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Tuesday, August 09, 2011


I'm not at all embarrassed to say I've been a customer-service kiss-ass for years. In person or on the phone, I make sure to learn the person's name, say please and thank you, and just try to project an overall pleasant and positive demeanor.

Most of the time.

Two weeks ago it was Best Buy, and today I'm aiming my rifle at DirecTV.

I understand a company's desire to maximize profits by keeping phone lines open around the clock, and having off-hour calls routed overseas where cheap Asians are "glad to answer that question" for me in just one moment makes good business sense on paper.

But what about during regular business hours? This is an American company with all of its major offices in the United States. I'm no research whiz, but I imagine it has more customers in the U.S. than in any other country. So is it good customer service for DirecTV -- or in this case its minor-league outfit in South Florida, DirecPath -- to send all of its customer calls somewhere where there's a sometimes-difficult accent barrier and a risk that the rep would be unfamiliar with any potential local logistical issue?

The answer you're looking for is, No, John, it's not.

Yet that's what this enormous company appears to have done, outsourced its entire calling operation to the Philippines. These people sure are friendly, but there are obvious translation issues, and when they happen repeatedly during one conversation -- not to mention all three of them that I've had in less than a week -- that extends the call and at least quadruples the frustration. Adding to that is the long-distance transmission delay that causes one of us to start talking over the other one pretty routinely.

It is an overall nightmarish process, and while you could take the annoyingly cheerful If-that's-the-worst-thing-that-happens-to-me-today-I'll-be-OK approach, there are others who want to whine about the erosion of neighborly customer service and I am one of those people.

Anyway, the purpose of my call at 3:45 p.m. was to make sure my installation was still on the schedule. On Monday, I was given that 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. window, and told I'd get a call 30 minutes before the installation tech's arrival. As I write this, it's now 4:15 p.m. and still no call. You can bet I'll raise holy satellite television hell if this install doesn't go down today.


Friday, August 05, 2011

This Just Happened

I've never claimed to be the smartest man on the planet, nor would others make such a claim on my behalf.

But I do feel like I've got a good handle on reason and logic, and I try to make sure I'm aware of people, places and things around me at all times.

And if someone else's complete lack of awareness has a direct impact on my well-being, then I try to have a conversation and I'm usually not confrontational about it.

So here I was, pulling into my apartment complex driveway, a left turn through busy oncoming traffic at rush hour on a Friday, paying exclusive attention to each of the three lanes I was hoping to turn in front of to get into my complex, as a driver in each stopped and waved me on. Those were some friendly motorists alright.

What I was paying slightly less attention to, however, was that the car that had pulled in ahead of me had stopped immediately upon coming off the busy avenue, leaving me enough room to just about get my hood ornament into the driveway. The rest of my car was left hanging out into traffic, and when the woman finally pulled ahead and stopped a second time, leaving me barely enough room to go around her and not hit the traffic island separating the single eastbound and westbound lanes coming into and out of my complex, I raised my hand as people often do when they simultaneously express curiosity and annoyance.

The woman got out of her car and before I could even pull around or roll down the window to ask what was up, the hate just started flowing from her mouth. I heard F-bombs. I was called many names. I was called a cracker-ass.

It amazes me that people so often skip diplomacy and resort to immediate confrontation. Her tone was such that it seemed I was being unreasonable for not wanting the ass end of my car to get torn off by the moving traffic behind me, for wanting to continue driving toward home, for not wanting to be stopped behind a car inexplicably now parked in the only lane that could deliver me toward my desired direction.

When I finally did have room to pull up to her, down came my window and I looked at her and asked, more out of curiosity than out of an attempt to be abusive or sarcastic, "Are you really screaming at me?" Because it's a Friday and I'm feeling a little nutty, I asked it a second time.

In all seriousness, I have no idea what prompts people to knee-jerk their way toward the angry defensive and immediately react to strangers with only piss and hate. And I'm very grateful for that.


Friday, July 29, 2011

My Letter To Best Buy

Hi, thanks for replying to me via Twitter. I'm @wisejohnp and today I lobbed a whiny note about Best Buy's poor customer service.

I just moved to South Florida from New York, where my friends and I were in practically unanimous agreement that despite Best Buy's many and convenient locations, great selection of products and frequent sales, the customer service has long been its Achilles heel.

