The Adventures of TinTin

TinTin was a staple of my childhood.

tintin

There used to be a big old kids bookstore in DC called The Cheshire Cat. I don’t remember it very well, which is to say, at all. I do have fragments of memory of bookstores as a child, but I think they’re of The Book Exchange in College Park, and the old B. Dalton in White Flint — you know the one, if you grew up in the area: the double floor plan, the catwalks, the stairwells?

Anyway, The Adventures of TinTin was a Belgian comic written and illustrated by a guy named Herge beginning in the 20s and through until the 70s. That’s not his actual name, just his pseudonym.

Anyway, TinTin’s a bit controversial in his own way — maybe a bit racist, maybe a tad New Order-ry, but I never picked up on any of that as a kid reading these books.

Anyhoodidliehooway, one day while surfing Amazon, I came across something fantastic and amazing: A (Almost But Not Quite) Complete Collection of TinTin. Hardbound, in a box, with three comics collected into each book, the twenty-one TinTin books I’d read over and over and over again, in one package. So of course when Mom was putting out feelers for what I might like for Christmas, this made the top of the list: and sure enough, come Christmas Eve, voila!

tintin2

I was a bit put off by some of the customer reviews on Amazon.com, which stated that the set’s size made reading the strip difficult. The comics were published (in the States) at a size of 11.5 x 8.5, and these books are 8.75 x 6 (roughly). However, once I opened the set (and I read them in chronological order!), I found that as long as I had sufficient light, reading was easy as eating delicious apple pie.

I mentioned that the set was Almost But Not Quite Complete: two adventures, TinTin in the Congo, and TinTin in the Land of the Soviets, were not included (they are available to buy separately, and I might do that).

You’ll also be hearing more on TinTin in the future: the comics are being adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg, and the adaption focuses on my favorite books — The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

redrackhamstreasure-1

(By the way? That image above? That’s about the same size as they are in the collection).

if you ever needed confirmation that deep down I’m a douchebag, read this

UPDATE:

I probably didn’t phrase this post very well, or in the correct tone — most of the people I follow, I do because they’re really great bloggers and I look forward to reading what they write next, so it’s a bit of a, say, cocktease?, to click on my reader and find the same post on everyone’s blog when my first reaction was “OMG! Look at all these great new blog posts to read!”

Like I said in this post, I wish Brandy & her special friend all the best, and I do think it’s probably one of the most emotional posts I’ve ever read … (honestly, anything so moving that could possible put me in as vulnerable an emotional state as to possibly be willing to clean my office’s kitchen, has gotta be pretty damn good).

But in expressing my displeasure at the frequent reposting, I insulted a great deal of people I had no intention of offending, and I truly and humbly apologize.

For those wondering why I haven’t apologized and deleted this post, it’s this: it’s very easy to “re-write history” on the internet by deleting offensive websites, or offensive blog posts. Overall, I think I’m a pretty good guy. But sometimes I can act like a total jerk. Deleting this post wouldn’t make me less of a jerk, but keeping it up here — at the very least — makes me accountable for being that jerk. End update.

During the Christmas season, I let my normal grumpy, curmudgeonly self go, and I become a happy, cheerful, do-unto-other type person, willing to smile even as, on Christmas Eve, a customer is cursing me out because we’re all sold out of some Aretha Franklin CD. “Well, sir, you’ve only known Christmas was coming all year!” I reply with a smile on my face, because, y’know what?

It’s Christmas: and from, say, a few weeks before Thanksgiving through this special holiday, I can be outgoing and pleasant and cheery. Because it’s the meaning of the season, right? Good cheer and peace on Earth?

Yeah, well, guess what motherfuckers, Christmas is over.

Grumpy? ON. Curmudgeon? ON.

Read blogs? Read a lot of blogs? Bet you’ve seen a lot of people reposting a post from a blogger named Brandy about her boyfriend, who was diagnosed with possible incurable cancer. It’s really a beautiful post, very moving, even possibly a little heartbreaking. (Totally serious).

