Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bah Humbug? Not Me!

It's that time of year again. Yes, that joyous season when we grumble about retailers pushing Christmas at us way too early. "It's getting earlier every year!" goes the common complaint. Some experience this as performance anxiety. Some see it as crass commercialism. Others feel that it trivializes the spirit of peace and goodwill that Christmas represents. My feeling is, why fight it? I LOVE this season. I can't wait for the calendar to flip to November. I'm all, "Yeah! I'm ON it! Like tinsel on an evergreen, baby!"

For those of you who are struggling to adopt this attitude, allow me to share my Top Five Bah Humbug bashing tips.

Humbug #5 — "Good grief! This hobby store has Christmas stock in ALREADY! It's only September, for the love of Santa!"  Take in a slow, deep breath, 1–2–3–4; and exhale slowly to the count of eight tiny reindeer. Let me talk you down. You're safe. You're in a craft store. Crafters need long lead time to make their deadline. You are under no personal obligation to make your own mason jar snow globes. Nor should you be expected to create Santa's elf army out of toilet roll holders, or a nativity scene out of bread dough, or even an advent calendar garland for the fireplace using baby socks. Put that glue gun down. Just walk away.

Humbug #4 — "What is this?!?! It's only October and the Crate and Barrel catalog has Christmas table settings? Why, oh why, are they doing this to us???" Whatever you do, don't panic! This is only the first of about two hundred catalogs that will be delivered to your door between now and the end of December. Pace yourself. Leaf through them as though they are charming magazines filled with lovely things for pretend people who lead fantasy lives. Then pop them in the recycle bin and wait for next week's load. Repeat. And remember. You will survive without snowflake charger plates.

Humbug #3 — "Look! Over there! They're putting up a Christmas tree lot! Are you kidding me? It's November 10th! Remember last year's tree? No wonder we were ankle deep in needles!" Yes, these trees are going to be a little dry by December 25th. Who are we kidding? They'll be desiccated by Thanksgiving. So this year? Artificial, my friends. Pre-lit. No stress over getting it to balance in the tree stand. No resin stuck to your fingers —and everything else. No needles lodged in your carpet. You can even put it away fully decorated. Heck, it could stay up all year! Yes, you could become those people.

Humbug #2— "Ack! A holiday song? In November? Oh my aching eardrums! Are we going to hear, "Simply having a wonderful Christmas time," over and over for two whole months? I'll go insane!" This one is simple. Tell yourself, "It will be such a relief come December 26th when we won't be subjected to those songs anymore." Or at least you can tell yourself that. They will be back. But you have 10 months to get the wretched things out of your head. 

Humbug #1 — "Did you see THAT?!?" You know how the rest of this goes. "THAT" is the first sighting of decorations in the mall. Or the first ad on TV that features Black Friday store hours. My advice: give in. Go shopping. Waiting until December 24th is only going to wreak havoc with your blood pressure anyway. And if you really want to put the "good" and the "cheer" back in "Be of Good Cheer," I find that charitable projects like Coats for Kids, or Toys for Tots, or Good Neighbor food hampers really puts inspiration back into your shopping trip. So start early. Like now!

Happy November! 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Taxi Tales and Uber Angst: True Stories of Cab Catastrophies

Have you tried Uber? I haven't. I'm leery. I like the sound of "safe, reliable, on-demand taxi service." But I'd want to see the driver's full CV, arrest reports, character references, favorable reviews on Trip Advisor, and a note from a high school guidance counsellor before I'd get into a cab with one. 

I am a taxi-phobe. And for good reason. I'm lucky to be alive today.

Now, I know each one of these situations I'm about to tell you is going to sound glamorous — a weekend in Paris, a business trip to Montreal, a one day jaunt to New York for a meeting with an architect. You're thinking I must be some kind of expense-account, career-gal-type; a sophisticated, seasoned traveler. Wrong. I'm about as seasoned as boiled cod. 

So, as you read my sorry saga of bad cab karma, try to imagine a person for whom travel induces mega-watts of anxiety. Not somebody who should be allowed out on her own.

Fasten your seatbelt, folks, this is a wild blog ride this week (also slightly over the editorially prescribed 500 words.)

Taxi Tale No. 1 - Montreal

Off I go as a young interior designer, employed by a large Canadian retailer, on a mission to check out new stores recently opened in Montreal. One such store is located in a mall miles away from the airport hotel where I am staying. I will need to take a cab. Easy enough to get one at an airport hotel. It is winter; late afternoon, already dark. I ask the nice driver to take me to the shopping center in St. Bruno. He is reluctant. St. Bruno is almost an hour drive one way in rush hour. But he agrees, "Ok, I will take you there, but may I wait for you to bring you it will be worth my time?" 

Not translating the full meaning of this question, I agree, thinking that it will at least save me trying to get another cab for my return trip. After my store visit, I exit to find the faithful cabbie waiting for me. 

We embark on our return journey. He glances in the rear view mirror and says, "Mademoiselle, I wonder if you would like a tour of Montreal? I'll turn off the meter and show you the city!" 

"It's Mrs.," I reply, "And no, thanks very much, I will go back to my hotel."

"Oh, but the city is so, how you say, beautiful." His Francophone accent is getting thicker. "Let me show you the lights of old Montreal."

