Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, doubles down.

My previous entry dealt with an event in Chicago where a paid passenger was roughed-up and dragged off a flight by Chicago Aviation Security “officers” – notice those scare quotes, they are there for a reason – for refusing to give up his paid seat.

  • In an email to employees, United CEO Oscar Munoz addressed an incident in which an overbooked passenger had to be forcibly removed from a United plane.
  • Passenger described as “disruptive and belligerent.”
  • Munoz: “I emphatically stand behind all of you.”

United’s policies are crack-headed to begin with.

  1. Overbooking is a legal but disrespectful and passenger-unfriendly practice
  2. Throwing passengers off a flight to accommodate deadheading employees (regardless of whether or not they are needed for another flight) is morally reprobate.

Here’s a screen cap from the internal memo Munoz sent to United’s staff:

C9HpXqpVwAEsMaZ

And here’s pretty much the reality – the video of the event is damning:

C9GP1JQW0AAM3h2

The customer defied Chicago Transportation Security because he had a right to be on the plane, in a seat which he had paid for. As a physician with patients to see, it’s not surprising that he was upset. When people are upset they don’t always act in the most rational manner, behave like sheep, put their heads down and blindly comply with corporate douchebaggery.

“Mr.” Munoz, dragging a paying customer off an airplane is not “re-acccomodating” him, you insufferable asshat.

If Oscar Munoz thinks that “established procedures” for dealing with unhappy customers should include calling for armed men to brutalize, assault, and humiliate a passenger, that’s a good reason for the flying public to shun United like the Ebola virus.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

United breaks guitars, and beats up paying customers.

We live in a tumultuous world, with a lot going on around us. There’s a lot that we can’t do much about. But I’ve always felt that corporate douchebaggery and abuse of power need to be called out whenever it happens.

According to a video posted at Facebook, and reported on at the Courier Journal, the following events just took place.

thugs

  1. United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. (That practice in itself is worthy of a lot of discussion, but it’s standard operating procedure in the airlines and hotel world.)
  2. Passengers were told at the gate that the flight was overbooked and United, offering $400 and a hotel stay, was looking for one volunteer to take another flight to Louisville at 3 p.m. Monday.
  3. Passengers were allowed to board the flight. (Notice: you’ve paid for your ticket, and you have your butt in a seat.)
  4. Passengers were told that four people needed to give up their seats to stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. (United feels that deadheading employees are more important than paid passengers.)
  5. Passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats.
  6. The offer was increased to $800, but no one volunteered.
  7. A manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. (“The Reaping.”)
  8. One couple volunteered as tribute and left the plane.
  9. The man in the video was confronted. He became “very upset” and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning.
  10. The manager told him that security would be called if he did not leave willingly, and the man said he was calling his lawyer.
  11. One security official came and spoke with him, and then another security officer came when he still refused. Then, she said, a third security official came on the plane and threw the passenger against the armrest before dragging him out of the plane.

So here’s an elderly Asian doctor who needs to see his patients in the morning, who has a confirmed, paid ticket on a United Airlines flight, and because UA overbooked and wants their employees to have free seats, three armed thugs come on board and knock the old man out before dragging him, bloodied, off the plane, because he wouldn’t surrender his rights.

Great work, United. This beats breaking guitars six ways from breakfast.

This is what should have happened:

  1. United doesn’t overbook their flights (Not likely, it’s common travel practice.)
  2. United continues to bump the incentive – $1,000, $1,200, and free hotel, etc. etc. – until enough people take the offer. It would have happened quite soon, problem solved.

Here’s what I’m hoping happens:

  1. The physician in question does indeed get hold of a high-powered legal firm and sues the company for enough money to buy the entire European Union, plus Canada.
  2. United’s stock ends up in the Mariana Trench because nobody ever flies with them again.
  3. The three armed thugs (security personnel, cops, whatever) are fired and end up spending the rest of their days sweeping up after horses in Texas rodeos.

Here’s what’s likely to happen:

  1. Some sort of settlement, and the affair quietly fades away.
  2. United continues to abuse passengers because, after all, most of us are very comfortable and there will be a Starbucks to go to at our destination. (Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people continue to protest in Serbia and Ecuador and around the world because they are tired of government corruption.)
  3. “Proper procedure was followed.”