I don’t even have a problem with the post itself (how could I? it makes me want to hug my boss and clean the office kitchen), my problem is with bloggers’ reactions to said post, namely, “Oh, wow! Even through everyone and their mother has already reposted this, I’m going to do it too!” And they’re often doing some sort of schmaltzy intro about the “true meaning of the season” or some-such.

Yeah, season ended three days ago, let’s keep moving on, okay?

Jesus H. Christ, let’s get two things straight here: first off, that post doesn’t need an intro (completely and totally my douchie opinion). Second of all, maybe you’ve noticed this (maybe you haven’t), but bloggers and blog readers tend to visit mostly the same circle — so by the time you decide to repost Brandy’s post, everyone who reads your blog has probably already seen it guest posted fifty ka-billion times.

How many times do you actually expect people to read it? Maybe if you got to it first, but after a while, it’s just, “Oh, so-and-so just reposted Brandy’s plea again. Boy, that’s nice, but I just really don’t feel like reading it for the fifteenth-fucking time.” Isn’t anybody writing anything original? (Obviously, I’m not).

See? I told you I was a douchebag.

And if you need some Aretha Franklin CD for Christmas 2010? You’ve got fifty-one and a half weeks, stop your fucking dilly-dallying.

3:00 – 2:59 – 2:58

On my way into the Bookstore yesterday, I stopped by the corner CVS and splurged for a 20oz Coke Zero and two Kraft Easy Mac packets — one would be my dinner that night, the next would be my lunch at the Office the following day, which also happens to be my last working day until 2010.

Yay!

Well, but not so much.

So with dinner and lunch in hand, I walk into the store, descend to the lower level, and shrug off my coat and bag in the backroom. I change out of my heavy, uncomfortable winter shoes into softer sneakers, and I get the office supervisor to sticker* my current read (“Night Over Water” by Follett). I pull the cover off one of the Easy Mac containers, pour in some water, set it in the microwave, set the time for three minutes** and I’m off to the restroom.

Returning to the breakroom, I’m a bit surprised to see the microwave has already finished its cooking cycle. I open the door, and take out a completely non-nuked Easy Mac. Did I forget to press start? I assume so, so I repeat the procedure and hit start.

The microwave runs for two seconds — literally, the display reads 3:00, then 2:59, then 2:58 — and then goes completely dead.

Leaning out of the breakroom, I ask the office supervisor if the microwave is broken. “Yes,” she replies.

“Well, why didn’t you put a note on it?” I ask, kind of incredulous.

“Everyone knows it’s broken,” she replies.

“I didn’t!” I snarl back, and I’m a bit surprised at how upset I am — after all, the Easy Mac? It’s a buck twenty at CVS. Hardly breaking the piggy bank, y’know?

So I grab a piece of paper from the office printer, write “Microwave Broken”, and tape it to the unit. I pitch the cold Easy Mac (I can think of no way to salvage it). Then I ponder what I’m going to have for dinner. I’ve just decided on a giant Babe Ruth bar from the employee vending machine, when our Operations Manager asks why there’s a sign taped to the microwave.

“It’s broken,” I tell her. “I think people ought to know before they waste their money on food they can’t nuke.” I raise my voice a bit for that last part. The Office Supe rolls her eyes and goes back to whatever pointless task she was doing.

“It’s not broken,” the Ops Manager presses the red button on the electrical socket. “The fuse went. You can use it now.”

I’m beyond elated, and grab the second Easy Mac container from my locker. I rip off the top, pour water in it, swirl it all about, stuff it into the microwave, set the time, and hit start.

Once again: 3:00 to 2:59 to 2:58 to complete power down.

“Um,” I say.

“Oh.” She says. “I guess it is broken.” She offers me an apologetic smile. “Sorry…”

So my dinner last night was a Babe Ruth chocolate bar and a small bottle of Coke Zero.

*One loss prevention measure employed by the store is to have a supervisor or manager place a yellow sticker printed by the company on personal items employees bring in which are also sold by the store — so, any books, DVDs, or CDs need to be stickered. It’s sort of pointless because half the time they’re too busy to do it, and don’t have time to get to it until we’re closing up for the night, at which point they’re just taking our word that it’s ours. Can’t tell you how often this happens.

