Archive for March 2003

1st Prize - Career-ending Publicity Stunts

A local weekly called The Stranger ran a loopy little feature called ‘Seattle’s Sexiest Citizens’ this week, featuring out-of-the-way professions like Bike Messenger, Barista, Street Kid, etc.  This may be a tongue-in-cheek response to the upcoming (pun intended) Playboy feature on the Girls of Starbucks.  Based on some of the names and circumstances, these may well be hoaxes, but one that caught my eye was the one for Bank Teller:  You wonder if she just stepped out from behind the barred window, walked out into the hall with the photographer and ad-libbed the pose while other tellers, customers and loan officers looked on indulgently.  I don’t know anything about the culture of Washington Mutual, but banks aren’t usually recognized for an expansive sense of humor (except for a brief, madcap hiatus during the S&L scandal).  As for me, I hope they’re into bygones.  WAMU, here I come!  Goodbye Bank of America!

Woke up to a sunny day, looked almost like summer.  Kid got up uncharacteristically early (before 9.  He’s on spring break) and headed out to rock climb, and I had designs on strapping the kayak on the car and heading for the Sound.  Work moved in like a storm front, though, as a client’s software upgrade I did on Friday began exhibiting unsociable traits, and some others started demanding attention.

I’m ‘Me, Inc.’, so when I’m not at a client’s site I’m working from home.  Broadband is just about the coolest thing to happen for people like me, saving me and my clients travel time and sparing the atmosphere the attendant car exhaust.  My morning commute on many days consists of the 18 stairsteps from my bedroom down to my desk, with a stop in the kitchen to rev up the Vapore espresso maker.  I use Microsoft Terminal Server for most of my clients, PCAnywhere for a couple of others. 

I remember the first time, in 1985, that I used a remote program called CloseUp.  It was a real squeak getting the client to pop for a 2400-baud modem, but, running character-based programs (this was pre-Windows), I thought I was SO swell.  Once people started using Windows, though, remote consulting was effectively killed until the advent of broadband.

One downside to the work-at-home thing is, well, grooming.  I sleep until the last minute, pull my coffee and hit the chair just as clients call or need attention.  Along about noon, I’m still in my jammies (sweatpants and fleece top, usually.  The times I’ve computed in my underwear, or even less formally, are mercifully rare), unshaven and beginning to feel a certain psychological impairment.

The other downside is that, although I still do my scheduled running and Nautilus workouts every other day, I have not been getting the ambient exercise I used to get walking from the parking garage or bus stop to the office, walking out at noon to graze, etc.  So, though I don’t feel like I overeat, I’ve still added 10 pounds, and that’s relatively sizeable compared to the 142 I used to peg as acceptable.  I’m starting to feel like I should contrive to spend more time working at clients’, even though my connectivity to some clients is arguably better from here than in their own buildings. 

I’ve considered packing up and walking to Tully’s, Zoka’s, Starbucks or the other cafes within a few minutes’ walking distance, but I’m sure I wouldn’t get much done, and I’d be self-conscious about being the pain-in-the-ass loudmouth with the cellphone earbud at the next table.  But if you see such a person while trying to luxuriate over a steaming latte, cut him some slack, try not to notice his incipient paunch just starting to pooch over his belt - and reboot his laptop if he so much as glances at the pastry case.

Having committed the offense for which this endeavor is named, I appear doomed to spin out another fitful post.  We dined at a Mexican restaurant tonight, and the inevitable overeating fueled by the bottomless chip basket and Sauza margaritas spurred me to walk home from the restaurant.  On the way, I happened on an interesting new coffee shop (in Seattle, this news is as stunning as discovering a mushroom fairy ring has come up overnight).  Feeling like a little java might help me ‘get right’ for the trip up the hill, I stopped in and ordered my signature drink, a doubleshot macchiato with a dab of nonfat foam.  The drink was near-perfect, and I motored on home.

However, I’ve been up screwing around ever since, trying to run some windows-registry gremlins out of my wife’s computer, and shirking that duty by grabbing my laptop and reading the work of more accomplished bloggers.  Tomorrow’s gonna suck.

