Thursday
Apr022015

About: Time

 

Well, I’m back to waiting tables in a brewpub.

That’s not to say it was something I’ve been looking forward to, just that I’m no longer working behind a bar for the time being.

And that’s not to say it’s a tragedy.  I’m currently making more money with fewer stresses than my previous particular occupation. 

And (to fulfill the Comedic Rule of Three), that’s not to say it would be hard to find a place with fewer stressors than my last employment venue.  A month after leaving, having just completed my training at the new place, I’d caught up with some now-former coworkers who remarked on how much healthier I’d looked.  Though it could have been my brief stint of unemployment had left me with insufficient funds for alcohol. Boy, did I miss whiskey…

But now that I’m back to carrying drinks while answering idiotic questions and no longer making drinks while dismissing idiotic questions, I am finding myself suddenly reacquainted with certain aspects of the job I had found distasteful.

Take, for example, the muscle strain.  My previous serving job required the use of a drinks tray for the carriage of even a single shot glass-worth of liquid.  This was because the part of the floor that wasn’t that really thin, hard, industrial carpeting would turn to a freshly-resurfaced ice skating rink at the mere sight of a single drop of water.  But they weren’t about to change it, because a) it would cost money, and b) that slick floor was so very easy to mop.  The only logical option was to add a work requirement for the service staff.  As a result, my passive-aggressive nature led me to using the largest-possible tray to transport a table’s water glasses, one at a time.

Conventional server wisdom (an oxymoronic statement as any) suggested using one’s less-dominant hand to carry a tray.  For instance, a right-handed individual would support the bottom of a tray with their left hand, while using their more-dexterous right hand to stabilize it and shove idle-minded loiterers out of the way.

What comes from using your weaker side to carry a full tray of drinks (my record was 13 pint glasses without adding a second row, and the precarious nature of that arrangement did more to further the “Unlucky 13” superstition than anything that actually happened on a Friday the 13th) the full length of the restaurant, then using miniscule movements to keep your hand under the tray’s center of gravity as you unload said drinks so you don’t have to air out your pants later, for that first solid week is a severely sore wrist.  When it persisted for a second week despite popping Advil and slathering on Biofreeze, I sought out a compression brace.  This, coupled with a few more busy shifts’ conditioning allowed the muscles and tendons to heal and strengthen to where it didn’t bother me anymore.

This is one of many quirks of the business I am sure to document in my book once I (eventually) get to writing it. But for the sake of time and your attention span, I will focus on one frustration in particular: a guest’s inability to comprehend the value of a server or bartender’s time.

First, we have the ill-timed seating of party members.

Here’s the stage: A table set for six.  The server assigned to the section in which the table resides has seen that someone has taken a seat at that table.  It’s reasonable to assume the hosts are aware that Captain Ahead O’Schedule is present, for they have lain out the requisite menus for a quantity of people appropriate for the table.

The Captain is greeted by the server, who remarks that there must be more people coming.  Captain declares in the affirmative, stating, “They’re on their way.”

This, for me, is always a red flag.  I won’t worry if I’d heard “He’s parking the car,” or “They’re closing their tab with the bar.”  That suggests imminent arrival, and I can do a quick check of my tables while I wait, if they aren’t visible five seconds after I’ve heard either of these statements.

But if you throw me a “They’re on their way,” I will cringe for the following is what ALWAYS happens, without fail.

The Captain will start with a water, because he doesn’t want to be seen as an alcoholic when his friends arrive and see he’s already consumed five Absolute Martinis, and he doesn’t want a lecture from his one Crossfitter friend about the dangers of processed sugar when he is seen with a Dr. Pepper.  No, a glass of water is always a safe course of action.  But not a bottled water, because then he’ll appear elitist.  And not a water with a lemon, because he definitely wants to have those five martinis and lemon-garnished water conveys that you are comfortable forgoing alcohol and sugar for the evening, but not a drink with flavor.

The server is not concerned with his choice, only suppressing a deep sigh as he resigns himself to the fact that there will not be any money made on this table until Captain O’Schedule’s friends arrive.  And if you ever find yourself in the Captain’s shoes, for the love of God, DO NOT request waters for the whole table.  When you do this, your friends are going to arrive, find waters already available, and forgo any drink that costs actual money.  Then you’re going to feel awkward when you’re the only one who ordered that martini, let alone five of them.  The intervention, in this case, isn’t a possibility so much as a forgone conclusion.