Disclaimer: I wasn’t there. I didn’t see the event. There are always more facts to any story than are being reported. But regardless, this looks really bad at first blush. If United’s corporate leadership were any sort of humans, they’d be filling their britches and entering DEFCON-5 damage control mode, but I sincerely doubt they’ll lose a minutes sleep over the event.

Don’t fly United. This is really sad in a lot of ways, because for the longest time United was the best of the best in airlines in the USA, and I have a long history of flying with them since the 50s.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

An honest email from HR

This I had to share. But I also had to bowdlerize it a bit, because reasons. If you really don’t care about salty language and think it improves things, stroll on over and read the original. I hope the writer doesn’t sue the hqiz out of me for sharing this in a mildly redacted form.


An honest email from a company’s HR rep to the employees.

Filed by Meg Favreau | Jul 07, 2015 @ 1:30pm

Hello, Kopencky Company Family! HR here. Look, I could care less about what you guys do in your personal lives, but I get paid to be your work mommy because, for some reason, a group of adults can’t manage to do things like not steal each other’s lunches or touch each other’s butts for the eight bleeding hours a day that they’re in an office. You people are exhausting, and since you apparently need constant reminders in order to be decent human beings, here are some ruddy reminders.

Company fun run

Our insurance premiums are going to go WAY up if Don has another heart attack, and we can’t tell him to his face to stop eating Cheetos (although whoever left him that anonymous note that I publicly denounced, please know that I privately agreed with you. STRONGLY). To that end, we’re forcing everyone to exercise with this company-mandated “fun” run that almost all of you will find demeaning, embarrassing, and really just awful to participate in. Except Jill. WE ALL KNOW YOU RAN A MARATHON, JILL. SHUT UP ABOUT IT.

Bring your child to work day

It’s next Tuesday. You are all welcome to bring your little chemical mistakes, except for Stephen. I know you and your pale wife are doing that “no negative reinforcement” thing, but last year, all you said was “Great stream, buddy!” when your kid peed on my aloe plant. Never again.

Vacation days

Reminder 1: All employees who started before July 1, 2015 get four weeks worth of vacation a year; if you started after, you get two weeks of vacation a year. Reminder 2: It was our jack-hole boss Mr. Kopencky who decided to cut vacation time in order to save money, not me, so taking it out on me will only make me hate you more. Reminder 3: This also means that you shouldn’t yell at me for: not getting a raise, no more free soda in the kitchen, the removal of vision and dental from the healthcare plan, and the fact that Mr. Kopencky will only let me buy a dozen doughnuts for “free doughnut Fridays,” so that 41 employees have to rush to be the first to get 12 doughnuts. (Yes, I know there are 42 employees here. Allow me to point you to Jill’s insufferable “Gluten Free IBS Runner” blog so you can also understand that she doesn’t eat doughnuts because of “the trots.”)

Glossary

Some people have told me that the HR buzzwords can be confusing. That’s because they’re a way for HR professionals to thinly veil how we really feel so we don’t accidentally yell “You’re a childish moron!” at our coworkers. Here are some definitions to help clarify things.

“My door is always open”

Mr. Kopencky won’t let me shut my door, so you guys can always walk in. But please don’t, because managing your dumb problems stresses me out to the point where I’ve had to learn how to cry silently, with no tears.

“Think outside the box”

You have bad ideas. I put your bad ideas all together in a box. Now, I want you to come up with good ideas. That means I need you to think outside of the box.

“Results driven”

Getting results is your job. So when I say I want you to be “results driven,” I’m saying “do your ruddy job.” Jill, that means do your job, not update your blog. Remember, we have tracking software on all the computers, so I know that you spent five hours researching “grain-free pizza” last Thursday.

The sign in the kitchen

I have overheard complaints that the dish-washing sign I put up is both condescending and passive-aggressive. I know it is, and I could change it to get at the real issue by saying, “You need to do your dishes because everyone else is sick of doing them for you, DAN.” I don’t think that Dan would like that, though, and he is Mr. Kopencky’s nephew. Did I say “Mr. Kopencky’s nephew”? I meant to say “Mr. Kopencky’s stupidest nephew.”

One other thing about the sign in the kitchen

Also, it’s pretty funny that the sign is for Dan, considering that I know he’s the one who drew a wang on the clipart man on it.

Sexual harassment

Speaking of that wang, we’re having a sexual harassment seminar in two weeks, and you can all thank Dan for that. Jill, you are welcome to bring gluten-free snacks again, but I swear if you bring grain-free pizza bites and they’re just globs of cheese and sauce, I will tell everyone about your IBS, which you have told me way, way, way too many details about. Remember, everyone, my door is always open!

