Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm in Las Vegas with the Robots

OK, so my posting has been a bit sporadic, to be generous. I really do enjoy blogging but the truth is I’ve been really…unavailable over the last few months and I don’t see it getting any better until September when I can resume a regular schedule. You mean the same September when the kids go to school? I’m sure that’s just a coincidence…

In fact the reason I’m writing this now is because I picked up some last minute work in Las Vegas so I’m typing this from the seclusion of my hotel room. I’m catching up on reading, blogging, e-mails, work, and most importantly, sleep. Yes, I’ve said it before, I’m the only one who goes to Las Vegas to get some sleep.

I love coming to Vegas a few times a year. I actually recharge here, as weird as that sounds. I don’t really gamble (not because I’m against it, but because I’m not very good at it) so I sleep, eat, work, and exercise. By the way, if you ever want to get away from the crowds in Vegas, go to the hotel gym. It’s like a ghost town.

As I walked the casino floor I saw something new. It was a big virtual blackjack machine. Instead of playing against a dealer, the players sat at a table and played against a giant screen. An image of a blackjack dealer gives you a fake smile and deals images of cards. So players were watching a digitized version of a vapid, breast implanted model pretending to deal blackjack. It didn’t even look like a novelty. It looked like I had stepped onto the set of Blade Runner.

OK, so I’ll go to the piano bar. That will be cool, right? Watch some actual musicians tickle the ivories and banter back and forth. Great. After a few minutes of listening I noticed that it just didn’t sound… right. I took a closer look at the pianos. And it turned out, they weren’t pianos. They were piano “shells” with electronic keyboards inside them where the piano keys should have been. REALLY? You’ve now screwed with the piano bar?! Sacrilege.

I went into the café. It sued to be in Vegas you could go in, order whatever you wanted anytime you wanted. French Toast at 5:00 pm? No problem. This time I went in at around 11:00 am and there were two options for breakfast. A ham and cheese Omelet or 2 eggs “any style” which usually means scrambled. I kept turning the menu over to see if I had missed something. I wanted to see what I could work out when the 80 year old waitress finally came over.

“Could I get a cheese omelet?”
“The ham and cheese omelet?”
“No, I just want a cheese omelet”
(pause)”OK, but I have to charge your for the ham and cheese omelet”
“Alright. Can I get fruit instead of hash browns?”
“That’s another three dollars”
“what’s that you’re drinking?”
“Uhm, water?”
(angry glare) “OK”

So I ate my breakfast under the watchful eye of the angry octogenarian bean counter. Was I eating too slow? Hmmm...

That’s when it hit me. I realized we weren’t customers anymore. We were dollar signs, or worse, bank account numbers. Granted, I was working so I wasn’t really a customer but I still needed to use the hotel services.

There used to be a time in Las Vegas where food and hotels were cheap and customer service was important and you could get French toast whenever you wanted. The casinos didn’t care. They were making their money at the tables. But once the big corporations took over, they wanted every penny you had, and didn’t care where they got it from, whether it was at a table or in an overpriced café. But on the other side of it was the notion that the corporations were trying to do everything faster and cheaper. (It used to be BETTER, faster, and cheaper, but better became too expensive)

After seeing virtual blackjack dealers and fake pianos I realized the bigger dystopian picture. Big corporations were slowly replacing us with machines and also treating us like them. It is not a good feeling. The truth is, only two or three companies now own all the casinos on the Vegas strip. So what do they care? If you go to another casino because you got poor service at one, the same company still gets your money.

In distancing us from our money by any means necessary, we were also being distanced from each other as humans. We are becoming detached from each other, and that’s not a good thing. At all. So hug your children, hug your spouse, hell, hug your friends, and enjoy that human connection the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed, before the future corporate robot overlords take it all away from us, dollar by dollar. Scarily, with our consent as we stare down at our iPhones.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sleep Deprivation and Hot Tub Time Machine

I used to think the hardest thing was having an infant due to the fact that they don’t sleep. Actually, infants do sleep. Not necessarily at night, but they do sleep. No, as we’ve discovered, it’s much harder to have a toddler who has decided that sleep just isn’t for him. Like when he was an infant he said, ”Yeah, that whole sleep thing? Tried it. Done with that. Now please change me.”

