Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How Much Do You Recycle?

Dear City of Cambridge, MA,

Today I got an e-mail newsletter from a green-products shop in Cambridge, promoting Cambridge's efforts to become a 50% recycling city. It noted that currently, the good folks of Cambridge recycle about 35% of their garbage, but they could do better.

I'd agree with that statement -- the Boy and I were just talking the other day about how easy it is to recycle around here (we're not Cantabrigians, but we're big on recycling), and we wondered why people don't recycle everything they possibly can.  It's easy, it saves on trash disposal, and we don't have to spend as much money on trash bags. Win-win!

However, as much as I admire your campaign, I don't think it'll be effective for two reasons:

1.  Self-enforced pledges don't always mean that much. I don't know if they had this in your high school, but mine participated in Red Ribbon Day, a day where pretty much everyone had (or maybe was strongly encouraged) to sign a piece of paper saying they'd never abuse drugs or alcohol (including caffeine). Needless to say, I'm not sure how many of us actually stayed true to this pledge. I know I didn't, but then I pledged before I knew what a finely-crafted cocktail tasted like.

Anyway, my point is that if I (a) lived in Cambridge, and (b) took the pledge, would you recognize me without checking up and seeing if I'm being true to my word?

2.  It needs a cute character. I would've included "catchy tagline," but you do have "Recycle More. Trash Less." Which works. Kind of. It's not quite as catchy as "Get hip to the hep," a hepatitis-C awareness campaign from the late 90's that I still remember.

Nor is it as catchy (to me) as "L.E. Jack is back!" a Chicago Transit Authority campaign also from the late 90's that promoted the reopening of the Green Line. But then, it also incorporates a cute character, one L.E. Jack. The name stood for "Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park," the 3 main junctions of the Green Line, and the character was from a route realignment that took place in the early 90's. I liked Jack--he was cool. I think he helped the cause.

Seriously though, a mascot makes all the difference--it's something people can connect with. Just look at all of the Japanese corporate mascots. People love Domokun--and buy all sorts of Domo stuff--and this guy's the face of a satellite broadcasting company. You guys can't come up with Binny the recycling bin, or something?

These points aside, I do hope your campaign goes well, and I look forward to reading about its success (and hopefully not about any sort of disappointment). I'll even try to do better with my recycling to help out my community as well.

Your pal,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Dear Readers,

A few weeks ago I got an acceptance letter for a story that made me so happy I started crying. See, I haven't been concentrating a whole lot on creative work, but I managed to write a humor piece last month and shipped it off to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which is one of my dream places to be published.

I've tried to get into McSweeney's a couple other times but have been rejected. This time, though, they took my piece and published it today! Wooooo! That's a nice little feather in my cap!

Please take a minute to check out "Business Plan for Slutty Dresses." This was inspired by my recent trip to Vegas, and I'm pretty pleased with the way I tried to capture the feel of the Strip while I was there.

Your pal,

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Horrific Discovery

Dear DVR,

Why is your default recording setting "record 5 episodes"? Don't you realize by now that I (and I would imagine many, many DVR owners) don't tend to watch all of our TV in a reasonable amount of time?

Case in point:

As of this afternoon, I still had a good 20 episodes of Oprah left. I flipped on the DVR because I realized that it was the beginning of July, and to be 2 months behind on a syndicated talk show was not really good form. So during my lunch, I turned on the episode with the Obamas, only to discover that this was also the day after Osama bin Laden had been killed (it's been 2 months, folks! Can you believe it?), which meant that the local news had preempted Oprah to discuss bin Laden (note that Ellen did not get preempted. Who's more powerful in television now?).

No big deal, I thought. I'll just start taping the summer reruns and see if the Obama episode would come back on.

I set the DVR to tape the season and then flipped on the next episode in my queue: Shania Twain. I watched part of it, then went back to work.

Fast forward to this evening, when I want to see why Shania lost her voice. Except that I can't--I've gone from 20 episodes of Oprah in my queue to 5.

Say what?

Oh yeah. If you want to record a TV series with my DVR, the default setting is "keep the 5 most recent episodes." When Oprah recorded this afternoon, it started the Oprah cycle all over again.

In a sense, it's not a shame -- I should've kept up a little bit better -- but it's a sign that I probably shouldn't watch so much TV. Still, it's the final few episodes (20's a few, right?!), and it's fun to watch the end of an era.  I guess I'll just have to see what else I can catch this summer on reruns or through the Oprah: Behind the Scenes show (you're watching it, right?!  It's excellent!  I love seeing how shows get put together!)

Anyway, I've certainly gotten today's lesson on checking and doublechecking. Whenever I'll learn that lesson is a different story.

Your pal,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Brewery Service Update

Dear Readers,

I got a nice little e-mail back from the GM at Cambridge Brewing Company. The Boy had also written in and had heard back pretty promptly. The GM apologized and said that they'd made mistakes that night and it ended up in customers getting lousy service, which was totally unacceptable.

Here's what he told me:

Thanks for understanding. We do genuinely care about our customers here. But, alas we do screw up from time to time:-) I’m so glad you’ve decided to give us another chance. We certainly owe you at least a beer on the house!  Next time you’re in just ask for me or Laura (The AGM) and we’ll definitely get you one on the house.

