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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WUMF: November Edition

Turkey Day is done and now we turn the corner into December and the downhill avalanche of the holiday season hill, which will inevitably lead to a crash at the bottom on January 2nd. How about another edition of WUMF (What’s Up My Friends)?

It’s Never Pleurisy
I started off this WUMF post with an update about my health, but it blew up into a larger story, so I shelved it for a separate post. Stay tuned. Needless to say, it’s not Pleurisy, though it feels like it.

I haven't shaved my mustache and goat this whole month and I'm sooo looking forward to tomorrow.   OK, so I'm not officially registered anywhere and I do have a goatee, but my face is hideous enough without the facial hair let alone with only a mustache.  The goat gives it some saving grace.   In any case, I did it, just to do it.

Now, back in 1994, I did a play at Pitt where I couldn't shave at all and had a full beard.  Nothing Kiesel worthy or even Dan Haggerty but it served its purpose.  I was so happy to shave it, then, too.

On the back nine of my 30s, my facial hair bears the brunt of my gray hair, more so than on top.  I like to keep it stubbly as much as possible.

Flea Bag Hotel
In addition to being sick, one of my cats has an upper respiratory infection so we took her to the vet. Turns out, not only did she have a URI, she has fleas as do the other three cats. So, on my day off yesterday which should have had me trying to recuperate from being sick, I was running around all over the house spraying Knockout E.S. and doing laundry and trying to just rid ourselves of the issue without resorting to napalming the house. My chest is killing me and after bending over and picking up stuff and moving around I was at the point where I couldn’t breathe or move last night.

My wife, God love her, is an animal lover and hates to see the strays from our neighborhood, mostly a product of our neighbor’s doing, go hungry. She buys, [read: I buy] the cheap Value Time cat food and puts it out. Well, apparently, they are all flea ridden and hitched a ride into our house. Our cats do not step foot outside, are all fixed, and are basically fat and lazy, much like their owner.

Radio Traffic Reports
Someone needs to get these folks some real time traffic, or at least a bookmark to Google traffic cams on their computer. Every day, I used to getting stuck in traffic around the Wilkinsburg exit on 376 East, heading into Pittsburgh. Every day, coming home I get stuck around the Forbes Oakland exit on 376 East heading out of Pittsburgh. Every once in awhile, if there is talk of huge accidents, I will take an alternate route. Although, a slight bump in the backend of a vehicle sets off a world of fail chain reaction causing air traffic over Pittsburgh to grind to a halt so the pilots can rubberneck.

However, when I hear the traffic report say that traffic is building normally and I immediately have to slam on the breaks because they neglect to mention that an accident in the Sq, Hill Tunnel has caused a backup of cars all the way to the ramp before Churchill, I feel a little stabby.

Pittsburgh DJs and traffic correspondents on WDVE and 93.7 The Fan, before you go onto to do your update, pull up a Google cam of the Parkways and just take a look at the various cameras to see where traffic is really jammed at. That way, us Walking Dead Club commuters won’t be late for work. Or at least, answer the phone when I call to bitch about your incompetence, instead of fast tracking a some Italian guy who calls in to say that he loves, “Felize Navidad” because he’s Italian. WTF?!?!

12 Days of Christmas Part 2
Last year, I participated in a giveaway hosted by some of my design friends. They gave away 12 shirts and 12 stocking stuffer items to 12 folks. Well, this year they are at it again and it starts tomorrow with 48 brands involved as well as other fantastic prizes. Click the link above to go see the official announcement. I have a post up on my Store blog and will do some tweeting to promote it. Follow me at @AngryMongo to keep up with the fun.

D-bag of the Year Awards
I haven’t put the final list together but really there is no question who should win. I won’t give it away but unless something happens in the next two weeks to change things, it should be a landslide. However, I’ll still bore you with the details over a couple of posts coming in December.

That’s it. Rub dirt in it and take a lap folks.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegas Baby: Part 4 - Let it Ride

We’ve talked travel. We’ve talked lodging. We’ve talked eating. NOW, comes the biggie. This is what Vegas is all about. Gambling.

OK, I am no big gambler by any means. I rarely stop by anything more than a $5.00 Black Jack table and the penny slots are where you will find me on a casino floor. That being said, there is something alluring about the idea of hitting it big in Vegas.

You hear the sounds, you see the lights. Is it any wonder that the digital sounds of someone cashing out or winning is slightly louder than anything else. You usually do not hear a sound when you do not hit any lines on a slot machine.

Working for four years in Amusement Park environments teaches you a lot about the art of the sell. You want to draw in people so you emphasize a big win, no matter how mundane or impossible it be to actually win.

