Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ow, My Aching ... Everything

I thought it was a joke when I heard that an airplane seat manufacturer was trying to sell airlines seats that are more uncomfortable than the ones we're used to. But it's not a joke. Avointeriors is the Italian manufacturer that has come up with seats that would put passengers in a half-sitting, half-standing posture. The seat would actually be a saddle, and the posture of the passenger would allow more of these seats to be squeezed onto a plane than the usual coach seats. There would be approximately seven inches less legroom. That's just the kind of thing that air travel needs now. When people get off a plane after a trip, don't they all say, "The flight was okay, but I just wish there had been less room?"

Traveling by air is no longer a fun experience for most people. The airports are crowded, security lines are long and slow, and you're not even allowed to take a container of yogurt on the plane with you. A nice recent feature is that you have to pay extra to take a second suitcase. And you must've noticed that many flight attendants act as if they would rather be someplace else today, and who could blame them? With pay and benefit cuts, flying's no fun for them either. We don't get meals served to us anymore. Flights are often late, and bags are lost sometimes – even that bag that cost you extra. With all of this going on, someone thinks people will want to have a less pleasant flying experience?!

I couldn't even imagine that anything could be done to cut back on more costs to the airline and add to more discomfort for the passengers. When they toss a bag of pretzels at you and call it a "snack," how much lower can they go? The answer seems to be these new seats, and I guess our future complaint after flying will be saddle sores.

The idea is that airlines could jam more of these new seats onto a plane, and then charge people less for sitting/standing. A new class would be formed that would be cheaper than Economy. They haven't come up with a name for this class, but "Inhumane" would be a good possibility. The seat manufacturer feels that there are people who would be willing to use these seats for a short flight if it cost them less than usual.

He may be right. The Irish bargain airline, Ryanair, is trying to get the okay on having "standing room" on flights. They conducted a poll last year, and almost half of its customers said they would be glad to stand for a one-hour flight if it meant they could fly for less.

But don't expect these seats to be the last of cost-cutting measures by the airlines. I wouldn't be surprised if they started charging us for going into that tiny room with a metal toilet that they have the nerve to call a "lavatory."

There's no reason why the overhead bin has to be free. Who wouldn't pay a dollar or two to put their computer up there instead of having it on the floor where it gets stepped on every time the guy next to you gets up?

They could easily start renting those airline magazines to us. That way, we'd actually have to pay to look at ads for an automatic pasta maker or a canine genealogy kit.

Let's say you're not happy sitting next to that guy who snort-laughs at every stupid joke in the movie. For a few bucks more, they'll move you next to someone who just reads quietly for the whole trip. Similarly, if you don't want to sit next to someone who keeps talking about his fascinating hobby of making rubber band balls, you'll have to pay to sit next to someone who can give you stock tips.

Some of these things might sound ridiculous, but whoever would have thought that airlines would be charging extra for a soggy sandwich or earphones for the movie? What's next, are they going to start allowing you to use your bonus miles only at times that you'd never fly? Oh, that's right. They're already doing that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's In Our Court

The headlines about the recently completed U.S. Open tennis championship included that Rafael Nadal won, Roger Federer didn't, and Kim Clijsters -– a wife and mother – won on the women's side. However, if these are the only headlines you've read, you're missing out on the big story: An Indian and a Pakistani were doubles partners. Their countries are almost always at war, but these two men became friends, played tennis and even touched hands after their final match in a very emotional end to the championship.

Neither Aisam-ul-haq Querehi of Pakistan nor Rohan Boprana of India played tennis together to make a political statement. They became partners simply because they each needed a partner, and they didn't care what country he was from, or what religion he belonged to. In fact, in 2002, Querehi's partner, Amir Hadad was an Israeli.

Querehi has said, "Sports is above religion and politics," but this year they couldn't resist making a political statement. On the jackets they wore at Wimbledon, were the words, "Stop War, Start Tennis."

That slogan may sound a bit simplistic and unrealistic. I mean, is it really possible for every soldier in the world to drop his or her rifle and pick up a tennis racket instead? Probably not. What the slogan really means is to pursue peaceful things instead of war. During the U.S. Open, some Vietnam vets asked if they could buy some of those "Stop War, Start Tennis" shirts. However, there weren't any for sale.

As Querehi and Boprana continued to win their matches in the U.S. Open, larger and larger crowds of Indians and Pakistanis came to the tennis center in New York. In fact, towards the end of the tournament, these two players looked up in the stands and saw the Indian Ambassador to the U.N. sitting next to the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.N. There is no confirmation that these two men shared a box of popcorn, but maybe they're taking this one step at a time.