Nonetheless, the server will fetch the water, understanding that it’s pointless to give his spiel on the daily specials to a table of six when only one is able to hear it.  So the Captain will wait with his water for his friends.  He’ll occupy himself with his phone, never actually calling or texting his as-yet-present tablemates, for fear of appearing needy.  And why should he contact them?  He sent a mass text to everyone that he had arrived and was getting a table for their party.  The only further communication necessary would be either, “I just parked and am headed in,” or “I’ve been mugged and had to borrow a stranger’s phone to say I can’t make it tonight on account of the police report I must now file.”

With nothing to do for this table until it is further populated, the server will move on to other tables.  He might ring in a dessert for Table 78, where Daddy has the kids tonight while Mommy invites her girlfriends over to watch some sappy chick-flick that came out when they were all still single.  A refresh for 63’s iced tea.  Another pitcher of light beer for the collegiate study group that’s not done any studying all night.  Maybe help out other servers or the food runner, since all the tables in the section are good for the foreseeable next few minutes.  And as he drops off a medium-rare ribeye at someone else’s table, he sees that Captain O’Schedule has assembled the Tardy Squad, so it’s time to take care of them now.  The Captain first sat down twenty minutes ago, so his tablemates must have waited for his mass text to even consider leaving the house.

So now the server waits for them to sit the bloody-hell down before approaching.  When that happens, he greets them as if happy to finally see them.  Honestly, he was wondering if they were all just figments of O’Schedule’s imagination.  He’s just about to regale them in an epic poem about the Chef’s specials when he hears the unmistakable chair-scraping of a table being sat in his section.  But he can’t break away, not now that he finally has the Tardy Squad’s attention after they’ve spent an eternity simply saying “hello” to one another!  No, he must push through this as quickly as possible so he may properly greet this new table behind him.

And in a perfect world, we’d all be empathic and able to recognize the need for efficiency in others.  But no, they have questions.

  • ·       “Why is this beer more expensive than Bud Light?”
  • ·       “What gluten-free liquors do you have?”
  • ·       “Could you send that large pizza out first as an appetizer?”
  • ·       “Any way I could get that special in a completely different way from what you described?”
  • ·       “Can I get the mussels as a side instead of fries?”
  • ·       And my oh-so-favorite: “What’s good here?”

And of course, the Captain had to wait for them, so he insists they order everything at once so he needn’t wait any further.  Never mind his compatriots have had minimal exposure to the menu options and must now make a selection under pressure.  To cap it all off, the woman who told the table to go ahead and order before her still hasn’t made a decision when we’ve come back to her.  And it usually is a woman who does this, rarely a man.  Not trying to ruffle any feathers, it’s just a strange coincidence I’ve noticed.  But children are always indecisive.  I can’t see how, really, given their menu only has four things on it.

Meanwhile, the table behind, a perfectly kind and patient group of twenty-somethings on a double date, must wait for the server to finish with this malarkey before he can properly take care of them.  Several minutes can easily have elapsed when he was supposed to have met them within forty-five seconds.  The two couples have been penalized for the unspeakable crime of arriving together, on time.

When this happens to me, as a server, you had better believe I’m going to ring in the new table’s order before the bigger table.  It’s a small, unseen effort on my part to make up for the inconvenience they’ve had to endure.  Even delaying the Tardy Squad’s order by 30 seconds can cascade their delay, for all kinds of things happen in a kitchen.  Another server could have rung in something between the two tickets.  The kitchens may have been told by management to cook something on the fly, pushing back other orders.  And if one person wanted their burger well-done, then the whole table’s food is gonna sit under a heat lamp until the grill has finished turning a perfectly good slab of ground beef into a hockey puck as per the customer’s request.

Perhaps best part is the Captain’s table isn’t going to notice the delay, being so engrossed in their own frivolous chatter.  When this happens, I’m reminded of the proverbial tree falling in the forest when no one is around to hear it.

