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Bad Customer Service Award: Steve Smith at Oxmoor Toyota

I'm in the Service Department of Oxmoor Toyota (hereafter Oxmoron Toyota), and I am livid like you wouldn't believe. Previously when I've brought the Prius in for service visits, which have consisted of two oil changes and two tire repairs, I've never waited less than 1 hour and 15 minutes. Every time.

Tonight I had a 6:30pm appointment for an oil change, tire rotation, and A/C filter replacement. At 8:45, I'm thinking they're way slower than usual, so I ask when the car will be ready. After a 10 minute wait, a tech comes out and explains it's going to be another 45 minutes. WTF?!?! My car had been sitting in the garage for 2 hours and 15 minutes with no one working on it, visible to all, and the one Prius tech in the shop lets it sit there because he thinks someone else is working on it. Hello, dipshyts, have none of you noticed the car sitting in the service bay for the past two hours???

After returning to the waiting room, where I am now sitting incredulous using the complimentary Internet connection to write this post, I recalled the memory of this and my other four service visits, all but one were negative:

  • When I brought the Prius in for the first oil change, they had lost my appointment, and had to work me in - that visit was just under two hours.
  • When the Prius had its first flat tire, I setup an appointment, only to be told when I arrived that there were no Prius-certified techs on duty - I signed a waiver so another tech could replace the tire, because I couldn't very well drive the car around with a flat tire for a day, could I?
  • The second tire service, a simple tire patch, took 90 minutes.
  • And now, this... over 3 hours to get an oil change, tire rotation, and A/C filter replacement. *UPDATE*: I checked the A/C filter when I got home - surprise, surprise! - it's still dirty! I called Steve Smith, the service manager on duty when this and all my other service snafu's occurred, for an explanation. Steve said the filters were out of stock and had already been ordered. The filter would be available "tomorrow or Friday." After asking why I wasn't told the filter hadn't been changed, he said "I didn't find out until after you had left." Well... why didn't the absent-minded tech who worked on my car tell me this? Oh wait... I just answered my own question, didn't I? Now does he really expect me to believe they can order a filter at 9:30pm and have it in the next day? Give me a break!!! In their hurry to change my oil, they forgot to replace the filter. Anyone could see through that cover-up. I said I looked forward to meeting his manager tomorrow and hung up.

In conclusion:

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/30/2003 @ 23:24 :: [link] ::

Two Faces of Death and Dying

Ever notice how so much in life happens at an inconvenient time? Earlier this afternoon, my mobile phone rang while I was changing the water in my aquarium. I haven't changed the water in over 3 months (and am paying for it with a well-established algae infestation) and, except for sleeping, bathing, and defecating, am never incapacitated from the phone. But not 20 seconds after water began siphoning from the tank, *beep* *beep*. My friend will probably never know he was mere seconds late.

Not all inconveniently timed events in life are so easily ignored. Take death, for example. Two women I love dearly are at odds with death, and they make for an ironic juxtaposition. One is my favorite teacher from high school, the other is my grandmother.

Janis Warfard taught middle and high school English, Literature, Latin, and Yearbook. I took all those classes with her, I loved knowing her that much. It's hard to describe in a paragraph or two why she is so special to me. Charismatic, compassionate, sensitive, so full of happiness and love for the world that she had to give it out to everyone. These are all true. Adolescence is a difficult time in life, and for an unpopular, geeky kid like me, being encouraged for my mental talents and ways of thinking that were different from my classmates' helped me stand my ground despite insecurity, loneliness, and general teen angst.

Five months ago, Mrs. Warford was diagnosed with diffuse brain stem glioma, a form of brain cancer most common in children 4-10 years old, but extremely rare in adults. She had a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, which paralyzed the left side of her body (the brain stem conveys sensory and motor signals from the brain to the rest of the nervous system). Today she drifts in and out of lucidity with child-like speech slurred partly from cancer, partly from paralysis, and often doesn't recognize her grandchildren. I visited her in the nursing home a couple weeks ago and she told me, "I'm not ready to go." I asked her why she wasn't ready. "Too much left to do." At 57 years old, her grievance is justifiable, but hearing her say it pained me so much that her child-voice haunted my dreams that night.

