Category Archives: Wondering

Help Us Help Them

I’m fighting a pretty tough bout of cynicism right now.  I got an email from a hotel chain of which I am a rewards member.  The email subject was about supporting the Australian relief efforts.  The big type pleaded for me to donate my rewards points for the cause. 

I have a long-standing issue with companies that ask their customers to help in disasters by giving them money.  Primarily because I am very, very certain that the company will use all the money collected in the drive as their own donation, and then they will take the tax write-off for that donation.  Don’t you think?  They’re not a non-profit.  You don’t get a receipt for your donation to them.  You can’t claim it as a tax deduction yourself.  Are they going to let that go to waste?  Hell, no.  Plus, they are the ones that get to say, "We donated $550,000 to the relief effort!"  And not all of it was their money, for sure.

This email plea irked me in another way.  They are asking you to give back something they gave to you to give to someone else.  That statement says what I mean it to say, but it doesn’t seem to capture the full audacity of the premise.  On the surface, it sounds legit.  The company has a liability on their books with all those outstanding rewards.  That’s value.  You’re donating something that has value.  But really, it’s nothing.  It’s all fake, virtual value.  You paid them for those points.  You redeem those rewards for empty rooms.  The empty rooms are there for offer regardless of any points balance.  What I’m saying is the hotel can just as easily make those rooms available for disaster relief regardless of any points donations.  All the donation does is reduce their future liability to their customers.

And here’s the final nagging thought.  Yes, charity is good.  Corporate charity should be good as well.  If no email had come in today, I wouldn’t have had anything to bitch about, so the fact they’re doing anything is better than nothing – I acknowledge that.  Regardless, if an offer evokes cynicism, it just doesn’t have the level of altruism that makes you proud of a company.

So when the offer from the company says they "will match up to $25,000" of donations, that’s really saying they are willing to donate $0.  As long as no one donates anything, that’s all they’re on the hook for.  And it’s also saying that if their customers are super-generous, they’ll personally stop at $25k.

I feel bad for criticizing a relief drive effort, but this offer just has a bad vibe to it.  I think they should have done it right or not done it at all.

Losing For Winning

There are some people who are professional sweepstakes players, believe it or not.  They spend an unnatural amount of time researching and entering sweepstakes.  And they can actually make money at this, too.  Or at least get a lot of stuff.  You might wonder how you can actually “win” at this.  It would just seem to be a numbers game where you enter as many sweepstakes as you can and eventually you’re bound to win something.  But there’s actually a somewhat unknown rule that the pros use to get an advantage. (one weird trick!)

Most sweepstakes have some sort of condition for getting an entry.  Buy a bottle of this, visit such and such place, every order you place on this website, etc.  But, in all sweepstakes, there is a way to get an entry without making a purchase or performing some action – it’s legally required.  If you read the rules, they will tell you how to get a free entry.  Always read the rules.  In most cases, you have to send a 3×5 card with your name and address printed on it and they will return you an “entry”.  Some sweepstakes limit the number of entries an individual may make, most don’t.

I’ve attempted this technique once a few years ago.  A local charity was selling tickets for your choice of two cars.  The tickets were expensive, like $150, and the total number of entries was limited – a rare situation and very valuable because you knew your maximum odds of winning.  And like all sweepstakes, you could get free entries if you read and followed the rules.

I bought two tickets, to keep up appearances, but I then deluged them with something like 100 requests for entry tickets.  They did fulfill my requests, sending thick bundles of tickets in the mail with their drawing receipts torn off.  In the end, I estimated I had a 20-25% chance of winning.  Does that sound bad?  Does it sound better than a 1:2000 chance? (these numbers are all estimated, BTW, don’t try to math them out)

Well, I didn’t win, even with my extraordinary chances.  Whatever, it was kind of a fun exercise.  The local charity has never tried a car sweepstakes since, so I think I really pissed them off.

