Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

You just never know when you’re going to be entertained. Today it was at a downtown coffee and pastry shop, where I stopped for a late afternoon snack. I had just settled down with my Vente Cappuccino when three cops walked in for their mid-afternoon coffee break. They were still standing at the counter ordering when a woman burst into the shop, demanding that they come over to her store and arrest her boyfriend. Two of the cops stepped outside to discuss the situation with her, but not before I heard her exclaim, “He maliciously embarrassed me.” Imagine that. Malicious embarrassment. Maybe there’s a new criminal code I don’t know about.

Although I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, the ensuing pantomime through the shop’s front window was almost as entertaining. I watched for nearly 20 minutes as the woman got right up in the faces of the two cops, shaking her finger and berating them for their unwillingness to arrest her boyfriend. A homeless guy sitting at one of the outside tables watched open-mouthed, shaking his head and laughing as the situation unfolded. Read More

On occasion I have written about things that I consider indicative of the “Failing of America” – usually companies that have lost touch with their customers’ needs and desires or have forgotten what customer service is about. In these cases there is usually a lot of finger pointing going on – blaming someone/something else rather than taking responsibility for ones own actions.

So it was refreshing to receive an e-newsletter from USAirways today where they actually took responsibility for their own actions. After providing an overview of their current state of affairs (they are now out of bankruptcy and actually turned a profit this past year – setting aside $58.7 million for their employees to be distributed through profit sharing), they went on to discuss some of the lessons they learned throughout their restructuring and merger with America West Airlines. The following are DIRECT QUOTES from the newsletter:

USAirways

On the subject of the A320 (aircraft) First Class overhead bin space (or lack thereof) there was this:

“If you’ve flown in First Class on one of 20 reconfigured A320s then you know that we blew it on the overhead bins by putting everything but the kitchen sink up there (e.g. oxygen tanks, video players, survival gear) and took up space that belongs to you and your bags. We sincerely apologize and we’ve thrown that process into reverse and will be clearing the bins out ASAP. It was clearly our mistake and you can take it out on us, but please don’t take it out on the flight crew; they’re on your side on this one. They’ve let us know loud and clear where we can put our equipment.”

On the subject of their web site and online booking services there was this:

“During the last month we’ve been like exterminators, focusing on bugs and fixing several annoyances.

  • Some purchasers were receiving an error when they attempted to buy a ticket. The reservation was made but a step was missing that prevented the ticket from being issued. That was dumb.
  • We killed a bug that prevented users from requesting retroactive mileage credit for 2007.
  • Also gone is the frustrating bug that inadvertently logged users out without warning in the user profile/my account section. OK, that was dumb, too. “

And finally, on the subject of the merger of the two separate reservations systems used by USAirways and America West there was this:

“The day we’ve all been waiting for … is almost upon us. Having two Reservations systems (Sabre and SHARES) is the source of many of the frustrations that you may have encountered online, on the phone and at the airports. But the end is in sight and …(we) continue to work overtime to prepare for a cutover, now planned for March. Surely one streamlined reservations system will be a welcome accomplishment, and again we thank you for your unending patience as we’ve sometimes clunked our way through with two systems.”

I LOVE it! Totally refreshing! I would love to see more of this type of thing. Perhaps that is why I decided to book my round-the-world travel through US Airways.

A friend from my previous life in real estate, Bill Holt, sent me an email the other day that contained a series of old black & white photos. Apparently, these photos were discovered on the film from a Brownie camera found stored in an old footlocker belonging to a sailor who was serving on the USS Quapaw ATF-110 in 1941. When developed, the photos contained spectacular images of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th of that year.

Recently discovered B&W photos of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Recently discovered B&W photos of the attack on Pearl Harbor

These were definitely some spectacular photos, so I sent them off to my Dad, since he served in WWII. Dad was a belly gunner in a B-17-E Bomber during the war. For those of you who don’t know what a belly gunner was, after the B-17 was airborne, these airmen climbed down through a hatch that accessed a small plastic sphere in the rear of the plane. They curled up in an upside-down position while the sphere was hand-cranked down until it rested beneath the plane. Then the ball was rotated so that the belly gunner was sitting in an upright position, from where he could operate hand and foot pedals that turned the ball in a circle and fired machine guns at enemy fighters. Once rotated into this upright position, the belly gunner was totally cut off from the interior of the aircraft.

The belly guns and the machine guns in the main fuselage were the only weapons the bombers had because their payload was devoted to carrying the bombs. Up to the point where the bombers entered “the slot” (the target area), they had the protection of fighter aircraft that flew along with the formation. But once they hit “the slot” the fighters broke away and the bombers were on their own. At this point, the pilot Read More

I smile a lot these days. I wake up each morning with a smile on my face. I can’t wait to discover what the day has in store for me. As I go through the day I smile at everyone I meet and I find it’s infectious – even people who are seemingly having a bad day will smile and nod when I greet them with a big, sappy grin and say hello. I find I am surrounded by happy people and I thought I’d share with you some of the smiles I’ve captured as well as some of the things that made me smile in this series of photos of Sarasota.