There was a lot of excitement when Querehi and Boprana made it to the doubles championship against Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the world champions. In a thrilling match, the Bryan brothers beat what is now nicknamed the Indo-Pak Express. However, the final point was not the end of all the on-court emotion.

When Querehi took the microphone on court, after thanking everyone, he said he wanted people to know that the common image of Muslims is not accurate. He added, "We do have terrorist groups. We do have extremists. But I feel like in every religion there are extremists. It doesn't mean that the whole nation is terrorist or extremist. Pakistan is a very peace-loving country.... and we want peace as much as you guys want it. May God love us all."

At the post-match news conference, the Pakistani Ambassador gave the Bryan brothers ceremonial shawls to thank them for donating some of their prize money to Pakistani flood relief. They had done so with no particular fanfare.

To Querehi and Boprana, the most amazing thing was to have seen some Pakistanis cheering an Indian, and some Indians cheering a Pakistani. Some might also think it was amazing that some of the Americans in the crowd cheered a Hindu and a Muslim. And they cheered the Americans, too.

It was an exuberant moment in sports. Here, in the city where the towers fell and where there is so much Muslim-related controversy right now, New Yorkers gave all four men a standing ovation. I'm not so naive as to think that a tennis match changed everyone's opinion of other religions and nationalities. Probably by the time they got home, most of the fans reverted to whatever their old feelings had been. Most of the fans, but maybe not all of them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A War We Can't Win

The enemy is out there. They are ready to attack us with no warning. They're almost impossible to find. We are in danger from them 24 hours a day. They may come from foreign lands, or from America. No matter how much we increase our security measures against them, some of them manage to get through. I'm talking, of course, about germs.

Some of the current germaphobia seems silly. On the other hand (the clean one), germs are real, and people are fighting them like never before. We're told to wash our hands for longer than we used to think was necessary. The suggestion is that we sing all of, "Happy Birthday" while we wash. For me, it spoils the connotation of "Happy Birthday."

Public bathrooms are helping us fight germs more and more. The faucets turn on and off automatically and toilets flush without our touching that unbelievably dangerous flusher. In some bathrooms, toilet seat covers magically change themselves when you enter the stall. There is the automatic paper towel dispenser or the hand blower. Either way, I almost always have trouble finding the "electronic eye," so I can't figure out how to turn it on and usually end up waving my arms all over the place trying to start it up. So then I wipe my hands on my dirty pants and when I'm ready to leave, I open the bathroom door using the germy doorknob. It doesn't seem to make sense, does it?

When I was in Chicago's O'Hare Airport recently, there was a repeated announcement telling us the proper way to sneeze. I was disappointed that there was no similar announcement describing the proper way to hiccup. Another thing at the airport is that we often see people wearing masks to protect them from cooties or whatever.

Those little bottles of anti--bacterial stuff are everywhere. Some people even carry them in their purses. I hate to break it to those folks, but unless they vacuum their purses a few times a day while singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," those purses that they reach into for their hand cleaner are filled with germs.

I was watching one of those morning "news" shows the other day, and they were doing a piece about germs. Specifically, they dealt with how to help your child avoid germs. When my kids were little, the pediatrician said it wasn't so bad if children got somebody else's germs. The feeling was that it would help the child build up immunity to germs and diseases. Maybe this approach has changed. I just know that on this particular TV show, parents were warned about the evils of germy lunchboxes, backpacks, and yes, library books. When I was a kid, only those books dealing with human reproduction were considered "dirty library books."

Many of these "advances" in fighting the germ menace started during the swine flu panic. In fact, I think the one positive thing from the swine flu was that people learned how to avoid sneezing on each other. However, germ-evasiveness has gotten a little out of hand. People avoid shaking hands and touching each other. Fewer and fewer people kiss or hug hello. It all seems to be part of the loss of human contact that we are experiencing in this generation.

People e-mail or tweet instead of actually talking to their friend or loved one. We see movies at home instead of venturing out in public where we might actually see other people. Men and women meet each other online, and sometimes even have their few first few dates electronically instead of actually seeing each other in the flesh.

I'm certainly not hopeful that this trend will reverse itself. Ironically, germ-avoidance will continue to spread swiftly and pervasively like a virus. Plastic on grocery basket handles and washing toys until the paint rubs off are only signs of the beginning. Don't be surprised if sometime in the near future, there is an invention that will prevent people from ever getting a germ from someone else. It will protect us from head to toe. It will be hailed as the most important miracle cure since penicillin. And I will call it the "The Full Body Condom" (Patent Pending).

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by