Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ah, the joys of travel

It's 4:15 EDT as I write this.  I'm sitting in the Admiral's Club at RDU.  My itinerary had me leaving RDU at 2:40, arriving in JFK at 4:30, and flying first class to Paris on a 6:00 p.m. plane.  I paid a boatload of saved miles for a round-trip, first-class ticket, so the overseas flight would pass in comfort.

That was all before travel joy happened.

My flight is now scheduled to take off at 5:13 and arrive at 6:49.  I can live with that.  I spent more time at home, then passed more time waiting at the airport.  I don't mind waiting.  I have a laptop and tons to read, so that's fine.

My new flight to Paris leaves at 9:00 p.m., and now I'm due to arrive at 9:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m.  I can also live with that.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a first-class seat, nor do I have any ability to change that fact; I've already failed at doing so.  So, the flight will be later and now will suck vastly more--and I'll still have paid for something I'm not getting.

At this point, I'm focusing on making it to Europe.  After that, I'll deal with the rest.  


Now, it's 7:27 EDT, and I'm ensconced in a wonderful hotel in Paris.  I'll have to fight for a refund on my miles when I'm back in early May, but for now I'm happy simply to be done traveling.  I was lucky enough to score an exit row seat, so at least I had leg room.  The flight passed quickly, customs in Paris was as simple and quick as I've ever experienced, and the taxi was a Mercedes; I cannot complain about anything since I hit the ground.

I did not, though, sleep on the plane, so I am off to take a nap.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Portrait of the author as a kitchen worker

Today, after service and while we were finishing clean-up.

You can always tell how very much I like having people take my picture.  Yes, that is me trying to smile.

Today, the lead and a fair number of other folks couldn't make it, so for a time we went into the weeds.  I ended up working the ovens, helping with meat, making barbecue sauce from what ingredients we had, and generally staying very, very busy.

We made it, though, as the team at Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen always seems to manage.  We fed north of 250 people (I didn't hear the final count), and the food earned more compliments from guests than I've heard on any other day.

Tomorrow, I head to Europe.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My time at Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I'm spending this first week of my sabbatical working for the Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen feeding a good, hot lunch to those who need it.  I chose this particular place because it serves food to anyone who shows up; it takes no Federal money, so it doesn't have to qualify the guests or ask any information of them.  Though the group is religious, it doesn't require any particular religion of the guests.  I love the simplicity of its approach:  if you're hungry, come on down, and we'll feed you. 

The place operates on a shoestring budget, but thanks to the Interfaith Food Shuttle, lots of donations, and a crew composed almost entirely of volunteers, it feeds between 250 and 300 people at lunch five days a week.  So far this week, we've fed something like (these totals may be off slightly) 276, 269, 259, and 289 guests. 

Note the term "guests."  Part of the goal is to treat each diner as our guest, from when one of us greets them at the door, to when we serve them food, to when one of us bids them farewell.  "Treat each and every person with dignity," the team lead, a woman who's been volunteering there for over thirty years, told our group on Monday.  After four days of work, I'm happy to report that everyone I've seen interact with our guests has done just that. 

The meal we prepare is substantial:  meat, starch, veg, salad, sandwich (or pizza slice), fruit, dessert, and beverage (water, tea, and sometimes milk and/or juice).  Each guest gets the same basic serving size of each item, and each chooses which courses he or she wants, though most want some of everything. 

The room seats 80, and we serve for just one hour, so obviously the whole process relies on each guest eating reasonably quickly and then clearing a space for the next person. As the above numbers show, the guests do just that.  Everyone is, in fact, remarkably more pleasant and cooperative than the crowd at most sandwich shops or cafeterias. 

The volunteers are a mixed bunch, with lots of regulars, on some days groups from schools, and a few first-timers and oddballs like me.  The regulars go about their business with rhythm and good humor, and they also do a good job of integrating the rest of us. 

The teams work by days, a different team for each day of the week.  This approach has meant that I'm the only non-staffer working every day this week, and it's also yielded an odd phenomenon:  each day I know more, but each day I look like a fresh face to the day's team.  Fortunately, proving what I know is easy and quick, so I've gotten to work on just about every aspect of the prep, setup, cooking, serving, and cleaning up workflow.

I'm still processing a lot of what I've seen and learned, and I'm finding some of those lessons to be about myself.  That is a very good thing.

Of one thing, though, I am already certain:  The mission of Shepherd's Table is righteous, and the people who make it happen are doing good work.  I am proud to have been able to work alongside them this week.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Holden wet and Holden wild

I know I owe you a report on my time working at the Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen, but that's just going to have to wait until tomorrow. 


Because you need a shot of the world's cutest dog.

