Saturday, October 27, 2007

Concealed Carry

I like to think of blogging as a kind of literary concealed carry.

Let me explain.

It’s argued by the gun lobby that concealed weapons protect us all. The street thug and carjacker might think twice knowing his prospective victim might whip out a .44. And because it’s concealed, they don’t know who’s armed.

These days, the world of commerce is a haven for thieves and grifters. Only a fool would attempt to navigate those mean streets without a weapon. Blogging empowers the powerless and—um—franchises the disenfranchised.

Let’s say you’re a health insurance company and you turn down an expensive claim from one of your customers—a claim you know full well is legitimate. Hey, you think. Business is business and I gotta think about my bonus. What’s Granny going to do? Threaten me with her cane? She’ll be dead before this gets through the appeals process.

The next thing you know, search engines are turning up hits on Granny’s Blogspot account of her experience. Links are proliferating. There’s even a new Yahoos Group—MegaMutual Ripoffs.

Granny shows off her incision on Good Morning America. Turns out she has a name—Carolyn—and she’s very telegenic. Other news outlets are calling for a quote. Some busybody Senator is convening a committee and your boss wants to meet with you on Friday afternoon.

Who knew Granny was packing?

Predators of the corporate world—consider yourself warned. Maybe you’re selling electronics gear that you know is defective. Maybe you’re marketing toys covered in lead paint. Maybe you’re an airline that routinely cancels flights and dumps passengers onto the tarmac. Maybe you’re a ripoff vanity publisher that feeds off people’s dreams. Whoever you are, whatever you do—consider this:

Do you feel lucky? Punk?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Night in the American Airlines Holiday Inn

The first time I flew on an airplane, I was in 7th grade, and we flew from Little Rock back home to Ohio. I was beside myself with excitement. I sat in the window seat next to a stockbroker from New Orleans who good-humoredly entertained an aggressively verbal 12-year-old. We were served a full meal on china, and I remember looking down on lighted swimming pools like aquamarines set into the dark landscape.

Since then the flying experience has, shall we say, deteriorated. I’ve learned to keep a weather eye when I fly to the east coast. The east coast air traffic grid is like a delicate sand sculpture that dissolves to mud whenever it rains.

Recently I flew to New York for a meeting. It was meant to be a quick trip—I took an obscenely early flight on Thursday morning, with a return flight 8 p.m. Friday night. It began raining mid afternoon on Friday, and umbrellas bloomed along Fifth Avenue like black mushrooms. I arrived at the airport two hours early. A few minutes before our scheduled departure time we were told our plane and crew were stranded elsewhere. For the next three hours we shuffled like refugees from gate to gate on Concourse C in response to announced gate changes. Finally, it seemed we might actually depart at 11 p.m. The plane was there, the crew was there—all except the captain, who didn’t show up. They couldn’t find a new captain. The dreaded announcement came over the speaker. Our flight was canceled, and we were instructed to approach the podium to reschedule.

The savvy among us leapt forward to be first in line. The mood grew ugly as the podium staff denied passenger requests for vouchers for a hotel room or even cab fare. We were told that because the cancellation was due to weather, we were on our own. No, we said. The delay occurred because of weather. The cancellation happened because the captain didn’t show. American Airlines was unmoved.

They said the soonest they could fly me out was 5 p.m. the next day. I vigorously objected. Finally, they booked me and three other women on a Delta flight to Atlanta that left the next morning at 6 a.m., with a connection to Cleveland.

I joined up with Sharon, a sales manager from the Cleveland area, and we made our way over to the Delta terminal together. The ticket counters were deserted, the walls lined with sleeping bodies, bundles and bags like the homeless on some desolate urban street. I went to the Delta office to see if I could score some of those plush airline blankets. “How many would you like?” the clerk said. “Oh!” I said, so beaten down I was expecting abuse. “You mean it? I can have more than one? I’ll have two, please.” The clerk handed over two blankets and said, “Would you like some crackers, too?”

“Crackers? I can have crackers?” Tears sprang to my eyes and I nodded mutely. It was the nicest thing that had happened to me since I left Manhattan.

Back in the gate area, Sharon and I rolled baggage carts into a corner and spread blankets over them. We joked about our slumber party hosted by American Airlines. I worried that we could be rolled away during the night by white slavers. Nevertheless, I curled up on my side, still in my skirt and jacket from my long-ago lunch, and sought sleep.

It was long in coming. Loud music blared over the overhead speakers. Cleaning staff relentlessly circled our small camp with floor polishers. Some intrepid passenger was snoring, and a child fussed nearby. I maybe slept an hour and a half.

At 4:30 a.m. the Delta ticket counter opened and we checked in. When we went back through security for the second time in two days, we were in for a rude surprise. As a last minute booking, we were flagged for “special” treatment and shuffled over into the “special” line. Our carry-on baggage was opened and searched and run through a special x-ray. We all spread our legs and raised our arms and submitted to pat-downs, thus completing the full contemporary airline experience.

By the way, this is the third time in three flights on American Airlines that my flight was canceled and rebooked for the next day. Two flights were to the east coast, and one was to Wyoming.

So what is the airlines’ responsibility to the stricken victims of flight delays and cancellations? True, the airlines don’t control the weather. But it doesn’t make sense to have a system so fragile that the slightest perturbation destroys it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

There was just a big debate on a writer’s email list I’m on about author visits. The question was, If I write for children and teens, do I have to do school, bookstore, and library visits?

Some authors love to meet the public, and others don’t. Either way, the potential for humiliation is great. I’ve heard a story about an author who came into a classroom and was asked if she was the substitute teacher. Clearly, the class had not been prepped for her visit!

The travel thing can be grueling and difficult to coordinate with other responsibilities. The hardest thing for me is when I'm being hosted by someone who is embarrassed about a small turnout. They keep apologizing and I'm like, Who can predict these things? I've spoken to groups that consist of the librarian and her sister and others where there are 150 kids (school visit or joint school-library program.)

I’ve had unexpected blessings. I once did a school and library program in this tiny town in southern Ohio. It was so small I had to stay across the river. The town was run by these six powerful sisters-one was a librarian at the county library, one was a librarian at the middle school, one was married to the high school principal, one was the English teacher, the sister in law was the library director. They were the literary and educational aristocracy in that town, and they were powerful. These women pre-sold scads of books, and the entire 6th grade had read my book when I arrived.

I did a writing workshop at a school in San Antonio, and those 6th graders could hardly stay in their seats, they were so excited about writing and sharing what they’d written. And I spoke at a library in Youngstown for Teen Reads Week to a huge crowd of students brought in for the occasion. The library staff made me feel like a celebrity. At a teen book club I spoke to a boy who was so excited about the new fantasy book he’d just read that he wanted to give me his copy so I could read it.

I did a bookstore visit in a nearby small town and a few of my friends showed up and a couple people I didn't even know who saw it in the paper. The store clerk seemed really pleased, so I asked how many people usually show for a booksigning, and she said, "None."

I was a reading nerd when I was a teenager, but I never got to meet an author. I didn’t know where all the authors lived, but I was sure it was nowhere near me. So I do like meeting kids who love books, and who want to write books of their own, because I see my 14-year-old self in every one of them.