Road rage; my old friend

There must be a special place in heaven for commuters.

Every morning – sometimes as early as 5:30 – numb, sleep-deprived working stiffs like me stagger out to our cars, cabs, buses, trains, or whatever else drags us to our places of work.

I spent a long time commuting with a co-worker.  Our drives could go for extensive stretches without a word.  Probably because I was half-asleep behind the wheel, or after enough time traveling together, we just ran out of stuff to talk about.

Like she had some sort of commuter turrets syndrome, she’d break the silence by randomly blurting out the deciphered code to a personalized license plate, or make a comment on a topic we stalled on a week ago, snapping me out of my driver coma.  It was good, because I’m pretty sure I was in a full trance most of the time behind the wheel.

There was also an entertainment factor in it for me, trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about – kind of like ‘Jeopardy’ but without that condescending Alex Trebek telling me that I’m wrong.

Regardless of our conversation, or lack thereof, it kept my mind off the stupid drivers around me.  I was so into my zen driving that I would even let in that jerk who just drove down the shoulder of the highway for the past 300 yards because his time was clearly more important than the rest of us.  Oohhhhmmmmm… be tranquil.

Now that I’m back in the workforce, I’m left to my own dark thoughts as I traverse vast expanses of gridlock every morning alone.

It’s surprising how quickly that little red devil, ‘Rage’, plops it’s smoldering butt into the passenger seat and convinces me that I’m the only one on the road who deserves a license.

“Come on! The left lane is for passing!” I’d mumble, hoping that it somehow telepathically reaches the inept driver ahead of me.

I get annoyed with all the typical stuff.  People not signalling, driving in the dark with their lights off, going too slow/fast based on what I believe is the exact right speed at that moment, cutting in – the usual driving sins.

Lately though, because of the distance I now have to travel, I’ve had a new little evil one join my invisible passengers.  He’s the gas station grump.

This nasty little dude is way less accepting and patient than normal old road rage.  He doesn’t even wait until a car is moving.

‘Gus’, as I’ve come to call him, appeared a couple of weeks ago while I was on my way home after a really long day.  The gas station was particularly busy, and with the lousy weather, most cars were in need of a top up of windshield washer fluid and maybe even a quick washing.

This made for a long wait for my turn at the pump.

You assume a level of etiquette with things like pumping gas.  For example, if a car is waiting to use the pump after you’re done, you need to expedite the refueling process as much as possible.  Don’t use those squeegees to wash the entire vehicle once you’re done filling up.  If the car is that dirty, go get in line at the car wash, for Pete’s sake!

When they invented ‘pay at the pump’, it was designed to speed up the refueling work so that drivers didn’t have to then leave their cars and wait in line inside the building to pay.  It was also designed to reduce gas and dash incidents.

I don’t know if it’s the demographics of this particular gas station neighbourhood, but it seems like every driver, instead of opting to the quick and efficient way to pay, fills up, then heads into the little building to chat with the attendant.

Gus doesn’t like this one bit!

The other night, the cars were 4 deep, waiting to be fed.  One gentleman filled his tank, then slowing started digging around the front seat of his car.  He emerged with what I assume was his wallet, then sauntered slowly towards the attendant kiosk. Picture light gray smoke coming out of my ears…

When he got inside, instead of promptly making is payment, he wandered around the little store.  He picked up some lottery tickets and a coffee, then to my amazement, grabbed the washroom key!  Gus was FUMING by this point.

Of course, while this was going on, all the other ‘old-school’ customers started to form a huge line to pay by cash, which meant that my wait was getting longer by the second.

And that’s what it comes down to now.  Seconds.  We used to talk about the ‘New York Minute’, which I’ve been told, is the time after the light turns green, before the car behind you honks his horn at you because you haven’t gone yet.

Now, it’s like milliseconds before we loose our cool.  We’ve become conditioned to instant response to things.  Computers that lag more than an brief moment are called ‘slow’.  Lunches are piping hot in a minute from the microwave.

Maybe that’s why we’ve become so impatient on the roads.  There’s some sort of inverse effect on us.  The quicker things get, the less patience we have.

People run red lights like it’s expected, especially when they’re making a left turn.  I guess they figure that they’ve been there long enough, so to heck with everyone else, they’re going!

I think I’m worried about Gus.  You expect to react to bad driving at times, especially when someone causes you to take drastic actions on the road to avoid an accident.  Maybe we all have a bit of that angry rage inside us from time to time, but this new passenger who shows up even when I’m not moving is a problem.

