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Chasing The American Dream

September 29, 2006


How not to travel from Miami, Florida to Gent, Belgium. It started off well and good. I flew first class from Miami to Philadelphia without incident. My next leg from Philadelphia to Paris went smoothly. Flying business class sure helps the 12 ½ hour flight pass by quickly. It was 7:45 a.m. and all was according to schedule. So it appeared all the hard work was behind me, but little did I know.

After I got my luggage, I realized that I was in a different terminal than the last visit. Therefore, I had to figure out how to get to my train station to catch the train from Paris to Brussels. The last visit was easy because the train station and was in the same terminal as my flight. I waited in the information line to get instructions to the train station. I dunno, in Europe, people seem to move slowly. Lines don’t move and you could be standing at a counter forever without being noticed. And you all know my lack of patience for line waiting. The woman told me to take an elevator, out to the street, and get on a bus to get to terminal three. Ever been on an elevator in Europe? It has a capacity for like two people and that’s excluding luggage. So the line to get on the elevator was once again, long and slow-moving. I finally just got on the ‘up’ elevator just to get on it even though I had to go downstairs. Once outside, I ran for the bus which was friggin packed. I was smashed in so tight that the door couldn’t even close because I was blocking it. A 15-minute curvy ride with no windows on a hot bus with people sneezing is not my idea of fun. I couldn’t wait to get off that bus.

Once I got to the train station, things were once again familiar. I ordered a Coke Light (Diet Coke) which was served warm. Man, I could never live here. My train was scheduled to leave at just past 10 a.m. I ran into my colleague who, for some strange reason, was booked on a noon train. He looked at my ticket and told me I was on the slow train and not the bullet train. Thus, it would take me two hours to get to Brussels instead of one. I didn’t have enough time to change the ticket and left to go catch the train. After waiting and waiting, they posted a message saying the train was ‘retard’ which I think in English means late. I finally boarded 45 minutes late. Meanwhile, my colleague got on the 10:45 fast train and easily beat me to Brussels because my stupid slow train made five stops.

Now 12:45, I had to get a connecting train to Gent. I made a quick ticket purchase and caught the 1:10 train to Gent. It’s hot and exhausting lugging a 50-pound bag around up and down stairs to catch trains, lemme tell ya. I collapsed in my seat barely making it before the doors closed. Ten minutes into the ride, security came through to check tickets. The dude rudely said I was in first class and needed to move. I really had no idea and was wondering what could be first class about this ordinary seat I was sitting in. Plus, the train was empty. I was tired and didn’t feel like lugging my luggage across cars so I just paid the extra four Euros. Aaah, peace and quiet for the next 20 minutes…

I think I was awake for 18 of the minutes because the next thing I new, the rude security dude told me I missed my stop in Gent. I’m sure he took pleasure over the fact that I fell asleep and missed it. Man, all I wanted to do was get to my hotel, but now I had another 30 minutes to the next stop and another 30 back. I decided I was done with trains for the day and figured I’d take a cab back. I arrived in Brugge and followed the signs that said, “Taxis.” As I got to the street, I saw one cab pull away from the curb. It was the only cab in sight. I couldn’t believe it. No cabs? Finally, I saw one approaching and hailed it. I asked the driver how much the ride would be and incredibly, he told me it would be 135 Euros or around $175 dollars. Are you kidding me? A 30 mile cab ride for $175??? Meanwhile, the vultures were ascending upon my cab. It was the only one in sight and 100 people wanted it. One quick decision disappointed 100 people cuz I decided I’d take the cab. I was desperate. At last, I was on my way to the hotel with no more issues.

We got close to the hotel, and there was some sort of festival going on with certain roadblocks. The idiot driver said he could get no closer and that I’d have to walk. I told him for $175, he was going to drop me at the hotel. So he went round and round and finally gave up and refused to go to the hotel. He ordered me to walk. It was unreal? I had to lug my 50-pound dead weight along cobblestone streets to get to the hotel and I didn’t even know where it was. The driver said it was 150 metres to the right. Uhh, wrong. I couldn’t find it and now it was raining. I called my colleague who arrived hours ago and who was dropped off directly at the hotel. He gave me some guidance and I finally found the hotel. Dripping wet from rain and sweat, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see a bed.