Those unfamiliar with serving might think, “Job done, right?  You got everyone’s order in, and it’s fine now.  You even struck an unseen blow for punctuality!”

To which I must clarify that the “unseen blow for punctuality” was really just more of my passive-aggressive tendencies.  I know the Tardy Table won’t notice the delay, I just feel better for making them wait.

But it’s not the end.  Any time unnecessarily wasted can cascade, especially when a server’s section is full.  The Dad’s Night with the Kids table could find itself with a fussy four-year-old and have to leave promptly, or the Study Group might find itself in desperate need of Fireball shots.  A busy server’s time is at a premium, and it can’t be wasted explaining how the economies of scale allow a macro-brew to be so cheap.

And all of this is kind of burying the lead: Why was the Captain so Ahead O’Schedule?

I am a cynic at heart, so I assume he got here twenty minutes earlier than they agreed upon and decided to grab a table.  That’s well and good for you and your friends, but please remember that he got a water when he sat down for twenty minutes.  So here’s a wake-up call: he just wasted twenty minutes of the server’s time.

My busiest night of record saw me ring up $1600 in an eight-hour period with a four-table section.  That’s an average of $200/hour.  (Granted, this was cocktail service rather than table, but I work best with hyperbole so just go with it for now.)  So a twenty minute span of no orders means the restaurant could miss out on upwards of $15 in sales from a single table.  By ordering a single martini he tried so hard to be seen without, he could have cut that potential loss in half.  Basically, by being so unapologetically early, he have done financial harm to the business where within he currently sits, sipping his water.  There is a proper place for him; it is called Outside and Out of the Way.  Or at the bar, where no one will immediately question the five martinis you’ve already consumed.

On the other hand, I can appreciate being punctual.  I, myself, am routinely twenty minutes early for work, simply to allow for the freak traffic patterns in my area.  Although, part of it is that I left my apartment so I wouldn’t get sucked into another leg of my now-regular Netflix binges.  Hell, that’s why I was always early at my last job, and I only lived a mile away.

But if he is just being punctual and his friends are late, what kind of shitty friends does this guy have to all keep him waiting?  I would feel hurt if my friends didn’t take our appointed time seriously enough to make it on time.  At least I might, if I had any friends.

But this is only one end of the Steps of Service Spectrum, and it is here I must bring up the subject of Campers.

Campers are the Ultraviolet to the Infrared of Tardy Squad.  They’re not so far separated as to be a different class of people, but still straddle the thin wavelengths of visible light made up by perfectly normal, considerate customers.  And Lord knows there are still some genuine whack-o’s in the VLF and Gamma ranges. But the big difference is that while the effect of Infrared on your skin is a surface burn, Ultraviolet can cause cancer.

For the uninitiated, a Camper is not a lover of the Great Outdoors.  Just the opposite, a Camper will avoid going outside at all costs for as long as the restaurant remains open or they develop bedsores.

I’m not sure what motivates them, but something about having a table makes these people want to stay.  I can have cleared off all their entrée, side and dessert plates, leaving only their empty water glasses, but they still have a very good reason for remaining seated in a bitter competition to see who can talk the other’s ear off first.

Last night I was confronted with a pair of them.  And by “pair,” I mean two tables of Campers next to each other in the part of the restaurant that closes early.  Both had paid and decided to sit for ninety minutes until I finally had to bring word that the restaurant was closing.  Had they left on schedule, I and the other server responsible for putting all the chairs away could have been done and out the door, happily shoving beer down our own throats at a local watering hole which stays open later than we do.  But no, we had to waste our and company time awaiting their departure because it would be inhospitable to move the chairs while they continued to sit in their cloud of ignorance.

The worst part is that there were two of them.  If it were one, they couldn’t subconsciously justify their presence by seeing they weren’t the only ones there.  And I can understand that.  What I can’t understand is seeing that both tables are clear and you have seen me wipe down, reset, and sweep out under all the tables around you!

Strong as my feelings are, I’m not particularly mad at them.  Sure, they inconvenienced me, but as I see it, if I’m still on the clock, that’s time not spent spending money while drinking.

No, my beef is with the campers in the middle of the shift.  The ones who pay up and remain seated as the hive of a busy restaurant buzzes around them.  And I saw the most egregious offender this past Friday night.

