When You Work Yourself to Death…


You may or may not heard about this incident in NJ, but there was a woman, not long ago, not too much older than myself, who died in her car while napping between shifts.

Discussion of this on Daily Kos; link here.

The comments I’ve read so far about this are varying from horror to victim-blaming. Yes, there are people out there who blame Fernandes’s death on her “poor life choices” – really? She chose this sort of a life? Good grief, that has to be the single most stupid thing I’ve heard. There’s no one on this green earth who will voluntarily choose to work three jobs, and in the end leave themselves so tired that they forget to turn off their own car and consequently die. No one chooses this.

But no, wait, someone does: employers. Employers, like Dunkin Donuts, who wouldn’t give Fernandes full-time hours at one location, and instead forced her to work three different locations for the same lousy minimum-wage pay. A minimum-wage pay that, according to some folks, we don’t need to raise because hey, someone can survive A-OK on $7.25/hr!

You’ll have to forgive my laughter; I simply cannot believe that someone can be so idiotic as to claim that a wage of $7.25 is survivable, especially with this cost of living. Myself being an accountant, I laugh all the harder because I’m very familiar with the costs of living in the NY-NJ-CT tristate area, and the fact that people claim that someone can survive in NJ for $7.25/hr is just plain out-and-out ludicrous to me. I have to laugh at this idiocy, because really, that’s all that it is.

The woman effectively, essentially, worked herself to death, and if you, my darling readers, believe that you’re that different from her, or that far behind the same fate, you’re kidding yourselves.

Yes, I’m saying it.

Unless you really do make enough money to where only a third of your paycheck goes to your rent or mortgage, you are not far behind Maria Fernandes in the ranks of people whose work basically works them to death.

Look at your schedules. Look at how much time you spend per day doing things in relation to work. Look at how much time it takes for you to get home. Look at the stress you have on you when you get home. Do you stop by the bar as soon as you leave work, just because you can’t take another minute of it and you’ll scream if you aren’t medicated/liquored up so you don’t care as much? Do you see your family/SO/friends/pets anywhere near as much as you should because you’re working all the time? How much time do you spend in your apartment? How much food in your fridge has to get thrown out because you’re not around long enough to cook a meal?

You’re fast on your way to ending up just like Maria Fernandes.

She was working three jobs and was paid so little at all of them that her apartment, which was $550/mo – a miracle in the tristate area – that she was behind even on that rent. Plus car payments. Car insurance. Basic food, hygiene items. And she couldn’t even get a night of sleep, because hey, someone had to work and pay the bills.

And yet, some brain-dead geniuses believe that she “made poor life choices”.

Choices? What choices did she have?! All she had was “survive or die”. And in the end, the stress of trying to survive so got to her worn out to the degree where she forgot to turn off her car.

And really, all Dunkin Donuts had to do to make her life a little easier was pay her just three more dollars per hour, on a full-time basis, at one location. They call her a model employee at all three of the establishments where she worked, but they refuse to name how much they were paying her. They could’ve paid her more; it’s not like they don’t make the money to do so.

But no, no, that eats into their profit margin, and in our “free market” (ha!) economy, we can’t have that!

Minimum wage came about as a result of relentless union strikes and lobbying about a hundred years ago, and for as long as the laws mandating a federal minimum wage existed, there have been attempts to repeal it. Even today. Why? Minimum wage is nothing more than the employer saying, “This is what the government forces us to pay, because we’d pay even less if we could”. Don’t roll your eyes, folks: it’s true. For those of y’all working the office jobs, compare your salaries to what the equivalent was about 10-15 years ago. You’ll find that the difference is actually very scant.

I have a Bachelor’s and 7 years in my work field. If I had a Bachelor’s with no experience, I’d get…the same $30,000/year that I actually got 7 years ago. If that were the case back in 2004, I’d still get the $30,000, but that 30K would actually maybe cover a studio in someone’s basement. Salaries hadn’t changed, but cost of living went up exponentially, because everyone with money in their pockets is lusting after more. Never mind that the ‘more’ comes on the backs of people like you, me, and Maria Fernandes.

San Jose increased its minimum wage to $15 and the growth of the city jumped. Why? Because people had more money to spend, which in turn created more revenue, which in turn encouraged employers to hire. It’s called a reinvestment cycle. If you so much as opened an eye in high-school economics, you’d probably know this.

But apparently, it’s a concept that eludes the general public, and it’s evidenced by the commentary on articles concerning Maria Fernandes.

“She was so hardworking!” – yeah, you don’t say! But apparently no one told her, or you, that working too hard can lead to an early death.

