Gyms I’ve been to in the past two months

As I was walking back from New York Sport’s Club in Brooklyn, it dawned on me that since September 1, I have worked out at a lot of gyms across California, Hawaii, London, and New York. And because I love lists, I might as well list my favorites.

Ranked in order of best to last:

1. Equinox – San Francisco – #3 pool
2. Club One – Oakland City Center – #2 pool
3. New York Sport’s Club – Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York
4. Virgin Active – Hammersmith London – #1 pool (though a bit too warm)
5. 24 Hour Fitness – Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii
6. Pools on the Park – Richmond, London – #4 pool

I could have ranked the above by cleanliness, equipment, clientele, cost, locker rooms, showers, customer service, etc. but why kill the gym buzz? Plus, I think I’ll have a few more gyms to add soon. I still need to find a gym by the office and if I do, I’ll be saying goodbye to the Richmond gym and replacing it with something a little more … modern.

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The Lost Lamb aka Lamb Rescue 911

The Cumberland Pencil Museum was supposed to be the highlight of the day … at least for Shelly. And then buying food stuffs for our lunch was supposed to be just that, going to a grocery store. But, I got sidetracked in the beer aisle, I mean beer section.

How could I choose just one?

And the walk to Castlerigg Stone Circle – this area’s Stonehenge – was supposed to be a relatively quick 2.5 hours hike. But the day didn’t turn out as planned.

On our way to Castlerigg, we stopped and had lunch (yes, I carried a full bottle of cider and a pint of bitter – heavy) and then continued up the path toward the top of the hill. Many great views and dozens of sheep sightings slowed us down a bit – I took way too many photos of sheep and their babies. As usual, Shelly was way ahead of me as I lingered back for photo ops. My eye caught a handful of lambs gathered at a gate down a driveway. I motioned to Shelly that I was going to wander off to take their pictures.

I approached the babies, took a photo, and then realized something wasn’t right.

On the wrong side of the fence

The babies were hanging out at the fence because one of their own was on the wrong side of the fence. He’d probably been showing off, escaped to the other side, and couldn’t get back. No one was around. No sheep herder. No guy on his tractor with his trusty border collie sheep herding dog by his side.

OK. Something had to be done. I tried wrangling him back through the gate myself. Everyone started baa-ing, babies, moms … it was getting loud. The sheep backed off from the gate enough so I could open it and try and shoo him in. Not happening. I started to hope that Shelly would notice I was taking a while and come back to help me. She showed up just as I was shutting the gate and as the little sucker got through another gate into another empty field. I motioned her over, we removed our packs, and got into operation lamb rescue. She went into the next field as the baby was running up and down the fence, trying to head butt its body through the wire. We thought he was going to hurt himself. And boy, was it cold up here. Shelly kept getting smaller as the lamb led her farther and farther away.

I had had enough, opened the second gate walked a wide circle around the lamb, got behind him and border collied him back out to the driveway. I ran over to the original gate, opened it wide, got out of the little guy’s way … and waited. Naturally, he thought this was the best time to stand still and stare at us both. I told Shelly to scare him through the gate, but was scared he’d bolt into the street. Finally, the little bugger darted back into the field baa-ing as he made his way back to his mom. We high fived each other and watched as he got a well-deserved milk break with his mom. We told him to stay put and set off again toward Castlerigg.

And yeah, Castlerigg and the hike down was pretty cool. We made it back into town more than four hours after we set out.

Looks a little like Easter Island

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An ash-free post about our drive to Cumbria

Sunday April 18

Woke up to a rainy last morning in Edinburgh. Startled our B&B hosts with our yogurt and muesli breakfast, but you can only do a full Scottish breakfast every few days. We passed on the double decker bus in the drizzly weather and took a cab to Edinburgh Waverly station. Time for our car trip to begin.

I’ve driven in the UK three times before, but it had been since the start of the Iraq war (the last time we were here). I grew up driving stick so that wasn’t a big deal, it’s just the whole driving on the left side of the road thing. Throw in a couple of manic roundabouts and now we’re talking a bit of stress.

