1.17.2010

Bulge Battle Update #1

Hello, friends. As I said in my "Battle of the Bulge" blog, I'm giving you an update as to how my weight loss is going.

I don't own a scale. I need to, but I just haven't gotten around to buying one. The only scale at my gym is in the office used by the personal trainers, and it isn't really for us to use. Poundage is only a number, and it is one that can be misleading. Muscle weighs more than fat. Losing 10 pounds of fat, but gaining 2 pounds of muscle obviously equates an 8 pound loss, yet the final result in how clothing fits or measurements can tell a very different story. I do have goals in pounds, but honestly I'm more concerned about how I look, how my clothes fit, and what size I'm wearing.

My workouts this week have felt great. It is wonderful to finally get back to my regular gym routine, and I upped my cardio time by 5 minutes a day, from 45 minutes active/5 minutes cool down to 50/5. My goal is to get to 60/5, and then perhaps start the "Couch to 5k" program. Even though my cardio of choice is a crossramp elliptical, I felt my arms and core weren't getting as effective of a workout as my legs and glutes. So, I purchased a balance ball at Walmart ($9, can't beat that!) and have added some arm and abdominal toning exercises to my routine.

As far as food is concerned, I've been better at my goal of eating regular meals, especially breakfast. I make sure I have some kind of breakfast, usually a bowl of "Smart Start" cereal or a bagel with whipped chive cream cheese -- complex carbs for long-term energy. Lunch has been a panini (usually turkey, swiss, & spinach on baguette with pesto mayo) and a low-fat yogurt. Dinner has had more variety and I haven't been as good at including veggies as I should, but we don't make all these changes overnight, do we? I have been content with smaller portions and I'm hardly snacking at all. My sweet tooth has made an occasional appearance, but it is satisfied with either a 100 calorie pack of Hostess cupcakes or, as in the case of last night, a couple small scoops of frozen yogurt with chocolate sauce.

For whatever reason, I decided to try on some of my clothes that used to fit but haven't for some time. Nothing is a better lifestyle change motivator than actually seeing results. I put on a couple of blazers I purchased at Old Navy about 5 years ago. Even when I bought them, they didn't really button as they should, but left open they looked fine. I haven't been able to wear them, even left open, for almost 4 years. They now button. I won't be wearing them buttoned any time soon, since although they button, those buttons look like they might pop at any moment. It's a start.

Even more thrilling were a couple of pairs of Old Navy jeans I had moved to my "doesn't fit, not even close, but I don't want to part with them just yet" closet. One pair I don't remember buying, another I know when exactly I bought them (April or May 2006) and I can tell you how many times I've worn them: once. I bought them without trying them on because I had another pair of very comfy jeans from Old Navy that were the same cut, size, everything. Only, these new jeans were smaller. I wore them once and then moved them to the back of the closet. When I tried them on (for shits and giggles) a couple months ago, they were 2 inches (at least) from closing. This morning, they buttoned and zipped without me having to lie down on the bed. I could walk and such in them. Of course, part of this was achieved by some of my corpulence being shoved up under my breasts giving me an enormous mushroom roll around my rib cage, so I won't be wearing them in public any time soon. But, again, it's a start.

Next week should also be a great week. It is the week after that which has me a little worried; I tend to get off-track when I travel. So, we shall see. Until then, I have my motivation!

1.16.2010

Really, Campbell's Soup? Really?

January television is usually rife with commercials for all things related to weight loss. You see gym advertisements, commercials for supplements and weight loss aids, celebrity spokespeople espousing Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, and of course all sorts of food company spots. Most are harmlessly misleading; if you really think taking some non-FDA-approved dietary supplement is really going to give you that chiseled physique without hours and hours at the gym, then you are a fool who deserves to be parted from your money.

Recently, however, Campbell's soup has been advertising a couple of new, low-fat, low-calorie soups. This I have no issues with. Soup is indeed a delicious way to enjoy vegetables and is generally healthy, even if sometimes the vegetables are cooked beyond recognition. (Of course, cream soups are a different thing altogether.) However, Campbell's is taking shots at frozen "diet" meals in their advertising campaign. Now, competition is just part of life and I expect products that are pandering to the same audience to be in engaged in some one-upping. Yet Campbell's ad campaign is clearly saying that a meal that has 310 calories is bad.

