Voices In The Room

Sometimes I don’t know what American hotel chains are thinking.  Consider this increasingly commonplace hotel scenario.  You check in, get your keycard, lug your bags into the elevator and up to the room, use the key card to access the room, open the door, and . . . .

There are strange voices coming from inside the room.  Murmuring, distinctly human voices, but at a volume where you can’t immediately make out what the heck they are saying.  Then you go into your room and discover that the TV is on, set to a channel where people are talking, and you have to walk over and turn it off.

Why is this the latest trend?  It’s inexplicable.  You used to go into your hotel room and, in many cases, find that the TV has been set to a music channel.  But now the music welcome has been junked, and it’s always a TV channel where people are talking.  Sometimes it’s the channel that carries those long vignette ads for the hotel chain itself, and sometimes its the local NPR station.  But it’s almost always human voices in the background these days.

Why is this so?  I suppose somebody thought that the sound of human voices in the room would make the weary lone traveler feel a little less isolated on his or her trip.  Or maybe they just figure they’ll hit you with a few seconds of free hotel advertising time during the time it takes for you to drop your bags, march over to the TV set, wrestle with the remote, and figure out how to turn the TV off.

This has become standard operating procedure in most hotels, so you’d think I’d be used to it — but I’m not.  Instead, I inevitably think as I open the door — “Hey, have I gone to the wrong room?”

 

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Pocket Parks (Boise Edition)

I’ve written before about pocket parks — those small, quiet enclaves of green trees and grass and shade carved out from cityscapes that can brighten the lives of the people in the surrounding neighborhood — so I’ve got to call out Boise, Idaho for a pretty cool example of the pocket park concept.

The C.W. Moore park is just a few blocks from the core downtown area of Boise.  It’s a beautiful little park, and it’s got some features you don’t see in most parks.  For one thing, it’s got a functioning water wheel in one corner — and what person taking a break from the hurly-burly of life wouldn’t enjoy watching a slowly moving, mesmerizing water wheel and hearing the sound of the rushing water?  The water wheel is an important touchstone for the city’s history, too, because Boise is located in an arid region and water wheels and water systems helped to make Boise green and habitable.

The park also includes other links to Boise history.  Around the park you will see the name stones and date stones of former Boise schools and buildings — you can see part of the Central School name stone in the photo above — as well as a former building entrance arch, a carriage stone, a locally quarried limestone block, columns and streetlights from Boise’s past, and a building turret.  It’s all a pretty cool way of linking the park to Boise’s past in a tangible and interesting way.  Kudos to the Boise Park Department for taking the pocket park concept to the next level.

Walking Past The Drive-Thru Line

I’m on the road again, staying in one of those generic hotels that is located in a busy commercial area, right next to a Chick-Fil-A and a Carl’s Jr. restaurant.  It’s one of those places where you walk out of the front door directly into a parking lot for a bunch of other businesses in a strip shopping area.

Let’s just say it’s not exactly a bucolic hotel setting.

But, the hotel location does have the advantage of requiring me to walk past the drive-thru lines of those two fast food emporiums on my way to and from meetings.  It always brings a smile to my face, because hearing the interactions between the customer in the car and the employee working the intercom as I walk by is pretty hilarious.  It makes me think that fast food drive-thru lanes are probably the worst communications systems known to man.  In fact, you could argue that they are consciously designed to avoid effective communication, rather than promote it.

Start with the generic message that you get, asking if you want to get the new menu item the place is featuring, which causes the customer to wonder whether they are talking to a real person or hearing a recording.  Then there’s a long pause, while the customer wonders whether they’re supposed to go ahead with their order or wait.  When the employee finally says go ahead, the flustered customer proceeds with the order, and there’s inevitably one or two questions from the employee that the customer doesn’t understand.

Squawk — “Do you want to Super-size that?”

Squawk — “What?”

Squawk — “DO YOU WANT TO SUPER-SIZE THAT?”

Squawk — “No.”

Squawk — “Would you like to make that a meal?”

Sqauwk — “What?  No.”

And then there’s the awkward pause at the end, where the customer wonders whether the employee is done firing questions and the conversation is finally over and they can just drive ahead and get their food.

We’ve grown accustomed to this kind of stuff in the drive-thru line, but hearing it from a distance makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just stop, park, and talk directly to a real person when ordering food.

 

Dogfishing

Here’s another sign of how out of step I am with popular culture:  the new trend in on-line dating websites is to post a photo in which the person who wants a date poses with some cute dog . . . who isn’t actually their dog.

dog-yawningIt’s called “dogfishing.”  The underlying concept is that a picture with an adorable dog instantly communicates something about the life and personality of the person in the photo.  Dog ownership is associated with positive qualities, so photos with dogs convey, to some people, at least, that the person is a friendly, nurturing type who loves animals.  After all, if the dog in the photo evidently likes the person, that’s an endorsement of sorts.  Plus, the dog in the photo is something that the two strangers who connect through the dating site can talk about when they meet each other.

