THE BIG SATISFICE

I can't seem to travel without incident. The concept of purchasing a plane ticket, having the plane depart at the scheduled time, connecting to a different but equally punctual flight, and then arriving when scheduled simply does not exist in my world (And flying from a podunk airport, neither does the concept of a direct flight). I will spare you the details but an itinerary claiming to get me to New Orleans at 3 PM on Wednesday ended with me crawling into my room just short of midnight.

After a full day of exasperation and three different flights out of Atlanta to New Orleans either missed or too full to accommodate me, the folks at – oh, I don't want to use the name of a real airline here so let's just make up a name for the worst goddamn airline you could imagine, something like "Delta" – finally crammed me onto the last plane of the day. Having already been delayed nearly six hours, during which they didn't so much as offer us a bottle of water, I was supposed to be happy about this.

Having complained (predictably and loudly) about the experience on the internet, several of my friends texted me when I finally got my ass on an airplane to express something to the effect of, "Finally, some good news!" The idea that I was going to be taken to my destination rather than having to sleep on an airport floor and be taken there tomorrow was certainly welcome news. But is it good? How is it good that I got dicked around all day until the airline finally agreed to do what I paid them to do?

Now I know what my friends meant and clearly I was reading too much into the choice of words. Here they are talking to a person with debilitating depression who tends to spiral when bad things start happening; of course they are going to direct me toward the most positive way to look at the situation. But I spent the next hour or so (thankfully airborne) thinking about that. When people say "good news" in this context it is only true in the sense that the news wasn't even worse. It's not "good" per se. What they meant was, "Isn't it great that the airline didn't screw you even more than they already have?"

Yes, it is. But that isn't what "good" is.

It occurred to me just how much of this kind of satisficing we are bombarded with these days, especially since the Great Recession began in 2008. "Good" is now defined as "better than the worst things could possibly be." Your boss works you like a dog and pays you terribly? It could be worse! You could have no job at all! Be happy about having a job! Don't want to vote for a pathetic excuse for a Democrat? Well the GOP is even worse! You paid for something and got shafted? Well be glad XYZ didn't happen, that's even worse! You know, because as long as things could conceivably be even worse they are now, by definition, good. Or what passes for good.

It's like we've thrown up our hands collectively and admitted that we have given up on the idea of having anything that's actually Good in this society and now we simply pick the best of whatever shit options are available and call that Good. Good no longer means Good; it means Better Than. It means you could have it worse.

Obviously I am loopy from making an 12 hour trip out of a 4 hour one, but when I thought (too much) about it I realized just how pervasive this kind of thinking is. In my own life and throughout our culture. We've sort of accepted that everything will be at least kind of shitty because, frankly, we've ruined most of the things that used to be great about this country far beyond any hope of repair. So we are constantly encouraged with this overarching take-what-you-can-get mentality in the hope that people are dumb enough not to notice that nothing is actually any good anymore. A good candidate is one who is less repugnant than his opponent. A good school is one that is dysfunctional rather than really dysfunctional or physically dangerous. Good customer service is waiting on hold for 45 minutes to have your problem kinda sorta dealt with rather than being completely ignored. A good job is not having no job.

Herbert Simon called this kind of behavior "satisficing", the tendency not to hold out for the absolute best but instead to set a bar and take the first option that is over it. It's not inherently a depressing mentality, at least not until you realize how far you have to lower the bar before anything can clear it.

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66 Responses to “THE BIG SATISFICE”

  1. Chris Says:

    In this connection: http://wondermark.com/1k92/

  2. Evan Hurst Says:

    Ed, great post.

    Now run, do not walk, to Adolfo's in the Marigny. When they ask if you want "ocean sauce," the answer is always yes.

    If you have time for another rec, head to Mid-City (not that far in, still on Canal), to Mandina's. Eat all of it.

    Enjoy your time in the best city this country has to offer.

  3. Daphne Says:

    "Good" is getting your car back from the shop after 2 weeks when it was supposed to be mere days and not having to walk or depend on others for rides anymore.

    "Good" is making a round trip to the grocery store without incident.

    Or, as I like to shorthand it: I'm just trying to make it through life in one piece.

  4. Major Kong Says:

    Ed,

    Since I believe you live in Peoria, have you considered just driving the 2.5 hours to get a direct flight out of O'Hare? It would probably take about as long door-to-door as flying there from Peoria to make a connection.

    Granted O'Hare sucks as an airport but any time you can get a direct flight that's one less chance for a delay.

  5. Somedude Says:

    It's called the "crapification" of everything. The folks at Naked Capitalism talk about it all the time. Fascinating isn't it? I think it really got rolling when they gave out the first 10 in the Olympics. Any other thoughts?

