Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I-GO / Flexcar

After my jeep was stolen last year in DC (a moment of silence, please), I joined Flexcar, a car sharing program that exists in a few major cities (Chicago's version is I-GO, a partner of Flexcar). I only used it once when I lived in DC, and I think it was to run to the Soviet Safeway* for groceries.

*ASIDE: In DC, the supermarkets have nicknames so the population can distinguish one from another. There is the Soviet Safeway on 17th (named so because its always crowded and the shelves are emptied quickly), the Social Safeway in Georgetown (because alot of singles, both gay and straight shop there - I actually got a date from it once), the Secret Safeway (tucked away in the bottom of a building that you could miss if you blinked while walking by), the Unsafe Safeway on Capitol Hill (so named because of its location in the dicey southeast section of the Hill), and the Ghetto Giant (because of its location near the convention center in Shaw). There may be other nicknames, but these were the 4 grocery stores I shopped at most often.
So back to Flexcar. I kept the account with the company after moving to Chicago because of its association with I-GO here. I received an email from Flexcar about two weeks ago giving me a one-day free pass since I had not used the service in awhile. So I decided to use it again when I visited DC last week, instead of renting a car from an agency. Truth is, I may never go back to renting from agencies again. Yeah, Flexcar and I-Go are that cool.

First off, you are given a card as a member which doubles as your key to unlock any car you have reserved. No going to the agencies, no pre-authorizations, no lines, no waiting! The car might not have been cleaned before you got it, but I have apparently followed some respectful drivers who neither smoked or ate in the car. It was pretty clean.

A gas card is in the car so you don't have to pay for gas either - it's included in the rental fee. That saved me an additional $50 right there. And the car I chose (a 2005 Honda Civic) was iPod-ready, so I could listen to my tunes the entire trip. The cars are on par with any the rental agencies will provide, and you can pretty much find one, if not several, located in your neighborhood without too much of a search.

They rent on a 24-hour cycle. So by renting it for a Saturday morning drive, I was actually able to pick the car up at 12:01AM Saturday morning, so I could still use it to go out with friends Friday night. Dropping it back off was as easy as parking it on the street, cleaning out my stuff, locking the doors and leaving it behind.

My car rented for $50 a day (Flexcar price) and I had it for three days. With one day given to me free from Flexcar, and saving the $50 in gas, I ended up spending $50 for a three-day rental - better than anything most agencies offered.

I suggest trying it out. It's easy, cost effective, and right around the corner.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ostrich Hilton

I don't know about you but I kinda see a resemblance. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Disempowered

I found out something this week that has put me at emotional odds. My old boss in DC was fired last week for mismanagement. One day, the board chairman walked into her office and asked her to leave. I imagine she saw it coming. When she was hired, she had no previous executive director experience, nor did she ever work for a non-profit. But I was there. I already had systems in place to make sure every "t" was crossed. The Board relied on me to make it all work.

And I did.

Now, there are many things I will admit I cannot do, however running a business is not on that list. I have foresight and vision when it comes to finances, budgeting and expectations. There were several times while I was working there that I had to sit with my boss and explain that what she was doing or wanted to do was not prudent at the time. And one of my reasons for leaving Empower was that I was slowly watching this company (that I had worked so hard at saving) being poorly managed. And all my talking wouldn't prevent what I could see as the inevitable.

Empower had a solid staff for two years with no turnover. However a month after I left, the Director of Marketing quit. A month after that, the Director of Programs quit. In December, the Coordinator of Girls Programs quit. And the founder of the organization who spoke publicly on behalf of Empower, was refusing to do so. Two-thirds of the staff resigned within four months.

So my emotions are mixed: part of me feels vindicated for all my unheeded warnings about poor financial decisions and bad direction; and part of me feels very sad that this place I loved is crumbling to the ground. Time will tell how this plays out. And however that will be, I am just thankful I am not there to see it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

You Can Go Home Again

Had a very quick trip back home this past weekend. This was my first time back in DC since moving to Chicago in September. I was only going to be in DC for a few hours and decided not to advertise in advance that I was coming for fear that I would be stretched too thin trying to see all the people I wanted to see. It was hard to figure out who to spend my time with. So I went back and counted the number of emails I received from DC friends since I had moved and decided to reward the most frequent emailer with dinner with me. The winner: my buddy Aaron.

But I need to make another, longer visit to DC just to see my friends and be social. I miss them. But 98% of my weekend was spent with my family - my crazy, nutty, hysterical family. No place on earth makes me laugh as much as being with my siblings. On Saturday, we all ventured to watch my 11 year old neice play basketball in my high school gym. It was the first time since graduation that I had been in that room, and true to form it seems so much smaller now. I was resisting the urge to go for a walk through the school, as this is the final year this building will stand. Construction on a new high school has already begun (as seen in the foreground of the picture below) and the demolition on my school will occur sometime this summer. The building was erected in 1944 and resembles a prison (as seen in the background of the picture below) but it holds so many memories that it will be difficult to drive through town and not see it anymore.



