Saturday, April 29, 2006

How Will May 1st Be Remembered?

Ok, May 1 is the day I was born, so it's already a pretty important day in history, but how will May 1, 2006 be remembered? If you've been sleeping under a rock, the Mexican community is planning the "Great American Boycott," aka, "A Day Without Immigrants" for this Monday.

Mexican workers (and others) are encouraged not to show up to work, in protest on the U.S.'s stand on illegal immigrants. You think this won't disrupt your plans on Monday? Think again. Building a house? Who's going to nail the wood beams together? Like fresh veggies? Who's going to sit hunched in a field all day under the blazing sun? Got kids? Who's going to watch 'em? Planning to stay at a hotel? Who's going to make the bed and clean bathroom? Eating out? Who's going to keep the kitchen clean? I think you get the idea.

Immigrants - legal and illegal - are important for our economy and our lazy, greedy asses. We, as Americans, have created a highly service-orientated and convenient society. We like to be pampered. We like to have things now. We like to have options. We've created an excess society - we have the essentials but want more. Well, who are the worker bees who make this happens?

How many first, second and third-generation Americans do you see picking vegetables? How many are rebuilding hurricane-struck homes? Who's making the beds at your favorite hotel? Who's washing the dishes at your neighborhood restaurant?

I had a discussion with my friend Cordelia today. Her mom brought up the fact (which we haven't heard much discussion about) that all immigrants - illegal and legal - are paying taxes, and paying into the social security system, yet, the illegals aren't cashing in on social security because they aren't eligible. They come here to work and (mostly) play by the rules in hopes of gaining/keeping a green card. All this to live the perceived American dream.

Think about this - if they are paying into the social security system and not cashing out, where is the money going that they put in? Who's using it? We lazy Americans are using it. If the immigrants return home, will the social security system collapse???

Why have we quickly forgotten that this country was founded on hard-working immigrants. I think of my Irish heritage and how my great, great, great (another great?) grandfather immigrated here at the turn of the century, established himself and eventually brought the rest of his family over. Were the Irish accepted then? No. But slowly, they meld into the American culture.

I saw a great political cartoon a couple weeks back. It showed a woman shopping in a grocery store, pushing her shopping cart by a stack of oranges. A sign read, "Oranges, 3 for $20. Hand-picked by Americans." We're freaking out about $3/gallon gas. Don't think we can handle $7 oranges.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Did They Find Me??

When I graduated from SUNY Brockport way back when, I must have been injected with a tracking device during one of those college nights. You know, like a micro-chip.

In more than three years (and four or five different addresses), I haven't officially changed my address with the alumni office, yet, they seem to track me down. Both via phone and postal mail. Guess when money is involved (solicitation of donations), people will do anything.

AC: 2; iTravelSyndicate: 0

Last month I wrote how I was working on getting more of my writing published. Well, I've experimented with two outlets, Associated Content and iTravelSyndicate. AC is winning the lead with paid work. Read my latest

Wrinkles Are In!

When I worked in Yellowstone - well over 10 years ago - we front desk clerks had a supervisor who loathed wrinkles. Keeping 100% polyester skirts wrinkle-free was an ongoing chore. Besides, who packs an iron with them to Yellowstone National Park? I mean, I needed room for my sleeping bag, tent, camera, water bottle and other camping and hiking necessities. Whenever I was scolded, I'd mumble to my friend Madge, "wrinkles are in."

I went shopping this week and picked up a blouse, slightly wrinkly, and read the tag. It read, "the creased effect." Is this how wrinkles have passed into mainstream fashion? It's not a wrinkle, but a "crease."

Then what are these little lines around my eyes? Laugh creases???

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What Happens When You Assume?

Upon entering Publix this weekend, I was greeted by a yellow-smocked woman holding a can. In bright red print, her smock read, "Knights of Columbus." The can she held, also yellow with red print read, "Help the Retarded." Is there something wrong with that? Isn't it politically incorrect to say that? Or, maybe their goal isn't to assist the mentally challenged but the truly retarded - those who cannot drive, read traffic signs, etc.