A group of three found themselves sat in my section around 6pm, just as we were getting busy.  Upper-middle aged, I’d say, two women and one man.  They weren’t particularly difficult, just a round of beers, and appetizer, and an entrée each.  Total tab around $65, paid in full 1.5 hours into their stay.

They didn’t leave until 10:30.  That’s 4.5 hours for a $65 check.  Halfway through their 3 hour squat, they asked if they could order something, but it was only to refill their waters.

Using some rough math, I can confidently declare that I probably lost out on $30-40, just because they didn’t want to leave.  I mean, at a certain point, just go home to hang out!  Or a Starbucks, or something.  Hell, make the night an anecdote and grab a room at that motel that charges by the hour.  I won’t judge.

I understand that this is the service industry, and a certain level of hospitality is expected.  But while they may be here to socialize, I’m here to make money.  Should they not make way for the people willing to spend it?

That’s all I got for today.  I could go on, but my laptop is running out of battery and I’m too lazy and comfortable to leave this patio chair in search of electrons.  I would like to thank alcohol and my deep-seated rage for sponsoring this post.

Saturday
Dec062014

...Drunk people.

I work in a bar. I pour alcohol down peoples' throats in exchange for money. The more distilled product they consume the more I potentially make. Sometimes I lose out on money if they consume too much. It's a delicate balance I must walk, but I must enjoy it on some deep level, else I would find a new line of work.

But my deep seated masochism aside, I inevitably find myself surrounded by drink people. It's annoying, as anyone who's ever been the sole sober person in the bar can attest, but I can tolerate them to a degree because they're paying me to get as close to alcohol poisoning as possible. I immerse myself in a world of drunken debauchery for profit.

The problem comes when I'm off work. Don't get me wrong,I like a drink at night, especially a single-malt scotch or well-balanced spiced rum in a mojito. Actually the alcohol spectrum I enjoy is much wider than that, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

The problem comes from the drunk people. I can tolerate them just fine when they pay me, but when they're just around me and I reap no monetary benefit, that's when I have a problem.

See, drunk people are annoying. They're loud, obnoxious, can't find their keys, lose their phones every five minutes, and the dance floor somehow has a greater gravitational pull on them than the earth beneath their feet.  They have a way of raising their voice to the point when the whole room knows about their new warts, and everyone’s trying desperately to forget where said warts have started appearing.  They’ll also find the least convenient place possible to expel the contents of their stomachs.

And I'm sure I could tolerate that if only I were one of them. But my finances are such that I cannot afford to spend all night getting smashed anywhere other than at home, where the booze is already paid for. Many a night I have passed out, not remembering what I watched on Netflix while falling asleep. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I would have watched nine consecutive episodes of Sherlock while passing out.  I want to be awake for that stuff.

But no.  I tend to arrive at the bar ten minutes before last call, only because my own bar closes fairly early.  If we closed at state-mandated last call, I can assure you I’d go straight home afterwards, because that would mean drunk people are paying me to stay late.  But instead I’m one of the few sober people in the tavern.  That list includes me, the establishment’s management and bar staff, and a few of my coworkers who’ve just ordered the maximum number of drinks legally permitted in a desperate attempt to catch up to the barflies around them (a fruitless effort, to be frank, as their bodies won’t feel it until after they’ve been ejected from the pub because it can’t legally have patrons in it at that hour).

So why am I there? Bars are supposed to be hubs of socialization, where the merits of various sports teams are discussed, bets are made on field goals, and desperate inebriated singles hope to go home with other desperate inebriated singles.  But here I am, just sitting next to a coworker or two, bitching about the shift I just worked, getting annoyed at the motley collection of people dancing to the Two Bit Shuffle.

Am I just frustrated that other people are having more fun than I am?  Perhaps. Let’s be honest: it’s a hazard of being sober at the bar near last call.  So why am I there?  Certainly, I like the bar staff at the pub, but they’re busy dealing with the drunk people I just dismissed from my own bar.  I want to unwind a bit, but like I said, the drinks are cheaper at home.  I like my coworkers… I guess.