**I know the package says to nuke the thing for three and a half minutes, but through trial and error, I’ve determined the store’s employee microwave’s optimal cooking time for Easy Mac is three minutes.

a legitimate crazy person blog

For the past month or so, when I’ve seen a certain blog on DC Blogs, I’ve sent a link to a few coworkers, and inquired, “So, do you think this is a legitimate crazy person’s blog, or a person pretending to be crazy?”

I’m pretty sure I have the answer:

I held clearances, and actually [though unknown to me– most of my life] the secret service also knew who I was because Richard Nixon is my grandfather.

Seriously — why do crazy people always mention the FBI?

80 sq. feet a person

Try to picture my apartment: it’s a 400 square foot studio, including the bathroom, ridiculously long and narrow kitchen, a huge walk in closet, and a foyer.

Yes, my studio apartment has a foyer. I find this absolutely hilarious, but I do wish the closet door opened on to that and not to the living room space. Hey, it’d made room for more bookshelves!

Forward, then, to a description of my living space, which is my living room, dining room, bedroom, office, and library, all in one. There are two large windows, a futon, a love seat, a small bar table, bookshelves (some stacked atop of others) climb the wall.

For one person, it’s luxurious. Everything I need is but a short grab away, and the distinct areas keep it from feeling closed in. For two people, it’s comfortable enough.

For five people? Clausterphobic.

That was Christmas Eve. Mom, Dad, Lil’ Sis, and Lil’ Sis’s boyfriend (both of them in from Colorado), came over for Christmas dinner at my place. I spent the first six hours of the day at the Bookstore working the last minute Christmas Eve shopping hell at the Bookstore before hurrying home for some much needed cleaning, before beginning to cook.

Yes, I cooked, the traditional Family Christmas dinner: a broccoli quiche, served with peaches on the side.

The folks brought over desert (a pumpkin pie, and carrot cake cupcakes), and what they needed for salads.

Let me explain hilarity: my parents trying to find enough space in my kitchen to assemble the salad and ice the carrot cake cupcakes. I have a grand total of 46″ of available counter space, and it’s divided by a sink. I did have a small bar table abutting the counter for the last year, but opted to move it into the living area for the added seating and table space.

And now I like it so much where it is, I’m pretty sure I’m not moving it back into the kitchen.

But everything came together. Tippy was very social, and couldn’t get enough attention — for about an hour. Then she got grumpy and started hissing. Guy came out a few times, but didn’t let anyone touch him and kept running back under the bed or sofa. We exchanged presents, we ate dinner, hugged, and parted company.

Presents2009

So the gifts included a book Peter & Max based on the Fables Graphic Novels by Bill Willingham, custom stamps illustrated with pictures of my cats, Settlers of Catan (anyone want to play? I never have!), Arkham Asylum for the 360, new linens (Martha Stewart … oy vey!), and my favorite: the collected TinTin books by Herge.

ho-ho-ho

So, here’s how my favorite Christmas movie of all time goes:

There’s this guy, whose wife moved across the country to take a job, and he’s flying out there for Christmas to visit her and see his kids. He stops past her office, and there’s some uncomfortable introductions and explanations, and then, through a fortuitous series of events, they choose love over material goods, rekindle their fire, make a new life-saving friend (who earns himself redemption), and live (for a little while at least) happily ever after.

Okay, so maybe the fortuitous series of events do include machine guns, explosions, bodies falling out of office buildings, two F.B.I. guys named Johnson (no relation), and a considerable amount of yippie-ki-yay, motherfuckers!

That’s right: Die Hard.

Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly family appropriate, but when you get past the film’s trappings, it’s about exactly what I said above: John McClane reunites (admittedly, only until Die Hard 3) with the wife from whom he is separated, they choose each other over the vast amounts of wealth Hans was attempting to steal, and Sgt. Al Powell finds redemption (of a sort) for the horrible incident in his own past. And Argyle?

Well let’s be honest: poor Argyle probably got fired for bringing back the limo beat to shit.

