Friday, October 14, 2011

On Being a "Regular"

I work a block from a Starbucks (these days who doesn't?). This is great news for the world's coffee growers, but bad news for my family's economy. Let's just say I'm in this Starbucks more than I should be. It's not at all stretching it to say I'm a "regular". My wife and I even went in on our wedding day, in our wedding clothes, between the ceremony and the reception (yes, this was partially a cheap ploy to get free coffee - it worked).

Normally I have a great experience in there, but today they screwed up.

I learned a few years ago that if you are going to be a regular at Starbucks, it makes good sense financially to pay with a Starbucks card (Not a credit card, but a gift card you load and reload yourself and use to pay with). If you use a card that you have registered online, you're not charged for flavored syrups in your drinks, and you get free refills on brewed coffee in the store. You also regularly earn free drinks. You can also pretend that it really is a gift card that someone has given you, and then you can feel artificially special every time you pay. The Starbucks card app for IPhone makes this even easier. You can reload your card from your phone, check your balance, and even pay by having them scan your phone. If you pay this way, you will often arouse the curiosity of people in line behind you who still use terribly outdated green slips of paper to barter for goods and services. (The ones who don't express their curiosity are silently judging you for your pretentiousness).

So today I went in to get a coffee and a scone, and the barista who took my order and rang me up has worked there for years and knows me and is one of the only ones who likes to try and anticipate my order (I'm not real consistent). When I went to pay, he scanned my phone but something went wrong and he had to try again. After the second scan, which went through, I glanced at the register and noticed the total seemed kind of steep for what I ordered. I asked about it and he determined that the first time the scanner had actually scanned a packaged cookie near the register and added it to my order. He easily refunded my card for the price of the cookie. When he handed me the scone I got a quick glance in the bag before the top closed and I thought something didn't look right. So as I was walking away I opened it up and found a blueberry scone, instead of the pumpkin scone I had ordered. By that time he was already helping another customer and so I asked another barista to make the swap for me. As I started walking out, the original barista yelled after me and handed me one of their free drink coupons to make up for my troubles.

This should just be a simple story of "business screws up, business makes it up to customer", so I was a bit surprised when I found myself more offended than appeased by this. First, I didn't need to be appeased - at no point in my dealings there today did I convey that I was upset, annoyed, or put out by the experience, because I wasn't. I've been helped by this barista many, many times and I know for a fact that he is competent, friendly, and extremely conscientious. So in one transaction out of 50 he made a couple mistakes, which were quickly rectified. I like to think that I have a relationship with this particular Starbucks and it's employees - a relationship that goes beyond trying to make me happy with one transaction so that I might come back again. In an ongoing business/customer relationship, you don't get worked up about petty things, you forgive. On the flip side of that, this is the kind of relationship where if I ordered a drink and realized i forgot my wallet, they would trust me to take care of it later. One time I got my coffee, got to my office and immediately spilled it all. I headed back over to get a replacement and explained what happened since they were curious why I was back so soon, and they wouldn't let me pay for the replacement. That's the give and take of being in an ongoing relationship with a business. There's kind of an unspoken pledge - if I want to be the kind of regular that gets treated like a friend rather than just a customer, I promise to not act like an impatient idiot when they're a little backed up and my drink is taking longer than normal; I promise not to get bent out of shape if occasionally they mess up my order or my drink just isn't quite right. So today I was just keeping up my end of the relationship, and I got handed a "please don't get mad at us" card that should be reserved for people who might get bent out of shape over one less than perfect experience. They sold me short, and it felt a little demeaning.

Now, having said that, don't misread my intention. This blog post is not at all about "how could they?", but more about "wow, I just got handed a coupon for a free drink and it kind of hurt my feelings - why is that?". Just like I wasn't going to hold it against anyone that I was overcharged or got the wrong scone (#firstworldproblems), I have no intention of holding a free drink coupon against anyone. Every human being screws up in their relationships. How often do we inadvertently  treat our spouses or our children as business partners or employees rather than loved ones? I don't even feel like I had misread my status at this Starbucks and was put in my place; The employee simply misread my needs at this point in our relationship, but I think we'll manage to work through it without seeking professional counseling.

Monday, October 3, 2011

In Bluth We Trust

In these harsh and depressing economic and political times, Americans look for some place to rest their dreams of a brighter future, and apparently we've chosen....Arrested Development. For the past few years the cast and crew seem to have been under some sort of "play with the public's emotions" pact in which anytime they were asked in an interview, they would say just enough to help you believe the show would get revived as a feature film. Yesterday, at an Arrested Development reunion at the New Yorker Festival, the cast and creators took a bold new step in making promises they may or may not be able to keep. If the many many headlines, Facebook statuses, and tweets are to be believed, not just a movie, but a new run of TV episodes are as good as done. Call me a pessimist, or just call me someone who's actually taken the time to read what was actually said at this Festival appearance, but I don't believe the supposed AD second coming is a sound place to invest my hopes for the future entertainment of myself, my children, and generations to come.