We got a snappy little 4-door Peugeot that could barely hold our two carry-on bags in its trunk. Getting out of town wasn’t horrible – the dozens of grazing sheep and their babies helped – and before we knew it, we arrived in Biggars, Scotland for a lunch at the Aroma Cafe. Coffee, tea, soup, and filled sandwiches for lunch, and back into the rain for a drive on the highway to the Lake District.

Keswick (Kess-ick) is an adorable town that sits close to the largest lake in the area, Derwentwater. Our room at the Dunsford B&B was of course on the top floor. Of some very narrow stairs. What better way to get acquainted with the town than to walk down the street to do laundry. Shelly gets a bit disappointed if she can’t do laundry while we’re traveling abroad.

Looking toward Keswick from the other side of Derwentlake

In between the washing and drying cycles, we got our bearings a bit and decided on The Dog and Gun pub for dinner. Why that particular pub? Because as we were walking by, we saw a dog sitting upright on a chair next to his person who was drinking beer. Our kind of place.

Well, as we later found out, the dogs were the best part of the pub. There must have been 10 dogs in that place: labs, airedales, terriers. The ale I had was good, but the veggie choices weren’t many and the special Shelly had, let’s call it roast beef with veg, looked and tasted like prison food. Don’t know when Shelly was in prison, but perhaps that’s another blog post.

To get rid of the prison roast beef taste, I took Shelly to the Rembrandt Restaurant for tea and dessert. When asked, the waitress told us she preferred the Bananoffee pie over the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Mistake. Take a bad pre-made transfat crust, add a layer of bananas (fresh thankfully), plop on some toffee stuff, add whipped cream, and place on a chocolate and toffee decorated plate. Serve. We think this place was a Marie Callendar’s in disguise.

At least we had something to laugh about on the walk back to our B&B.

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Dolly Parton, Princess Leia, and some bird from the ’70s

Saturday April 17

Damned if the fricken ash cloud isn’t the talk of the B&B. Starting to think we should really start to worry about getting back home on schedule. Weird to have to think about. Honestly, it’s the dogs we worry about.

The weather changed back to not-summer weather. We spent a low-key day on the new side of town in Edinburgh. Tons of walking. Got a perfect lunch from Sainsburys – yogurt and satsumas – and ate at a park. Walked back through a great cemetery/park under the shadows of the castle. Very very cool.

Tombstones

Looking up at the Edinburgh Castle

Dinner was a fantastic Indian meal. Love it when the Indian veggie choices are something you’ve never heard of.

Got back to the B&B only to run into Dolly Parton, Princess Leia, Kate Bush, and some bird from the ’70s. Our B&B hostess and her daughters were heading off to a costume party. She even left and emergency phone number with us. Should we be worried?

Well, worried didn’t fit the bill. Let’s just say the party came back to the B&B around 2am and carried on to at least 3:30 am. Needless to say, that Jill, our hostess, didn’t get us breakfast the next morning. She was having a long lie as her daughter put it. Long lie indeed.

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I got a sunburn in Edinburgh

After the adventures of the day before, we slept pretty hard. Woke up to a full breakfast – scone, eggs, this and that – and clear, sunny skies. So sunny that the locals were declaring it summer and donning shorts. We weren’t that brave and headed out properly attired. We hit one of the must-see spots – the Edinburgh Castle. Amazing views and very old castle-like buildings. We skipped the crown jewels and the military museum. Seen one jewel, seen them all.

Castle-eye view

Got a great Iranian/Kurdish lunch just around the corner from where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Went to the (free) National Museum of Scotland. It was actually a cool museum. Nice to see a museum point out the history of the world in millions of years, and backing up their claims with factual evidence for doubters. My kind of place. Lots of bones, leather shoe remnants, jewelry (not of the crown jewel persuasion), metal works … fun stuff.

Is that a kilt in your pocket?

Jumped back over to the Royal mile which was basically street after street of kilt and sweater places. Wool socks, three for £5. Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ve met your match. Used the loo at Queen Elizabeth’s holiday Palace – Holyrood Palace. Decent bathrooms. Because it was after 4, we decided against tackling Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano (that caught fire later that night). Walked aimlessly a bit toward our B&B and then hailed a cab to Bierex, a pub we could walk home from. Had some good ale, hard ginger ale, and the standard pub veg burger and haddock meal.

