What I learned this week…

I’ve had a raging coffee habit since my freshman year in high school. Under normal circumstances,  my average intake is about a pot a day, so call it 10-12 regulation sized cups.

While I’ve been more or less at home continually over the last two weeks it seems my intake of tea has increased dramatically while coffee consumption has cratered. I still need that 5AM kick in the face that only steaming hot coffee can provide, but after three or four cups, I’m moving to tea for the duration of the morning and the entirety of the afternoon.

I’m sure someone could uncover a deep psychological reason for the shift, but at least some of it is practical, I’m sure. Coffee and plenty of it is easy to come by in the office – mostly by way of the thermos on my desk that keeps it scalding hot through most of the day. Proper tea brewing isn’t impossible in a cube farm, but it is, even if only slightly, harder than making a regular cup of joe… Mostly because of my refusal to use the employer provided tap water or the kettle surely tainted by the aforementioned water. 

I suspect when all this is over, assuming the republic doesn’t collapse into some Mad Max-style free for all, I’m going to end up needing  to buy a damned electric kettle to take to the office.

Thats’s it. That’s the big voyage of self discovery triggered by a week working from home. Sorry if you were expecting some kind of big finish.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sheetz. The quintessential gas station of my youth which has grown to be a regional juggernaut. For the last couple of years I was able to order ground coffee and k cups through their online sales arm. I went to plug in a reorder this week and find that their site has gone defunct. Twitter confirms that there are currently no options for ordering online. I’ll either have to start buying the stuff 20 pounds at a time when I’m west of Baltimore or just go ahead and give up on the idea of being able to brew the good stuff at home. Both options are… disappointing.

2. Bureaucracy and decision making. Very rarely some things benefit from the application of a little bit of bureaucracy. Most things don’t. Mostly all ratcheting up the bureaucracy does is make sure that decisions happen more slowly and result in shit tons of extra work for everyone involved. I’ve encountered a rare few leaders who can manage to slice through the bureaucracy and get things done… though it’s hard to remember the last time I saw one of those in person.

3. Jealousy. The state of Maryland is kicking off a great big batch of telework for eligible employees in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Uncle Sam is opting for the more traditional, approach of telling employees to wash their hands and disinfect hard surfaces (supplies not included), and wanting as many people as possible sitting asshole to elbow breathing on each other in his vast cubicle farm. In this case it’s more jealousy than annoyance. Once the Feds collapse, I guess it’ll free up some job opportunities for our friends in state government, so it’s not all down side.

Missing the mark…

Online marketing has a long and impressive history of trying to sell people things they don’t really need. With their add on items and overwhelming presence on social media, the “things” are hard to miss most of the time. Some people find targeted advertising intrusive, personally I’m a bit more ambivalent about it. That ambivalence comes largely because of how often Amazon and the other online retailers shoot their shot and get it laughingly wrong.

My all time favorite is still the real estate company in New York City that somehow ended up with me in their target demographic for “people who want to live in New York and have $2.5 million to spend on an apartment.” There’s literally no part of that estimation that they got right, though in their defense I’m sure the apartments they were hawking were very nice.

The add that’s giving me the most current belly laughs is brought to you by Amazon, who seems determined to sell me a “Ember Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Black.” I like tech as much and in some cases more than the next guy, but I have never sat down with a steam cup of coffee and thought, “You know what I need? I need a battery powered, rechargeable ceramic mug that I can control from my phone.” The idea of needing such a thing has simply never occurred to me. I mean I can melt my face off well enough after an hour or two with coffee traveling in one of my $12 Yeti knock off mugs.

I’m all for the forward march of technology, but paying an extra $67.99 for the added “benefit” of the mug having a battery with a one hour run time feels, well, just a little bit like someone’s trying to solve a problem that no one really has.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Stomach. My stomach has been trying to kill me off and on for the last few days. It’s not debilitating or preventing me from getting on with my day, but it’s made food something of a dice roll, meaning that I traipse through the day mostly hungry in order to avoid workday unpleasantness as much as possible. Of course continuing to pour coffee down my throat probably is doing nothing to mitigate the issue. Realistically, though, if I’m going to be hungry also having me uncaffeinated feels like it’s just asking for more trouble than we’re trying to avoid.

2. Perceived time. We humans have a bit of an odd relationship with time. We struggle mightily to measure it down to the merest fraction of a second, but it’s really how we perceive the movement of time around us that matters most. I’m grown increasingly interested in the perception of time after sitting at my desk for 37 hours on Tuesday, but finding that the most recent Saturday lasted only 192 minutes.

3. Be nice. Someone from time to time will suggest that I should make an effort to be more understanding – to “be nicer.” I’m sure the suggestion is well intentioned, usually implying that I’d be more approachable, less apt to judge, or in some way become a kinder, more sensitive human being. Seriously? Have you met most people? Piss off with “be nice.” I’ll continue to respond and react to people as their actions and attitudes dictate. If you’d like me to be nicer, I’d recommend convincing people at large to be a little less dumb. It’s a win-win for everyone.