So anyway, I got a flyer for another car raffle.  $20 tickets, and the rules do say no purchase necessary (as they must), however, they don’t specify how to get those entries.  You have to mail the administrator for information.  This sounds pretty good, too, because that extra step might turn off casual players.  But when I look at the effort vs reward, I’m going to pass on it.  Would you pass on a elevated chance to win a $60k truck?

So, first of all, it’s a truck.  It’s a stupid, jacked-up, fully customized pickup truck.  Not my style, at all.  So what!  Sell it!  Ok, let’s consider that.  First, winning the prize is a taxable event.  The IRS is going to want their share of your $60k windfall.  Let’s generalize at a 30% bracket.  So that’s $18k out of pocket right away.  You need to have that to claim the truck.  Then there’s tax and title.  That’s about another $5k.  Probably you need to insure it for at least a month until you can sell it.  Maybe that’s $100 at most.  So in order to get the $60k truck, you need to spend $23k. 

So then, your new $60k truck rolls off the dealer lot and immediately becomes a used truck.  And it’s worthwhile to note that this is a 2019 model and the drawing is in 2020, making it last year’s model.  Everyone knows a vehicle loses an immediate percentage of its value when it leaves the dealer lot.  Considering this is also last year’s model, shall we say 25%?  Now your truck is worth $45k and you’ve spent $23k to acquire it.

Your truck is worth $45k, but that is not exactly what it would sell for.  You’re in a hurry to sell this so you don’t have to keep paying for insurance on it.  Will it sell for $40k?  Let’s say yes, so we can wrap this up.  So you’ve now made a $17k profit on a $60k vehicle.  That’s quite a discrepancy.

“You suck.  I’d be more than happy with an extra $17k!”  Maybe you would.  But you also need to consider that you added $60k to your gross income this year with that win.  That might push you into a higher tax bracket.  That means the money you earn this year is going to be taxed at a higher rate, more than it would have been had you not won.  17k worth of higher taxes?  Probably not, but your withholding from your paycheck is probably not going to compensate for that extra, so you better save some of that $17k to cover your tax bill next year.

There’s something to be said for thinking things fully through.  In the case of the first drawing for the car, I would have kept and driven that car (not a $60k car, either) and could have absorbed the taxes easily.  This $60k truck has a lot of BS accessories on it that are inflating the value that would never make back their cost if it were to be sold.  It’s a bad deal all around.

Judged By The Company You Keep

In my state, you just cannot live without having tinted windows on your car.  Unless you actually want sunburn or cancer, that is.  When I got my MX5 nine years ago, I was dying during the few days between when I bought the car and I had my appointment for window tinting.  I had to keep a towel in the car to cover my forearm from the sun blasting through the glass.

Almost a decade later, I have a new car, a much bigger car, and this one also needs the tinting treatment for my own comfort and safety.  Maybe a bit surprisingly to me, the same shop that did the windows on my other car is still there.  Well, maybe it is.  It has a new name, but the logo is mostly the same, and the original name is now used by another shop elsewhere in the city.  Partnership gone sour, maybe?  Diversification?  Whatever.  They did a great job the first time, so I’ll go back there and generally hope for the best.

With services like window tinting, isn’t hoping for the best all you can do?  It’s not like it’s a service you utilize on a regular basis, so you build a level of trust in a company.  It’s highly likely you’ll use the service once before they go out of business (or change their name).  And it’s not even really about the business, it’s the quality and skill of their installers.  I doubt the same installers are there that did my first car.  So, it’s always going to be a crapshoot as to what you get.

Tint shops are sort of paradoxical. It’s kind of hard to find one that isn’t ghetto in some way.  I mean, window tint shouldn’t be anything illicit, but you know, it can be.  And those shops usually augment their business with stereo installs, which again, are not illicit, but stereotypically…  And that’s terrible that such a perception exists and that they seem to actively exploit it in their marketing and image.