I’m left to assume I am there by habit.  A habit I must break for monetary and sanitary reasons.  The neighborhood tavern will henceforth be relegated to my night off.  Unfortunately, on my night off, I haven’t the energy to go anywhere, having been sucked into a self-imposed marathon of Sherlock on Netflix.

Thursday
Nov132014

Leadfoot Video: Rockin' Dat Bass

Cars last a long time these days.  Sometimes that’s a not-so-good thing.

Don’t get me wrong: there are great benefits to your car lasting to the end of days.  The average price of a new car has never been higher, so it’s nice that your investment goes a long way.  Plus, the used-car market would suffer greatly if an Accord (or my old Caravan) didn’t last 200,000 miles.

But technology moves faster than it takes a Yugo’s bumper to start rusting.  In the time it takes you to pair your phone’s Bluetooth, this year’s Lexus can become last year’s Oldsmobile.  Luckily, when you realize CDs are the new mini cassette, there’s an ample aftermarket that will let you swap out your factory radio for something with this season’s bells and whistles.

That’s exactly the recourse my mom took when the CD changer in her 2003 Voyager kicked the bucket.  And because I’m cheaper than those guys from Best Buy who drive Beetles, I’m the one she asked to install it.

I sent her to Crutchfield, since they include the extra stuff necessary for to install an aftermarket head unit into your particular make and model, including antenna adapter, wiring harness, and mounting frame.  I didn’t want to be stuck without parts.

It was also almost time for me to replace the torque strut in my Sunfire.  Last time, I’d resolved to buy a performance part with polyurethane bushings, instead of one with OEM-spec rubber.  The engine’s age has led to multiple oil leaks, and oil eats rubber.  But it apparently doesn’t eat polyurethane.  So I bought a $50 part to replace a $20 part in the hopes of never having to replace it again.  Odds are, it’ll outlast the car, depending on whether I come into some money and can afford to rebuild the engine.

So I made a day of it, starting with the radio.

Step one in any process involving electrically-driven components is to disconnect the battery.  It’s less of a concern over electrocuting yourself than it is creating a short, damaging the battery and possibly other things.  A high-school teacher of mine told me he once saw a car engine melt from a short circuit, caused by an improperly-installed stereo.  (That one involved running a wire through the firewall without proper insulation.)  All things considered, electricity is one of those invisible things that can kill you, so I disconnected the battery.

This Voyager is from the Daimler days of Chrysler.  The buyout was supposed to be a merger of equals, but the only thing worthwhile that Chrysler got was the LX platform, upon which the Charger and the 300 were built.  They also got the Crossfire, based on the old Mercedes SLK, but all of them were built with cheap materials and suffered poor quality.  (The worst thing Daimler did, in my opinion, was to kill the ME Four-Twelve; a turbocharged V12 supercar built by Chrysler engineers with Mercedes parts that was designed and built in just eighteen months.  But it out-performed the $500,000 Mercedes SLR, and Daimler couldn’t have that.)

So the Voyager has cheap materials and build quality.  It was designed to be assembled in a hurry, to maximize productivity.  So the center console is held on by six metal clips and two screws, obscured by a small pop-off panel.  Screws are easy.  Invisible metal clips that need to be pried off always make me think I’m going to break something.  Proceed cautiously.

The panel does eventually come off, after come cringe-inducing creaks.  It’s only necessary to remove the top-most wire connection (the one for the hazard light toggle and rear window wiper controls) to get the panel out of the way, but you could remove all three of them by sliding the red latches out and the connectors will come free.

Then comes the removal of the old unit.  It’s held in place by four screws, easily removed.  I was a bit worried that Daimler might have gone with some weird fastener head, like a pentalobe, in order to make sure their own mechanics are the only ones who could service their products, like Nintendo and the tri-wing bit.  But rest-assured, Daimler decided a Phillips head was cheaper in the long-run.

If ever you needed a reminder this is from the Daimler days, it’s printed on top of the head unit.  A more subtle clue in in the snap-lock antenna connection.  The connection releases by pulling the black collar away from the stereo unit, but only in just the right way.  Seems to be on a time-delay of some sort, because it took me and my dad some fifteen minutes of pulling and pushing and prying and prodding the connector every which-way before it finally relented.  The speaker wire harness is much simpler, I thank whatever higher power.  A simple clip-lock connection held that in place.  The connector for the CD changer was an aftermarket installation, and rather than pull the cable all the way through the dash and passenger-side door sill, I just tucked it deep into the dash.  There’s plenty of room in there, after all.

