Final thoughts during the flight safety video leaving Newark

IMG_5200When my mom asked if I needed a pair of warmer socks for our walk (I’m 45) I reminded her this is the guy who’s slept on the side of glaciers and gotten up in the middle of the night to climb them in the dark so I know how to keep warm thank you, but about an hour later caught myself complaining about a muscle spasm in my neck probably from a sneezing fit last night, the fact I had my head angled to the side explains it — and all of us in my family getting older it seems and quivering, shaking just slightly like a breeze blowing through a tree of half-dead leaves our hands flap like that with our sandwiches and our gloves — and we all say it sure beats the alternative but none of us really know, we just keep repeating it and laughing and slapping each other on the backs, saying I love you but not as many times as we really mean it.

Saying goodbye to my uncle at the rehab center Monday, where my grandma’s recovering from a massive stroke, I broke the hug but he hugged back, this time harder, and I whispered something in his ear I don’t remember but meant it, and he broke down, and dad put his hand on him and said something about leaning on one another, how we had to do that now, and we all stood there startled and smiling and split apart then waving, walking away, not sure what else to say.

A couple summers ago when I was here in Germany I read a Paul Auster book my friend Ross suggested, and in one of the stories there’s a crazy old guy the protagonist follows around Central Park observing him as he collects unusual, found objects and pockets them in plastic bags — coins, twigs, baubles, some unidentifiable, maybe dried animal feces — and I think Auster is comparing it to the writing process, this act of stowing away bits and pieces: it’s what I’m doing in my notebooks and here on the Internet, like some weirdo you pass on the sidewalk in the city who unrolls a blanket with things of nominal value for anyone to stop and inspect, consider its worth, and move on.

I complain about all the screens everywhere on the plane flying back to the States, and then when I’m leaving Newark all the restaurants and bars in the airport have iPads now as menus: they’re tied to bike locks and sitting upright in metal clasps with a credit card reader mounted to the top and you don’t need to order from the server anymore, you just tell it what you want and they bring it — and somehow I spent more than $100 on drinks and frou frou apps: $10 for toast with a heap of fresh ricotta drizzled in olive oil — a kale salad with shrimp brought in a stainless steel dish with a plastic lid the server removes with flare, like it’s something more than it is, matches the beauty shot on the screen.

I wanted to ask the guy sitting directly opposite me what he thought of all the iPads, but it seemed too direct to talk to him in person so I didn’t.

The server said he missed the feeling of cash tips because why wouldn’t you, especially since now the gratuity is rolled into their pay checks and they have to wait until Friday to get it, and they’re taxed on it the same as their hourly rate, and the default is 18% so that’s basically what they can expect which isn’t bad, but since it’s pretty much automated that’s all you get. A woman much older than me asked one of them how she pays for the tea she got since it seemed to have happened offline and they didn’t run it through the computer and no one knew what to do, so they just let it go.

The screens are faster and flashier than real life and more interesting than the skyline that stretches vaguely out my window on the plane toward New York, and my feelings looking at the city from a distance which will never be the same.

The foam lining on my headphones is collapsing, flaking off, and I stuff the string beans from a jar of brining solution that cost $4 into my mouth, fold them like legs, swallow them whole, take pictures of other customers looking at their tablets and pretend I’m not, post them on my blog.


Categories: musings, technology

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26 replies

  1. Well, that’s just depressing. I don’t want to order through an ipad – I want to see a (in this country) surly teenager scribble my order down on a little grey paper pad. I want to be able to turn to the person I’m with and say ‘he/she’s nice/grumpy/smells/reminds me of someone who I used to work with who stole out of the till because they had a cocaine habit’ (True) I want to overhear the staff gossiping about the crappy manager/rude customers/fellow staff members not pulling their weight. I want that whole messy, awkward thing you get here of not knowing whether to tip, whether it goes just to the waiter/waitress or is shared with the kitchen staff too.
    It’s a horrible idea – where can I complain to, Bill? πŸ™‚
    And beautifully written – again, Sir

    Liked by 1 person

    • Where can you complain to? Eck, I think that proverbial ship has left the harbor. I think it’s all some kind of karmic thing in my own head, willed by my complaining about screens everywhere and now, more screens. Oh, the clean, slick look of all the iPads sitting there mounted, waiting to be held and touched and swiped. And how I had about three hours to kill and wanted to just sit by the window with the sun setting over New York and write bad poetry but instead spent WAY too much on drinks and food and tried to make fun of it here but guess what, it’s easier making fun of myself. Git on with it, old git! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! That’s what it is – a ploy to make us spend more money! Sooo much easier just to type an order into an ipad rather than waving vaguely in the air, hoping to get the waiter/esses attention. I wonder if Apple have been marketing the ipad at cafe chains as a way to cut down on staffing costs? Must have. And if you’re an old git, I’m certainly one, so budge up on the Old Git Bench πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m torn about the screens in restaurants. There never seems to be a happy medium between the overly-familiar button-covered chirpy server (seriously, I’m not going to remember your #$@ name and stop slumping over me like you’re about to windup your best pick up line) and the impersonal, bacteria-laden touchscreen.