But the paradox is that this is just the place you want to go.  Quality work comes from practice, so you want a shop that has done a lot of jobs, even if they are on ‘76 Malibus and Cadillacs.  Sigh, more stereotypes.  It’s kind of like certain dive restaurants that have incredible food for really cheap not only because they are more focused on the food than their image, but because they’re so busy with their cheap regulars that they are masters at cooking that food.

Back to my statement about not using window tint services often enough to build a relationship.  That statement was a little short-sighted.  Maybe you do utilize that service frequently if you’re in the cycle of buying $1000 cars and burning them out every 6 months.  I mean, that sounds horrible, but it’s the same as having a $200/mo car payment, right?  Seems almost legit.  Except you would have to get your new car retinted twice a year.  And those customers keep the installers well experienced.

So when I go in with my 2019 model car, the quality I receive could be built off the backs of people who don’t have the credit or ability to buy a car less than 10 years old and are in a constant cycle of upgrades.  Maybe not, but maybe.  What’s the alternative?  Find a high-end shop where they, for whatever reason, would not service those repeat customers?  Which is the greater evil?  Why did this post get so heavy?  I just want to not roast in my car.

Dining Out and Out

I’ve lamented the decline of Pizza Hut’s “red roof” – dine-in – locations for many years.  Even when I worked there decades ago, there was always an emphasis on carry-out and delivery.  And even back then, they had the concept of “delcos” – delivery/carryout-exclusive locations.  My delivery manager was always campaigning to open one in our town, probably so he could be a general manager.  But if that had happened, what would happen to the dine-in location?  Would it be able to cover its own costs?

I’m sure having a dine-in location is much more costly than a delco.  Insurance, furniture upkeep, utilities, cleaning costs, there’s a lot more.  And it’s funny, because wait staff get paid so little, so it’s not even really a concern of labor costs.  But my introductory point is that Pizza Hut pushed take-out food over the dine-in experience for a very long time, and it seems that it has come to pass that dine-in is the great exception now.

Now, doesn’t it seem that everyone is in on this little racket?  Every restaurant now offers take out or delivery.  If not on their own, through some partner like GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, or whatever.  I just got an email from Chili’s bragging about delivery.  I get that people don’t want to cook, so they turn to restaurants.  But now it seems that people don’t even want to leave their houses in addition to not wanting to cook.  What the hell is going on here?

I read articles about this.  Let me tell you something, I often mention that I read articles on this or that in my posts, but I know that means absolutely nothing because you can find an article or two to support any position on any topic out there.  But still, that the article exists means someone is observing and thinking about this.  Yeah, so, these articles say that the casual dining experience is coming to an end (articles always promote the extreme) because of generational differences.  Boomers and millennials (ugh, this again) have different priorities for dining.  Ok, sure, but why should the concept of dining out be ending?

Let me cut to the chase here.  I hate restaurant take-out, and I would hate restaurant delivery just as much.  And my reason is simple and logical.  When you go to a restaurant and eat there, you are served your food in courses.  You get your drink and some bread, you get your soup or salad, you get your entrée , you get your dessert (if you’re really that hungry).  The meal is paced and you have an opportunity to engage in conversation over a period of time.  Or, if you’re solo like I am most all the time now, you have a chance to digest and relax between courses.

When you get takeout or delivery, all courses are available at once.  Now you have to decide what’s going to suck.  Do you want your salad to get warm (if it isn’t already from being packed with your entrée ), do you want your soup to get cool, do you want your entrée to get cool?  Which course is going to suck the worst?  Or do you want to reheat your entrée after getting through the early courses?  But that’s why you ordered out in the first place, right?  No cooking.

The few times I did order Outback for takeout was a miserable experience.  I live 15 mins from any restaurants, so there’s that chilling time.  Then, when I unpack it, I have to eat everything as fast as possible.  I bounced between the salad and the steak and the bread, trying to stuff it all in before it got even colder, and I was left with a shitty experience.