Best,

Pamela

The things that go on in the dark

Every now and then a stupendous advertisement comes along that does not annoy the living Tophet out of me, and which I generally remember forever. I’ve mentioned some examples before.

There’s one print ad that I’ve been looking for since, like, forever – and I finally found a copy. The Internet is great – sooner or later, almost anything of interest will pop up.

In 1998, Sony introduced their Handycam with its patented NightShot infrared system, and this was the print ad that publicized the product:

Handycam Infrared Camera Cat Dog Advertisement

Discovering the cat and the dog in an amorous clench made me laugh way too hard since I was no longer a high-school sophomore – at least not chronologically.

The Print Ad titled CAT & DOG was done by Campbell Ewald advertising agency for the product: Handycam Camcorder (brand: Sony) in the United States. It was released in January 1998.

The advertisement hinted at good things to come when you used this feature. Unfortunately for Sony, there were other things about this camera that the developers had not counted on – like being able to see through clothes.

No, not like the X-Ray Specs advertised in the comics…

(For an interesting write-up on the history of these novelties, visit Lee’s Comic Rack, and for more samples of comic book advertising, check out “Kick the chair and gamble a stamp.”)

… but something much closer to reality.

Yes, the NightShot technology, combined with certain kinds of clothing, effectively made that clothing “disappear.”

hqdefault.jpg

Sony recalled about 700,000 cameras and installed a kludge to disable that particular capability, but enterprising people – as enterprising people are wont to do – quickly found ways of making this thing work with just about any Infrared video system. Just Google around if you’re interested.

Technical ramblings aside, I’m happy to have finally found a copy of this ad online. It’s one more thing rattling around in my skull that I can lay to rest.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Here’s to the crazy ones – and to the creators of the campaign.

Recently I posted this image over at Facebook:

77e93b96856f2692806beb5c95fa0b7f

At once I began to get pushback on the source, so I thought I’d do a bit of digging – and what I found was interesting.

One thing is certain – the quote was part of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. There were two versions of the commercial, one voice-overed by Steve Jobs himself (this one never aired):

And the one that actually hit the airwaves, with Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator:

But who actually wrote the text?

Not Jack Kerouac: “Sometimes attributed to Kerouac on the internet, perhaps because it evokes his famous quote from On the Road: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” ” (Wikiquote)

Not John Chapman, aka “Johnny Appleseed“: If you look closely at the Text Edit icon in Apple’s OS X, you’ll see the the quote there in the form of a letter to “Kate” from “John Appleseed.”

Text Edit

This has led some to attribute the quote to Chapman himself, which is just all wrong – the language is never something that the historical Johnny Appleseed would have used; on a side note of interest, this article at the Smithsonian suggests that Chapman was planting apples for hard liquor, not for eating.

“Apple cider provided those on the frontier with a safe, stable source of drink, and in a time and place where water could be full of dangerous bacteria, cider could be imbibed without worry.”

So who is the John Appleseed referred to in the icon, and who is Kate?

Not John Appleseed, the shadowy “Apple Insider:” This article at Techradar gives the background on who John Appleseed was – a Cupertino-based software developer who had developed Apple II software under his own name. When Apple’s CEO Mike Markkula (also a coder) developed some Apple II software under the pseudonym John Appleseed, the real Appleseed didn’t sue – he launched a campaign to meet Steve Jobs, as described in the article. Ultimately Appleseed’s image and name became the face of the iPhone and other products, although he was never really an “Apple Insider.”

5a104893d7f8b30ae52b64e25a6fa545-1200-80

Unfortunately for him, Jobs died, Apple evolved, and his usefulness as a mascot came to an end. As for Kate? Best guess is that she’s an open source text editor in KDE in the linux operating system. It is possible that during his time of interfacing with Steve Jobs, some of Appleseed’s ideas may have insinuated them into Jobs’ consciousness to have an impact later.

Yes, it was John Siltanen and Lee Clow (and a few others): John Siltanen chronicled the real genesis of the campaign’s text in an article at Forbes (caution: Forbes now makes you whitelist their site if you have AdBlock Plus installed, which I happen to think is a scummy move – but there it is.) Siltanen and Lee Clow were employed by the TBWA/Chiat/Day advertising agency that were shooting to get Apple’s business for a new campaign. The whole article is a fascinating first-person look at how the campaign was designed, pitched, and won.

