Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Embrace The Tech Phobia

Oh, technology. Just when I get comfortable with you, you turn on me like a bad boyfriend.  Everything was working pretty well, I was saying. I like this! Cool smart phone with nifty camera and on a super affordable reliable unlimited plan? Check. Got rid of cable a few years ago and made it through with just Netflix DVD for a while but now, oh, SmartTv, you're exactly what I've been looking for! And Chromecast? How great! HBO and all this on demand quality programming! Amazon! I haven't seen a Viagra/Claritin/Zantac/Cialis/BudLite commercial in years. Feels great.

I can run a home business from my peaceful rural outpost, get copy jobs and invoice a client and get paid right here at my desk while I'm on the phone and in my yoga pants with dogs on the sofa. I can manage the house rental websites and take online payments and run the reservation calendar and then go to the feed store and buy some sunflowers. This is working!

Not so fast. The bad boyfriend starts sulking. Not coming home at night. Not answering your calls. Wait, I thought we were in love! I feel so cheated.

The whole thing has turned into a tumbleweed of crossed wires and an episode of Not Work Can't Fix Bug City. If the Internet is on, it is slow and intermittent, I pay for 3mbps but it's about 2 and with WiFi I have been informed, will be less than that. So you can have a laptop and a wireless router but you sorta need to be tethered to the phone jack and the modem for anything to work. You know, like dial up. Streaming a tv show is a BIG BUFFERING deal, phone line dead for 2 days but I can still can get online which is weird, the phone rings but no sound, no dial tone. Can't call out. Cell phone gives me 10 text messages all at once 3 days later and apparently the ones I've sent are coming out of order, which explains why my neighbor blew me off Saturday morning but was at my door Sunday at 830am to discuss her daughter's wedding.

The MacBook is doing what MacBooks seem to do always after 3 years. Crap out, break your heart, crap out, work for a day, get your hopes up, make a lot of fan noise and go blank. Replaced the corrupted battery but it still sounds like a Volkswagen when I turn it on. Next up would be grafix card replacement-say the "geniuses", I can't even. Shut up. Keep it. 2200dollar scrap metal. Apple and their code of planned obsolescence and culty sheep followers. Over. And I'd rather call you from a shoe than talk to another call dropping iPhone user. It's like driving a Mercedes. Fussy and breaky. Parts cost more than the original vehicle and you can't just go to the local garage and get Paco to work on it. You invariably always need a back up car for one of the most expensive cars on the market. And that just doesn't sit well with me. And if it didn't sit well with the rest of us, I think they'd stop jacking us around.

A quicky replacement Chromebook is fine but will just shut off sometimes (I call it NapTime) but for $200 I don't have high expectations. It's actually the least of the tech poltergeists around here this week. The Price of Potentiality with Apple has got to be for starry eyed children. I saw a pitch from Apple touting the iWatch as having the amazing feature to open your garage door when you're not at home. Um, why is this necessary? Like opening from your driveway with a clicker isn't convenient enough you need to open it while not home so someone can walk in and steal your weed whacker. Got it. Totally need.

My friend Fernando opened an internet cafe in his rural backwater farm town in Mexico 2 years ago and he has less outages than I do in an American town 70 miles from Atlanta. In 2015. Just a point of comparison. Mexicans also have only one phone provider, one cell provider and monopoly type service. I kind of expect and shrug off the 'sorry nothing works' manana culture in a place where The Donkey is still an acceptable mode of transport. And reliable services are for the wealthy and even then, there may be severed head on the gatepost in the morning, and no running water so bitching about not reading the NYTimes on your tablet is low priority.

Here in 'murica I am less satisfied with getting a few crumbs occasionally tossed out to keep us addicted, but not serviced or properly fed. I have a hard time believing it's not part of the plan. We have the technology to beam WiFi on an airplane to check our FB at 30000 ft but you're telling me this modem on land that is sitting still on the counter can't hold the signal. Right, kind of how you told us before that we couldn't use our cell phones on the plane because it would disrupt the 'instruments' and if anyone wants to tell me why we have to close our window shades for take off and landing, sometimes but not always, I'd love to know.

It's about control. If you blindly follow rules and directives for things that make no sense, you are easier to manipulate. I don't want to be the guy who gets naked in the airport because my flight is delayed, but I see that guy's frustration last week in Charlotte.  He definitely made a statement. Maybe not the right one, but still. He tried. Flying wears me down so much the only flight I want to catch is to somewhere where things work and expectations are met.

