Uber Choices

I’m still a green-as-grass novice when it comes to Uber, and I’m trying to figure things out.  Like, which option to choose when I trigger the app and am offered different choices for the ride.

1141770989.jpg.0There’s obviously a price difference between the options, but I’m not quite sure what the price differences fully mean.  I’m assuming that some of the more expensive options feature larger cars and SUVs, so if you’re part of a group you’d want to choose them.  But, are there other differences lurking in the price points, too?  Does the age and condition of the car, the cleanliness of the vehicle, the skill and experience and ratings of the driver, or the presence of a pine tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror, enter into the price as well?  I’m sure there is a website somewhere that explains all of this, but life’s too short to spend time trying to puzzle out pricing for what is supposed to be an easy, convenient service.

I’m only the Uber decision-maker when I’m traveling by myself; if other people are part of the travel equation I let them make the call.  But when I’ve got to decide, I invariably choose the cheapest option.  I’m a cheapskate by nature, and I figure I’m only going to be in the car for a short period of time.  Given that fact, the car would need to be a real mess before I’d regret going for the cheapest option — which happened once, incidentally.  I figure that Uber is like a taxi, and if you’re flagging down a cab you pretty much take whatever stops to pick you up.

But I also think by taking the cheapest option I am helping out the driver.  For many people, including recent arrivals in the Columbus area, Uber seems to be a kind of gateway job.  They might not be able to afford the biggest and newest cars, but they’re trying to make a go of it.  Why not give my money to them, rather than to somebody driving a roomier and more luxurious vehicle?  And include a tip, too.

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Sunday Centennial

The NFL is making a big deal this year about celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Given the momentous occasion, it’s worth pointing out that Columbus played a significant role in the early days of The League.

The NFL started out as the American Professional Football Association, in Canton.  In 1922 it changed its name to the National Football League and moved its headquarters to Columbus.  After several years of the league offices being housed in Columbus homes, the NFL and its Commissioner, the legendary Joe Carr, moved to a proper office building in downtown Columbus, at 18 East Broad Street — an office building I pass by regularly.  In fact, the building is being refurbished, and one of the placeholder signs on the front the building, pictured with this post, commemorates its role in the NFL’s history.  During that Jim Thorpe and Red Grange era, the League struggled financially, with franchises starting up and folding regularly, but it always had a strong Ohio connection.  In 1927, there were NFL teams in Cleveland (the Bulldogs, not the Browns) and Dayton (the Triangles) and other small towns, like Duluth, Frankford, and Pottsville, so having the headquarters in Columbus made sense.  The headquarters remained here until 1941, when they were moved to Chicago.

I suppose if you get to 100 you’ve got to celebrate the occasion, but as I watch some of the promotional materials the NFL has produced I wonder:  is the League going to be around for another 100 years?  With the players growing bigger and faster all the time, and serious injuries becoming more and more the norm — so much so that every year the League rolls out new rules and penalties to try to stem the tide of crippling concussions and devastating hits — how long can the NFL last?  In years to come, a radically different NFL might look back very fondly on its innocent early years, when it found its home in Columbus.

 

Caught Between Two Donuts

I thought it was a sign of the apocalypse when McDonald’s started serving breakfast sandwiches between two griddle cakes several years ago — but in our modern culture, the envelope is always being pushed farther and farther.

kfc-donuts-sandwich-1568731314So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to read that KFC is now offering various chicken and donut combinations at selected locations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.  At those test locations, you can get a basket of chicken on the bone or chicken tenders served with one or two doughnuts, or you can order a sandwich made of a boneless piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken positioned between two glazed donuts, all of which is then served hot.  The donuts apparently will be delivered to the test KFC stores already cooked, and when a customer orders them, they will be dipped into fryers and glazed with vanilla icing so they are served hot.

KFC has explained that it is conducting the test to determine whether customers are craving chicken and donuts on a national scale.  I don’t think any kind of test of that sort truly is needed.  When you combine the statistics on the growing American obesity epidemic (no pun intended) with the known fact that most people are powerless to resist donuts that are made available to them, it seems very likely that the KFC chicken-and-donut sandwich will be a smashing, calorie- and carbohydrate-laden success.  Fortunately, I’m not going to be going near Pittsburgh or Virginia in the near future, so I won’t be tempted to give the sandwiches a try.

If the sandwiches are adopted on a national scale — and I have no doubt they will be — KFC or a competitor will have to figure out a way to push the culinary/calorie/carb envelope still farther.  I’m guessing we’ll see bacon, cheese, and honey drizzle added to the combination next.

Return Of The Far Side

Here’s some very welcome news — it looks like The Far Side may be returning to the funny pages.  (Well, perhaps not to the physical funny pages, because it looks like any new panels apparently will be offered online only, but you get the idea.)

gary-larson-far-sideGary Larson’s The Far Side was unquestionably one of the most original — and funniest — cartoons ever conceived.  It ran from 1980 to 1995 and brought a daily chuckle to millions of fans, including me.  When it ceased its run we groaned, but clung happily to our favorite Far Side offerings.  But recently The Far Side‘s official website posted a new cartoon, featuring the familiar Far Side cows, dogs, and women wearing cat-eye glasses being blowtorched out of an iceberg.  Under the drawing was the announcement: “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen. A new online era of The Far Side is coming!”