No way to live…

I’ve been tired, and irritable, and struggling to concentrate all day today. I’d usually write it off to one of the six different projects sitting on my desk in some condition of “not done yet,” but that’s mostly situation normal. Hardly cause for the two spontaneous nose bleeds that left me with chunks of tissue jammed up not nose so I could get on with whatever it was that I was doing while stanching the flow hands free.

Other than conditions as described, I don’t feel bad. My blood pressure isn’t out of whack. All appears to be as well as you could expect.

It wasn’t until I got home this evening that I realized that I was carrying around the probable culprit of at least some of my ills on my back. It seems in the mad rush to try getting some of those unfinished projects nudged towards the finished stack, I neglected to maintain a regular level of coffee intake. I can’t begin to tell you the last time I came home with a perfectly full thermos at the end of the day. Usually I’m finishing up the last of it while pulling into the driveway.

I’m just going to assume that today’s low state of affairs was triggered entirely by the shameful lack of caffein in my system and commit myself to doing better tomorrow… Because going through the day wholly uncaffeinated is no way to live.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ice. I hate dumb stupid ice and the asshole who didn’t salt his driveway because “why bother, it’ll melt in a few days anyway. Occasionally I am a real idiot. Conveniently I was summarily punished for it so I feel balance has been restored.

2. Not doing the maths. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve watched someone walk to the checkout only to be rung up and announce in what appears to be complete surprise that “I don’t have that much.” Maybe some quick maths before getting to the counter would have been helpful. On any given day I’m keeping a reasonably accurate running total on two different checking accounts, three savings accounts, two brokerage accounts, one e-trade account, two IRAs, a “401(k)” type account, the Dow and S&P 500, and the spot price of gold, silver, and bitcoin. I won’t always know what those numbers are to the cent, but you can bloody well believe I’ll know if I have enough funds available to cover a cart full of whatever it is I’m trying to buy before I get to the point of sale. It isn’t about wealth or poverty. It’s about awareness and knowing the condition of all the resources you can bring to bear on the day. Situational awareness in all its many forms is your friend, kids.

3. Mr. coffee. My venerable 11 year old Mr. Coffee seems to be on his last legs. It’s mostly failing to drip through the last cup of water and when it does, it brings a quarter cup of grounds through to the carafe with it. No amount of scrubbing or spring adjustment seems to make a difference. I’m suspect of change at the very best of times… and changing something as central to my life as the coffee maker feels likely to set all my nerves twitching.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shaming history. A few weeks ago when tearing down Lee and Jackson was all the rage, I posited a simple question to Facebook: Where does it stop, with Washington and Jefferson? Social media called me everything but a Nazi, but here we are these few weeks later and statues of Jefferson and Francis Scott Key are being vandalized. This tells me all I need to know (as if I didn’t know already) about who I’m dealing with. It really isn’t about statues or memorials. It’s about wanting history to comport with some whackadoodle notion that everything has to reflect modern leftist sensibilities or risk being labeled fascist. Feel free to label me whatever you’d like, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to hide from or in any way be made to feel ashamed of our history. As long as I’m drawing breath there will be at least one voice in steady opposition to sanitizing history into a bland inoffensive paste.

2. Lack of Starbucks. I like coffee and 19 days out of 20 I’m happy with the old fashioned drip variety. I usually take it will a bit of cream and sugar, but black is just as good. Today was that other one day out of twenty, though. It’s on days like today when I would pitch a screaming fit for a properly made latte. Of course there’s not one of those to be seen between the house and the office. I’m not hung up on the Starbuck trademark, but a proper coffee shop somewhere between Aberdeen and the Delaware state line feels like something that would be well received in an underserved bit of geography.

3. Late day surprises. We’ve covered this before, but it’s a perennial annoyance – the people who call you 20 minutes before the end of the day and expect some major miracle to result in them getting a fully formed plan or analysis. What you’re really going to get is a page full of the notes I made during the phone call with a supporting post it reminding me to work on that “hot” action first thing the next morning. Assuming it’s not a lifesaving or life sustaining action, you’re the dumbass who waited until the end of the day, and by 3:30 in the afternoon I’m in no humor for random jackassery.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. ​Not hungry. It’s a rare accomplishment but I’ve slid through the last two days being so annoyed that I’m not even hungry. Bowl of cereal for dinner. A cookie and a giant iced tea for lunch. Copious amounts of coffee at all other points on the clock. I’m assuming that’s not one of those healthy diets people keep posting on Facebook but it is what it is.