Each Saturday morning I hike up to the downtown Farmer’s Market for my fresh organic fruit and veggies, olive oil, nuts, cheeses and fresh bread. I arrived this morning to find not only the Market, but also the entire length of Main Street blocked off for an Art Fair. Here are a few of the things that were making people smile:

Beignets, funnel cakes and French apple pie

Beignets, funnel cakes and French apple pie

Kettle Corn

Kettle Corn

Street Music in Sarasota, Florida

Street Music in Sarasota, Florida

These giant fiberglass critters had the most amazing effect on people. I stood for about 20 minutes and watched as people came around the corner and were confronted by these behemoths. Every single person got a big grin on their face the moment they saw them:

Giant fiberglass critters were good for a smile

Giant fiberglass critters were good for a smile

This guy got a big kick out of a giant frog

This guy got a big kick out of a giant frog

Last week on one of my walks I happened on a little park, tucked away in a corner of downtown. Bright blue benches, planters filled with blooming plants and more of Sarasota’s ubiquitous clown statues were backed by the most fanciful fountain I have ever seen:

Clowns gaze over the fanciful Pineapple Avenue fountain

Clowns gaze over the fanciful Pineapple Avenue fountain

Another clown statue, looking toward downtown Sarasota

Another clown statue, looking toward downtown Sarasota

The backdrop of the fountain

The backdrop of the fountain

A detail of one of the many enamel insets of the fountain

A detail of one of the many enamel insets of the fountain

These enamel inlays weren’t only on the fountain – they were all over the sidewalk as well! I really think they let children design this park – you can’t help but smile when you look at some of the sidewalk blurbs. I have no idea what they mean, I only know that they tickled me.

In the velvet black of night, Farthing slid to his beloved

In the velvet black of night, Farthing slid to his beloved

Guided by a single star, the elegant swimmer entered the Gulf

Guided by a single star, the elegant swimmer entered the Gulf

Though very wise, the Eldersnails were not known for their excess humor...What fun!

Though very wise, the Eldersnails were not known for their excess humor…What fun!

And one final photo – every Monday evening I go to the Historic Asolo Theater at the Ringling Museum of Art to see screenings of historic films. This theater was built in 1798 to honor the legendary Catherine Cornaro, who was the bride of James II, the King of Cyprus in the 15th century. It was a popular venue, hosting some of the greatest theatrical performers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, until it was dismantled by the Fascist regime in Italy in the 1930’s. A Venetian collector/dealer, Adolph Loewi, purchased the theater and stored it in his personal collection until, in 1952, the Ringling Museum purchased the theater, brought it to Sarasota, and restored it to its former glory. The theater is exquisite in its design and detail and you can’t help but be awed by it. While not “technically” making people smile, it does indeed inspire:

Historic Asolo Theater at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art

Historic Asolo Theater at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art

Hope you enjoyed the smile tour – and that it made you smile, too! Keep reading folks, because I’ve just finalized my round-the-world itinerary and am anxiously awaiting my visas from a few countries. I’ll be spilling the beans about my six month trip in the next couple of days, so be sure to tune in soon. I’m getting excited now!

The other day I received an e-newsletter from my loan officer down in Key West, Ruben Concepcion. One of the articles dealt with the IRS’s recent decision to stop collecting the Federal Excise Tax on long distance phone service. Taxpayers will be eligible to file for refunds of all excise tax paid on long distance service billed to them from February 28, 2003 through July 31, 2006. You can either collect all your old phone bills and add up the amount of tax you were actually charged, or take a standard $30 deduction, which is apparently what most people are doing.

But to borrow a well-turned phrase from Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. The tax was imposed in 1898 and originally targeted the affluent because phone service was a luxury back then. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for the Spanish-American War, which lasted six months. But after the war ended the tax continued and consumers have coughed up well over $300 billion to pay for a war that cost only a tiny fraction of that amount.

IRS

The only way to obtain your refund is with your tax return. Tax forms will include a line for requesting the overpayment amount, and the refund can be claimed on 2006 returns due in 2007. And although interest will be paid on the refund amount – don’t forget that we’re dealing with the IRS – the interest is taxable and will need to be reported on your 2007 income tax returns. Can you believe it? It takes them 109 years to get rid of a tax that was supposed to be “temporary” and now they’re going to charge us interest on our measly $30 refund. Amazing.

This past Saturday evening I attended my first opera – Madame Butterfly. My house-mate, Sascha, is a bass player in the opera so he was able to get me a $5 house ticket. It was definitely in the nosebleed section – the very last row in the upper balcony – but the acoustics were great and I had a bird’s eye view of the performance.

sarasota_opera_tosca

Madame Butterfly is the story of Pinkerton, a dashing officer in the United States Navy, and Cio Cio San (not a complete innocent – she has been a geisha, after all), a nonetheless fragile, unworldly girl in love with the handsome sailor. It is clear that Pinkerton, although infatuated with the fifteen year old Butterfly, is a philandering heel, who upon the occasion of his marriage toasts to the day he will celebrate a true wedding to an American woman. Pinkerton deserts Butterfly and she pines for three years, always believing he will return to her and to the son he has unknowingly fathered. He does return, with his new American wife, and when he learns about his son he declares that Butterfly must give him up for “the good of the child.”

The set was exquisite in its detail: trees laden with cherry blossoms overhanging a traditional Japanese house with its sliding paper panels, all perched atop a hill overlooking the distant azure harbor. Even more breathtaking were the Read More

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