At Taco Bell today (yes, this is my fast food indulgence for the week), a sign was posted which read "Our employees wash and sanitize their hands." Are you kidding me??? There are some things I assume in a restaurant (fast food or not) and clean hands is obviously a big assumption. Maybe they're behind the times, like those little mom and pop motels which advertise "free HBO" and "air conditioning." (note to you non-road warriors, you shouldn't get excited about free HBO and air conditioning; get your jollies from free wi-fi, complimentary hot breakfast or better yet, free happy hour). Or, maybe I need to stop assuming...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Got a Monkey On Your Back?

Monkeys, err, chimpanzees, have received a bad rap today; a surly crew in Sierra Leone attacked and killed a taxi driver transporting a car full of Americans. At least one person was injured so badly that the poor soul had to have his arm amputated. The attack has caused so much terror that the US Embassy has warned Americans to stay clear of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, from where the renegades escaped.

Are these chimps part of a terrorist plot against America? Is this the beginning of "Planet of the Apes" becoming a reality? OK, so neither of these are realistic (although, over a bottle of wine, I'd like to discuss my interpretation of "Planet of the Apes" and statement on society).

Career Builder has made it easy for us to control some monkeys with their Monk-e-mail. Check it out and give your friends a chuckle (unless they're Maimouphobic).

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thanks to Boston, I'm a Changed Woman

Ahhh, Boston in the spring is a beautiful thing. Tulips, daffodils and lilacs are blooming; the fingertips of trees balance bright green buds; young 30-something-men (LOTS of them) canvass the sidewalks and jogging paths; and play ball! The town's beloved Red Sox are in full swing.

But, for anyone who's traveled to Beantown knows, the streets are not safe. I'm not talking about crime, although, there were two shoot-outs in Boston proper during my visit. I'm referring to the driving.

Simply put, Boston drivers are MANIACS. I've driven in Los Angeles and Chicago and have been afraid to drive through Manhattan, but after successfully navigating (well, by successful, I mean I was able to find the rental car agency on Friday) Boston without receiving a single ding, dent or scrape on my vehicle, I can handle the Big Apple.

There are two issues:
One: The Big Dig (BD). The city has been torn up for years in order to, well, I'm not sure what the purpose of the BD is, other than to confuse visitors coming into the city. Because of the BD, two-way streets have been converted to one-ways and roads have been closed off. I suppose the BD could be used to boost population levels, especially those who are extremely navigationally challenged. People can find their way downtown (usually) but cannot find their way out. These poor souls are then utilized as service employees or the real unfortunate ones end up as beggars on the street corners. Listen to them carefully, they aren't asking for money, they're asking for a way OUT of the city.

Two: Drivers are extremely aggressive and traffic rules seem to be nonexistent. The only rule I witnessed police enforcing was the pedestrian right-of-way-upon-entering-a-cross-walk law. Other than that, the cops probably figured, "Hell, I'm not getting on that freeway to chase down a speeding who cut off a half dozen cars. There are crazy drivers around here."

I was intimidated the first couple of days driving - and I had a navigational system. But by the third day, I became one of them. The aggressive driver bug bit me sometime early on Wednesday when I went to make a right-hand turn with my boat (she was a Pacifica who my industry partners and I named Flo). As I saw a clearing, a little red bug of a car had snuck up between me and the curb. I would have squashed her. I was dismayed how this little miss priss saw 6 inches and decided to squeeze in there. From that point on, I closed any possible gaps when making a turn.

If you're heading to Boston soon, here are some driving tips to keep in mind:

Lanes are guidelines. You'll find some areas where the lane lines don't exist. Just keep the hands at ten and two and the steering wheel and keep on going. Don't mind that there is a 18-wheeler about to ram you into the cement wall of the tunnel, just keep on going.

Traffic lights are to accent the natural scenery. Bostonians must want to celebrate Christmas year-round with these lights. If you stop for a red light, don't be alarmed that cars on either side of you will continue through the intersection. Do what makes you comfortable. Oh, and the yield on green arrow law is suppose to exist, but it doesn't. And, if you need to make a left turn in an intersection that doesn't have a green arrow, you just go as soon as the light turns green - just put your foot on the gas pedal, close your eyes, pray and go.