Anyway, I've been in West Palm Beach for about six weeks and have been pricing HD TVs for my first such purchase. Yes, I'm a grown man still with an old, bulky, heavy tube TV!

Then hhgregg opened up in South Florida and offered these get-out-of-town prices. I went there to purchase my big fancy TV (can't wait for the Super Bowl!) because their grand opening prices were unbeatable. But I'm not just about the money. I'm glad to bring my business back to Best Buy for future purchases, but now I'm not so sure after this latest customer-service nightmare.

Last night, I spent about 30-40 minutes either on hold or talking to folks overseas who spend more of their time prefacing their statements with repetitive and unnecessary pleasantries than they do making actual statements. I know they're happy to help me, but they don't need to tell me that after I tell them my middle initial or my zip code. In all, I spoke to three people before it was determined that the department I needed to speak to was closed for the night.

So I called back while at work today and again was routed and re-routed and placed on hold before I learned the answer to my question was ... NO! Probably another 20-30 minutes wasted today.

Here was my simple issue that should not have taken a total of one hour to have been addressed: I recently received a 10 percent off coupon in the mail simply because it's my birthday this month. It's tomorrow, in fact. I was looking around my home for it last night because I was planning to hit a Best Buy this weekend to purchase a receiver to go with my newly purchased TV. I don't remember what the expiration date on the coupon was, but since my birthday is tomorrow (July 30), I figured it's probably approaching. I can't find the dang thing and I figured with all that's technologically available, surely the fine folks in Minnesota can email me a new coupon and just cancel out the code on the previously mailed coupon. Or maybe use the same code, I don't know. Or, God forbid, just TRUST this customer who's going to such great lengths to save such a small amount of money and just re-issue a coupon -- maybe one larger than 10 percent at this point, cough cough -- for his trouble and renewed loyalty.

To add insult to injury, as I was hanging up with the last customer service rep -- or is it customer-care agent or customer-satisfaction specialist or positive-experience technician? -- told me that I can text "SAVE" to 332211 and I'll get a reply with that day's coupon, which I thought was cool. Until, of course, I got a reply -- a prompt one, I'll admit -- telling me that my Reward Zone mobile coupons have expired. What a tease.

Anyway, like I said, I'm more than comfortable returning to Best Buy. I actually love being in your stores. Oh, the possibilities. But now that there's an hhgregg in town, I have to say it's just as fun going over there as well.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 6

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week or so, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

So the above note says I was planning to hit Atlanta. Well, a friend there kind of flaked on me, so instead of heading due south down Interstate 75 on Sunday, I instead went south and east and drove 9+ hours, about 600 miles all by myself, to Charleston, S.C.

I awoke on Monday and before I did anything touristy, I searched for a camera shop to repair the tragedy you see pictured above. This is exactly what happens when you don't take the time to put everything in a bag or make two trips. You fill your hands up with stuff and then you drop something. In this case, it was my Canon 18-55mm lens, and it's not the lens that's shattered, just a $20 protective filter, but it may as well have been broken because the filter wouldn't come off and I obviously couldn't focus and therefore use the lens. What made matters worse was that every camera shop listed for downtown Charleston seemed to have closed in the last year or two.

Anyway, with a fixed 50mm lens, I was able to take some shots after a splendid lunch at Joseph's Restaurant on Meeting Street. I had a pastrami sandwich that I thoroughly enjoyed, but was in the mood for a pasta salad that's typically served with Italian dressing, right? Joseph serves his with pesto instead, and while I applaud anyone for being creative and original, it didn't do much for me.

After lunch, I found my way over to The Battery and took a few pictures of homes, greenery, and some park monuments, then made a short trip to John's Island to see Angel Oak.

As neat as it was to see and photograph this great tree, it was equally annoying that there were so many people in the way of everyone else who was taking pictures, which is to say everybody there. Hard to complain, though, since I was doing the exact same thing I was doing.

Anyway, after a few shots there, it was back on the road to head south to Savannah.

Just a few miles outside of Charleston, a roadside fruit market posted a sign about fresh South Carolina peaches having just arrived. Of course I stopped.