Sunday afternoon, my ever-social-hostess mother invited family in to visit with me since I didn't make it home for Christmas and she thinks my life is lacking because of it. There are only so many ways to respond to "so how's Chicago?", and after the 43rd time it's almost unbearable. But it was nice to see everyone nonetheless. Although my fave cousin was out of town.

Monday (and the real reason I went home) was my checkup with the surgeon who operated on me back in August. This was an exam to see how things have progressed, how my incision is healing, how the heart is pumping, etc. So far, everything seems good and I am happy to report that I am almost back at 100%. Running late after having lunch with my best friend, Jeff, I made it to the airport just in time to get bumped off of my flight thanks to overbooking. But I got a free round trip ticket to anyplace USAir flies in the country, so it wasn't all bad.

Looking back on my weekend, I realize I miss my family more than I thought. I am just so lucky that we all get along and genuinely enjoy being around each other. In the case of sibling rivalry, our biggest contest is who can make the others laugh to tears. It happens every time all 4 of us are together. I am lucky that way. I am lucky alot of ways. And looking back on last year and all that I got from it, I am the luckiest man I know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Egosurf

Found this website the other day which supposedly rates your name along with websites with which you may be associated and then rates you according to the number of times you are listed on the popular search engine sites. Basically, it calculates your ego. And . . . it's kinda dumb. Not sure why I did it. But if you want to try it, knock your socks off.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Day Off

There is so much wrong with the Cheney shooting and the withholding of information and the cloud of secrecy that I am afraid to even get started with it. So I am taking Friday off.

Enjoy your 3-day weekend, celebrating the first 42 men who have held the office of The Presidency* and I will see you back here for Monday Eye Candy!

*disclaimer: Yes, there have been 43 US Presidents, but I think you know what I mean.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ear (Mega) Phones

Question: When are your earphones no longer earphones?
Answer: When others can hear your music too.


How deaf must you be if I am sitting 6 rows behind you on the train and I can hear your music playing? Not only playing, mind you, but also able to recognize the song and actually hear the words? Above the noise of the train, no less? How can you possibly be enjoying what you hear?

I can't understand spending a few hundred dollars on iPods and high-quality mp3 players only to louse them up with sucky earphones. Earphones are like a fine tuxedo, running shoes, or a quality bra - you gotta try a few on and be fitted (I am only guessing about the bra part but it does make sense). All earphones are not built for everybody. We all have different shaped heads and ears. So just pulling a random pair of Sony, Panasonic or Sharp earphones off the rack at Best Buy does not mean they will fit your head, or even into your ears. Ask the salesperson to let you try a few sets out. I did, and they did. They already have them open and will let you test them out before you buy.


It's worth the time and the investment. For everyone. After all, it is YOUR music.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pet Peeve #437: Jewelry

Being that I had a speech impediment as a child (no, not a 'lithp') and I couldn't really enunciate well through most of elementary school, I have an extreme fondness and appreciation of the spoken English language. This has only been heightened by the stroke I suffered on election day 2000 (I totally blame "W" for this too) where I was stricken with aphasia and had to go through months of speech therapy all over again. So when I hear a word being mispronounced, it takes everything within me not to correct the speaker.

There are many of these words out there. The one I am referring to today is the word jewelry. Break it down: jew·el·ry. I work with a woman who insists on pronouncing it jew·ler·y. It's all I can do to keep from slapping the teeth out of her mouth. It's a basic 3rd Grade word, for Pete's sake.

She could use the words adornment, anklet, band, bangle, bauble, beads, bijou, bracelet, brass, brooch, cameo, chain, charm, choker, cross, crown, earring, finery, frippery, gem, gewgaw, glass, hardware, ice, jewel, junk, knickknack, lavaliere, locket, necklace, ornament, pendant, pin, regalia, ring, rock, rosary, solitaire, sparkler, stickpin, stone, tiara, tie pin, treasure, or trinket. But she insists on using "jewlery" instead.

If only the windows opened on the 35th floor of my office . . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

VD

On some issues I am completely wishy-washy, like which movie to see or what restaurant to go to or even what to do on any given Saturday night. Valentine's Day (VD) falls into that same abyss of ambivalence.

I understand the reason for celebrating it. It's always nice to love someone and be loved in return. However, it's no secret that VD was created by the greeting card companies to fill the void between Christmas and Easter. And being the soapbox screamer that I am, I don't like being told when I am supposed to show my love and affection to the person I love and ... uh ... affect (?).

