Monday, June 25, 2007

Neofeminist rant

Sitting in an airport you hear all kinds of interesting things. For example, I sat for a while beside a woman who was talking on her cell phone, and I inadvertently (or advertently, as it may be) overheard her half of the conversation.

She was explaining to someone (presumably a girlfriend) why she went on a shorter vacation with her significant other than she had originally wanted because he did not want to go on an overnight trip on which they would have to share quarters. It seems he objected to them sleeping together. She expressed exasperation with people “passing moral judgment” and thought the whole thing was stupid. She’s forty-five, she explained, and he’s forty-nine. Of course that moral stuff is fine for someone who’s 18 or 20 or something, but they’re too old for that stuff, and why can’t people just leave them alone when they’re that age [“grown up”?].

Part of me really hopes he (whoever he is) dumps her very quickly and doesn’t let her bully him out of the very courageous and admirable personal stand he has taken. Part of me wants to lecture her: Don’t you ever dare start a “kids these days” complaint if that’s the example you knowingly set. If sex is a recreational right, and “grown ups” can’t be bothered with “kiddie stuff” like morality, you lose any right to throw your hands up in bewilderment when teen pregnancy and STD rates go through the roof and cohabitation becomes more common than marriage. It is not our generation that has caused a crisis of family; it is yours that set the example and we who are reaping the consequences. Believe it or not, we watch you to see what you really think is important, and you can’t expect us to take you seriously if you tell us something is for our own good but it doesn’t apply to you. Grrrr.

And then part of me is really sad for her. She’s bought the same bag of goods being pushed at women and girls from every Cosmo mag, soap, and billboard (not to mention most chic flics): If he doesn’t want something from you, there’s either something wrong with him, or with you. Permanence is something to fear. Feminism means taking what you want when you want it, because that is the only way we will be equal with men. Take the relationship for what it’s worth now, because it will probably be gone tomorrow anyway. And my favorite: It’s not a real, serious, grown-up relationship unless you’re sleeping together.

Come on, girls. We can do better than that. And yes, that is a moral judgment. Someone’s got to make them. Our elders certainly aren’t.

Consumer Rant

Since I have a public forum available, I’d like to indulge in the time-honored tradition of the consumer rant after a bad experience with a product or service. If those annoy you, please skip this post.

This particular rant is about air travel. Now, I realize airlines are popular targets of consumer rants, and I usually give them a break because (1) most people who travel by air do so because they have An Agenda and are already stressed out and feisty, (2) airlines are frequently at the mercy of elements beyond their control, such as weather or air traffic control, and (3) when you travel by air you have to expect a certain number of delays and mishaps a certain percentage of the time just as a matter of statistical probability.

However, I think the number of mishaps I’ve had with Northwest is starting to stretch my patience with statistics and make me suspect that Northwest might be a proper target for an accusation of incompetence. So here’s a sum of the last month of Northwest travel for me:

South Bend to Chicago: fine

Chicago to Dallas/Ft. Worth: 1 hour delay

Dallas/Ft. Worth to Chicago: slight delay

Chicago to South Bend: fine

South Bend to Detroit: 2 hour delay

Detroit to Harrisburg: delayed four times, finally cancelled due to lack of pilot, co-pilot, and half a flight crew. The pilot was stranded on the west coast due to storms, so no vouchers were given (Northwest does not take responsibility for “weather-related” mishaps). No more flights went out of Detroit that night. All hotels were full since we were the last flight cancelled. Since I has delayed out of South Bend I had booked an alternative itinerary for the next morning through United Airways. I called the hotline and was told that I “definitely had a confirmed seat” to Harrisburg via Dulles the next morning at 6, so I settled down in a chair to try to sleep for a few hours before setting out for the other terminal at 4:30 the next morning. When I got up to the United ticket counter I was told that the flight was overbooked and my “booking” was standby, along with 15 other people, and frankly, since I was not a United customer I was not a high priority for them. I took the bus back to the Northwest terminal, waited in the line again, and got myself booked on a 10:30 flight to Baltimore. Once I got through security I found a half-full 6:45 flight to Baltimore and the agent let me on. I never got to Harrisburg; Ryan picked me up in Baltimore.