What no one tells you is that you can work your entire life through and you will find, when you’re finally retired, that you have spent your entire life at your job. Just because your job is in an office doesn’t mean that you won’t collapse at your desk one day because the stress short-circuited your body. You can afford your rent and cost of living, but you already know that your salary won’t go up anywhere near as fast as the cost of living. How long until you’ll take on a second job, or freelance on the side to keep bills paid up?

You’re only one step away from being Maria Fernandes. One lost job, one unpaid bill, one enormous unexpected expense – and you’re working two or more jobs and sleeping in your car or at your lunch break.

And if minimum wage was eliminated, how much do you think you, or anyone else, will be paid?

This is indentured servitude, folks. When your job barely covers your realistic living expenses, and you’re working more than you’re sleeping, I truly fail to see how it’s any different from indentured servitude, apart from the paycheck and the tax withholdings.

Being hardworking is no longer enough – it used to be, but it isn’t. Employers also need to be willing to pay – actually pay – a living wage. And apart from Costco and Trader Joe’s, I’ve seen next to no employer willing to do that.

People never, ever choose this sort of a living, and they certainly don’t choose the jobs they take. It’s not like there’s employers raining down offers on the people in need of work. But there is a paycheck, and if someone is desperate enough to try and make a living, they will take it. It’s not just the lack of jobs: it’s the fact that the pay is completely lousy for the jobs that are there. What does availability of work matter if nothing that’s available pays enough.

No one wants to admit that we are people and not robots, and the people who hate to admit that are usually the ones that got theirs already. We already see what the “I got mine, fuck everyone else” mentality gave us. Now we are also seeing that it costs lives as people all over try to get theirs too, only to find that the carrot on the proverbial stick is half of a baby carrot and barely gives you enough to stop the hunger pangs.

I never forgot what it’s like to choose between a phone bill and a full stomach. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of ramen noodles and cheap Chinese food in my life, either. And too many people forget their own beginnings once they have their ends.


Trials and Tribulations of Traveling, The Series

You know what, you guys may as well have a laugh or two at my expense. Seeing as I’ve been on a plane a lot more frequently this year than most others, the likelihood of Murphy’s Law coming into play is that much higher.

That and, because I’m on a plane a lot, you may as well learn a couple things from me as you go.

Mind Your Connecting Flight

Believe me, it’s not as much of a pain as you may think to get a flight with a layover. If you’re a little Joint Challenged, like me – nice way of saying your knees hate you if you sit for too long – then a layover is a welcome, if not a wholly necessary thing. I’ve had a couple of experiences flying directly from NY to CA, and frankly, I’d not care to repeat the experience. JetBlue legroom was good, Delta inflight Internet also, but to be frankly honest, I would have liked to have been on the ground midway through. So I was pretty glad when Delta switched me to a layover flight for the second cross-country go.

But more than that, you have to mind your gates if you’re booking a layover.

I learned this lesson the hard way – ironically, on the last CA trip. What happened was that I had a transfer in either MSP or SLC – can’t remember which – but the fact is, the terminal layout was in a C-shape. Likely it was SLC, then. But anyhow, I got a text as I turned my phone on, of the gate of my next flight. I look out my window and…there’s the plane I’m supposed to board right there at the gate.

Except, well…I’m in the back of the plane right now, and I need to hotfoot it to the other one.

It takes about a half-hour for the plane to empty.

I have to board the next flight in no more than…say…twenty minutes?


I did what any reasonable traveler would do: I tapped my neighbors on the shoulder, and told them, “Look guys, I’m very sorry to do this, but my connecting flight is about to start boarding, and it looks like I have to run across the airport to get it.” They were very gracious about it, and let me pass through – all the better that I had next to nothing for carry-on. I then proceeded to set a land speed record for sprinting across an airport. Seriously; I made it across the terminal from one arm of the C to the other in no more than 10 minutes.

I got to learn the same lesson very recently coming back from Phoenix. MSP-NY leg of the flight. I come off my first plane, come over to chill out and have a meal, and I’m thinking, I’m in the right terminal, yes? And all’s well, yes?

Uh….not really. You see, when you’re tired and flying all day, it’s pretty easy to confuse Terminal G with Terminal C, and if you’re in one and need to be at the other, the last! thing you may want to get is a phone call from Delta Airlines, telling you your flight is going to leave twenty minutes early.

Whoever invented those electric carts needs an award, because if not for a gentleman who drove that thing across the airport, I would not have made it home in time.

This, of course, leads me to…

If it’s worth it, pay extra for it.