I made good time to Savannah, sat in a hotel lobby and pricelined my way into a very cheap room at the Hyatt Regency on Bay Street. When I left that Holiday Inn Express, I accidentally went to the Hilton and after the nice valet/bellman put all my car's contents on a bell cart, I went inside to check in. It took a minute of confusion before the lovely gal behind the desk asked if I'm sure I was at the right place. Turns out I wasn't. So after I put all the stuff back in my car, the valet/bellman said goodbye and sure as shit didn't offer me back the generous gratuity I'd given him just five minutes earlier.

I checked into the Hilton and hustled back out to take some pictures of historic downtown Savannah. I have to say I enjoyed my short time in Savannah a little more than my shorter time in Charleston. It just seemed more scenic, a little more active. After shooting some of the many squares in the area, I ended up at a place called Anna's. Somehow at only 8 p.m. they were out of lettuce for a house salad, so I started instead with what they called the She Crab soup. I ended up glad about the lettuce shortage because the soup was delicious. Next came an order of the crab cakes, which, in terms of flavor, texture and presentation, were very good. But there were too many times where I had to dig into my mouth to remove shell fragments, taking away from an otherwise positive dining experience.

I got back to the hotel at an appropriate time and looked ahead with excitement to my big Tuesday lunch at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room.

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Beer Tour

I posted a silly note on Facebook on Wednesday night that I've had a beer in 91 different cities. Because my movers are three days late and I can't get much else done, I spent a little time reviewing my original report. I'm not sure how I came up with 91, but it's actually 83. Here's the complete list:

Baton Rouge
Cape Cod
Charleston, S.C.
Columbus, Ohio
Covington, Ky.
Decatur, Ill.
Edison, N.J.
Effingham, Ill.
Fort Worth
Fremont, Calif.
Grand Rapids
Hilton Head Island
Hong Kong
Jeffersonville, Ind.
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
Mansfield, Ohio
Myrtle Beach
New Brunswick, N.J.
New Haven
New Orleans
Newport, Ky.
Newport, Ore.
Norman, Okla.
Oklahoma City
Owensboro, Ky.
Panama City Beach
Portland, Ore.
Quepos, Costa Rica
Rosarito Beach, Mexico
San Francisco
San Jose, Costa Rica
Santa Barbara
Santa Monica
South Bend
State College, Pa.
Steamboat Springs
St. Louis
St. Paul
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Union City, N.J.
Washington, D.C.
West Palm Beach

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 5

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week or so, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

When I'm not on an official or formal schedule, I tend to be on John Wise time. Clocks often become irrelevant.

If I say I hope to hit the road by noon, that usually ends up being the time I start packing my bags. But I was pleasantly surprised when I rolled out of Pat's driveway before 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 5. I issued a callout on Facebook and Twitter for food/photo op tips for Knoxville, Asheville and Charleston. I'm thankful to all those who replied, but I made pretty good time getting to Knoxville a little after 2 p.m. I wasn't necessarily starving, and, having been directed by the BlackBerry Maps function to bypass the downtown, I had little incentive to stop and wander around the city. So I kept on driving.

A few hours later, I felt the same way while driving through Asheville, which I've heard is a neat place for a guy with a camera. Not terribly hungry and still with plenty of gas, I kept on truckin'. I rolled through Spartanburg, S.C., and Columbia, and it was still slightly light out when I pulled into Charleston at about 8:30 p.m.

All told, I drove more than 600 miles in less than 10 hours all by myself, a career-best for me. I only made one quick gas/food stop. And to boot? There was still time to bounce outward for a minute to see a little bit of Charleston.

A nice gal named Rhett at the Charleston Visitors Bureau let me steal her wireless signal so I could look up a cheap hotel, which ended up not being too far away. I checked in, made a nice comment about the hotel desk girl's earrings and earned a free room upgrade.

Armed with my Canon 60D, I got lost a little, but, even after dark, got directions from nice, friendly folks eager to set me back on course. I ended up at a joint called Mac's Place, the type of bar and grill that could be found in any other city. Not sure why I didn't try harder to find a Charleston staple, but the food was good and Kofa and Pat behind the bar were quite friendly, as were Pat's parents, who were leaving just as I was arriving.


NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 4

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week or so, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

Saturday's wake-up came at about 9 a.m. and I was out of Jason's by 10:30 or so. I had one errand before getting on the highway to Louisville.

