31 May 2007


Flying Fish.

Eric and Anne.

A half dozen oysters and a half dozen chicken livers with fries, hush puppies and a side of pickled green tomatoes. A flat Diet Dr. Pepper. A squeeze of lemon didn't help.

Now, I have a slight case of indigestion. But that could just as easily be from listing the Grand Prix for sale this morning. This will be the first of several listings, I'm sure.

Let the silly questions begin. "Will you bring it to me so I can look at it?" "Will you take lay-away?" (I actually had two different callers ask these questions when I was selling my 1985 Parisienne).

Hmmm... I need a Gaviscon.

30 May 2007


Instead of going out today I went home for lunch. I wanted to check on Cameron, who is very distraught about the outcome of the AFA sponsored vote for Tenative Agreement 3 with Northwest.

The vote apparently passed by a slim 100± margin after some 430+ votes were voided and the vote deadline had been extended for two hours. I suspect creative calculations and/or fraud.

Anyway, for lunch (the whole purpose of "Luncheonette") I had a sliced turkey sandwich on Orowheat multi-grain bread with swiss cheese, Hellmann's, and pickles, Creamettes-style macaroni salad and a slice of homemade cherry pie (a Pillsbury pie crust and filling made from fresh cherries). The cashier asked if I had cashed out my savings account when I bought them. For enough to fill the pie, I spent $13. It was worth it for the rare indulgence.

Guess after NWA execs take their $23 million in bonuses and AFA gets their $1.5 for bribing the uneducated, I'll indulge in $4 per pound cherries a lot less often.

Time to dumpster dive! Thanks Northwest for paying back Cameron's 17 years of exemplary service with that suggestion.

17 May 2007

This is What I Have Been Talking About and Why I Hate NWA

As pay and benefits fall, airlines struggle to fill jobs

Wrestling suitcases on and off planes got so grueling late last year for Southwest Airlines Co.'s 350 ramp workers in Chicago that by Christmas season one-fourth of them were reporting on-the-job injuries. Starting pay for the position: $8.75 an hour.

Airlines used to offer prestigious jobs with good wages and coveted flight benefits. Now, in the aftermath of aggressive cutbacks, a growing number of airline jobs are more akin to those at a fast-food restaurant. The pay is low, the work is tough and, in a new twist, airlines are having trouble hanging onto workers and finding new ones.

"What once was a glamorous job ... doesn't look so good any more," says Andy Roberts, executive vice president of operations for Northwest Airlines Corp. Mr. Roberts says Northwest and its peers used to have a list of applicants "as long as your arm." Now, "we have to go seek them out, even pilots."

That's not good news for passengers, as the combination of fewer and less experienced workers is causing more service problems. Planes sit on tarmacs because airlines are short on gate workers. Service on planes is slower because many airlines are flying with fewer flight attendants. When bad weather hits, tight staffing may mean more delays or canceled flights.

Conditions here to stay
The situation isn't likely to improve anytime soon. Although airlines were able to raise fares the last two years as travel surged, customers have begun to resist fare increases, domestic demand is softening, and jet-fuel prices have started rising again. These are the same pressures that contributed to more than $50 billion in net losses from 2001 through 2005.

The U.S. airline industry is profitable today in part because big network carriers shed more than 170,000 workers, or 38 percent of the total, between August 2001 and October 2006, according to the Air Transport Association. That happened even as the number of passengers flying has returned to pre-9/11 levels. Pay has fallen, sometimes substantially.

Capt. Gene Malone, a 56-year-old pilot for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, says his annual pay dropped to $140,000 from $175,000 after the airline won concessions to stay out of bankruptcy. He's flying more overnight "red-eye" flights from his base in Los Angeles. He plans to retire early in about 18 months. "An airline career is not worth it anymore," says Capt. Malone. "It's a very different profession than it was 23 years ago when I started."

When UAL Corp.'s United Airlines decided recently to bring back pilots who were furloughed during the downturn, most didn't want to come back, says Capt. Steve Derebey, a spokesman for the pilots union.

