Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ultimate Geekdom

Geocache Number Two.

While sitting at the local FroYo joint gingerly consuming an original with macapuno, lychee and mochi balls (my fave combination), I noticed an app on The Hawaiian Stig's iPhone4 called Geocaching. Just what is this app called Geocaching???

He patiently explained to my "soon to be unable to program the VCR" self that geocaching is essentially an electronic treasure hunt where people (geeks) leave some sort of artifact, log it into the Internet and leave it for other people (other geeks) to find. Did I want to give it a try?

It was one of those typical Maryland summer evenings. Hot and humid. Good for air conditioning, bad for playing outside. I thought to myself: "That's gay" (yes, you can eat it, you PC Types) but I thought "why should I be the spoil sport" and decided to give it a try. Besides, there was a geocache less than .23 miles away in the parking lot of the Target nearby.

So, you pull of the app, engage it and it spews out geocaches nearby and you hunt them down. The first one we hunted we couldn't find. Being my first outing and ignorant of the ways of geocaching, I was sure that this geocache was some busted scooter on the side of the road. THS (The Hawaiian Stig) assured me of my muggle folly, but after searching for twenty minutes in the dirt, in the brush and through assorted street jetsam, we gave up on it.

To say that I wasn't intrigued would be a deception. To say that I wasn't having fun geekily searching out hidden treasure would be a lie. It was like going out to play in the neighborhood again. Suddenly, we weren't just sexy, pre-middle aged workaday luddites, we were swashbuckling explorers engaging in a grand adventure in Suburban Timonium. I was Diego to THS's Dora.

After abandoning the first geocache, we charged off to the second. Looking at the GPS map, I knew exactly where the geocache was directing us. Part of the thrill was successfully navigating the streets and terrain to arrive at the precise point to liberate the booty.

With the second geocache, we hit paydirt. Under a shrubbery was a canister covered in digital camouflage tape (oh, those geeks - digital camo tape). Success! THS clambered into the brush to retrieve the prize. Inside was a little notebook, pens, pencils and some stickers. Evidently, people sometimes leave little trinkets in the container for others to find but everyone signs their name into the book. Last entry? May 11, 2011.

The important part of geocaching is not finding the geocache but returning the geocache so that others may one day make your same discovery. I suspect that nefarious types from the Ministry of Geocache absconded with that geocache.

The third (and what was to be the final) geocache brought us to the wilds of Cockeysville. Dirt roads, mossy trees and danger lurked around us. One wrong move and WHAM! We'd be pancaked by a barreling refuse tractor trailer or front end loader. Cuidate, Diego!

Geocachers leave clues on their app page and while the map directed us to a particular point, after reading the clue carefully, I realized that we were in the right general area but at the wrong elevation. The geocache was somewhere 70 feet above us.

After summiting the elevation, we began our search for the prize. Hidden under a bezel was a small box with some paper and a tube of bacon flavored lip balm. I thought about applying it.

There we stood. At the top of world, with all of Cockeysville at our feet. Kings. Romans. Emperors.

Then the phone rang.

It was Hawaiian Stig's wife and she wanted to know when he was coming home.

Our day as Indiana Jones and Marcus Brody was over.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Camping Out

According to Harold Camping, Christian radio rock star, evangelist and foreseer of the Apocalypse, The End Of The World starts tomorrow at sunrise just off the coast of Australia.

From what I've gathered, a series of earthquakes will begin on Kirimati Island and spread across the planet as the sun advances and the planet is shaken. For us East Coasters, expect our earthquake to begin around 6pm.

Approximately 3% (or 200 million) of the world's population will ascend into heaven for The Rapture.

A five month period of pain and suffering will be followed by the actual End Of The World on October 21, 2011.

In other words, it's going to be Bad - with a capital "B".

To help the nation prepare for the Second Coming, Judgement Day and all the terrible things that accompany this event, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have prepared this website. While it may be a bit too late to run out to buy some of the items, at least you can fill your bathtub with water right now.

As for myself, I've got a freezer full of meats, a wood pellet smoker, lots of charcoal and my handy dandy Nerf weapons cache to ensure safety - and I even have a fresh tank of gas in the Land Rover, just in case I need to break for the hills. Which does mean that I fully expect not to be part of that 200 million being sent to Heaven - much to the delight of the former SCAA President and his cronies.

As the earthquakes spread across the planet tomorrow and people start ascending into Heaven, make no mistake about it, Mass Hysteria will feature prominently in the news. Expect crying, stamping of feet, cars burning, rioting and general pandemonium. Of course, it should go without saying, Spro Coffee will be open for business as usual.

To Note: the library of Spro Towson may be open, depending on the county government, but if it is, the library also serves as a disaster shelter. Spro Hampden simply doesn't close, operating every day in 2010 except for Thanksgiving (yes, we were open Christmas - yet another reason why I will be excluded from The Rapture).

Another reason why I will be excluded from The Rapture is that I'm secretly hoping that The Rapture isn't just about the poor and downtrodden (who will inherit the Earth). I'm hoping that that rich family with the big house, extensive French wine collection and four car garage were devout Christians because I want to move in. Afterall, if I'm damned and going to be obliterated in five months, I want to live in style. And it would be a sin to leave that Ferrari 599 in their garage forlorn and lonely.

