I am in LA for a few days for a little business and a little pleasure. The car is always at the center of LA life, and I have some notes about it from this trip:
1. Renting a car is ridiculously cheap here. I feel like I can never get one on the East Coast for less than 40 or 50 dollars a day, but here I am paying 7…yes, SEVEN.
2. Now having had time to compare Apple’s vs Google’s turn by turn map directions I can tell you that Google’s wins hands down. And not just because of the data being better and clearer (though it is), but also the f-ing annoying way Apple maps only gives you a half-second warning to make your turn where Google’s timing feels much more natural and helpful.
3. My eyesight at night has seemingly gotten worse, and I had a lot of trouble reading some of the street signs last night while driving. But then I also realized that much of the time, when we know a place, we don’t really need to make out the signs perfectly, just enough to jog our mind into filling in the rest. I am not sure that my eyesight was all that much better 7 years ago, it could have been that my brain was filling in the failings (hardware) with this spacial familiarity (software).
4. The dirty open secret of driving at night in LA is that way too many people drive drunk. They go out to bars and drink 3 or more cocktails, and hit the road because they feel they have no other option (like not drinking so much or calling a cab or taking public transport). I would love to know what the DUI stats are here, it is terrifying (a state level comparison shows 3 times the DUIs in CA compared to NY).
5. Many people have told me over the past few years that I seem to be a fairly calm and centered person to them, especially compared with myself years earlier. I realize after spending a couple of days in LA traffic that NOT driving in it has a strong calming effect on me. Paradoxically, living in New York City is much more of a tranquil experience for me than LA because of my freelance schedule (never really have to take subway at rush hour) and my ability to walk or subway or cab everywhere and not have to look for parking or zig or zag my vehicle, or get gas, or pay insurance or parking or speeding tickets, etc etc.
The car culture, in short, is at the center of all that is bad in LA, a city that has so much going for it in so many other ways.
I was perusing my picasaweb photos today, and I came across a sweet one from a couple of years ago. It depicted me, my brother, sister-in-law, and my parents on a trip to Lucca, Italy. I thought it would be sweet to share it, so I clicked on the share button and started typing in the names of a few family members to share it with. As I was adding them, google was auto-completing with suggestions as it does, and I noticed a strange thing. My grandmother Annette was showing up in the list and was in my “family” circle. This would not be odd I suppose were it not for the fact that my grandmother died in 2003. I never added her to my family circle on Google+. Google just inferred that from some set of data it has on me (and my other family members I’ll wager). They then either created a profile for her or made one for someone with the same name. Even stranger, when I went to that profile, there were only two other people listed as “following” her (besides me). One guy in Florida, and the other my friend Jason’s business (not even his real name). Companies are so intent on gathering any data they can on people and “anticipating” their desires (usually in the consumer realm) and helpfully “suggesting” friends and associates and products. But they very often overstep their bounds into the creepy. Thanks Google, your overly exuberant profiling has just dropped my esteem for you a bit more. (And don’t think you are off scot-free, Facebook. You are just as terrible.)
My friend Shaan is in town for a few days and staying with me. Last night he invited me to an opening for a new gallery that he was recently commissioned to do some work for (even though his work was not among those hanging for the opening). The gallery is called RH Contemporary, and it is apparently a new venture from the people behind Restoration Hardware, and as the name would imply run by some branch of their company and tied in with their branding. The opening was very “VIP”, and felt like an opulent NYC dance club opening with velvet rope and carpet, guest lists, pretty young women in cocktail dresses checking people in and pointing them to stairs and bathrooms and such. On entry, there were a row of model-handsome men standing erect and holding platters of frou-frou cocktails, and many cater-waiters carrying around blocky trays with upscale snacks on them. The gallery is five floors, each one reserved for a different artist, we took an elevator to the top and made our way down the stairs, floor by floor. I was impressed by how slick the event was but something was bugging me a bit about all this. The more I examined their concept, the more it made me question the value (and more importantly the purpose) of the art. For one thing, all of the work in the gallery is commissioned by them, with some rather strict rules about how many and what type of pieces they were looking for. They really seem to strive for an alike purity from each artist, and all their selections had a quality about them that would work very well in a certain type of home decor. The work was all rather minimalist, monotone or duotone, and devoid of any obvious political or social content or criticism. The website itself is perfectly designed to convey the gallery space, and is an e-commerce site where one can shop for a piece of art, add it to one’s basket, and check out as with any shopping site. The only difference is that instead of a gaudy “buy” button, one has a tasteful “acquire” link, and instead of “basket”, one has a “collection”. The other difference with a traditional shop is that these are all “one of a kind” items (and have price tags in the many thousands). The purpose for RH seems rather clear: define a new (and lucrative) market segment for decorative stuff. What it does to (the idea of) art and artists is a little less generous I think. And it points to the long (and sometimes tiresome) debate about art and commerce, and what the purpose of art is, and what can even claim the title of art. Depending on who you are and what you believe, art should or can offer a critique of the dominant culture, be a purely formal exploration, examine and reflect on the artist’s psyche, or it can serve a decorative purpose (as is very much the case here). Which of those categories one allows as “art” is up to the viewer and (in our very consumer society) purchaser.
