links for 2008-08-29

Barack Obama for President

I am not a particularly political person; politics to me is often slow, dirty, frustrating and interlaced with lies. Personal agendas too often get in the way of wise governing, leading to missed opportunities all too often.
Yet I cannot understate the inspiration and hope that comes from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. I recently noted the power of presentation skills, and Obama’s oratory is nothing short of gifted. This is a man unlike anything the United States has experienced at the executive level in decades: invigorating, compelling, astounding.
That a mixed-race man with a black wife and family can rise to a party nomination for President of the United States amazes me. That the nominee can be so rich with his communication skills, eloquent, smart and embracing, gives me hope for the future.
I remain suspect whether America as a whole is ready to embrace such a sweeping level of change. Obama represents everything Washington is not, from his race to his generation. I’d be disappointed but not surprised if the nation showed its aversion to change and elected John McCain as a safe choice. And mind you, I do believe that McCain is also a decent presidential candidate: not someone with whom I agree, but a man of integrity, maturity, perspective and wit, who would represent a vast improvement over the sad state of affairs of the past few years.
But this country has an amazing opportunity this fall to elect a true leader, a man who inspires people to participate, who turns the heads of the indifferent, who already holds the attention and respect of foreign leaders, who has the appeal to fill football stadiums with people who wish to hear him speak. I hope Obama gets the chance to fulfill his potential. The nation and the world will be a better place for believing in him.

links for 2008-08-28

links for 2008-08-25 through -27

Mysteriously and miraculously, del.icio.us began publishing my saved links to my blog again, after several months of unexplained hiatus. Huzzah! Here’s the exciting rundown of my linkbloggin’ activity so far this week.

Throwback

Long Beach Island, NJ, has some of the corniest and punniest business names still in existence on the eastern seaboard. Among those I spotted this weekend:
House of the Rising Bun
Sunsations
Sunglass Menagerie
Chicken or the Egg
Big Dipper Ice Cream
Pottery Barge
Just Beachy
Just Bead It
Barry’s Do Me a Flavor
Say Cheese
Also spotted more than once: the phrase “own make candy,” which my lovely wife of five years deciphered as “we do it ourselves,” but which linguistically we’re still trying to comprehend. And then there’s the “coin op laundry/ravioli to take out” sign….

Lemonade stand

The enterprising boys in apartment 1F of my building have, since last summer, run a lemonade stand by the building entrance, on the corner of the street. Last year, the older boy set up shop with his mother’s baking, a pitcher of sweet drink, and a folding table. Toward the end of the summer, our handyman built him an honest-to-goodness wooden lemonade stand, tall and cute and beautifully painted, with a countertop and note-perfect “Lemonade” signs on the awning.
This summer, the younger brother has taken over the stand. He and a gregarious friend set up shop every weekday afternoon, bringing out the lemonade stand, which now includes a typed note explaining how Luis built this wonderful stand for them, and an appropriately youthful sign, taped to the side of the building, stating that “all money goes to Alzheimer’s research” (properly spelled, and with no mention of “proceeds,” which would have entitled them to skim funds).
I’m a big fan of the stand, and almost as big a fan of the mom’s baking skills, so I buy chocolate chip cookies from them (two for $1) a few times a week. They’re not the best salesmen, but they are reliable, diligent and raising money for charity. Seeing them at their stand is one of the purest joys I have experienced since moving uptown.
As of yesterday, the stand has competition. A different set of kids set up shop on the other side of the building, midblock but closer to the front door. They had lemonade and iced tea, but no food: “We have these brownies,” said one, “but we’re eating them for dinner.” So I bought an iced tea from them, which prompted an honest-to-goodness customer service inquiry: “Would you like it mixed with lemonade?” And suddenly I’m getting an Arnold Palmer from a 10-year-old on the sidewalk. The new kids are chatty and numerous–I think I saw 6 of them selling or playing nearby–but they don’t have signage yet.
I’m waiting to see how this shakes out. Will there be turf wars? Price cuts? Variety on the lemonade stands, all competing for my business?
In the meantime, I am all smiles when I finally get home. And a few bucks lighter.

An open letter to Biscuits and Bath

Dear Biscuits and Bath:
“I didn’t make her cry. She chose to cry.”
This is what I was told by the manager of the 13th Street Biscuits and Bath when I asked him why my wife had just left your store in tears. She had asked him why Biscuits and Bath called our vet for vaccine information without informing or asking us, then contacted us anxiously three times in a week leading up to our grooming last Saturday. The manager, John, was aggressively unapologetic, and suggested “this isn’t the place for you” anymore.
This would be an uneventful customer service story if it weren’t endemic to our experience with you. Having found a great dog groomer, we dealt with error after insult for more than three years, figuring a happy, handsome dog outweighed the nuisances. Among them:

  • On at least three occasions, our appointment time was moved without our knowledge. More than once we found out we had a new time less than 24 hours before the appointment.
  • Twice the staff failed to inform us in advance when our groomer’s schedule changed, leaving us to arrive at the store for a nonexistent appointment.
  • The groomer regularly got double- and triple-booked by the main office, leading to our dog being trapped for hours on end. Customer service once told me, “You’re the only 9 a.m. tomorrow,” only for me to be the second 9 a.m. appointment to arrive, moments ahead of a 9:15. Our poor groomer was often harried first thing in the morning.
  • Despite repeated calls to the company, customer service representatives refused to escalate any complaints. Management is completely opaque–when I asked John the store manager for his boss’s name, John flatly refused to tell me.

This culminated in Saturday’s incident, where Amy, looking for answers, was instead told to take her business elsewhere, and my attempt at resolution was met with the quote at the top of this letter and a threat to call the police. I left your store wondering if other Biscuits and Bath customers have had similar problems, and sure enough, the posters at Yelp and Citysearch tell more of these tales. One saga on Yelp sounds almost exactly like ours.
I’m also wondering if other Biscuits and Bath patrons would frequent the store if they really saw what went on there. How the 13th Street location packs 30 or more large dogs into an 800-square-foot space in the name of exercise. How the smallest dogs sit alone and unstimulated in the front of the store, often lying in their own urine. How a dog died last year while supposedly under active monitoring. In a way, I’m glad we were asked not to return–I will miss our groomer, but I have momentum to take my business to a more reputable establishment.
Of course, there are two sides to every story. No doubt if you were to reply, you’d cite how we became upset at your staff’s insistent phone calls, and how we often bristled at waiting three hours while our triple-booked groomer took care of our dog. And how I used foul language after John the manager sneered at the suggestion he did something wrong. All we wanted was a pleasant, hassle-free trip to the groomer every month. We rarely got it.
The unprofessionalism at Biscuits and Bath suggests a business that should be running into the ground. Somehow smart marketing positions it as a premier, high-quality dog care establishment. In the process, you seem to have forgotten about the service and operations that go into a well-run store.
I hope someone at Biscuits and Bath reads this letter and acts upon the many flaws in this business. But I’m not expecting much. Your true reputation precedes you.