Some of the original thoughts behind the text in question came from these quotes from “Dead Poet’s Society,” among others:

“We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”

“Despite what anyone might tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Poetry, beauty, love, romance. These are what we stay alive for. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

So even though the text was really a collaborative effort, at the end Lee Clow made sure that Steve Jobs’ name was included in the credits on the campaign. As a result, I’m going with “Correct Attribution by Association” on the authorship of the quote.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Ten Commandments for Travelers

I gathered this little bit of shared wisdom long ago before the age of the Internet or even email. I don’t know where it came from – Reader’s Digest, a mechanic’s wall, who knows. But I’ve always saved it and cherished it because as one who has been blessed to travel to many places in the world, I have found the thoughts contained to be accurate and valuable.

I.       Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast left them at home…for thou hast left home to find things different.

In an interview with Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” Michael Shapiro quotes a story he heard from his grandfather about a traveler coming into a town.

He asks the first person that he sees, what are the people like in this town? The man replies, what were they like in the last town? The traveler says, they were miserable, horrible, terrible. So the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just like that. A second traveler asks the man, sir tell me what are the people like in this town? So the man replies, how did you find the people in the last town? Oh, they were wonderful, generous, kind. And the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just the same.

In describing his perception of Mayes’ attitude while traveling, he wrote,

I think that’s your perspective, too: you come to a place with an open heart and a generous spirit. You go into a restaurant and say, “What’s the specialty of the house?” Not, “I demand this.” I wonder if you have any advice for travelers as to how they can receive the best by bringing their best.

Mayes replied,

“I think trying to leave America as far behind as possible and realizing that the world is still really various. To come here wanting what you get in America is really a sad way to travel.”

It’s sort of like the old saw about relationships:

BRICKS

I think it was a good idea for the author to put this “commandment” first – because in my experience, it’s the grand key, the summum bonum of travel. If you approach travel with vulnerability, being open to surprises, and take joy in whatever comes – even if it turns out that your “adventure” is a catastrophe – you will most likely have something of value to take away from the experience which will last a lifetime.

Rabbi Hillel said this:

hillelquotehebrew

By interpretation, “That which is distasteful unto yourself – do not unto others. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

In the same way, the rest of these “commandments” simply expand upon and refine the central thesis of the first.

II.      Thou shalt not let thy fellow travelers get on thy nerves, for thou art paying out good money to have a good time.

If you travel in a group or with a tour, this is great advice. I’ve always steered clear of such things, simply because then you don’t have to worry about other people’s idiosyncrasies or enforced schedules.

There’s a great movie from 1969 called “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.” Starring Suzanne Pleshette, it depicts “the humorous adventures of a group of American tourists taking an eighteen-day guided bus tour of nine European countries.” At the moment, the full movie is on YouTube, but who knows how long it will last:

III.     Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the beginning of a holiday

Now, we’re not talking bodily mayhem here. Personal injury, being a victim of crime, things like that can happen anywhere, even in your own comfortable home. These are not things I would wish upon anyone, and if they happen, they have to be dealt with. But beyond that, very little that takes place on a trip is the end of the world. Lost baggage, lost passports, sickness, missed connections… it’s all part of the deal. As Jenkins Lloyd Jones once said,

“Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

That said, it’s not a bad idea to head for a foreign adventure with preparation aforethought – never take anything along with you that you can’t afford to lose, because even in countries other than Japan, shiatsu happens.

IV.     Remember thy passport that thou knowest where it is at all times…for a traveler without a passport is a voyager without a country.

It’s a good idea to carry your passport and most of your cash in an under-clothing belt or pouch, preferably RFID-blocking. Only have what you need for the day in your purse or wallet, because if a pickpocket strikes, you’ve only lost a little money and your holiday isn’t ruined. Keep that wallet in a front pocket of your pants, not a back pocket or jacket pocket – those are the easiest target for thieves. And keep that purse zipped closed, and with your hand on the straps over your shoulders.

