Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Friendly Skies?

Here I go again, complaining about airline travel. But I'm not writing about my most recent experience because it was so horrible and unlike what happens to most people when they fly. I'm writing it because it seems to be more and more typical. These days, airline travel is like when you start to eat a terrible meal at someone's house when you're there for the first time. It's hard to believe, but it just keeps getting worse and worse.

Recently, I was going from Los Angeles to Minneapolis with a stop in Denver. Soon after I got to the gate in L.A., I learned that my flight had been cancelled. A fairly impolite agent sent me to what might justifiably be called, "the ninth circle of hell" -- customer service. Eventually, someone helped me and changed my flight. Unfortunately, that flight was soon cancelled, too.

This time, I called the airline from my cell phone and the person I spoke to changed my flights. I asked him if I needed a paper ticket. He said that I didn't, because now I had "an e-ticket." Since my bag hadn't left L.A. yet, he suggested that I go back out through security and down to the baggage desk to let them know about the flight change so my luggage would be on the flight with me. I did so, and the baggage people made the change.

Next I went to security, where they stopped me because I didn't have a paper ticket. So I raced to another line where I got a paper ticket, went through security once again (where they confiscated the overpriced bottle of water I had purchased earlier when I had been on "the other side"), and went to my new gate.

Finally, I got on the plane, breathed a sigh of relief, and put on my seatbelt. A few minutes later, a passenger ran off the plane. A flight attendant went after him, then came back to explain that he had accidentally gotten onto the wrong plane. Gotten onto the wrong plane? How? I couldn't bring my water through security but this guy was able to get on the wrong plane?

A week later I was back at the Minneapolis airport, heading for home. I quickly learned that my flight from Minneapolis to Denver was cancelled. The gate agent was too tired and too rude to help me. I certainly didn't want to go to that place whose name still makes me shudder – "customer service."

Desperate, I dragged myself to the "Red Carpet Club," took out a credit card, and asked, "How much does it cost to join? I know if I join, you'll help me." The person at the counter completely threw me off base -- she was helpful and nice.

Her name was Carol Babel, and I hope mentioning that will get her a commendation rather than a condemnation. She took one look at the bedraggled passenger in front of her and said, "You don't have to join for me to give you a little help." She quickly changed my flights. I thanked her profusely and went to my gate.

After waiting there for about twenty minutes, I heard someone call my name. It was Carol. She had a boarding pass in her hand and said that she had come up with a better plane for me. Unbelievable, right? Give her a first class ticket to Europe. Give her a private plane. Or at least, give her next Thursday off.

It seemed doubly special that she had acted so nicely because nobody else had. I know, I know. I hadn't been tortured. And as I said, I'm aware that it's the kind of thing that happens to millions of people every day. But does that make it okay?

Several friends think the airline should do something to make up for my bad experience. What do you think?

A year's membership in that Red Carpet Club would be a good gift. A letter of apology seems appropriate. And some friends said the airline should give me a free flight somewhere. They all seem like fine ideas, but there's a problem with that free flight thing. If they give it to me, that means I actually have to try to fly somewhere again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Corrected "shorts" 7/31/08

Believe it or not, there have been other things going on in the news lately besides Barack Obama's decision to wear or not to wear a flag lapel pin and whether John McCain will confuse Iran and Iraq once again. Here are a few of the stories that you may have missed:

A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Janet Jackson's breast-baring "wardrobe malfunction." As you certainly recall, Janet's nipple was exposed for nine-sixteenths of a second, causing millions of people to claim they were shocked and the FCC to fine CBS for the incident. Now that the court has declared that the exposure was not worthy of the fine, look for another lawsuit. I predict that Janet Jackson will be outraged that exposing her breast is not considered obscene and not worth a $550,000 fine.

Activists in Spain are pursuing giving great apes like gorillas and chimpanzees certain rights -- such as the right to life, freedom from arbitrary captivity and protection from torture. In other words, they want to give these apes some rights that the United States won't guarantee to humans.

Passengers on a Qantas jet en route from London to Melbourne got the shock of their lives the other day. No, the air conditioning on the plane didn't suddenly work properly. A huge hole in the fuselage opened up. Reporters said the hole was the size of a small car. But I doubt that a car sideswiped the plane at 30,000 feet. There were no injuries, and all reports said that the passengers were incredibly calm as the plane rapidly descended to make an emergency landing. Of course, they were calm. They obviously remembered the movie "Rain Man" in which Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) informed us that Qantas was the safest airline in the world. Of course, "Raymond" also told us that K-Mart is the best place to buy underwear.

