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Customer Service

Monday, 20 Jan 2020, 13:17 UTC

1. What Andrea Told Me

I was stranded in Dallas.

It was Friday on a three day weekend. I had just arrived at Love Field to catch a connecting flight to Chicago Midway, but that flight was cancelled due to a winter storm.

At the customer service desk, I spoke to a woman named Andrea. She summarized the options. They could get me to Chicago two days later (So many flights had been cancelled, it would take that long.), or I could return home in two hours. There were 23 seats on the return flight, so I had some time to make up my mind. I told her I’d be right back. She smiled.

The terminal was busy. I found a quiet-is corner and consulted with my brother and the fair and industrious Trudy. I decided to fly home.

When I returned to the service desk, Andrea was no longer there.

“My friend Andrea is gone,” I joked, pointing to her now-vacant computer. The rep behind the desk looked over at the empty computer and smiled.

2. What Deborah Couldn’t Do

This woman’s name was Deborah. I explained my situation and and summarized what Andrea had told me.

“I think I’m going to fly back home.”

“Ok,” Deborah said. She stared at her computer, punched a few keys, and was staring some more.

“By the way,” I said.

She looked up.

“You guys are awesome!” I said, smiling.  

You must understand that this isn’t like me. My mother called me Eeyore when I was very young. But this business of “It’s All Good” as part of teaching, has had some kind of transformative effect on the neural pathways in my brain. More myelin. More dopamine. Less cortisol. Less lizard brain. I am more cheerful. I am happier. Eeyore makes fewer appearances. And so it was as I spoke to Deborah.

“You guys are awesome!” I held up my hand. She smiled, and we did a high-five. 

After a few minutes, Deborah had booked me on the return flight. I asked if I could apply the fare from the (cancelled) connecting flight to my flight back home. And I asked about Monday’s (now abandoned) return flights from Chicago?

“From here, I can’t give you a credit. I don’t have the permissions,” she explained. “You’ll have to call customer service next week.”

“Ok, that’s fine,” I said. “Let’s just get me home. I’ll handle the return flight myself.”

3. What Deborah Did, Anyway

I might was well said, No worries. It’s all good.

Just as I was about to walk away, Deborah said, “Wait. Let me call my help desk and see what they can do.”

She picked up the phone and had a conversation with someone in some office in some city likely far away. When she hung up, she pushed a few keys, stared at her screen, pushed a few more keys, stared again, typed for a while longer, printed something out, and then looked up.

“Here is your boarding pass for your flight home,” she said. Then she turned it over. On the back, she wrote an 800 number. 

“Keep this boarding pass,” she said. “On Monday during working hours, call this number and tell them that there are some notes in your record. They will help you.”

4. What Thelma Saw and Did

This morning I followed Deborah’s instructions. I called and spoke to Thelma.

I gave her the background. I asked if she could see a note, which she could. She put me on hold, and when she came back, Thelma said everything had been taken care of.

“Do I need to do anything else?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I’ve refunded the cost of your full itinerary to your credit card, since we didn’t get you to your destination. You should see the refund in seven to ten days.”

Not a flight credit, mind you. A full refund.

Thank you, Andrea. Thank you Deborah. Thank you Thelma. What customer service! It is indeed all good.

A Seven Hour Commute

Monday, 20 Jan 2020, 10:58 UTC

1. The Usual Commute

People are sorry that I have commute to Bastrop to teach. How unfortunate, I imagine it goes, that he must drive so far.

But here’s the thing of it. There is time, and there is space. Yes, it is farther than I have commuted before, but it is briefer than the drive to northwest Austin. Time trumps space. With seventies and classic rock added, I confess I enjoy it.

But let me tell you about Friday’s commute home.

2. Day’s End

School was over. No students remained. Nor many teachers.  

This is not new. On any day after school, I am one of the stragglers. My routines are not yet honed into the well-oiled machinery of experienced teachers. They dash home. I linger to pull together tomorrow’s things.

But this was Friday on a long weekend. My brother and I had plans. Although I did have a few loose ends, I was hurrying to wrap them up. I had a flight to catch

I left my room mere minutes after the kids.

3. The Unusual Commute

I walked across the teacher’s lot. Got in the car. Turned left at the traffic light. Drove to the airport parking lot. Scanned my QR code at the entrance. Parked in F85. Took the shuttle bus to the terminal. Waited at security.

