Thursday, June 30, 2011

New in Wegmans: your ankles

Say "Wegmans" to anyone who's spent more than three days in Rochester. You'll see their eyes glaze over.

For many people, Wegmans is the Valhalla of supermarkets. Better than Whole Foods. Better than Target. Almost the Nordstroms of groceries. Former Rochesterians who move to bigger cities pine for Wegmans. You can send them a Wegmans reusable shopping bag as a gift, and they tear up.

I never dispute Wegmans' greatness. I love them. Sure, Wegmans can be pricey at times, but they outshine most competitors for two simple reasons:
  • Wegmans gives a ton of philanthropic support to the communities in which its stores and workers live. Including scholarship money for young cashiers.
  • Wegmans is open ALL THE TIME.
  • (Third Reason: my feet never stick to the floor in a Wegmans market. Ever.)
So I'm cruising the Eastway Wegmans last night for some essentials: nonfat vanilla yogurt, oat bran snacks, skim milk, etc. About $40 worth of groceries. I pull into the checkout lane, and suddenly notice my feet. They are glowing. I can see I have a shoelace about to go AWOL.

I drop coins all the time, and think this is a handy convenience. I ask the cheerful cashier, "What's with the lights at my feet?"

Wegmans has installed illuminated ankle-level cameras at every checkout line, she tells me. "It's so we can see what's in the bottom rack of your shopping cart."

Really? Shopping carts are transparent, gridded contraptions: basically, upended cages on wheels. You can see through the baskets to the lower deck, where you'd put big sacks of dog food or cartons of soft drinks.

So, my friends, the jig is up. If you're smuggling Slim-Fast or meatloaf out in your socks, Wegmans' ankle-cameras will nab you. Or they'll report that you need new polish on your toenails.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My first shot

Something triggered (pun becomes apparent) this recollection:

In the summer of 1978, I worked at a small, 1000-watt AM radio station in northwestern PA. College internship, low pay, lodged alone in a vacant dorm room at the University of Pittsburgh campus. Worked most nights, rebroadcasting KDKA's signal for Pittsburgh Pirates games. Which could barely be heard, 20 miles away.

On a rare night off, I met a friend for dinner in Bradford's best restaurant. I'm actually wearing a jacket and tie. After I dropped her off, I roamed around town in my little Mazda, looking for something. Or someone. I was restless.

Coming up one street, I spied an overly blond young woman, dressed in glitter and gold for a night out. (It's 1978, remember.) She's crying by the roadside. So I stop to ask if she needs help.

"My boyfriend and I had a fight," she says. "Can I get a ride home, please?"

Off we go. She's giving turn-by-turn directions to a part of town I don't know well. I notice a pair of bright fog lights in my rear-view mirror, and I think: "It's not a foggy night. Why is he using those lights?"

We reach a neighborhood where the residential streets climb up the hills. I glance in the rearview; Mr. Fog Lights is gone. But I think to ask: "Does your boyfriend own a pickup truck?"

"Yep," she says. "A big one. Goes off-road."

"Fog lamps?"

"Oh, yeah."

She points out her apartment house, I swing the car around, so she can get out on the right. I glance at the rearview again; no sign of the truck. She looks at me, dabbing away the last of her tears.

"Do you believe in Jesus?"

I shook my head. "'Fraid not."

She sighed. "Well, thank you so much. I know god loves you."

And she scurries away into her apartment. It's so quiet I can hear the bolt snick into place as she locks the door.

I shift into first, and suddenly see a trail of sparks flash by my driver's door, down the street. At first I think: "Bottle rocket?"

It happens again, but this time, I hear the pop.

Mr. Fog Lights is discharging a gun. In my direction.

God had better love me right now. The little Mazda leapt into the street, with me deliberately swerving to avoid additional small-arms fire. I scan for the truck's lights, desperately trying to find the street that will lead me back to where I think the Bradford police station sits. For some reason, I decide to try to lose the trucker first, threading my way through the night streets in search of a police-protected doughnut shop.

By the time I reached police headquarters, there was no sign of Mr. Fog Lights in my mirror, or anywhere nearby.

Somewhere out there, a disgruntled and perhaps inebriated boyfriend with his steroid-powered truck was searching for my little Mazda. The cops didn't believe me. And since I didn't actually see the truck or its driver, they had very little in the way of motivation to go out searching for the carbureted gunman.

Jesus, in fact, may have loved me that night. But there's only room for one good Samaritan in the Bible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Read on. Please.

Two weeks ago, I sent a note to a colleague, asking for their response to an external inquiry. I included the sender's questions.

Today, I met with the colleague, who saw the questions only when I handed over a print-out of the note I'd originally sent. The colleague never read far enough in my original email to see the questions.

Sure, everyone's busy. But reading the complete note would have avoided a two-week delay in getting a response.

End of rant.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Future-proofing the future.

I have seen the future.
It will not revolve around Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace. They are handy, but they don't replace human interaction.
The future will not depend on Kindles, iPads, Nooks, or Wii's.
It will not rely on 500 channels and 12-foot, 3D plasma screen televisions.
It will not rely on Fox News, Diane Sawyer, or Piers Morgan -- or any commercial network's interpretation of a story to fit the footage they've captured.

The future will depend on real relationships. Face-to-face, voice-to-voice, heart to heart.

(The photo herein was captured in 1975. It's a photo of two friends. We are still friends today, 35 years later. Think about that.)

So, for a few moments every day, put down the iPhone, the Android, and the Wii. Look someone in the eye. And tell them -- in whatever words suit you best -- that they are important to you. A joke. A story. A poem. An old photo. A song.

And the future will be fine.