Look. I’m not just saying that. Let the above scenario be a lesson to you: if you want to make a connecting flight, or if you think you need to get off the plane earlier than usual, then the first thing you do is plan ahead for it.

I’m not saying fly first-class. We ain’t got that kind of money, honey.

I am, however, saying that if Delta or A.A. or any airline lets you have a pick of the Economy Comfort seating, or Business Class and the price is in double digits only…take those. They’re usually situated in the front of the plane, and they are exactly what you need if you are, say, getting into a long-haul trip and you’re expecting to be off the plane fast. For instance, the next cross-country I’m set to take, I’m supposed to transfer in Atlanta. Wouldn’t be a problem, it’s a quick little flight…you know, except the fact that Hartsfield Airport is enormous and I’ll be lucky if I’ll make it to my gate and have the time to grab a pre-flight drink.

And while my seatmate flying home this past trip told me that he can’t possibly imagine planning things out to this sort of a detail, might I remind you fine readers of mine, Murphy’s Law is indiscriminate.


Some thinking, and a little Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    “The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbors, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

- Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.

I recommend reading the story, if you hadn’t before.

This is a quote that I often use when people ask me why I say that blood is water-soluble, or why I say that I’d detest having a nice house in suburbia. Though right now, in contrast to Mr. Holmes, there are few people who don’t know the law, there is a huge amount of those who simply do not care, and who use the power of appearances to further their own misdeeds, with no one being the wiser because of said appearances.

Let’s acknowledge unpleasant truths, folks. The first we should acknowledge is that appearances are very deceiving. The second is that they have power. And the third is that the more of a “good” image someone presents, the more likely it is that that person is going to be overlooked in a situation, not given a second thought, because the people around him or her will automatically make the assumption that they’re a geniunely good person and have nothing to fear from them.

Few things are further from the truth of that last, but think on this: if a person was geniunely good, do they need to parade it? Do they need to show off? Do they ever need to justify the assumptions of the public? Do they need to always appear to be put-together, perfect, going to the right locations and saying all the right things?

Which is why I’m always suspicious when something or someone looks a little too polished, a little too good, a little too flawless, and puts on a little too much of a facade of being sweet and charming. It always tips me off that there’s something rotten underneath.

“That’s so negative!” is something I always hear when I explain the above, but I’ve maybe been wrong twice or three times in that assessment.

This is why whenever I see advice columns where the letter writer is wondering why their adult children want absolutely nothing to do with them, I nearly always end up laughing at the letter. They’re all almost formulaic: “I’m a good person, I have a nice house, I gave my children a great education and life, I have no idea why they don’t want to talk to me!” Here’s a guess: it’s very likely you were not such a good person as you advertise in the letter. You were likely treating them like crap and turning it all around to be about you, and making yourself feel good at your children’s expense, so you can pat yourself on the back about being a great parent, unaware of or most likely just not giving a shit about what damage you were inflicting on your own kids’ psyches.

Let’s acknowledge another unpleasant truth: absolutely no one decides to cut contact with someone out of nowhere. That just simply is not the way these things work. No person just wakes up one day and says, “Gee, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, I’ll just go and cut off all contact with my parents now.” No. That’s not the way it works. It is always with a reason. Whatever the reason may be, whatever the other side’s opinion of the reason is, there is always a reason, and to the person doing the severing, that reason is a damned good one.

Let’s also acknowledge this: we’re by no means required to tolerate shitty behavior from people, regardless of whether or not they happen to be blood relatives. Toxic people come in all shapes and sizes, and none of us are under any obligation to tolerate their toxicity. And if we wouldn’t take toxic behavior from people not related to us, then why are we obligated to take it from people who happen to share DNA?

So many times, when we think that we’re just being nice and helping someone, the other side will gleefully take this to mean that your niceness means they can push you to do more for them, regardless of which way that may be, and before you know it, that’s exactly where you are: being used. And of course, when you get angry with them, you’re the irrational one. When you point out you don’t like being used, you’re the bad guy. When you point out a flaw in their reasoning, you’re the one who’s not on their side. Because none of this is about you helping them or being a good person, but it’s about them getting what they want out of you. And when you decide to stop being the source of their satisfaction at your expense, they’ll have no idea why you don’t want to talk to them anymore.

Parents who fuck up their children with impunity are nearly always the ones who end up wondering why their kids don’t want to talk to them anymore. Not once does it occur to them that they very well deserve their kids cutting them off, and no one on the outside ever thinks that the kids may be right.