Really? 310 calories? Gasp.

A 5'2", 140 pound, moderately active 30-something woman needs approximately 2100 calories a day to maintain her weight. That would be an average height American woman who is about a size 10 or 12. In other words, completely normal. If she weighed 120 pounds, her caloric needs would still be around 1950. Super obese people are still instructed by their doctors to consume a minimum of 1200 calories per day; consuming less runs the risk of malnutrition. Some quick math: for a super obese person eating 1200 calories per day, that's just under 4 of those frozen meals. The 120 pound woman can eat 6 of those meals, and the 140 pound woman could probably have a 7th if she wanted to. In the grand scheme of things, 310 calories is still a very light meal!

Yes, weight-loss "experts" suggest several small meals throughout the day to maintain metabolism. However, I don't think they'd consider an 80 calorie bowl of soup to be a meal. Personally, I have found that when I have a meal that is so low in calories, I tend to gorge on another meal. Ultimately this is the one of worst things that can happen. Generally, losing weight (more than 5-10 pounds) needs to be a lifestyle adjustment, not a short-term activity. Getting into the habit of eating smaller, balanced meals is imperative. The stomach is allowed to shrink, so it takes less food to feel comfortably full, and your body can tell you it has had enough. When you eat a small meal, like an 80 calorie bowl of soup, first of all rarely do you feel full. Then you think in your mental caloric calculator that you can have that 700-900 calorie dinner. Your stomach never really gets to shrink and you fall into the pattern of spiking blood sugar and metabolism. For an occasional thing, this is ok -- if you know you are going out for a lavish gourmet dinner, having a bowl of low-calorie soup for lunch is perfectly fine. But as an everyday thing, part of a weight-loss plan, not so healthy.

My other complaint with this ad campaign of Campbell's is that us women have enough pressure on TV about our looks and body image. We don't need a major corporation telling us that a 310 calorie meal is a shocking amount of calories, because it isn't. 310 calories is still a low-calorie meal. To put it in perspective, a small french fry from McDonalds is 230 calories. A 4 piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with Apple Dippers and 8 oz of low-fat milk is 390 calories. (Incidentally, this is the lowest calorie combination available in a Happy Meal; a cheeseburger/small fries/small sprite happy meal has almost twice the calories. And we wonder why childhood obesity is such an epidemic.)

So to the Campbell's corporation I say this: back off. Advertise your delicious, low-fat, low-calorie soups for what they are. But quit telling us that when we eat a 310 calorie meal we are somehow being bad, because we aren't. We're being, God forbid, almost normal.

1.15.2010

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

A little bit less than a month ago, I officially entered the murky mid-30s. I'm single, with no real prospects on the horizon. I'm an only child, my mother's sole hope for biological grandchildren. Pulling out that ruler we all measure ourselves by -- our friends -- I took stock and am both confused and yet relieved.

My female friends who are my age seem to fall into two groups. The first group married shortly after high school or perhaps college graduation. They started their families in short order, and their kids are now anywhere from high school age to approaching middle school, or perhaps a little younger. These friends tend to make me take stock of my life and feel slightly inadequate. While they were falling in love, getting married, and having babies, I was going to school. And grad school. And grad school again. Instead of pictures of beautiful babies growing up, I have diplomas and cats. Am I behind?

Then there are the friends I went to grad school with. Like me, they pursued career over family. Some of them have gotten married and are now having babies. Their progeny are all toddlers or younger. Other friends are just now getting pregnant. With this comes a darker side of growing up: what happens when those pregnancies are unsuccessful. In the past 4 months, I've had two friends lose their babies. But, the plethora of friends popping healthy kids out left and right gives me hope for my friends that the next time they'll be just fine. This baby boom (and, lesser so, marriage boom) among my friends makes me think I'm ok. Not behind, or at least not too far behind.