  6. Dave Dell Says:

    One of the great things about retirement is that I no longer have to fly. I will take the time to drive rather than fly.

  7. RosiesDad Says:

    I second Major Kong's suggestion. I live in the Philly burbs but have driven to BWI, Newark and JFK to avoid non-direct (or greatly more expensive non stop) options out of Philly Intl and it virtually always ends up resulting in a shorter and less expensive travel day. I would never consider flying out of Podunk in this day and age.

  8. Jestbill Says:

    You're American.
    You were supposed to DRIVE.

    EVERYbody drives and LIKES to drive.
    There are no buses because everybody drives–how would you get to Dwight from Peoria?
    There are no trains. I believe the "City of New Orleans" still runs but you would have to drive to Kankakee–not St. Louis.

    This is no longer a rich country. We are now what we used to think what Mexico was. Mexico of course has kept up along the same course.

  9. Nan Says:

    America, land of "It's better than nothing."

    I recommend going by train if it's ever an option. I hear Mega Bus is nice, too, and apparently even Greyhound has made huge improvements in bus service. Takes more planning and time, but is much mellower than dealing with the cattle cars of the skies today's airlines operate.

  10. Anubis Bard Says:

    I think a better description of this is from James Scott (I think in Weapons of the Weak), when he is trying to explain the experience of being a peasant. He talks about how people "work the system to their least disadvantage." It's meant to encapsulate how people exist within systems that are rigged against them and which they have no power to change. It's a pretty interesting read, actually.

    So now that we are being trained toward service-industry plebitude and the levers of democratic influence and consumer choice have been effectively removed – I think we can expect this new and exciting Zeitgeist to flourish.

  11. BizarroMike Says:

    The one I've really noticed is that "the freest country on earth" has become "freer than North Korea." That's not just lowering the bar, that's digging a trench, putting the bar in it, then filling it back up.

  12. Xynzee Says:

    "Crapification"?? But…but… isn't unfettered capitalism supposed to deliver…just… BETTER everything??

    Anubis: that sounds like the stories we were told about how people managed in the former Soviet Union. Sounds like we got the deal we desired to avoid anyways.

  13. Edward Says:

    Here is the latest crap coming down the pike at the U.S. public:

    http://michael-hudson.com/2015/01/playing-the-pension-funds/

    At this rate "good" will mean "not having to sell my organs to feed myself."

  14. dharma_dream Says:

    Xynzee & Anubis: Nail. Head.

    Everyone: welcome to the new USSR

  15. Safety Man! Says:

    I had a similar experience last week, I'd like to share and see if the problem is just me being an ass:
    Before Christmas I had the bright idea that rather than give money to an established charity, I'd buy cookies for an acquaintance of mine that works at an aftershool program for inner-city kids. To complete the do-goodery, I arranged services with a local bakery. Content, I left the state for 2 weeks to spend the holidays with my family. The trouble started the week after Christmas when I got a call asking when the cookies in question were actually going to be picked up (at least a week after they should have been). I wasn't able to reach the acquaintance, so I tried calling the bakery back to no avail because of New Years. Long story short, when I finally got back in touch with the bakery, after being forwarded around 2-3 times I found out that they had simply sold the cookies I had already ordered. I ended up having to talk to the owner herself, where I had to repeatedly state the case that I had given them money in exchange for goods and received no goods. They finally agreed, after much deliberation, to give me a roughly equivalent value of baked goods. The crowning achievement was that this was posed as a "favor". I admit to being a prickly personality sometimes, but damn, customer service has gone to hell these days.

  16. Skipper Says:

    Airline hack: If your flight is seriously delayed, cancelled, other flights full, etc., pick an alternate. "Excuse me, can you get me on a flight to Baton Rouge?" They probably can. Then you rent a car, drive to NOLA. Problem solved.

    When I was living in Boston, one time during a storm, they interviewed a kid at the airport who had been there two days. All he wanted to do was get home to his family in Philly. Had he taken the subway to South Station, he could have gotten a train that would have taken him to Philly in about five hours.

    Think outside the box.

  17. nyncboy Says:

    And what about the fact that after all this "customer service" you are asked to take a survey on said "customer service" Sure the guy was nice and polite, but two weeks later your problem is still not fixed.

  18. Anubis Bard Says:

    Xynzee, yup. I was reading Scott as part of doing research in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, and it was pretty damned on-topic.

  19. Xynzee Says:

    After spending years down in the hole that is depression and unemployment one of the things that helped to get out of both was learning to take stock of what I did have. This leads to being thankful and content with what I had, little or a lot.