Before you start accusing me of not being a true believer, of not being a true AD fan, let me state that I am still one of the only people I've ever met that watched the show when it aired - from episode one, to the end. I did not just jump on the hipster 'watch it on DVD/IFC years later' bandwagon. I was there from the start, watching it in whatever out-of-order/ different time slot every week capacity Fox forced us into. I was already watching everything else Fox was offering on Sunday nights (Oliver Beene anyone?), so it was natural for me to check out the new kid on the block. I liked it and I stuck with it until the end, and have spent the years since nodding knowingly as the rest of the world caught up with the Bluths. So don't tell me I don't really love AD - while the rest of you were watching NFL on Fox then turning off the TV to fall into a drunken nacho & buffalo wing induced stupor, I was waiting patiently for the game to end so I could stay up until 11:30 getting my fix of Fox's too often pre-empted Sunday night line-up. So yes, I'm a long-time fan, and I'm even hesitantly excited about the prospect of a movie and more TV episodes, but at the same time I'm old enough to know that some things are best appreciated for what they were, and not everything we love needs to be revived or go on indefinitely, as often longevity or revival can cast a shadow on something we once loved (The Simpsons anyone?).

So what are the real "facts" pertaining to the Arrested Development revival?
Fact #1 - The cast and creators are creatively on board. This is a long time coming and admittedly should not be downplayed. If you want to get something like this off the ground, obviously you need buy in from all those who should be involved. Any future AD projects would be sorely lacking without any one of the main cast. Except maybe....
Fact #2 - It could be really hard to see Michael Cera as George Michael now, and not just that Michael Cera character he's played in 50 movies since AD. I only recently started rewatching AD (Netflix Streaming) and have been asking myself the question - did AD create Michael Cera's trademark persona, or was it already a reflection of who young Michael Cera was? It doesn't really matter I suppose, but I don't think I can believe in George Michael anymore - there's just Michael Cera being Michael Cera.
Fact #3 - The cast being on board can be both a help and a hindrance to making this happen. Will Arnett is on another show that could very possibly get picked up for a full season and beyond. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera have launched significant film careers since the show ended and certainly require much larger paychecks than they once did. Their star power can make the project attractive to the studios, but it can also make it financially difficult.
Fact #3 - Creator Mitch Hurwitz has clearly said, even yesterday at the New Yorker Festival, that there are still a lot of stumbling blocks to overcome to get this made. No studio has announced backing of this project or plans to distribute it. Show me where the money is coming from, give me a website or a teaser trailer, and I'll become considerably less skeptical. In the meantime, I'll believe it's going to happen because the the cast and creators want it to like I believe my 7 year old daughter when she says she's going to save up enough money to buy herself a 3DS.

So while the rest of America seems ready to will this project into existence by ignoring the disclaimers and pretending that it's all green lights from here, I remain here sipping coffee from my Bluth Company mug, cautiously optimistic, but ultimately content to leave it as it is - a pretty perfect show that given the circumstances we're pretty lucky we even got three seasons of.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A list

I thought a list might be a nice way to ease myself back into a bit of blogging after a long dry spell. It's that or I just start posting all the 1/2 written drafts I have saved...

Things I'm Currently Midly (or more) Addicted To:

1. Coffee

2. Starbucks Toffee Almond Bars (it's always nice when two or more addictions can feed each other)

3. The Decemberists "Hazards of Love" I have a tendency to put one CD in my car and listen to it over and over and over...this is currently it. An album I expected to hate, but was so so wrong.

4. Picross DS - a little like Sudoku, but you get rewarded with a picture

5. Darrell Lea Soft Strawberry Licorice (found at World Market)- I thought I'd be sick of this by now. Nope. My favorite candy of the moment by far. The raspberry is no slouch either...

6. Brothers K Vanilla Lattes. Metropolis and Intelligentsia get all the attention, and are both fine coffee purveyors in their own right (and Brothers K uses Metropolis beans), but no one makes a better vanilla latte than Brothers K. Not to mention having nicest baristas ever and being walking distance from my apartment.

7. Dollhouse - It started shaky but has turned around into an incredibly compelling and nuanced show with an emotional center....much like other great Joss Whedon shows. It's so good Fox will surely cancel it.

8. Catan on Xbox Live - A console version of the hipster board game. E & A can take all the blame for getting me hooked on this.

9. Twitter - I'm still a Facebook junkie and unashamed of it, but Twitter is compelling for completely different reasons. It took me awhile to "get it", but I think the moment it clicked for me was when Amanda Palmer was requesting people tweet her questions because she was bored on the tour bus.