Lousy Christmas for him.

hohoho

Well. And for this guy.

I am at my desk at work, and I am safe.

I am at my desk at work, and I am safe.

Sadly, my Office chose not to follow the Federal closure today, so I dragged myself out of bed a bit earlier than usual this morning to check and make certain that buses would be running. And then I showered, dressed, and hit the road.

My tweets tell the story:

Ok 517a and I am off to the Metro Woodley Park

The sidewalks on my street had been plowed, so once I made it down the slippery stairs in front of my building, I was okay until I reached Connecticut Avenue. The pedestrian entries onto the streets themselves hadn’t been cleared, so once I picked my way across a lump of snow, I just decided to jaywalk (after checking for no traffic, of course). On the west side of the street, I found that the sidewalks were mostly clear, although at points, it was just heavily compacted snow. I noticed one bus-stop completely snowed under and unusable, and another one that had been cleared and had a passage cleared through it for boarding and disembarking from buses.

At WP escalator 525a. Lots of ice. Be careful. #wmata

I noticed yesterday that the escalator at Woodley Park was soaked, which makes sense: people with snow on their boots got on, the snow melted, and then it drained free onto the street level and froze overnight. Seriously, be careful, LOTS OF ICE, which made getting to the elevator a bit treacherous.

557a arrival at Med Center a few min ago

Once I got onto the platform at the station, I probably had to wait twelve or fifteen minutes for the next train in the direction of Shady Grove. Two trains, in the meantime, came through bound for Glenmont: both were coated with quite a bit of snow on their roofs. At Bethesda, I was able to connect to the internet with my phone and check arrival times for the J-route — the next bus to work was 17 minutes away, but Medical Center showed a J1 in eight minutes. So I stayed on the train and hoped to catch it — alas, I did not.

15 min wait for bus to work per nextbus app. Brrrr.

As it turns out, this was wrong: after waiting about 8 minutes, a J2 bus arrived. It was not displaying on NextBus.

Unexpected early bus! With running heat.

I should’ve waited: the J2 bus doesn’t run directly past work, so I wound up disembarking about an eighth of a mile from work, just to realize that the sidewalks weren’t plowed, which meant I had to walk pretty much the whole way on the road. Thankfully, it was early morning and while the traffic is light on a normal day, it was even lighter today.

***

But I made it into work — and shock and surprise, forty minutes later, and three other coworkers have arrived. However, they’ve all come via their cars, and I fear for the safety of my coworkers who rely on public transportation. Have fun with the non plowed sidewalks, folks.

Seriously: this is reason enough to shut down work. How can you expect people to get here safely when the sidewalks aren’t cleared? Answer: you can’t.

oh, the weather outside is frightful …

Although I blogged about how the Bookstore began cutting hours a few weeks ago (at the demand of Corporate), something apparently changed: I guess maybe “they” woke up and realized, “Oh, right, Christmas.” Most likely, the return of our General Manager meant we had an effective advocate who could say, “Hey, this store makes a buckload of cash when we’re staffed — give me hours!”

So lately, it’s been, “Oh, good, you’re here — want to clock in now?” and “Hey, got any days off this week? Want to work?”

And, because I like working, and like hours, and like being paid, I’ve been pretty accommodating. I agreed earlier in the week to come in on Saturday, to work on various merchandising projects at the store. I called this morning and agreed to come in between 11 and noon. I actually walked in the door at about a quarter of noon, having had a remarkably easy time: the sidewalks had been shoveled, there wasn’t much traffic, and a train was pulling into the station as I got onto the platform.

The store was actually pretty dead. There were no customers at the Front of Store area, and only a handful in the Cafe, and a few around other sections. The phones were ringing pretty steadily, most of them: “Are you open?” And at that point, we’d already gotten the word from our district manager, so we told people we would be open until two p.m.

But there wasn’t any time for projects: shortly after arriving, Metro announced that they were pulling the plug on service to outdoor stations, and half our staff needed to depart for home immediately, or risk being stranded. We made a page, and lots of customers began flowing from the store.