I am kidnapped in this taxicab and cell phones aren't invented yet. No kidding. He takes me to a parking lot up on Mount Royal which offers an astonishing view of the city. I have to admit — it is pretty spectacular. 

"This is where les amoureux, the lovers, come for romance," he says.

"That's nice. Can we go now, please?" 

"Will you have dinner with me?" 

"NO! I'm married and I want to go back to my hotel. I'm meeting someone." A lie, but that's all I've got.

"Please! It's so lonely driving around all day!" 

"Non, monsieur! Not my problem! Allons-y!"

Maybe it was my speaking the only French I could dredge up from memory or maybe it was writing his name down in my notebook that made him take me to the hotel. As I got out of the cab, he tried one more time, "May I come inside with you?" "NO!!!!" And then this horny little morceau de caca has the nerve to be annoyed with ME! He charged me full fare.

Taxi Tale No. 2 - Paris

Fast forward several years. The Mister and I enjoyed our very first visit to Paris on a whirlwind, madcap weekend that we tacked onto a trip to London. When it came time to go to the airport, we got a cab. What could go wrong? 

A traffic jam on the way to Charles de Gaulle, for one thing. Cars bumper to bumper, crawling at a snail's pace. Not a satisfactory situation for the cabbie behind us, apparently, who honked his horn with nagging regularity. Our driver stopped his vehicle right in the middle of the highway, got out and walked back to have a little tête-à-tête with the guy behind us. When traffic started to move again, I called out, "Allons-y!" (It worked in Montreal.) Our driver, however, was still deep in conversation with the other guy. Now we heard a lot of honking.

When the driver finally got back to us, he asked which airline we wanted. "Air Canada," we said, "and it will be at Terminal Deux." We knew this because we had received notice that Air Canada had recently moved terminals.

"Non! Air Canada est a Terminal Un."

"Non, monsieur, Terminal Deux, s'il vous plait!"

It went on like this for awhile. He drove us to Terminal Un. 

Arguing with a French cabbie is mostly futile. Suffice to say that the Mister and didn't have enough vocabulary between us to make this man understand that we were at the wrong terminal. There were signs indicating every other imaginable airline, but not ours. And he continued to insist very loudly that he had delivered us to Air Canada.

The Mister got out to go inside to confirm. I stayed in the cab, summoning the only French I could think of to fit the circumstances - which came from twenty years of being on hold with Air Canada listening to their phone message in both official languages, "Toutes les linges sont occupees." Except I didn't want to say, "All lines are busy." So, I blurted, "Toutes les lignes ici, here, are NOT Air Canada!!!"

The Mister returned. "They have a bus that will take us to Terminal Two." We insisted on getting out. The cabbie insisted on us staying. He yelled at us that we couldn't leave his cab, locked the trunk and wouldn't let us have our luggage! I don't remember how this dispute ended. We're here in North America now, so I guess we caught our flight.

Taxi Tale No. 3 - New York

Many years later, I was coordinating the design process for a visitor center at a Frank Lloyd Wright house museum in Buffalo, New York. My job made it necessary for me to attend a meeting with our architect in New York City. It was March. It was a drizzly spring morning when I flew into La Guardia with all the confidence of a nervous jellyfish. I lined up at the taxi stand outside the airport terminal and got into the car hailed for me by the dispatcher. Totally up to fate who I got as a driver. 

Luckily, he was uncommonly courteous. He kept a running commentary on what landmarks we were passing and what route he was taking to get me to Tribeca for my meeting. "Nice guy," I thought. 

Traffic wasn't bad and I commented on that. "Oh, it will be later," he replied, then added, "With this rain, it will be hard to hail a taxi. Are you returning home later today?"

Lack of luggage might have been a tip-off. I explained that I was.

"What time do you need to return to the airport? May I pick you up at your meeting and take you back?"

Apparently I had learned nothing from the Montreal Incident. "Sure," I said, "Pick me up at 3:30?"

It was a deal. I felt very smart and resourceful. My colleagues at the meeting thought I was nuts, hopelessly naive, and definitely not a savvy New Yorker, but our head Buffalo architect, a gruff older man, was returning on the same flight, and he thought it was a plausible idea. He agreed to share the cab. I shall always be grateful that he did.

At 3:30, we went down to the street and there was my taxi driver, waiting for me. "Nice guy," I thought. Traffic was slow, as predicted, and 4:00 came along before we even reached mid-town. The driver turned to us and said, "My shift is over."


"My shift is over."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I have to get the cab to my partner. He starts his shift at 4:00. Would it be okay if we go to Queens so I can give him the car?"

"Do we have a choice?" 

"Sure, but I'll have to charge you double."

We might have protested more strongly, but once again, captive in a cab. To Queens we go. Up one street and down an avenue and through residential neighborhoods, until finally we come to a stop. "That's my house!" says the driver. He hops out and disappears. Gruff Architect and I are sitting in a cab on a street in Queens. Waiting to see what will happen next. Kind of laughing. Nervously. Glad he was with me.

In a few minutes, another driver came out and our ride resumes. Nice tour of Queens for free. I could have ended up in the East River. 

As I mentioned, bad cab karma.