Maybe if I fill the passenger seat with real, live people who have a calming effect on me, there won’t be room for Gus or road rage any more.  At the very least, these nasty little guys might not be heard over the conversations about personalized license plates or half-finished discussions from a week ago.

Then, I might turn back into the ‘zen’ driver who is happy to let the other guy in ahead of me….as long as he’s using his signal indicator.


Oh Service, Where Art Thou?

Because I’ve been the ‘stay at home’ Dad lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the day to day shopping, and as a result, inspiration for my rants blogs have had a common theme.  Sorry about that.  This one had been rolling around in the ‘draft’ bucket for some time, since it keeps coming across as really preachy and not ‘light’, breaking my first rule of blogging.

Anyway, with all that rambling and apologizing, here goes…

We all have horror stories about lousy customer service.

I spent some time in the Customer Service world, initially in the hotel business, then in sales and working with retail stores.  I don’t know if this qualifies me as an expert; in fact, anyone who ever sat in a restaurant or bought something at a store is as much an expert on the topic.

You’d think that given the poor economy, businesses would make a special effort at trying to improve the customer experience.  You’d think.  The economic slow down has not only not improved customer service, but it’s also made the average shopper a lot less patient.

We, the almighty discretionary spenders, have short fuses, expect more for our dollars, and demand a better interaction with staff.  We’re not looking for perfection – even mediocre service is often considered acceptable, so it shouldn’t be that hard to please us.

So, why is it that  we’re regularly met with apathetic, un-knowledgeable, and downright stupid retail and service experiences?

I had an awful experience at a major retail store which is now closed, not surprisingly.

It was just before Christmas, and I was out shopping with my wife and 2 kids who were young, but school-aged.  While in the store, I saw some small gift items that I decided to purchase for my staff as Christmas gifts.  I’m such as swell guy!

this particular store was in a mall, but was one of those large anchor stores that had multiple floors – quite large.

I needed a number of these gifts – too many to carry, so along with the stuff we were already buying and towing two kids behind, I needed to get a shopping cart or basket of some kind.  I headed over to one of the entrances where they corralled the carts.  Keep in mind that this was a fully enclosed store, and shopping carts would not fit through the exit barricades.

When I got to the shopping cart area, I found that they required money to ‘unlock’ them. 

The idea behind forcing customers to ‘rent’ shopping carts so we can buy things in a store, just so they can ensure the carts are put back is a whole other blog, and one of the stupidest things ever invented.  The really ridiculous thing about this was that the carts in this particular store couldn’t physically be taken out in the first place, so why would they need a quarter for me to get one?

I reached into my pocket and found out that I only had 3 dimes.  My wife didn’t have any change either.  In fact, we had no other cash with us at all, planning to use debit cards for our purchases.

Now I had to stand in line at the only cashier aisle that was open – there were 4 aisles, but only one cashier on duty, another issue with lousy service.  By this time my patience was wearing thin, my wife had this look like ‘please don’t make a scene’, and the kids were starting to get fidgety.  Fidgety kids are bad!

Finally, I got to the cashier, and told her that I needed to exchange 3 dimes for a quarter (and an nickel) for the shopping carts that shouldn’t require any money in the first place.

Oh, our carts require a Looney“.

For those of you not from Canada, a Looney is our $1 coin, which replaced the $1 bill a while ago.  It’s called the ‘Looney’ because it has the image of a Loon on it.

Exasperated, I gave her a look like I was about to go postal.  The elderly couple who had just made their purchase and were picking up their parcels offered me a Looney.

No, thank you“, I politely said.  “I want the store to get me a shopping cart, so I can buy things from them“, loudly enough for everyone within a 100 yard radius to hear.

The young lady at the cash register was starting to look nervous.

I turned my attention back to her. I don’t have a dollar.  I want you to give me a shopping cart so I can put things in it.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

I did feel for her – it wasn’t her fault, and I was trying hard not to blame her.

Customer Service can unlock them for you, if you like.  Okay, then.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Good.  Get Customer Service to unlock one for me, then.

You’ll have to go and ask them to do it for you“.

I have to go ask them?”  I was furious by this point.  Normal people would have just walked out of the store, but  as you probably know by now, I’m not normal.  I had an axe to grind.Where is Customer Service, then?

The Customer Service desk is up on the second floor, at the far end of the store“.

Insert an appropriate expletive here.

Let me summarize;  I went to the store to buy things.  I needed a cart, but the store had them locked up, and were charging money for me to ‘borrow’ one – one that could not possibly leave the store anyway.  Then, after having to stand in line to get change, finding out that I was lacking the cash on hand, I was then forced to leave everything, go up the escalator to the complete opposite side of the store just to ask for a cart.