And have ya seen the bullet trains in Shanghai? Yea, I know. "Red" China. Great firewall. Meh. We have all the control, lack of privacy and none of the flashy services so save it on the Socialist/Commie rants.  I'd rather ride an ox plow than take Amtrak. Even before it was a deathtrap.  It's disgusting. This is not Bangladesh where you have about a 50% chance of making it to your destination on a train, but I don't know, last week in Savannah, GA alone there were 2 train derailments and 4 car accidents with tractor trailers carrying fuel, it's not much safer. We peaked in the 50s and haven't done anything since Eisenhower put in the interstate system and MaBell made phones with longer cords? I know, Instagram. Neato. I can take a picture on my phone and make it look like the greasy oddly colored finger in the lens Polaroids my mom took in the 70s. Wait for it. Wait for it. Peel. Sniff. Shiny.

Come on. I've been to the mountain. I know this country is capable of amazing things. Not just real and imagined moon landings and the invention of corn syrup and 'energy' drinks that make everyone fall asleep at the wheel. Somehow, we have Silicon Valley, solar power technology and cars that run on water---and yet these inventions and progress are downplayed (or stifled) in this 'united' states in favor of Idiot Products that make more short haul money for greedy businesses. Disposable ugly colored neon cheap clothes. Trash food products. Tacky travel packages. I listened to a pitch from some 24 year old kid tell me about all the favorite flavors of his Vape cigarette (which I don't totally understand, but my take away was that you could basically put 40% nicotine in that thing and dose up and he was proud to be out of the grasp of The Man and controlling his own destiny) and his favorite flavor was Red Bull. My inner French palate wept a tiny hot pink tear. Move over salty, sweet, bitter,sour and umami. There's a new flavor in town.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys

Yesterday I listened to a man talk about how his back hurt so bad he couldn't bend over and tie his shoe. Twenty years ago he had an accident and the subsequent surgery left him in unbearable pain for which he still took demerol. He only takes that on the weekends because he can't work on the drug. I decided to skip the questions about how you can have a script for demerol for twenty years and just listen. Gave him arthritis. It was hard to work. Nothing works on the pain. Leg gave out the other night and he fell and broke his glasses  and that's why his face was all cut and bloody.

Have you tried Acupuncture? Massage? Chiropractic? Physical therapy? Stretching? Calcium Magnesium? Turmeric? Epsom salt baths? Hot tub?


I had an urge to run upstairs, grab all my anti-inflammation natural cures and make him a care package. I got my phone out to get the number of several chiropractors in town. Acupuncturists are rare but I had a referral. OH yea and the lady over at the wellness center who does Reiki, she could help with the nerve pain. How about St. John's Wort? the tincture is great for the neuralgia. I have some. How about a Yoga class?

As he took another drag from his Newport he crushed his (fifth) Mountain Dew can into the cooler. He came out with a 40oz Busch beer and popped the top. "You sure know a lot of stuff. You should be a psychologi---psychiatr---counselor," he slurred. "But I'm not goin' to any weird ass faggy Yoga hippy shit."

I was transported back to my years of bartending. My mantra: never apply rational principles to irrational people, which meant in that context, no arguing with drunks. But it worked here too. It's super frustrating for me because I want to help and I always go straight to solution mode, but most people really just want the ability to complain. Be heard. They may need all the help you want to give them but really don't want a solution. The cycle of feeling sorry for himself mixed with the promise of blitzing out every weekend in some powerful pain med haze was his thing. And at nearly 60, this was not a new habit. And I know better than to take this on. Surely I could find another Sisyphean task that would be more interesting if nothing else.

They commiserated over the price of groceries and how they could only afford frozen dinners. I calculated the price of ground chuck from my butcher and eggs and breadcrumbs and chipotle peppers and potatoes and figured I could make a meatloaf that would feed them for 3 days for $12. Meatloaf with chipotle sauce. Roasted potatoes. Omelettes. Maybe sneak some spinach from the garden in there. 

They told me about their lousy expensive cell phone plans that were over $100 a month. I have a wi-fi based plan for $10 that switches to cell when there is no wifi nearby. Unlimited. Save you $1000 a year. No contract. Easy. 