10. 30 Rock - I was slow getting to this one, and I have to admit its been incredibly uneven, but I still find myself referencing it way more than could possibly be cool.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

12 Channels and Nothing On - Resolution Update

This past Saturday a strange man came to my home and took away my cable (and digital phone). Well, most of it at least. For some strange reason the total cost of my internet is cheaper if I have basic cable than if I don't. When Comcast gets in line for their Federal bailout, I may have to balk a little.

Do I miss it? Eh...a little. When I come home tonight after class and can't watch Top Chef, I will definitely miss it, but other than that, it's not really a big deal. When I heard how much cheaper my Comcast bill was going to be, I knew it was going to be pretty easy to get over it.

So out of 5 New Year's resolutions - 1 was a joke, 1 is complete, 1 haven't had a whole lot of opportunity to do anything with, but consider myself on track, and 2 are left.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Resolution #5

I will go see/hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

I'm ashamed to admit I've lived in this city for 15 years minus 3 and I've never been to see and hear the CSO. I've been to Symphony Center once, to see Mavis Staples (doing a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, many years ago), and I've heard the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, but never the CSO. Now that I've been to Second City and taken classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this is #1 on my list of things I will hate myself for not having done if I leave Chicago.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Burton Christmas

7:45am - My alarm goes off. My alarm being my bladder. Linnea doesn't come until 9am, but there's no going back to sleep now. I check the kitchen and am disappointed to find that Santa did not do the dishes as I had hoped. I grab a jacket (the kitchen has no heat) and dig in.

I contemplate throwing a Christmas CD in the boom box that's in there, but turn on the radio instead. I am treated to the very pleasant sound of David Sedaris reading from his hilarious Christmas book "Holidays on Ice". It's going to be a good day.

A few minutes later David is cut off. This is just Weekend Edition playing an excerpt. The news kicks in soon and I'm reminded of Simon and Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night". I turn to XRT in hopes they're playing Christmas music, and am treated to INXS instead.

After making a dent in the dishes I move on to tidying up the living room in preparation for its imminent demolishing. I remember a year past when VH1 Classic showed Christmas videos all Christmas day and look for this. They're showing a Kiss concert. I turn to TBS' day long A Christmas Story airing and find it at my favorite scene - the department store Santa. I just love that kid in the aviator outfit in front of Ralphie in line. I love Ralphie's awkwardness and wanting nothing to do with her (him?).

8:55am - Linnea arrives. I manage to convince her to take her coat off before she starts opening presents.

9:15am - All presents have been opened. She is pleased.

9:20am - I am helping her open her new doctor dress-up/playset. A strange look comes over her face. I ask if she's okay. She says "I just can't deal with all this stuff" then immediately says "just joking". This is troubling. I've never seen her get visibily stressed out like that before. I've been fairly relaxed all morning and I don't think she's picking it up from me. Divorced holidays are stressful on kids, I remember all too well my own experiences. I'm just as troubled though by the "just joking" comment - if that's really the way she was feeling I don't want her to feel that she has to mask it. She moves on pretty quickly though and makes a very cute doctor.

10am - Linnea ate at her mom's but I'm getting hungry. I make eggs, which for the first time I can remember, come out perfect. The coffee is perfect too. Merry Christmas to me.

11am - Linnea wants to play her new Winnie the Pooh Uno game. It's pretty easy and she mostly gets it, but she doesn't want to give up all of her cards, which is of course the idea of the game. I win the first round and she's pouty. Given the option to just goof around with the cards on her own terms she chooses to play another round, which she wins, mostly fair and square.

11:20am - The Lego pirate play set gets opened. This is her first "big kid" Lego set - normal sized pieces with directions so you can make it look like the things on the box. She does amazingly well with it. We put together a few of the items based on the directions and she is patient and helpful. She then decides she wants to put the ship together however she wants, so I let her and she makes a decent little raft.

1pm - Tomato soup and a sandwich for lunch. She wants to watch her new Scooby Doo video.

3pm - My mom, stepdad and Grandmother call. Linnea doesn't want to stay on the phone for more than a second and doesn't really want to let me talk. I juggle this for awhile until Linnea spills M&Ms all over the floor and I take my leave of the call.

3:10pm - M&Ms cleaned up. Linnea is doing her new computer software. I play some Rock Band on-line battles. I find there's no better day than Christmas to up my rankings....people get it for Christmas, decide they're ready to play expert right out of the box, and I get to squash them. It's the little traditions that make the holidays special.

4:00pm - Linnea wants to watch the other video she got today - Curious George movie. That movie is the only context in which I can stomach Jack Johnson music. I'm all tuckered out and try and doze on the couch while she watches the movie and squirms all over me.

5:30pm - Chinese food has been ordered from Koi. Linnea is on her second viewing of the Scooby Doo DVD. Normally I wouldn't let her watch so much TV, but it's Christmas. Heck, I'm still in my pajamas.