I made it up to Poughkeepsie on the train without a hitch, it was really a lovely train ride just next to the river. Eric met me at the station and we went back to the cabin (my second time visiting) where I finally met his partner Danny (who I had been hearing about for a year but had never had the opportunity to meet). Since then we have been eating a lot and visiting with their friends and exploring some upstate areas I had never seen. We drove through the Hudson Valley and stopped at one of the many estates (Montgomery), then headed over to a kind of epic and wacky artist’s project called Opus 40. Harvey Fite (the artist in question) had bought an abandoned quarry in 1938 and constructed this architecture/sculpture over the next 37 years until his death. In addition to the massive stone thingy, there are other sculptures scattered about the grounds, but the Opus itself is the most interesting thing about the place by far. After that we headed into nearby Saugerties, where Danny did a little antique shopping and Eric and I played a couple of games of chess at the bookstore coffee shop. Seeing that we had not much time to spare before the sunset, Eric took us on a mad dash to the Olana Historic Site for a pretty spectacular view over the river at sundown. We then joined a couple of Eric and Danny’s friends for a dinner of great company and good cheer (if not great food) before comping back to the cabin and collapsing in bed.
If you thought this post would be about the healthcare.gov website, you were wrong. That went without a hitch for me (well, except comparing plans is super confusing, but that is not a technology problem). Rather, I am talking about the MTA’s Metro-North “WebTicket” system.
I am heading upstate this weekend for a couple of days with friends who have invited me to their lovely cabin in the woods (or the suburbs, not entirely sure how to classify the location in the Hudson Valley). I am supposed to take the Metro-North line to Poughkeepsie, where I will meet them at around 5pm this evening. So I thought I would look up information on the MTA website. Design issues aside, I was able to fairly easily locate my train information, and then was pleased as punch to notice a “WebTicket” option for purchasing my ticket online. I went through the process to select my ticket and then just before the purchase step, there is a bold notice in large letters stating:
“Your tickets will be mailed to you at no additional charge. You will receive them in 2-3 business days. You cannot print out the tickets on your home computer. Do you wish to continue with your purchase?”
Are you F-ing kidding me?! What is the point of online purchase? What kind of MORON designed an online system where you couldn’t keep your tickets on your smart phone or at least have the ability to print them out? They have made a system which COULD have saved them millions in labor and infrastructure (people gathering the tickets to mail them, restocking machines with special paper, keeping a greater number of machines in the terminals) and would have been convenient for people purchasing them (and saved trees if people could have kept them electronically) and instead have made it a stupid mail order system for physical goods.
This morning I received yet another “invitation to connect” on LinkedIn, this time from a nice guy I met once a couple of years ago and who lives in Italy. I hesitated to add him because I wondered how germane our relationship is to my professional life. But since little seems to separate Facebook from LinkedIn these days I went ahead and added him. And the reality is, one really never knows where work will come from. This has been proven to me over and over again in the last few years.