I went to Gate 15. Found a seat in the waiting area. Charged my phone. Read a book. Boarded with the B group. Found a seat. Buckled in. Barely slept. Checked my phone when we arrived.

And I discovered that my connecting flight to Chicago had been cancelled.

I talked to customer service. Looked into rebooking once the weather cleared. Declined their offer to book me two days later. Talked to my brother. Talked to the fair and industrious Trudy. Decided that the winter storm had scuttled this three-day vacation. Returned to customer service. Arranged a flight home.

I went to Gate 4. Found a seat in the waiting area. Charged my phone. Read a book. Boarded with the the C group. Found a seat. Buckled in. Barely slept. Took the shuttle bus back to the lot. Got off at F85. Scanned my QR code at the exit. Turned right at the traffic light. Drove home. 

The lights were on. The dogs were wagging their tails. Trudy was waiting there with open arms. It was almost midnight, but I was finally home.

It had been a seven hour commute.

A Girl of Few Words

Sunday, 19 Jan 2020, 17:13 UTC

1. Boarding the Plane

I had boarding pass C12. The plane was mostly full. It was going be hard to find a seat like this which had enough room for my backpack in the nearby overhead bins. There was a middle seat available in Row 2.

 “Is that seat taken?” I asked the woman in the aisle seat. 

“This one?” the woman asked, pointing to the seat next to her. I smiled and nodded.

“I don’t know, there’s this …,” and she held up a box of Kleenex that had been sitting on the empty seat. A young girl was sitting alone in the window seat, engrossed in a video on an iPad. The woman thought the Kleenex might be for someone who was with the her. 

I leaned over and said to the girl, “May I sit in this seat?”

She turned her head, held up her hands, and shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Maybe!” I repeated. The people behind me laughed. 

“Ok… here I come. I’m maybe sitting next to you.”

2. Flying to Austin

When the plane pushed back from the gate, the girl set down her iPad and tried to buckle her seat belt. Clearly she had done this before. She fumbled with the buckle for a few tries, gave up, and returned to her iPad. When we got to the tarmac and the announcement came that we had been cleared for take-off, she tried again unsuccessfully.

“Do you want some help?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I reached down and turned her buckle around.

“Here, try again.”

She did. It worked. She quickly turned back to the iPad.

As the plane accelerated down the runway, I heard her talking to herself, but it was hard to make out what she was saying. Whatever it was, she was clearly unfazed by the whining turbofans and the plane shaking. 

The flight from Austin to Dallas is brief. On this day it was also bumpy. We bounced around. There were no drinks. But the girl was oblivious, setting her iPad down only to change positions.

A few times she looked over, and I tried to talk with her. Had she flown before? Was she going to visit someone? She would look at me and then return to her iPad. 

3. Arriving at the Gate

When we landed, her face was glued to the window, and I heard her mutter, “There’s Austin.” The thrust reversers roared. The breaks groaned. As we turned off the runway, she pulled her backpack from under the seat and put her iPad away. At the gate, she unbuckled her seatbelt in one smooth pull.

A flight attendant came to get her. Since we were in Row 2, within moments they were walking up the gangway. I was behind them. The girl jogged up the slope. The flight attendant walked quickly to keep up, holding the girl’s hand and leaning down to read her unaccompanied minor badge.  

A man was at the end of the gangway, framed by the door leading into the terminal. He had a backpack over his right shoulder. He was smiling. She broke into a run, her pack bouncing on her back. The flight attendant let her go. 

When she got to him, he said, “How you doin’ kid?”

She said, “Fine.”

The Number 7 Slot

Sunday, 12 Jan 2020, 22:23 UTC

It was Friday afternoon of the first week back at school. Week one is difficult for me. My feet start hurting again. My voice falters and Throat Coat is in order. I am tired, even though we just had two weeks off. I know it will be better next week, but it just doesn’t seem right that week one should feel that way.

The period was just about over. The students were finishing an exit ticket. 

“Mister, where should we put them when we’re done?” someone asked.

This really shouldn’t be a mystery. We had exit tickets last semester. They went in the turn-in box every time. But, it’s a new semester, a new year. 