And then Metro announced they were stopping Metrobus service, and at a quarter of one, we amended what we’d been saying: “We’re closing in fifteen minutes,” we announced, and we explained why.

And, y’know: most people understood why the decision was made. People who had purchases to make came to the registers and those who tried to come in were told that we were closing in just a few minutes. We killed the line, ran through the store looking for anyone who’d missed the announcements, and bolted for the back room for our scarves and hats and coats, and we hurried out of the store.

There was a woman in a green coat standing in the vestibule, angrily exchanging words with our GM, who was letting us out.

“I called half an hour ago and you said you’d be open until two. I got bundled up and walked down here.”

“The weather has worsened,” the GM said, apologizing. “We had to change our plans to ensure our employees could get home safely.”

“You’re telling me in half an hour the situation has changed that much?”

And since Metrobus had shut down, the GM replied: “Yes, it has.”

“Everything is closed. I’m from Michigan. This is ridiculous.”

“That your opinion,” the GM said. But by this time I’d completed my bag check and set out for Farragut North.

And look, it’s not that I don’t understand why folks from snowier climes are frustrated by the mid-Atlantic region’s inability to deal with a “little” bit of snow.

Nevermind that this storm is going to bring one to two feet of snow here, and WTOP is calling it a possible record breaker. Nevermind that this is probably the biggest snow storm we’ve had since that big storm in March of 2003 that, speaking for myself, snowed me in from Sunday until the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

Look, let’s break it down: I’m glad you’re from Michigan. I bet the buses run great in Detroit in the middle of the largest snowfall in six and a half damn years. But you know? I bet Detroit’s got a much larger snow-clearing infrastructure: y’know, like plows?

Base line: it doesn’t make sense not to shut DC down in the face of such a storm. Buses can’t operate — see the above link — and even the Metro can’t operate when the third rail is covered in snow.

And getting angry because a store’s manager wants to make sure her employees get home safely? Not going to win you any points with anybody.

As it was, it took forty minutes to get from Farragut North to Woodley Park via the Metro.

Video via DCist.

so are they

“Why, yes I am,” the man replied to my questioned response to his question to me.

He’d asked me why the line at the registers was so long. I’d asked him, in response, if he was a last minute Christmas shopper.

“So are they.” I answered, indicating the line, probably about a hundred people long, reaching back to the cafe.

nextbus

I got an iPhone last June, but I was sort of slow to jump on the app bandwagon (aside for Facebook and Twitter).

One night I was standing at the corner of 18th & K, waiting for the L2 home. I opened the web browser, and was clicking through to WMATA’s Next Bus tracking system, to manually enter the stop designation, when, as if from an iPhone commercial, I said, “I bet there’s an app for this.”

And there is!

I chose NEXTbusDC, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. Notably, while I had downloaded a few free apps, this is the first app I was willing to pay for. I’m particularly fond of the recent update, which utilizes the phone’s GPS to display arrival times at stops close to you, without requiring you to first select which stop you’d care to look at.

However, while the NextBus has been great for information on DC routes, it is not so great on other jurisdictions. I live in DC, and my part-time job is in DC, however, my real job is up in northern Bethesda. There are Montgomery County RideOn buses that I frequent: namely, the #96 from Grosvenor-Strathmore, and the #47 from Bethesda. Alas, NextBus does not track RideOn buses, and I e-mailed NextBus for information on when this might change.

Here is the response from NextBus’s Business Development Manager, Thomas Noyes:

Thanks for contacting us about NextBus in the metro DC area. I have been in several discussions with RideOn over the last year and we are very interested in getting them onboard with us. Unfortunately, they have not been able to proceed because of budget issues. I strongly encourage you to contact your county commissioner and state representatives to request funding for our services. We are in a unique position with RideOn as they have the same technology configuration as WMATA (Metrobus). Integration would be a simple process and we would have RideOn online in a matter of a few months. RideOn is also able to use the existing WMATA contract through a Council of Governments rider. All in all, this could be a very quick process if the money was available.

Thanks again for your inquiry. Hopefully advocacy from folks like yourself will move this project forward.

Thanks,
Tom.