Man, traveling can be a bitch sometimes. And to my Belgian reader out there, I ate at Pakhuis and Belga Queen. Great food. Well, I’m off to Paris. Gonna check out Versailles. Wish me luck getting there.

September 22, 2006


Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind… The Eagles, Life in the Fast Lane

Slow express. I know I always pick the slowest line no matter where I go, but why is it that retail management fails to realize how important it is to put someone fast and competent behind the express line register? Three times this week, I’ve waited far too long in the ‘express’ lane. And I’m not even talking about the people in line that can’t read the “limit 10 items or less” sign. Instance number one, I observed the cashier in practically slow motion as she scanned the items. I mean, how long could it possibly take to scan 10 items? It took her 10 minutes. Why? Because she has to examine each item purchased and make a comment about it. C’mon lady, not in the express lane.

Instance number two, I waited again with my three items. And again, it was another Mrs. Slow Motion behind the register. Then she fouls up someone’s debit card and didn’t give the customer the right change. Of course, that’s an automatic call to the manager. Tick, tick, tick, went my watch. She finally gets to me and in the middle of my three items, the previous customer came back and complained she didn’t receive the correct change. The cashier owed her another $20. Well, that flustered the hell out of the cashier. She couldn’t figure out how she was going to give the customer the $20 in the middle of my order. Real tough, right? Geez lady. Finish my two items, cash me out, and give the lady her $20. Real tough.

Instance number three, I found myself waiting in another moron’s line. This guy made the other two cashiers look like Speedy Gonzales. It looked like he hadn’t a clue as to what he was doing. It took him like 10 times to scan each item. Then he couldn’t handle the tough produce transaction. He ended up charging a customer $9.73 for a head of Endive. He couldn’t figure out how to cancel it which meant another call to the manager bullpen. Tick, tick, tick and up went my blood pressure. He finally gets to me and once again I had three items. I was so mad I couldn’t even look at him. I swiped my credit card, signed the slip, and was about to leave when I heard the guy in line behind me say, “That’s not mine.” I look over and there stood my Smucker’s Strawberry Preserves. One, I guess my cashier couldn’t count to three because he stopped at two items. Two, why did the guy behind me wait so long to tell the idiot cashier he’d left the preserves behind?

This sort of madness I can’t seem to handle anymore. I’m extending my pet peeve of slow drivers in the left lane to anything or anyone who slows me down unnecessarily and gets in my way. So please all you retail managers, think about serving your customers better by leaving the slow morons off the express line register. This customer would be eternally grateful.

September 15, 2006


I remember listening on the radio to The Who’s “final concert” over 20 years ago. They’re one of my favorite bands of all-time. I remember thinking, Wow, they’ll never play together again. But that was then. Nowadays, there is no such thing as final or farewell. The oldies just keep on playing, don’t they? So I heard on the radio that The Who is actually coming here on November 20th. I have a friend who can get me club tickets so I was real excited to get the opportunity to see one of the greats.

Concerts seem to come in bunches. There is nothing for months and then all of a sudden EVERYONE’s coming to town. Well, much to my delight, another of my favorites, Death Cab For Cutie also announced they’re coming here. I got cheated last year due to Hurricane Wilma. I had tickets and was so disappointed they canceled. I have been waiting for them to come back here. So I go to ticketmaster to buy tickets and I looked in disbelief at the date of the concert. November 20th. Is that unbelievable or what? Two concerts on the same night? What kind of crap is that? Now I’m torn. Do I see the legends in an upscale setting with a free food buffet or do I mix in with the college kids and see a really great alternative band?

I think if I base my choice solely on music, I’ll go see Death Cab. I’m pretty burned out on Classic Rock and I’d go to The Who just to say I saw them. I actually saw them on Letterman last night and Roger sounded pretty good but “old.” Still, it’s amazing the guy can sing at 60+. But I really like Death Cab’s sound. Damn, I hate having to choose one over the other but I have to. I know The Who won’t be around again so it’ll likely be my only opportunity. Grrrrr. Decisions, decisions. What do you think???

September 12, 2006


photos courtesy of whiterockgirl.