Not so much as a pen and paper...what's the name? Nothin. Just went back to complaining about the service, the fees, the plans, the money, the low tech phones. They pay for 3 plans as well. Not even so much as a family plan. I couldn't take it anymore. I was bursting with solutions! Ideas! Remedy! I can fix everything!

Just then, a little fairy came out of the trees and rang a teeny tiny bell in my ear.
Do not waste your wise words on deaf ears, friend. Funnel energy into worthy cause. Not all needy causes are worthy. These dudes are not going to flip the switch and get off the sugar, the nicotine, the caffeine the demerol and suddenly eat whole foods, cook and take responsibility for their health and switch to calcium tablets and start doing pilates and water aerobics. They are going to continue to wash down their gout medicine with cola and eat chocolate donuts out of a bag between insulin shots. You will not fix this. You maybe could fix this, but they don't want fixes. 

It pained me, but I just said, Good luck with all that, and went upstairs. I am in a lot of ways a psycholi--psych---counselor. But people come to me for advice, consult, writing, ideas. And they pay for it and stuff. I'm a little late to my own party but I am drawing a line in the sand. If not asked, I cannot afford to put a hole in my energy bucket.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Whine Bar

You're not going to like this, but it's true. We, Americans, have become a nation of whiners. This isn't new but it's getting worse.  Complainers. Big wheat belly achers. The fat guy at the table who never gets enough to eat and yet a bounty lies before him. We bitch about cable tv customer service like it's a birthright to have 200 channels of nothing in particular. But we PAID for the service and we want our $60 worth! And they left me on HOLD for 20 minutes!

After you get up and running, be sure to go over to CNN and catch some of the devastating rubble in Nepal after yet another earthquake. Be confident no one is searching for the remote.

We demand cheap prices AND good food in restaurants because someone, somewhere came up with the mantra The Customer is Always Right. No, you're not. If you've got demands of quality and price you're never gonna find it. You do have control over it though...you. Home. Beans. Rice. Repeat.

There is no restaurant owner anywhere who says,

Ya know what? I'm going to work 14 hours a day every day to have the best ingredients available from hardworking fair wage farmers to create a creative, delicious, timely dish that is exactly how YOU want it. I'm going to serve it to you in a room of the perfect temperature and size with just the right amount of space between patrons and pay my fun, easy going never late or absent staff a better than fair wage to wash up after you and I'm going to rent this commercial space for too much money to do it in. That dish will cost me every bit of $20 in the end, but you know what? I'm going to sell it to you for $15 because that's what it "should cost" in your mind. I'm going to flush $5 every time you walk through the door so you can feel like you got a good value while you drive home with your pants unbuttoned. Or maybe you'll go home and write a scathing review on Yelp. 

And dammit I've done it. I have. Hospitality and I have a torrid past. I love hotels. They don't always return the infatuation.  I've changed my room because the room smelled funny or there were mosquitoes breeding in shower drain and I feared Dengue. I changed because there was a flood light in my window all night that made me feel like I was in A Clockwork Orange, but it did serve well to illuminate the couple who were having sex on the hammock that hung outside my window. I left a rental apt because the door to get out wouldn't open but the door to get in my apt wouldn't lock. There was no AC, cafe, manager, towels or WiFi on property as promised on the website. We moved to a house with no AC (in the jungle at 94 degrees) which had fans and the elusive "cross ventilation" that everyone talks of that only works if there is a breeze and that only comes during monsoons so the breeze is actually ---water.

There was a snake under Nicole's bed. My shower dribbled out some water but not really enough to call a "shower", so we just used the large dog bowl "splash" pool. We saw the gardener filling the cistern with the garden house but we ran out of water after 3 days and none of the toilets flushed. My pillows were stuffed with what I can only imagine to be heads of cabbage and old socks. All cafes in town were outdoors but the charm was tarnished by the cans of Off! on every table next to the pepper mill. If you go organic and pass on the Deet? You will look like a measled child before you finish the bottle of wine that makes you care less. Our view was of the neighbor's roof where his dog lived which was covered in feces. Much of the ad copy describes this part of the world as Paradise. I have been going for 25 years. I don't think I'll return.

All of these things happened in Mexico. And you know what everyone said? It's Mexico! and shrugged their shoulders. It was the national slogan for everything from brackish water to downed WiFi to street dogs fighting in the middle of the road over territory rights to the steak house dumpster. Bad service and mas o menos housekeeping. Noise at all hours. Most probable dysentery. Outside of the populated big cities, most surely dodgy technology. It's Mexico!