Scams

In this category, it’s wise to be mindful of the fact that there are people out there who see visitors as a walking ATM machine. Just keep a few things in mind and you’ll be better prepared than the average tourist:

  • Watch out for the “can you help me” scam. A friendly soul comes up to you with a map and asks for help finding “Piazza Navona” or some such. You put down your bags, get involved in looking at the map to be helpful, and when you turn around, that laptop or briefcase or suitcase is gone.
  • A “good samaritan” comes up to you and points out some ketchup or mustard on your coat (which they just squirted there), and busies themselves removing it with a hanky… while they or an accomplice rifle your pockets or make off with your bags.
  • The Phony Police Ploy: Two thieves in uniform — posing as “Tourist Police” — stop you on the street, flash their bogus badges, and ask to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money.” You won’t even notice some bills are missing until after they leave. Never give your wallet to anyone. This happened to me in Romania, but as far as I know, I was fortunate not to lose anything.
  • If you are going to be traveling on trains overnight, especially through high-risk areas like southern Italy, a great trick is to get an economical bicycle lock and coil it through your suitcase handle and the luggage rack rungs. While on the train from Catanzaro to Rome, I had some young punk come into my compartment and try to make off with my bag during a stop in Naples. I was asleep, but woke up in time to get the thing out of his hands. This would have avoided the problem altogether. Baggage thieves don’t usually carry the kind of tools needed to defeat even low-cost locks – they want to be in and out before you wake up or come back to your seat.

A good list of things to watch out for is here.

V.     Blessed is he who can say “Thank You” in any language…and it shall be worth more to him than much advice.

I can’t stress this one enough.

An American tourist on one of those 10-countries in 10-days tours developed a survival tactic that stood her in relatively good stead for most of her trip. She would walk into a store and say in her loudest voice, “Does anyone here speak English?” One day she must have gotten her itinerary confused, because a clerk sidled up to her and whispered discreetly, “Madam, this is London.”

Another joke goes,

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? – Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? – Bilingual. What do you call a person who only speaks one language? – American.

It has been my experience that people in foreign lands, long unimpressed by the loud, demanding attitude of the typical “Ugly American,” are delighted when someone takes the time to learn even the rudiments of their language. I recall traveling on business in Rome in 1984; having lived in Naples for about 18 months, I had become relatively fluent in Italian. When I reached the office of the company I was visiting, my contact said, “Ah! Finalmente un’Americano che parla Italiano!” (Oh, finally an American that can speak Italian!) Even learning how to say “Please” and “Thank you” really does go a long, long way in generating good will. A remarkable resource for learning some critical phrases (including “My hovercraft is full of eels”) is Omniglot.

On the other hand, even with some language skills, it’s possible to make an ass of yourself (the joke is funnier if you have some French and some Yiddish.)

Mrs. Rothschild is in a fancy Paris shop; she inquires as to the price of a tablecloth.
“Combien pour ce tischtoch?” (“How much for this tablecloth?”)
“Cinquante francs, madame.”  (“Fifty francs, Madam.”)
“Cinquante francs? Mais c’est une shmatte!”  (“Fifty francs? But it’s a rag!”)
With indignation, the clerk replies, “Une shmatte, madame? Quelle chutzpah!” (“A rag, madam? Quelle chutzpah!”)

VI.   Blessed is the man who can make change in any currency…for lo, he shall not be cheated.

With the advent of the Euro, the issue of changing money in Europe is significantly diminished, but there are still many, many countries that use their own currency and it’s good to have a handle on ways to save money.

Europe Trip - Jun 1971 - Toulouse Market

Market in Toulouse, France

In 1969 and 1970, I was blessed to be able to live in Europe and did a lot of traveling by rail. I recall stopping in to a photo shop in France for some additional film (you youngsters may need to Google the history of photography if you’re not familiar with that term) and as I paid, the little French lady behind the counter smiled and said, “Vous connaissez bien des sous!” (You know your money well!) I have a suspicion that I was shamelessly overcharged for the film, but hey, I know how to count.

CNBC posted a good list of money-saving tips while traveling. To this I would add, Never change money at an airport or at a hotel. You’ll be charged exorbitant service fees and/or be given the lousiest rate possible. If you need funds to get into town, change only the bare minimum, and find a local bank for the bulk of your currency exchanges. Change only as much as you think you’ll spend in cash, because you’ll lose a percentage on the exchange when you hit your next country.

VII.     Thou shalt not worry.  He that worrieth has few pleasures, and few things are ever fatal.

This is related to No. III. Take it easy. Relax. Things will work out. Enjoy each day, each moment, and look for the little joys. Wander the side streets away from the tourist crowd and just take time looking at the architecture or the little touches of life.

