Just Because You Can…

Ninety nine red balloonsкрасные-воздушные-шарики-в-форме-сердечек-летят-к-солнцу
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, its red alert
There ‘s something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
And focusing it on the sky
The ninety nine red balloons go by

Second verse of “99 Red Balloons” , lyrics by Kevin McAlea

I was watching the Minnesota Vikings losing… again… last fall when a commercial came on for TCF bank. The music accompanying the commercial was quite catchy, and somewhat familiar, and I stopped and listened and realized it was “99 Red Balloons”, a very upbeat, peppy pop tune from the early 1980’s recorded by Nena. (Many know it as “99 Luftballoons”, the German version of the song.) But here’s the thing…just because a tune is all peppy and catchy, doesn’t mean it’s best used for a commercial. I mean, should you use a song about war, the nuclear holocaust and the end of life as we know it to sell your banking products? Really? I know you can… but should you?

My husband has heard me utter that phrase so many times over the years, he’s probably sick of it. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” He typically hears it when we see something that appears particularly visually egregious to us when we are out and about, however over the past year and a half since I started writing this blog, it’s started to mean something more. As social media becomes more prevalent and, along with that, invasive in our lives, it becomes necessary to recognize the criticality of our responsibility in that domain. No longer are we merely writing words, but we’re writing words with the power to hurt as well as heal, to destroy as well as develop. It’s become so easy to say whatever we want to, cloaked in the veil of protection afforded by not being face to face with people, and looking them in the eye. The upside of being face to face with someone and speaking to them of course, is that you hear nuance and tone, you see body language and you’re in the moment. You can respond immediately, defend and refute. With posts like Twitter, all of that is lost. Is it sincere or sarcasm, are they kidding around or cutting you down? In the space of time it takes you to figure it out, “pop goes the weasel” and the whole world has now seen the post. A reputation is ruined, someone is shamed, a war has begun.

Years ago I remember hearing “be really careful about what you put on social media with your activities, it could cost you a job.” Yet too often it seems that the long term impact of what is put on social media isn’t considered. It’s all about firing the first shot, not ensuring you tooks steps to make sure the last one is done. There was a story recently about a prank played on a young boy via social media, telling him that a girl he considered his girlfriend had committed suicide, so he killed himself. He was 11.  So many lives wrecked because of poor decisions.

Consider too, how quickly stories go viral. In the past several weeks we had Pepsi pull their commercial with Kendall Jenner due to racial insensitivity, United Airlines debacle dragging a customer off an airplane and Sean Spicer and his terribly inappropriate statements about Hitler and the Holocaust on Passover.  Within hours it seems the whole world was talking about each of these incidents in Twitter. I loved George Takei’s take on the whole thing, when he tweeted this out:

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 7.35.48 AM

I thought it was funny, but also a good reminder that it’s starting to feel like we’re playing “Whack-A-Mole” with all of the ridiculous “are you kidding me? [face palm]” events we read about on the internet and it’s getting harder and harder to keep it all straight!

So I’ll use these examples for myself as lessons, golden nuggets if you will, reminders of how fleeting moments are, that cyberspace is forever. The best way to ensure your sex tape is removed from the internet is to never make one in the first place, be kind and gentle with others, stand up for people when they can’t do it themselves, and ask yourself “just because I can, should I?”

Advertisements

You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

Eight little words that are pearls, words of wisdom from my mother regarding salt in cooking but applicable to so many things in life. As I was learning to cook when I was quite young, I had asked about salt in particular one day and I can still hear her voice so clearly saying to me, “you don’t know it’s there until it’s not”. That resonated with me then, and stayed with me all these years (and don’t ask me how many years that is, I shan’t tell you!)

The inverse is also true about encounters and experiences that we have, we often don’t realize something was missing until we’ve seen it, heard it or felt it. Where we live in the Twin Cities we got a new chain of Hy-Vee grocery stores last year that brought some much needed competition to our cities. From the incredible variety of types of produce, fresh artisan breads, cheeses, an incredible specialty bakery, to fresh, onsite fast food and a restaurant, shopping there is nothing less than an event. Going there one needs plenty of time, because you’ll want to browse and browse and browse…it keeps going on and on and it’s just plain fun.