And speaking of aviation, activist Dan Glass shook British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's hand with his right hand while he placed his left hand – which had been covered with Superglue – onto the Prime Minister's suit sleeve. He said he wanted to make sure that Brown "stuck around" while Glass talked to him about his opposition to expanding London's Heathrow airport. The name of the protest organization involved is "Plane Stupid." I'm not kidding. "Plane Stupid." However, Qantas could possibly learn something from "Plane Stupid" and use Superglue on its planes.

With the Olympics only days away, I'm sure the Chinese are ridding the streets of any possible criminal element. However, there's a good chance that on the last day of competition, there could be hundreds of masked men running through the streets of Beijing. No, they won't be criminals. They'll be marathon runners wearing masks to help them breathe. Some athletes have already dropped out of the Olympics because of the choking smog in Beijing. Others have been issued masks by their teams. This could be the first Olympics that won't just be figuratively, but literally breathtaking.

There was a huge brawl in a minor league baseball game involving the Dayton Dragons and the Peoria Chiefs the other day. Fifteen players and managers were kicked out of the game. Peoria Chiefs pitcher, Julio Castillo is in the most serious trouble. He was jailed for his part in the fight. He threw a baseball and hit a fan. He was aiming for the Dragons' dugout. No wonder he's still in the Minor Leagues.

As always, I guarantee you that next week will be filled with news that is just as silly as this week's.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Land Of 10,000 Lakes And Even More Guns

I just visited Minnesota, which is not only a beautiful state, but an interesting one. It's the state whose former Governor was a professional wrestler, and whose next Senator might be a former comedian. And they've got a gun law there that is, well, quite astounding. Adults are allowed to carry guns almost anywhere. If a place of business doesn't want people to come in toting their weapons, they have to put up a sign saying they ban guns from the premises. If there are no signs, guns are welcome. The reason I was in Minnesota was to visit my sister-in-law who was in the hospital. Sure enough, on the outside of the hospital, was a sign saying I couldn't bring a gun inside. Good idea. Can you imagine what it would be like if people were allowed to bring guns into a hospital? Think of that unhappy patient: "You call this a good nose job, Doc?" BAM!

Out of curiosity, I emailed the state of Minnesota and asked them if it was legal for me to walk into a bank with a gun. Their response was that it was legal unless that bank had a sign that specifically prohibited people from doing so. A bank! And this was the law!

Of course, there are exceptions to this law. People can't bring their guns to school property, jails, or courthouses. My favorite exception is that people are prohibited from carrying their guns onto a field while hunting big game by archery, except when hunting bear. Trust me, I'm never going to put that exception to the test.

On the other hand, there are some circumstances in which you can carry a gun and don't even need a permit. For example, you can carry a gun to and from work, which I'm sure makes "road rage" a little more exciting for everybody.

The official name of the law is the Minnesota Citizen's Personal Protection Act of 2003. To me, a personal protection act is putting on some deodorant. Obviously, those who passed this law believe that people are safer if more of them carry guns. So everywhere I went, I kept looking around me for people with weapons. I didn't see any. Then my brother explained that this was probably because, although it's not required, people are allowed to carry concealed weapons.

I never understand the idea of concealed weapons for "good guys." If you feel your carrying a gun is a deterrent against a bad guy committing a crime against you, wouldn't you want that bad guy to see your gun? If you're wearing your gun in a holster like old-time cowboys, a mugger will probably move onto somebody else. But if you've got that gun hidden in your pants, how is that going to stop a bad guy from trying to hurt you?

Once I learned about this concealed weapons thing, I was checking out everybody, wondering if they were secretly carrying a gun. "How about those three noisy girls behind me in the movie theater? Were they packing lead?" "What about the busty woman on the other side of the restaurant. Did she have a gun in her bra or was she just glad to see me?" "What about that minister striding towards me? Was he a Gunslinger for God?" It makes for a somewhat uneasy visit.

Yet, some people don't think a Minnesota-type law has gone far enough. The governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue, wants guns to be allowed at public areas of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. "Sonny" said, "If my wife wanted to carry a gun, if she was going from the parking lot, walking from one of those far parking lots to pick up a grandchild or something like that, I think that's a good idea, yes." Sure, who doesn't think it makes perfect sense to pack heat when picking up your grandchildren?

Has the world gone completely insane? There's a governor who thinks it's okay for people to carry guns at the airport, but we're not allowed to carry a bottle of shampoo onto the plane.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Won't Look A Day Over 151

I've always been a union guy. So years ago, when I became a television writer and joined the Writers Guild of America, I felt good about it. I still do. The other day, I was telling a friend how great the Writers Guild is because I will have medical insurance and a pension for the rest of my life. However, my wife interjected that I was wrong (not the first time that she had made such an interjection). She had read our recent statement, and it didn't say I was covered, "for life." It said I'm only covered through the year 2099. That still sounded pretty good to me. I'll be 152. And I'll have insurance.