Mestre - Italian Courtyard Cafe

Tiny outdoor café in Mestre, Italy (Mainland Venice)

VIII.    Thou shalt not judge the people of a country by the one person with whom thou hast trouble.

You’re going to meet morons. Some, or a few, may try to take advantage of you. Some will by angry at tourists. These are in the minority. Don’t let your vacation or experience be ruined by bumping in to one of these – there are plenty at home as well. If you’ve ever worked retail, or as a server, or a call-center agent, you’ve met all of them. Look for the good, the kind, and the wonderful – you’ll find them.

IX.     In Rome, thou shalt do as the Romans. When in difficulty, use common sense and friendliness.

Culture and customs vary widely around the world. What’s common to the laborer in Kinshasa or the farmer in Viet Nam may seem strange, other-worldly, or downright disgusting to you (I’m thinking casu marzu here, among other things.) But it is critical to remember that our customs and culture may be just as off-putting to them in exchange. It’s all about what you know, what’s familiar to you, and what you grew up with.

Part of the joy of travel is experiencing the lifestyle of others first-hand. Back in the old days – I mean really old – the only way for many people to “travel” was to haul out the stereopticon

1JC-Stereopticon

and sit around looking at stereo views of strange and exotic lands.

Beijing

There was no way you could sample a wonderful Phở or a divine bowl of callos from your living room. And enjoying local cuisine is one of the greatest joys of traveling, in my book (and on my waistline).

Short of learning some of the local language, there is no better way to endear yourself to the locals than to express a love of their cooking. I remember sitting around a table with a contingent of translators in Kinshasa, lustily dipping up antelope moamba with manioc fufu, and watching their smiles as I relished what to them must have been as common as a Sabretts™ hot dog to a New Yorker.

haggiswithknifesmall

Haggis. If you haven’t had it, you haven’t lived.

Take the time before you travel to learn about some of the basic customs and courtesies of countries you will be visiting, to avoid giving unwanted offense. A great resource (although paid) is CultureGrams, a database of most countries of the world, with reports (Madagascar sample) outlining history, government, culture, customs, and other information that would be most useful for travelers.

For free, Google is your friend. Search for “German customs for travelers” or “American customs to avoid,” for example and scan what you find. You’ll get some good ideas of things to do and not do in any given country you plan on visiting. Some articles are more populist than others, but you can still gather some good information. Forewarned is forearmed.

X.      Remember that thou art a guest in every land, and he that treateth his host with respect shall be treated in return as an honored guest.

Going back to Commandment I, the biggest takeaway is basically Wheaton’s Law (bowdlerized): “Don’t be a moron.” If humanity would adopt this one guideline for life, this earth could be close to a paradise.

Despite the fact that almost anything you get in your inbox with the word “actual” is most likely 100% false or fictitious or contrived, this list of “Actual Complaints Received by Thomas Cook Vacations from Dissatisfied Customers” should be taken with a grain of salt or two. That said, you know things like this have happened – and I’d bet any travel agent worth their salt has heard one or all of these in various forms, so consider these representative fac-similes:

1. “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

2. “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

3. “On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

4. “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price”

5. “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

6. “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

7. “They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

8. “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

9. “Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

10. “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

11. “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

12. “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England . It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

14. “The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort’. We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.”

15. “There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

16. “We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

17. “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

18. “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

19. “My fiance and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

Don’t be these people. Be kind, be open, be prepared… and your travel experience will probably be one you will remember with pleasure for the rest of your life.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The cats that have owned me

You know the saying – “Cats don’t have owners, they have staff.” Pretty true.

195901 - Twee

This is Twee. Isn’t he cute? We adopted him in about 1957 or so; he got his name from a book I had as a child, Ounce, Dice, Trice by Alastair Reid, which suggested a number of good names for cats.

twee

It’s a very odd book, but then I have a very odd mind. It may have been a kickstart for my lifelong love of words and language.

TweeHell

When he grew up, he wasn’t so cute any longer. He would hide behind doors and jump out at my legs as I walked by, with malice aforethought. He ended up as the cat from Hell. But I still loved him, and was sad when I learned he had come to grief in New York traffic.

For another 22 years, as life took me in one direction and another, I was catless. But then in around 1982 or so we went to a pet store and got Sam.

Sam Reeding Time

He was a beautiful, elegant creature – a living ornament who moved from place to place and just beautified any spot where he happened to land. We took him to Switzerland with us for five months, where he had many friends, and brought him back when that adventure ended.