What would you do?

There’s an old marketing rule that explains the economics of customers;  It costs 7 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep the customers you already have.  That means that losing a customer costs you big time.  Keeping a customer is dirt cheap.

Here’s some free advice for business owners and managers that will easily and inexpensively help you keep your customers, and grow your business – take it or leave it.  I’m sure you all have many more ideas:

  • Train your staff.  We shouldn’t have to track down a store employee to ask a question, only to find out that they don’t work in that department, don’t have a key for that locked up display case, or don’t know enough about the products they sell.  I had a business owner once tell me that they didn’t spend time training their staff because the turn-over rate was too high.  So, in essence, he was saying he didn’t train his staff because they might leave.  What if he never trained them but they stayed?
  • Empower your staff.  Make each employee the manager of the moment.  Give them the power to make things right with the customer if there’s a complaint.  Don’t make us wait for the manager all the time.
  • Hire the attitude, train the skill. Almost everyone can learn how to run a cash register.  That’s a trainable skill.  What you can’t train is the attitude of the employee.  Find people who want to work with people, who have an upbeat attitude and have a passion for their work.  You can train everything else they need for the job.
  • Make it easy to shop.  Hand out baskets or carts when customers arrive.  Why do you think Walmart is so successful?  They hand you a shopping cart as soon as you walk through the doors.  Make your staff park away from the store front – give the premium spots to the customers.
  • Improve your image.  Keep aisles open and uncluttered, replace burned out bulbs, keep the business clean.  By the way – vacuuming at the end of the day, while customers are still shopping is just rude.  Stop it! Enforce appropriate, consistent attire for your staff, and for Pete’s sake, don’t let them stand outside the front doors on their smoke break!
  • Stock and Price your products.  Few things are more frustrating than finding an item, but having no idea how much it costs, or not finding an advertized item at all.  A major US grocer did a study on abandoned shopping carts – carts that had items in them but the shopper left the store.  They looked at where the carts were abandoned in the store. There were 2 main reasons people walked out;  1- the item they were looking for was out of stock, and 2 – the items were not priced.
  • Be a gracious host. Think of every shopper as a guest in your own home.  Say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’.  Offer a welcoming environment.  In restaurants, offer water or coffee, give them the menus and ask if they would like anything to start while they’re deciding.  When they’re finished, thank them for their business.
  • Hurry up!  Don’t ever make people wait to give you money.  Speed up the cash lines, or get back to the table in a restaurant to pick up the check payment – once people have made their purchase decision, or have eaten their meals, they want to leave.  Don’t make them wait.
  • Follow up.  If you sell big ticket items like furniture or appliances, send a thank you note to your customer. They sell thank you cards in bulk at the dollar store.  We purchased custom made furniture for our house that cost thousands of dollars – no follow up, no thank you note, no anything.  At the same time, we bought an inexpensive coffee table from another place and got a nice letter in the mail thanking us, and a discount coupon for our next visit.

I think you’d agree that these are simple enough to do.

Now that I’ve had my little rant about service personnel (mostly management), I have to point out how poorly we, the customers, treat the front-line workers.  We too often treat these hard working people as ‘non-humans’ with angry rants, rude conduct, and complete disrespect.

At what point did it become okay to treat other human beings like pieces of garbage?

I was waiting in a service center, where they rented vehicles.  A man and his wife came in from the pouring rain, to be greeted by a nice, young, very pregnant woman behind the counter.  Turns out, the man booked a rental, but at the wrong location, and had to now drive about 20 miles to the other location.  It was completely his fault, but he was so angry, that he threatened to kill the lady behind the counter if he drove all that way and his rental wasn’t available. She handled the situation like a pro, though.

Anyone who calls themselves a good person, then treats a service worker like a piece of trash is a hypocrite, and needs to have their moral compass realigned.  I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who would like to do the realigning.

How about we all treat each other a little better.  Your waiter, server, customer service rep, cashier, or whatever, has their own share of junk going on in their lives.  Let’s give them a break if they forget to bring the glass of water you ordered, for Pete’s sake – it’s not the apocalypse.

For the service staff, and in particular, the service management, think from the perspective of the customer more often.  Make notes of what bugs you when you are being served less than professionally, then adopt the fix in your own work environment.  Conduct business with the focus on the 98% of the great customers, and not on the 2% that will rip you off.

Maybe then we’d all relax and enjoy work and play a bit more. We could all use a huge dose of that, right?