The mounting bracket Crutchfield sends installs into the dash using the four screws that held the original radio.  I am a bit worried about the style of screw they used, which looks more at-home fastening pieces of wood, as it seems to drive into some kind of metal clasp.  But I suppose it is hard to fit a nut, washer and bolt into such a confined space on an assembly line.  So here we are.  The DIN sleeve, which holds the actual head unit, slides into the bracket, and you bend down the appropriate tabs (determined by sight) to keep the sleeve securely in place.  Tabs further out from the center correspond to a thinner bracket.  If it’s still wiggling in the frame, use a tab further-out.

So now comes connecting the wiring harness.  Do yourself a favor and buy an actual wire stripper/crimper.  The harness from Crutchfield was pre-stripped (nice touch), but the length was excessive for the connectors I had.  I had a wire cutter/stripper, but it was a cheap one, and didn’t crimp so well, so it only served to trim stripped wire and strip wires on the harness from the new head unit’s manufacturer.  Dad had a real crimper, made the job easier on the crimping end.

Now, this is not the first time I’ve installed a head unit.  The first time, I screwed up the left-rear speaker, which I only discovered after installation.  If you’re following my footsteps, do yourself a favor and use a multi-meter to verify the wiring connections before plugging it all in and closing up the trim panels.  Nothing like pulling everything apart all over again, especially a Daimler-era Chrysler that doesn’t belong to you.

So I had everything solidly connected.  I counted my blessings and connected the wiring harness at both ends.

Drama-free, the new unit slides in with a satisfying click.  Then comes reconnecting the battery, turning the key, and finding out if it worked.  The radio prompts for initial setup, so I consider it a success.  Some nervous budging got the panel back into place, and the whole installation actually looks pretty good, despite the radio being glossy and everything else being matte.

Now on to the other half: permanently replacing my own car’s torque strut.

Either the upper mounts are putting some odd pressure on the engine, or rolling the front onto raps somehow pushes the engine forward.  I might never know, unless I put the whole car on a lift, which would only happen in a shop or a wealthy friend’s house.  So with this in mind, I pull out the Harbor Freight cable come-along from the last job.   To keep the engine from lurching forward when the screws come loose, I preloaded some tension, to be released when the new part is in.

But here I come to a problem.  The new polyurethane mount is a different shape than the old one, so the come-along’s hook is in the way, prohibiting me from slotting the bolt in.  I would just have to take off the come-along, attach the front end of the mount, then hook the winch back up and tension the engine back into place.

Problem deux: Be it by manufacturing defect or bracket deformation from having to install so many of the same part, the new mount is too thick for the bracket.  Either way, no amount of Jeremy Clarkson-style hammering would wedge the wider end into either bracket, so some trimmings must be made.

Dad’s got a pile of files and rasps in his workshop, so selecting an appropriate one and hammering out the inner barrel, I figured I’d only need to take off a millimeter or two.  Of course, I had no way of knowing when I’d get to that point, so after a few minutes filing I did a test-fitting, and immediately went back to the workshop for more filing.

One last try got the larger end into the rear bracket (just).  So I had to pull it out of the bracket and attach the front end before winching it so the hook wouldn’t get in the way.  More hammering was needed as it was still a snug fit, but hammering is always better when it leads to results, Mister Clarkson.

Bolts in place, tension released, and one last check to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid to something critical, I gave the engine a turn to check the mount’s effectiveness.

Here, we had something a bit strange.  There was more… “gusto” from the engine, I guess you could say.  Like a subwoofer was synced to the exhaust note of the car.  Stepping outside, I heard no difference.  I must assume that polyurethane is more resistant than rubber, and the mount is translating more engine vibrations to the chassis.  It might be annoying to someone more accustomed to the ride in a Lexus, but it suits me just fine.  Eddy just growls now.