It started about a year ago. He’s two now. It’s been one long year. Uhm, toddlers are supposed to sleep like… toddlers, right? Not overworked morning DJs. Our toddler sleeps only 7-8 hours a NIGHT and then MAYBE takes a 1-2 hour nap during the day. So add with trying to get the million things done after the kids are asleep, my wife and I have been getting roughly 4-6 hours of sleep a night for a year. At least I think it’s been a year. It feels much longer. In other words, he just doesn’t like sleeping so he doesn’t do it. He doesn’t fall back asleep on the couch or in our bed, he’s just UP. We even tried giving him less coffee, but nothing seems to work.

We are hoping it’s a phase. A horrible, sleepless phase where I’ve been so tired that a few times I actually forgot where I was and tried to burp the cat and asked my five year old to help me with our taxes. She found some extra deductions that we had overlooked, so that actually worked out.

We’re HOPING that now that he’s two and is starting preschool his sleeping will normalize or at least he’ll sleep past 5:00 am after going to bed after 9:00 pm.

Lack of sleep is a killer. I feel awful, I’m more cranky and irritable and I have less patience. Of course, that may just be because I am a misanthrope but why split hairs. When I actually get a good night sleep I actually feel a little worse, because I think my body goes “Oh, is it over? I was in sleep mode. And I need another three days in bed. Wait? We’re getting up now? Seriously? Why, do you have a final?”

But even in our sleep deprived state, my wife and I occasionally find 20 minute increments to spend time relaxing together. My wife and I just watched Hot Tub Time Machine. (not all at once, of course) I really loved this movie. My wife liked it too. It was really funny but it also made me feel a little maudlin. I remembered the music, my days in high school, and the horrible fashions. It just made me feel both good and sad at the same time. I suppose that’s how the word “nostalgia” was created. It was great seeing John Cusack playing... an older John Cusack and there were some nice references to his older movies in there.

I look at my kids and my life and the conclusion is inevitable: Like moves on. And no hot tub can stop it. But man, we try, don’t we guys? It’s not all 16 year olds buying comic books, is it? What’s in your Hot Tub? Mine has a Playstation 3 and the original Star Trek series on DVD along with a Batman action figure and one of the Transformer Dinobots. Grimlock, of course.

So it’s been a weird year of sleep deprivation and trying to stop time. A few more weeks of not sleeping I may actually believe I can do it. All I need is some tinfoil and a hat… And then I’ll show the world that this whole linear time thing is bullshit. Now if those purple gnomes would just stop jumping up and down on my bed singing a Tears for Fears medley. It’s distracting.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Screw Job from the Car Dealer

I have a Volkswagen Passat. I love the way it drives but it isn’t too reliable and always needs something done, great or small. Electical stuff, 2 batteries in 2 years, transmission, FOUR headlights, etc. When it was under warranty then it was just annoying. But once you have to start paying, that’s a whole ‘nother grifting animal.

There’s been like four or five recalls on it too. At first I thought OK, recalls are for safety. Now, I’m not so sure. I think recalls are a way to get you into the dealer so you’ll pay their crazy prices for other work while you’re there.

I was one recall behind and I needed some scheduled maintenance along with some weird stuff like a new antennae and floor mat clips (whatever). So what the hell, I scheduled an appointment knowing I’d pay a little bit more.

I got my maintenance work done to an expensive price but I was willing to take the hit because I needed all that other stuff done. OK, fair enough, I knew the game. Then, they tried to screw me. Hard. They told me I needed all this other work done from engine mounts to some undercarriage “cleanout”.


“Yes. But we don’t have the parts for any of this work”

“Wait, you don’t have any parts?! Don’t you sell these cars? If I did need parts, wouldn’t this be the place that would actually have them?!”

“We can get them next week. And it will be $2500 for everything. In addition to the $600 we just charged you, of course.”


“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“Well, we weren’t sure. I mean you DID take your care to the dealer.”

“That was because of the recall and I thought I could save some time-- Never mind. I’m starting to think you may be right.”

In my head, I toId them to suck it and went to my mechanic that we had been going to for years. I gave my mechanic (Community Auto in Hollywood off Melrose) the list from the dealer. They called me back a few hours later. Only two of the repairs needed to be done and the total would be under $500. Less than 25% of the dealer estimate. O Frabjous Day! Callooh, Callay! My credit card company wasn’t happy but I breathed a sigh of relief. So yes, they tried to really screw me.

It’s hard to find a good mechanic. One whom you trust. When you do, and chances are they will be independently owned and operated, support them whenever you can. It will be good for the both of you. And your wallet.

The weird thing is if the VW dealer wasn’t so incompetent I may have been fooled into at least getting one or two of those expensive repairs done if they had the parts in stock.

I’m not buying another VW ever again. Call me crazy, but I like a car that I can rely on and not have to outsmart con artists every time there is a recall.

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