About 30 minutes after I left the Wyler dealership in Eastgate on Friday, just a mile or two from my destination in northern Kentucky, the dude who sold me my new car called to say I'd left before filling out one last form. So I had to find a FedEx Office so I could receive a fax, sign it and send back. These things are always easy, right?

Of course it took far longer than expected Saturday morning, but, nonetheless, I found my way onto Interstate 71 for the short trip to Louisville. I caught up with my old friend John Boel, a former TV anchorman who got in some trouble last year and is in the middle steps of an impressive comeback. I spent about two hours with him at his daughter's field hockey game and it was outstanding. I expect big things from him in the near future. If someone can bounce back and be even better the second time around, it's my dude JB.

After that great visit, I steered my fancy new Accord over to my good friend Patrick Kuhl's house. He's always got an extra bed for me when I blow through the Derby City. I dumped my bags off there, then met Ben, Erin, Mike D and some other friends at Big Blue Country, not because I like the name of it or the fact that it caters to Kentucky Wildcats sports fans, but because that's where those clowns chose to watch Team USA get absolutely destroyed by Spain in an international soccer friendly.

I left before the Americans were officially put out of their misery. It was after 6, and I had plans to be at Patrick's new restaurant, Harvest, before 8 p.m.

The Restaurant Review Portion Of This Entry

When I arrived at 7:30 or so, there was Pat, entertaining friends Scott and Dawn. We had a drink or two and shared some appetizers — the hog jowl muffins (pictured, near right) were splendid — then got our table at about 9 p.m.

We ordered two more appetizers, one of which was a ploughman's plate that included head cheese.

Ian was an excellent server who recommended the buttermilk fried chicken (pictured, right). Scott and I both ordered it, while Dawn had the roasted vegetable pot pie and our host Patrick got the smoked pork shoulder that I had my eye on until Ian raved about the chicken. We all loved our choices, as well as the additional round or two of drinks.

If you're looking for uptight and quiet because your grandparents are in town, then Harvest might not be your joint. But if you enjoy a lively atmosphere with a touch of music underneath the Saturday din of a packed house, you should get there soon. The Market Street address is a good location for any Louisville restaurant, particularly one that's a force in the local farm-to-table genre. Harvest front man and well-known farmer Ivor Chodkowski has been instrumental in the movement, and Pat agreed with my guess that a restaurant so niche probably attracts applicants more reliable than your typical bad-attitude servers. No staff problems to speak of yet, he said.

The only customer complaint Pat shared was that a couple of patrons have asked why one or two of the dishes aren't unfasten-your-belt-a-couple-notches filling. The only reason I bring this up is to get your take on this.

When the vegetarian, vegan, green, farm-to-table and other movements — food or otherwise — began, they were surely met with skepticism. But as each grew in popularity, there were more supporters and fewer doubters. Just like any new trend or cause, right?

Well, we had an energetic debate about this at our table. Scott and Pat, the two with the best business sense, said the company line must be polite and PR-ish in reply to those curious patrons. Pat said the restaurant is committed to higher-quality food than its competitors, which means a higher cost of ingredients, so sometimes that might mean a slightly smaller portion.

Dawn and I supported a more direct and personal approach. I suggested telling those customers something like, "We appreciate the feedback, but quite frankly, we've long had an issue with the typical portion sizes at American restaurants. Health has become such a hot topic in our culture, particularly obesity. Americans appear to be taking their diets more seriously, paying closer attention to what they eat and even where that food came from. Portion control is just as important, and we hope to set the trend not only in farm-to-table, but also in the sizes of the dishes we serve."

What do you think?


Monday, June 06, 2011

NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 3

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week or so, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

Friday was a pretty hectic day. Despite not falling asleep until 3 a.m. or so, I got up at about 7 a.m. What awaited was pretty neat, however. A family of ducks (pictured, right) was starting its day on the pond in my mom's backyard before the morning fog burned away.

After taking a few pictures of that, it was time to pack my rental car and head off to Enterprise to return my round-trip rental, then rent another car for a one-way trip down to Cincinnati. The fine folks at Enterprise allowed me to just use the same car, so I didn't have to unload my loot and load it back into another car.