Feels like I added 10% more horsepower without having to add any stickers! Now I’m wondering what I would get with a real performance part…

Monday
Oct272014

26.2… Whats?

26.2 miles.  Running.

Running 26.2 miles.

26.2 consecutive miles.

Before you make assumptions, the answer is: No, I did not run a marathon this past weekend.

I was, however, involved with filming part of the Marine Corps Marathon.  One of the event’s sponsors wanted to document their involvement in the so-called “People’s Marathon.”  For what purpose, I was not made aware.  My guess is either an outward or internal public relations move.

Regardless of it, my role in it is done.  My friend from college did work with them in the past, and was out of town this month.  So he called me up, lent me some cameras, and said “Shoot the shit out of it.”  Mission accomplished, I guess I could say, since I estimate I’ve given him about three hours of footage for what is probably a five-minute finished product.  Some of it’s even usable.

Now, I could go over with you about filming at the Marine Corps Marathon Health and Fitness Expo brought to you by GE (hey, that’s how it was listed), but I’ve written enough filler already, and it’s time for some real content to the story, followed by my pithy comments.

Parking was available on-post at Fort Myer.  This base always struck me as a little bit odd.  It seems to be nothing more than a place of residence for the servicemen who work at Arlington Cemetery.  Sure, it’s got barracks and an officer’s club and guards at the gate, but it’s all very minimal.  I’m sure its borders are restricted by Arlington’s residential growth over the past 200 years, but compare it to something like Langley, Norfolk, or Benning, and I’m sure you’d be forgiven for walking on and asking, “Where’s the rest of it?”  Its close proximity to the Pentagon would have led me to believe it was armed to the teeth with troops and tanks and super-classified Iron Man suits.  But all those are all probably IN the Pentagon.

It’s also more of a bother to get look at your friend’s porn collection than it is to get on base at Myer.  An ID is all they asked on this day.  This is probably because they haven’t got much of anything worth sabotaging.  Again, this seems odd to me, given they’re a metric stone’s throw from the center of America’s military communication and command.  Surely there’s something else at work I don’t yet understand.

But back to parking:  Easy-peasy at 7:45 A.M. on a Sunday.  I’d been told there would be a shuttle-bus service to the marathon’s finish line, where I’m meant to be.  Awesome!

I’m standing with a group of about 15 people.  A Boy Scout troop, apparently, based on their inane conversations driven by a shallow need to prove masculinity.

Bus rolls up.  Marine in fatigues steps off, in conversation with the bus driver.  The two agree that there are no busses running, though there should have been.  Marine looks at us, explains to a member of the group I’m not with in a tone I can’t hear, wraps up with, “Sorry, guys.”  I think to myself, “If we all rushed the bus, who in this group is most likely capable of driving it?”

In an annoying bout of attempted character-building, one of the Scout Dads says, “It’s okay.  We’re Scouts!  We’re used to walking!”  Boy Scouts groan just like every single Boy Scout in America would have, myself included.

I haven’t yet mentioned the forty-some-odd pounds of camera gear on my back.  So of course, the words cross my mind, “Um, I’m not used to walking!  Why do you think I have a car?!”  Truth be told, those words were more colorful in my head before my fingers filtered them for the keyboard.

So the trek begins, walking.  On the way, a quick call to the client explaining the situation.  They aren’t here yet.  More walking.  I see the fort’s gate opposite the one I came in.  Beyond that, a security checkpoint.  More walking.  I see bleachers with people on them.

I grab ahold of my media credentials, granting me camera access.  A call from the client comes, telling me they still aren’t here yet.  No problem.  I’ll get some B-roll.

When I arrive, the first of the marathon’s 10K event runners come across the line.  Each and every one of them skinny as a rail and under 5-foot-8.  They look pleased with themselves.

“Why?” I wonder.  As (in)active as I am, I would be miserable, doubled-over in pain from everywhere south of my shoulders.  I don’t even like running to my car when I’m late for work.  Why would I run all the way from my home to work and back for fun?  And a marathon is ten-times that distance!  The Good Lord gave us horses for long distances, and we improved on them with the automobile!  For what evolutionary reason would we run long distances anymore?