I have been to six casinos in my life. Two in Niagara Falls, The Rivers in Pittsburgh and now The Mirage, The Bellagio, and The Venetian. Out of all of them, I actually prefer Pittsburgh. That sounds biased being in my area but if your sole purpose for going to Las Vegas, beyond shows, food, experience, or sightseeing, is to gamble then don’t go. Go to a place more local to you. When I went to The Rivers after it first opened all they had was slot machines and it was still fun. When they introduced table games in the last year or so, I was excited because I like a good game of Black Jack.

Still, I was a just a bit disappointed at the lack of actual tables on the casino floor and the fact that the casino only covered one level. The ones in Niagara Falls had a couple. This was in 2004. They had one level that was smoking and one, non smoking.

But, going to Vegas, my expectations were high in the amount of actual tables and variety of machines and the number of available floors to gamble on and after visiting all three of those afore mentioned casinos, I saw no distinct difference in actual gambling experience.

In fact, I found the offerings of slot machines to be very repetitive. I saw the same machines over and over again, throughout the Mirage floor. It makes it easy for someone to find the machine they like, but I spent a lot of time going over the floor looking to find ones that I enjoyed and kept seeing the same stupid ones. In the end, I kept coming back to the same one, which was a plus to the casino for dragging me into that world of fail since I spent close to $50 on it. 

It was right next to the restrooms and the Cirque du Soleil ‘Beatles’ Love show. There were times that you could really go up a lot if you could get the ‘Battle for Gotham’ bonus which is a four part race that is AI Controlled that racks up bonus credits for you. I think the most I ever got was around $30 and I ended up putting that back into the machine anyway. I found a video of it from a different casino on YouTube. It’s very fun.

The Dark Knight Slot Machine

Granted, in that video, the player bet probably the max bet which would have been like $0.80 and multiplied 12 times which is $9.60. But the payout was 213.36 so, that was good. I usually did the $0.80 single multiplier and on very rare occasions did I splurge and do 2x multipliers. I’m such a cheap ass.

Yep, I only ended up gambling $120 and I lost all of that. I gained a little back playing an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade slot machine in the airport before our flight home. Then I lost it again.

Now, once again, I should stress that I only went to three casinos, on the strip and didn’t venture downtown, but you’d think that it would be a better experience in the newer area.

So, in all, if you have a casino near where you live and have some grand scheme of going to Vegas to hit it big… stay home. Save the money you would have blown on travel and do something else with it. Go to the local joint and spend the original gambling fund there. Might as well help your area over someone else’s, right?

Also, decide how much you actually want to spend on gambling and don’t go beyond that. If you go up, fine. If you can remove your original amount and just gamble on the house money, do so. That way, when you eventually lose it all, you end up even. This is not the economy to be losing your shirt in.

Next up is my monthly WUMF post and then some final thoughts on Vegas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vegas Baby: Part 3 - What Happens In Vegas Stays in the Colon

Whenever you mention Vegas to someone, the first thought in their head is gambling. Usually, the second or third thought is the food, more specifically, the buffets. As I lead you by the brain and tasted buds through the Vegas experience, remember, I only stayed in the Strip. I did not venture downtown.

I can tell you, right now, the notion that you can gamble big and eat big on little money is long gone. There are plenty of places to dine inside the Mirage and I took advantage of three of them. Of course, there is a Starbucks. I’m sure there is one in most every Casino in Vegas. There is also the standard buffet, called Cravings. There is a frozen yogurt place, which was neat. They have B.B King’s Blues Club for some great pork and music. There is also a Carnegie’s Deli, like the one in New York. And finally, we sampled some of the room service provided by the Mirage.

On our first night, we checked into the hotel and went down to B.B. King’s, We had already missed the buffet which closed. The Blues Club was shrouded in darkness and looked much like a Ruby Tuesday’s or other chain restaurant. The difference is the wall art which is mostly Rhythm and Blues giants like Muddy Waters or Clapton. Looking over the menu, we both got BBQ pulled pork. I went the sandwich route, while my wife went with the full meal. Food was excellent.

After eating we were treated to a live performance by a band called PJ Barth. I was unfamiliar with the band and the lead singer/guitarist was this skinny little white dude who looked like a kid who dressed up as Stevie Ray Vaughn for Halloween. He was accompanied by a bassist and drummer and that was all he needed. Here’s a video of him doing an awesome cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing

The next morning… well around 10 or 11 am, we went to eat lunch at The Carnegie Deli. Now, I’ve never been there but I hear Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzarelli eat there together.
Looking over the menu I can tell you one thing, they like their tongue. Every other item on the menu had tongue in it. We stayed away from that and went for a club sandwich, which we shared. Why? It was about a foot tall. They must have used a pound of turkey and a pound of bacon. I ended up making three sandwiches out of it. But it was yummy.