Because, everywhere in the global society, parenthood is regarded as the ultimate social sacred cow. If a woman is a mother, or pregnant, she is so much more likely to get showered with all sorts of social assistance if she so needs it, and to get all of the social acknowledgments, perks, accolades, what-have-you. A father is more likely to get a promotion at work because, of course, he has a family to provide for, never mind of his actual job performance. And absolutely no one around the parents will ever stop to think that gee, they are just really likely not well-suited for parenthood. No one ever thinks that – not even when there’s a news story about how Joe and Jane Smith’s kid, Lil’ Joe, ran away from home and someone found him all bruised up in the park. And he suddenly clams up and doesn’t say anything when Mom or Dad picks him up. People will, without fail, look at the parents, see that Joe and Jane Smith live in a nice neighborhood, are educated, and go to church every Sunday. And, inevitably, they will conclude, “Lil’ Joe must’ve done something or got into a fight with his little friends.”

Such is the power of appearances.

In this case, Lil’ Joe’s only fault is being born to abusive parents. But of course, who will believe him? Mommy and Daddy both go to church and present themselves as “nice people” to everyone around them, who in the world would suspect that inside the nice house, it’s a completely different environment? Who would believe Lil’ Joe?

See what I mean? Power of appearances. No one ever suspects the people who present themselves in all the “right” ways.

Now, let’s come back to the Sherlock Holmes story. If you hadn’t read it, I will go ahead and give you a quick summary. A well-respectable man, Jephro Rucastle, had hired a Ms. Violet Hunter to be a nanny, and had some seemingly eccentric requirements of Ms. Hunter for her employment, and the pay was a little too good to be true. Violet Hunter came to Sherlock Holmes after she had observed that several things about her job were amiss. Come to discover, she was hired to unwittingly impersonate Alice Rucastle, her boss’s daughter, whom he was keeping locked up in the attic for reasons more or less financial. And no one at all would’ve had any idea, because Violet Hunter resembled Alice Rucastle well enough to fool most outsiders, and Jephro Rucastle himself was an amicable, wealthy, and presentable gentleman.

A gentleman hiding the fact that he’s a complete scumbag, but what else is new.

The point of this story, as well as multiple other stories within the Sherlock Holmes collection, teach an important lesson that people to this day fail to grasp: just because someone is blood family and presents themselves well has absolutely no indication on the quality of their character. 

It’s something that pretty much everyone who was not a family abuse victim or has never known a family abuse victim cannot wrap their minds around. These are the people who bleat, “But it’s your family!“, completely failing to comprehend that by encouraging “reconciliation” (I use quotations with reason), they’re actually supporting putting people directly into the very situation that they are trying to escape. Parenthood is not a sacred cow capable of superseding base psychology. If someone’s not a good person, that will not change, no matter how they present themselves.

There’s a saying I’m fond of in these situations: if an alcoholic is rehabilitated and doesn’t take another drink, it’s simply because he hadn’t lived long enough. People don’t change unless they know it benefits them directly to do so. That’s something that is incredibly difficult to accept, and the blatant disregard of that simple tenet of life I see very clearly in nearly every relationship where one party thinks the other will change for them. People delude themselves every day into thinking that if someone is not a good person, they can be “rehabilitated” by relationships, marriage, children, etc.

That. Never. Works.

And the end result is, more than likely, disillusionment, tears, disappointment, endless “But I thought…” moments, and oftentimes, some years down the line, a letter to an advice columnist, wondering why the grown children won’t talk to their parents anymore.

Remember: you can have a book with the prettiest possible cover, with the worst possible content underneath. There’s a reason the old call to not judge a book by its cover exists. Take that to mind, folks.



Publishing Is Rotten To The Core

Kat G:

This is required reading. If you ever wanted to know what publishing is like – David Gaughran once again gets it exactly right.

Again: it’s never about the authors.

It should be.

Originally posted on David Gaughran:

"Rotten apple" by Kulmalukko. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Rotten apple” by Kulmalukko. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There is something seriously askew with the supposed values of the publishing business.

The most egregious behavior continually gets overlooked, ignored, and swept under the carpet, in favor of pursuing pet targets.

As always, I’m conscious of whose agenda this serves and why writers allow themselves to be used as pawns in this game.

Exhibit A: Harlequin

Amazon is regularly slated for the way it manages its tax affairs. I have written extensively about this before, but, in short, Amazon is using extremely common methods for minimizing its tax bills that are used by every major tech company (and many other multinational corporations too).

You can argue these loopholes should be closed (and I would agree), but these actions are legal. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the major publishers, and the global media conglomerates which own…

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Six years ago.

I can’t think of a better title for this post, because it’s one of those kinda-personal and kinda-not-really things, where you just write it out and let the chips fall where they may.