The ride down was pretty smooth. Once I got to Columbus, I got a little Jim Rome time on the radio, which is always entertaining. I ended up at CVG Airport to drop off the rental, and the nice people at Jeff Wyler Honda picked me up because my next big move on this trip was that I was going out to their dealership to buy a car. Sure enough, I now own a 2008 Honda Accord.

I wasn't planning to have a big night out with old friends in Cincinnati. I just wanted to get to my good friend Jason Buroker's house. After my last photography show in Cincinnati a couple years ago, a bunch of my stuff ended up at his home studio in Independence, Ky. So I spent the night at his place and we had a few beers and a bunch of laughs after some Thai dinner.


NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 2

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week few days, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

Thursday, June 2, was perfect. I slept in until after 10 a.m. in the world's most comfortable bed, the guest room at my folks' place in Cleveland.

I tapped into my manly side and helped Mike with some handy tasks around the house, then put on my new shirt, shoes and belt that Mike and my mom gave me and off we went to the Welshfield Inn for lunch.

We returned home to find a UPS package waiting on their front porch. It was a gorgeous navy blazer that Mike ordered for me. Not sure how he did it, but he got the fit perfect.

Pretty much every visit to Cleveland I catch at least one afternoon nap on the living-room couch. Thursday was my day for that. It was outstanding.

It was a mistake because I'm one of those cats who can nap for even just a second and that will keep me from falling asleep at a normal time later that night. And that's exactly what happened. After watching the Dallas Mavericks storm back to beat Miami with a huge fourth-quarter rally in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, I was up until about 3 a.m., unable to fall asleep.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

NYC To West Palm Beach: Day 1

After five years of living in New York City, I've taken a job in West Palm Beach, Fla. For the next week or so, this space will serve as a diary of my convoluted trip down south, which will include stops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville and maybe Atlanta and/or Savannah.

After going to bed past 2 a.m. on Wednesday, all my alarms rang at 6 a.m. and I knew I had only three hours until the movers came.

So I went back to sleep for an hour.

I got up at 7 a.m., but, fortunately, the movers didn't make the 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. window they had promised, so I got pretty much everything packed up by the time they pulled up just before 11 a.m.

I'm pretty mad at myself for allowing the price of the move to escalate by about 70 percent from the estimate, which I thought was pretty low to begin with. Partly because I ended up packing more boxes than I was expecting to, but also partly because the salesman taking my inventory list over the phone forgot to include some freebies and to account for the space in the truck those freebies would occupy. It's great that my new bosses are picking up the tab on the move, but I hate that I haven't even worked a day yet and I'm already in their doghouse.

Anyway, because of their tardy arrival, the movers left an hour after I was hoping to have them out of my apartment, which meant I didn't have time to take the more fiscally efficient train/bus journey to LaGuardia; I had to call a car service. The driver brought what is usually a great basketball or football skill to our rushed trip to the airport in that he was rather adept at turning a two-lane portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway into three lanes. Creating lanes is a trademark of New York City drivers, one that on Wednesday almost caused several accidents.

Of course when we arrived at the Southwest terminal and I handed him my debit card — I'd spent most of my day's cash tipping those sweaty movers — he said he didn't have a machine in the car. I said "That's weird; when I called to reserve the car I specifically asked the dispatcher if you'd take plastic and he assured me you would." So I wandered into the airport with the driver sitting in his car and my four bags in his trunk. I found an ATM, subtracted the withdrawal fee from what I owed him and off I went.

I don't fly Southwest from New York very often, but one thing I do know about the economy carrier is that if you're on a flight leaving LaGuardia after lunchtime, especially if you're on the popular route to Baltimore, expect delays. We were backed up for about an hour but I still made my connection to Cleveland on time.

Sure enough, once I got in the rental car, the second song I heard was "Stairway To Heaven." Aren't there some songs that you only hear in certain cities? Thanks to 98.5 WNCX, one of Tom Petty's classics followed the legendary Led Zeppelin song. The old-school rock reminded me of my days growing up in Cleveland and listening to Uncle Vic on WNCX's predecessor, WGCL I think it was.

Anyway, I got home right at 11 p.m., and Mom and Mike were up past their bedtime, of course waiting with an awesome turkey sandwich from Davis Bakery. We caught up for an hour and then it was time to go to bed. Every time I visit, the guest bed at their house allows me the best rest of the year. Eight solid hours this time.