2. Unity of command. It’s another one of those exciting weeks where I’m not entirely sure which of six people I actually work for. I know who signs my time sheet and who approves my leave requests, those being the most important functions of supervision. Identifying who exactly is supposed to assign and prioritize my work, though, remains a vague bit of prognosticating. If only we had an organizational chart that spelled out clearly who does what to whom.

3. The challenge of being topless. When you climb onto a Jeep with its top and doors removed you leave yourself open to whatever elements come. You also leave yourself exposed to the other people on the road. Cigarettes flicked out of the window of the car in front of you suddenly have a much more present danger than they did when you were buckled up in a sealed, climate controlled machine. It’s also important that the people near you can actually both see every gesture you make and hear whatever it is you’re saying (or singing along with). That’s a helpful bit to remember if you’re prone to criticizing the skills of your fellow motorists in colorful terms… although the guy stopped next to me on the bridge yesterday seemed to particularly enjoy my repeated pleas for the police to just push the mangled vehicles over the side, let the asshats responsible figure out how to fish them out of the Susquehanna, and get traffic moving again.

Of beans and books and possibility…

About six days a week I drive past a little shop on Main Street that specializes in providing whole coffee beans and tea leaves to the more discerning hot beverage enthusiasts in the surrounding area. About once a month I stop in and pick up a pound of really good beans and sample of whatever brew they’re serving up that day. It’s the kind of shop I like to think I’d own if I had any interest in being a shop owner or working with the public in any way.

One of the charming features of this shop in particular is that they’ve blown out a wall to open their space into the neighboring building that does business as part antique shop / part used book store. There’s something in the scent combination of several hundred pounds of coffee and tea mixed with old objects and aging paper that just appeals to me. For whatever reason, I enjoy it and the shop owners seem to enjoy taking my money so it’s a win-win for all involved.

Sometimes I find a few things worth adding to the shelf, other times not, but until my last visit it’s always been a happy experience either way. On my last stop for coffee and a good rummage through the shelves, a youngish human, female type, injected herself into my personal space and struck up a conversation – mostly about the shop, the books, and general pleasantries. It’s not the kind of activity I usually encourage, but she was brunette and pleasing to look at and didn’t “like” or “you know” her way through the English language. She showed me a few of the books cradled in her arms and then asked what I was reading.

Right there, you see, is where I should have read the question as a danger sign. Instead of offering up something blandly inoffensive or popular or even one of the old classics, I had to open my mouth and gush about the intriguing book I was currently reading about the 6th ship in the Royal Navy to carry the name HMS Warspite and its service from Jutland to the end of World War II. I clearly missed the part where her eyes glazed over, but the “uh, that’s… uh, nice” as she suddenly found renewed interest in the stacks was unmistakable. I can’t help but remark on the grand irony of being torpedoed because of my great love of British naval history.

So that’s the story of beans and books and possibly squandered because I wasn’t smart enough to disengage half my brain and approach with caution. Next time I’m just going to say I’m reading Harry Potter for the 3rd time and try to avoid any topic that might hint that I’m anything more than a redneck in a golf shirt. Go ahead and file that under lessons learned.

The Starbucks Entitlement, or Give Me Free Shit…

The internet (or at least Twitter) lit up briefly this morning when Starbucks announced that they are going to change the way customers earn loyalty program points. Customers were outraged that the company was changing how various “elite” status levels are reached and how much money they would have to spend before they qualified to “get something free.”

Since I moved to the sticks and don’t drive past half a dozen Starbucks locations on my daily commute maybe I feel this change a little less acutely than the average overpriced coffee drinker. Or maybe it’s just a beautifully wrapped case-in-point of everything that is wrong with America today… because customers, presumably regular customers who enjoy Starbucks products and services, are now up in arms because the company is making it just a little bit harder to get free shit.

Let that idea sit with you for a while. Starbucks, a business that exists for the purpose of making money through the sale of coffee and related ephemera, actually wants its customers to spend a little more money before getting something for nothing. I’ll even take it a step further and directly question when we as a society decided that it was our God given right to expect people and business to give their products away. Somehow we’ve managed to take a gesture of goodwill and thanks – a free cup of coffee – and twist it into some kind of entitlement.

I learned from a young age that sometimes life is tough. The world doesn’t owe you a damned thing besides the chance to work hard, scrape, and make something for and of yourself. Past that, you’re not entitled to a thin dime – or a $5 cup of coffee – from anyone else. So when you do get something for nothing, be appreciative instead of immediately taking to the internet to cry that it’s just not enough.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal from Starbucks take your business elsewhere. There are hundreds of businesses that would be happy enough to take your money. Better yet, go get yourself a nice Italian coffee machine so you can cut out the middle man and *gasp* learn to brew your very own java. You’ll save a lot more money doing that than you’ll earn back through any customer loyalty program.

As always, not a sermon, just a though.