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Things What Things is moving to its very own URL, so come find me right where you’d expect.


I’m not in favor of more plastic doodads; I’m really not. I understand about waste.

But they’ve had the Starbucks splash sticks at my sister’s Starbucks in Virginia for a year or more, and I’ve always been extremely envious of them. Contrary to what I’ve seen said in a few other places, the splash stick is not only good if you drive around with your coffee, though admittedly, that’s one of the most compelling uses. If you’re bringing back several drinks, which people do all the time, you wind up carrying them in a tray, and they do tend to slop around. It seems to me that they could have done this with a shorter thing — I’m not sure why the stick needs to go down into the coffee like that. But my sister has saved them, typically, so she has one in the car when she needs it. She often carries one in her purse.

I realize it’s incredibly petty, and the fact that I used to splash coffee around when carrying coffees back to several people at once doesn’t justify making more plastic and destroying the earth, but I cannot help it — when I heard they were bringing these somewhere besides Virginia, I was unduly happy.

One of the best things about living in New York is that I have people in other parts of the East Coast I enjoy visiting, and they’re within a few hours via ground transportation. Usually, I take Amtrak when I pop down to D.C. to see my sister and her family or my Music Stylist and his family — or, ideally, both — but I’ve been sort of intrigued by the famous Chinatown buses, which Jane Wiedlin’s Boyfriend uses for Boston-New York, but which also go to D.C. On the other hand, not all of those bus lines have great reputations for cleanliness, safety, having drivers with licenses, providing transportation without loud Chinese rock music, et cetera.

So I was extra-intrigued by Greyhound’s introduction of Boltbus, its new line between the same cities most commonly served by Chinatown buses. Instead of the usual Greyhound approach of stopping fairly frequently and taking a long time as a result and costing a lot, Boltbus only goes between a few spots, and it goes express with no stops. In New York, it leaves from a couple of places, one of which is at 33rd and 7th across from Madison Square Garden, only a couple of blocks from the F train. Better yet, it drops off in DC right in front of the Metro Center stop on the D.C. Metro, making it very easy to go wherever you need to go next. I decided to try it out this weekend for a last-minute jaunt to D.C. to see the MS — missed my sis this time, but I’ll get her next time, and it won’t be long, because I LOVE BOLTBUS.

They promote two things about Boltbus very prominently: it’s cheap, and it has wireless. Indeed, even at the very last minute, I paid $40 roundtrip from New York to D.C., and if you have a little more notice, you can get a ticket for $30. Or $20. Or $14. Or, if you book a month or so in advance, $2. That’s right — part of their charm is that they offer a one-dollar fare each way, provided you book early enough. Not many of those two-buck fares are available, I’m sure, but that makes New York to D.C. and back the same price as taking the train from Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center.

At any rate, this trip was $40, compared to $140 at the very least for the non-express Amtrak train, which takes about the same amount of time, and probably more like $300 for the express Amtrak train. For that price, I got on a clean, comfortable bus in Manhattan and got off that clean, comfortable bus right outside the Metro. It wasn’t noisy, it felt safe, the drivers were courteous (the one back from D.C. to New York was an absolute hoot), and it was pretty much flawless service.

Not only that, but the wireless worked. They don’t even have wireless on Amtrak. Granted, it dropped in and out a couple of times, and one lady told me that she took one bus of theirs where the wireless didn’t work. But for me, it worked, and it meant that I could send email and be on IM and basically pass the time on my four-and-a-half-hour bus ride without boredom laying a glove on me.

I definitely give them a thumbs-up, and if you’re an east-coast traveler, you might consider it.

On Tuesday, Consumerist ran a piece, under the tag “STUPID,” called, “Man Jailed After Forgetting Case Of Soda Underneath Shopping Cart.” The post described how poor Tom Sturgis was asked for his receipt on his way out of the grocery store, as he pushed a cart full of groceries with, as he described it, a four-dollar case of soda under the cart. When his receipt failed to show that he paid for the pop, he was arrested.