Staffing close to the bone
American Airlines now staffs full MD-80s with three flight attendants, the minimum under federal regulations, down from four. The plane carries around 130 passengers. Though airlines say they can get by with the minimum because meals have largely disappeared from planes, one fewer worker increases the likelihood of a flight being canceled if a crew member calls in sick.

Pamela Lopez-Lewis, a Northwest flight attendant for 28 years, says she started working a second job as a bartender 18 months ago to make up for what she estimates is a $15,000 drop in pay imposed by the airline in bankruptcy. "Everybody is reaching their breaking point," she says of her colleagues. "Morale is so low. You've been insulted by the pay you're getting. You're not feeling happy. I absolutely think it affects service. Apathy prevails."

American Airlines passenger Leana Hill had her holidays upended by short-staffing last Christmas Day, when she and her family had two of their flights canceled due to lack of crews. The Hills missed spending Christmas in St. Louis with her in-laws, eventually arriving around midnight. American called her experience "unfortunate" and said staffing is difficult for all industries during the holidays.

Advances in technology account for some of the declining need for workers. Many passengers book their tickets on the Internet and check in via self-service kiosks. Also, airlines need fewer gate agents because passengers are now generally required to check in at the main terminal before undergoing security screening.

Service growing worse
Nonetheless, by many measures, service is growing worse. Last year, 22.6 percent of flights were late, the highest percentage since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That isn't all the fault of airlines; the outdated U.S. air-traffic-control system also plays a role. In March of this year, passenger complaints about U.S. airlines nearly doubled from the same month a year earlier, with big increases in gripes about cancellations, delays, and missed connections. That same month, the rate of mishandled baggage rose nearly 33 percent from a year earlier at the largest 20 carriers, says the department.

Tempe-based US Airways Group Inc. recently acknowledged the cuts have gone too far. After slashing its work force and keeping its ranks lean during two trips through Chapter 11 and a merger with America West Airlines, the carrier is now profitable. But in March, the airline ranked last among its peers in punctuality, at just 55.5 percent. US Airways also admits its baggage handling has suffered, particularly at its hub in Philadelphia, with long waits and too few "runners" to transfer bags of passengers making flight connections.

The airline last month said it will hire more than 1,000 airport workers to help it manage the busy summer travel season. US Airways has already hired more runners in Philadelphia, and started deploying "virtual agents" with cellphones to airports to assist passengers waiting on long lines.

United is also adding back some staff. The airline says it hired 2,000 flight attendants last year and plans to add 1,700 this year. Sara Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants branch at United, says one reason for the extensive outside hiring is that the airline had trouble calling back its own attendants. United says a majority of those recalled came back, and it was overwhelmed by applications for the new jobs it created.

US Airways chief: Airlines have little choice
Despite the additions, US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker says the market leaves airlines with little choice but to operate lean staffs. "You can't get the passengers to pay more so the airlines can staff another flight attendant. It's the reality of the business and what the consumer has told us they want," he said in an interview.

For decades, airline jobs were coveted, and many of the largest carriers attracted multiple generations of the same families drawn to the glamour of aviation. The pay was better than comparable jobs in other fields, the benefits were generous, and travel passes allowed workers to fly for little or no money.

Now, snarling passengers and trimmed pay have taken away much of the industry's allure. And airline workers have a harder time taking an inexpensive vacation: With planes full of paying passengers, they're often unable to grab a free seat for themselves.

JetBlue Airways Corp. got a huge black eye when it mishandled a Valentine's Day ice storm in New York, stranding customers in airports and on planes for hours at a time. David Neeleman, the founder and chief executive officer, days later admitted there "are some areas of the company ... that needed to be beefed up and didn't keep pace with the growth" of the discount airline. Last week Mr. Neeleman stepped down as CEO.

Unions unhappy
While unions criticize what they call excessive staffing cuts, they're not happy about one response to the problem: outsourcing work. A few years ago, Northwest hired lower-wage "skycaps" to help check in passengers inside the terminal, but it had to halt the practice after the union argued successfully that the skycaps violated contract terms governing customer-service agents.

Last month the union representing United's mechanics filed a grievance saying the airline is outsourcing a higher percentage of maintenance spending than the union's contract allows. United says it is within the contractual limit.