The kid came in from an assignation at a local tavern, and I tried my best to keep up with a discussion of post-modernism, existentialism, Hesse, Sartre and Beckett.  He’s majoring in English at UW, and I’m being inexorably exposed as a poseur in literary matters.  I read Hesse in my early 20s, and remember the works as turgid and solipsistic, even to the turgid and solipsistic young man that I was.  My son is more taken with the novels, and I may have to revisit them to gauge the accuracy of my recollections, though I barely have time to complete my required reading (I’m in an online book club).

Also checked up on war news, scanning and, reluctantly,  I haven’t watched any TV coverage, but can’t believe that there is any more immediate or informative content on TV than on the internet.  I was struck by the irony of Bush exhorting Iraq to adhere to international law and the Geneva Convention.  Also seeing the euphoria melting away as we learn that, when billions of dollars of ordinance is careening around in a small space, people are gonna get hurt.  I hope for not much longer.

A rainy night here in Seattle.  I should have gone running tonight, and stopped off at the Nautilus on the way, but I used the fact that my Buckeyes were playing a first-round NIT game to bag the soggy slog around Green Lake. 

A boutique blog just for the college basketball tournament ( ) posed the question, as have many others, of whether the NCAA tournament should be postponed athwart the start of the war.  I guess my take is this: if we were under attack, playing the Tournament on schedule would be a sign of pluck and defiance.  In this case, though, when we are precipitating a war without convincing provocation, it seems we ought to force a knit to our brow and forego ostentatious partying until the bodies are in the ground and cool.

ESPN gravely announced tonight that, should CBS, who owns the exclusive right to carry the NCAA tournament, be forced to do its patriotic duty and chase Fox for war coverage ratings, it would magnanimously clear its decks of tractor pulls, cheerleader competitions and lumberjack tournaments in order to pick up the NCAA games CBS can’t cover.  Way to take one for The W!!  As if it would be a sacrifice to reel in the hordes of viewers desperate for any form of escape.

Well, my Buckeyes lost, so I can reclaim the moral high ground I staked out in the previous paragraph.  Shame on you legions who will start vegging out tomorrow night on the frivolity of the Big Dance!

Splenetic.  I guess that’s the anatomically-engendered word that describes my mood the last few days.  The clever rejoinders that play in my head when I read news stories or by accident hear something on TV are increasingly scathing, and the cleverness is definitely on the wane.

I guess I boiled over, finally, today when I read about Daschle’s comments about Bush’s failure on the diplomatic front, and the reaction of the usual suspects in casting aspersions on his patriotism, etc.  Damn.  This idiot was THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER until January.  His signal failure as a patriot was his signing on (and leading a gaggle of other Geldedcrats to do likewise) to the resolution handing Bush the authority to take us to war.

‘Patriotism’ from Daschle would have been an unceasing and articulate chorus demanding that Bush prove the necessity of this operation and the insistence that we conduct ourselves within an aura of international consensus.  His party and his peers have failed the country miserably in this regard.  What the hell got him up out of his LazyBoy yesterday?

There is no reason for the precipitous attack on Iraq other than as a gambit to keep Bush and his crowd in power, and to reward their contributors with lush contracts for the munitions to blow it up and the infrastructure to paper it over when we’re done.  Daschle, Gephart and ‘holy joe’ Lieberman and their ilk will never be more than a speedbump to the Republican juggernaut.

The Democratic Party needs serious pruning, and passionate and purposeful voices need to emerge soon.  Or I’ll start to lose my sense of humor. 

Well, that was quite a bender I was on!  Nah, call it a loss of focus and confidence.  I had posted three bits that I later felt were flaccid, whiny and more confessional than I want this to be. 

A lot of that was the fault of the chardonnay served on Northwest Airlines.  I meant to write a little riff about home-town nostalgia and how my wife and I had met in high school band, but as the chardonnay (and possibly other substances - see ) kept coming, and I kept thinking about how I’d been gone a week, and I kept playing ‘Love Song’ by the Cure on my Archos20 Recorder, things got a little sloppy.  I deleted the entries early the next morning, hoping that I hadn’t damaged the internal organs of the 2 or 3 lost souls who had wandered by.

One interesting anecdote about my visit:  a few weeks back, I downloaded some family tree software and set about trying to cobble at least a list of people’s names.  One evening with my parents, I dragged my laptop out and asked them if they’d mind helping me with a few names.  I hesitated to do this, because of the unavoidable presence of the unstated coda, “before you’re dead.”  Anyway, I got about two names down and my dad spins this recollection about something my great-grandmother said to one of our shirt-tail cousins, a sweet, simple, preternaturally fertile woman: “S___, when you go to bed, you’d better put your feet in a 20-quart crock beforehand.  And I don’t mean two 10-quart crocks, either.”

