Archive for November, 2008

Smile and Wave

If you absolutely, positively have to participate in the shopping frenzy known as Black Friday then save your sanity by avoiding congested off ramps and parking lots.  Use public transit instead.

Short North: The best urban shopping in Columbus and the most accessible with public transit.  Served from all directions shoppers can arrive on COTA routes #2,
#5, #8 and with a short walk via the #4 and #7.  When you’re ready for a break or need more options, use your transfer and take the #5 to…

Grandview: Get to and from Grandview Avenue on the #5 as well as with the #19 and 84. If you can determine how to read the schedule for the #84, please tell me because that is the most confusing COTA route in the city.

Graceland: By far the one of the best places to shop when using public transit.  Connected from all directions, choose routes #2, #4 or #95.  Because of the high frequency of service, there is very little waiting especially for the #2.  Graceland is home to the most public-transit accessible Target store in Columbus, but if you need to find another….

Target: It’s everyone’s favorite place for holiday goodies and in addition to Target Graceland, Target at Lennox is accessible on via COTA route #84 (again, good luck figuring that one out) and Target on West Broad is accessible via #10. Target at Easton is accessible from the south on route #16 and from the east and west on route #95.

Easton Town Center: You won’t earn any fashion points for taking COTA to Easton but you’ll leave with your sanity in tact.  Let routes #16 and #95 whisk you past the frenzy and view capitalism from the safety of a large vehicle with tempered glass windows.

The Shops at Lane Avenue: It’s as clean as Easton but without all the riffraff.  From both north and south COTA route #3 serves this collection of upscale shops.  The ubiquitous (and ambiguous) route #84 can also get you to and from.  Stay on the #3 to Kingsdale to shop at Macy’s in Upper Arlington.

Tuttle Mall: If nostalgia is your thing use COTA route #18 and be a non-pedestrian in climate-controlled surrounds of the marble and chrome clad 1980’s.  Despite the distance, urban shoppers looking for an excursion into the hinterlands have 8am-9pm access to Tuttle via the #18.

South High Street: The absolute best holiday values are along South High Street via COTA route #16.  A new Salvation Army Thrift store at High and Woodrow is jam-packed  with clothing for the entire family at pennies on the dollar.  Because the clothing is pre-owned, someone else has paid for importing it and you’re left paying it’s true value.
Across the street is a smaller thrift store operated by Volunteers of America.  Continue south to Great Southern where the #16 offers front door access to Wal-Mart and Kroger Market Place.  There is yet another thrift store, AJ Wright, Big Lots and a few other stores.

Use COTA’s web site and the new Google public transit planner to get yourself around this season.  COTA buses run on their regular schedule on Black Friday and throughout December, except on Christmas Day.  Use a $3.50 day pass for an all-you-can-ride fare or ask the driver for a transfer and get around for another 2.5 hours with a single $1.50 fare.

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A overnight snowfall of 30 cm (12”) has delayed the morning commute in Helsinki. Local trains were delayed by as much as an hour, though the long-distance trains were only delayed by 15 minutes. The 10:09 high-speed train to Turku was cancelled.

While Helsinki may be more adept than Columbus at handling 12” of snow, the city’s 500,000 residents are still mobile because of transit redundancy. A video HERE offers a quick video from Helsinki’s railway station from earlier today.

photo compliments of Helsinki Sanomat

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Smoke and Mirrors

“Is there really any difference”, she asked “to being addicted to nicotine gum than to being addicted to cigarettes?”
“Yes there is,” I told her. “I can chew the gum in the shower.” It had never occurred to me to combine these two morning tasks – washing up and taking care of my addiction at the same time. It just happened one day.

In addition getting my addiction on while in the shower, I’ve discovered just how wonderful nicotine gum is to delivering this chemical to my brain and within seconds affecting my neurotransmitters. Unlike smoking which requires a tremendous amount of planning, gum chewing can be accomplished virtually anywhere.

Just like it had been in another era, I can flood my brain with nicotine while at the grocery store, on the bus, in a movie theater and even at my desk at work and no one bothers to say a word about it. I no longer have to be corralled outside around a heat lamp nor do I need to hang out in the alley out back away from the main entrance of a building. For all practical purposes, nicotine addiction has moved back indoors and I couldn’t be happier.

Suddenly I realize that the public isn’t as concerned with addiction as they are with being inconvenienced by it. No one likes stepping over a strung out heroine junkie to buy a newspaper, but who really cares if Mrs. Smith is downing a few pain killers following a Junior League luncheon?

An inner-city cocaine addiction becomes a nuisance because the lawn isn’t mowed as often and it creates congestion due to limited on-street parking. When, however, the little bags of white powder find their way into cul-de-sac facing garages surrounded by well-manicured hedges, its easier to look the other way. A city will raze a neighborhood to give the appearance of doing something, but razing a neighborhood doesn’t remove the problem, it just makes the drive in from the suburbs more convenient. Prettier.

I’ll finish another cup of coffee before I’ve completed writing this and then I’ll pop in a soothing piece of nicotine gum and relax in bliss while my bloodstream pumps the chemical into my brain. In addition to being able to do this indoors, I’ll also relish in decreased taxation. A carton of cigarettes is taxed at nearly 50%. A carton of gum is taxed at 6.75%. That means more money devoted to the actual nicotine and more money available for landscaping.