If you read my childfree post before, then you know my desire not to reproduce is no secret. I make no bones of it and speak frankly about it. It’s fair game – no one ever asks people why they have kids or why they want kids, but a decision to not have any seems to give other people the license to try and “convert” us the childfree to their way of thinking. And sorry, folks, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if you put my decisions under a magnifying glass, make sure yours stand up to the same muster.

I am also very frank about the fact that I’m sterile, and Sept. 12th marked the six-year anniversary of my surgery. I turn 30 in May of next year.

And I think it’s pretty fair to say that the past six years, even with their pitfalls, have been pretty damn good to me, and if they are any indication of the future, then I will say that this has been a pretty fantastic investment.

There have been many “studies” – and I use the quotations, for reasons I shall explain shortly – about regret for tubal ligations. The reason I use the quotations is because regret is a very arbitrary feeling, and there’s no universal category for one person feeling regret for the same thing as thirty or forty others. Considering that the “tubal regret” statistics are nearly all trotted out only for the reason to assure women seeking sterilization that they’ll “change their minds”, I really wonder how many of those studies were actually conducted by any means but an Internet poll.

As I said before, and I said time and time again, there’s a lot more thought that goes into the decision to not have a child than some people put into their decision to reproduce. A pretty sizable chunk of my peers either have kids, or are thinking about what to name them. All I could think of is, “Before you start of thinking of the positive pregnancy test, how about you first think of the world you want to birth your kid into!”

But they never question themselves. I, however, get questioned left and right, on the only account of going against the grain and actually asking myself, “Am I cut out for the job?” I look at my peers, and I’m thinking, “Did you think this through?” “Can you really handle this?” “How are you going to pull it off if [mitigating circumstance]?” And I also think, they should be asking themselves all of these things. Most of them do not, but those who do, and who come to the conclusion that hey, risking becoming a parent is not the right thing to do, are suddenly made the pariahs because they put to question what so very few others do.

I often say my tubal has been my best investment. I paid only my deductible at the time. A thousand bucks to ensure I’ll never reproduce.

What did I gain?

Financial security: it takes over $200,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18 without college costs as of today; that alone is cost of a house – and it’s money I will not lose over my lifetime. I may not be in my ideal living situation, but I have started putting away for retirement, and while my peers and I jointly suffer under the yoke of student loans, I have the potential to break free of mine so much sooner.

New horizons and experiences: because I am CF, I can pick up a suitcase and jet off to anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice if I’m called to a gig. I can carve out the time to read a book, or take additional classes to pursue interests. I’m free to move to a different part of the country, if I so desire. I’m free to travel – which is a passion of mine that I indulge often. I can go out to dinner to an exotic cuisine.

Professional advancement: because I don’t have kids, I can put in more hours at my work or business, which results in more income for me and my future. Yes, this means that I have to pick up the slack for my childed counterparts, and I make it work for me – neither my bosses nor my clients overlook my hard work. I can keep learning and expanding my skills and business, and invest both time and money into new technology to further it.

My health and peace of mind: never minding the enduring hell of pregnancy and childbirth, I am one of those people who don’t deal with stress very well, and the one thing I treasure is my quiet time. I am a worrying person by nature, and while I worry over my friends a bit, I trust them to take care of themselves. As a result, I can take much better care of me.

And most importantly: time. I will always find the time to nurture my friendships and connections. I invite my friends to dinner, to shows, to explore with me. I always have the time to set aside to get some more sleep – something I don’t do because of the workload, but the fact is, that time is there. And most of all, I have the time to put towards my creative pursuits.

If you want to call me selfish – please, go ahead, but ask yourself at the same time: how is taking care of my life and business selfish? And while you’re at it, please give me the reasons that you had children, that do not start with “I want” or “The bible” or “because that’s what you do”.

I’ll wait.

I will say this, though, that there is a lot of resentment towards the childfree people from their childed counterparts. Particularly over the aforementioned financial security and the free time. The free time most of all, and the resentment is most palpable from parents of young children, usually under 5. And to this I have to ask, did you not consider that before having kids? Did you not think of all that you’d have to sacrifice when you bring a baby into your life?

Turns out, a lot of my peers didn’t think of all of that.

While I will always be for giving parents some sort of a support system, having seen friends with children struggle through their early days – and being there for them – I will also be an even bigger advocate of planning in advance. The old saying, “Failure to plan on your part is not an emergency on anyone else’s part” is callous, unfeeling, and 100% true.

And six years ago, I made the rest of my future happen.




Another year.