Harrisburg to Detroit: fine

Detroit to South Bend: fine

South Bend to Detroit: slight delay

Detroit to Minneapolis: fine

Minneapolis to Rapid City: 1 hour delay

Rapid City to Minneapolis: cancelled for lack of a crew, next two flights oversold. They put me on the second oversold flight (last one of the day) and then we sat on the runway for an hour and a half while they tried to buy enough people off the flight to make it light enough to fly. We were told this happens all the time. I spent the night in Minneapolis, this time in a hotel on a voucher.

Minneapolis to Detroit: changed planes at the last minute and had to reassign seats before boarding, so we boarded late, then sat on the runway for 2 hours for maintenance problems. Meanwhile, we all missed our connections. My connection left while I was still on the runway in Minneapolis.

Detroit to South Bend: next flight was oversold and I was told I would have to pay to get on the standby list; waited until 7:18 pm for a flight with a confirmed seat.

So where does that leave me? In the last three weeks I have flown 14 separate Northwest flights. Of those, 4 have been significantly delayed, 2 have been in place of cancelled flights. I tried to get on earlier flights 7 separate times only to be told they were overbooked, so I was frequently stuck in an airport for three to six hours waiting for a flight with a seat. So my significant delay rate was 2 in 7; cancellation rate was 1 in 7; and overbooking was 1 in 2 (though that number is statistically sketchy because I was sometimes trying for flights through other cities to try to get at least close to where I was going). Is that normal? Granted, the sample is not large enough to be considered representative, but conversations with other Northwest passengers (and employees) confirm that my experience is not unique or even unusual. What I found especially exacerbating is airline employees’ complete lack of help, particularly in Detroit. If I could manage to find a ticket agent (which was nearly impossible) I was usually told more or less to go away; my cancelled flight was not their problem. When I did manage to get someone to even look at my printed itinerary, I was often told there was no room for me on the plane, I would have to pay to get on a stand-by list, or I should go somewhere else or call a number. Only in Minneapolis was I ever offered any vouchers for meals or lodging. It was clear that once you were bumped from a flight and your schedule was thrown off, they would just get you there whenever they had a convenient empty seat; you were not a priority.

Classic example: when I went to the counter on the 5:30 flight to South Bend to ask if they could put me on the stand-by list, I was told I would have to pay. I objected and said I was there as a result of a delayed flight. The agent frowned and tapped on her computer for a bit and finally said, “Well, your flight from Cincinnati to South Bend left on time.” I tried to patiently explain that that was wonderful for the people lucky enough to be in Cincinnati, but I had never made it there because my flight had been cancelled, oversold, and then delayed in Rapid City and I had to spend the night in Minneapolis. Had she looked more carefully at the itinerary I had handed her, she would have noticed that was why I was in Detroit in the first place. Finally she sighed and told me there were already six people on the stand-by list and there was no way I was getting on the flight either way (at least four of these people got on the list through the other agent while I was talking to her). I hung around to see what would happen, and went back up to the desk when they were finishing up. The man who got on the stand-by list right after I was turned away was the last one on the flight.

I wish I could say that I’ll never fly Northwest again, but frankly, I’ve not heard much better news about other airlines, and right now I can’t really afford to be picky. So like the rest of flying America, I will just sit here in the airport and vent my consumer rants on my blog.

UPDATE: Hat tip to The Bard for this news article. Apparently it's not just me; the statistics really do point to the conclusion that Northwest is terribly mismanaged. According to the article, 12% of Northwest flights were cancelled yesterday, compared to 1.2% on other major airlines. That's not the weather, folks.

UPDATE UPDATE: Hat tip to Lincoln for
these articles from USAToday. Yesterday was the fourth day in a row Northwest has canceled over 10% of its flights.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Weekend Snapshot

Jersey shore, waiting for the water taxi to take us to New York, resume in hand and hopes high.