Carefully negotiated union pay scales also can make it difficult to raise wages for hard-to-fill jobs. Stephen Gordon, president of the International Association of Machinists district that represents Northwest ground workers, says Northwest was having trouble recruiting ramp workers and wanted to raise starting pay to $10 an hour from $9. The union's reply: If you do that, you need to give everyone a $1-an-hour raise. The wages stayed the same.

Overall, airline and government officials say tighter staffing doesn't represent a threat to passenger safety. A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration says air travel "has never been safer."

On Tuesday, the University of Michigan released its American Customer Satisfaction Index. U.S. airlines scored 63 out of a possible 100, their lowest score in seven years and two points lower than last year. Airlines fared worse, by nine points, than the federal government and even lagged by two points the Internal Revenue Service.

American's vice president of customer-services planning, Marilyn DeVoe, says the airline's overall staffing is adequate. "Would we like to have more manpower?" she asks. "I would. But it just isn't prudent as a business."



15 May 2007

Something New

In an effort to try and keep my posting more regular I figured a dose of Phillips' Milk of Magnesia won't work.

So I am going to try adding a new feature:

Today, Cameron and John met me at Flying Fish, a relatively new place here, in Memphis, on Second Street. I'd been there once before with Eric and Michelle. I really enjoyed my dozen pan-fried oysters and fried okra on that visit.

Today, we shared a dozen oysters on the half-shell for starters. Cameron and John both had crawfish po'boys and I had frog legs, slaw and pickled green tomatoes. A Diet Dr. Pepper rounded out my lunch.

It was awesome!

05 May 2007

And While I'm at It

Everytime I see one of these -- especially on a giant, gas-guzzling SUV -- I feel nauseated:

I would love to jot around town and cover up each and every one of the stickers with one of these:

The Idiot Threatens a Veto, Again

This morning I poured a cup of coffee, started up the MacBook Pro and began catching up on reading e-mail. One of the subject lines caught my eye: "Who Supports Hate"

This was the e-mail I received.

I clicked the link and sent a letter to three of the religious leaders that DEFCON encouraged me to send:

Your recent comments opposing expanded hate crimes protections for gay and lesbian Americans are outrageous. It is clear that your opposition to the bill is simply part of your continuing campaign to make gay and lesbian Americans second-class citizens.

What is worse is that you hide your bigotry behind the language of faith. You have claimed that protecting gays and lesbians from hate crimes is an assault on your religion. Do you honestly believe that hate speech is an integral component of your faith?

Such a notion is preposterous and simply goes to show just how out of touch you are, not only with real American values, but with mainstream Christian values as well. I call upon you to stop using your faith to excuse your bigotry, and to end your despicable campaign against this potentially life-saving legislation.

I don't understand how these so-called Christian leaders can call themselves Christians. There's nothing Christ-like in their hate-mongering.

Take a moment to tell them "shame on you".

03 May 2007

Saturday, My Heart Will Be in Louisville

The 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby will be taking place this Saturday. Even though I grew up in Louisville, the extent of my Derby participation was attending Derby parties in whatever color silks I could find each year.

dminmem, circa 1982, ten days after my 21st birthday at a friend's Derby Party in Louisville, wearing the only color of silks I could find that year.

Since I've lived in Memphis I have stopped everything during the afternoon of the first Saturday in May to watch the festivities on television, with the exception of the once a few years ago when I'd stayed at Home Depot too late and had to listen to the race on the old Delco AM/FM in the Grand Prix. Something about listening to the race on the radio, though, brought back many childhood memories. Even though I didn't actually see the race I was still "home".

Usually I pick a horse to root for by names I've liked or stories I've listened to in the pre-race coverage. This year I have been looking at articles from the "The New York Times", National Thoroughbred Racing Association, various websites and weblogs to see what's the latest buzz about the field slated for the starting gates at Churchill Downs on May 5, my friend Thom's birthday.

I know that Scat Daddy beat early favorite No Biz like Shobiz (his second loss against three wins) at Florida's Gulfstream Park in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. But it was a narrow loss, and he rebounded to win the Wood Memorial on my Grandmother's birthday, April 7, at Aqueduct.