Another year, another flood of social media pictures commemorating 9/11. I say this not out of trying to be persnickety or disdainful, but because those photos have a vastly different meaning to those of us who were personally affected by this. You can put up social media pictures, and you may well find me liking or agreeing. But pictures are pictures, and memories are memories. I’d r

I was in high school on 9/11, and to this day I remember that pervasive smell of something burning. I ran home that day, and from my school to my front door was a 30 minute walk that I made in half the time, only to see the footage of the plane slamming into the second tower.

My family came to New York to keep me safe. How ironic that on 9/11/2001, I lost any illusion of security.

I went to college not three blocks from Ground Zero, and started about two years after the attacks. I couldn’t bring myself to go there for another year. And if I had to be honest, I am starting to wonder if my health got affected by the proximity to the site. The dust may have settled, but my susceptibility to upper-respiratory conditions worsened while I was in school. My final year of college, I was coughing on an almost constant basis, summer and winter, worse when I drank something that was too cold.

The subway was not repaired for a long time. I wrote here once before about how the Cortlandt Street station of the R line was like staring into a time capsule. That station had since reopened, repaired and upgraded, and leading out into a part of NYC where the present and the past blend together.

I got a reminder of that when today, my train went express. My line is usually local; the express tracks go below the local set. There hasn’t been an actual full-time express service on that track since the 70s, so even the graffiti down in the express tunnels is dated. Whizzing by inside the air-conditioned train, it’s easy to stare out the window and not think about what’s on the other side of the glass. But sometimes, you get a reminder.

On my express tracks, there’s more than one abandoned station. When the express service was eliminated, the stations got locked up and chained up, but remained there for anyone with a window seat to look at as the occasional reroute would pass them by. The light fixtures in the stations themselves no longer work, so in the dim lamplight of whatever lines the tunnel, you’re free to look at the staircase adorned with graffiti that you can’t place, the layer of grime that coats the support columns and the platform floor, and some long-abandoned empty drink bottles upon which the label is so faded it’s nearly non-discernible.

Today, when my train got rerouted into express service, it rattled past the abandoned station, and in a flash of memory, I remembered catching glimpses of the old Cortlandt Street post-9/11 station past the blue plywood sheath put up to protect the work area as it was being repaired as I was on the R line. Movie and music posters so outdated that I’d have smiled if I didn’t know what the train was passing by. Glimpses of open air and street outside when the wall was knocked down, to give everyone on the R a look into Ground Zero.

No matter how safe I feel in NYC on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think I felt secure since 9/11. I got used to reflexively looking up if a plane flies a little too low. Manhattan is full of tall buildings, but I tend to avoid them if I can. I got used to thinking of my home as a target; that can’t be helped anymore, I’m afraid. If there will be any such similar incident in NYC’s future, I know us New Yorkers will react the same way: grieve, clean up, commemorate, keep it moving, but it was after 9/11 – and some may say after 1993 – that a part of me accepted such a possibility as a matter of course.

Part of me still wonders why I’ve not moved. I can save untold amounts of money if I move, that is a known fact. I’m sure that if I were on the other coast, or further south, I’d likely feel safer. But the answer is as simple as it’s ridiculously sentimental: even though New York will drain the wind out of me, there’s really no city for me but New York. I’ve been through 9/11 with it, I’ve been through Sandy with it, and I’ll likely go through more with it, but there’s no city for me but New York.

We’re New Yorkers. We take care of what’s ours, and always remember the city as it was, alongside how it is.


An Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising, Part 2

Yes, there’s more! so join me, ladies and gents of the jazzy-and-cruising persuasion, for some more inside info on jazz cruising. Or, at least, have a giggle at my trials and tribulations.

So I started packing for the Capital Jazz Supercruise already. 

“But wait!” you say. “It’s still September! You’re not leaving for another month!”

Yes, I know that, and I’m also an accountant who is running headfirst into deadlines, and my calendar contains other things as well. Whether or not I want to admit it, that cruise is literally around the corner, and it’s going to gobsmack me well before I’m ready for it. So hell yes, I’m getting ready now! I’d rather have only my camera left to pack after everything is said and done, as opposed to running around the day before I’m set to fly out, and end up forgetting stuff I actually need.

I’m set to shoot a Long Island fest, jaunt really quickly to Phoenix for a private event, shoot two back-to-back NYC shows the following week, and guess what! the cruise departs two weeks from the city shows. And another major work deadline is two days before my departure time! This is not counting the meetings I have scattered between those things. That cruise is a blink of an eye away, and I know it.

So what are the lessons du jour?