Sorry about the rant – sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

Oh, by the way, I did end up buying the Christmas items, but I wrote a very direct note to the executive of the company.  I never did hear back from them, though.

Loco for local

One of the things I love about summer, aside from the obvious stuff like not being cold all the time, are the little roadside stands that sell fresh fruit and vegetables. The veggies all probably come from the same farms as they do for the big grocery stores, but we feel better about the road-side stands for some reason.

There’s something about stopping on the way home and picking up some fresh corn or tomatoes on the side of the road, trading actual dollars for goods that connects you with the local growers that’s different than getting the same produce from the grocery store.

There’s something even better than fresh produce at a road-side stand.  Going into a local business and having the owner know you.  Nothing says ‘Ego Stroking’ like the store owner remembering you from your last visit. 

“Hey, how did that spindle rotor work out for you?  Did you remember to torque it counter-clockwise?”

“Yeah.  It worked perfectly.  Thanks for the help.”

Wow!  He remembered me!  Now I’m hooked.

There’s a little Chinese food place near our home that has changed hands more than a rental car, but the current owners are awesome.  I’ve only bought food there about a half-dozen times in the past year – clearly not enough to even keep the lights on, but for some reason the owner knows me by name – it’s like she’s some sort of Chinese Food Savant.  Eerie sure, but very cool.

Picking up steaks at the local butcher is a total rush for me.  The power of deciding exactly which cut of meat will land on my grill and then be served to my family and friends is a total trip.  You can’t deny that choosing each cut of meat after a consultation with your butcher on what would be best for the event is much more fun than standing over one of those chest fridges at the grocery store, battling with shopping carts over a pre-determined packaged hunk of meat.

We’ve been doing some cosmetic updating in our house, and I’ve found myself picking up small items at a local hardware store instead of my usual 15 minute drive to the big box stores that have everything under the sun for any project.

It’s one of those stores that you might see in a small town, where they carry a little bit of everything – barbeque parts, household cleaners, paint, plumbing supplies, building materials, even a gift section.  I don’t know how they pack all that stuff into such a small space – you could wander the tiny store for hours, finding new items around every corner.

Today, I was in again, getting some light switch covers and I got into a conversation with the owner, who was thanking every single customer for shopping there.

“We’ve been here since 1979”, he would proudly say. “Thank you for supporting your local hardware store business”.

He only recently bought it, but he was banking on the history of the store to strike a chord with his customers. With 18 hour work days, his young children help out at the store, manning the cash register, or helping lost customers.  He’s taken only one day off work since opening last fall.  Who has that kind of work ethic?

There is a large chain hardware store coming to the neighbourhood in the next few months, literally a stone’s throw from his little business.

I’ve always been a total sucker for the underdog, and I wish this David well as he battles Goliath.

I know we sometimes complain about high prices in these convenient stores (or convenience stores), but that’s the point isn’t it?  It’s convenient, so you pay a little more.  There’s no way these ‘little guys’ can match what those big box stores sell items for, given their limited buying power and size.  The difference is, it’s helping out your neighbour and maybe giving a job to a young person just starting out.

Something else that deserves a bit of our attention are kids who are looking for simple work – lemonade stands (yes, they do still exist), cutting grass, or shoveling the driveway.

Most of the winter I’m praying for some kid to come and shovel my driveway for me!  For 20 bucks, I can stay toasty warm, save my back and legs and help a kid get healthy, and dream of one day being the next big business entrepreneur.

That’s what I call a ‘win/win’.

I’ve got nothing against large chain stores.  In fact, most of my dollars still end up there, and I won’t be cutting up my store credit cards any time soon.  They do an excellent job of offering competitive pricing, bright clean aisles, and tons of selection, but if all I need is a box of screws or a pound of hamburger, I’m going to try the local independent business first.

So, here’s a challenge to all of us.  The next time you need a bottle of ketchup for the hot dogs, or a paint brush for your home project, or have some industrious neighbour kid knocking on your door offering to clear your sidewalk, consider how in small ways, keeping things local might just be the best thing you can do.

Vigilante Justice and the rise of ‘Pumpkin Cop’

‘Freeze!  Drop those gourds!’

Let me state, for the record, that I am a supporter of our law-enforcement services, and am generally considered a lawful citizen, especially after watching a few episodes of ‘OZ’ (the prison show, not the one about the Tin Man and Dorothy).  Pretty sure I’d end as someones better half on day one if I ever got sent to the big house.