That night we went to the buffet, geared up for some great eating. I was thoroughly unimpressed with Cravings. It had a sort of Art Deco cafeteria look to it. The offerings were a bit meager. The crab legs were split down the middle. That must be a Vegas thing because the Bellagio was the same way. I’ve never seen crab legs done like that. You’d think it would be easier to eat them that way but it was not. Whatever those things, that run down the middle of a crab leg, are called they held onto the meat with a deathlike grip.

We should have started with dessert because that was the best part of it. Everything else was a bit off and the choices were a bit weird. For what it cost to eat there, $30 bucks a piece, I tried to make up for it with desserts and crab legs.

The next day, our last full day, we tried room service for breakfast. We both ordered a triple breakfast combo consisting of waffles, pancakes, and French toast. Now before you say, “Ooh, have another, fatty” realize that for the total cost of $22.00 each, we got a single plate with three silver dollar pancakes, an equally sized waffle which looked to be ripped from the other three mini waffles in an Eggo pack, and a block of French toast the size of a pack of cigarettes. All of this was drizzled over by fruit compote. That was room service. While it was pretty good tasting, the idea that, for $40.00, I can take my wife, kid, and father-in-law to Cheddar’s in Wheeling and have a Monte Cristo, a burger, a shrimp platter, a grilled cheese, two sodas, a chocolate milk, and two draft beers makes me a bit queasy.

That afternoon we had the Blizz frozen yogurt snack, which was nice. You grab a cup, fill it with various flavors, add toppings and spend like $0.50 an ounce. It was pretty good for getting frozen yogurt. I think it ended up being like $12 all said and done.

However, that night I was bound and determined to eat a good buffet dinner in Vegas. We walked from the Mirage down to the Bellagio so I could see the fountains. We decided to eat there with a little apprehension at dropping another $60.00 for crap food.

Mission accomplished. The buffet was much, much better, though they do their crab legs the same way. But I found what I really liked which was the four or five different pasta dishes that were just phenomenal. I was ready for a nap after that.

After all of that eating I realized we spent a hell of a lot of money, just on food. In fact, we spent more money on food that we did on gambling. Hey, why not? At least I get something for my money with the food. I can’t enjoy losing $120 on slots and blackjack, but I’ll have this fat forever.

And for all that, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vegas of old, with the cheap prime rib buffets and free drinks, is either a myth or was ruined by something else. Everything there costs money. Now, had I dropped a grand in the casino, they might have comped me a meal or two but you’re basically spending that money anyways. Hell, a 32 oz. Diet Coke, by the pool was $8.00. WTF!?!?

Although, directly across the street from the Mirage was both a Denny’s and a McDonald’s. But that would have been wrong. That’s like going to China and eating at a Manchu Wok or going to Manhattan and getting pizza at a Sbarro. You just don’t do that shit.

Next up, gambling and the Vegas experience.

Vegas Baby: Part 2 - Room With a View

I’m taking you on the tour of Vegas through the point of view of the angry traveler. We talked about flying and we talked about checking in, too. Let’s talk about the accommodations.

OK, so getting into the hotel was half of the fun, right? Now, that I’m checked into the Mirage, what is there to do?

Well, first of all, the room was pretty nice. The furnishings were sort of modern but not extremely cold. The room was pretty big with a nice desk for the computer that sort of came out from the wall so you could see the TV. The bathroom was rather nice with a huge mirror with these very bright lights around it. It didn’t lie to you whatsoever. 

There was a mini fridge which I didn’t dare bump for fear it would spit something out at me, charging me a gazillion dollars for a small bag of raisins or something.

Now, our room was facing the pool which was kind of nice. We could see Caesar’s directly across from us, Harrah’s to our left and way down towards the mountains, I could make out The Rio, which made for a real nice sunset picture.

Oh, and the funny thing about our room was that not only did it face the main pool, it also faced the dolphin habitat and BARE. If you don’t know what BARE is, it’s exactly what you think it is. The Mirage has a secluded pool area that is geared towards those wishing to go topless. I believe women get in for free and men have to pay. Not sure what the purpose of that is. So, the idea is to get women to take off their tops and get men to pay money to come ogle them. What other reason is there?

Unfortunately, the weather was a bit nippy and windy so nobody wanted to be brave. Believe me, my wife kept saying, “nobody’s there.” She seemed more interested in looking than I was. I guess because it’s something we’ve never been exposed to. (No pun intended.)