1. Don’t be afraid of the Second Checked Suitcase when you fly.

Believe me, I know how counterproductive it sounds. However, as I’m now discovering, I may not have a choice, and who’s to blame – none but my own self. 

How so?

Well, story goes like this. After three or so years of heavy duty travel, my Big Suitcase started coming apart. So I replaced it with a nice strong one of a similar size – key words – and brought it home. Until I actually dragged it out and began to pack, I didn’t realize that it’s actually smaller than the suitcase I had to dispose of. Expandable or not, it’s just of a smaller capacity.

Houston, we have a slight problem here. 

I’m efficient like nobody’s business when it comes to packing. If I had to push it, I could be ready for a trip like the Capital Jazz Cruise in 24 hours to departure. However, that is wildly counterproductive. Last-minute packing is a guaranteed way of forgetting something. This is why I pack in advance. This is also why I am glad like hell that I started packing a month ahead, because if I discovered this size disparity in my big suitcase any later, I’d be in a world of financial hurt.

In other words: airline overlimit baggage fees

I’ll wait for y’all to stop cringing. 

This is the thing for me this year: my flights are paid for by the airlines themselves. My return flight, with Delta, is paid for with my miles. My American Airlines’ disaster last year, where they tried to bump me off my flights, ended up in me being issued a $300 voucher, which has paid my flight to the pre-cruise hotel in full, with pre-boarding and extras, such as the coverage for the first checked bag. I still have a little left over from that certificate, and while I’m not too likely to use it, it’s still something that could come in very handy – such as, well, checking a second bag. However, I checked the terms of service, and nowhere did it indicate that the first-checked-bag fee makes the bag exempt from weight fees. That is a problem. Also, seeing as I tend to go over the weight limit when I pack, this creates A Problem, because those fees are from $75 to $125 each way. I speak from experience, that is to say, a very ouchy wallet. 

So I figured that I would do a lot better if I were to pack a smaller suitcase for a second bag. This way, neither of them will go over the weight limit, and instead of about $100 each way, the max I’d pay is….. $40. Each way. 

Better? Oh hell yes. 

Also, it’s more practical. Explanation as follows.

Think of the logistics of your trip. Just the basics of when, where, why, and how.

If you’re going on a music cruise, the common-sense thing to do is to arrive to the port city the day before your departure. I don’t say this idly: you have no idea what can happen to your flight on a good day, never mind in inclement weather. Most of the time, if you’re leaving out of Florida, the ship departs at 4pm. It may not be a problem for you, per se, but again: expect the unexpected. Suppose your flight gets delayed. Suppose you’re rerouted. Suppose you’re stuck on the tarmac waiting for someone to shovel snow (if your cruise leaves in January, this concern is valid). Whether or not you like it, the ship will leave at the suggested departure time, on the dot, regardless of whether or not you’re on it, and it’s in your best interest to be on that ship. And if you want to get aboard the ship early and you want to get there day of departure, guess what this means: 6am flight! Are you up for waking up at 3am for a cab call? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

So fly in the day before. One, you get to chill for a whole day before your big cruise, and believe me when I say, stock up on your sleep now, because if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on sleeping on the big trip. Too much music. 

Now, what does this mean in terms of your packing? 

Suppose you’re me for a second. You have your big suitcase, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the Party Essentials for 8 days. Swimsuits, check. Cover-ups, check. Show attendance clothes, check. Comfy clothes for in-between, check. Toiletries to last, check. Sunscreen, check. Shoes, check. Hair dryer, check. Makeup and jewelry, check. All of that adds up to a LOT of stuff, and even if you take a tip out of How To Pack Like An Engineer, you would still have to dig into that case when you arrive to the hotel to make yourself comfortable, etc. And you know what that means? Repacking when you go to the pier.

What you may or may not know about the cruises, it’s this: on board the ship, delivery of your suitcases takes quite a bit of time. Think about it: 6,000 people all surrender their bags when they’re at the port, and this does not include the musicians’ instrument and gear cases. The ship has 12 decks total, of which 7-8 are strictly the residential decks. That is a lot of work for the crew. Last year, my suitcase didn’t arrive until about 6-7pm, which meant that I had no way of changing into gig clothes for the first show of the night – and I was lucky as hell that I chose early dining that year and just caught a quick meal while I waited, because I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m on a cruise, I don’t much like showing up to a main-theatre concert in my traveling clothes. Cargo pants and a tee are cool for airport and portside, but not cool in the front row of a show – at least that’s my opinion.

How does an extra bag help matters?

When you go on board the ship, a small wheelie will be your second carry-on – and if you set up your packing right, it’ll tide you over A-OK until your big bag is delivered to your cabin. 

