Excited About Fries!

I passed this sign on the door of a Boise gyro shop yesterday and it made me laugh. When was the last time that French fries, long a staple of the American fast food diet, merited an exclamation point? 1948? And I’m in Idaho, for gosh sakes — the potato capital of the world, where you would expect every eatery to feature spuds galore. And it’s a gyro shop, to boot; gyros and fries have been linked since time immemorial.

So the Gyro Shack is just now adding fries to the menu? There’s a back story there somewhere.

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The Points Imperative

I’m on the road today, staying at a hotel I’ve stayed at before.  When I arrived at my room last night, I found something new positioned on the TV remote control — a notice encouraging me to make “the green choice,” turn down housekeeping, and earn 250 bonus “rewards” points in the bargain.

Like most — if not all — business travelers, I’m a participant in various rewards programs for airlines and hotels.  Unlike some people, I’m not a fiend about it.  I don’t have a credit card associated with an airline or hotel chain that would give me double and triple rewards and allow me to really maximize point accumulation, and I don’t plan my travel around using one airline or staying in one hotel chain to concentrate my points and earn rewards faster.  I know that this costs me the ability to rack up rewards more quickly, but I’d rather take the most convenient flight and stay in the most convenient place, regardless of whether it’s my preferred rewards option, and if that means it takes a lot longer to get those free nights or free flights, so be it.  Convenience today is more important to me than potential free vacations down the road.

It’s interesting, though, that the rewards programs now seem to be morphing into an even more general behavioral modification device and incentive program.  I’ve been receiving emails from one hotel chain promising me points if I take surveys that will take 5 or 10 minutes to complete, for example.  And now a hotel chain thinks that an offer of 250 rewards points might just tip the balance and incentivize me and other travelers to hang the “no service needed” notice on the outside door handle of our rooms.  I suppose that there are some people who are so focused on getting points that the bonus points offer really could change their behavior, decline maid service, and save the hotel on housekeeping-related costs.  (I decline the maid service as a matter of course, points or no points.)

It would be interesting to know what kind of studies were done to develop these points incentive programs, and how successful they are at producing the desired behavior.  How did the hotel chain decide that 250 points — as opposed to 500 points, or 1000 — was sufficient to entice people to reject maid service, and is the program working as intended?  I’m not an expert in these programs, obviously, but 250 points doesn’t seem like a lot.  Was part of the points decision-making process in that case to make the “bonus” large enough for people to care about, but small enough that people would need to engage in the kind of long-term behavioral change that would really produce savings for the hotel chain?  And how many people are really willing to answer detailed surveys about their backgrounds, personal interests, and preferences in exchange for 1,000 of those coveted points?

For some people, maximizing point accumulation apparently is an imperative, and we can expect the airlines, and hotels, and other rewards program businesses to continue to use the programs to encourage us to change what we do and how we do it.

 

See The Treasures While You Can

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The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral is a devastating event for those of us who celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of our predecessors — but also teaches an important lesson.

Notre Dame is a central landmark in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a treasure of western civilization, with its Gothic architectural grandeur and exquisite rose window and flying buttresses and soaring ceilings that seem to reach up to heaven itself.  Generations of Parisians and travelers have marveled at the cathedral’s magnificence, enjoyed the quiet solitude of its immense interior spaces, and wondered at how it could possibly have been built so long ago.

Now, much of that has been destroyed by the blaze.  The French government has vowed to rebuild the cathedral, but it’s impossible not to wonder whether fully recreating the structure can be accomplished and how the interior decorations that were destroyed can possibly be replaced.  And even if it can be done, will the result still inspire the same awe-inspiring thrill that the original Notre Dame, in all its Gothic glory, inevitably provoked?

As I was thinking of the fire yesterday, I was immensely saddened by the magnitude of the loss, but also happy that I’ve had a chance to see Notre Dame, on multiple occasions, before the fire, including a visit that Kish, Richard, Russell and I took over the holidays several years ago when I took the picture shown above.  Notre Dame was decorated for Christmas on that occasion, with a huge Christmas tree positioned in front of the entrance.  It was a memorable trip, and I’ll always be grateful that Richard and Russell had a chance to see Notre Dame as it was.

It’s helpful to try to find something positive, even in the face of a tragedy like the fire at Notre Dame.  It’s very difficult to do in this case, but perhaps the useful lesson is this:  don’t assume that wonders like Notre Dame, in all their glory, will always be around, or accessible.  If you want to go see something, do it — because you never know when it might be changed into something different, if not gone forever.