Long story short: if you have a smart phone, and you ride buses frequently, get this app. And if you live in Montgomery County? Get in touch with your country commissioner! Ok: maybe with the economy still in the tank, it won’t happen right away. No reason not to let ‘em know there’s interest beforehand.

WMATA Cares

Yesterday afternoon, say about 3:40ish, as I walked towards the middle escalator at Farragut North, en-route to a hectic evening of retail, I saw, descending towards the platform, a big hulking African American station manager holding the hand of a frail elderly white woman, as he explained to her what train she needed to catch as she looked around, her eyes not quite as large as dinner plates.

It was very heartwarming.

Of course, when I got to the mezzanine, there was a guy who was having trouble with his fare card, so he just walked out via the emergency exit gate, which just goes to show, that on Metro, when an employee does something nice and sweet and heartwarming for one person, there’s another person who just doesn’t have any fucking patience.

NOTE: he probably wasn’t actually hulking, but he was giant compared to her, she was so tiny. He was a gentle giant. Comparatively. He probably wasn’t much bigger than I am (although I am a pretty big guy).

I Have Nothing Against Abstinence Education

Honestly, I don’t get why anyone could possibly have anything against encouraging young folk to avoid having sex. It’s sort of like encouraging a driver never to crash his car.

But, y’know what? I bet you’d never give your car keys to a teenage who has never had so much as a driver’s ed course. I bet you’d want to make sure that the person you were entrusting with your car knows how to operate a clutch, and to stop at a red light. I bet you’d want to make sure he wouldn’t do rolling stops, and would keep his eyes open for pedestrians, and would yield at crosswalks, and use his turn signal. I bet you’d want all this not just to make sure you get your car back in one piece, but because you wouldn’t want him to have to be scraped off its innards after he plays chicken with a bus and loses.

I bet you’d tell him to buckle up.

And that’s why I have something against abstinence only education: you’re giving a young person the key to your car and you’re telling him “Don’t get in a car wreck!”

What does this pedal do? How does the wheel works? What about that button, this stalk? Naw, don’t worry about it, you don’t need to know: just don’t get in a car wreck, and everything’ll be fine.

Once again, there’s an article out about young peoples’ misunderstandings of how to use contraception:

Also, 29 percent of women and 42 percent of men said it is at least slightly likely they will have unprotected sex in the next three months — and it’s quite likely or extremely likely for 17 percent of women and 19 percent of men.

The discrepancy between both wanting to plan pregnancy and having unprotected sex may have something to do with a focus in recent years on abstinence-only education, said Laura Lindberg, senior research associate at the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

“Abstinence-only curriculums have gone explicitly out of their way to teach misconceptions about contraception,” she said. “This generation of 20-somethings have missed many opportunities to get medically accurate and correct information.”

Many of the people surveyed said they did not know much about contraception to begin with — 63 percent said they knew little or nothing about birth control pills, and 30 percent said they had scant knowledge about condoms.

The numbers may reflect that while most people have heard of the pill and condoms, they have never been taught how to use the pill or where to get it, or how to put on a condom, said Dr. Yolanda Wimberly, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Morehouse School of Medicine and an adolescent medicine specialist with Grady Health Systems in Atlanta, Georgia.

Myths about pregnancy and sexual activity continue to permeate circles of young people. For instance, 28 percent of men incorrectly believe they will get extra protection from wearing two condoms at once, a practice that actually leads to condom breakage. At the same time, 18 percent of men wrongly believe that having sex standing up reduces the chance that they will get a female partner pregnant.

These are the kinds of myths often heard in Wimberly’s office. Wimberly, who sees young people from age 12 to 30 about sexual health issues, commonly hears rumors like these that have spread among friends. Anecdotal evidence that a behavior is safe is sometimes more convincing for young adults than the recommendations of health professionals.

Hey, don’t worry, you’ll be fine driving, even if you’re only ever learned how to drive by watching your parents, and movies. Hey, little Jimmy from down the block? That’s how he learned: how many accidents has he had? None. See? You’ll be totally fine. Just drive like Jimmy, and don’t get in a car wreck.