The only real issue I had with the room was that it was so far from everything. If the argument for hotels in Vegas is that the restrict the amount of amenities you have in the room which forces you to go to the casino then I counter with, “Fine, don’t put it so effing far away, then.” I had a couple of issues with room keys that caused me multiple trips to the front desk which was down the long ass hall, down the elevator, through the casino, through the jungle dome thingy, and over to the desk. If they wanted me to leave my room, they would have simply made the commute easier. I will say that after feeling cooped up and bored in my room made me want to just go gamble to waste time. Point to Vegas, this round.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vegas Baby: Part 1 - First Impressions

I’m splitting these posts up because there is just way too much to discuss. Your brains will be mush and eyes will be crossed and I will lose half of my readership which will leave me with 2 ¼ readers. So, deal with it.

As I said before, I was supposed to go to Las Vegas on business but that the conference had been cancelled. Since I already had charged the room and airfare to my credit card and had not submitted an expense for them, I merely decided… with the help of my wife, to just continue to go to Las Vegas as a sort of second honeymoon. Our first one was wrought the black death as my wife was seriously ill while we were in Niagara Falls in November of 2004.

We always said we’d have a “real” honeymoon but after two years of being married we were blessed with a child and things just sort of got put on hold. Spontaneity has never been our forte as we’ve experienced nothing but trouble in the past on various trips. Still, it was an adventure to be had. My wife had never flown and neither of us had ever been to Vegas.

After our flight we arrived at LAS we made plans to get to The Mirage. I was planning to rent a car as my original itinerary was solely based in The Mirage. A shuttle or taxi would be sufficient.

Shuttle from LAS to The Mirage = $7.00 each. / $14 for both and it takes about 45 minutes to get there, depending on how many stops.

Taxi from the airport = Less than $20 and you get there a hell of a lot quicker.

Is the shuttle cheaper? Yes. Look, if you have no problem standing outside the airport for an hour waiting for the right shuttle to show up, save the $5.00. However, if you’ve just gotten done travelling for five hours and want to GET THERE, take a cab. In the end, you’ll be better off spending the extra money.

Now, all my built up expectations of Las Vegas were generated by the Ocean’s movies, the television show Las Vegas, and the old 70s show Vega$. I had no concept of geography. I basically thought that Las Vegas was this big huge city out in the desert that was wall to wall casinos and hookers. You could basically walk from one end to other and see it all. I had no idea that there was a downtown area (Old Las Vegas in my mind) where places like the Freemont Street Experience and the Golden Nugget resided along with one of the more iconic figures, Vegas Vic… the cowboy who looks to be hitchhiking. This is separate from “The Strip” which is where places like The Mirage, The Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, New York New York, The Luxor, Treasure Island, MGM Grand. These are the more opulent casinos and hotels. I had no clue.

So, on to the Mirage. From the outside The Mirage doesn’t have any other discernible features that set apart. Caesar’s has the whole Roman motif, The Bellagio has the fountain, The Luxor is the pyramid, etc. Once you get closer, though, you see that the Mirage has this huge rock formation out front that serves as a nightly Volcano show, which is cool.

I found this on YouTube because my own video was lame.

Once you walk into The Mirage you have the check in desk to your right, some of the casino floor to your left and directly ahead is a dome with a wooden bridge and various flora and waterfalls which was very pretty.

After checking in we had to drag ourselves and luggage (one rolling bag, one purse, one laptop bag) through the casino towards the middle of the hotel where the elevators were located. The amount of traffic on a Tuesday evening was ridiculous. There were people everywhere. Old, young, kids, adults alike just jamming the pathways through the bleep bloop of slot machines with their digital clinking of credits being paid out, the sporadic cheers from a craps table, and occasional song playing over the loud speakers.

When we finally reached the elevators we were whooped. I was so looking forward to just falling face first on the bed. But first, we had to get to our room, 20123. You step off of the elevator and enter one of the three wings of the guest room floors. The design of the interior was a perspective Inception mind screw. The hallway looked longer than it actually was and it was still a hell of a walk.

Talk about perspective

Next time, we’ll discuss the finer points of Mongo in hotel rooms and, later, the food which is what the real attraction for me to Las Vegas was.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Harry Potter Collection on Blu-Ray

OK, so I didn't get LOST for Christmas last year.   And, it doesn't look like I'll be getting it this year as my wife and I are desperately in need of new appliances and some furniture. 

I've been hesitating on buying some DVDs because Blu-Ray is slowly creeping its way into my home.  I also didn't want to just go out and buy the Harry Potter films or other epic sequel sagas because eventually, once their done, they will release all of the films in one packaging.  And, from what I remember, the first editions of Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets were rather scant of good extras and contained rather juvenile remote based games for kids.  But looking at that collection, now on Blu-Ray, I think I may have to just wait a little longer.  It appears that this is mainly just the eight movies and not much of the special features I would love to see. 