“Right over here,” I said. (I was standing near the classroom door which is where the turn-in boxes are — one for each period.) “Right here in the number 7 slot.”

“Seven!?” someone said. “It’s fifth period Mr. Hasan, not seventh.” Half the class was staring at me.

Dang. For 45 minutes there, I was blissfully, if erroneously, thinking that it was the end of the day. Oh well. 

Anand Giridharadas

Sunday, 12 Jan 2020, 13:55 UTC

Anand Giridharadas, as his about page begins, is a writer.

He is the author most recently of Winners Take All which sadly, in spite of a valiant go last summer, I have not finished. (So many books, so little time.) Why I didn’t stick with it, is beyond me. His writing is a joy to read, and his message resonates with my soul.

This morning, I discovered that I had a long-unvisited browser tab open to an Time article by him (How America’s Elites Lost Their Grip) which is worth reading for his main thesis (that we are at the cusp of an Overton-window shift that is making possible an era of reforms challenging late stage hyper-capitalism) but also shows what a spectacular writer he is.

To my eye, his brilliance is his ability to weave stories into the substance of his points. But the language he uses to construct the stories is a marvel. Here are some snippets (emph added) from his Time article.

History is the story of conditions that long seem reasonable until they begin to seem ridiculous.

or

It seemed to come as a surprise to Bezos that … many weren’t excited by … giving his company a few billion dollars in tax breaks that wouldn’t be available to a regular Joe starting a business.

or

Many others … had bolder-faced names, but McGlashan was significant because…

or

… for you, that may be a big fine. For Facebook, it was such a feathery tickle …

or

… resulting in Sackler wings and institutes and centers … that allowed the grim machinery of drug peddling to grind on

or

what Epstein revealed was … systemic rot in our culture—especially at our universities, which have become drive-through reputational laundromats.

or

Peak billionaire may be a billionaire deciding to … and then running against a maybe–billionaire

Reputational laundromats. Yow, are we having fun, yet? Even my spell checker does a double-take on that. Oh my.

Transparency For The Holidays

Sunday, 05 Jan 2020, 23:05 UTC

The Chachi comes down here, sometimes. Stays here, or stays downtown in the hippest part of the city where walking is entirely sufficient unto whatever the day might bring. Walking works here, too, but this place here is far from hip. And she came here in December.

When we said “Come on down” to her on the phone, it sounded as if she hadn’t quite expected an immediate affirmative. And then… well she was committed. So The Chachi came here in December, leaving the shoveling of neighborhood sidewalks and driveways to some other good Yankee soul, because she was down here, and down here there is no snow.

No snow. And mild, if sometimes gray, days. Good days to be in Texas rather than New York. Although as for that (no offense intended to anyone), pretty much any day so qualifies.

One warm day when The Chachi was here, she embarked on a once-a-decade (by our reckoning) project of washing the back windows. They had become, shell we say, opaque. Ask her, she would perhaps confirm this assessment. Though as for that, our eyes grown accustomed to the opacity.

The Chachi took to the task with characteristic determination. I understand that several passes of soapy, vinegary water were required. And rinsing. And squeegeeing. (Is that really how it’s spelled!?) And then there were the bedustspecked screens which she tackled with a brush and a bucket in the backyard, which brings to mind a photo we have in the family of my grandmother in a dress and heels armed with a broom (and a bucket?) in some backyard somewhere doing something functionally equivalent to something approximately similar.

Apple. Tree. Fall not far from. (Sans dress. Sans heels.)

In any event, now that The Chachi has returned to the land of wind and snow and Yankees, we have this token of her visit, this visible (or invisible) gift she left us: our backyard. We can see the backyard clearly now! 

So, thank you for the transparency, Chach. And for the Holiday Week. The guest bedroom is available, any time.

Where’s Your Brother?

Friday, 03 Jan 2020, 13:39 UTC

“Where’s your brother?” I asked Izzy.

She had been barking at the front door and then barking at the back. When the frantic cacophony dissipated, I realized that Charlie was no longer in his bed by the fireplace that we never use. Loud noises startle him, and her barking certainly qualifies.

Izzy didn’t answer my question.

“Where’s your brother?” I repeated. And I began a scan of the house.

Down the hallway? No. Under the table by the door? No. 