Guess what: back in college, I knew a girl who bragged (I mean, not openly, but to a circle of mutual friends) that she’d never ever used protection during sex, and she’d never gotten pregnant, and never gotten an STD, and this is not a woman I would describe as chaste. Based on that: are you going to go without a condom the next time you’re getting horizontal?

The biggest (and sadly, the best) argument I’ve ever heard in favor of abstinence only education is something along the lines of, “If you teach people how to have safe sex, then they’ll have sex.” But the problem is that the argument assumes that if people don’t know how to have safe sex, they won’t have sex at all, and I think that’s pretty shortsighted.

And then there’s this gem of a quote:

“I don’t think we’ll be able to overcome this problem unless we restore the social norm of not having sex and not getting pregnant before marriage,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.

Y’know, I don’t actually believe that the social norm was ever not having sex until marriage. I think that may have been the ideal (probably still is), and the pretended norm, but c’mon: people are randy. It’s not like, before Woodstock, everyone was magically a virgin until marriage, and then afterwords, everyone started fucking like bunny rabbits for ever and ever and ever.

How An Elevator Could Bring The Bookstore Down

If you stopped into the Bookstore over the last month, you may — or may not — have noticed that our in-store elevator has been out of service. For a lot of people: no big deal. Up the stairs, down the stairs. For some people, particularly older and elderly customers, this has been a bigger deal, also so for folks lugging luggage, baby strollers, and especially for booksellers trying to move hundreds of pounds of books to and from the main level.

But the elevator hasn’t been broken. No-sirree. Oh, it’s out of service alright. Here’s why:

Once upon a time, the DC Fire Marshall (I’m sure not him himself, but one of his minions) came in to do an inspection and noted that the elevator was not in compliance with the District’s Fire Code, which apparently states, among other possible things, that an elevator must have a telephone so that should a person become trapped inside of it, they can communicate without the outside world: “Help, help, I’m trapped in an elevator that smells of stale urine.”

Which is a smell no one should have to, y’know, smell.

So, once upon a time, store management went to Corporate and said, “Hey, we need money to upgrade our elevator.”

And so Corporate muckity-mucked about, and I hope at some point consulted a lawyer knowledgeable about DC fire code, and then Corporate came back and said: “Uh, no, you don’t need a telephone, you’re not violating DC fire code.” (I guess that lawyer wasn’t so smart after all).

And so store management said: “Erm. Okaaaaay.” Because, y’know, store management was probably trying to figure out why Corporate didn’t believe that the Fire Marshall or his minions weren’t well aware of DC Fire Code.

And this went on, and on: the Fire Marshall (or one of his minions) came in, looked at the elevator, and said, “You know you’re still not in compliance, right? One of these days, I’m going to shut this down.”

And so store management went back to Corporate, each and every time, and each and every time, Corporate came back and said: “Will you just trust us? Your elevator is fine.”

And so finally, about a month ago, the Fire Marshall (or one of his minions) came in, but this time, instead of saying, “One of these days, I’m going to shut this down”, he (or she) took out a big key and literally shut the elevator down. I wasn’t there when it happened, so I don’t actually know that a key was required for this action, and I also don’t know if he (or she) said “I told you so.”

For that matter, I don’t even know if it was the same Fire Marshall minion or different ones coming in to do this.

In any case, store management went to Corporate and said: “I told you so.”

And Corporate said: “Whoops.” They also eventually agreed to pay for the elevator upgrades, a whopping $15,000 from my understanding, although for whatever reason, it was going to take a month or two to get the elevator fixed. Maybe there’s only one elevator upgrade technician and he’s busy fixing elevators at companies that didn’t procrastinate about getting theirs fixed.

So without a working elevator, I’m pretty sure the Bookstore was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but of course, I could be wrong. But Corporate made no effort for a solution, so we just kind of soldiered on to the best of our ability, lugging huge carts up the stairs, all the while afraid we’d lose our grip, causing great bodily damage to ourselves, and great merchandising damage to the books, and I’m sure the latter certainly would’ve lathered up Corporate more than the former.