I’m also fascinated by the attitudes there. First, the store motto is “there’s a smile in every aisle”, and while it’s a little corny, it’s also true. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been greeted warmly and multiple times in the same visit, people always asking me if there is anything I need help finding or have questions about. The second thing was the one that really stood out for me, which was it almost felt like the team members were trained in the art of people pleasing, or anticipating needs. One day I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a bag that was designed to stand up in the trunk of the car. I asked the checker if it was designed to hold 2 grocery bags side by side when open. He didn’t know, nor did the young lady bagging my groceries (yes, they bag your groceries there!!) I went ahead and bought it anyway, and turned back to the register and ran my card through to pay for my groceries. Suddenly the young lady bagging them said “yep! It does!” I turned and she had opened up the bag and filled my paper sacks then put them both in the new trunk bag to make sure they easily fit in there, so I would know right then and there. She didn’t need to do that, but it was really nice that she did, and it really made me wonder, “do they teach ‘Never miss an opportunity to delight a customer and try to anticipate needs’ as part of new employee orientation? “ I’ve had other unexpected experiences at the store as well. When I haven’t been able to find something I’m looking for, they don’t tell me where to find it; they bring me to it (“Here, let me show you where that is.”)  If they don’t know where it is, the staff will look it up on the computer and then come back to where you are to update you (“If you wait here, I’ll go and look that up for you and I’ll be right back.”). I’ve never had such a complete and satisfying experience, and didn’t realize it until I actually experienced it. I figured that wasn’t happening by accident so a few days ago when I was there I stopped a manager and asked about it. He confirmed it for me and said that yes, they train all employees that way, to basically “fall all over themselves being helpful” (my words, not his, but the intent is the same) and that they have secret shoppers who actually come in watching for it. I told him it’s why I kept coming back, that I loved being treated like that and really appreciated the service. He thanked me, and his smile really said it all. 

I’ve decided I’m old enough and have paid my dues; I deserve to be treated well. I want to shop at places that treat me as if I’m special, even if I have to pay a little more. (I honestly don’t think I do pay more here, I’m just saying I’m willing to.) I’ll go to a nicer restaurant, go to better retail shops if I’m treated with more kindness, given a bit more help, a smile, or going the extra mile. What I won’t do, is shop at places that treat me like I don’t exist, which is what happened at Sur le table in Edina a few years back. I had shopped at one of their other stores in California in the past and really liked them, and was happy when a new store opened in Minnesota. I went there on a Saturday morning shortly after the store opened. It was quiet; I was maybe the third customer there. If you aren’t from here, you need this for your backstory: Edina is a ritzy, wealthy suburb and the local rumor has it that the letters stand for “Every Day I Need Attention”. While that isn’t really true, there certainly is plenty of attitude there to go around. So I walked in in jeans, a flannel shirt and baseball cap – and after 20 min not one sales person had greeted me, made eye contact with me or approached me in any way. So I walked out, walked a half block down the street to another kitchen store called Cooks of Crocus Hill (where they are MUCH nicer), was immediately greeted, spent a lot of my hard earned money and told them how much nicer they were. The saleswoman replies and said they heard that a lot. As I left it was all I could do not to walk back to Sur le table and walk in like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “you know, I was in here a little bit ago and you wouldn’t help me, big mistake. HUGE.” But I figured I’d be the grown up and go home.

That’s the funny thing about customer service. We all recognize really lousy service when we experience it, because it unfortunately slaps us in the head and it makes us want to tell everyone about it. So-so customer or adequate customer service, that’s not so simple. Perhaps we’ve become complacent, or have adjusted, even lowered some standards a bit, but whatever the reason is we are no longer bothered by middle of the road because we didn’t realize it wasn’t there, until it something truly stellar comes along. 

Off to Cayo Hueso

 

Sunsets with entertainment, live music, literary history, pirates, roosters, pie, drag queens, Cuba – what’s the common thread running through all of these things? If you don’t know then you’ve never had the fun of visiting the southernmost point in the United States, located in Key West, Florida. IMG_3429 (1)Settled in the early 1800’s and valued at one time for it’s position on the shipping lane known as the Straights of Florida and as a stronghold during the Civil War, Key West, originally known as Cayo Hueso, is rich in history and culture and is incredibly popular as a tourist destination, particularly in the winter. The island is probably the only place in the US that has somewhat lightheartedly declared itself an independent nation and that has it’s own passport, calling itself the “Conch Republic” (the story is too long for this post, but here is a link). It’s only 90 miles from Cuba, the many refugee boat trips over the years described lightheartedly by Jimmy Buffet in his lyrics to “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami”

It was ninety miles to freedom but they took the risk

Though the ocean was all motion and the wind was brisk

The deadly gunboats never saw them in the pale moonlight

They were off to Cayo Hueso by the dawns early light

The gringo in the garden called the customs man

They answered all his questions, were allowed to land

The ladies shared a hairbrush and their husbands had a coke

Then they were taken up to Krome to meet with their kin folk

In spite of the fact that my fellow Jimmy Buffet friends and I consider Key West our mental mecca, I’ve actually only visited once about 20 years ago on a girls’ trip before I was married, when 4 of us planned a trip inadvertently during Fantasy Fest. Think of this as Key West’s version of Mardi Gras, where virtually anything goes – and I do mean anything! How does one do this inadvertently? Well, you begin by purchasing airline tickets first, THEN reserving your hotel room…or trying to. This was back in the day when I barely had e-mail, and we had no idea Fantasy Fest was planned until we tried to get a hotel room and all we could get was the last suite in Key West (at three times the price!) Anyway, I always wanted to go back and just never did, until last week. Yep, it took me 17 years, but I finally talked my husband into going. And while we had a great time, it wasn’t the same Key West that I remembered.