There has been a surge of news reports about vigilante attacks on alleged wrong-does.  Stories like the now infamous Zimmerman trial come to mind.  This blog is not about the Zimmerman trial, so don’t get all excited, although I don’t advocate carrying around a weapon in the event something might happen – I think that’s just looking for trouble, and it’s totally illegal in Canada..

Close to home, there was a story of a local dentist who had her I-phone stolen out of her car.  She was able to track the thieves through a handy Apple GPS system, but the police could not or would not engage in apprehending the aforementioned bad guys.

She ended up finding, confronting, and ultimately regaining her property.  I say, ‘Good for her!’.  She was lambasted on a call-in show a few days later about her ‘stupid’ actions.

I knew a very kind and timid lady who worked in a gift store not too far from where I live.  I’ll call her Doris.  Doris was one of those quiet-spoken people – the kind who would scoop up a spider in a paper and guide it out the door rather than squish it.

One day, a man came into Doris’ store – she was the manager, not the owner. He pulled out a knife, demanding money.  Doris, in a fit of rage, started screaming at the would-be thief and chased him out of the store.  Later, she admitted to me, she didn’t know why she did that. It was a foolish and dangerous thing to do, but something just ‘snapped’ in her about how this stranger would try to take what was not his.

In both of these instances, the comments were similar.  It wasn’t the money, or the value of the item, it was the fact that someone was taking what was not theirs.  It was about invading a moral code that most of us live by, and it was enough to make both of these ladies risk their own safety to protect the sanctity of what was right.

I admit, these are not major crime events, but the base instinct is probably the same, regardless of the severity of the indiscretion.

A neighbour of mine, after finding out that his son’s skateboard was stolen from his garage and was in the hands of a kid who lived around the corner, stormed over to demand that the kid come out and return what was not his.  Of course, no one came to the door.  This guy was so stubborn and angry, (did I mention that he was Scottish?) that he went home, and literally looked through the entire phone book to find the address of the kid.

side note:  this was before the fancy ‘interweb’ and reverse address look-ups. 

He eventually found the phone number, called the kid and told him that if the skateboard wasn’t back in the garage in 30 minutes, he’d ‘take care of the #@*% thief himself’.  No police – just him.

The skateboard was back right on cue.  Clearly, he scared the you-know-what out of the kid.  I bet he went straight after that, too!

Around the same time, we had a number of vandalism issues – mostly stupid stuff that kids would do – spray paint on the cars, or damage to fences and trees.  There are few things worse than bored kids on a hot summer night.

That fall, we had set up a nice front step Halloween display.  Modest, but tasteful.  Okay, it was way over the top.  Bails of hay, decorations looming in the darkness, back-lit styro-foam tombstones on the lawn.  You get the picture.

Anyway, one evening as we were heading to bed, all of us in our pajamas, and the kids tucked into their beds, my wife went to shut off the front porch light, and noticed a couple of kids, standing in our driveway.  I ran to the door to find that a couple of our pumpkins were missing, and a group of kids were running like hell away from the house.  Something snapped in me.

Like some crazed lunatic, I took off after them, in my pajamas.  I don’t even think I was wearing shoes.  The kids scattered into two smaller groups, trying to lose me.

I saw the larger group, still holding a 30 lb pumpkin, heading down the street, while the smaller group dashed into a forested area.  I went after the stupider group, still lugging around the pumpkin.  There were 4 of them. 

Eventually, they tossed the evidence, which smashed on the sidewalk, but I kept going.

The kids rounded a corner, thinking they’d be safe.  They weren’t.  Not even thinking of what I’d do with them when I caught them, kind of like a dog chasing a car, I kept running.  The other kids came around and I was now finding myself standing on a street corner at night, wearing my pajamas, no shoes, and surrounded by a group of teens.

The one thing that saved me was that they were on the defensive and were afraid of what I might do to them – I mean, a guy would have to be totally nuts to chase them that long in his pajamas, right?

When they finally gave up, one of the kids, clearly terrified, yelled;

‘Man, it’s only a pumpkin!’

I said; ‘No, it’s not just a pumpkin.  Its vandalism, and its stepping on my property to do damage.’

I continued, between heavy breaths, ‘Our neighbourhood has been constantly attacked by you little punks, and we’ve had it!’.  No more calling the cops.  We’re gonna chase you right to your front doors and confront you in front of your parents, or deal with you where we catch you.’

Now, I knew full well that I wasn’t going to harm any of them, and there really wasn’t a lot I could do, so I gave them a warning.  ‘You tell your friends that if we ever see them around our street again, up to no good, we’re gonna take care of them so they never forget it’.

