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What I did on my summer vacation — part 2

August 10, 2022 | Family,Summer,Traveling

Dream vacation, nightmare travel planning

I went to the agent’s website and filled out her form, telling her what I wanted. I said I’d like to do the Starlight Coast train trip from Los Angeles to Seattle. I wanted to stay in Seattle for several days, and I also wanted to take a short trip to Canada. I said I needed a rental car because I have some health issues and can’t do a lot of walking. I said I’d like the best prices I can get but I was willing to spend more if it meant I didn’t have to be at the airport in the middle of the night. (📌Stick a pin in this.📌)

She replied right away, and we set up a time to talk on the phone. Within a week, she sent me the first of a few itineraries.

Let me interrupt this story by talking about 🚩red flags. I spent most of my life being oblivious to red flags until I search for them in the rear-view mirror. It’s taken lots of practice in the last few years to see them and recognize them for what they are. I mean, I saw that Perkins Restaurant-sized red flag Michelle was waving at me. But alas. Not all the flags are that big or that red. So, I’m still learning. And sometimes I still have to look back to see what happened and how many I missed.

🚩 In that first itinerary, she booked a rental car for only two days, saying, “I highly recommend you not have a car the whole time so I only included one for the days you will need to go to Canada.” In a later email she expressed how expensive it would be to have a car every day, plus I would have to pay for parking at the hotel. Mind you, I did not start out asking for the cheapest vacation ever. I made it clear that I needed a car. So, I explained further that having a car for the whole stay was important. I told her that unless everything actually passes by the hotel we’re staying in (they didn’t), I’d rather program my GPS than try to figure out whatever transportation options there are. I am horrible with directions and get lost every 15 minutes. I told her that when I visited Washington, D.C., several years ago, I got off the train at the wrong stop and ended up walking MILES to get to my hotel. I don’t have the stamina to walk like that anymore if I make a wrong turn and get lost.

We exchanged more emails, she sent me a couple of itineraries, and we kept ironing out the details until we had a final one. Once we had that, she had to start locking everything in. She said the cost of our train ticket almost doubled, did I still want to book it? I said yes, but here’s another thing that’s frustrating about the travel industry. Why does it have to feel like I’m trying to win at a casino where we all know the house always wins? Why are they allowed to change prices with the wind?

When it was all decided, I had to pay half then and would pay the rest a month before my trip. (📌) Part of all the forms I completed for her included my credit-card info, passport, and ID. She was working on lining up cars to pick us up at various places, and she would let me know when she had those. She started booking things with my card, and I got a fraud alert text message, but it wasn’t from my credit-card company. So, before I jumped on that, I asked for dollar amounts of things she’d charged already, so I knew it was a legit fraud alert. I said that it was weird that I didn’t know what bank my credit card was affiliated with — that’s why I thought I’d better double-check. She told me the dollar amounts, and they matched.

🚩🚩 And then she said, as if I were insulting her and stupid because I didn’t know how all this worked (mind you, I’m not the one who books travel stuff every day, so is it that unusual that I don’t understand every little detail?):

“It’s not MY bank. It is the bank of the rental car company. You’re welcome to call me if you have any questions. 

“In the state of FL, I am licensed as a travel agent and have been for more than decade. I follow the laws explicitly and the laws state that I am an intermediary between you and the travel providers. You’re not paying me. You are directly paying the suppliers and I am facilitating that payment. All of this information was in the reservation form that you signed.”

Whoa, Nellie. Well, that was uncalled for. I went back over my email to see if I had implied that she was doing anything wrong or illegal. I hadn’t. She misconstrued what I said and got all pissy about it. But I was this close to having everything scheduled for this vacation. So I ignored the red flag, I apologized to her, and I hoped maybe she was just having a bad day.