30 seconds to relate, at most, and my whole concept of my great-grandmother is thoroughly altered. 

My week in the fridge is almost over.  I haven’t made too much of a mess of the hotel room, so I can pack up pretty quickly tomorrow and head for work.  Just to let this midwest weather know that I’m no piker,  I’m flying to Ohio after work tomorrow to spend the weekend with my folks.  They live in the same town I grew up in, in the same house we built and moved into in 1961, when I was in seventh grade.  I sleep in my old room, and somehow I get my old high school curfew back.

I’ve been adding a weekend visit to my Milwaukee trips because, in the upside down world of airfare pricing, the Saturday night stay makes a 3 legged trip much cheaper than the shorter Milwaukee-Seattle roundtrip Sunday through Friday, and also because my parents are getting a little frailer and don’t make the trip to Seattle.   There are always chores around the house that they are grateful for.  But, it makes a long week, and I don’t really feel “rested” on Mondays.

It snowed about 5 inches in Milwaukee last night, so I played hooky from the blog and went out to play.  I like to go running on new snow - it provides a great cushion, as long as you’re careful where you step.  Also, one of the cable movie channels was playing Godfather II, and I allowed myself to get sucked into its shadowy murk.  It was interesting watching Pacino ooze through it, showing only brief flashes of the range he would later display.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.  P.S. Fredo still dies.

I’ve mentioned movies twice, but I’m not by any means a movie buff.  I just don’t seem to get the time, and since joining an online book club, I try to spend that time reading.  I belong to Netflix, the service that lets you order movies online, mails them to you, and allows you to keep them (three at a time) as long as you want.  They charge about $20/month.  I’ve been carrying around the same 3 movies for 4 months now, haven’t watched them.  That’s about a C note for the three, decidedly more expensive than the Hollywood Video rental/overdue cycle that I joined Netflix to avoid.  And I’m a freakin’ ACCOUNTANT!

“Played hooky from the blog.”  As if I’ve posted faithfully for years, and suddenly just up and allowed myself a little lapse.

While brushing my teeth tonight, I spit toothpaste into the sink and it formed the exact likeness of Casper the Ghost.  Except Crest Green.  No sign of  the Blessed Virgin (which I would have greeted with the handy Residence Inn “No Service, Please” door sticker), but as it slid toward the drain, the smooth pate formed a pompodour, the nose extended, and it took on the visage of Richard Nixon.  Now, THIS concerned me.  I had the urge to log into my various fund accounts and sell everything, but Tricky Dick finally obeyed gravity and slid down the drain.

Just checked outside, and we’re not at war yet.  Guess I’ll take that as a GOOD omen and head for bed.

No matter how frequently you do it, it’s always a tough transition to leave home and go on the road.  Different, of course, if you’re going on vacation, where the goal is usually to forge a break with your homebound routine.  When you go on the road professionally, however, I’m betting that the goal is usually to change as little as possible.  (I’m starting to feel like William Hurt in the movie of Accidental Tourist, without the advantages that Kathleen Turner or Geena Davis might afford.)

First, you’re working, and your primary impetus is to be the same as or better than you would be at home in that regard.  Second, there’s the lifestyle issue.  If you’re physically active at home, you have to forge an exercise routine on the road, often in hostile conditions.  Whether a hotel is smack downtown, or (more likely in this day of reduced travel budgets) in come god-forsaken suburban strip development, it’s difficult to map out a running course and actually put on sweats, saunter through the lobby of either dapper urbanites (the Four Seasons downtown location) or tipsy Willie Lomans (the Fairfield Inn in the strip development) and run your 2 - 4 miles.

If you are a gym habitue at home, you have the added chore of finding a facility that’s a) open and b) will let you in as a casual participant.  Some hotels have an exercise facility that has some form of universal weight contraption.  I will use these if they don’t look like they’ll collapse and crush me, although it’s probably a comical sight to watch me puzzling over the mechanics of the thing, trying to replicate, on a machine the size of an apartment dishwasher, the workout I get an my Nautilus club back home.  Other hotels have liaisons with a nearby Y or Gold’s gym.