It's acceptable to make a right-hand turn from the fourth left lane. Best thing is, no need to use your directional signal!

You'll find many four-way stops. Unlike most states, it doesn't mean one car per entry proceeds. It means four cars per entry proceed at once.

Drivers are extremely friendly on the Boston streets and freeways. Many people waved - but tragically, noticed many people have only one finger.

If possible, do not drive! Hotels usually have shuttles or there is a public train line. It's truly a great walking city. Taxis are plentiful, too.


Why did we name the car Flo? Well, the navigational system spoke to us and directed me on where to turn. She never talked back, never scolded me for taking a wrong turn (she politely recalulated a route) and never (hardly) steered us wrong. Initially she was named Florence but decided Flo was a sassier name. We learned quickly to go with the Flo...

      Saturday, April 22, 2006

      Boston: Little Brother is Watching

      Along Boston's I-90 near Fenway Park stands a billboard which reads, "Little Brother is Watching." A black and white photo of George W. Bush's eyes accompanies it. I got a chuckle out of this billboard, until I passed through Boston Logan Airport's security yesterday.

      I was a lucky passenger invited to pass through the puffer security machine. No problem, I thought. I had done the routine in at the Gulfport-Biloxi airport in Mississippi last year - I knew the drill. The security guard warned me to be careful because I was wearing a skirt and told me I have to make like Marilyn Monroe.

      For those unfamiliar with the puffer machine, it is basically a machine that puffs air (similar to that eye exam) and then is evaluated for explosives. There is also a camera in there.

      I entered the machine - the plastic doors prevent me from leaving and stood on the footprints. I'm puffed at a few times and wait. And wait. And wait. I get impatient and start to wiggle around. And then, an annoying buzzing noise blasts. "This can't be good," I think.

      I'm escorted out of the machine and introduced to Eric #012896 (or something like that). He pulls out a photo of me which was taken in the booth along with a print out with a bunch of numbers. "Is it like an EKG?" I asked.

      He laughed. "Yeah, kind of."

      He takes my drivers license and boarding pass, punches holes in the boarding pass, keeps everything then hands me over to a female security screener. She explains to me the pat-down process. "I know!" I'm thinking. She was thorough in the pat-down (why can't the cute security men do the pat downs???) and I got a little bit of body stretching in during the process: since I was wearing a skirt, I had to lunge so she could reach EVERY area. "Yup, it's all me," I told her when she patted my stomach.

      Meanwhile, two of my industry partners are watching on the "other side" of security - they passed through without incident. They laughed. I laughed. What a way to end the week.

      QK Girl: "So, is that camera a face recognition scanner?"
      Pat-Down Guard: "Oh, no! Why?"
      QK Girl: "Well, I just traveled to a hot zone and I'm sure I'm on someone's watch list."
      Pat-Down Guard: "No, it's not."

      Should I believe this?

      Meanwhile, as I was being molested, I watched while one of the male guards swabbed and molested my carry-on luggage. Do they ever get embarrassed when pulling out feminine pads or plugs? Do they ever find explosives?

      After being released, I asked the luggage-molesting guard what was up while Eric #012896 was filling out a report.

      Luggage Molesting Guard: "You tested positive for explosives, so we needed to check everything."
      QK Girl: "Hmmm. Well, I don't have any."
      Luggage Molesting Guard: "Yes, we know. We just needed to be sure."

      Deemed no longer a threat, I was allowed to proceed and board my flight home.