Chris Isaak certainly plays one. On stage live and in person, that is. On a hot, humid, rainy South Florida night, I got to see Chris and his band mates play. They didn’t disappoint and put on a great show. I emphasize the word ‘show’ because it was truly more than just a band going through the motions. Chris spent a lot of his energetic 90-minute set walking through the crowds during songs, interacting, telling stories, and even inviting crowd members up on stage to dance.

Isaak’s not the most well-known act in show biz, but he’s been around for over 20 years. He even had a TV series on Showtime for a few years. He’s a bit old-school in that his music is reminds us (for those of us who are old enough to remember) of 50s Rockabilly in the mold of Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. He dresses the part, too. He came out with a turquoise sequined suit. You don’t see much of those these days. He’s got an incredible voice range that can reach the Elvis low register as well as the high Roy Orbison falsetto register. Dreamy, Bluesy, Country, and Rock all rolled into one voice. That’s pretty talented and not bad for a boy who grew up on a Stockton, California farm with little money. He told us a story of how his mother bagged potato chips on the late shift before coming home and singing him a nightly lullaby. Chris also told us that he and band members (bassist) Rowland Salley and (drummer) Kenney Johnson have been together for 20 years and they all came a similar non-wealthy background.

Isaak performed his popular tunes Somebody’s Cryin’, San Francisco Days, Baby Did a Bad Thing, and Wicked Game. He also mixed in a cover version of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me. He sang with energy, excitement, and angst much to the crowd’s delight. During the middle of the set, the band set up chairs in front of the stage and played a mini-acoustic set before closing with some good old-fashioned rock and roll. And for good measure, Chris returned for an encore. Gone was the turquoise suit, but in it's place was an incredible mirrored black suit. You sure as hell don't see that look these days!

The concert really exceeded my expectations. The boys sounded great and genuinely seemed to have a great time. Chris happened to mention that he’s met countless phony stars in Hollywood. I believe him, and I’m glad that all his success hasn’t gone to his head.

September 06, 2006


Remember way way back when I told you about a perfect first date I had? Well, congrats to her. She just won a local county election and became a Judge.

September 01, 2006


photo courtesy of University of Florida

A while back, I told you about the concept of TINSTAAFL. Remember? “In my college macro economics class, Sanford V. Berg taught us the concept of TINSTAAFL (pronounced like waffle, got it?). We’ve all heard about this concept. Class, repeat after me, “There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” But did the great Sanford Berg steer me wrong? While on vacation, I thought about this concept of ‘Free.’ I guess it occurred to me because in one day, I observed three different kinds of Free…”

Lo and behold and much to my surprise, I got an email from none other than the honorable Professor Berg himself. He found the post by googling and offered me his professorial economic wisdom. I’d like to share it with all of you. So without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen… Distinguished Service Professor Sanford V. Berg

“On the first day of almost every course I teach I ask students what TINSTAFFL stands for. Ultimately, someone volunteers the phrase, I “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Of course that’s a key insight from Economics, so we pay brief homage to the phrase. In recent years, I have proceeded to ask students what TBTILAF stands for. Responses to this question are a bit slower in coming, but ultimately someone volunteers, “The best things in life are free.” We then have to figure out which of the two will serve as the operating principle for the course.

So we talk about who taught us that TBTILAF and what those “best things” are. Students generally suggest: relationships, love, integrity, family, beauty, and walks on the beach. Then I respond that none of those aspects of life are truly free. All have opportunity costs—something is given up to obtain those valued experiences. So I re-state the phrase as “The best things in life are non-monetary” (TBTILAN). Ultimately, economics and ethics are not in conflict. The former describes how choices are made, given the values and objectives of decision-makers (consumers, workers, managers, or stockholders). The latter asks us whether our actions are in line with core principles. Clearly, the "best things" (love, integrity, meaning) take time to develop. So we are always making decisions that affect others and ourselves. Economics is not about our spiritual journey, but without some grounding in these activities and traditions that give life meaning, we are apt to forget that life is far more than possessing material goods and having a pleasant appearance.

We know that, "What we are able to count is not all that counts." Ultimately, “The best things in life are not things.” (TBTILANT)”


Thanks Professor Berg. It was great to hear from you.

Todd Moser a/k/a “Plantation”
UF Class of ‘85