The owner Elizabeth Valando and the trainer Barclay Tagg, right, with Nobiz Like Shobiz after he won the Wood Memorial. Caption: The New York Times; Photo and Sarah K. Andrew

And I love the story about owner Elizabeth Valando in "The Times". I've enjoyed reading about No Biz' trainer, Barclay Tagg. He's been involved with some amazing, history-making thoroughbreds and some amazing stories throughout his career.

No Biz Like Shobiz at the Wood Memorial. Photo: Coglianese Photos

There are, I'm sure, stories about Curlin, Scat Daddy and Street Sense that would tug at my heartstrings, bring tears to my eyes and make me wish I was living in Louisville for at least the last few weeks of April and the first week of May (Derby Festival, you know). But, with No Biz' victory on my Grandmother's birthday and his running in the derby on Thom's birthday, it's No Biz Like Shobiz for me for the 133rd Run for the Roses.

Ultra Nate / Automatic

Just saw this video on Logo's "The Click List".

Outside of saying that this version of the song is more fun to me than the Pointer Sisters' version, and that I've always liked Ultra Nate
and her recordings for their danceability even though they can sometimes be very repetitive, and I think her sometimes powerful voice could be better showcased in other genres of music, I think I'm speechless.

I love the video. Her costumes and makeup are awesome. The guys are hot. Camera angles and editing is provocative. But was the living blow-up doll with no nose and drippy "mascara tears" really necessary? It's creepy. It kind of reminds me of that drag queen/transvestite/transsexual with the giant, over-collagen-injected lips, Amanda LePore.

01 May 2007

Woo Hoo!

WOW. I have been so remiss. So much has been happening I am sure that I won't be able to remember all of what's been going on.

Right now, I can only remember the last big deal. It started with Sunday before last's bowling. How this works is the first place team from the first half bowls the first place team from the second half. Both teams start from zero. Total scores, which are normally figured into the 4 game per week equation, don't count on that night -- only the scores from the three games.

We won the first game by 256 pins, the second by fifty-something pins and the last by five. But apparently our total score earned as a whopping 2560 and the top slot in Jackpot money.

So, this Sunday at our banquet, we ended up taking trophies for first place in bowling, plus a little over $600 in Jackpot money and the individual trophies we took home for High Game Scratch (Mark), High Series Scratch (Chris) and High Series Handicap (me).

What makes this night even more stellar is that after the banquet the league usually participates in a fundraiser for the next year's St. Patrick's Invitational Tournament.

Usually it's a 3-6-9 No-Tap. But, this year, the desk staff couldn't figure out how to make the scoring work, so we ended up with an unusual 8-pin No-Tap Tournament. So, any 8- or 9-pin count would score as a strike.

This year's field was small. Sixteen people stayed for the event. For a ten dollar entry fee, the first place winner could walk with $40.

While I bowled lots of real strikes, I was not without a few no-tap strikes.

By the time we made it to the third game Cameron and I were bowling pretty well and we were having a good time. The $70 bar tab (including tip) is evidence of the good time. Anyway, we were bowling with some of the most fun people on the league, like Debra and her mother, Sylvia. As I approached the lane in the tenth frame with 9 strikes (six real ones, three no-tap ones), I polished my ball, positioned my foot, addressed the pins, found my mark and went through my delivery. Strike. A real one. My ball came back through the return. I picked it up and went through the same ritual. Strike. Another real one.

There was lots of applause and cheering. Sylvia said, "one more!" -- which would probably have been my undoing in normal circumstances. The anchor, or last bowler, on the other lane was matching me strike for strike throughout the game (although he had two more no-taps than me). So, he was standing by, waiting to see what I did. Before I threw my final ball, he threw his first, earning a seven. Our match was over at this point. But I still needed another strike to score 300.

I picked up my ball. Same ritual. Same approach. Same delivery.

I have never been so pleased with watching that Black Widow effortlessly roll down the lane, arc perfectly into the pocket, and mix those pins with no doubt that it was another strike.

I BOWLED MY FIRST 300 Y'ALL! (Even if three of the twelve strikes were no-taps.)

Carl finished second, and my sweetheart finished third.


I have a printed copy of our scores which will end up on here at some point. But, for now, you have to take my word for it. :)