I never read the fine print from insurance companies. I don't even read the big print. I figure I have no choice about what they say or what they plan on doing. If they state something, it's fact. So if they say I'm going to live until 2099, I better make sure I floss regularly.

I know the idea of people living to be a century and a half old sounds far-fetched at first. But think about all the advances in medicine they're going to have between now and then. Maybe 150 will be the new 130.

Obviously, there will be some complications if it becomes commonplace for people to live this long. Imagine how large families will be. Where are we going to get all the extra folding chairs for Thanksgiving? And I'm a little worried that I'll be embarrassed because of all the names I won't be able to remember at my high school class' 135th Reunion.

But I put these negative thoughts out of my head. You don't look a gift horse in the mouth no matter how old he is. As long as we're mentally and physically healthy, what's wrong with living a long time?

However, imagining the future like this got me thinking: what if some great things happened in the year 3000 or 3001, right after my time is up? Maybe they'll finally establish world peace the year after my policy (and I) expire. Maybe they'll find intelligent life on Mars. Maybe they'll come up with a garbage disposal that isn't noisy.

Who did the insurance company think they were to arbitrarily choose 2009 as my checkout date? I know it sounds greedy on my part, but that isn't it. It shouldn't be up to them to decide how long I'm going to live, whether they say it's for one or ninety-one more years. So I called them on the phone and asked about the 2099 thing.

The guy on the other end of the phone was patient, but for some reason, he seemed to think my call was frivolous. Frivolous? What could be more serious than establishing how long I'm going to live and whether I'll still have medical coverage?

He explained that everybody they covered had the year 2099 listed as the "end date." "The computer" couldn't deal with a blank space at the end of the form. I suggested that they just type in "forever and ever" in that space. But he said they couldn't do it. "The computer" needed a number there.

So all of this was because of "the computer?" Like most of us, I'm constantly uncomfortable with the amount of influence that computers have on my life. And was this not the ultimate example of that? I was being told that nature, luck, and fate have been replaced by a machine that routinely erases our favorite vacation photos and supports businesses like The Lovely Ladies of Latex.

Sensing how upset I was, the guy said he had some good news for me: "If you live past 2099, you'll still be covered." I felt a little better.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Check Out My Briefs

Here are a few things that have happened lately:

Because Americans seem to love gossip, the story of the alleged affair between Madonna and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has dominated the news, sports, and entertainment pages. Although both of them deny that their relationship is sexual, most observers feel Madonna definitely got to third base with A-Rod. I guess the reason why it's such a big story is that both Rodriquez and Madonna are married. And until now, Madonna has always been such a wonderful role model for girls and young women.

It was revealed that President Bush has given up golf. He said that he felt it was frivolous for him to be playing golf during a war. Personally, I’d be happy to see him play golf and give up war.

The one positive "side effect" of high gasoline prices is that fewer and fewer cars are expected to be on the road. Therefore, experts expect fewer and fewer car accidents. I guess we can expect more and more people to walk. There are no predictions of how many head-on collisions there will be among these walkers.

And speaking of the high price of gas, I predict that very soon after you buy your groceries, the clerk at the supermarket will offer you a free choice and ask you, "paper, plastic, or an SUV?"

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded a new anti-smoking agreement among the major movie studios. In fact, in addition to having fewer people smoke on the screen, the studios will produce anti-smoking videos and films. Presumably, Schwarzenegger congratulated the studios as he puffed away on his cigar.

Vice President Cheney had his physical the other day, and is said to have passed it with flying colors. It was probably the first time in history that during the exam a doctor wore a bulletproof vest.

Have a good week. And don't worry. Silly things will happen this week, too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Iraq To U.S.: "'Bye."

In our daily lives, we all have to know when it's time to go home. Now, the Prime Minister of Iraq has insisted that any security agreement between the United States and Iraq include a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. For years, our Administration has been telling us that we are fighting for a democratic government in Iraq. Now that government has asked us to leave. I don't think we should overstay our welcome, do you?

There are probably different reactions to this "demand" from Iraq. Some people might characterize it as "ungrateful." After all, our soldiers have been fighting and dying there, and now the Iraqis are saying we have to tell them when we're going to leave? Other people will see this as confirming their suspicions all along that we were never all that popular among the Iraqis. Let's remember that the Bush administration thought that our soldiers would be greeted by Iraqis throwing flowers at them. That's not exactly what some Iraqis have been throwing at our soldiers.