A decent day and a sunburn to prove it.

Nothing better than a pint and a natural disaster

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Planes, volcanic ash, trains, a taxi, and Edinburgh

I’m dusting off my blog to catalog our UK trip to Scotland and England. Wait, I think dusting is not a good word choice here. Read further and I’ll explain.

We boarded our Virgin Atlantic plane around 4:30 pm on Wednesday. Thankfully, we had a two-seat across row, so it was just us in super uncomfortable, cramped chairs for 10-plus hours. The flight was uneventful and usual for a transatlantic flight. We tried to sleep, couldn’t. Watched some airplane movies (The Blind Side for me, Michael Jackson’s This is it for Shelly – who made the better choice? Discuss.) Snacked. Fitfully slept some more. Shelly had better luck napping, although her bobbing head every time she fell asleep was a little disturbing to watch.

Bored, I switched around the TV on the plane and clicked through SkyNews. And found this:

SkyNews

UK airports closed by ash cloud from volcano. Um, excuse me? Is this a bad ’70s TV movie? Where’s Linda Blair with her guitar (only Airport movie aficionados will get that)? I told this to Shelly who apparently was still asleep. The folks in front of me saw it as well and flagged down a flight attendant who knew nothing about it. She came back after checking with the pilot and said it was nothing to worry about.

Well, after circling Heathrow for a while and waiting 20 minutes on the tarmac for a gate to free up, we hear that planes are backing up at the airport. Backed up indeed. The volcanic ash, dust, disturbance, cloud basically shut down airspace over the UK as we were flying in. We were on one of the last planes to make it in before the airport shut down indefinitely. After we got our bags, did the customs thing, catching our BA flight to Edinburgh wasn’t going to happen. So, we rushed through the confused crowds of people, grabbed the quickest train into London, and booked a train to Edinburgh out of King’s Cross. Last-minute train bookings are not cheap but we wanted to get going.

The trains were unbelievably crowded, with SRO and luggage in every nook and cranny, but at 7:45 pm, four train rides and nearly eight hours after we landed in Heathrow, we made it to our bed and breakfast in Scotland. We stumbled around Edinburgh looking for dinner and settled on some decent Thai food. And that was the end of the longest day.

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The dog and Sears story

I read this SearsKilledMyDog.com recap on Bart last night and am posting it on my blog because it has a little bit of everything I am interested in: dogs, customer support, customer experience, pissed off customers, happy customers, resolution, horror stories, social media, and the list goes on.

It’s also about Sears and refrigerators both of which are not on my “interested in” list, but you could just about insert any company name and/or appliance to relate to this story.

There is an ending to the story – whether you think it’s good or bad is your call.

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Have a dog? Here’s how to spend $575 in 90 minutes

This recipe is just for guidance. You can replace “a dog” with any companion or feral animal and “chicken” with any kind of meat that has bones. Also, cooking time may vary. It might take you a while to figure out what works best for you.

Apparently serves only 1.

Enjoy!

1. Take one 14-pound dog (in our case, we used a male dachshund)
2. Let him have access to all parts of your house within reason of course (we keep the door to the backstairs closed)
3. Boil fresh, skinless chicken until done for your digestive-impaired, 65-pound female dog
4. Debone cooked chicken (wear rubber gloves for safety) and dispose of bones in plastic-lined garbage can under kitchen sink. In our case, we disposed of approximately 15 thigh bones.
5. Close sink door, aware that it sometimes doesn’t latch
6. Leave dogs unattended with access to all parts of your house (see #2) and go shopping
7. Return home an hour later to find two guilty looking dogs (ears back, tails tucked, the slightest hint of nervous dog grins), an opened kitchen sink door, a tipped-over garbage can, and about seven discarded thigh bones
8. Add a bit of confusion as to what dog actually consumed the leftover bones
9. Marinate both dogs for a few hours, feed them both, and ignore glassy eyes, slowness in walking, and bloated appearance
10. Convince your spouse that both dogs are fine. Eat your own dinner. Salad is recommended.