So some on-line dating app users — mostly men, apparently — have decided to latch on to the positive associations of dog ownership, without actually having to deal with poop pick-up, worms, shedding, and the other negative attributes of actual dog ownership.  They find a dog, get a consciously cute picture taken with the dog, ditch the dog, post their picture, and they’re off to the races.  Apparently they’re banking on making a lasting connection before the people they meet through the websites figure out that there is no dog.

I’ve read about users of on-line dating sites misrepresenting their physical appearance, employment status, education, and the like, so another bit of conscious deception probably shouldn’t be a surprise.  But, to me, taking a fake photo with a cute dog in hopes that some gullible dog lover decides to venture a meeting seems to plumb new depths in on-line deception.  What’s next?  Fake mothers?

Trash/Treasure

Yesterday we took the New Grandparents to Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies, to show off the uniques sculptures displayed there. The sculptures are the work of Peter Beerits, who has mastered the process of turning ordinary old stuff — some might say “junk” — into interesting artwork. An old metal object, a few prices of wood for legs and a head, and a curlicue metal tail, for example, and you’ve got a pretty convincing pig.

Beerits has used the flotsam and jetsam of America from days gone by to construct Nellieville, a town that combines elements of the Old West, the early 20th century, and rural scenes and random animals. Banjo players, Wild Bill Hickok, outhouse users, lawyers, and barkeepers exist cheek by jowl in structures that are packed with all kinds of interesting old stuff. The rest is a bizarre and fascinating vision where there is a surprise around every corner.

Oh, yeah — Nervous Nellie’s jams and jellies are very good, too.

Tube Steak Follies

Food & Wine magazine, recognizing that we have entered the height of the outdoor grilling season, has published an article about their taste test of the best hot dogs out there.  The article raves about a hot dog that “tastes like steak.”

f5xdfnkThe article says that the Kansas City Cattle Company Uncured Wagyu Beef Hot Dog — which is a mouthful in itself — will change grilling forever.  It explains:  “The umami! The spice! The beefiness! It was basically like eating a steak in a bun, or an elevated “tube steak,” if you will. The flavor had real depth and smoky undertones, and the texture and color (darker, more brown than red) was different than most hot dogs—in a good way.”

It’s nice to know that American food producers have finally developed a tube steak that tastes like a steak — it’s another sign of the rapid progress being made by human civilization, I suppose — but I’m a little disturbed about the apparent migration of identifiable tastes from one food to another.  After all, if you’re looking to have a hot dog, don’t you want it to taste like a hot dog?  A traditional grilled hot dog, in the right outdoor setting, perhaps with a ball game going on in front of you, can be better than a steak.  Don’t we want to keep food tastes in their proper place?  What’s next?  A hot dog that tastes like a cheeseburger or carrot cake?

Plus, as the 2020 election draws closer, we’re heading into the politician hot dog-eating season.  I don’t want Joe Biden and the other candidates out there to take a big bite of a dog and do a spit take when they taste steak instead.

Unstuck

I got a chuckle out of this bumper sticker I saw on the back of a pick-up truck in our neighborhood — and particularly the crossed paddles that tie in to the “Shit Creek” reference — but seeing the sticker made me realize that I’ve never put a bumper sticker on my car.

No smiley face back in the days when that was inexplicably popular.  No sticker expressing support for any political candidate, national, state, or local.  Nothing to show that I’ve been to Wall Drug, or South of the Border, or Disney World, or any other attraction.  No jokes or clever sayings.  No stick-figure representation of our family, or disclosure that our kids were honor students — or athletes, or band members — at their schools.  In short, every bumper and back end of every car I’ve ever owned has remained wholly virgin territory, free of any advertisement for any person, place, or thing.

I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve never even been tempted to buy and affix a bumper sticker.  I guess I feel, deep down, that a bumper is a pretty inefficient forum to communicate anything important, that no other driver really gives a crap about where I’ve been or who I support, and that as time passes my tastes and interests might change.  The political candidate I voted for five years ago might be exposed to have feet of clay, and then the sticker would need to be scraped off to avoid embarrassment.  And while the “Shit Creek” joke made me smile the first time I saw it, would I still feel the same way after hundreds of viewings, as the sticker faded and peeled?  Or would I regret that I ever cluttered my bumper with it in the first place?  How many people who affix a bumper sticker ultimately experience bumper sticker regret?

I’m just not ready to make a bumper sticker commitment.