Either way, you'd think the Bush administration would say, "Okay, if you don't want us to stay, we're out of here." But that hasn't been the response. An administration spokesman responded with a bunch of words surrounded by clouds that basically said, "We'll leave when we think they're ready for us to leave." Of course, they already said that they're ready for us to leave.

John McCain's reaction was that they don't really want us to leave, but Prime Minister Maliki had to say what he said for political reasons. The Prime Minister and other officials responded to that by saying, "No, we really meant it." Even if they did say these things for the political reason that so many Iraqis want us to leave, isn't that a good enough reason for us to go? The supposed democratic society that we have been fighting for just told us to close the door on the way out.

Sometimes, getting people to leave isn't easy. We've all had guests at our houses who stayed longer than we wanted them to stay. And we hinted that they should go. You know what I'm talking about. We yawn loudly. We mention how early we have to get up the next day. But sometimes they just don't get the hint. Right when you think they're going to say" goodnight" and head for the door, they pour themselves another drink or ask for a cup of coffee.

Sometimes you just come out and say, "This has really been a great evening." And yet, some people still won't get the hint. The worst is when you don't have a united front. That's when you're allies -- your spouse or your kids -- start telling a long story just as you're carrying the dirty dishes to the kitchen.

There are times when you actually have to leave your own party to get your guests to go home. That's when you might say something like, "I really have to go up to bed, but please stay and continue having fun." Then you head upstairs, assuming that they will realize that the "fun" for the evening is over. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don't. Then you resort to desperate measures -- like putting on your pajamas or turning off all the lights.

It's time for the United States to take the hint. Why should we continue to have soldiers risk their lives in a place that doesn't want them there? Iraq just yawned, carried the dishes to the kitchen, and turned off the lights. It's time for us to go home.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Don't Read This While You Drive

As of July 1, California joined Washington, Utah, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia in banning something while driving. Unfortunately, it's not a ban against condescendingly asking your spouse, "Why are you in this lane?" No, people in these places are prohibited from talking on hand-held phones while driving. I'm sure other states will follow soon, just as I'm sure cell phone makers and users will find ways around this law.

There's already a ridiculous loophole built into the California law. For some bizarre reason, people are prohibited from talking on their cells while driving, but they're not prohibited from dialing while driving. I don't know about you, but I have to take my eyes off the road to dial, not necessarily to speak. I'd like to see an amendment to this, and hope that someday soon people will be pulled over for DWD's – Driving While Dialing.

Here's another one for you. There's nothing in the California law that specifically prohibits people from sending text messages while driving. Punching all those keys to text someone while cruising on the highway isn't dangerous at all, is it?

I don't know if precise statistics are kept for what percentage of drivers sometimes use their handheld cell phones while at the wheel. However, I can say that my personal survey indicates that in the past, approximately 99% of those people making left turns in front of me who didn't pull far enough ahead held the wheel in one hand and their phone in the other.

As with any law, there are bound to be people who will oppose this new one. Some will claim that it's an infringement on their personal freedom. Obviously, the Founding Fathers intended that every American have the right to use a handheld cell phone while driving.

My major worry about the new law is that it will encourage more and more people to buy those bluetooth phones that clip onto the ear or some other body part. You know who I'm talking about. People who have these things walk around and look right at you while they're talking to somebody else. At least three times a day, I think they're talking to me instead of their lover, stockbroker, or therapist. With the new rule, I'm even more likely to be in an elevator with someone I've never seen before, and have that person look right at me and say, "Life's too short to do business with a person like you."

Some people are used to holding their cell phones up to their ears, and they're going to be upset because they feel that what they have to say on their cells is always important. It can't possibly wait until they finish driving. Who are they kidding? Most of the things I overhear people say on their cells –- and you can't help but overhear this stuff – are things like, "What's for dinner?" or "Nothing new with me," or "Did I get any calls?" And then there's the classic that those people on a plane say immediately after it lands. They just can't wait until they get off the plane before making their important call that states, "I'll call you from baggage."

I have a little speaker/microphone thing that clips onto the visor in my car. Will this make me a safer driver than holding up my cell phone to my ear and talking directly into it? I hope so, but I'm not sure. Some studies have indicated that talking on hands-free phones is really no safer than talking on phones held up to the ear. We're still distracted by the act of talking on the phone.

Similarly, accidents are caused by people who eat while they drive, put makeup on while they drive, or -- my personal favorite to see on the highway – people who read the newspaper while driving. I've even seen people working on the crossword puzzle while they drive. (What's a five-letter word for someone who does this? Oh, that's right. "Idiot"). So, I'm not bothered by those behind these laws who favor hands-free phoning. I'm much more worried about those who like to practice hands-free driving.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by