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If you saw Time‘s Blog Index, in which one of the world’s most traditional magazines tries to demonstrate that it understands the internet, you already know this, but wow, they have a few things to learn about the internet.

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Not a lot to say today, except that you guys were right, and the root canal this morning was really pretty non-traumatic while it was going on. Unfortunately, the dentist warned me that there was a lot of inflammation around the tissues from everything that was going on, and that it might be pretty sore.

Which is also turning out to be true. So I think it’s going to be a weekend of taking it very, very easy and taking Advil. Sigh. But I have survived, and I have a nice, rootless tooth to show for it.

It’s funny that I happened to mention my work for the Wait Wait quiz this morning, because the show snagged a Peabody Award today. My work isn’t with the live show; it’s with the online quiz, so no amount of wiggling could afford me the narrowest sliver of reflected glory, but I’m enormously happy for them; they totally deserve it.

I will say that I did give a tiny hand with the live show once or twice, and if you want to experience one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my WHOLE LIFE, go to the online archive of last year’s June 30 show,  click on “Who’s Carl This Time?”, and enjoy the Dick Cheney joke at the 3:30 mark. ALL ME, BABY! I have never been more shameless than during my approximately 4000 listens to the sound of people laughing at that joke. I didn’t learn until later (I swear) how well-established that comparison already was, and fortunately, it affected my enjoyment of the experience not at all. Clearly, Amy Dickinson had never heard it. Hey, let’s listen to it again!

Considering how many blogs I read and how many of my friends have them, it’s surprising how long it took me to become a Google Reader person. I resisted, partly because when you look at your feed, you see a sort of stripped-down version of the post, sometimes not even showing the entire post and often not showing images (this is a problem with, for instance, Go Fug Yourself). But after hearing about it from a bunch of people and realizing that it would probably make my life a lot easier, I dove in and entered all my subscriptions.

I love it so much, I really do. It feeds me all my friends’ sites, so I don’t have to keep checking them. It feeds me news, and fashion, and things that are funny, and it updates me instantly about all manner of pop-culture detritus. And it keeps me from forgetting to look at little sites that I’ll neglect to bookmark and not check for weeks.

But now, it feeds me, like, a thousand posts a day. I realize this seems impossible, but if you consider that the Gawker Media sites alone — not all of which I read exhaustively, but most of which I read sometimes, not just the gossip sites, but Jezebel and Consumerist and Idolatorsometimes post thirty or fifty times in a day, you can see how it gets there. Gothamist, Apartment Therapy, the New York Magazine blogs…all of a sudden, I have to figure out how to eliminate things, because there’s just no way.

I knock off Defamer and Gawker, which post so much that it’s basically hopeless to keep up, just marking them as if I’ve read them, unless there’s something in particular I want to read. And if it happens to be a day when Engadget and Gizmodo get their hands on fifty digital cameras each, I have to ignore those, too, because: no way. Oh, and Curbed/Racked/Eater, I cheat on sometimes, too.

Am I the only person who has this problem? How do you manage your subscriptions so you don’t wind up with that dreaded “(1000+)” indicator all the time? Every time I clear things off without reading them, I worry that I’m missing something brilliant. Like the ONE POST that was going to change my life is in there somewhere, and I missed it. It’s like finishing a book by skipping every other page until you get to the end. How do you know what was on that page? Maybe that was the best part!

I think I have GoogleReaderitis.

Over at the Freakonomics blog, they’re discussing tipping, specifically in the context of race, but also more generally. As you’ll see in the piece, there’s some survey research indicating racial bias in tipping both cab drivers and restaurant servers, which I unfortunately don’t doubt is very real. More generally, the post addresses the very idea of tipping and how it allows subtle biases like these to affect pay in a way that’s much more difficult to police than it would be if, say, a restaurant directly paid servers differently based on their skill levels and just happened to pay servers differently based on race.