What follows is where time and prices may vary. In the following case, about 90 minutes transpired.
11. Start to observe that the small 14-pound dachshund is looking rather fat, lumpy, and has difficulty moving
12. Call emergency vet (after hours of course)
13. Humor the vet by bringing, or in our case, whisking, your now very heavy and painful sausage dog to the vet
14. Watch in disbelief as the vet assistant records your dog’s weight at over 17 pounds
14. Humor the vet again by allowing x-rays even though she says he seems fine
15. Nod your head – and remain calm – as the slightly worried vet gets your signature on a pricey estimate for inducing vomiting
16. Nod your head again as the vet returns with a limp dog, now with a lump of saline on his back
17. Nod your head as the vet can’t even describe how much stuff was in your dog’s stomach, aside from the fact that the bones were chewed. Nice.
18. Put limp dog on the counter as vet assistant (see #14) rings you up for $575
19. Return the dog to his home, knowing that he’s going to sleep very well because of drugs
20. Be very thankful that you’ve got pet insurance

And finally, it’s recommended that you try this recipe only once or better yet, never.

Our little space cadet

Our little space cadet

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Welcome to the 21st Century: United’s expensive customer service mistake

Disclaimers: I am not a fan of country music; I have flown United; I am a customer advocate

In the spring of 2008, United followed its Terms and Conditions – i.e. , their fine print, their internal customer service policies – to their bottom-line minded detriment, and refused to reimburse a customer $3,500 for damage to his guitar incurred during the loading of the plane. The customer, Dave Carroll sings his story better than I can write it:

I guarantee you that this mistake will end up costing the company more than the $3,500 replacement value of the guitar. By the time the original incident handling went through the hands of the flight attendants, agents on the phone, supervisors, meetings, and policy review, and now the PR department, you’re talking thousands of dollars. Add the cost of poor word of mouth, unwanted publicity, and you’ve got a problem that will be talked about in customer support circles for years. And I mean years.

Company policy aside, should United have reimbursed its passenger?  In hindsight, most definitely. And now, with all of this unwelcome publicity, they have to. In the new world of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a company must think twice about whether its 20th Century rules and regulations apply to the nano-second, at-your-fingertips, in-your-face reviews of just about everything and anyone under the sun.

Sure, United started with an obligatory vague policy – United’s Delayed and damaged baggage information – and quickly forgot to add the most important ingredient for customer service success – humanity. You can have the fairest policies in the world, but if you forget to add common sense and a personal touch, well, you’re already probably no stranger to unhappy customers.

So, should United have taken these YouTube possibilities into consideration when reviewing Carroll’s case? Yes. Should customer support staff be trained to know when an incident escalates beyond their control and when looking beyond internal policy might be the way to go. Absolutely. Should all companies review their customer service policies with the viral 21st Century in mind? They’d be foolish not to.

Sure, once the publicity started to hit the fan, United tweeted that they were ready to make good on the damage. But, Carroll is having none of that. It’s just plain too late for that, plus he hasn’t yet uploaded his follow-up song to YouTube.

My last question is whether or not United reprimands its staff for errors like this. The baggage handlers who tossed the equipment freely about did so because they knew that United’s policies covered their asses. Trust me, once United makes its staff accountable, then it will be much easier for them to work on getting their customer support in tune with the needs of today’s savvy customers.

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Taking a safe walk to the bus stop

Last week, BART was a mess, so I decided to walk the few blocks from home and catch the AC Transit transbay bus. I’ve taken this bus only when BART is not an option. It’s nearly door-to-door, but because I cannot read on the bus, it’s almost a waste of my time. Almost.

Anyway, for my two-ish block walk to the bus, I take a short cut down through a cul-de-sac and over a broken sidewalk, and up MacArthur Blvd., which is a main thoroughfare through all the questionable parts of Oakland. On this walk, it’s not unusual for me to step over or around: litter, used condoms, condom packets, pieces of hair extensions, balls of discarded real hair, broken bottles, empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, more trash, pocket sized ads for palm readers and upcoming music shows, and you get the picture.

Only on this day, the trash was different. Anyone lose their safe? I don’t think it locks anymore.

Simmons Street Safe

Simmons Street Safe

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