      These are the things I'm curious about:

      • Upon reaching home, I thought for sure I would find the standard love note from TSA stating they needed to search my luggage. There weren't any notes. Did they search my luggage? Wouldn't it make sense if I had dealt with explosives that I would put it in my check-on luggage (note: I realize by posting this, my check-on luggage will be thoroughly searched next time I travel).
      • Is it a face recognition scanner in that puffer machine? I'll have to do some research on this.
      • If I contact TSA about the incident, will they let me know what will happen to the information gathered about me? Will they let me know what else can simulate an explosive detection?
      • Was I targeted, er, "invited" into the puffer machine because I am on "little brother's" watch list (for my Afghanistan trip)? Or did I set off the alarm because my face was scanned and ended up on someone's watch list?
      • Wonder if I'll ever know!

      "United 93:" Are We Ready to Roll With It?

      I'm not. I'm not prepared to see a film about the fourth hijacked plane during September 11. I recently read that trailers for the Universal Studio film "United 93" were played in New York City and left the audience in outrage and tears. One woman was quoted as saying, "we're not ready."

      Sept. 11, 9/11 or 911 - whatever your preference is, this date is my generation's Pearl Harbor and shooting of John F. Kennedy. When I hear reference to this date, sadness sets in. I can vividly place where I was that day and the subsequent events of that week.

      I recall the feelings of fear, grief and sadness felt during that time. The feeling of urgency to get home and the emotions felt on the drive back to Florida (I was in Boston on a sales trip at the time). The feeling of patriotism as me and my pal Cham drove down I-95, passing cars toting American flags, houses waving the flag and our own search for the flag.

      We stopped at a WalMart somewhere in North Carolina. Their flag supply had been depleted. We stopped one of the workers who had a red, white and blue ribbon pinned to his chest with a safety pin. We asked where we could find something like that and he told us the store was out of ribbons, too. But, he handed us his ribbon and Cham and I split it and donned our own patriotism for the rest of the journey.

      Recall the feeling of unity those following days? Remember the fear of knowing that our way of living and freedoms will be forever altered? What has happened to all of the flags? I'm guilty, too. Regrettably, I no longer wear my American flag pin - out of laziness.

      Sept 11 paved the way for new geography lessons and exposed us to new cultures. We, isolated Americans, quickly discovered there is more to the Middle East than pyramids, camels, belly dancers and oil. We woke up to the reality that the rest of the world doesn't like the US.

      I feel sadness for the people who lost their lives that day as well as the troops - American and from the international community - who have sacrificed their lives for my freedoms during this war on terror. I can barely imagine the fear and horror the passengers on United flight 93 must have experienced, but I don't need Hollywood painting the picture for me.

      Wednesday, April 12, 2006

      Snapshots of Homestead & the Redlands, Fla


      Images of my Miami Beach Weekend - April 7 - 9, 2006



      New York City - Here I Come

      What better way to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend than with my sister and thousands of members of the Navy? We're meeting in the Big Apple that weekend, which happens to be during Fleet Week , a gathering of Navy and Coast Guard ships and events. Like my fall trip, I'm using miles to fly first class (barring Delta will still be around for me to use my ticket) and we're staying at one of the "Y" hotels - it will be a new experience for Lizzy.

      Tuesday, April 11, 2006

      It's a Freakin' Small World...

      So my friend Matt calls me Saturday and I'm thinking, hmm, this a nice surprise that he's calling out of the blue. Following some chit chatting about our weekend, he proceeds to tell me that this girl comes over to his house to discuss creating a website for him. I'm thinking, "that's nice."

      And this girl asks, "do you have a friend named Julie in Tallahassee?" He replied to her, "no." When he tells me this, I can't believe he forgot how he dubbed me "Julie" during last year's Japan trip (I acquired the affectionate nickname due to my organizational skills and knowing down to the minute what the day's itinerary consisted of and what uniform we were to wear for the next day).

      He then proceeds that this girl says that his house is on the Internet. When he heard this, he got concerned, very concerned. "Why would my house be on the Internet?" She then pulled up this blog and he replied, "it seems familiar."

      I'm feelin' hurt again! I asked, "didn't you recognize the picture of me!?"