So how to do this efficiently?

Well, first tip is to see the link above for the best Youtube video on the subject. 

Second: think. Think very carefully. Think of your clothing, think of what you’re taking, and think of what you’re most likely to use when you’re in layover at the pre-cruise hotel. Do you plan to sleep? Pack a set of comfy clothes to serve as pajamas (or if you’re me, pack flannels). Dressing up for dinner? A nice oufit; pants and top, or dress, and shoes, makeup as you like it. Lounging at hotel pool? Swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen. Going to pier tomorrow? Pack another set of comfies. And pack a spare set of all the toiletries you’re putting into your Big Suitcase. 

Altogether, you’ll have just enough clothes for 2 days, and it’ll be just enough to fill up a small wheelie case and still leave packing room for souvenirs, shopping, and so on. And best of all: when you’re packing your suitcase back up at the end of the trip, that little tote for Night Before stuff I talked about in my last jazz cruising post? Goes right into your wheelie, which contains that spare set of travel clothes. 

And, you’re covered for your overflow. Ever had that moment where you ask yourself, “How the hell did I pack all this when I was departing?” I have. And rather than asking a friend to sit on your suitcase to get it to close, have a little extra room for overflow.

All of this talk about flying out, though, reminds me:

2. Watch your itineraries carefully!

I run into this dilemma routinely, I hate to say, and I’m not at fault this time. Unfortunately, I run into this because I do a lot of flying.

I think you know this, but if you don’t, I’ll happily reiterate: airlines often change their flight times, and depending on whom you fly with, you don’t get notified before you’re bumped off onto another flight. 

I am a creature of habit. I stay with the same hotels if the price is right and they treat me well. If I like a particular airline, I stick to them like glue until they do something that makes it difficult for me to stay their client (hasn’t happened yet). If I like a particular flight for how I can time my day, I’ll take that same flight year in and year out. So when I got the American Airlines voucher last year, I went with the same flight I always book when I fly American Airlines to Florida – which was a 10am NYC-MIA. Why Miami, when the cruise leaves from Ft. Lauderdale? 1. It’s a direct flight, while NYC-FLL isn’t for that particular airline, and 2. dirt-cheap. It’s an early wakeup call, but not too early, and I land in Florida at around 1pm, which means I can write, relax, sun myself, read a book, and enjoy the hotel for the rest of the day before vamoosing to the port the next morning.

You can imagine, then, the look on my face when I got an email from American Airlines, wherein they notified me that my new flight time was…wait for it…


They changed the time again to 6:55am since, but to say I’m less than pleased is an understatement.

I took the 6am flight all of once, when I was leaving to Montego Bay in 2009 for Jammin’ in Jamaica. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t repeat the experience, even if sunrise in NYC is absolutely gorgeous, and reminds me of why I like window seats. I absolutely detest early wakeup calls enough as it is, and if you consider a half-hour to get to the airport, plus about the same time for security and check-in, plus having to be there at least another hour beforehand, I generally look at a 3:30am cab call with a 6-odd am departure time. Not happy. I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters in college, and even less of a fan of waking up at a time that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ass o’clock.

But nonetheless, it’s a flight that I paid nothing out of pocket for, and my bitching about the asscrack-of-dawn wakeup call will be limited. Plus, if I’m landing in Miami, I get to have papas rellenas for lunch, and there’s nothing I love more than good Cuban food when in Florida – which, in MIA, is easy to find. 

There is one  good thing about that sort of an early-morning flight: I can catch a long nap on the plane, and when I get to the hotel, I have most of the day ahead of me. So I can get some more sleep and more writing done this way.


One kind of similar incident about flight changes took place not a couple of days ago, and I have to hand it to the DeltaAssist twitter crew. (If you’re a Delta customer and have a problem, tweet @DeltaAssist and they help you in 15m or less).

Yep, it was another schedule change. The problem? It was such a change that made it impossible for me to make the connecting flight. My route was NYC – Tucson, two hours’ layover in Salt Lake City. Except the SLC-Tucson flight was now scheduled to leave a solid hour before I was scheduled to land in SLC. 


Cue some tweets to the DeltaAssist account, and fifteen minutes later, I was rerouted through Atlanta instead, and set to land in AZ a whole three hours earlier than I planned. Good? Yes, but even better on Delta for notifying my schedule change with an alert of “Call customer assistance, for you may not make your connecting flight”. 


What are our take-aways from the day?

Plan ahead! If it means you have to spend money, then find a way to spend less of it. 

Oh, and make sure you have very good alarm clocks for the early flights.