More later …

Posted by Becky @ 1:24 pm | Comments  

What I did on my summer vacation — part 1

August 9, 2022 | Bad service,Family,Summer,Traveling

Dream vacation, nightmare travel planning

Several years ago, I dreamed of a family vacation to California because I’d never been there before. Fast forward to a time when I don’t have to ask anyone else’s permission for anything, I started planning that vacation. I knew it would be in July. I’d worked with a national travel company (the one that shows up to jump your car) to plan getaways to Orlando with the kids, so that’s where I called on a Saturday in January. I spent an hour on the phone with someone named Brian. He said he’d get some information to me by Monday. Monday came and went. I know things have been chaotic in offices everywhere, so I tried to be patient. At the end of the week, I sent him an email, saying, “There’s no rush yet to get information, but I thought I’d check in with you since you said you’d have something for me Monday. Is everything OK?” I got back an automated reply:

I am currently out of the office 

Please Note: I have been out of the office for an extended period of time and am following up with member requests as quickly as possible.

Maybe everything was not OK. I checked in again about a week later. Got another automated message. A week after that, I got a real email from Brian:

I am back in the office FINALLY !!!     Trying to dig out on emails and Voicemails …..       Have you given up on me or are you still looking ?     Please let me know and I will get this to you !!!!

Please accept my apologies !!!!

I replied that, yes, I was still looking for help. I gave him travel dates again, and he said he would get to work on it. Almost two months later, I checked in and got the automated message again, this time with more red and all caps. The next day, I called the main number, hoping to speak with him or someone else. Michelle answered the phone.

First, I asked for Brian. He wasn’t in the office. I asked if she had access to his notes so I didn’t have to start all over again. She checked (or she said she checked) and said he had no notes in my file. What?!? How could that be? I had spent at least an hour on the phone with him in January. And now this? I started giving her details of the trip I wanted to take, and she said she would send me an itinerary. Then she said, “And going forward, what I am not gonna do is listen to you complain about anything.”

My head tipped like a dog’s would when trying to make sense of a new sound, and my brain said this to me, “Oh-huh-ho. Going forward, there will be no going forward with this shit.” Out loud, I said, “Thanks, bye.”

She sent her email, and I ignored it. I asked folks I know for travel-agent recommendations. I got three, and I chose the local one.

More later …

Posted by Becky @ 7:20 pm | Comments  

Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

April 15, 2022 | Uncategorized

For some reason, Brandi Carlile has flown under my radar for a good 15 years. Granted, her feet are rooted in country music, even though she’s not necessarily a “country” country artist. I have opinions about country music — and she articulates in her book some of the things I find problematic about it — but she has performed on awards shows (that I somehow missed) and in collaboration with musical artists I adore. I somehow missed all that until just recently.

I saw her perform a Joni Mitchell song for the Kennedy Center Honors, which aired in December. I have since learned that she performs Joni’s entire Blue album. Then I saw her New Year’s performance with Miley Cyrus. And I was stunned. Who is this? Has she been here this whole time? How did I not see her before? I decided not to be mad about it but to be happy that I had something good to discover in 2022. Listening to all her music was like having a wild bird land and settle in my hand for longer than I would have ever thought possible. And it felt like I held my breath the whole time.

Listening to her book was a special treat. At the end of every chapter she sang a song or two or more. Every musical artist’s memoir should be done like this. Give me a chapter on your life, then play me the songs you wrote about that chapter of your life. And joke about Elton John if you can. I bought the Kindle version of Broken Horses, hoping to find a photo of her Honky Cat getup. Sadly, it wasn’t there. But her book and her music … what lovely things to put out in the world. Experience them if you get a chance.

Posted by Becky @ 6:01 pm | Comments  

Winding down with 2021

December 31, 2021 | Chaos,Geraldine DeRuiter,Jennifer Hudson,Julie K. Brown,Lyz Lenz,New Year,Nikole Hanna-Jones,Pandemic,Pandemonium,Renee Watson,SNL,Stephanie Land,Twitter,Writing

Is this thing still on? I guess we’ll see.

My 2021:

Vaxxed, boosted, flu-shotted, masked.