Very nice reply that made me feel really good. I realize we all make mistakes, but it's nice when you run into a person that owns up to them and makes amends.

Chalk this up to good management 101!

Your pal,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There She Is--on the Podcast

Dear Readers,

This is a couple weeks old, but it's pretty cool.  I'm one of the "tens of listeners" to the TBTL podcast, which is basically 2-3 people (Luke Burbank, Jen "Flash" Andrews and Sean DeTore...Sean isn't there every day) talking about what's going on in the news/media.  It can get a little navel-gazing, but then, so can I. [and let's face, don't we really like people who are a lot like us?]

Anyhow, I was listening to one of their podcasts where they were discussing the outgoing Miss USA and mentioned that they didn't know the difference between Miss America and Miss USA.  This, of course, is nearly blasphemous to me, since as a child and teenager, my friends I would religiously watch Miss America (Miss USA is not nearly as exciting -- the talent competition makes the pageant).

I had to write in:

Hey Luke and Jen,

I'm a few days behind, but I felt the need to write to tell you the important differences between Miss USA and Miss America (especially since we're going to be blessed with a new Miss USA soon):

Miss USA
  • Owned by Donald Trump
  • Winner goes to Miss Universe
  • Pageant is based on "fitness" -- competitors have to do evening gown, swimsuit, and interview
  • Miss Teen USA is the little sister pageant of Miss USA (much like Barbie's little sister Skipper)
Miss America
  • Pageant is for SCHOLARSHIPS.  This is super-important!  Miss America gives out a bunch of money for scholarships, which, you know, legitimizes it.  
  • Contestants have to have a platform, and Miss America is expected to do events around her platform for the year (whereas apparently Miss USA's platform was a levitating bed by a pool in Vegas....or whatever Luke said)
  • Contestants compete in evening gown, bathing suit, and TALENT. This is also another HUGE difference--and that's when you learn that if you're beautiful but don't have any well-defined talent (concert pianist, deaf ballet dancer), you sing.
I realize this isn't life or death information, but I felt the need to set the record straight.  I'm no pageant girl, but I have a soft spot in my heart for them.  I mean, when you were in high school and couldn't yet drive, didn't you get together with your friends and eat junk food while watching Miss America?

Have a good weekend!

Their response?

we read this on the show today
hope you enjoy

And by "read on the show," they meant "this was an entire segment."  Take a listen!

More audio at MyNorthwest.com

Your pal (aka the Educator),

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brewing up a Lousy Experience

Dear Chris Punis, General Manager of Cambridge Brewing Company,

Tonight was my second visit to CBC. As my four friends, husband, and I stood in the courtyard of 1 Kendall Square, a man hurried his child out of one of the restaurants and on to the square, where she promptly threw up.

That's pretty much how I felt about my experience at CBC on Sunday evening.

About a year ago, I was at CBC and felt fairly underwhelmed about my experience then. I mean, it wasn't awful -- if I remember correctly, we had a good, friendly server, but the food and the beer were just all right. I didn't feel the need to go back, and I figured you wouldn't miss me.

Then a friend suggested going to CBC tonight. At first our visit seemed normal. Met 5 friends at the bar; my husband got a beer; the hostess was really nice and seated us right away. Our server got our drink orders in a fair amount of time. She took our food order in a fair amount of time.

And then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And we cursed our friend for ordering a "very well done" steak.

And we waited some more.

And we wondered just how the medium rare burger was timed to match the very well done steak and just how long it took to bake a couple of pizzas. I mean, I know you're going to have a "slow food" event next month, but is your current service an indicator of what that event will be like?

And then the food finally came.  Great food is worth the wait, but was this worth it? Well, I had the pizza of the day, and it was pretty tasty, but nothing that I would remember--except for breakfast the next day, since I had some leftovers (and speaking of leftovers, does your kitchen not have any aluminum foil in it? I asked for tin foil instead of a container because I only had two slices of pizza, and I wanted to wrap them flat and slide them into my purse. I didn't want to deal with a container. I had to deal with a container because the server said the kitchen didn't have anything smaller).

While we were eating, we got the standard check-in from our server, and I managed to get another beer ordered. No one else did -- and we had some empty glasses at the table. Any other checking in was done on the move. If we really needed something, I'm not sure we could've stopped her because she was busy.

In fact, everyone looked busy, and looking around the half-full back dining area where we were, I couldn't understand it. Where was everyone going? Why was the hostess busing glasses?

Eventually the server came back to see if we wanted dessert, and we opted to split a strawberry whoopie pie. This whoopie pie took a good 10-15 minutes to show up. It's not like it was fresh-baked or required some sort of special preparation. This was a huge whoopie pie that was refrigerated, wrapped in paper, and put on a board with a carton of milk on the side. Why did it take so long?

Perhaps the wait wouldn't have been as bad if we didn't have empty glasses. No beer, no water, no hope of getting anything because our server was too busy elsewhere. My husband had to ask the bartender for a pitcher of water. Our server didn't even notice the pitcher on the table when she brought the dessert. Needless to say, we asked for our check right away, and our server was lucky she got a 15% tip.

I don't expect or want anything from this letter, but I want you to know that I won't be back, and it's not because the beer and food aren't acceptable. It's because the service is so bad that it brings down any quality that's in the product you offer. Not that it matters -- CBC has plenty of fans who don't mind being ignored.

Your pal,