If for some reason, a couple doesn't celebrate VD, they are sometimes rumored to be breaking up. Or if one person in the couple doesn't particularly like VD, then it could be assumed that he/she doesn't have true feelings for the other, or that the person is just unromantic. But there are some who celebrate it to the extreme, with flowers, gifts, dinner, perhaps a limo or even a night in a swanky hotel (if my partner feels the need to go that far to show me he loves me, we have even bigger problems).

However, there are also those people who are either not involved with anyone, or have recently become single -- this could be a bad day. Suddenly, all single people on Valentine's Day know what Jews feel like on Christmas Day. The singles seek companionship with other single friends, perhaps. Even so, being alone on the day, single or not, just feels crappy.

So however you celebrate Valentine's Day, or not, I hope you have a great day.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Big Bother Strikes Again

Don’t be fooled people. Big Bother is feeding you more lies.

All the hubbub about how the feds foiled a terrorist plot in 2002 to blow up the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles has nothing to do with wiretapping. It also has yet to be solidified as an actual threat. The mayor of LA, Antonio Villaraigosa, said that all this was news to him. You would expect someone – ANYONE – from the government to contact him with news about a building in his city exploding. But no one did. And Big Bother won’t marry the two ideas – he just lets it out there for you to conclude.

I say, don’t buy it.

It’s very convenient that this supposedly happened almost 4 years ago and the public is just now finding out about it. True, the government keeps secrets all the time. But it is interesting that this story sees the light of day just as Big Bother is pushing his agenda forward.

The alleged plot was derailed when a Southeast Asian nation arrested major Al Qaeda operatives. Staying forever vague, Big Bother named neither the Southeast Asian nation that assisted, nor the names of the operatives who were arrested. Why is this thing such a secret??


The whole thing makes me recall the 2004 post-reelection image that stated "How can 59,017,382 Americans Be So Wrong?" The administration is counting on that number to get through. I can only pray that the number is shrinking day by day, as Americans admit the mistake they made and suffer the consequences.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

From The "You Get What You Pay For" Dept.

I think there is a direct correlation between how much a monthly membership at a gym costs and the way the gym is treated by its staff and members.

The first gym I belonged to was Gold's Gym in Rosslyn, VA. Medium priced at $45 a month. The gym was clean, but the equipment needed updating. The lockerroom was always clean, at least on the surface. After two years, I changed gyms to challenge my workout. I moved to Bally's in Pentagon City, VA. The membership was lower - $30 a month for the first year and then $20 a month after that. The equipment, by comparison, was alot cheaper with chipped paint and torn seats. The lockerroom was not as clean and had (surprise!) a security guard keeping watch all day (how does someone get that gig, exactly?).

After two more years, I then switched up to Results in DC. Certainly more expensive at $80 a month, but the gym and lockerroom were spotless. For the first time in any gym, I saw staff members walking around, spotting lifters, cleaning machines, and assisting with re-racking weights. Members put dumbbells back in numerical order and plates were removed from machines and barbells between workouts. Everyone took time to care about the facility and the quality of workout for other members. It seems the higher the membership dues, the more responsible the members.

This was all driven home recently after moving to Chicago and re-using my Bally's membership. It cost me $90 to renew my membership for the entire year (that's $7.50 a month, y'all). But the Bally's I have been going to here have all but put me off of working out altogether.


When entering the gym, there are always 4 or 5 staff members behind the desk, just hanging out. I've never seen them on the gym floor (assisting, cleaning, or otherwise earning their paychecks). After traveling down two deep flights into the sub-basement of the building, I arrive at the lockerroom/free weights floor. The lockerroom is just gross. If it is cleaned at all, it must be when it opens at 5:30AM, because by 6PM it's disgusting. It's cramped with no ventilation and a security guard sits and stares into the shower all day. There's actual mold growing in the sink area.

The free weight room is a scavenger hunt/obstacle course. Half my workout is spent walking around looking for matching dumbbells. The favourite pasttime of the members working out seems to be holding conversations with people who are on the other side of the room. If I turn my iPod up any louder, I risk serious aural damage. No consideration is given to those who may need to concentrate. There are plates left on almost all the barbells and machines, so it's impossible to know if a certain one is being used or not. It's like working out on Prison Break, and not in the good way. In short, it's pretty ghetto.

In an effort to save money, I have put off joining Cheetah Gym, which is just three blocks south of my house. However, a recent visit there assured me that no only would I have a great workout, I would also enjoy it, which will keep me coming back - which is the idea, after all. The place is clean, bright, and actually has maybe too much of a variety as far as workout paraphernalia is concerned. And at $69 a month, it might be just high enough to weed out those who otherwise don't seem to give a shit. It's worth it on so many levels.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Celebrity Lookalike

Just for kicks, go to this site and discover which celebrity you most resemble. You might actually end up being surprised. In the recent past, I've been most closely associated with Vin Diesel, however this site completely disagrees with that idea. And based on the list I was given, my face is more closely related to female celebrities, than male. Hmmm...