Despite my bewilderment, the first three finishers smile from ear to ear.  My world makes sense again when fourth-place stops immediately after the finish line and throws up.  But then I am confused again.  He got up at 6:00 in the morning just to vomit on the street?  I usually do that at 2:30 in the morning, much better-dressed and without having to do all that running.  Then I get to sleep afterwards.

I had been told I might get inspired by all these people running for a goal, possibly enter myself in a 10k later, possibly a full marathon some day.

That hasn’t happened.  All I’m inspired to do is change the oil in my car more often to ensure I’ll never have to run again.

Thursday
Aug282014

Ice Bucket Challenge... Not Accepted.

Ive been watching this Ice Bucket Challenge for a little while now, and I've come up with some observations.

First off, this is a bizzare premise.  The idea is that, when challenged, you have the option of either donating money to ALS research or dumping a bucket of ice water on your head.

This bothers me for exactly the reason you see to the right of this text.  If we were truly a charitable society, this whole thing never would have started.  Pouring a bucket of ice water on your head sucks, so if money is no object, you'd avoid it, and we wouldn't have all these funny videos of people subjecting themselves to buckets of near-freezing temperatures.  The only reason this went anywhere at all is because there are so many tightwads who don't mind getting soaked if it means they can spend that money on a new pair of shoes once the ones they're wearing get wet.

Charity in its truest form is spontaneous.  Is it really charity when someone holds a proverbial gun to your head and demands you put money in the poor box?  You could argue that we are a charitable people, since Americans donate more to worty causes than the rest of the world.  But there are SO MANY worthy causes out there that they're all scrambling for attention.

We host untold thousands of events to "raise awareness" for cancer or autism or multipose schlerosis or lost puppy dogs or even more cancers, and they're practically pointless.  Everyone's gotta "raise awareness" for their cause, because everyone else is screaming at the top of their lungs about their own causes.  And even if you do end up capturing the public's attention, the most it will do is last about a month before the next plight of humanity hosts its charity dinner.

"But wait," you might say, "Lots of people are doing the challenge and donating all the same."

Trust me.  If this thing hadn't gone viral, the few people who had taken the challenge wouldn't have donated.  All it took was a few people to play the One-Up Card and say "I'm may be soaking wet, but I'm still donating to this cause I haven't yet bothered to Google."  Now the people who doused themselves feel like uncaring cheapskates because they'd rather spend their (probably) hard-earned money on something else.  Like liquor.  These people have donated out of guilt, and now they've run out of tequila.

Consider the age old question guys have asked each other when they're a couple of drinks in: "Suppose someone's got a gun to your head: would you suck a dick to not get shot?"

The logically honest answer for anyone who isn't an outright-militant homophobe is "yes."  There's a long list of uncomfortable things humans would rather do than die.  Just because you wouldn't like to see your brain matter scattered across the room in this fabricated scenario doesn't make you gay.  By the same token, dumping a bucket of cold water on your head simply because someone dared you to do it doesn't make you a charitable person.

If you really do care about something, skip the bumper stickers, hashtags, and viral videos.  Get off your ass and do something about it instead of starting another Netflix binge.

Personally, I'm not doing anything.  It's not because I'm into that sort of lazy activism; it's just that I don't care.  There really isn't anything out there that hits me in the emotional gonads enough to even go through the effort of changing my profile picture on Facebook.

Granted, I am extremely cynical.  The first thought that goes into my head when someone tells me a sad story is "What are you selling?"  You know those sad puppy dog commercials that come on right after an entertaining ad for beer?  I fast forward through them because that way they become funny (slow motion looks sadder than it really is, while faster video looks funnier, as evidenced by Benny Hill) and that way I don't have to listen to some over-inflated Hollywood ego beg for money they themselves could have donated.

And the ads are all two minutes long.  Who has that kind of attention span?  I can make a 30-second spot with a clear beginning-middle-end story that'll make people laugh.  Why do you need four-times as long to make people care about puppies?

So, if nominated for this Internet Meme of the Month, I refuse the challenge and I won't donate anything.  Charity isn't supposed to be blackmail, no matter how noble the cause.  Besides, we're all going to forget about this next month when someone stuffs jalapenos up their nose to raise awareness for the American Society for the Prevention of Hangnails.