    When traveling, I find myself seeking dingy cafes where the server practically yells the order from where he or she stands, not giving a shit that spittle is flying all over the table and where the special of the day is invariably meatloaf. Then I remember names, we have conversations and wow, do I get some great writing material.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the writing material may not be in the tablets. I don’t know, it’s like we were out of the States for nine months and bam, here come the tablets. It’s one of those things I’m sure that looks real good on paper, sounds real good, but for me, I don’t like it. I don’t want something thrust in front of me like that. I’d take a bad server. I say that now, but we’ll see. A couple months and I won’t say a word about it.


  3. Interesting isn’t it how the tipping percentage keeps going up and the service keeps going down. Soon the default will be a 25% tip for something ordered from a screen and delivered by a robot.

    But the robot will probably have tattoos, at least if it’s a server in the Pacific NW.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. it’s such an odd mix, almost like a trip to another world.


  5. They’ve done studies on ordering through screens in restaurants–and on average people order something like 25% more than they would (especially in drinks and apps) and they reckon it has to do with not having to deal with the potential judgement of a server if you order you know, the family size order of bacon loaded potato skins just for yourself. You spend more and consume more. I can’t believe I finally got to use this otherwise useless bit of information, but there you go. I love the idea of collecting bits and pieces as we go. Like crows, looking for the shiny bits and sometimes finding them underneath everything else. Safe travels back, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s like you traveled to the future, but it’s just Newark. Weird. The family exchange was heartwarming. I meant to comment before that you’re a good grandson to make the trip. (Even if you don’t wear warm enough socks.)


    • Thanks Kristen, that’s nice. Socks are really important you know; I don’t choose them willy-nilly. Had my half-ankle, spring-training, let’s-get-down-to-business socks on and when I got back from a brisk walk, got a talking-to for not wearing a jacket, but didn’t need one. The future, like the past, are perfect in their unreality. I think both are like mirages on a distant road that change once you’re upon them. I just prefer the woods, and paper menus, and waiters with vests.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We first encountered the screens on the table at the Red Robin here. The girls made the mistake of touching an icon that looked like a game, and we got charged for it. We sucked it up the first time, figuring we were bad inattentive parents. When it happened again on a return visit weeks later, we told them very clearly don’t touch the thing, we’re hear to eat dinner as a family not play games. We still got charged for some stupid ass game no one played. We called a human over and said WTF?! and the human was kind enough to remove the charge. We are living in capitalist sci-fi land. Some of the humans are still basically good, when you can find one. One not sucked up by a screen, or putting screens on restaurant tables. My phone wants my thumbprint. The FSA made you stoop down and stare into a camera when you went through customs, didn’t they? You were reading 1984 for a reason, I think.


    • I got at least one good thing from 1984 I’m going to steal for my story. It’s too bad, he published that a year before he died. I should read Animal Farm next, I guess. But I should also read this goddamned “Sickness Unto Death” again because it didn’t all stick with me the first time, on the plane, and I think it’s speaking to me — not in some BS intellectual way, but like maybe it’s some of the problem I have, even though it’s told in a strange Christian slant. Like, Christianity doesn’t go far enough for his Christianity. Who has the nerve to call Socrates out? Anyhow, the screens: I’ll be that guy who insists on talking to a waiter. I wonder if they built in a workaround like that, for people to “opt out.” Unlikely. I can start a paper petition the next time I’m there and interrupt people’s dinner and wear funny hats and drink too much, which wouldn’t be much different than normal.


  8. Interesting but it’s funny how people prefer the idea of ordering through tech than in person. Seems so bland to me, but then I used to be a waitress…


  9. Humans. So awkward.
    My nephew just had his first child, a boy. It’s the first great-grandchild for my parents, so they are naturally tickled. I know (Mom in particular) that this is one of the things they wanted to see before they died. It’s kind of an assurance/insurance of continuity. My Psych 101 prof posited one time that you have a greater vested interest genetically in your nephew than your own son. I don’t quite get that, and maybe I misunderstood — it was a huge class, one got sleepy — but my nephew has been sending over photos of his tiny son, and it makes me feel giddy with delight.
    Not sure what this has to do with iPads, but there you go.


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