a prize beyond my grasp. I knew that I would miss a couple of days each school year for Jewish holidays. I also knew that a sick day or two was very possible. I didn’t ask that the rules be changed for me. I didn’t think that I, or my classmates, should receive an award if we got close. Perfection was rewarded.
Today we reward effort. We have convinced ourselves that our subjective judgments of other’s efforts can be as exactly measured as their actual achievement.
This silliness began in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I remember coming home with a report card replete with A’s, but only 2’s for effort. I was admonished for not giving my all. At one point I remarked that the report card was inaccurate. One teacher was so ineffectual that I really should have had my A for the course work and a 3 for effort in her class.
This culture of rewarding mediocrity, of applauding those who merely show up, has invaded the job-site. I just visited a longtime client. His office manager has the flu, possibly strep throat. He is wondering how many days she will miss due to this illness. His guess is three to five.
The owner of the van finally turned left, as did I. I hope to be behind the proud parents of honor roll students form Charles Dickens. I hope to see a Kent State sticker on that same car. I hope that the children of Charles Dickens Elementary aspire to more than just showing up most of the time.
“One in five American men aged 25 to 54 are unemployed”, announced Larry Summers at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He went on to put our whole economic disaster into perspective when he said that the United States is experiencing a “statistical recovery and a human recession”.
Unemployed? Under-employed? You are not alone. Is help on the way? I’m not so sure.
I’ve seen economic devastation. I lived and worked in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The steel mills closed. Downtown Youngstown was gutted. But no matter how bad it got, we all felt that neither Youngstown nor its inhabitants were doomed to failure. There was no reason to give up.
Our current economic downturn feels different.
I keep eleven names in my appointment book. This list grows daily. These are the names of people who are unemployed. These are not unskilled workers. They are not semi-skilled. They are professionals, people who have worked in their fields for twenty- plus years. Office managers. Computer specialists. An attorney. Make that twelve. I just got off the phone with a pharmacist. One guy was a territorial sales rep for the same company for over twenty-five years. These people are experienced and highly qualified. They are dying to work. They are willing to settle for less. They just want a job. They want to go back to work.
Last week I talked with a former business owner who is hoping to land a job as a $15 an hour secretary / receptionist. The combination of the housing bust and the internet killed her industry. She has no complaints. There isn’t a drop of self-pity. She simply needs a job.
I connected one of my computer specialists to a possible employer on Friday. Can I scratch him off my list? Not yet.
Many of us are defined, in part, by what we do for a living. I certainly am. Unemployed, these friends and clients are adrift. It’s not just the money, though that is certainly important. Their jobs are how they see themselves and how they contribute to the general good.
We can’t wait for Washington. We can’t wait for Columbus. How about You? Can you help someone land a job?
Two views of the same incident.
He threw himself at her. She adroitly side-stepped the falling body. There was no reason for her to be hurt trying to break his fall.
He wore his heart on his sleeve. She was armed with a machete. She aimed for his fingertips and caught him just above the elbow.
Me? I was at a nearby table, drinking coffee from Nordstrom’s, far less violently killing time.
A moment of raw emotion and honesty. I just lost my largest client. I’m in a bit of shock.
I saw it coming. This wasn’t a surprise. I have been on borrowed time for over two years. Still, I’m sitting in my office at 8:30 at night, staring at my keyboard, numb.
I have, or at least try to have, a very personal relationship with my clients. I structured this business to focus principally on small businesses and the self-employed. Most of my clients have ten employees or fewer. They need more attention. One day I am helping to design a logo, the next a compensation package. People come in to my office to talk about religion and politics. It is all very relaxed.
I was referred to a suburban business eight years ago. The company was a start-up within a larger multi-state operation. There were five employees assigned to the new company. I set up their health policy. No big deal. There are clients who may go months between calls. This wasn’t that type of group. They had questions. Lot’s of questions. And if they didn’t like the answer, they would simply re-ask the question. One of the owners was positive that Ohio regulations applied to everyone but him. That’s OK. It kept me on my toes.
Then they took off. Huge. Incredible growth. By 2007 they had over 50 employees. Now, over 100. If they were referred to me today, I wouldn’t even take them. They are too big for me. Their needs too different from the daily requests of my other clients. But, up until today, they were mine. And I worked hard to meet their every request.
But in the end I couldn’t.
Their new agent will give them employee surveys and bring people in to teach CPR. I’m not equipped to teach CPR to 125 people and I always thought those surveys were bullshit. My apologies to HR professionals everywhere.
I won’t lie. It is a big hit on my income, but I won’t miss any meals. I think the bigger shock is that it is the end of a relationship. If you have read the other posts on this blog, you know that I am no stranger to terminating relationships. None of us are. But this is different. For my female readers, no this does not end with a half gallon of chocolate ice cream and two spoons. And for my male readers, no, you don’t get fixed up.
Can you mourn the death of a business relationship? Can you find honest emotion buried inside applications and claim forms. I think so. As with so many things that have lived well and passed on, I think I will sit here for a few moments and remember the best of those times and what made me happy.
And then I will move on.