Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hey! Hey! Hey! The Gang is All Here

Technology is great at bridging gaps between people. I can send and receive emails and instant messages from anywhere, to anywhere, anytime.

However, technology surprises sometimes even someone as technological savvy as me. Or should I say – the people using that technology surprise me.

Occasionally I will work from home, or even when I don’t work from home this happens too – I’ll get a quick call from a co-worker checking in on a project or that needs some information.

However, thanks to technology, often that co-worker isn’t alone. I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion with group conference calls.

“Hey Jordan, Bill here,” the voice of a colleague on the phone says.

“Hey Bill, how’s it goin?” I respond, thinking it’s just a normal call from a co-worker.

“Pretty good Jordan, do you have a minute to talk?” he asks.

When you work for multiple clients on multiple deadlines, it is always more than kind – often it is a requirement – to ask if I’m busy before answer a call. I may be rushing to a meeting, on a tight deadline, or heading to another office. Not everyone asks if I have the time to talk – but it is appreciated when someone does.

If I’m not rushing I’ll take the call. If I am rushing, I still may take the call, simply because most phone calls these days are quick. If there was something more involved a meeting is usually scheduled or someone actually arrives unannounced at my desk for a chat.

“Yeah, no problem Bill,” I respond, thinking this will be a quick call as per usual. “What’s up?”

“Great, oh, I’ve got Chandra, Mary, Josephine, Doug, Tim and Will on the call too,” Bill says matter-of-factly.

Great – this quick call just turned into an instant meeting. When you have that many people on a call, you know it is going to take at least 10-minutes or more. Everyone has an opinion and everyone will voice it.

The power of technology rears its ugly head.

It is great to be able to conference-in people from anywhere and at anytime. However, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

Had I known there were a number of people in on this call, I’d probably told my co-worker that I have a meeting, a deadline or whatever else it is I’m working on coming up and that my time is limited. I’d still answer a few questions, but now at least, everyone knows that I can’t sit around and be in this instant meeting.

But my goose egg has already been dropped. I’m stuck in this instant meeting, because I’ve just told them I’m free and available to chat.

Not only does this affect my scheduling or projects and work, but it also tosses my head for a loop. Unlike those already in the meeting, I haven’t had time to prepare. Although I may have an idea as to what they are discussing, I really don’t know. So, I don’t have any materials prepared ahead of time to use to prove my points, or field someone else’s questions.

It also affects other office rituals – like eating at one’s desk.

I could have been eating my lunch at my desk while working away – not all that uncommon these days. When you’re on a conference call, there is very little time to munch and work – all your attention has to be on the phone.

There you have it – technology at its finest.

Thankfully, they haven’t started putting phones in bathroom stalls – yet.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Carnage! And Other Distractions of the Soul

Every Sunday is family day – either my parents come to my place or I take them out for dinner. This Sunday, they came over to my place.

I love these family dinners. It is a great time to catch-up with my family. Though the first 10-minutes of this family time, were spent distracted by the goings on outside.

A car had crashed into the guardrail on the highway below and we were watching all the action unfold – from the safety of my lofty high-rise apartment’s windows.

It always amazes me how we human beings so easily become distracted by another person’s tragedy.

Rubbernecking – a term coined by cops, about drivers that slow down at accident scenes to see what all the fuss is about – isn’t all that uncommon. There is a rubbernecking law in Ontario, which allows cops to ticket anyone holding up traffic by slowing down too long to look at an accident.

Still, why the fascination with these acts of destruction, human suffering and potential carnage?

I have digital cable – literally over 500-channels – yet I’ve spent countless hours watching accidents on the roads below out my windows.


I think it is pure and simple fascination with the gross and disturbing. We all have it in us – it is part of being human. It’s why some of us find those medical shows, where they actually videotape an operation so intriguing. It’s what made daytime television trash tabloid shows like Jerry Springer popular. It’s why reality television shows like COPS, Cheaters, Survivor, The Bachelor and similar shows are mega-hits. It’s why we no longer cringe when we see war-torn countries on the news.

Truth is we never did cringe when we saw the bloodshed of battles in the news. We haven’t been desensitized to the horrors of the world – we’ve always been somewhat fascinated by it.

That’s just part of being human. It is a raunchy part of our humanity. This is a part of who we are – though we hide it deep within our darkest cavities.

It makes sense too – how else could we have survived as a species if we didn’t learn how to defend ourselves from predators and how to kill to be a predator for our very own survival?

Charles Darwin told us only the strong shall survive. In order to be strong you have to be able to stomach the gross, the horrific, and the tragic.

So our inner coping mechanism of stomaching these things is fascination and interest.

And that’s why my family dinner was distracted by a total stranger’s car wreck for a brief moment in time – out of our human fascination and interest.

Yeppers – I’m a rubbernecker. But so are you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

How To Catch A Cold

Anyone who knows me knows I love to people watch.

It is a fun, unobtrusive hobby, especially when you live in a big city as I do. There are so many vast and varied characters, you can learn a lot about society and the ways we do the things that we do.

One thing I’ve learned, young people, especially young girls, will stop at no lengths to impress.

It is winter here and we recently had the coldest day of the year, when temperatures dropped to -25C. We are still having some cold, winter-like weather – which is natural and normal this time of year.

Yet, at shopping malls that I’ve been at recently, I’ve seen young girls in mini-skirts, tank tops and flip-flops. No jackets, hats or mitts anywhere to be seen.

I’m no fashion guru, but even I know that type of clothing won’t keep the winter chill at bay.

And it isn’t just young girls inviting frost-bite – I saw a man in flip-flops, and bare feet trudging through the snow on my way to a client site the other day. Bare feet – toes and all – knee-deep in snow, ice and that wind-chill!