I have to ask, though, is measuring my worth, or my success, in marriage and children an antiquated sociological edict? Is this something I am programmed genetically to feel because I am a woman? Or is this something society wants me to feel? Have we not surpassed the days wherein the woman's role, so to say, was to produce heirs and keep house? In a time where the concept of the family is being challenged and redefined, are such standards still valid?

Am I wrong to be in my mid-30s and not even know if I want children? I certainly want to get married, and I have faith that God has someone for me and He will bring him into my life at the perfect time. But at this moment, when I am asked if I want children my answer is always, "I really don't know." When there is someone in my life, I do have maternal thoughts. I have a recently-divorced male friend with a young daughter, and although we live quite a distance apart, when we met there were a few small sparks. Although nothing came of it, I found myself thinking I could be quite happy as a step-mother. When I am around my pregnant friends, I wonder what it would be like to be in their situation: feeling something living moving inside me, complaining of swollen ankles and sore backs, knowing that one of the most amazing miracles was occurring inside my womb.

But when I am in my usual position, that being hopelessly single, I do not harbor the same maternal thoughts. My main day job, at the moment, is being a substitute teacher. I enjoy my job, most of the time. The unconditional love and trust young children give, even to strangers, would warm the coldest of hearts. The more mature, yet still distinctly youthful, admiration pre-teens and teenagers give can gives you hope that someday all might be right in the world. Yet, there is nothing quite like that feeling when 2:30 or 3:30 rolls around and you send them HOME, and I am once again free to do as I wish without needing to think about child care or other familial things.

Two things come to mind when I consider my situation, and neither of these are necessarily encouraging. First, statistics and studies show that the more education and degrees a woman has, the less likely she is to get married. Lovely. Secondly, a woman who gets pregnant at the age of 35 or older is having what doctors call a "geriatric pregnancy." Nice. Does that mean we'd take Geritol instead of pre-natal vitamins?

Still, I try to take comfort in the belief that I am where God wants me to be, and when all is appropriate He'll show me the way. Until then, I can use the tick, tock of my biological clock as a metronome when I'm practicing.

1.13.2010

I Won $20?

This morning I got an email notification of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit. I thought it was related to a notification I received almost a year ago about a suit brought against several moving companies, including the movers I had used in my last move. That lawsuit was over extraneous fuel surcharges added to moving charges right at the time gas was approaching $4/gallon (for the first time). This particular suit means hundreds of dollars in settlement monies for each plaintiff, once settled. Of course, these things sometimes take years. So, naturally, I was intrigued and a little excited. Had a settlement finally come through?

It turns out the lawsuit, filed back in my home state of California, was against 1-800-Flowers. I had placed a couple of orders through them during the specified period in 2006-2008 that the suit covered, and I was now entitled to 2 $10 vouchers. Look out! $20! In vouchers, not even cash!

According to the lawsuit, 1-800-Flowers added $10 shipping charges to orders where no shipping was even remotely involved. The orders were electronically sent to a local florist, whose delivery charges were already included in their agreements with 1-800-Flowers. (Sometimes, 1-800-Flowers actually does ship flowers; I've received flowers from them via UPS.) This meant that 1-800-Flowers was making $10 additional profit off of these orders. Most companies would get around any potential lawsuits by calling them "shipping and handling" or "processing fees." Something legally fluffy to cover their corporate asses. But, 1-800-Flowers didn't, and some person in California noticed. And decided to sue.

Which makes me ask, why on earth would you spend the money and legal resources to sue over $10? How many orders did you make through 1-800-Flowers during that 18 month period that had this extraneous $10 charge added to it to justify hiring a lawyer and suing the company? What are the lawyers getting out of this? The settlement is in VOUCHERS. Coupons. No cash is exchanging hands. Someone on the plaintiffs' side is losing money.