Of course there is lots to love. Food, architecture, music, dance, art, scenery, landscapes, diving in the Caribbean with long haired Tarzan looking boat guides. But the comforts of home? Meh.

The subtext, of course, is this: Get Over It. You'll get used to it. And if you don't? You'll go home. But we're not changing it. 

Mexicans deal with a lot of adversity and it doesn't bother them like us. The stuff that should bother us doesn't (wall street tycoons getting rich while our housing market crashes,  human trafficking, govt corruption) but we sure get our tail tied in a knot over "service" and the shrinking size of airplane seats. Many Mexicans (read: poor working class) don't feel entitled like we do. They know everything is corrupt and that good services and protection are for the wealthy Narcos and that if they want anything, they'll have to do it for themselves or go without. Going out to dinner or traveling and staying in hotels is a rare and exciting time for most average people. It probably wouldn't cross their mind that the bathroom is too small for 6 to share.

Fernando, my guy for a few years, is a Mexican National but he lives here. He complains way less than me. He's a roofer in the South, you can't be a whiner and be a roofer. He wanted to call his mom for Mother's Day and couldn't reach her because the land lines are out of service in their rural town. For WEEKS. He owns a cyber cafe there and it's routine that other businesses and houses nearby ride on his internet cables and most definitely the electricity. No one does anything. And who would you call anyway? And yea, the phone. Cell service is lousy and the ONE company TelCel that covers the entire country? Doesn't care about unpopulated areas so much. So he Skypes with his mom and dad when they aren't out plowing the fields or castrating sheep or worrying about drought.

When he does talk to them, his little tiny Indian mom with her braids and his dad with a 10 gallon cowboy hat and a tortilla sized belt buckle say 'Todo bien! Todo bien! Everything's fine! We're great! 

He never has a pillow that is too hard. Never is he "in the mood" for one thing or another for dinner. If something breaks on his car, he fixes it. He does think the ladies at the hardware store are incredibly rude and he doesn't understand why people keep jobs that they clearly despise. And I'm pretty sure he thinks silently when getting ignored by a cashier, are you kidding? at least you're working in air conditioning.

So this is why I have little sympathy for the sad faces when they find out (because they didn't read the website) that there is no cable tv.

Tell me what's to love! The beds have good mattresses and linens are of the highest quality. Each room has a bathroom and private yards are all around. The grounds are lush and colorful. The new hot water heater is burn your ass hot and bigger than you'll need. The AC is blowing and there are 28 pima cotton freshly laundered line dried towels in the closet. The price is 1/3 of a local hotel which has none of these amenities. But please, again, tell me your negative feelings about not being able to watch non stop pharmaceutical commercials or C-Span. I'm riveted.

Like little crack addicts emptying their pockets looking for lint to smoke. But, but, at home we have satellite TV and, and, the refrigerator is bigger and there's an ice maker! But you're not at home, friends, traveling is hard. Dozens of magazines and tv shows would posit otherwise but Dorothy was onto something. There is no place like home. But this may be good for you. Traveling is eye opening. Getting out of your nightly rut of zoning on the sofa and hearing the endless barrage of mainstream media? This is the place to do it. But we're not Amish, you can still binge watch about 10,000 shows on there.

The last group who stayed here had 8 people and a million requests and all of them were met by me, the bedraggled house manager who also has the task of paying for all this crap and maintaining it. Yea, I know. I need to do this to pay for the joint. I'm venting. Hoping they'd leave a good review for all my efforts, freshly baked cookies, a bottle of wine, a bowl of tangerines---instead, the whiny mom texted a week later--a recipe for organic weed killer "to spray the weeds on the sidewalks". Sweet Mary, what is our national obsession with weeds??? They left no review. I guess I'm happy. It could have been negative. The water heater blew and we had to wait 3 hours to get in our 8 showers after the manager paid $1000, and we had to call her to turn on the heat because the inlaws are from Florida and they don't want a house to be 68 degrees in April. 

But I need to let go of my expectations of meeting other people's expectations. A friend of mine says, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Just do your best, and people can take it or leave it.