Oncology has come a long way in 60 years. In 1940, less than 10% of cancer patients were alive 5 years after diagnosis; today the 5 year survival rate is about 50%. If a cancer patient remains in remission for 5 years after treatment, she is deemed free of cancer with much lower odds of recurrence.

Despite decades of steady improvement in treatments, I consider cancer a worst case scenario. It's the fight of your life and the promise of dreading for the rest of your days: The fear and dread of a long, agonizing spiral of deterioration before death (mercifully) comes. And for the lucky survivors comes the nagging dread, never far from thought, that a single seed found refuge and will silently grow for months, maybe years, inevitably announcing the war has not been won.

If there can be such a thing as a worse case scenario in the worst case scenario of cancer, diffuse brain stem glioma would be a prize contender. Diffuse brain stem glioma deals several blows to its victims. Chemotherapy has little effect because few drugs can cross the blood-brain barrier. Surgery is also ineffective, because the tumors are situated deep in the brain, and as the term "diffuse" implies, the neoplasms are not localized in a central mass. Even if the tumors could safely be reached surgically, they couldn't be removed without also removing a large amount of brain tissue from a critical area of the brain, which brings me to my final point. The area in and around the brain stem regulates critical biological functions and relays sensory and motor signals between the rest of the brain and the body. The brain stem is Grand Central Station; hence, a simple biopsy could paralyze Mrs. Warford's left side. For these reasons, victims of diffuse brain stem glioma go quickly if not treated with intense radiation therapy, and even then, most only receive a temporary reprieve.

After considering the side effects of intense radiation therapy, the sole treatment option with less than favorable odds, Mrs. Warford elected to forego medical intervention and make the most of the time she had left. I knew five months wasn't long enough to come to terms with death and find solace, but still, I felt so dejected when she said she wasn't ready. With hardly any cognitive ability, any conscious awareness left, she uses it to lament not being ready to go. There was no hope in her voice, and no acceptance, either - just sadness in the face of forced resignation. You see, what hurt so much when she said "I'm not ready" was knowing that even if she lived 10 years longer, she can't get out of bed and complete the things she still needs to do, and there isn't enough of her mind left for her to reason through and come to terms with dying. If she were given 10 more years, she would spend them locked in a single moment, saying "I'm not ready." With her limited awareness, all she can know is "I'm not ready." She's stuck. When her body dies, her soul will depart sadly.

My grandmother is also at odds with death, but in a different way than you might expect. For my grandmother, death does not come soon enough. She's not going to hasten its approach by doing anything rash, but she is ready for it. I think she's been preparing since my grandfather died in 1996, and for the longest time, I couldn't understand her attitude toward it. At first it was frightening, then confusing. I was talking to Rachel about it not long ago, and she said something that gave me an epiphany. I had been looking at the situation from my perspective as a 20-something, not from my grandmother's. She'll be 89 in September. Most of what is dear to her is long gone: her husband, most of her friends, and an increasing portion of her health. She lives alone, and even though I'm an extreme introvert, if I spent that much time alone and were powerless to change it, I'd probably think the best days were behind me, too, as I nostalgically relived the memories.

As Rachel told me, my grandmother has lived a long life. Once she might have said there was "too much left to do," but not now. She's done all the things that were left to do, and then some. She may not wish for death, but she is ready for it. When it comes, instead of sadly resigning herself, she will welcome and accept it. My grandmother is not dying of untreatable cancer, but she will die someday, someday sooner than later. When my grandmother found the solace and peace that Janis Warford couldn't, I was frightened to hear her express it. Frightened not for grandmother, but for me, because I hadn't accepted the fact she will die. But when I got over my own fear of death and considered it from her perspective, I realized my grandmother couldn't be luckier.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/26/2003 @ 23:09 :: [link] ::

Song Poems

Song poems were a cool concept of the 1950s-1970s: an anonymous bourgeois would write some song lyrics and send them to a music label to compose a melody, perform and produce the song, and send the record back to the lyricist. The song poem industry had a few fatal flaws, however:

  • Labels marketed themselves to wannabe songwriters as a quick, easy way success path
  • The fees were rather expensive for the period ($400+)
  • Song poem labels were distinctly bottom-tier, as evidenced by the melodies and production quality
  • After producing the song, the labels feigned an enthusiastic but unsuccessful marketing campaign, and severed the relationship with the lyricist