      So here is the comment posted by a very Surly Chick:

      OK, this is starting to get just plain freaky. I read this post of yours earlier this week, admiring the photo your friend's house - thinking I'd never seen a living room that cool in Sarasota. So, then I go along with my daily life and end up meeting up with an acquaintance to talk about work. We got along really well so he invited me to an event yesterday. I met him at his house, and while he took a shower, I looked around. And suddenly, I'm standing at the entrance to his living going "This is the room. This is the room from her blog." So, he gets out of the shower, and I go "Do you know someone from Tallahassee who recently visited you?" What a microscopic world!

      See - she agrees that Matt's home is way cool, too.

      And isn't it an amazingly, small world we live in...

      Saturday, April 08, 2006

      The Things We Say

      QKGirl: Oh look, it's a sloth!
      Peter Greenberg, NBC's Today Show Travel Editor, AOL Travel Editor (aka world travel guru walks by).
      Val: She wasn't talking about you.
      Mr. Greenberg's response: Silence. With a puzzled look on his face, he walks on by.
      QKGirl: Do you know who that is?
      Val: No.
      QKGirl: Peter Greenberg, NBC's Today Show, AOL, Oprah, The View, etc...

      (Scene setting: The Miami Herald Travel Experience, Friday, April 6 - Busch Gardens brought a two-toed sloth to the show. When I exclaimed in excitement, I was referring to the actual sloth).

      Tuesday, April 04, 2006

      The Cloud of the "Displacement" Effect

      It's not necessarily called writer's block, but the displacement effect, at least that's what a post on the BBS on TravelWriters.com says. See, I KNOW what I want to write, I've started four stories two weeks ago but I can't seem to sit down and finish them. I sit in front of the computer, fingers arched over the keyboard, stare at the monitor and ... nothing.

      I decide it's time to wash the dishes, put the laundry away, recycle magazines, shred personal documents and surf the web. I then get an urge to write, to massage an existing sentence, or restructure an entire paragraph, but can't seem to get anything done, lately.

      Unfortunately, it's at night when I seem to get my burst of creativity, which conflicts with my sleeping schedule for the job that pays the bills. I write away until past midnight and when I go to bed, I think. And think. Then write - so I don't forget.

      Perhaps I need to be more disciplined and eliminate my distractions, what ever they may be.

      How Safe Is It to Travel to...

      Last month, I ventured to Kabul, Afghanistan and returned unharmed. I was not the target of a kidnapping, mugging or suicide car bombing (but there was at least one car bombing during my visit). True, I stayed cautious and aware during the trip, but I knew I was (relatively) safe.

      Returning to the States I read about the Fort Myers High School (Florida) band not being able to travel to London and perform in a New Year's parade because London is not safe from terrorists (!!!). WHAT?!?!?!?

      Lee County Schools Superintendent James Browder is the overly protective decision maker for this trip. Makes me wonder, has he traveled outside of the United States? Has he traveled outside of Lee County? Is he aware that 9/11 terrorists were trained in his backyard of neighboring Sarasota County (at a flight school in Venice, to be exact)? Did this cause him to ban field trips to Sarasota? I don't recall hearing about that, if he did.

      The Brits have been slightly agitated by Mr. Browder's remarks but in true British diplomacy, the parade organizers drafted a press release and showed it to a Florida newspaper (The News-Press) on Friday, March 31, 2006. According to cbs2chicago.com:

      "...the statement warns British travelers about Fort Myers' crime and homicide rates, Lee County's record number of traffic deaths in 2005 and that the entire area is prone to catastrophic hurricanes."

      (Should I remind them they forgot to include shark-infested waters and lightening strikes?)

      The release was to be distributed to the British media on Monday, April 3, 2006. Read the TimesOnline.co.uk here - quite entertaining.

      Apparently, this did not persuade the superintendent's decision. Being ever-so-persistent, today I read that parade organizers have offered to FLY to Ft. Myers and plead their case in front of the School Board - that London is safe, etc. WHY?!?!? If I were the parade organizers, I would drop it and move on, my friends!

      A bit of a compromise has been reached: as long as 80% of the parents of the 140-some students consent to the trip, the band will go marching on in London.

      Is this really about terrorism? Or is there another reason why school board officials don't want their students traveling to London?