Meanwhile, 1-800-Flowers is making money off of the settlement. As I said, no money is changing hands. 1-800-Flowers isn't cutting a gazillion $10 checks and mailing them to customers. We've been given coupon codes to use when we place our next order. So, they made $10 when they shouldn't have, and to "pay us back," we get $10 off the next time we do more business with them. In order to get our $10 "back," we have to spend money. We paid them money we shouldn't have had to, legally, but to get what is rightfully ours back we have to spend more money. The plaintiffs are coming out the losers. I "won" two $10 vouchers, and I can't even use them within the same 6 month period, let alone on the same order. And we can't use them during the 7 days prior to Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. Gee, I wonder why.

How many plaintiffs are going to call or log onto 1-800-Flowers and order something because they have this voucher, thinking they're getting ahead? I long ago stopped using 1-800-Flowers because I send flowers to one person: my mother. It is much cheaper and easier for me to call up the florist practically across the street from her house and order directly. When I spend $30 there, I get twice the flowers that I do through 1-800-Flowers, voucher or not.

Basically, this is a good demonstration of a frivolous lawsuit. Who won, legally? The plaintiffs! Who won, in actuality? The lawyers (on both sides) and the defendants. Yay for American Civil Litigation, where everyone's a winner!

1.11.2010

Battle of the Bulge

I am overweight. This is not a news flash, but rather the state of my being for as long as I can remember. I was a 9 pound, 6 ounce baby at birth. Technically, in medical terms, I'm near "morbid obesity." Such an ominous phrase, "morbid obesity." It conjures up pictures of Death hovering outside my door, measuring his scythe to see if it can get through the layers of fat.

I have tried, over the years, to lose weight. I had one particularly successful period the last year of my undergrad. I became obsessive about exercise and food. I did an hour of cardio most every day, although in hindsight my "cardio" wasn't very beneficial for heart health. I also was quite obsessive about the food I ate, particularly portions and calories. My mother, who is an RN with a BS in Nursing, actually confronted me, concerned that I was becoming anorexic. That is how obsessive with food I became. I went from a size 20 womens to a 16 womens/misses. (There's a difference between 16 womens and 16 misses, believe it or not.)

Then I went off to grad school and moved out of the house -- and out of the state. Slowly those pounds crept back on, thanks to a ceasing of exercise and more eating out than I had done. At the encouragement of my voice teacher, I returned to exercise, utilizing the walking/jogging path around campus. While this did help my cardio, I didn't really lose any weight, and I didn't lose weight because I wasn't doing the other half of the equation: food. I returned to a 18/20 womens.

In September 1999, I broke my leg, shredded my ankle ligaments, and blew out my knee. The recovery was obviously physical and, at times, arduous. I suspect at that time, I started losing weight again, but I'm not really sure. Using crutches and a wheelchair is an unconventional cardio workout, but it definitely gets the heart rate up. What I do know is the following fall, after a summer of working multiple jobs and trying to save money to move into my own apartment (I was living in a room in a friend's relative's house, housesitting in exchange for rent), I went shopping for new jeans and discovered I was back in a size 16. Yay for unintentional weight loss!

Like previous weight loss, it didn't last. This time, I can blame medicine. It started with me going on Sinequan, a mild anti-depressant to help me with my insomnia. Sinequan has one odd side effect: cravings for sweets, sometimes uncontrollable. Grrrreat. On top of this, I had an endocrinologist diagnose me with Acute Adrenalcortico Deficit Disorder. This meant that my adrenal glands were not producing enough cortisol (natural cortisone) to help me fight infection or injury. I had to carry a syringe of cortisone with me in case I was in a car accident or something traumatic, or if I got a severe flu or other illness. This, along with a diagnosis of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) got me a prescription for Prednisone. And an engraved invitation for about 45 pounds.

Two months of Prednisone, and I'm looking at the lovely clothes I bought as a size 16 that no longer fit. I'm back to a 20, and pushing the upper end of that. Fortunately, my insurance changed and with that, my doctors. My new doctor reran the tests and determined I did not have the adrenalcortico deficiency -- thank God -- but he did confirm the PCOS. He wanted me to stay on the Prednisone, but we could reduce the dosage, which would stop the weight gain. Then I moved for grad school again.