I don’t think you can overestimate the significance of bringing a smile to people’s faces, especially in this era of so much rancor and discord.  It would be a great thing if The Far Side made its return to brighten our days,  Then, we could all start lobbying for a return of Calvin and Hobbes, too, and all would be right with the world.

 

50 Years Of ATMs

On September 2, 1969, a new machine was unveiled at the Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, Long Island, soon to be followed by similar machines located outside bank branches across the country.  The machine was an ATM — an automated teller machines that allowed users to get cash from their accounts at the press of a few buttons.

atm_fAt first ATMs, like all new technological developments, were curiosities, and most people still got their money the old-fashioned way.  They went into a bank, filled out a paper withdrawal slip, and presented it to one of the human tellers at a window, or they went through the drive-thru bank lane, interacting with a teller remotely and getting their money via pneumatic tube delivery.  But as time passed people realized those ATM machines, once you got the hang of them, sure were convenient — and quick.  You could get money when you needed it and on your schedule, without being at the mercy of your bank branch’s hours.

As their usage increased, the number and location of ATMs multiplied, moving from their initial locations at bank branches to appear just about everywhere.  According to the article linked above, Chase Consumer Banking alone has 16,250 ATMs, and Bank of America has even more.  And as the number of ATMs skyrocketed the functionality of ATMs has increased, too, moving beyond dispensing cash to allow users to perform just about every banking-related service they might choose.  Chase says its ATMs now can do 70 percent of the things its human tellers can do for its customers.

People didn’t focus on it at the time, but ATMs were a precursor of the machine-oriented, self-service movement in American business.  There’s a debate about whether ATMs have ultimately eliminated human teller jobs or have spread them out among more bank branches that have been opened, but one thing is clear:  banking involves much less human-to-human interaction than used to be the case.  Who knows the name of their bank branch manager?  That’s become true in other businesses where self-service machines have been introduced, too.  And in that sense ATMs helped to pave the way for internet-based businesses, cellphone apps, and other consumer-directed options that don’t involve fact-to-face communications with human beings anymore.  We’re conditioned to doing things by tapping buttons on a machine, and there is no going back.

Happy 50th, ATMs!  You’ve helped to change the world, for better or for worse.

Rewatching The Best Documentary Ever Made

The other night I was searching for something to watch on TV.  I flipped over to our Roku option, clicked on Netflix, and started to flip through the Netflix offerings.  When I saw to my delight that Ken Burns’ The Civil War was available for free as part of my Netflix subscription, my choice was made.

arthjtf-show-poster2x3-q87qozzFirst broadcast in 1990 — 29 years ago! — The Civil War is, in my book, the best documentary ever made.  And while Ken Burns has made many fine documentaries since then, The Civil War remains his masterpiece.  From the first strains of Ashokan Farewell that began playing at the beginning of Part One, to the lovely footage of cannons at sunset and the sun-dappled pastoral scenes and shimmering rivers on the battlefields that were drenched in American blood long ago, to the historic photographs of generals, privates, politicians, battle scenes, and the dead and the voice-over readings of speeches, letters, and diary entries of the participants, The Civil War is note-perfect from stem to stern.

Of course, Ken Burns had some great material to work with, but his great achievement was sifting through the enormous historical record and capturing the essence of the titanic, nation-defining struggle in an accessible way.  The result is as riveting, as fresh, and as deeply moving now as it was when a nation first watched it, enthralled, during the George H.W. Bush administration.  The Civil War tells a powerful story, and as I’ve watched the early episodes this week I’ve found myself rooting for Lincoln and the Union, and bemoaning the inept and egotistical Union generals and all of the early Confederate victories, just as I did almost three decades ago.

Sometimes TV is better the second — or even the third — time around.  If you’ve got Netflix, The Civil War is well worth a second look.

Bathroom Humor

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, I walked down an aisle and saw, to my dismay, that Halloween stuff was on sale already — even though it’s just the beginning of September.  But I was really stopped in my tracks when I saw this product for sale, right there next to the bags of candy and trick or treat decorations.

It’s a “Jokin’ on the John” motion-activated toilet seat cover.  Put this on, and when the lid to the commode is lifted, you get treated to one of several jokes delivered by this crazy-eyed cackling witch.  It’s one of a number of “Jokin’ in the John” products that can help you celebrate Halloween.  Others include “Flush ‘n Stein,” a motion activated Frankenstein figure holding a plunger who is supposed to be put on top of the toilet and then tells jokes and sings a song, as well as a wisecracking ghost armed with a plunger and a mummy-type figure whose wrapping is toilet paper.

An entire “Jokin’ in the John” line of products, offered by Hallmark, of all places?  Apparently the bathroom, one of the last bastions of peace and quiet and normalcy in an overdecorated holiday world, is viewed as the new frontier for holiday-themed “humor” products.  It’s there, ready to be invaded by cackling witches and other intrusive figures whose handful of allegedly funny phrases would get old pretty darned fast.  And speaking as a representative of the older generation that now has to make more nocturnal visits to the bathroom than they used to, I can’t imagine wanting to have any talking, motion-activated items in there to startle me when I stumble in at 3 a.m.

It’s bad enough that Halloween now gets celebrated for about two full months — can’t we leave the bathroom out of it?