You see, in his senescence Charlie frequently falls into reverie. And with his permanently dislocated hips, he frequently gets trapped. Trapped under things. Trapped in corners. I figured he was trapped in reverie somewhere. But where?

“Where’s your brother?” Izzy remained silent.

Trapped under the dining room chairs? No. Standing behind the philodendron in the dining room? No. Under the rocking chair? No.

“He must be in the closet,” I said.

I went into the master bedroom — the only room with an open door, all of the other doors closed to shorten searches like this one. I looked into the walk-in closet. There he was, in the darkness, motionless, staring into the darkerness under the hanging clothes.

“Don’t worry Izzy,” I said. “I found him just where we thought he would be.”

I walked up to Charlie slowly and stroked his back. Startled out of his reverie, he jerked his head around to look at me. I picked him up and carried him outside to have him wander instead around the backyard in the sun. He did this until he was ready to come back in and settle back down in his bed by the fireplace that we never use. And he will lie there until his sister starts her barking again.

They Don’t Represent Us (Part 1)

Monday, 30 Dec 2019, 23:48 UTC

A book: “They Don’t Represent Us” by Lawrence Lessig

Some notes about Part 1, in which Lessig talks about the flaws in our system…

Lessig divides his analysis of inequality problem into “us and them” which he tackles in two chapters.

Chapter 1. (Them)

Five aspects of inequality: (1) the ability to vote, (2) gerrymandering and polarization, (3) the Senate and its rules, (4) the electoral college and winner-take-all apportionment, and (5) money.

Lessig points out that these inequalities do not uniformly bend our system to the wealthy/elite but rather facilitate dysfunction to the point that our government no longer functions. There are too many points where change can be “vetoed” with the result that no problems get solved.

Chapter 2. (Us)

Three technologies and a market: (1) polling and radio/TV broadcasting, (2) cable, (3) the Internet, and (4) advertising.

Lessig concedes that our culture has blossomed but laments that our democracy has suffered. 

…shared reality is gone. Consuming … individually has rendered us isolated collectively. Think lounge chairs in echo chambers. We are ideologically alone, together. We are divided and ignorant … driven to even more division and ignorance. (p. 83)

To his mind, it is the attention-driven advertising industry that is at the core of this dysfunctionality, as questions like “What is true?” give way to “How do we get more eyeballs?”.

Having constructed this argument, Lessig still has 30 or more pages that wander thru AI and Google and Facebook. Data science run amok in the service of business models. How we are ignorant of key issues and incapable of self-government. 

I confess that amid all the detail in those 30 pages, I lost the kernel of his argument. Still, I look forward to the second half of the book that addresses solutions.

Lost in Math (or Eye Rolling about Big Thoughts)

Sunday, 29 Dec 2019, 09:41 UTC

A book: “Lost in Math” by Sabine Hossenfelder (who blogs at BackReAction). A quote…

“How patently absurd it must appear … that people get paid for ideas like [those of Xiao-Geng Wen and his collaborators]. But then … people also get paid for throwing balls through hoops.” (p. 192)

Let’s explore this a bit.

Big thoughts about physics: To give you an example of what Hossenfelder is alluding to when talking about his “ideas”, listen to Xiao-Geng Wen’s description of his ideas (at 5:36): “Maybe our space is a string liquid, and we live in a noodle soup.”

Big thoughts about basketball: To give you an example of Hossenfelder’s point about “hoops”, listen to Coach Daniel’s description of the clearout: “which occurs when the big man … on offense … clears out the rim-protecting big man on defense”.

For better or worse, as much as this kills me to concede, you shouldn’t roll your eyes at one of these without rolling your eyes at the other. We should take Hossenfelder’s observation as a precaution against such one-sided eye-rolling.

His Father’s Writing

Saturday, 28 Dec 2019, 17:43 UTC

“Do you read your father’s writing?” she asked. 

There was silence. I stared at my hands. I knew the answer. She had to ask again.

“Do you read your father’s writing?”

He shook his head. Mumbled a no. She asked why.

“It’s just too weird,” he said. She asked why. He talked about being the subject and reading about himself.

It’s true, that he used to feature prominently. Biking and running on the trails. Camping trips. But that was when he was young(er). It has been a very long time since he’s appeared here.

Oops.