There were incidents: an elderly woman descending the stairs to attend the Ralph Nader event slipped and almost fell down the stairs. Fortunately, an employee caught her. She and another woman were later taken out of the store by going through the stock room and to the upper level via the building’s cargo elevator.

Flash forward to yesterday: I came in to work my Sunday all-day shift, which I wasn’t looking forward to – we’ve usually got a pretty small staff working, and two weeks before Christmas? That’s a recipe for some hurt. But I guess Corporate flexed a bit with payroll, because an extra cashier was brought in, and our recently returned GM came through to help with our merchandising.

Also: I was granted permission to open a copy of Bob Dylan’s Christmas album for in-store play. So if you’re on the lower level, from the stairs back to the music department, and you think to yourself, “Is that Bob Dylan singing ‘Little Drummer Boy?'” The answer is: yes, yes it is. Now go buy a copy of the album.

Anyway, so I came in, and I jokingly asked one of the supervisors if the elevator was working again yet. And imagine my surprise when he said: “Sure is!”

And I was all, “Huh?”

And so he explained it to me: seems there’s an agreement Borders worked out with the Fire Marshall, wherein Corporate keeps an employee (with a radio) in the elevator at all times, so that should the elevator break down, said employee can press the “talk” button on his radio and say “Help, help, the elevator is broken.”

Except — that in their infinite wisdom, Corporate chose not to put a Bookstore employee into the elevator, but rather, to hire a temp agency to put one of their employee into the elevator. I don’t know how much temp agencies charge for a temp employee, let’s say it’s $15 an hour. So Corporate is willing to pay, at a guess, twelve-hundred bucks a week to keep someone in the elevator. This kind of pisses me off, because I blogged about how they’d chopped hours only a few weeks ago. Putting a store employee in the elevator would not only make fiscal sense (about $700 per week), but it would provide store staff the hours that were cut from their schedules.

It’s decisions like this that really gotta make ya’ think: what the hell? And stuff like this that makes me think 247wallst.com might be right: April, 2010, this company might just go out of business.

It’s Perhaps Time For An Upgrade. (Maybe).

I’ve been contemplating the purchase of a new and larger television for some time. Currently, I have a nice little 22″ HDTV which I do, in fact, like — it’s a good size for my small apartment. However, in talking with some tech minded people lately, it was pointed out that with a small TV like I have, I am probably not getting the “bang for my buck” from my blu-ray DVD player. In addition, as I have been fragging it up lately with my XBox, a larger screen would make it easier to play games, as well as allow me to have a split screen when friends come over.

I mean, we can have a split screen now, but it’d be really tiny.

I’m not looking for some gigantic goliath of a televison — the furniture set up of my apartment utilizes an EXPEDIT Ikea shelf turned on its side as a TV bench. Coupled with an ARTIST brand shelf hanging above, and space becomes a consideration. Also, the living space of my apartment is only about 170 square feet total. So I’ve determined that (keeping in mind the height and width of a specific set) I’m looking for something in the 32″ (minimum) to 40″ (maximum) range, and of course, in 1080p.

One of the HDTV brands I’ve been noticing a lot is Vizio. I’ve never ever heard of Vizio before Black Friday, but their prices are extraordinarily competitive against better known brands like Samsung and Sony.

I emailed a new coworker to ask his opinion — he’s “in the know” on TVs. This was his reply:

Vizio is one of the biggest distributors of hdtvs in the US, they’re really popular because they are generally less expensive. They are pretty good tvs, but the reason that they are cheaper is the picture contrast ratio, which tends to be much lower than Samsung, sharp, or Phillips. Its not really a huge difference in terms of the picture unless you are really paying attention.

So this is, as far as I’m concerned, good news. I’m going to head out to Target tomorrow and see if they have any Vizio televisions on floor display so that I can observe what the TV picture actually looks like (I’ll most likely just buy from Dell*, since I don’t want to lug a TV home on the Circulator), but before I do place an order, does anyone have any first hand knowledge of Vizios? Are they a good buy?

*Home delivery? Interest free for a year? That’s a D-E-A-L!