Smoky Row

The buses operated by the Central Ohio Transit Authority are equipped with outward-facing electronic signs at the front of the bus, above the driver, that tell people waiting at bus stops where the bus is going.  When I walk to work in the morning, I see buses that are heading to Kenny Road, or East Main, or Hilliard, or West Broad, or Rickenbacker.  These are all familiar street names and locations for Columbus residents.

pride-of-the-smoky-rowMy favorite bus name, however, is “Smoky Row.”  It’s got to be the best “end of the line” name in the COTA arsenal.

Where is Smoky Row, exactly?  I have no idea, even though I’ve lived in Columbus for years.  It could be north, east, west, or south.  And unlike other COTA bus destinations, Smoky Row has a certain lyrical, almost mystical quality to it that sounds like a Hollywood movie from the ’40s starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  You could easily see Smoky Row in big print up on the screen as the movie credits started to roll.

And the fact that Smoky Row is an actual destination in the Columbus, Ohio area adds to the mystery.  You wonder how Smoky Row got its unusual name.  Is it a low-lying area that is frequently obscured by morning mist, or was it once home to lots of smoke-billowing factories?  And what’s there now?   Smoke-filled nightclubs, perhaps?  Hookah joints?  Hipsters puffing away on their smelly vape devices?

I’m sure that, for patrons who take the number 74 bus every day, it’s just another boring bus ride — but for me, boarding the bus to Smoky Row would seem like the ticket to adventure.

Backpack Awareness

Once, backpacks were the exclusive province of hikers, Boy Scouts, and schoolchildren.  Now, thanks in large part to arguments that backpacks are better for your back and your posture than shoulder bags or briefcases, backpacks have made significant inroads into the general population.  You regularly see them being used by businesspeople, travelers, and cyclists.

airline-passengers-who-have-too-much-carry-on-luggage-3-1080x675There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with backpacks, or with trying to help your aching back.  The problem arises because people who wear backpacks often lack the spatial awareness that should accompany donning a bulky, typically overstuffed item that may jut out a foot or more from their normal back and shoulders.  (And that’s not even taking into account items that may be hanging from the rear or sides of backpacks, like Camelbak water bottles, canteens, or food pouches.)  This isn’t a big problem with respect to hikers and Boy Scouts, who are out with their backpacks in the great outdoors with all the room in the world around them, but it can pose problems for those of us who encounter backpack-wearing people in small, enclosed spaces — like airplanes, or restrooms, or elevators.

On recent trips I’ve seen countless instances where backpackers have made a quick turn in the aisle of an airplane during the boarding process and clouted seated fellow passengers in the side of the head.  I’ve witnessed a collision caused by a backpack-wearing guy retreating from a urinal directly into the path of an approaching user, and a backpacker on an elevator invading the space of other passengers and squeezing them back into the rear wall.  And I’ve seen lots of mishaps in the backpack donning and doffing process, where the casual swing of the backpack onto or off of the shoulders causes it to knock into people, books, cellphones, luggage, and even comfort animals.

Backpacks are here to stay, so the most we can hope for is that backpack-wearers develop the necessary spatial awareness and remember that, when they are carrying their backpack, they’ve become human humpback whales with the related, increased space needs.  Perhaps the backpack manufacturers of America can sponsor training to help backpackers navigate among the rest of us safely, without doling out head shots and getting dirty looks from people (like me) who don’t like having their personal space casually invaded.

A Taste Of Spring Break Florida

We’ve spent the last few days in Naples, Florida, and yesterday we visited the beach. It’s a beautiful beach, looking westward toward the green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and on a bright, sunny day it was jammed with sun worshipers, beach chairs, umbrellas, kids, floats, beach towels, noodles, beach walkers, coolers, and assorted beach-going brick a brac. Near the public access points the beach was so packed with people that a claustrophobe might actually have felt a twinge of anxiety.

It gave us a taste of spring break Florida, family edition.

Golf Course Sunrise

We’re enjoying a weekend sojourn in Naples, Florida, staying with friends who have a lovely condo on a golf course, overlooking a tranquil pond. I haven’t played golf in years, since I had foot surgery, but I still appreciate the beauty of a golf course sunrise, the chirping of the birds that golf courses inevitably attract, the puttering of the groundskeeper’s cart in the distance, and the cool air in the minutes before the sun bursts over the horizon.

Now, if only spring would finally make it to Columbus . . . .