However, if you love the films and don't care about the extras, the Blu-Ray set is around $80.00 from Amazon.  The DVD set is around $50.  Soooo, if your kids are asking for the movies or say a brand new PS3 game, the DVDs are a bit cheaper than say Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shed No Tears For Your King. The PSU Scandal

Let's face it.  I am not going to be able to get to my Vegas trip without at least venting a little about the Penn State scandal.  I can't ignore it.  It can't be unseen.  So, here's my thoughts, for what it's worth.

I'm appalled.  Simply and utterly appalled.  And, unfortunately, a lot of my post will be about the one person who stands out more than everyone involved, Joe Paterno.  He shouldn't.  The case is against Sandusky.  Sandusky is the monster.  Everyone else simply enabled him to do what he did.  And lionizing Parterno or vilifying him does nothing to help ease the victims' pain and suffering.  They are truly lost in all of this media circus.

I did not go to PSU.  I was a Pitt grad.  Now, before you flame me for making this a Pitt vs. PSU thing, understand this.  I hold no loyalty to Pitt athletics.  I hold no loyalty to college athletics at all.  In fact, I am disgusted by the entire entity known as the NCAA.  They are a corporation who makes money off of collegiate athletics.  Pure and simple.  Regardless of whether they uphold standards of morals or values about sportsmanship or whatever, above all, they are in business to make money.  If not, they wouldn't be licensing all of their gear with the logos and player likenesses to EA sports or other profitable venues. 

That being said, what happened last year at OSU... and chew on this, I will never refer to OSU as THE Ohio State University.  Once again, it's not a Pitt thing, it's just simple pretentiousness.  I don't care if it says "THE" in the logo, the charter, whatever document you want to march out.  It's Ohio State University or OSU.  End of THE story.  Anyway, that whole debacle last year over player compensation, lying, whatever, just proves that the NCAA is just as corrupt as any other corporation that is greedy.   They mete out punishments when it's clear that everyone knows there is something wrong but clearly they hold the business in a higher regard than the well being of the student athletes because if they didn't, these scandals wouldn't take place and there would be stiffer punishment and reform for the programs.  Better regulation.  Better watchdogs.  They know it's there, but as long as it doesn't disrupt the business of making money or tarnish the brand, they turn a blind eye.

Back to PSU.  I don't need to rehash the story.  I don't want to.  We all know what happened and if you don't, go read the presentment to the grand jury.  You can find it here as well as everywhere else.  Quite simply, this was an incident that was swept under the rug when it could have been exposed before any others were hurt.

Mike McQueary walked into a shower and saw an act.  He then reported it to Joe Paterno.  Sometime later, he was then called into the offices of Curley and Schultz and explained what he saw.  Police were never involved.  The incident was dropped and Sandusky was merely relieved of his locker room keys and the incident was reported to Second Mile, the charity or 'farm team' for Sandusky's prospects in his monstrous acts.

Now, whether McQueary is lying in what he told Curley and Paterno or whether Curley and Paterno were lying about what they were told is irrelevant.  The fact that some kind of indecent and inappropriate acts were taking place between an educator/administrator/adult and a child on University property requires, at the bare minimum to be reported to REAL police, not campus cops.  REAL POLICE.  911 POLICE.

Not to mention that as a witness to the events, McQueary should have been compelled to stop the act when he witnessed it.  There was a recognition between the perpetrator, victim and witness.  After all of this went away, there were times when McQueary and Sandusky were present at the same place and same time, and with children involved.  How do you hold your tongue, let alone your lunch?

Now, onto Paterno.  He is not guilty of breaking any laws?  I posed that as a question because I do not know for sure.  He broke 'God's' law, if you want to call it that.  He took his stance on integrity and morality that he spewed so much in his 41 years as coach and threw it on the ground, stomped it, pissed all over it, then spat on it.   He failed a child and so many more.   To say that he reported it to his superiors is convenient when it suited him.  Any other time, Paterno has been the perceived boss.   When his boss, Curley, went to his house to tell him it was time to go, as head coach, Paterno showed him the door.  Who would fire Joe Paterno?  Apparently, when it comes to disciplining Joe, he has no boss.  When it comes to reporting a heinous crime against a child, he has superiors. 