I hate tipping. Not because I’m not willing to pay the server adequately; like most people who hate tipping, I would greatly prefer that the server be paid adequately to begin with and the cost built into the price. I don’t feel the need to entice people to provide good service with the promise of providing or withholding a tip in tip-traditional situations, any more than I feel the need to make the checkout person at a grocery store handle the order accurately and courteously by paying extra. Obviously, I tip — always, usually pretty generously — because I know the wages of servers are constructed on the assumption that they receive tips, and in most states (not all — Minnesota! — but most), they’re allowed to be paid less than minimum wage because they receive tips, so if you don’t tip out of some “I don’t like tipping” principle, the effect is to screw the server. Not by failing to pay extra, but by failing to provide a base wage. Yes, the restaurant should be responsible for providing a base wage, but they don’t, and if you aren’t willing to participate in the basic agreement where a server’s wage is made up of the pay from the business and the tip you provide, you should not eat at restaurants.

I tend to wildly overtip cab drivers, moving guys, and so forth, just because the idea of accidentally stiffing people really bothers me. But I’m not confident about it, I hate it, and I wish it didn’t exist. I agree with one of the Freakonomics commenters who noted that a cab driver generally takes me from Point A to Point B, and most of them provide no more “service” than the person who rings up my purchases at Barnes & Noble. Unless there’s luggage involved, it’s pretty much driving — often while talking on the phone, listening to the radio station they’ve selected themselves, and so forth. I’m not sure what sense tipping makes in this situation, I admit.

In some cases, it makes perfect sense. At my salon, I tip generously because my cut takes 45 minutes and is done meticulously every time. It’s also a situation where you’re building a relationship, which is also why I tip the change for my morning coffee every single day. It’s not a lot, but it’s a little bit. Oddly, people often complain about tip jars at coffee shops, but that’s the place I’m most comfortable tipping. They know me, they greet me by name, they know how I take my coffee, they hand it to me without my asking, and they sometimes even hand it to me when there are still a couple of people ahead of me in line, but they’re waiting for a bagel to toast or something. For that, I tip happily, because that’s great service.

But, returning to the Freakonomics article, the other good result were we to ever successfully get rid of tipping would be that little personal biases based on the attractiveness of your smile, your accent, your race, and other things that actually have nothing to do with your performance or the service you provide, wouldn’t affect your take-home. I’ll be interested to see if anyone pursues the legal angle — it’s not without merit, I don’t think.

I guess I should say something about…you know, quitting my job. Which I did. My last day is Thursday, March 20, so if you hang out over there, you’ll see me kicking around until then.

It’s not so much that I have much to say about quitting my job, but for people who have wondered what’s next: writing is next. Lots and lots and lots of writing, and lots of trying different projects to see what I want to do and what works out. Unfortunately, one of the things that happens when you leave a unique job is that you have to figure out what comes after it, and you kind of have to be free to work on projects at different places to see where you should settle.

Oddly, I’m not worried about myself. I have choices; I won’t be a bag lady. I wouldn’t have decided to leave if I didn’t think it would work out fine. In truth, I have been attached to this one project for such a long time now, and it has been so consuming in some ways both creatively and socially, that I’m really looking forward to just trying out other things. There are lots of kinds of writers, and I will wind up as one of them. Until then, I will, I hope, be writing all over the place and seeing what’s out there.

Writing is…I used to not understand about people who said that musicians or writers played music or wrote because they couldn’t not do it, but that’s sort of how I feel about myself now. Something will work out, because this is me now, and forward is the only direction to go in. The thing that I’m taking away from TWoP that means the most to me is all the people that I met and worked with, and fortunately, I get to keep them. Dinner with Tara soon, Sarah’s birthday, movies with Joe…and that’s not even counting the fact that many of my closest friends came to me through this job, because they’re writers, or they were readers, or they wrote me emails that said, “I love your writing, but you don’t know the difference between ‘comprised’ and ‘composed.'”

I used to take pictures. I used to write fiction sometimes and screw around with writing a novel. I used to write about movies, I used to think about lots and lots of things. Don’t get me wrong — I love writing about TV, too, and there’s every possibility I’ll keep doing that. But I like that it’s open at the moment. As one of my friends often says, “Come on, something! Happen!”

April 2018
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