These ultimatums are great, because you don’t have to do anything more than scare the bejeezers out of the little runts.  They don’t know that you really can’t do much other than confront them, so it generally works.

When I got back home, my wife wasn’t too happy about me going after a group of teenagers in my pajamas late at night,  and when some of my friends found out about what happened, I earned the nickname ‘Pumpkin Cop’.

I guess I deserved it, but I gotta tell you – we never had another problem after that.

Officially, I’m sure that most police services would tell you not to engage any criminal in this way, but off the record, I’ll bet they’re happy we do.  They don’t have the manpower to show up for every little thing that happens, and I’m sure they’re annoyed by that.  Dealing with kids during the impressionable times of their growth in a scared-straight kind of way might just steer them in a better direction.

The Pumpkin Cop is not unlike Batman.  Trying to keep our streets safe from the ne’er do wells of society.  Now I need a costume and a signal of some sort…any ideas?

I (heart) NY – part 1 of my summer vacation blog

We just returned from a short trip to New York City, and we’re on our way up to cottage country for a few days, so this will be a ‘mini-blog’ about our driving trip to Manhattan.

What an awesome part of the country!  Driving from the Eastern Toronto area around Lake Ontario, crossing the border at the 1,000 Islands area of New York State, all the way down to Manhattan was a long, but scenic trip.Scenic Drive

The area south of Syracuse, in through the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey is a stunning drive.  Have your camera out (and have someone other than the driver taking the pictures).

With the help of a great navigation system in the car, we made it to Mid-town Manhattan without any scary detours – traffic in New Jersey, and getting into the Lincoln Tunnel was jammed, but otherwise the drive was smooth.

Manhattan is an amazing assault on the senses – all of them!  Brilliant colors, huge buildings, noisy streets, crowded sidewalks, pungent smells (especially in the late afternoon when the garbage bags hit the sidewalks…yikes!).

We signed up for a bus-tour of the city, which I highly recommend for first-time visitors, since there’s way too much to see on any short visit.  Our guide, ‘Dominic’, was a larger than life New Yorker, with the thick New York accent, sarcastic sense of humor, and great love of his home.Dominic in action

Unashamed, a touch crude, and willing to share the real history of the growth and changes of Manhattan, Dominic was the best of 3 guides we had during the tours.

We didn’t have enough time to do more than scratch the surface of this incredible place, so we’ll have to come back again with better walking shoes and more time.

Here are some observations that I gathered during this short trip:

  • New Yorkers are WAY more friendly and helpful than they want you to believe
  • The most important part of the car in New York is the horn (followed by the brakes)
  • After walking around Manhattan, I know where they got the inspiration for the video game ‘Frogger’
  • If you want to see the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and goes right past it
  • You could spend a week in Times Square and not see everything
  • The free enterprise system is flourishing in the U.S.  We saw ‘business owners’ who had no more than a 2′ space between buildings to set up their stores, selling belts, sunglasses, and cell phone accessories – everyone has something to sell
  • Businesses don’t fail here; they ‘fall on hard times’
  • If you’re on a bus tour in the summer – bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water, although there are always vendors selling cold bottled water at most stops – they’ll even pass it up to you on poles from the street!
  • Get some cupcakes from ‘Crumbs’ just off 8th Ave (around 40th).  Yum!

Suggestions for my American Friends (with all due respect):

  • What’s with the water pressure in Manhattan?  Spend a few bucks on water pumps –  the water towers aren’t working
  • There’s gotta be a better way to deal with the garbage – especially during the hottest days of summer – WHEW!!
  • Drivers on the I – 81 need to learn how to use cruise control

Go to New York if you get the chance – I promise you’ll want to go back again!

That’s it for this part of my summer vacation – next stop is my brother’s cottage up in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario…talk about a change in scenery!

Obsessing over my OCD

Here’s a quick test:  Can you tell why the person who lined up the M & M’s in the above picture does not have OCD?  Answer is at the bottom of this blog.

I think I’m pretty normal.  Now, don’t roll your eyes – I bet you think you’re normal too.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’m a bit off-center with some rituals and habits.  Of course, keeping things in order brings, well, order to what would otherwise be chaos.

So, why is it considered a ‘disorder’ if someone tries to keep things in order?  To me, that’s backwards.  The experts say it becomes a disorder when something becomes obsessive, unhealthy, or consumes an unreasonable amount of time or effort.  Come on people!  How can we keep order without diligence? Sounds like a conspiracy by the anarchists.