I know not all Americans are woo bags, and not all Mexicans are easy going, but when it comes to services we have an embarrassment of riches and it seems we find fault with all of it. We need to look at everything for what it is. Don't go to the five and dime and look for rubies.  Don't go to a restaurant with a focused small menu and wish it was Chili's and conversely don't go to a pub on Hwy 78 and ask for a wine list and lament the lack of late harvest Rieslings. Don't go to remote tropical locations and expect the AC to frost the windows.

No one can meet all your imaginary, very personal secret demands. Sometimes it happens, and it's magical. And if it's really important? Ask nicely. Most service folks could care less if you want a softer pillow or a darker room. But know your limits. If you must have cableTV (and I've lost clients over this) ask before you show up. And maybe, just maybe consider your addictions. If it's nationally imperative you can listen in your car. And if it will affect your stock brokering hobby, update your tech. Stop looking for someone to blame because you can't be self sufficient.  I refuse to bear the burden of being all things to all people for $250/night.

I've decided not to react to the discovery of "no cable" as a fire to put out. It says so on the website, you booked last minute, didn't investigate the amenities, there's a ton of other stuff to do and hey, It's Mount Airy! You'll get used to it! 

And it turns out, all is well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Teachable Moments

When I was a little kid, my parents had a friend named Mr. Scott. He was a former principal at an elementary school in Minnesota and a very nice old man. He used to tell my mom that I'd be a great teacher when I grew up. I'm not sure why, but maybe because I was a bossy pants, I guess. As an adult I knew I'd never be up to the everyday-ish-ness of being a school teacher. A sub? I'm your gal. But I would never fit into The System, and I'm certain there would be a public flogging from some scandal and my big mouth would get me into hot water.

And although I never really liked school per se, I do love learning. As an adult I have really started to dive into all kinds of subjects that weren't even mentioned all through high school or college. How can that be? 16+ years of formal education and not one class on floral arranging? Financial planning? Herbalism? Or cooking for that matter. An "elective" I never took...I took welding instead, I could learn cooking from my mother, after all. But welding? Exotic.

Yes, and the irony that I grew up to be a self trained cook who opened 2 restaurants over 10 years is kinda funny. I still have never taken a cooking class. And I'd love to. (In Italy.) But I was obsessed with the restaurant business more than cooking which is nearly as important, if not more, than what's on the plate. Sadly.

Eating? Yes. Wine? Yes. The details of service? Yes. Cooking I'd figure out. I was terrible at production but I knew the key was hiring people who had the skills that I lacked. And I lacked a lot of skills and techniques. I have a couple talents...the best one is imagining a plate, a flavor experience, an evening, a stage set, a smell. And I can make exactly ONE of something. Then it's about showing the production people how to make 100 of them. Yin and Yang. I had a great time learning and watching the people I worked with. I cooked in my kitchen like I was making lunch for one first grader. Plate to pan and all that. My line cooks of course made up in experience what I lacked and showed me how to plate 25 things at once. Ohhh, that's how you do it. The sheet pan full of salmon. Got it. But if I could show them how to know when there was too much lavender and not enough ginger in the butter sauce for halibut, I'd be free to go do other things. Like manage waitstaff or place orders or try to learn reservation software or wait tables because someone didn't show up.

Not so much a teacher, but a trainer.

All of this is to say that when I first bought this big old goofy bowling alley of a house (or as one friend who lacked vision put it, "oh good, you've bought a funeral parlor...") I pictured parties, weddings, retreats and classes. I'm finally getting around to the classes. I'm not the teacher though, you are. I will make lunch, though.

Now that I'm finished with the duplex-i-fication of the main house, one side is a self contained vacation rental --the other side is the big main open kitchen and dining room with fireplace and terrace is now an intimate space to have small classes with pros and experts and lunch. Something light from the garden or a seasonal crop from a local farm.  Classes will be affordable and limited to 20 or so people, so hands on learning and Q&A will be easier. Set on the beautiful park like grounds at The Hacienda, I'm really looking forward to it.

Classes will include:
Gardening, painting, craft/woodworking, internet marketing and computer skills, floral arranging, writing, cooking, WINE, herbalism, plant identification, landscape design and more. If you'd like to be considered for a class instructor shoot me an email and I'll send you more info. You'll get paid, have the ability to sell your book, CD, DVD, salves, creams, potions and you'll get lunch! Come meet and create a new community with me up here in the mountains---solfood at mindspring dot com We'll post the schedule on the website and here as it develops.