What do you get when you cross an ardorous, enterprising lyricist with a paltry, fly-by-night music label? A music genre of comedic proportions and (naturally) a cult following. Some of my favorites:

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/11/2003 @ 21:11 :: [link] ::

Of Decision-Making, Negotiation, and Confidence

Formula for failure: Try to please everybody.
- Herbert Bayard Swope

I've mixed this formula and become ensnared in the jaws of analysis paralysis enough times (I'm not the sharpest razor in the box) to instinctively sense the teeth cutting into their familiar grooves and incapacitating action long before I can put a finger of conscious awareness on it. In true, profoundly introverted fashion, instead of gleaning the signs from the more direct external events that are easier to interpret, I get an inkling by monitoring the pattern of my thoughts, behavior, and reactions for those tell-tale signs. So after passing the signal through two layers of obfuscation, I'm left trying to interpret an interpretation, which is often futile, and all I can see is an inpenetrable wall ahead.

The intuitive, subliminal message comes through loud and clear: You're going in circles. You've completed the discovery process, and although the quantity of quality data seems woefully inadequate, it's all you're ever going to collect. As your subconscious mind, I can tell you as much, but can't hear what the data is trying to tell us. Get help. This is my cue to seek the sage advice of more extroverted, experienced friends or mentors who are experts at predicting how a train will derail before passing the final junction, when there is still time enough to reroute onto another track. I am nothing without my friends.

* sound of needle sliding across a record *

This post was intended to be about something else. This is why I write and revise them as I go along instead of getting the whole thing out first and going back to revise later, because when doing the latter, I end up with 2/3 of a post orphaned by my sidetracking.

This post was supposed to be about negotiation and self-confidence, but instead discusses my vagaries of project management. The transition of subjects is somewhat understandable, because key to PM success are negotiation and self-confidence. The aspect of it all that is truly ironic, however, is that I am sorely unqualified as an authority on any of these things for one reason or another: either I don't have adequate experience, it's not in my potential abilities, or I lack the confidence - I'm not sure which, but do know one or more is/are at least partially true.

But about trying to please everybody... it's not worth it, not to mention impossible, and often times it's not even worth considering, because the only "everybody" worth considering is you. Two examples to wit: one's chosen profession and career path, or planning a wedding, both of which have recently been foremost on my mind.

Once you're settled on something, have your mind made up, or have been walking down the path for a while, no one gives you much flack. But when you're trying to make a decision, they come out of the woodwork, everyone who is full of suggestions, and if you discuss finding a different path, they're quick to question your judgment, perhaps motivated by not wanting you to repeat their mistakes, perhaps envious of your courage, probably both. After millenia of humans and their machines being firmly attached to the ground, there were plenty of naysayers to undermine Orville and Wilbur's ambitions, until their dream was realized.

My fiancee is suffering, trying to decide the what, where, and how of our wedding amid the opinions and advice of friends and family... myself included. Hmm... well, I guess maybe my opinion should weigh in, but the point is, if she carries the burden of planning, my opinion should play second fiddle to hers. Let's be honest - in American culture, the bride is the star of the wedding, not the groom - and if she plans it, the privilege to veto or cast the deciding vote is hers.

I'm hoping she will realize this, and also that the opinions and wishes of the various stakeholders can be mutually exclusive. After the discovery phase comes the time for action, deciding on one or a combination of three things: selling your ideas and influencing the opinions of others; discerning if and where overlap zones exist and negotiating consensus within those zones; or deciding that negotiating on a particular issue will result in everyone's dissatisfaction, and that the best solution is to veto unilaterally to make at least one party happy, and that might as well be you or someone with whom you wish to reset the balance of things.

I respect and have used all three methods. When used judiciously, each is effective, but when haphazardly chosen, they can wreak destruction. But you have to do something or nothing, which really is something, after all - so that's a fourth method: dropping it all altogether. Yes, you have to do something, and that's the crux of the issue.

You never know the grit of sandpaper until it starts moving.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/06/2003 @ 14:04 :: [link] ::


Right on!

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/01/2003 @ 21:10 :: [link] ::