I started to notice a while ago, that I like some things kept, sorted, organized, or conducted in a specific way.  If not, I rationalized, some unknown chaos would ensue.  I like paperwork piled neatly with no stray corners. and in line or perpendicular to the desk. I think that’s called ‘right-angling’ or something…and the boards on my back deck aren’t completely perpendicular to the house.  I try not to look at it.  Other than that, any type of obsession I may have is just practical.

Case in point:  The dishwasher.

Lets get this argument out of the way right off the bat.  Tines DOWN!  It’s the only way that makes sense.  If the tines are up, you have to grab the eating part of the fork with your dirty fingers to unload the dishwasher, thus making the whole washing part irrelevant.  I don’t want to hear about the utensils getting a better cleaning if the tines are up – if your dishwasher can’t clean them the other way around, get rid of it.  Besides, if the tines are up, no matter how clean your dishwasher gets them, they are dirty the second you touch them.

We have a new dishwasher, and the utensil tray forces you to ‘hang’ the cutlery with the tines up…stupid, stupid, stupid!  If you come to our house to eat, you should probably bring your own utensils.

Its also very important to ensure efficiency with your loads by putting dishes, glasses, and whatever else in the dishwasher correctly.  There is an order to things, people!  I’ve been known to sneak into the kitchen after everyone has left and reorganize the entire thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love it when the kids actually put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  I just wish they could do it right.  I’ll open it up to see mayhem – various sizes and shapes just lumped together with no thought about efficiency or logic.   Filling the glass rack from the front?  Come on!  How are you supposed to fill the dishwasher if you put all your dirty glasses at the front of the rack? Start at the back and move forward…basic in and out principles.  I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way, right?

See?  No OCD here – just ensuring the proper order of things.

Okay,  grocery shopping.  My wife and I get the groceries together.  If I go alone, I make the mistake of getting what’s on the list, then leaving.  Apparently I’m doing it wrong, so we go together – I push the cart, load the belt, and pay.  My wife is in charge of filling the cart, and bagging the groceries.  Here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Unless you’re at Costco, the shopping carts aren’t all that big, so it’s critically important to load them properly.  The carts where we shop have a main basket level and a smaller upper basket level to them.  We start with vegetables and fruit – simple enough.  It all goes in the upper basket where the grapes won’t get squished.  Then we move on to bread – same deal.  Top rack.

As long as we move through the store in a logical order, and I place things where they belong, such as putting all the frozen food together (so they have a better chance of staying frozen longer), dairy together, and dry goods in their own sections, I’m good.  If, however, I’m asked to walk back to another aisle and pick up something we forgot (that wasn’t on the list to begin with), I come back to chaos!  It’s like the dishwasher.  OMG!  There’s frozen dinners mixed in with the dairy products!  And who put the dog treats in the top rack with the fruit and bread?  Now I’m breaking out in a cold sweat!

And what about those people who don’t pull over when they stop to read the label on a box of cookies?  What is wrong with them?  Move your cart fully to the right side!  On an angle?  Are you nuts?  The entire flow of the store is off balance now.  I only hope they didn’t park near me! Then, when they finally notice that they’ve blocked an entire aisle, they move the cart and offer a weak ‘sorry’.  And what do I do?  Like the stupid, polite Canadian that I am, I say ‘no problem’.  No problem?  The veins in my head are about to explode……gotta breathe.

I dare you to tell me this doesn’t make you even a little crazy!

You might think this is all a little OCD, but you’d be wrong.  Its all about order.  The aisles need to allow for fluid movement.  I deliberately put items in the cart a specific way for a specific reason – the loading of the belt at the cash register.  Again, start with dry goods – they go on first, so that they get packed first in the bags – makes sense, right?  Heavy cans at the bottom, lighter, perishable stuff at the top.  The last things that are loaded are the breakables (or squishables) – bread, eggs, and potato chips.  Somehow, though, despite my ritualistic effort, I’ll sometimes find an item that my lovely wife slipped in that I hadn’t noticed, like a large can of tomatoes that she grabbed on the way to the cashier.  Major stresser!  Now what? The dry goods are all loaded! Where the heck is the can of tomatoes supposed to go?  With the bread?  It’ll be a slaughter!  The bread doesn’t stand a chance with the canned tomatoes.  Crazy?  I think not.

Here’s an acid test to prove that I don’t have OCD, so before you send me replies with recommendations to 1-800-GET-SHRUNK, hear me out.