When I was in high school and later in life, when I was in the army, the same advice was handed down to me – always take care of your feet. In high school, I had a teacher that swore by keeping your feet warm, you warded off the potential for catching the common cold. In the army, they order you to keep changing your boots and socks while out in the field, to ensure they stay dry and warm – a wet foot is a cold foot and that leads to foot rot.

Regardless of our soldering on feet – winters in Canada are cold. Welcome to Canada, pass me my toque, eh?

They tell us the easiest way to keep from catching a cold or a flu is to wash our hands. Though I’d bet easy money we’d have fewer colds and flues if people also dressed for the weather.

I don’t know how accurate my old high school teacher was in his foot-theory – but I do know you’d never see me in flip-flops in the snow.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mr. Greenjeans Goes South

Recently I was at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto with friends. The Eaton Centre is a great place to shop, hang out and people-watch. It is a classic tourist-trap – with lots of atmosphere from the hip and trendy Mac Store – to the scrumptious fattening (but ooooh so yummy) smells of Godiva’s Chocolates – to the well-to-do (and overpriced) high-end fashion stores.

There are two food courts in The Eaton Centre – which is Canada’s largest shopping mall. And there are even some restaurants in the mall – where you can enjoy a fine meal served with a smile.

Well, at least that’s how it used to be.

The Eaton Centre is very much like the CNTower – both are landmarks recognized the world over as being uniquely part of the Toronto landscape. And an up-beat fun restaurant in the Eaton Centre has also been a Toronto classic – Mr. Greenjeans.

I remember going to Mr. Greenjeans as a kid with my family. They had the best Buffalo Chips this side of the border, and they had a fun atmosphere. I remember the mini merry-go-rounds they had scattered throughout the restaurant – with their toy fire engine cars for seats. The image of the tall black hat, black cane, and white gloves floating on a background of a blue sky with perfectly placed clouds – an image they still use today in their menus and advertising – was always a reminder of the fun and enjoyment I had eating at Mr. Greenjeans restaurant.

Later in life, I’d go to the very same restaurant on dates, with friends from school, with co-workers from work – always enjoying a fun atmosphere, good food and a nice time out overall.

I even fell in love with some of their less manly beverages – they had a great selection of cocktails made with ice cream. My favorite was the Grasshopper – French Vanilla ice cream, crème de menthe, crème de coca and Kahlua. (Yeah I know – real men only drink beer, wine and shots – yeah right!) Recently, they changed their menu and got rid of all their ice cream cocktails. I was disappointed, but hey, they still had great food and a fun atmosphere.

That fun atmosphere was ruined last night – completely tossed out the window by the wonderful staff of Mr. Greenjeans. While at the Eaton Centre with friends, we decided to have dinner. We all decided to go to Mr. Greenjeans – we had gone many times in the past and really enjoyed it.

Often there are long line-ups to get in and you have to wait to be seated – not a problem, usually it is well worth the wait. However, tonight was different – although we had gone many times before, tonight we were made to feel very unwelcome.

We always ask for booths when we go out as a group – it is easier to talk with everyone and more comfortable and private. We’re even willing to wait most of the time for a booth, as it may take longer to get. The main thing is the host is friendly, polite and professional.

Well, we were told the wait for a booth could be quite long, so we said a table would be okay. We were seated almost instantly – the hostess came up to us and told us our table was ready.

We were led to a table right at the front of the restaurant – in fact it probably is the very first table in the restaurant – right by the entrance stairway. No one in our group wanted to sit in such a high-traffic area, so we asked if we could sit somewhere else.

Now, the customer may not always be right – but treat us with respect and we’ll wait for something better to turn up.

But our hostess immediately said: “Oh that’s all we have available, this is the only table left.”

We saw other tables that were empty and being cleared – they probably would be ready soon – and normally we’d be willing to wait. But this hostess was very pushy, insisting – no -- demanding – that this will be our table.

Maybe our lack of shopping bags indicated that we were low-class or something, because obviously this hostess didn’t care to allow us to wait for another table to open up. She wanted that specific table filled with our warm bodies.

We left the restaurant and saw that the bar section – with big lounge chairs – was quite empty. So, we went back up to the hostess and asked her if she could seat us there. She told us there was a waiting list and we’d have to wait – even though there clearly was quite a few open tables with more than enough room for our small group of somewhat regular customers.

Everyone in our group got the distinct impression that this hostess was giving us attitude – why we have no idea. Maybe in the rush to change the menu of a classic Toronto landmark, they lost more than just their ice cream cocktails.

So, we decided to go down to the other restaurant in The Eaton Centre – The City Grill. We asked how long it would be for a booth for our group – and were told there was no wait. We were taken in warmly right away!

Originally, we were seated at a booth in some distant corner near the kitchen. But the host immediately saw another opening, and suggested a funky round booth in front of the bar – complete with large-screen TV and a great view of all the beverages available. We happily took up our new seats and enjoyed amazingly warm and friendly service – something we used to get at Mr. Greenjeans. At the City Grill, our waiter was very friendly and prompt, and knew when to come and check on us and when to leave us be. It was an exceptionally good dinning experience.

But hey, no loss to Mr. Greenjeans – our bill at the end of the night was almost $200.00 – I guess Mr. Greenjeans can afford to lose our business after all? Though if Mr. Greenjeans staff continues to impress their somewhat regular customers like us – who knows, maybe all their business will go south too – and then that would be the end of a once great Toronto landmark.

It is always tragic to watch a piece of Toronto shrivel up and die – but even more tragic knowing it could have been prevented long before it happens.

At least there are still some restaurants in Toronto that still treat the customer right – to bad none of those are called Mr. Greenjeans.