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I’d been putting it off for several months.  It’s not because I don’t like going to the dentist, its because I wanted to save up and pay cash for the services.  Last winter’s furnace repair, the new water heater and the new roof this spring tapped out the finances fairly well.  It was just one little cavity and the repair of two others.  Nothing that couldn’t wait.

The appointment was booked two weeks ago.  Yesterday and the day before I received calls reminding me about my appointment.  The receptionist said in her message that it was important that I call back to confirm.  I didn’t.  I don’t book appointments for the sake of not showing up.  Plus, I don’t like using the telephone.  Even more so, I despise voice mail.

My dentist is three blocks away (I used to drive to Dublin to see a dentist until I realized just how ridiculous that was considering there was one, several actually, within walking distance of my house).  The perfectly manicured exterior that greets me as a pedestrian includes a koi pond.  Inside, a stainless steel water-wall greets guests, as do fresh-baked cookies and name-brand coffee.  I suppose that’s kind of nifty, but eating sweets and washing them down with enamel-staining coffee in plain view – why not just serve corn-on-the-cob and gummy bears?

While being elevated to various heights and numbed to various degrees I listed to the music coming from the speaker directly overhead.  I recognized all the songs.  Very 70’s, very 80’s – easy listening.  Then came “station identification”.  It was XM Radio.  Alright, I suppose that’s kind of nifty.

Also above me is a television.  If I wanted, I could choose a movie to watch but I prefer the quiet and typically I doze off while I’m reclined.  In lieu of movies, an in-house loop of services and testimonials – commercials actually, move past without sound.

As I looked around I realized how much all of these extras must cost.  Modern equipment is important because new technology is typically safer and less expensive in the long run.  But do I really need to be greeted by koi pond and fresh-baked cookies?  XM Radio may not cost much, but FM radio costs nothing.

With my puffy jaws and lips I mentioned to the dentist that he could stream AOL Radio in at no cost and eliminate his subscription to XM.
“Think of the savings”, I said.  “When it comes time to eliminate the koi pond, call me over for sushi”, I thought.
Most of the little goodies are tax write-offs I suppose.  What isn’t surely must be passed on to the customer, and that’s me.

Because I dislike writing checks as much as I dislike voice mail, I left the checkbook at home and just in case, I put the American Express card in my wallet.  I’ve never paid for dentistry with American Express, but if the office accepted it, I can get frequent flyer miles then just transfer money to the card from the checking account.  Imagine my delight when the receptionist said “yes we do”.

My portion of bill is estimated at $181.  The insurance company is expected to cover the remaining $600+.  Essentially, the frills are adding to the spiraling costs of American health care and I wonder what the cost of these services would be without all the little extras.  The cost would be less, too, if they didn’t take American Express.

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Auto Response

The current hot button appears to be whether US automakers should get a bailout package from the Feds.  The debate starts with the fact that the Feds doled out cash to the banks for the sake of keeping the economy afloat.  The debate continues with some saying that the automobile industry is so much apart of the US economy that saving the jobs associated with the industry is paramount to keeping the US economy afloat.

And I’ll agree – the auto industry is a huge part of the US economy.  And a very large part of the Ohio economy.  But I think there’s a difference between bailing out the banking industry and bailing out the Big Three automakers.  I didn’t think that bailing out the banks was a good idea until I heard the This American Life episode that explored the topic from various perspectives.  It was the best explanation I’d heard and, okay, the bailout for banks probably had to happen.  Its best that you listen to it for yourself. Click here to read/listen.

The banking industry and the US auto industry both share one common problem – bad decision making.  The banks developed products (loans) that met consumer demand and got burned.  The US automakers developed products – wait – the US automakers haven’t developed much of anything and that’s the problem.  So while banks took a stab at creativity, the Big Three kept doing what they have always done.

The 2004 domesitc-model car that I have today is essentially the same car that I had purchased in 1994, with the exception that the 1994 model had fewer problems and was slightly more fuel efficient.  I purchased it when the last one wore out because I understood the importance of the domestic auto industry to the Ohio economy.  However, if I have to buy another car, it will not be a domestic model.  Shoddy workmanship and downright pathetic customer service being the reasons.

Innovation in the auto industry hasn’t come from the Big Three and that’s precisely why Toyota and Honda have begun to eclipse them.   Two companies chose to meet consumer demand and three companies chose not to.

Think of it as if you were trying to sell your house.  If there are several homes on your block to choose from and if the homes are essentially alike, then as the seller you’d want to make sure that your house has the amenities that buyers are looking for.  If it doesn’t then you’d probably spend a little money to make the necessary upgrades to make it more appealing.  If the neighboring house sells first because it has a new furnace, thermal windows, a fuel efficient water heater and a modern kitchen it should be obvious as to why it sold first.

If this went on for five or ten years you’d probably figure it out and invest in the upgrades necessary to sell your house.  US automakers haven’t invested in upgrading their product so the consumer chose to buy from those who had.  Should the Feds bail them out for failing to remain competitive?

While the flow of credit is essential to the US economy, shoddy products are not.  Bolstering an industry that has simply failed is no way to help the long-term US economy.  Failures will be replaced with successes and through success a stronger economy will prevail.

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Here’s a fresh take on a not-so-pleasant late-night event in New York.   It seems that the Jack Spade store was broken into, not once, but twice by the same man.  The folks at Jack Spade have captured the action and put it up for viewing on their web site, complete with animated “post” storyboard.   If on-line viewing just isn’t enough, a book highlighting the event is available for purchase.

Really…of all the places in New York…the Jack Spade store?

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