A Wild Idea

Last Monday I finally made it to NYC to visit the Bronx Defenders office I had heard about in February. It was a six-hour trip from Harrisburg, involving a car, a boat, three subways, and a commuter train, and I doubt I'd have made it if Ryan had not taken the day off work to be my navigator.

When we got there the executive director Robin Steinberg (whom I had met at the Norman Amaker Public Interest Retreat in February) met us and showed us around the office. It is larger than I expected, especially given its unassuming store-front appearance from the outside. The design is open, with few walls, and low cubicle dividers. There are brightly-painted accent walls, artsy posters, and high ceilings. The waiting area has toys and books, and the receptionist frequently occupies children while their parents consult within. The cubicles are arranged in "teams." Each team has a few defense attorneys, a family law attorney, a case worker, etc. Clients are assigned to teams rather than individuals, so that their particular situation can be addressed holistically. Most people do not have a criminal defense problem; they have all kinds of interwoven problems.

Robin is energetic, and has the passion and sense of mission of an evangelist. She is proud of the fact that Bronx Defenders does not follow the usual model of legal aid, but she'd change it in an instant if she thought another model would benefit the community more. She takes her clients personally. I cannot imagine the emotional energy she must have to still be outraged each time one of her clients gets the short end of the stick.

So here's my crazy plan:
1. Work in legal aid, perhaps at the Bronx, for a while to get my hands dirty and learn where the unexpected difficulties are (not to mention how to handle the expected difficulties).
2. Start my own model somewhere else. I will need:
  • Funding. While I was in PA, Ryan took me to the Hershey factory museum (cool place, btw). As we drove around Hershey, he pointed out all the evidences of non-profit money from the Hershey foundation being slung around the community. Federal non-profit law requires that foundations spend at least 5% of their money every year to keep their tax-exempt status. For Hershey, this is a LOT of money, and they hardly know what to do with it. They are almost driven to tearing things down just so they can spend money rebuilding them in the most expensive way possible. I wonder if I couldn't write a proposal inviting them to spend some of that money in a more constructive manner.
  • Location. If I used Hershey money, it would need to stay in PA, preferably connected to the Hershey community or mission to make the project attractive to the funders. Hershey and the surrounding communities, however, are relatively well-off and may not really need legal aid. Probably I would need to go to Philly to find my clients. Robin confirmed that Philly would be a fantastic place for a legal aid clinic. There is currently a very traditional public defenders office, but little is being done in other areas of law, and the need there is great. How to pitch it to the good folks at Hershey? Hershey founded a boarding school for underprivileged, inner-city kids from Philly. The school is located in Hershey, but the kids' families are still in Philly. I can serve their families.
  • People. I can't run a clinic by myself. I need lawyers, social workers, folks with heads for business and people. A clinic like this would need talent, vision, and dedication. And organization like crazy. So if you like adventure, helping people, and low pay, keep the idea in your mind and make sure your phone number stays in my files. One day I may call you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A cat's world

Puck let a moth in last night and was clearly distraught about the situation.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I'm it.

I got tagged by Beth, so here goes: I'm supposed to list some random habits or facts about me and then tag others who then have to do the same. I'd like the record to show that this isn't really fair; Beth is pregnant, so she is likely to have more weird habits due to hormonal oddness.
  • I dislike the smells of honey and artificial watermelon flavor.
  • I always request pumpkin pie at my birthday (even though it's in May).
  • Every night before I go to bed I wash my face, take out my contacts, brush my teeth, and take a multi-vitamin, in that order. I can't sleep well otherwise.
  • I usually watch intense or scary parts of movies with my eyes closed. This also applied to parts in TV shows that have foreboding music.
  • I baby-talk to my cat, but never to babies.
There. Happy? I tag Monica, Joanna, and DeLaura.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Please welcome....

...on the blogroll to the right, the new link to Restored Glory, Kyle's new blog documenting what he hopes will be the transformation of an old, run-down house with potential into a charming, very livable (and marketable) home. Right now he's still developing a plan to present to the loan officer before he can make a bid on the place. It looks to be an interesting project, and he very helpfully hyperlinks terms in his entries so the average non-construction-savvy reader can learn a little about the details of renovation.