And the culpability goes on up to Spanier and even the University because they levelled a ban on Sandusky from campus facilities that was considered, unenforceable.  Well, why did you want to ban him?  Because he didn't turn off the lights?  Because he burped in public?  No, because he did something wrong.  He did something worthy of being banned from campus.  Yet, you let him back on campus and around children.  Why?  Because you didn't involve the police.  Why didn't you involve the police?  It would tarnish the program.  It would tarnish the reputation of the brand.  It would tarnish your King, who was friends of 30 plus years with the predator.  What other reason would you have to not involve police?

Athletics and University appearance should not be held above the safety of children.  If so, then what kind of message are you sending your prospective, current, and alum students?  We want you to grow and learn and feel safe in our environment but if anything happens, don't tarnish the school, regardless of how bad you get hurt.

And to not fire Paterno who has systematically proven that he holds too much power would have been another slap in the face of those victims.  Joe should have resigned immediately and not said, "Oh, I'll retire after the season."   Do the right thing.  You are the face of the school and the program.  No one other person holds as much influence.  You are the King.  You screwed up.  Own the fire.

"But he did his job."  Did he?  If you see someone's house on fire you call the fire department, right?  Do you ignore the sounds of someone in distress?  The difference is that McQueary and company weren't in a fire situation that could have caused them physical harm and more work for the fire department.  A little boy was being assaulted.  A little boy saw your eyes look right at him and you turned and left.  Everyone pushed it up the chain of command yet not one person thought to take care of the victim.  They left it up to the system and this child is forever lost.

Paterno IS culpable.  His fame, his legacy and his contributions over the years do not outweigh the obligation to protect the innocence of a child in his house.   And if you think that he did all he could have done ask yourself one thing, what if McQueary told Joe that there was a kid in the showers with Sandusky and his last name was Paterno.  Do you think Joe would have been fine with just telling his 'boss'?  Do you think he would have personally gone down there?   Do you think he'd be OK with McQueary just saying, "Joe, it was your son I saw, so I left and told my Dad and he said I should tell you." 

Make that kid's last name any of the people involved: 
McQueary.  Would he have left them in the shower?
Curely.  Would he have been fine with finding out a whole two days later and simply barring Sandusky from campus?
The last name of any student/alum who cheers for Joe, on his lawn, or thinks that Joe did enough and now is flipping cars and vandalizing news vans at State College in outrage over Paterno's firing.

Put any of those names on the victim and ask how they would have reacted.  It would tell a different story.  Any child that is being harmed or abused or assaulted or victimized becomes your child.  In the world of education and development, you are a parent in the sense that you are obligated to do everything in the best interests of a child whether he/she is yours or not.

So, do not shed tears for your King, because he shed none for you when you needed him.  He simply did the bare minimum.  We Are Ashamed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

US Scareways and the City of Brotherly Meh

We arrived at the airport around 11:15 for our 2:35 flight to Philly. We walked in the front door of LAS and that’s where the problems started. The check in kiosk right inside the door was hard to use because it would not take my card. After a few tries, I moved to another machine and checked my wife and I in and printed out boarding passes. We then headed over to check our bag at the US Airways desk. Some older blond lady, named Michelle, started barking at all of us to use the kiosks to check in. I held up my boarding passes and bag receipt and she dismissed that, saying simply, “Use the kiosk to check in.” I said, “But we…” “USE THE KIOSK TO CHECK IN” This burned my ass. I walked over to the kiosk and started to go through the motions. It was the exact same process I just did.

As Michelle barked at a group of foreign travelers, not well versed in English, repeatedly telling them to “USE THE KIOSK” I became a little incensed. “What if we used the kiosk over there to check in?”

“Well, you need to use this one for your bag.” She sniped.

“What if it printed me a receipt?” I sniped back.

“You need to use this one.” She chirped.


“Because THAT one (pointing towards door) doesn’t print the sticker on THAT side of the counter (pointing at the counter).”

“Why didn’t you say THAT, first?” I said and then asked why the hell do they let people check in over there.

Then, as she walked away I said, “Someone needs to learn some customer service skills.”

After that issue, we moved into the security line, which did not require a backscatter search, simply a metal detector search. Honestly, what’s the point of having backscatter machines at only certain airports? I would figure Vegas would be a bigger hub for travel than Pittsburgh. In any case, we were through. Now, we play the waiting game.

After winning back $20 from an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade slot machine near our departure gate we were informed that our flight was delayed. This reduced our already slim connection time from 30 minutes.

We boarded and departed around 3:07. This was after we taxied all the way to the other side of the airport. Now, we were in the air with a four and a half hour flight. We didn’t have the option of choosing two seats together. It was three or nothing. I was on the aisle and my wife was in the middle. Originally, there was supposed to be this older lady in the window seat but she claimed she did not want to sit next to the bathroom, which our seats were in front of, and made another guy in her row move. So, my wife was stuck next to a 61 year old grizzled Vietnam Vet retiree from New Jersey who had a case of Tourette’s and a gaping wound on his right arm which shared space with my wife’s left.