For a long time, coffee was my biggest challenge.  I need/require/cannot function without at least a double espresso in the morning.  At home in Seattle, where there is an espresso cart or shop every half block, even in the aforementioned godforsaken suburban strip developments, this is no problem.  Plus, I have a shit-kicking espresso machine in my kitchen.  When you leave the coast for an engagement in one of the red states, pickings get pretty slim.  3 or 4 years ago, I resolved this by purchasing a really sweet little espresso maker from Capresso as a travel companion.  It has a compact footprint, about the size of a 3-pound Folger’s coffee can, makes a hefty double-shot, and has enough left in the tank to make a nice head of milk foam.  Since I prefer non-fat milk in my coffee, powdered milk worked fine and obviated the need for a refrigerator in my hotel.

The Capresso and I were together everywhere - Fresno, Toledo, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando, Spokane, Grand Rapids, Charleston, SC, Fayetteville, NC, Irvine.  The steamer wand finally fell victim to airline baggage handling, and I haven’t been able to find or fashion a repair.  Fortunately here in Milwaukee, a pie-eyed entrepreneur has set up a dandy little espresso shop 2 blocks from my client, and I stop there each morning for a quad-shot macchiato.  As I usually have the place to myself at 7:30 am, I fear for its long-term prospects, and will actively pursue a repair or (sniff!) replacement of my faithful Capresso when I get back to Seattle.

Flying today, Seattle to Milwaukee.  I always feel like such an idiot whenever I leave Seattle for just about anyplace else.  The view out the window of Puget Sound and the Cascades noisily upbraids me with recreational opportunities foregone - kayaking, hiking or just staring out the window with a capuccino in hand.

Just as an example, on takeoff I gazed down on the Sound and could have pencilled in two wonderful kayak trips I took last summer, Salt Water State Park to Maury and VAshon Islands and a trip up the Nisqually River meandering through the wildlife refuge in the delta it form as it enters the Sound.  Temperatures in Milwaukee are hovering just above zero fahrenheit.

I’m in first class today!  I’m what Northwest refers to as a ‘Gold Elite’ frequent flyer, by virtue (?) of having flown over 50,000 miles last year, and that vaunted status entitles me to be in line for free upgrades whenever I’m on a flight where the airline can’t fill the first class cabin with the Brahmin class that will actually pay first class fares.  Which is most of the time - I only flew in ‘coach’ a couple times last year, even though I always buy cheap tickets - I’m not the kind of business traveler that makes last-minute reservations to whisk off to impromptu and urgent meetings or engagements.  It’s hard to see how this (my upgrades) makes sense economically for the airline.  I guess it inculcates a certain amount of loyalty - I’ll go through amazing contortions to book flights on Northwest (or its code-share partners like Continental or Alaska), both in order to put myself in line for upgrades, and to log flight miles to keep my ‘Elite’ status.

The biggest advantage of first class is simply the amount of room in and around your seat.  I’m a compact person, and don’t suffer unduly in ‘coach’ seats, but using a laptop back there is often problematic - the guy in front of you can abruptly slam his seat back, crushing your screen, and in most cases the seats are so narrow that you can’t extend you elbows enough to get you fingers oriented on the keyboard.  So you, dear reader, are a co-beneficiary of my good fortune - I type this missive from a relaxed posture, gazing out the window at the frozen tundra of the northern tier, noise-cancelling headphones plugged into my Archos Recorder 20 listening to the soothing pulse of Thievery Corporation!

First class also usually offers a decent meal, with a salad or appetizer like prawns, and it’s served with linen napkins and table covers.  Silverware consists of a spoon, two tined metal forks and, since 9/11, a plastic butter knife has replaced the metal one.  As if you couldn’t do as much or more damage with the forks, if you were so inclined.  And of course there’s free mixed drinks and wine, poured from actual bottles with actual corks.  One of the first effects of 9/11 I encountered (I flew the Friday after the attack) was the lack of wine in first class because the flight attendants were not allowed access to corkscrews.

Can’t drink today, though - I’m meeting with my long-time Milwaukee client after I land.  I’ll be in Milwaukee for a week.  Days are long, and not much interesting happens, but I’m sure I can come up with something pithy to say from the hotel room.