6pm - Chinese food arrives. I ordered a couple of sushi rolls in addition to fried rice and crispy duck. The sushi is horrible - very little fish buried in enormous amounts of rice. I will never order sushi from there again. The fried rice and duck are good though.

8pm - Against much resistance I start moving Linnea towards bed. We finished reading Stuart Little last week (the first long-form book she's had read to her) and she wants to start it again. I all of sudden remember I had intended to get her a new similar type of book for Christmas. Whoops. We start it over and I make a mental note to pick up something this weekend. Charlotte's Web maybe?

8:30 - Linnea is in bed and seems ready to sleep. I'm a little lost as to what to do with myself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Music Round-Up

With the majority of my Christmas CDs still MIA, and likely never to be found, I've had to go searching for some new entries to bulk up the collection. In the process I've found some really, really good, and some really, really bad.

I was thinking today about who I really wish would put out a Christmas album. At the top of my list for some reason is Alison Krauss, so I went looking to see if she had anything out there. I found 2 tracks from compilations - "Shimmy Down the Chimney" and "Only You Can Bring Me Cheer". They were both utterly horrible. I removed them from my IPod and will be happy never to hear them again. The first sounds like it was produced completely on a Casio keyboard, and not a good one. The second is all Nashville and no bluegrass. I know she could do better; much better.

Others on my list of people I'd like to hear Christmas albums from? Nina Simone, though that will now never happen. Ron Sexsmith has a couple wonderful original Christmas songs out there already - warm and sentimental in a good way, without being the least bit sappy or cloying, and could probably put together a wonderful mix of covers and originals with his soulful melancholy vibe. The Decemberists have already covered one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs - Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas - but I'm sure they could provide a few more Christmasy tales of sailors, gypsies, and doomed lovers.

Browsing ITunes' Christmas section I was intrigued by a new Killers single called "Joseph, Better You Than Me". Even though I can't stand their current single with the idiotic name I can't remember, and I did note that this track features Neil Tenant (Pet Shop Boys) and Elton John, I bought it anyway. Bad move. It went straight to the recycle bin with the Alison Krauss tracks. $3 poorly, poorly spent today.

My other ITunes purchase of the day was Weezer's Christmas EP. All "traditional" Christmas songs, and all pretty straightforward Weezerish renditions. I'm a moderate Weezer fan, and this one gets to stay on my IPod, but it didn't particularly excite me. It actually reminds me not a little of Manheim Steamroller.

There is a good bit of free indie Christmas music out there to be had, and I spent a good portion of my day listening to it. Sufjan Stevens makes a Christmas EP for his friends every year, 5 excellent volumes of which were compiled and released a few years ago. The general, non-friend-of-Sufjan public has to settle for one new track this year, found on the totally free Sounds Familyre Compilation "A Familyre Christmas Vol. 2". There's some interesting stuff here, from a mix of familiar and unfamiliar bands (to me), but not much will be making my regular Christmas rotation. Danielson was already near the top of my "wish they would put out a Christmas CD" list, and after hearing their track here, I'm even more convinced. The Half-Handed Cloud and Soul-Junk tracks are also worth a few listens. Last year's compilation is also available for free download at the same link, and is a bit less challenging than this year's.

Also free to e-music subscribers (does not count against your available downloads), or a mere $1.99 on Itunes, is the considerably more mainstream Redeye 2008 Holiday Sampler. Ron Sexsmith contributes a stellar track alongside other great stuff from the likes of Over The Rhine, Supersuckers, Elk City, and Apples in Stereo. Lisa Loeb contributes a very pedestrian Jingle Bells, which I was disappointed to hear as she's one of my huge guilty pleasures. I'd still pay $1.99 for the whole album in a heartbeat.

My two most pleasant surprises for the year were the new Raveonettes EP "Wishing You A Rave Christmas" (4 songs. Avaiable on E-Music or for $3.96 on ITunes) and the indie classic from Low, "Christmas" (8 tracks, available on E-Music or for $7.92 on Itunes). I had not previously heard much from the Raveonettes am very interested after hearing this. One cover (Christmas Baby Please Come Home) and 3 mellow but heavily 60's influenced originals; alternately fuzzy and shimmering, and all lovely. It's all streaming free at their MySpace page. The Low album shares a similar aesthetic while being considerably more lo-fi. Both albums are more pretty than depressing, but neither will have you rockin' around the Christmas tree.

That's about it for new finds. As to what I'm missing most from my Christmas CD collection - Bruce Cockburn's "Christmas", Aimee Mann's "Another Drifter in the Snow" (I do hold out some hope of turning this one up), a Louis Armstrong Christmas CD, and a Mahalia Jackson Christmas CD. If they don't turn up this year, I'll have to start looking into replacements.