Even things like sandwiches don’t really stack up after delivery.  They settle, they soak, they cool (or warm).  It’s not the same as in-house eating.  Even fast food, as low-grade as it is initially, can get worse.

So, my fear now is that the concept of dining out is going to diminish and eventually fade away.  I guess it’s not really a fear, because I’ll certainly be dead by then, but I am worried that my options will become more limited in the future, as Pizza Hut is now.  Everything would become an “Express”.  Olive Garden Express; Longhorn Express; Red Lobster ToGo.  And these are all places that young people hate – chain restaurants – so maybe it’s inevitable for demographic reasons.

The future is so bleak.  So, so bleak.

The Mission

What are your thoughts when you read a company’s mission statement?  On first blush, it usually reads like bullshit.  It’s usually a bunch of feel-good words with a touch of fake humility and naïve optimism.  Mission statements are an easy target for people who want to attack a company for not fulfilling any promise they may or may not have explicitly made.

Who is the mission statement made for?  Cynics would say it’s for the owners and executives to make them feel like they’re changing the world.  Less cynical people would say it’s for the employees of the company to be inspired and motivated to do their best for the company – working for a higher good.  And then some people think it’s part of the company’s marketing strategy.

I was following a box truck for a company that had that particular viewpoint.  On the back of the truck, covering the entirety of the door, it read.

Our mission is to fulfill the specific needs of each customer by offering quality product, exceptional customer service and exemplifying Jesus Christ in every facet of business and life.

I have many issues with this.  First, I don’t believe a mission statement is a marketing statement.  Can you tell what business they are in?  No?  So, there’s your marketing success.  Then, the statement is so generic, it wouldn’t even inspire an employee or even an owner.  Every company wants to offer the best product and service, right?  Then, there’s the obvious.  You are putting your religious beliefs in your company’s mission statement.  Since there is nothing else differentiating your mission statement from any other company, and you are choosing to use your mission statement as marketing, your business proposition boils down to, “Do business with us because we are Christian.”  That’s about as compelling as saying, “Do business with us because we’re white.”  Oh wait a minute, that doesn’t make my point at all.

My primary point is that this is a dumb use of advertising space on your company vehicle, unless you feel the need to remind your employees of what they are working for every time they close the truck door.  What is their goal?  Be like Jesus.  No pressure, guys, just try to be the son of God while you’re on the clock.  And off the clock, too.  You did notice that little bit in our mission statement, didn’t you?

The Next Generation Of Tortured Musician

The other day I went to Guitar Center to buy some cables for my stereo.  Maybe it’s just me, but the store was just depressing.  It wasn’t all that busy, which may be a sign of the times.  Do people play music anymore?  One of the things that really irked me was seeing that their on-display studio monitors had the speaker cones pushed in.  Who the fuck does that?  No, seriously?

You are in a store with only music stuff.  So probably, you are a musician.  This is gear you might want to own.  And if you owned it, you would probably take care of it.  But these are not your speakers, so you feel you can damage them?  I just can’t understand it.  It’s like, “Wow, that is a beautiful car.  We should let the air out of the tires.”

I might have had the answer to my question right there with me.  As I was looking at all the different equipment in the department, I could hear someone playing a keyboard – badly.  It was the same melody of maybe 4 notes over and over, with some attempted backing chords that were either mangled or in the wrong key.  But as bad as it was, it was intentional.  It wasn’t just trying out a keyboard’s sounds or action or whatever.  It sounded like someone… practicing.

Now this wouldn’t be the person damaging the display products.  This is a musician (to apply the term loosely).  However, this person brought along a couple of friends, and they were not of the same type.  The one kid was shouting, “My boy’s droppin’ an album this week!” and “We’re gonna Instagram Live this!”  Why he’s shouting, I have no idea.  I steal a glance at this group and they’re a pretty pathetic bunch.  The keyboard player was an awkward, chubby, doofus.  His two “friends” were stoner/grunge types.  These two, I have no doubt, would have zero issue with damaging merchandise.