Here he is, fresh from a bath, looking both noble and, yes, a tad sad at his own wetness.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

You can't blame Holden for his expression, because, after all, how would you feel if you had to wait in the den to dry after a bath?

Of course, even Holden has a dark side.  Unhappy at not receiving a treat late one evening, he began to vibrate so fast that we worried he might transport himself to a parallel dimension.

Fortunately, he quickly became bored, calmed down, and took a nap, thus avoiding upsetting the laws of physics as we know them today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CNN, Steubenville, and rape culture

If your eyes are at all open, you see rape culture all around you.  If you don't, consider the recent example of the rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, and CNN's coverage of the case.  (I won't recount all the details, but on the off chance that you haven't heard of the case, consider going here or here.)

What the CNN reporters did so tragically wrong was not simply show tremendous insensitivity to the victim; by focusing so heavily on the "tragedy" of the young men, the consequences those rapists would pay (a whole year in juvenile jail, possibly to be extended later), the network anchors also participated in our ongoing rape culture, as if somehow the rape was something that happened to the young men.


These men raped a young woman.  Period. 

There is no excuse, ever, for raping someone.  Period. 

Talking about her being so drunk she was passed out does not in any way excuse anything.  They violated her body without her consent.  Period. 

When we talk about a rape case, we as a culture must start with a basic assumption:  there is never an excuse for rape.  Then, and only then, can the rest of the discussion begin.

As long as we even hint at rape as something that "happened," we are excusing it and furthering rape culture.  As long as we even remotely imply that the victim was in any way responsible, we are excusing the rape and furthering rape culture. 

That is wrong.  Period.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My new job

I started my new job today.  It pays nothing, requires me to report in the morning when I am normally asleep, and has no future for me.  In fact, it finishes in a week.

Perhaps I should explain. 

As I've mentioned before, my company, Principled Technologies (PT), offers a sabbatical program.  This program gives each employee a seven-week, full-pay-and-benefits sabbatical in his/her seventh year and each seven years thereafter.  For various reasons I've delayed mine for quite a while, but now, in my eleventh year, I am taking it, as I have discussed before.

One cool thing about PT's sabbatical program is that if the employee will spend one of the seven weeks working with a charity, PT will contribute five grand either to the expenses the employee incurred getting to that charity or to the charity.  So, for example, if an employee were to fly to Africa to do charity work, PT would cover five grand of the expenses.  If, on the other hand, an employee were to work at a local charity, PT would donate the five grand to the charity.  Splits are also fine:  some money can go to cover employee expenses, and some to help the charity.

Long ago, I narrowed my choices to two:  working with a child-soldier-related charity in Africa or working in a soup kitchen locally.  For various reasons, the charities my Children No More program have helped (both directly and indirectly) didn't seem like good choices, so I decided to stay local and work in a soup kitchen. 

I made this choice because I wanted to serve people directly, and because I wanted to be as far from in charge as I could be, so that I was doing something very different from my normal job.  I also wanted to work for a place that would feed anyone, without requiring them to produce an ID or be part of a particular religion. 

In the end, I chose the Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen, where I worked today. 

More on my experiences tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Confucius vs. Mel Gibson

Kyle visited this weekend, so Friday night we ended up watching an usual double bill:  Chow Yun Fat's 2010 Chinese period piece, Confucius, and Mel Gibson's Get the Gringo

We started with Confucius, which we watched as we ate take-out Chinese in a revival of our old Chinese & Chinese tradition.  Somewhere around the ninth hour of the movie, we realized that it was going to give The Assassination of Jesse James by I don't care will this movie ever end!?! a run for the title of most boring film ever.  (Jesse James won it by a week, though both clocked in a little over 17 years in length).  In the course of slogging through Confucius we learned such important life lessons as

  • Don't dive into a frozen lake to retrieve scrolls.
  • Don't follow Confucius if you ever want to have fun again.
  • If you are following Confucius and having fun, someone in your group is about to die.
  • When in doubt about how to defeat an enemy, spout an enigmatic line and leave while the enemy is still confused.  
All useful rules, no doubt, but they don't make for much of a film.

When we'd celebrated a lot of birthdays and the movie was finally over, we knew we had to watch something with gunfire and explosions, so we took a chance on Get the Gringo

Mel kicked Confucius' butt.

The movie was surprisingly good, a solid B film.  Most of the time, the events that were about to happen were not immediately obvious.  The acting ranged from passable to quite good, the pacing was solid, and Gibson did a decent job in the lead role.  From the opening scene onward, the film careened along its plot arc like an ether-addled Hunter S. Thompson transported to a Mexican prison instead of Las Vegas.  Not by any means a top-drawer movie, Get the Gringo is nonetheless good enough that we were both glad we'd seen it.

If you have to watch only one of these movies, Gringo is definitely the one to pick. 


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