At around the age of 13, Sam became ill and lost his appetite; the only thing that he wanted to do was go outside. He was found by a neighbor in their back yard in the rain, and she went to every home in the neighborhood asking if he was theirs… except our house. She chose to take the word of three little girls across the street who declared that we didn’t have a cat. He was taken by animal services, euthanized, and cremated; I still feel bad that we couldn’t bury him properly. He was a good kitty.

After returning from Switzerland, we adopted Whisper and Wispy.Wispy and Whisper

These two pretty littermates were not terribly smart. They liked to sleep in the engine of our 1972 Mustang, and one day the inevitable happened. Wispy went through the alternator belt, and that was the end of her. She was replaced by Tickles, a tiny kitty with a broken mew and a giant purr; sadly I don’t seem to have any photos of her. Whisper and Sam didn’t get along that well, and he took to marking things in the house. We ultimately had to find another home for both Whisper and Tickles.

Before we moved in 1992, we adopted Buffy.

Buffy5

This beautiful girl was amazingly loving, and the whole family loved her. Any time I sat down or went to bed, she was there. It was like she had radar for a soft lap or an opportunity for a cuddle. Over time, though, she developed a terrible trait; she became afraid of her litter box, ultimately refusing to use it. As an indoor cat who was uncomfortable outside, this became a serious problem. We tried various solutions, various locations, different litters, all sorts of things. But she ultimately took to just using the entire house, and thus made herself unfit to be re-homed. We were moving to a new house and couldn’t afford to have her ruining carpets. Best Friends Animal Shelter in Kanab, Utah would have taken her… for $5,000. That was money we didn’t have; she ended her life at about 13, in the vet’s office, in my arms. I was devastated – she was my baby – but no other solutions were available.

After my second wife and I moved to Utah, we adopted Sensei in 2011.

Sensei (2)

He’s a beautiful Siamese-Maine Coon mix, and he remains the undisputed boss of our home today. And he sleeps in really odd positions.

About a year after we got him, we brought Tessa into the home, adopting her from some people close by who had several kittens they were trying to home. We thought Sensei would benefit from having a companion.

CatnipAddiction

Tessa was tiny when we got her; Sensei was mightily displeased, and took every opportunity to attack this bitty ball of fur… who was just feisty enough to stand up for herself. It didn’t take too long before we found them grooming one another.

IMAG1822-1

And ultimately they became good friends.

20120106 Sensei and Tessa

A few years later, the two were joined by Rufus, a little gray tiger-thing from a no-kill shelter in Rexburg, Idaho.

Rufus in the Cupboard

Rufus was a needy little thing, demanding lots and lots of attention, but a sweeter cat you’d never meet. He wanted to be around people, and he wanted the other two to like and accept him. But he was Omega Cat, and Sensei and Tessa just didn’t take to him.

Although sometimes he was “tolerated.”

20140716_130240

So when we moved to Maine in 2015, we found a family with three little girls who was willing to adopt him. Apparently he’s been placed with a different home since then, but as far as I know he’s still doing well.

Sensei and Tessa made the trek with us, and enjoyed a year in our apartment.

Charged

Here they are, fully-charged.

When we bought a home in the country with a cat door, we thought they would be in hog heaven… but one day shortly after moving in, Tessa just vanished. We “kitty kitty’d” all over the place, wondering if she had gotten stuck in some crevasse or outside in our barn somewhere.

Nothing.

We can only assume she made dinner for some local predator – a coyote, or an airborne raptor. She’s missed, but we gave her a good life.

So Sensei is still Master of the House, and we hope that he’ll be with us for a good long time yet.

So majestic.jpg

Ack! So majestic.

There is no solace for the loss of a cat but getting another cat. These little creatures worm their way into our homes and hearts and leave a big hole when they leave for one reason or another, but there are so many animals in shelters waiting for their forever homes and a shot at a good life that it makes no sense not to have one or two around. They have enriched my life beyond measure.

Stray Cat
Francis Witham

Oh, what unhappy twist of fate
Has brought you homeless to my gate?
The gate where once another stood
To beg for shelter, warmth and food.

For from that day I ceased to be
The master of my destiny.
While he, with purr and velvet paw
Became within my house the law.

He scratched the furniture and shed
And claimed the middle of my bed.
He ruled in arrogance and pride
And broke my heart the day he died.

So if you really think, oh Cat,
I’d willingly relive all that
Because you come forlorn and thin,
Well….don’t just stand there…

Come on in!

The Old Wolf has spoken.