My garage – total disaster!  I have half-finished projects, tools laying around, broken household items not fixed, and dirt on the floor.  That makes me normal, right?  Especially if you knew how mad my father would be if he saw it.  Now that was an OCD tool guy if I ever saw one.  His tools were hung individually on pegboard hooks.  Each spot was outlined with the tool that belonged there, then the tool was colour-coded  with spray paint so that the tools in the garage didn’t co-mingle with the tools from the workshop, or the cottage, or his car (yes, he kept tools in the car, too).

Clearly, this obsession missed a generation.

Not convinced? Okay, how about my sock drawer?  Again – nothing in order.  Mismatched socks, missing socks, socks with holes in them that I should have thrown out, even things that don’t belong there – suspenders!  Who wears suspenders any more?  Larry King totally rocked them, but that’s about it.  They should go, but nope.  Still there.  Shoe laces!  What the heck are shoe laces doing in my sock drawer?   And I have no intention on tidying it up.  Obviously, no OCD here, so no need to worry.

Now, if I could only get my neighbour to straighten his fence boards, everything would be just right.   Maybe I’ll wander over one night…

ANSWERThe person who lined up the M & M’s does NOT have OCD, because although they are organized by color, the letters on the candy are not consistently straight on each one.  In the picture, they are randomly set.  Some sideways, some upside down.  Did you get it without peeking?  Maybe we need to chat…

O Canada!

This Monday, July 1st, Canada will turn 146.  This blog is a list of all things Canada for all those who are Canadian and still suffer from an identity crisis, or those who are not Canadian, and want to know what Canadians are really like.

I’m dedicating this blog to our Canadian family living in the Seattle area, and doing a great job of integrating into their new surroundings. I’m sure the locals don’t suspect a thing!

This is being Canadian…

  • We do say ‘eh‘ a lot, but we think it’s more polite than ‘what?’, or ‘huh?
  • We don’t often say ‘No Doubt About It‘ (sounds like ‘nuh doot aboot it’ – it helps with the pronunciation if you purse your lips while saying it)
  • Almost none of us have even seen a real igloo let alone lived in one
  • We get really excited if ANY Canadian city, object, map, name, person, idea, sport, or anything else Canadian gets mentioned on a U.S. television show
  • No one has a pet polar bear – they eat people
  • Beavers and Canada Geese are annoying…really!
  • Maple syrup is not on every kitchen table
  • Celine Dion and Justin Bieber are our gift to the world…. please don’t return them
  • Plaid jackets and fur hats are not part of our wardrobe…at least not in the cities
  • Most of us don’t speak French…in fact most French Canadians don’t really speak French – they speak ‘Frenglish’
  • Poutine is not our national dish, but it should be
  • We spell neighbour and honour and colour with a ‘u’.  I don’t know why, and Microsoft Word hates it
  • We really don’t like it when we’re told our currency looks like Monopoly money
  • We’ll almost never pick a fight, but we’ll almost never back down from one either
  • Even though we have oceans on 3 of our 4 sides, the West Edmonton Mall has more submarines than our navy – don’t tell Russia
  • Canadians like their beer
  • Overall, we are very polite.  We even apologize when someone else bumps into us
  • We invented basketball and hockey, but our official national sport is lacrosse….I don’t know why
  • We eat chocolate bars and drink pop, not candy bars and soda
  • We don’t know ‘Dave’ from Vancouver
  • Most of us don’t understand what people from Newfoundland are saying, either
  • Universal health care is great, and it doesn’t make us communists
  • We interchange the Metric and Imperial systems because we’re still trying to figure out what the heck a deciliter is
  • William Shatner (Canadian) keeps getting cooler
  • We know that you’re not from here because you pronounce ‘Toronto‘ the way it’s spelt
  • There are only 8 people for every square mile of land (or 3.4 per square kilometer), but most of us are crammed into a tiny area around Lake Ontario
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are almost never mounted
  • Tim Horton’s coffee is an obsession.  Get over it
  • We pronounce it ‘zed’ not ‘zee’

That’s being Canadian, from ‘eh’ to ‘zed’.  I hope you found this blog educational and insightful. I also apologize for anything in the aforementioned blog that may be found offensive or otherwise in poor taste and I in no way mean to slander either Ms. Dion or Mr. Bieber…or French Canadians….or beavers.  The comment on the geese stands.

Happy Birthday, Hoser! (we don’t really say that either…)

P.S. – my band ‘Barefoot’ will be playing a street party this Canada Day in Oshawa, and accepting food donations for a local food bank. It will be a free event.  If you’re in the area and want to drop by, let me know and I’ll give you the details.