Sadly, 200 million people (from a planet of 4 billion) really isn't a lot of people. But maybe with the hysteria going on, people will stay home and I'll have the roads to myself. Of course, the government will probably impose martial law and I'll be forced to stay home anyway. Remember late September 2001? It will probably be worse. Good thing I have some ribs stashed away in the freezer.

Do I really believe that this will all happen tomorrow? That's silly. Though there is part of me that thinks I should have blown my fortune on hookers and booze, just in case.

Of course, if I walk out of the house tomorrow to see millions of people rising into the Heavens, I'm going to feel pretty darn stupid...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And Sometimes I Fail

I'm big on customer service and working to provide the guest with a great experience every time they visit one of our locations.

And sometimes I fail.

Yesterday, I failed in a major - looking like a complete asshole kind of way.

I've been running my own little company for twelve years now and I've made just about every customer service mistake one person could make. I've yelled at customers, argued with customers and kicked customers out - sometimes in a very fiery and spectacular fashion.

Maybe some of those times I was in the "right" on the matter and the customer/guest/visitor transgression was met with a commensurate response that could be completely justified - meaning that I was "right."

However, there has never been an incident where, after cooling down, thinking about it and analyzing the situation, I have ever felt that it truly was the right way to handle the matter and that I couldn't have responded better, and won out with aces.

The situation was this: I'm standing in a walkway chatting with a long-time guest whom I haven't seen in months when an elderly gentleman walks between us (there's about three feet between the guest and I). Instead of the usual convention of saying "excuse me", the elderly man gruffly tells me to get out of the way and makes a disparaging remark on my tummy. At first, I didn't catch his meaning but the snideness of his manner just tweaked me enough to press it a little farther.

Now, it's later in the day (about 4pm) and I had just come to the location to drop off some supplies after spending the morning at the roasteria repairing the roaster and the afternoon in the garden planting tomatoes. So, by this point, I'm looking pretty disheveled: my hair is messy, I'm wearing work boots and probably look slightly grimy from planting the garden. In other words, I look like a laborer.

I press the guy a little on his meaning and he still comes at me with the disparaging remarks. Usually, I don't let these kinds of people bother me but today, I'm in that mix of being tired and dirty from working and slightly irritated about a variety of things, meaning that when this guy comes at me, I lose perspective and become confrontational.

You know, why the guy didn't just do the polite thing and say "excuse me" or "excuse me, but you're in the way", I don't know. Maybe he was having a bad day or maybe he just thought that I was some (to his mind) piece of shit Hispanic laborer that didn't deserve the general respect and courtesy that he would give to other white people (I note this because the guest I had been talking to is white and the guy didn't address him and singled me out).

Whatever the case may be, it started out poorly and went all downhill from there.

Come to think of it, the guest and I were talking about the piss poor ways that the SCAA and WBC treats their volunteers and judges - a subject that always irritates me - and probably was the catalyst (on my end) for the degradation in handling the matter.

I don't remember the specifics but it wasn't pretty. I did not handle myself in the manner that I desired. I was the offended party who thought he deserved justice. Regardless of who was "right", I still ended up looking like an asshole. Not only to the elderly man without manners but, more importantly, to the other guests that were in the house at the time.

I'd like to think that I was justified. That I was "right." I stood up and didn't take prejudiced crap from some jerkoff. But in the end, like every time before, I don't feel that it was the "right" thing to do. I handled it poorly and engaged that elderly man in the manner that he engaged me. I didn't elevate the interaction. I didn't improve upon it. I helped degrade it. And that, to me, is a Failure.

I often talk about hospitality and leadership. That an environment of hospitality and quality can only be maintained if it is strongly demonstrated by the leadership. I'm embarrassed and ashamed that I failed so poorly and brilliantly as a leader during this incident. In front of staff, guests and passers-by. That kind of interaction can only give people a poor impression of who we are and what we are about.

Hospitality is easy when things are running smoothly and everyone is happy. The real test is when you're met with someone as grumpy and rude as that old man. Granted, I wasn't working the bar but anytime that I step into the scene, I should always be "on" and not running in cruise mode. What I should have done was dropped off the delivery and gotten the heck outta there. I had just come from working in the garden so I looked terrible (and probably smelled funky). I wasn't prepared for the "show" that we like to give to our guests.

I just hope that the next time I'm faced with a challenging guest, I'll have more clarity to handle the situation better.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Classic Hits America

107.5 The Eagle in the Buick Regal rolling across Texas.

Out on the road today,
I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac,
A voice inside my head said don't look back,
You can never look back.

Despite the fact that I spent many years listening to alternative music such as Depeche Mode, Tackhead, SWANS, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and more, I'm still a product of the late 1970s and 1980s - which means I have an inescapable penchant for rock.

When I envisioned myself doing the grand cruise of America, the soundtrack of my mind never featured Tones On Tail or Strawberry Switchblade, it featured music from The Cars, Van Halen, Journey and Kiss. However, the dearth of classic rock on my iPod produced an interesting conundrum.

How lucky it was to find 107.5 The Eagle as I pointed the Buick Regal west across Texas from Houston. True Classic Rock - two, four, seven. Suddenly, I was accompanied not only by Pat Benatar but the Dire Straits, Foreigner, Loverboy, Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller.

It was the realization of My American Fantasy.

Now, as I sit in the roastery roasting yet another weeks coffee, I'm able to stream The Eagle over the Internet, listening to classic rock remembering the freedom of the open road across America.