OK, They Got Me

"The doomsday clock is ticking...loudly."
"San Francisco sits...on a time bomb."
"City officials will have to make choices...deadly choices."
(The ellipses indicate a dramatic pause in the voiceover.)

Yup, they got me. All these damn documentaries they've been showing the last few weeks (culminating today, on the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake) have finally gotten to me, and I'm officially scared of the next big earthquake. I was handling it OK at first, consoling and comforting myself with the usual pragmatism--we're prepared, you can't live your life in fear, disasters happen and life goes on, living here is worth it, etc. We reminded ourselves where our emergency food, water, flashlights and batteries were. (Note to self: get more water...tomorrow!) We researched earthquake insurance and called a structural engineer to get work started on our ancient house's foundation. (For the record, he said it was in decent shape and he'd seen much worse.) We told ourselves our house, built in 1880, survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes just fine. (Though we are eager to get the retrofit finished, but until then, you live with it, right?) In short, we had...faith.

I mean, I've spent my whole life in California, and I lived through a 7.1 earthquake in 1989--I know the risks, and I've always accepted them. But the writers on this MEGAdisasters show on the History Channel really went for the terrormongering, and dammit, THEY GOT ME. That Loma Prieta earthquake I like to say I lived through? "Not a wakeup call, but...merely a snooze button!" (The "big one" will be 1000 times worse than that one and 100 times the 1906 quake!) San Franciscans? "Apathetic, arrogant, and complacent." Future tourists to this city? "They'll be visiting...its ruins--the stump that was the Golden Gate Bridge, the stump that was the Transamerica Tower." Worst neighborhoods to be in? "The Marina and...The Mission!" They got me.

I'm not sure what I else I can say. Those MEGAdisasters writers sure made their point. I really wish I'd watched Starting Over like I'd intended to when I switched on the TV. And I'm getting more water.
Here's what you should have in your disaster preparedness kit.


To All the Phone Operators I've Dissed

I want to say, I'm sorry. I hope you know it's not personal. I know you are merely a tool of some evil corporation that's abusing you just as much as it's abusing me by not training you properly, paying you enough, or giving you adequate tools to handle the types of calls you get. I don't mean to be rude, but your corporate overlords give you such long-winded, time-wasting scripts to read to me that I get really irritable on the second or third transfer, when I have to hear the spiel over again and give you all my detailed security information again (you do realize I already told all that info to someone else, who probably works just a cubicle over from you, in addition to having typed it all in when the computer prompted me during the very first part of my call?). But I have to remind myself that if it feels to me like I'm being transferred around various circles of Hell, I don't even want to imagine what it must be like to be you, who actually work there. (It's too bad, isn't it, that you'd probably get fired for being honest with me and telling me you hate the company you work for as much as I do.) I have to remind myself that at least I get to hang up and get back to my regular job, right? That's why I'm sorry. I'll try to stay calm next time. All I ask is this: If I tell you I don't want any last-minute marketing pitches or special offers or surveys because I've already been on the phone with you (and two or three of your colleagues) for 20 minutes, then please, just let me go. That way we can both be put out of our misery as quickly as possible. That way we can both have a better tomorrow.

A Disgruntled Former AOL, Sprint, American Express, Wells Fargo (this list could grow, but let's work together to make it not) Customer


Field Trips for Grown-Ups

I've always loved field trips. When I went to private school, it usually meant we didn't have to wear our uniforms that day. You got to eat different food, too—some portable concoction that may not have been particularly tasty but at least offered that essential spice, variety. And you got to ride a bus with all your friends, which was probably the most exciting part. Oh, and then there was the national park or museum or landmark you visited. Those were cool too, but more of an added bonus, on top of simply not having to go to school that day.

As an adult, I have to say that field trips still provide that primary thrill—not having to follow your normal routine for a day. One of the great things about my job is that I often get to go on field trips for grown-ups, in the form of off-site game demos (when companies invite us to their offices to show us their latest game). Occasionally, these companies have pretty cool offices, but my field trip to Pixar last week definitely stands out.

When you drive into the parking lot, it really feels like a movie studio. The gate has a big PIXAR marquee, and you have to drive through a security gate. My name was on the list, and the guy handed me a name tag, which called me "A Stranger From Outside!"—a label I didn't mind adopting at all (must be the exclamation point). The office itself is big and open, and there's some Steve Jobs philosophy behind it all that I forget but sounded very Jobs-ian. Everywhere you look, you see familiar friends like these...

...and lots of happy people scurrying around being creative. Right now, the main project is the upcoming movie Cars, so the whole office is adorned with artwork and objects related to Route 66 and everything automotive. I was very impressed with their seemingly holistic approach. They use a lot of real-world inspiration, from actual cars in the lobby to desert-inspired paintings and photographs adorning the walls.

Even if it's all for show, here's one entertainment company that truly understands "show." The other thing that impressed me was Pixar University, where employees can take up to 4 hours a week of art classes out of their (supposedly) 40-hour work week. I know how easy it is to overlook such benefits when you are at a company, but I sure hope that Pixar employees out there are taking advantage of this benefit. I would!

In summary, yes, I wish I worked there! I haven't even gotten to mention the volleyball court and massages!

Coming up in the Field Trips for Grown-Ups Series: Google!

P.S. Thanks to Kimi (these are her photos)


If you can't whine on your blog...

...where can you? Readers (all 4 of you out there—hi Mom!), you have been warned!

It's so predictable that now that Katie Couric is going to be the first sole woman anchor of a network evening news broadcast, every news story on the subject has to mention those critics charging that network news just doesn't matter anymore. [UPDATE: Naturally, I've since read several news stories that don't make this point, but those seem to be the same ones that mention her perky smile or her subdued outfit...anyway, didn't I mention that I was whining?] I don't remember anyone singing that tune when Brian Williams won the supposedly coveted seat when Tom Brokaw retired (maybe people did, but as far as I recall, news stories about him mostly focused on how he'd been groomed for the position for years). I even remember recently reading that Bob Schieffer was finally getting what he deserved for all those years of hard work, and he was only filling in while CBS found a permanent replacement for Dan Rather.

Now, I haven't watched network news regularly since I left for college, and I studied broadcast journalism in graduate school. But I've mostly loved Katie Couric on the Today Show (despite some of her "star" qualities, which can be annoying in a news person), and I say good for her for challenging herself. Because I think Howard Stern was right—she's gonna be in the hot seat, and any and all failings of the CBS Evening News will fall squarely on her shoulders and people will be lined up to blame her for any shortcomings, perceived or real. That's the reality that first women (the first woman to do this, the first woman to do that) face, and Katie's clearly strong enough to hack it. So, go Katie! I might just start TiVoing the news to see how she does.


By Popular Demand

....demand, that is, from one vociferous reader who's popular in my book, I'm adding a new post just to cleanse the palate from my previous entry. This weekend I began spring cleaning, but because it doesn't really feel like spring yet with all the rain in San Francisco, I didn't really "clean." Rather, I organized that massive pile of files and paperwork from 2005 into one envelope I can store away and, I hope, forget about for the next seven or so requisite years until they get happily shredded. Nothing's actually cleaner than it was before, but it feels fantastic knowing that pile of papers "to be dealt with at some point in my life" is now only about 10% its original size, and that the other 90% actually got dealt with—all while sitting on the couch, cozily watching TV on a rainy Sunday afternoon.