In Florida, my weight was all over the place without any rhyme or reason. I wasn't exercising and I wasn't really "dieting," ever. Doing doctoral studies, especially in the psychological environment I was in, are stressful enough. I could have benefitted from exercise, but I was too busy studying, teaching, working, and being social. Upon completion of the coursework, I took a one-year appointment at another university. Long story short, I spent the fall semester commuting between Miami and Tampa weekly. That's 286 miles each way. I added to that a weekly, sometimes more frequently, commute between Tampa and Orlando, another 95 miles each way. I cleaned up on my taxes that year for mileage. All this time in a car meant a lot of eating on the road, and a lot of just bad food. But surprisingly, I lost weight. Whodathunk?

One more move, this time to the Midwest to take what I thought would be a long-term job. I fell into a pseudo-sedentary lifestyle, with the only exercise I was getting being the daily walk up the rather steep hill from the faculty parking lot to the building I worked in. My second year teaching there, I made a point of also taking the stairs from the entry floor to my office (as well as from my office to my main classroom) instead of the elevator to help add a little more physical movement. Otherwise, I was in my office/studio teaching all day, mostly sitting on my arse behind my desk or piano. Add to this a coworker I spent a lot of time with who 1) liked good food (we'd get together and cook a lot), 2) was fond of a particular local happy hour, 3) was fairly well-to-do and usually paid for me to attend this happy hour with him, and 4) made it clear he liked me just the way I was. Not a good combination, frankly. Then I lost my job, and the resulting depression equated sloth and poor eating habits. I ballooned to the largest I'd ever been, in that murky area between a 20 and a 22.

Several month later I landed a seasonal, full-time job at the IRS. About a month later, a good friend called and asked me to be his honor attendant at his Holy Union ceremony. I used that as motivation to lose weight, and began walking again and obsessively counting my calories. It lasted all of 3 weeks or so. Everything ended abruptly when I found out a good friend and coworker had passed away unexpectedly. (See blog from April 2009.) At that point, I decided life was too short to worry about vanity and counting calories, and my resolve to lose weight left the building.

I'm now in my second year of not being employed as a college professor. I'm working, but I don't have a salaried position and I don't have health insurance. I've finally come to the realization that my health is only going to be as good as I make it. My parents are both in moderately poor health, and many of their problems could have been prevented by better diet and exercise when they were my age. I realized that making better choices about food and getting regular exercise are an investment in me, which should be my real motivator. A $40/month gym membership is less expensive than doctors visits and medication, with or without health insurance, and the other benefits -- mood improvement, better sleep, etc. -- you can't put a price on.

Now the proud possessor of a YMCA membership card, my gym attendance has been pretty good. I've been tracking my workouts on www.mapmyrun.com. I make it a point to go 4-5, sometimes 6, times a week. I throw a gym bag into my car when I leave for work, and go to the gym before I go home. It has become an important part of my routine. My travel for gigs upsets the routine, especially this past December/January when I was gone for a month and had to make do with either different workouts or no workouts. But as best as I can tell, the last 4 months of 2009 saw a 30 pound drop. I'm back in pants I couldn't wear a year or two years ago. I have a looooong way to go, but I'm doing this for me and for my health. I'm not obsessing about calories. I'm making smarter choices about food (well, most of the time) and getting regular exercise.

And, I'll be honest. There are a couple of folks who I won't see until August or September at the earliest, and I'd love to make their jaws drop. Just a little extra motivation.

I'll post periodically about how the weight loss is going. I'm excited about finally returning to the gym today after I get off work; I have a whole new playlist on my iPod and new workout wear thanks to Old Navy. Ok, so there's still a little vanity involved. I'm a woman, after all!

1.09.2010

Air Travel in the Age of Entitlement

Honestly, us Americans are very impatient. We want everything now, faster, sooner. And there are few places where this mindset shines more brightly than at the airport.