Of course then it became a four hour conversation about everything from the country to the construction company he worked for which also employed Franco Harris in the 70s. He said Franco had a very high pitched voice and was pretty worthless because he knew he was going to be making a lot of money in the NFL. He had a lot of opinions and a couple of off color remarks about hookers in Vegas. “Oh, that’s just grandpa.”

The flight crew was a bit cold and unfeeling and while they did pass out two rounds of complimentary drinks, of which Grizzled Vet had four bottles of vodka to go with his two cans of cranberry soda, there were no snacks unless you were willing to pay $5.00 for a bag of peanuts.

Also, while the captain was able to communicate to us the score of Game 7 of the World Series, no one had any information about connecting flights, whether they were on time or not. Apparently, the tower could only get ESPN and not a schedule of other flights.

Around 10:10PM, I walked back to the flight attendants to ask them about the other flights and they repeated that they did not have any information about the anything else other than the fact that we were still 30 minutes out and there would be a representative on the ground waiting to discuss our options. “Uh oh.” My wife and I began to make plans to either wait it out or get a rental car, at the airline’s expense, and drive the five and a half hours to Pittsburgh.

As we sat and wondered, worrying about our chances of making it from our landing gate to our departure gate inside the ever shrinking window of time, we received another update from the World Series game. I became even more angry at the lack of empathy or “owning the fire” as the customer service text books will tell you.

We landed right around 10:39, giving us about five minutes to deplane and race to the gate. By a stroke of luck, our landing gate had changed from a different terminal all together to seven gates over. Things were looking up a little. The flight crew came on and said that the ground was aware of our lateness and that there would be someone there to help. In the meantime, she asked passengers that did not have a connecting flight or a shortened connection time to stay out of the aisle and let the rest of us go. At that point, everyone stood up. So much for the City of Brotherly Love.

I was a bit of a prick to some folks who just meandered out in the aisle, enforcing the idea that I now had three minutes to run seven gates. Eventually, we got off and there was a Pamplona themed running of the passengers to the various gates. As I rounded the corner towards Gate 8, I saw the trailing line of people that gave me some hope. We were going to make it. My wife was nowhere in sight. Apparently, she stayed behind to talk with the representative at the other gate. I would do what I could to hold up the flight, but she better get her butt moving.

I got to the desk and noticed some of the people from our previous flight standing in line. They didn’t look happy. I looked out the window and saw no plane sitting at the gate. My heart sank. “Did we miss it?” I asked. One guy who was there with his family said, “It isn’t here yet.”

Unbelievable. I worried. I became unruly towards other passengers in my way. I RAN! I never run anymore. All for nothing because the flight scheduled for an 10:45 departure was going to be another two hours late. One of the other passengers said, “Oh, you didn’t know. It’s kind of an understood thing. The US Airways flight from Philly to Pittsburgh is never on time.”

At this point, my wife came walking up the hall, looking distraught that I was kind of just standing there. I told her the news and she was visibly upset. And to make matters worse, all of the nearby shops had closed down for the night. We hadn’t eaten in almost 12 hours and here we were stuck in Philly for another two.

It was the lesser of two evils I guess. Still, had the damn flight crew been more concerned about their passengers who were travelling, instead of those who were baseball fans then maybe we could have been more cordial to the other folks lollygagging in the aisle. They stood there, yanking on their stuck luggage that had become lodged in the overhead bins because the flight attendants slam them in there in order to get the lid closed. Not to mention half of the people who had luggage stowed in the overheads were miles away from their seats because you sort of just look for open space because there is never room for three pieces of luggage up top.

In all the airports I’ve been in over the years, Philly ranks at the very bottom. It’s dilapidated, crumbling, dirty and the staff just don’t really care. I attempted to plug in my wife’s laptop and let some friends know we were alive but stuck. After locating an open outlet, finding it with no power and trying several others at a different gate, I was able to finally charge up my battery that had been depleted from usage on the plane.

On the flights to Atlanta and Vegas, the Delta gates had various stands in between the rows of seats with outlets available. Once again, Delta gets it. Most people travel with electronic devices and need to plug in once in awhile during layovers.

I will never fly US Airways again, never. Their planes reminded me of old emergency rooms or the elementary school nurse’s office. The old and worn material covering the seats looked uncomfortable and somewhat icky. The flight crew was drab and zombielike in there demeanor. The amount of “warm and fuzzy” customer service experiences have diminished in the 20 years since my first flight on a plane, which was with US Air back in the early 90s.