That accomplished, I couldn’t help but notice the constant nagging to update my profile while on the LinkedIn site. Usually I just ignore this nagging, but then I read my latest job description, which was first updated when I moved to New York almost 5 years ago, and it made me cringe a little. Plus, when looking over the list of past work experience, there was this annoying 2.5 year gap that, although explained briefly in my most current work entry, would probably leave people a little confused at a quick glance. So I broke out my mid-life crisis as a separate work experience for that time period and rewrote my current one to be a little more work-only focused. That accomplished, the nagging blue box prompts on LinkedIn kept coming, egging me on to “complete” my profile with ever greater and detailed information from my distant past. Most of these I ignored (who needs to know what specific courses I took in college over 20 years ago, really), but there was one staring me in the face a bit:
“How would you summarize yourself and your objectives?”
Ugh. Now this was starting to feel like a dating site. I made a couple of stabs at it, but none I was too happy with, and ultimately decided to leave it for another time. I suppose this section is important, but rather like the objective line that they tell kids to always put on their first resume and which almost no one reads before skipping to the experience, it vexed me. On the one hand, I don’t want to reduce myself to some technical, dry description of what I am capable of, but neither do I want to put in a flowery paean to myself as a lonely soul in search of world peace and harmony. So I decided to mull it over a bit and return there one day in the not too distant future. I am lucky that I have lots of work currently and have not needed to look for any in about 2 years. I think of LinkedIn as the place for people to go when they are in need of new jobs or project work, so we will leave this bit of self-promotion for another time or perhaps I will ask someone else to write it for me. Any takers?
…to the bathroom, that is. To the tune of about 40 trips since my return. Was it the questionable free snacks they brought us at Cafe de la Poste? The uncertain meat in the Royal Air Maroc in-flight meal? Who knows, but this has been pretty awful. I don’t feel particularly bad physically, but I can’t be more than an hour max away from the bathroom, seriously. And I don’t even want to tell you what happened last night while I was sleeping (and in bed). Ah, the joys of travel. My doctor prescribed Cipro for me and I already took one dose and hopefully will be more, shall we say, mobile by tomorrow.
There is something about seeing the Manhattan skyline from a plane (or a car for that matter) that has always made me smile with a sense of possibility and more recently that is mixed with a strong sense of home. I am thrilled to be back. Now to attack all the new projects that are awaiting me: two proposals, a report, ongoing client work and two new website projects. I feel very blessed to have as much work as I do with the great clients I have. At the same time, I have finally arrived at a point in my professional life where I no longer get overly stressed about it. If someone would have told me this was possible several years ago, I would have nodded that it was probably doable in theory, but never in practice. I really believed that lots of work meant lots of stress, and there was nothing really to be done about it but take a vacation from time to time to recharge. Now as a freelancer, I feel a lot more in control of my work and schedule, and I would not trade it for anything. I mix work with vacation and travel and feel more even keeled about it across the board. This large trip I just got back from is a good example. It was mostly vacation, but also a little work, especially in Hamburg and Marrakech. And I also managed to keep up to date with a few other clients that needed minor information or changes.
I really didn’t do much that was touristy this time in Marrakech, it was really all work. That said, it was interesting work and it was nice spending time in a few of the places I had been before and seeing some of the nice people I had met here before (and meeting some new ones). It maybe too early to tell, but it looks like I will be coming back here a few more times in relation to this project. I am now having breakfast in my hotel, and awaiting my 2 hour ride to Casablanca (the alternative was to take the 40 min flight at 5am), where I will catch my flight back home to New York. I left the US over a month ago, and this trip has taken me to so many fantastic places, and allowed me to reconnect with a group of wonderful friends. See you on the other side of the Atlantic.
The project I have to do here in Marrakech is related (as so many things in Marrakech are) to French expatriates who came here many years ago. Many of them were (or are) in the fashion industry, and this place has a rich history that interweaves their stories with the stories of Morocco and the stories of the fashion world, its inspirations, history, and gossip. So several of the people around me are quite familiar with that world where I alas am not. And in conversation, they often drop names of people who are central to this history, and whom I suppose are quite famous, but whom I have never heard of. I try not to stare so blankly and make a mental note to look them up later, hoping I can figure out the spelling or last names when only the first are used. Still, I have to admit that one of the reasons I enjoy working with diverse clients is to learn something about their interests, their work, and their worlds. Today is my last day in Marrakech, for tomorrow I fly to Casablanca at 4am(!) and after a few hours layover, back to New York. This trip has been fantastic, but I am ready to be home.