I'm entering my 4th consecutive year of "Elite" frequent flyer status. This past December alone I flew over 10,000 miles. Now, I have friends who fly more than I do, but I am well above the average American. Those 10,000 miles translate into countless hours of people-watching, both on the plane and throughout the airport. Who are the worst offenders of being impatient or otherwise annoying? Not the holiday travelers with small children. Not the easily confused senior citizens. The worst offenders are my fellow "Elite" status members and First Class passengers, followed closely by your average air traveler.

The first thing one usually does when arriving at the airport is checking in and/or checking bags. The airline through which I have my status offers priority check-in lines for Elite status and First Class passengers. In theory, there are one to three kiosks designated for this line to have priority access to, significantly shortening our wait time in line. Now, just because someone is flying First Class, it doesn't mean they have a clue about how to use the touch screen kiosks. So much for shortening our wait time. When they figure out they need help, look out. The ticket agent to kiosk ratio is roughly 1 agent to 3 or 4 kiosks. These agents are helping ALL passengers by tagging bags, rerouting folks who missed their flight or were bumped or cancelled, and other folks who don't understand the kiosks. They are busy people and there is not an agent specifically assigned to the Priority kiosks. But these First Class people, when they want help, want it NOW. Screw you, economy class person. It's all about ME.

On one of my recent trips I was waiting to check my bag at a major international airport. A lady at the front of the First Class/Elite Access line was wandering around like she was lost and missing a few marbles. Let me paint the picture: she is wearing a hot pink, Capri length velour track suit with black trim. Setting this off are pink floral socks, pulled up as high as they will go, and black sandals (a la Birkenstocks/support sandals). She is wearing more eye makeup on one eye than I did on both of my eyes for 9 concerts combined. Her bleached, frizzy blonde hair is topped off with not one, but TWO hot pink cowboy hats. As I was trying (unsuccessfully) to surreptitiously take a picture of this hot fashion mess, she loudly announces to the overworked ticket agents, "We're in First Class and we need our bags tagged We've been waiting, here!" To make matters even better, what she wanted was a gate check tag. You know, those tags they put on a carry-on when it won't fit on the plane. She wasn't even checking a bag, and she insisted on being "helped."

Once you navigate the whole check-in procedure, we head to TSA. The much-maligned TSA. We are quite impatient when it comes to security, sometimes with good reason. People hate to practically strip, taking off jackets, scarves, shoes, and then we have to half unpack our carry-on bag by taking out our laptop computers and Ziplock baggie of 3.5 ounce liquids, gels, and aerosols. Those who don't travel often sometimes get confused and hold up the lines, not realizing they have to take off jacket/shoes, that their cell phone is in their pocket, etc. And sometimes TSA is to blame for the hold up; the last security checkpoint I went through we stood there for several minutes because they hadn't replenished the supply of bins and no one was at the X-ray machine in my line. But nothing annoys me more than those who think security rules don't apply to them. More than once I have heard, "But I'm flying First Class. That means I get to take full-sized shampoo bottles on board." Um, no, you don't. Or this favorite line of mine, "I fly all the time, and I'm cold. I don't want to take off my shoes." Sorry, but until all airports have those puffer machines, we'll all be traipsing through metal detectors in our socks.

One observation I've had is that these same people who complain about how long security takes or who try to get around some of the rules are the same who are the first - and loudest - to accuse the government of not doing enough to keep us safe when some yahoo tries to blow up a plane. What if that yahoo was like you, a frequent flyer or flying First Class, and got around security the same way you tried to? Food for thought.

We've made it through security and now it is time to board our flight. First comes those who think, as soon as pre-boarding is announced, that they have to crowd up to the boarding line. It makes no difference that it will be 15 or 20 minutes - or longer - before they actually get to board. They have to create a traffic jam, even though the gate agent has said, "Please remain comfortably seated until your row is called." Nope, gotta get on the plane NOW! Don't want to miss our boarding call!

Typically First Class and Elite status are the first or second group to be called, after those with small children or needing extra time to get down the jetway. Rarely is there a First Class/Elite boarding without that one guy who thinks anyone in line in front of him is "one of those economy people," especially a 30-something woman not wearing a suit. This person always tries to cut in front of us actually forming a line, because he (and unfortunately it is always a man) assumes I don't belong there. Usually the line, "I'm in First Class/have Elite Access" said politely but with a tone is enough to get this d.b. to back off. Really, what happened to manners? Newsflash: it isn't all about YOU.