Everyone raves about Southwest but I’d rather go Delta and I’d rather have a nonstop flight and never have to go through Philly International Airport ever again.

Next up, I'll give you my assessment of Las Vegas itself and why I'll never order room service from the Mirage again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Delta Went Down To Georgia

In a prelude to my thoughts on the Vegas trip, I wanted to put up a separate post about air travel and the huge differences between two airlines running the same flight and the airports that were running them.

Because my trip was supposed to be a business one, I tried to keep the cost low by taking the lower priced tickets that included at least one stop and was not first class. Also, because I was using a third party site for booking the trip, my options were limited to what they suggested and I had to be at a particular place at a particular time due to the conference schedule.

Since the conference was cancelled, I had already book the flight and thought, “What the hell?” I booked my wife a ticket and we did Vegas as a second honeymoon. I booked her tickets right alongside my seats to ease her fears of flying for the first time.

I booked a flight from Pittsburgh International which included one stop in Atlanta. There was an hour layover between the flights which were one terminal apart. I went with Delta because they had the most direct flight at the time I wanted. 2:41pm – 7:15pm. Walking up to the counter to check my bag and print out my boarding passes was simple.

Going through security was simple, although I was subjected to my first back scatter scan. Hopefully, I don’t look silly on their monitors. Still, the process was rather simple and as much as I object to the security theater that this country has employed since 9/11, I wasn’t about to be one of those nuts with the 4th amendment tattooed on my chest in protest. As it is, I could probably print the entire Constitution.

Boarding was a snap, though I don’t understand the process. At first, I was thinking that planes board all first class and special needs flyers, then Zones 1-? front to back. At least, when you get on the plane and everyone in the front of economy is seated and you are stuck in a line with people waiting to get to the back of the plane. Then, I saw this site and take it for what it’s worth. Why don’t planes board from back to front? Add more zones, each with just a few rows and board them in reverse from back to front.

Now, once we got moving, it was all good. Delta offered us a drink, which for an hour flight isn’t necessary, I think. We landed in Atlanta and made our way to the next gate. No problems. We boarded our next flight, the long one, and settled in for a five hour trek to Vegas.

First of all, I understand that the economy has been rough. Airlines have had it especially rough since 9/11. But, beyond TSA antics and fears about another incident, airlines really need to figure out a better way to attract customers. Charging them for checked bags, acting like pricks, and losing shit isn’t the way to do it. Is air travel necessary? Yes, for some. But it’s the new customers you need to get hooked on your product. You want to keep the regulars happy with repeat incentives, improvements. But you need to do something right for the new customer to keep him from going with a different airline or not flying at all. Delta, is getting the message. At least, I feel that they are.

The flight from Atlanta was exceptional. It was a pretty big plane to start. 2x3x2 rows. We had a 2 seat row which was nice and in the back of every seat was this little monitor. At first, it showed the safety video, which honestly is ridiculously laughable, anymore. Who really follows along with the fold out insert tucked inside the seat back in front of you? If you’ve never flown and seen the spiel once, or you’ve seen every reused joke about airlines in movies, then you know what’s going on in terms of plane safety. Besides, if the plane is upside down on fire and going down over the Atlantic, are you really worried about whether or not your mask is inflating? No, you’re thinking about all those bad things you did recently and asking for forgiveness. So, after we get a goofy video from the CEO of Delta, we get the option of playing around with these monitors. They displayed flight information like an overhead map, distance travelled, speed, time remaining, temperature, etc. Then, given the fact that you’ve bought headphones, you can listen to music or purchase movies to watch and games to play. (Here’s a secret. My Dollar Store Ear Buds worked just fine. No need to purchase their headphones.) But beyond that, they had access to a lot of television stations. We watched the Halloween marathon on AMC for most of the trip there.

Now, here’s where I get shamed. In the middle seats next to us, a family of four settled in for the trip. There was both parents, a four year old boy and a seven month old. I wholeheartedly expected those kids to be fussy or rambunctious, making a ton of noise. As a parent, I take that as a given and accept it. I don’t judge. But the four year old made nary a peep the whole trip, playing with his little hand held game console. The seven month old was a little doll. Hardly fussed or caused problems at all. My wife and I sat in awe of this couple, who we found out travelled a lot. I guess the kids are used to it, but man I was floored.

Flight attendants were spectacular, offering us two rounds of drinks and two snacks consisting of either two packs of peanuts, pretzels or a two pack of cookies. In all, this was probably my most enjoyable flight, ever.

Coming back was a totally different story.

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