I bought my cables and as the 4 note melody repeated over and over behind me, I said quietly, “I couldn’t survive here for a single day.”  The cashier replied, “I can’t say I’m surviving, but I’m still here.”  I nodded in acknowledgement and quickly left the store.

Once outside, I thought a bit more about that situation.  This doofus kid, he clearly has an interest in music.  He convinced his non-musician friends to go to Guitar Center with him.  He’s playing something original, albeit badly.  God knows, I’ve been there.  What’s his story?  Does he not have a decent enough instrument at home to practice on?  Does he not have one at all?  And his friends, they don’t really seem to be really supportive of him, except in a mocking fashion.  I was surrounded by other musicians as a teen, so my environment was more enriching and inspirational.

There was a part of me that wanted to talk to the kid and ask about his situation.  You know, I have an extra keyboard I’m not using, maybe it would give him something to work with at home?  Or maybe if I knew of some non-profit arts group that worked to encourage music exploration and ability, I could make a referral.

In the end, I did none of that, because I have a very hard time executing on ideas.  But hopefully the kid manages to break out of his unsupportive circle of jerks and keep up his practice.

Be Quick Or Be Rich

I was browsing some classifieds and was noticing that some items wouldn’t sell quickly, so the poster would post a reply stating the price was dropped.  And sometimes this would go on for a few replies.  It made me think about the multitude of ways we humans have devised for transactional commerce.

Every single thing has a value, but that value is different for every single potential consumer.  That is a simple concept that can be overwhelming to consider if you dwell on it.  The consideration on the other side of the counter is that everything has a cost, so how long can you sustain the cost?

This could be a whole post on the nuances of what constitutes a sellers costs and how that can factor into how much or how little they charge for items.  But the real thing I was thinking of was a memory a couple decades ago of a travel auction site that appeared to be a perpetual source of frustration.  I’ve forgotten the name of the site and can’t be bothered to research it right now.

The idea of the site is they would put up vacation packages for really cheap, then let people bid them up.  The twist on the auction was that the listings were for multiple tickets and they could be bid up independently.  I just did a quick search for what this type of auction is called and amazingly, I can’t find it.  I know I had found it once in the past.  So here’s the concept.  The company lists a package with 30 tickets starting at $50/ticket.  The first 30 bidders are in at $50.  Then the bid price rises to $60.  The next bidders start knocking out the previous bidders at $50 and now are in line to win at $60.  The price rises again and the bumping continues until no one wants to pay the current bid price.

Here’s the memorable part for me.  When you bid, you can add a comment to your bid that shows up in the leading bids screen.  Without fail, every one of the early bidders who got in early and cheap is using their comment to plead for other people to wait for the next auction to be listed, so they won’t get bumped.  And without fail, they get bumped.  It’s a perfect example of human behavior, especially when it comes to money and privilege.  Being early doesn’t matter when you have the money to make the line disappear.  Those with the money to make things happen for them don’t particularly care about the ones whose only chance of success is early opportunity.

I used the site one time, and I do remember a small sense of “fuck off, whiner” when I outbid one of the earlier people.  But after that one win, I never really got back into it.  Maybe there were too many people outbidding me, or it just got too popular and expensive.  Maybe I was harboring suspicions there were shills driving up the prices.  Whatever it was, the site faded from memory, but the idea stuck with me.

“If we work together we can all win.”  Completely untrue.  You mean, if we work together and you let me win, then you can win next time.  There’s no guarantees on that future and everyone knows it.  What a wondrous world we live in.

Fuck You, Reflection Of Myself!

There’s been a recent raft of shit going on at work lately.  When I say shit, I mean literal shit, but I don’t mean there’s a literal raft involved.  This shit affects me, and a couple of my co-workers, but it isn’t a co-worker’s shit.  It’s simply a matter of mistaken identity and unwarranted aggression from an idiot doing idiotic things.  Fucking bird.