Finally, we're on board. For this section, I've been upgraded into First Class. Many folks in First Class are frequent First Class flyers and you would think know the drill. Not always so. There is always the one who thinks the flight attendant is his or her personal valet and waiter. Then there are those who are so self-absorbed they don't hear the flight attendant say to the previous 5 people, "Today we are offering a cold plate for a snack. Would you care for one?" and they make her repeat it. And repeat it. And then repeat the explanation of what a "cold plate" is. Again. (This actually happened to me recently. I thought that poor flight attendant was going to go ballistic, since of the 12 in First Class only 3 of us had a clue when it came to ordering our snack.) It makes me think of that Allstate commercial where they guy orders steak tartare, "hold the tartare sauce."

I still think my favorite First Class "entitlement" behaviors are disregarding the take-off and landing procedures. Electronic devices off until 10,000 feet? I'm a busy, important business traveler. Those 15 minutes I'm away from my computer are killing me! Seat back up? Really? I have seen, more than once, a flight attendant ask someone in First Class to put away their tray table and raise their seat back, only to be ignored so the flight attendant has to ask again. And sometimes a third time. I'm fairly sure these same people wouldn't tolerate their child, or someone who works for them, having to be asked to do something 2 or 3 times before it actually gets done. To me, this is that entitlement mindset in action.

But First Class, while its own interesting sociological study, isn't alone in its snotty people. Now I probably get upgraded about 65% of the time an upgrade is possible (not all flights have First Class). When I don't get upgraded, I still get to board early, ensuring easy access to my seat and guaranteed overhead bin space. So this means I'm usually comfortably seated in my row 5 or 6 seat while rows 20-30 are boarding. On one flight, I was in my row 6 seat (next to an elderly woman who needed extra time to board) working a Sudoku puzzle when I overhear a woman, who is probably in her mid-50s loudly and snidely say to her traveling companion, "Look at all the people who boarded well before their row was called."

There is a lot to be gleaned from this statement and the tone with which it was said. First is the intimation that people who can't follow instructions are lesser people. Secondly, it screams "look how good I am, I followed the rules." Thirdly, it criticizes the gate agents, insinuating that they just allow anyone to board whenever even though their row hadn't yet been called. Fourthly, it's just plain RUDE. Sure, I've had thoughts along those lines myself, usually while shopping at Walmart, but I know better than to express them out loud, and loud enough where a person sitting 3 seats away on a crowded, noisy airplane, can clearly hear them. And of course, it never occurred to her that she might be wrong.

I flew just short of 34,000 miles in 2009. I had some great flight attendants. I had some mediocre ones. I had one who did the safety demonstration like it was a Bob Fosse number. I've had pilots who left divots in the runway upon landing. I had a pilot who landed a full 737 so delicately you didn't know you'd actually landed. And I have learned that an ounce of patience and kindness towards my fellow travelers and flight crew not only significantly helps situations, but it also leaves me feeling better. Remember, the crew is there for your comfort, but more importantly for your safety. And Thoreau had it right: Practice random acts of kindness.

Now, please bring those tray tables and seat backs to a full and upright position as we prepare the cabin for landing. Thank you for choosing this airline, and welcome home, or enjoy your stay in the city of your final destination.

1.06.2010

Alcohol, Friends, and Fidelity

I doubt there is anyone out there who would disagree with the statement that alcohol lowers your inhibitions. Given your mood and the amount of alcohol, it can completely erase your inhibitions. It ultimately becomes the drink that makes you just plain stupid. Now, when around friends this can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, connections are made that really should have been made a long time ago. Other times, you do dumb things and then your friends put pictures of them up on Facebook.

And then there are the things that are just creepy and awkward.