Using the picture to the right, I logged in to see the top five celebrities that I most closely resemble, according to facial structure:


All in all, not an ugly bunch, so I guess I am kinda flattered.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

You Might Actually Die

I am not sure why it is such a HUGE deal when someone is injured or, God forbid, dies doing something that's pretty risky in the first place. Of course it's truly a shame when someone loses his life in the process of doing his job. However, there are some jobs out there that are pretty damn risky.

When a reporter walks into a battle, there's a high probability he'll get blown up or something. When a miner lowers himself 2 miles deep into the earth, there's a pretty good chance of a cave-in. Construction workers on a tall building? - you might slip and fall. Fireman? - you might burn. Policeman? - you might get shot. Zookeeper? - you might get attacked. Sharpen kinves? - you might get cut. There are risks taken with these jobs. So why is it a big surprise if someone dies or is injured in the line of duty?

It's the postal workers who get shot at work that is unexpected and newsworthy; the baker who gets stabbed, the financial analyst who gets poisoned, the office workers who have a plane fly into their building. The death, or even injury, of these people while at work is news - hard news to concern yourself over. (But if a hooker gets beaten to death, most people think, "Well she was asking for it, putting herself in that situation.")

Unions and safety measures, no matter how strictly enforced, will never be able to remove all the risks of some of the most dangerous occupations. You can't have a battle without weapons. You can't study sharks without getting in the water with them. You can't have clean windows on the 35th floor without washing them. Truly, you (subjective) have no one to blame but yourself if something happens to you while you are doing something dangerous. You put yourself in an unsafe situation. Making a big deal about it won't make it any safer of a situation. Only so much can be done. The rest is a crap shoot.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Diet Rite, Right

Most of my adult life, I have been an avid Diet Pepsi drinker. I love the stuff. Love love love it. But with the changes I had to undergo in diet last year, Diet Pepsi became the unwanted mistress. She has too much in the sodium department. As much as I hated to set her free, it was a necessary evil.

So I set out for another beverage. At first I thought I would just go for juices. But that proved fruitless (pun intended). I don't like apple juice, and I think grape juice should only be consumed by humans under the age of 9. Cranberry juice is ok, but I cannot resist the urge to toss in a little Southern Comfort whenever I have a glass (not that there's anything wrong with that). Orange juice gives me indigestion. Vegetable juices (tomato, V-8, etc) have more sodium than soda. And prune juice is just stank! It has the consistency of diluted paint and it tastes basically like crap (which is what it's ironically supposed to make you do, too).

I thought I would be reduced to water the rest of my life, and then I discovered
Diet Rite. [insert Halleujah Chorus here]

Oh sure, I've seen it before, lurking on the shelves, usually at the bottom of the cooler, alone and unpopular, like a guy in Cobalt who weighs over 165 pounds. So I bent over and picked one up (a Diet Rite, not a loner) and examined the "nutrition facts" on the bottle. Admittedly, sodas have no nutritional value, but do you know what's in a Diet Rite? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

No calories, no fat, no carbs, no protein and best of all, no sodium. None. It also doesn't have aspartame. Instead, it uses a combination of sucralose and acesulfame potassium. So it's basically like drinking sugared water, but not really. Figuring I could afford to invest the $1.29 in my future, I bought me a Diet Rite Cola, crossed the store threshold, stepped onto the sidewalk, and cracked the bottle open. After my first swig, my only thought was, where the hell have you been all my life?

Oddly enough, Diet Rite was the very first diet soda ever created back in 1958 (Ginger Ale was created in 1952, but it was marketed to diabetics, not dieters). In 1963, the Coca-Cola company followed suit by creating Tab. Diet Pepsi came along in the 1970's, then Diet Coke followed in 1983.

In 1964, Diet Rite also became the first soft drink sold in an all-aluminum can. You trendsetting little minx, you! But it doesn't end there. In 1983, it became the very first sodium-free diet soft drink, then in 1987, it became the first caffeine-free cola drink. And finally in 2000, it became the very first soft drink to not use aspartame. Huge breakthroughs. It's a wonder Diet Rite hasn't told us all to go to hell for ignoring her accomplishments.

I think the beauty of Diet Rite has been sequestered for too long. If you haven't tried it recently - or ever - give it a spin. It's a great alternative if you need to watch your sodium intake. And it doesn't brag or need to talk about feelings all the time.