Started catching up on medical stuff that had been postponed or canceled for far too long.

Started going back to the salon.

Continued grocery delivery.

Traveled for Thanksgiving (carefully & masked).

Thinking I should probably start canceling all my appointments again (if they’re not canceled for me).

Getting ready to hunker down again in 2022.

Sigh.

Betty White died on New Year’s Eve.

Dammit.

My reading has been waning, but I did consume some interesting media and art this year.

I listened to Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story by Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald reporter who doggedly investigated and covered Epstein and was there in New York when the jury found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of sex trafficking children.

I watched Maid on Netflix. Because of that, I had to listen to the book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, whose work I have read and recommend). Both intense and excellent.

I subscribed to the Lyz Lenz newsletter called Men Yell at Me. I’ve read her books, and I follow her on Twitter. She lives in Iowa. She is hilarious and serious as a heart attack.

This was the most amazing thing I read on Twitter this year: “Bros., Lecce: We Eat at the Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever” (https://everywhereist.com/2021/12/bros-restaurant-lecce-we-eat-at-the-worst-michelin-starred-restaurant-ever/) by Geraldine DeRuiter. Amazing in that it just kept getting worse and worse until you thought it couldn’t get any worse. And then it did. And watching what happened online after that was amazing, too.

Now I have to listen to her book, All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft. I guess it’s about time. I’ve been following her on Twitter for a while now.

I got the hard copy of Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson (illustrated by Nikkolas Smith), and I’ve started listening to The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

I don’t know if I’ll get to them, but here are some books I hope to listen to this year:

(I got Bell’s Palsy a day before my first child was born. It has never completely gone away. I tried not to let it bother me for the most part. But it really hurt when someone laughed and called me “Grace” when I struggled to eat a sandwich because my face is still partially numb. I still have the numb face. I no longer have that someone in my life.)

I watched Babette’s Feast again after editing a review of a play performance of it. Such a sweet story and worth a second viewing experience.

I watched Respect, a film starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin. She was superb.

I watched the Summer of Soul documentary. If you love music, you will love this.

I watched Field of Dreams again before watching Kevin Costner return to Iowa to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movie with a real-life major-league baseball game. Experiencing the movie again was less bittersweet than experiencing the anniversary commemoration.

I watched Get Back, the Beatles documentary series. I couldn’t watch it all at once. I was mostly relieved that it didn’t show anyone to be a complete jerk. The most amazing parts were watching a couple of their songs being born right before our very eyes.

Some of my favorite TV shows are Yellowjackets, Kenan, and We’re Here. I got hooked on TikTok and Dave Grohl. I didn’t even know about the Hanukkah Sessions until I saw him cover “Copacabana.” Then I discovered his Night One cover of “Stay.”

Even with all of that, though, my heart this year belongs to Ted Lasso and all the weird, wonderful characters in his world. It was an extra treat that he was host on SNL. I can’t wait for the next season.

All this beauty made 2021 suck less than it would have without it. I will say to 2022 in my best RuPaul voice, “Good luck and don’t fuck it up.”

Posted by Becky @ 5:06 pm | Comments  

Father’s Day without you

June 19, 2016 | Dad,Family,Father's Day

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You visited me in a dream last night. That hasn’t happened for a while. As usual, you didn’t talk to me. You were busy doing something for me, though. You were working on my taxes. You wore a checked short-sleeve shirt and dress pants. You also wore fuzzy slippers. “Where did he get THOSE?” I wondered. At some point, I realized this was a dream and I might not see you again for a while. I didn’t want to waste my chance, so I walked up to you and gave you a hug. You wrapped your arms around me and held me tight. Thank you for that. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

Posted by Becky @ 9:50 am | Comments  

Books: The Fiddler in the Subway

June 11, 2016 | Authors,Books,Gene Weingarten,Journalism,Writing

fiddlerinsubway

Title: The Fiddler in the Subway (Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 2010)
Author: Gene Weingarten is a nationally syndicated humor columnist and writer for The Washington Post. He is the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. With his son, Dan Weingarten, and cartoonist David Clark, he is the author of Barney & Clyde, a daily newspaper comic strip launched in June 2010. He lives in Washington, D.C.