IMG_1089

The Mallory Square mermaid

We did some of the  ‘must do’ touristy things like  watching the sunset at Mallory Square, seeing Ernest Hemingway’s home, and going to have your photo taken at the southernmost point marker. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mallory Square, but it sure was fun people watching, and I think the entertainers were as much fun as the tourists! There was a crazy Frenchman with his flying stunt cats, and watching his odd little show as he hollered at the cats’ butts and the tourists with an accent as think as peanut butter was simultaneously creepy and hilarious. Jugglers with fire sticks, accordion players, a guitar playing mermaid, acrobats and all kinds of other stuff was happening all along the waterfront. Just keep walking back and forth. Mike and I just kept looking at each other feeling a little like we’d fallen through the looking glass.  I really can’t make this crap up, Google it. Especially Dominique and his flying cats.

One of the things we did, that almost didn’t turn out well, was an evening sunset sailing cruise. (Note to self, next time check the forecast first.) I love sailing, and have been on 4 Windjammer sailing cruises in the Caribbean (think of 3 and 4 masted pirate ships, and you have the right idea!)

IMG_9149

Me, being Jolly Rover crew

We decided to go for a sail on the Jolly Rover, a 2 masted boat, and with a crew of 3. The guy who sold us our tickets used to sail with Windjammer, so it was fun comparing notes with him. The first part of the cruise was fine, and as we set sail they asked if anyone wanted to help raise the sails. Of course my hand was the first (and only!) one up in the air. I helped haul up the sheets which you see in the picture on the left (pull the rigging on the sails for you landlubbers) which I’ve done on other sailing trips, and think is fun, and off we went – sort of. Unfortunately there wasn’t much wind so while the sails filled, we moved awfully slowly. That’s ok though, I mean come on, I’m on the ocean, it’s warm, I’m on a boat, who cares?

IMG_9158

Mike and I at the helm of the Jolly Rover

We took some photos at the helm (beware of sailing hair!), then our captain checked the radar and noticed that there was a squall line coming in and there were wind warnings issued. Interestingly it still wasn’t particularly windy, but time to get the sails down and get back to harbor, fast. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the clouds came in, and we barely made it just outside the harbor when the winds picked up, and essentially blew us the last couple hundred yards back into the slip. We hustled off the boat and into shelter. Got a little rain for maybe 30 min, and then it was over as quick as it started. But it sure was a bummer to ruin the sail and the sunset!

As a writer, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to go over to Hemingway House and see how dear old Ernie lived on Key West for 8 years while he did some of his best writing. There are still  descendants of his infamous 6-toed cats and the penny his 2nd wife embedded in the concrete by the swimming pool (look up the story about how she got his last cent).

IMG_1082

Hemingway’s writing room

Just for the record, I loved his writing room that overlooked the pool, and I want a sanctuary just like it. Imagine a room to dream, loose yourself in like that, be at your most creative. Sigh. I might have to redo my craft room. (I think I just sensed my husband cringing.)

The thing that surprised us the most was probably the age of the people we saw. During the daytime there were people of all ages but the highest percentage were over 65, which neither of us expected. Because the bars are open until 4 am, we figure most of the younger ‘kids’ were sleeping it off during the daytime, then as sunset drew closer most of the over 65 crowd disappeared and the younger people showed up, filling the bars on Duvall, all of which have their doors open to the street, and many also have windows that are open as well, or have musicians outside on a patio, so no matter where you are you can hear music. Walking back to our hotel after dark was an interesting experience, too. We had to walk past a couple of clubs with drag queens, who would station themselves outside to try to get people to come in and watch the show. So as we would approach, we would hear “Hi there honey, how are you?” or “Hi, having fun tonight?” They were perfectly nice and polite, and the easiest thing to do was to greet them back nicely, and just say “yes”. If they asked if we wanted to come in and see the show, I just smiled and gently said “no thanks” and kept going. It’s really not fair, that they look better in a dress and makeup than I do though.

It was fantastic to get away though, from 35 degrees in Minnesota, to 80 degrees in Key West, even if the ocean water was colder than I would like. I suppose if I were laying on the beach and getting all toasty, the chilly water would feel great, but I’m not much of a sun goddess, so dipping my toes in the water it felt pretty chilly to me, but heck, it was still the ocean, which I love and miss!! I can’t wait to go back and hope I don’t wait so long for the next trip to see it.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Key Lime Pie?