It’s a stupid female cardinal that must have a nest of stupid cardinal babies in a nest in a tree above our cars.  And at various times times during the day, this helicopter mom, this smotherfucker, swoops down to our cars because it sees itself in our rear view mirrors.  It then proceeds to flap around and attack its reflection in the mirror.  I’m not sure if the shitting part is because the bird thinks it won or because it thinks it’s losing the fight, but our cars all have bird shit on the doors from the fight.  I can see marks on my window from the feathers flapping furiously in a highly-alliterative sentence.

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I’ve even been in the car during the attacks.  I’m just chilling out, using my new Android phone, which has been a big pile of meh, and I’ll see bitch bird flapping and pecking around at the car beside me, or sometimes it comes to my car.  Bitch bird stands on the door’s window sill and makes a big fuss over the other bird in the door mirror.  It makes me wonder about about the canary I had as a little kid.  Was it cruel to put a mirror in the cage and laugh when the bird pecked at it?  I was told that birds liked to look at themselves.  This stupid bird sure doesn’t.

So, to keep my car door from getting shat all over, I started covering up my mirror with a cleaning rag.  That seemed to work except the bitch went over to the passenger side to fight. So I need two cleaning rags.

Where Are The Dine-ins?

It was a couple months ago that a Sonny’s BBQ restaurant near my workplace abruptly closed with no warning.

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I later found out they closed another location in a neighboring town.  While this affected me for my lunchtime meals, I still had my local Sonny’s I could visit.  My local restaurant was recently remodeled, whereas this one that closed did not remodel.

Maybe a month ago, I was driving and I saw that a Pizza Hut restaurant that I would visit had closed.  Later investigation showed that it had moved to a new location.  I called their number and found out they were delivery/carryout only now.  No more dine-in.

This week, since that hut had closed, I went to my other Pizza Hut location.  I was shocked to find that it was closed as well.  As I kept driving, wondering what to do, I caught a brand new Pizza Hut sign in the plaza just down the road.  I pulled in to check it out.  No surprises, no dine-in.

The other night, I’m driving home and I see a brand new sign in a plaza near my house – Pizza Hut.  This signals to me that the dine-in Pizza Hut just down the road is also closing in short order.  Now, I don’t eat at that one because unlike the other two I visited, this one doesn’t have a salad bar.

So that’s three Pizza Huts in my immediate area (immediate meaning within 30 mins; my travel range is greater than most people’s) have closed their dine-in facilities in favor of delivery/carryout only locations.  It makes me wonder what the future holds.  Restaurants are generally very sensitive to the economy and supposedly the economy is doing awesome right now.  But is it?  Why are places closing or downsizing?

Gone Girl

I was waiting in line to check out and the people behind the counter were talking obliviously.  You know, some people just don’t realize they’re talking in public.  I wasn’t really paying any attention to them until I heard, “Yeah, they found her body out back.”  And I, and probably anyone else that would have heard that, understood that we are talking about someone who died.

On my way out of the store, I started thinking about how curious our language is and how we say things that have a very specific meaning.  Also, that those things we say have a deeper philosophical meaning.  She said, “they found her body”, not “they found her”.  It’s a statement that says your body is a part of you or belongs to you, but it is not you.  It’s like “they found her shoes out back”, but no one would ever say, “I got halfway to work and realized I forgot my body.  Mondays, right?”

When we talk about people, we are usually unintentionally talking about their soul or spirit.  Statements like “Is he still with us?” or “No, he’s gone” are usually not talking about the physical aspect of a person.  And I sort of find that weird that this concept is accepted among the faithful and the not.  Even among the most atheist, there’s still a believe that when you’re dead, you are apart from your body.  I would guess that even if they don’t believe in an afterlife or a spirit, they can’t just erase that person from their memory, so in a sense, that person does live on, at least in their mind.

And although it’s a little contrived, this language lends support to the concept that you are not your body.  Your physical appearance isn’t what defines you.  People that believe in auras and astral bodies would wholeheartedly agree with that.