At a recent gig, one I do frequently, several friends and I wrapped up the end of two busy weeks of concerts, recording sessions, and rehearsals with cigars and wine. It was me and 6 guys: 3 gay, 1 married, 1 in a LTR, and 1 single and not interested in me. 5 of these guys I've known for years and consider them all to be good friends. The "single, not interested" I had just met at the gig, but he was one of those people who I just immediately connected with and it felt like we'd been friends for a lot longer. Whilst enjoying our cigars around the pool, another singer invited himself into our gathering. An addition for the final 2 concerts, he'd only been with us for 3 days and was completely unknown. I think in the 3 days he'd been with us I'd said about 30 words to him. We knew he was married and had a 19 month old son, so being the cool, inclusive folks we are, we pulled up another chair for him.

Since glass can't be by a pool, and wine (usually) comes in glass bottles, we moved the party up to my room because I had scored an ocean view, which is really important at 10:00 at night. We sat around and drank and told tasteless jokes and laughed until we cried and my one neighbor called the front desk. About midnight, everyone left, saying the requisite goodbyes and promises to keep in touch until the next time we all gig together, mostly fond lies unless commenting on Facebook statuses and pictures constitutes "keeping in touch." In total, the 8 of us had only gone through 3 bottles of red wine and a tiny amount of bourbon, on top of whatever we had consumed a few hours earlier at a post-concert reception. We were relaxed but no one was toasted. Knowing my alarm would be going off in 6 hours, I set about packing.

5 minutes or so after everyone leaves, my cell phone rings. There are very few people who will call me after midnight, and several of them had just left my room, so I was quite surprised to see it was the new guy. (Let's call him Ted.) He was calling to see "if the party had moved, what we might be up to," etc. The answer was everyone had left at the same time he did, and they were all doing what I was doing, which was packing and/or sleeping. We chatted for a couple of minutes, the usual "it was good to meet you" stuff and said goodnight. 10 minutes later, Ted calls again. This time, the first thing he says is, "Want to grab another drink?" This is said with a tone. It is 12:20 in the morning. I have to be up in less than 6 hours. I've had most of a bottle of wine and I have two weeks' worth of dirty clothes to pack. After being shocked, I politely declined the invitation. I then start panic-texting my confidantes and make arrangements to go to one of their rooms to vent when he is done showering.

Before this can happen, "Ted" send me a text message. The entirety of the message is his room number.

We have now crossed a line. The phone calls I could excuse as a new singer trying to fit into the group, and they were within the boundaries of collegiality. But this text message, after I've declined a drink, that's not so hot. At this point, let me remind you, sports fans, that he is MARRIED. And has a 19 month old CHILD. Now I'm not altogether unattractive, but honestly I'm also not a beauty queen and I am not often the recipient of such overt passes for hook-ups. So I'm pretty freaked. Thankfully I have some really great friends, not the least of which is the aforementioned one who invited me to his room to vent. During this venting, I get another text message. This one reads: "Niente?" (Nothing?) Got to admit, he's persistent.

Ok, guys. If you invite a woman for a drink and she declines, and you then tell her your room number and 40 minutes later she hasn't knocked on your door or otherwise responded, it is safe to say she's not coming of isn't interested. One would think Ted, who is married and appears to be in the mid-to-late 30s, would know that. Or maybe not.

At 5:22 a.m., I get one more text message from Ted. This was an apology, of sorts, blaming the wine and wishing me a happy holidays. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but if a couple glasses of wine (or a few drinks in general) gets you to the point where you will cheat on your wife with a woman that you just met, don't know, and who hasn't give you any indication that she wants to shag you, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't drink when your wife isn't present. Maybe you should even consider just not drinking.

Hooking up amongst colleagues can be tricky. If both are single and have the same ideas about the hook-up, most of the time it works out. Sometimes, the next time you see each other it can be awkward, especially if things were not completely copacetic. In this case, if I ever see Ted again it will be incredibly awkward. Fortunately I have friends who I know will help me out and run interference if necessary. But still... if alcohol makes you do stupid things and you are older than 23, maybe you should be responsible and say, "I can't drink," or, "I can't drink in this situation." Agreed?