What happens when you pick up the last book you will ever read? When the writing is so good that it will ruin everything else for you? Gene Weingarten’s writing did that for me. This book — The Fiddler in the Subway — is a collection of feature writing he has done at The Washington Post. Two of the pieces won Pulitzer Prizes.

Only three stories in — The Great Zucchini, The First Father and The Ghost of the Hardy Boys — and I thought, “If you want to write, read this book. If you want to teach others to write, use this book. When I write, I want to write like this.” It is beautiful, masterful stuff.

Reading further, I thought, “I can’t recommend this book. I just can’t. It will ruin every other writer for you until the end of time. I don’t know if I can read anything else after this book.”

Then I mustered my best Jimmy Dugan voice and yelled, “There’s no crying in journalism! Why is he making me cry?”

I read “Pardon My French” on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. It’s the one that made me laugh out loud. Then giggle at how delicious it was that he found just the right way to get the most honest responses from French folks. He calls it the Machine. I call it hilarious.

Every paragraph in “Fatal Distraction” is a punch to the gut. I almost couldn’t bear to read it. But I let Weingarten take me by the hand and gently lead me through the horrific experiences of the people in this piece.

Weingarten quotes Franz Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” This is the heart of everything he writes. This is what breathes life into every word.

Is this the last book I’ll ever read? Well, no. I could no more stop reading than I could stop breathing. I will, however, measure everything else I read against Weingarten’s writing.

——————————————–

Thanks to Jeff Sharlet, who suggests so much good writing. He led me to Weingarten. “Thanks” is not enough, but it will have to do.

 

Posted by Becky @ 10:33 am | Comments  

Poems & photos: LOVE IN THINE EYES

May 4, 2016 | Love,Photography,Poetry

loveinthineeyes

PHOTO: Old valentine © DMBR

—Victorian verse

Posted by Becky @ 8:42 am | Comments  

When purple became the color of mourning

May 1, 2016 | Music

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PHOTO: Mementos on the fence at Paisley Park © DMBR

I took my twins to the Twin Cities yesterday to celebrate turning 12. Since we were there, we drove by Paisley Park. We had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect what was there. Officials blocked off the turning lane. (I had to drive to the next stoplight and make a U-turn.) They posted “no parking” signs. Nearby businesses chained off their parking lots. But I still found a place to park. Hundreds of cars. Hundreds of people. Everyone in their own little world — alone or with their group — and yet together. Subdued. Quiet. Kind. Even in cars, letting someone in. Almost as if the whole thing were orchestrated. We walked along the entire length of the fence. As we made our way back to the entrance, we heard from a car making its way back out of the area the unmistakable tune and lyrics of “Little Red Corvette.” Perfect ending.

Posted by Becky @ 12:55 pm | 2 Comments  

Poems & photos: Good Fortune

April 22, 2016 | Photography,Poetry

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GOOD FORTUNE

Good fortune is a giddy maid,
Fickle and restless as a fawn;
She smooths your hair; and then the jade
Kisses you quickly, and is gone.
But Madam Sorrow scorns all this;
She shows no eagerness for flitting,
But with a long and fervent kiss
Sits by your bed — and brings her knitting.

Heinrich Heine

PHOTO: Flower, Cody, Wyoming © DMBR

Posted by Becky @ 5:03 pm | Comments  

Poems & photos: Friendship

April 21, 2016 | Florida,Friends,Photography,Poetry

© Rebecca Gjendem

FRIENDSHIP

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
Nor measure words — but pouring them
All right out — just as they are —
Chaff and grain together —
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them —
Keep what is worth keeping —
And with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

PHOTO: Azaleas, Tampa, Florida © DMBR

Posted by Becky @ 7:53 am | Comments  


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