    Caveat: what I'm about to say is snippets of my experience, life is far more nuanced and complex than a pithy saying on a poster. Besides, if all it takes to motivate you to do your job is a poster with a pretty picture and a catchy phrase; it's probably not that important anyway ;)

    Just because one is content with, say having a warm meal today, doesn't mean one should sit on their laurels and become resigned that "this is as good as it gets" and accept crapification. It's more about what can help change your attitude as you cannot boo about the situation. Often we pass up numerous opportunities to experience contentment, happiness and joy simply because it didn't come in the form we thought it ought to come.

    I'm also a believer that you "attract" what you're looking for. If you go looking for shit, don't be surprised when shit comes looking for you. If your eye is peeled for pennies on the ground, you have a better chance to spot a fifty.

    At the same time one is looking and doing. Looking for open doors and doing the things that will open them. Knowing how to pick a lock is a very useful skill to have ;)

    Here I was unemployed/marginally employed. I wanted to move higher up the food chain. So what to do to build my cv for management roles? An exflatmate is an ObGyn at the Hamlin hospital in Addis Ababa, and had gotten involved with an orphanage project and needed money for a roof. I saw a need and had the time, so I organised fund raising for this and other projects. Thus I filled in the blanks on the cv and developed the skills I needed.

    Originally I'd chosen a career path that never panned out for me. I've tried numerous things that I also sucked at too (teaching). I've now started a career path that I'm ideally suited to, yes it's in the country, but I'm now in the crease getting runs on the board. I nearly chose a different path, but this one came along when I was about to commit myself to the other, which was far more risky.

    So your flight was delayed and it's annoying as Hell!
    You're in NO for a conference, which means there'll be others there like you. Who knows, if you took Evan's advice, you may bump into a faculty head who asks why you're out so late and you share in humorously the adventures of modern air travel, he has a position opening up and wants you to apply as you'd make a great addition to his faculty, Ed now moves to University of More Enjoyable Place.
    Or not. However, you had some fantastic Cajun food, a good drink and you're in N'awlins, which is pretty nice too.

    Again just because you're content with the small things that come your way, does NOT mean resignation to your situ. Keep looking and do what you can.

  20. TomW Says:

    I also do my flying from a podunk airport and the flights from podunk to various hub cities seem to be everyone's lowest priority. After numerous missed connection hassles, I started shopping for flights based on the assumption that my flight from podunk to hub would be at least 30 minutes late. So I pass over those tempting 50 minute layovers and buy the flights with two hour layovers. I have to entertain myself at the airport when things are actually on time, but that's better than a missed connection.

  21. Rich Says:

    Air travel has sucked for decades–I've been a regular flyer since the late 80s. Still, you can't beat Delta for stupidity, esp. if you connect through Atlanta (which tends to be unavoidable). The dumbest or at least most passive people in their employ seem to be working there.

  22. The Jack of Hearts Says:

    Saying that Ed should have driven is missing his point. Companies run everything so lean these days (except for pay at the top levels) that there is little wiggle room when their systems break down. No built-in cushion of time or space or personnel to deal with the unexpected. Few resources are put towards innovating or coming up with better ways to do something, only cheaper ways to do it. The end user and the front-line employees are the ones who suffer.

    An example from my own life is the parking space I pay for behind my apartment building. In the part of the a city where I live, spots often cost around $100/mo. I pay $35/mo in addition to my rent. The problem is that management maintains the area so poorly in the winter that I often cannot get to that spot. I have friends who say, "But it's so cheap, be happy you are not paying more for it." BUT THAT DOESN'T MATTER IF I CAN'T USE IT. They could hire extra maintenance help in the winter, but they won't because that costs money. Another tenant says we should all shovel to help out the thinly stretched maintenance personnel. So what am I paying rent for then?

    Being satisficed with the way things are is settling, giving up, and that is quite depressing.

  23. swkellogg Says:

    Maybe this will cheer you up:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5E3sBBUq6s

    At the six minute mark.

  24. Isaac Says:

    A big part of the American zeitgeist is suffering-is-good-for-the-character Calvinistic bullshit, mixed up with “all part of God's plan” and a steaming pile of schadenfreude. Combine that with the American way of lumping everything into a competition with winners and losers… misfortune and loss is just part of the expected program, things working poorly is built into the system. It's rigged.

    Re: Delta and their perpetual shittiness… Travel Delta in economy across the Pacific. Do it several times for good experiential sampling data. Then fly any of the Korean, Japanese, Australian, or Singapore carriers on the same route. Night-and-day difference in service quality, seating comfort, ease-of-use, meal flavor and portion size, staff attentiveness. The only advantage Delta sometimes has is their connection portfolio and their stateside call centers. And Atlanta is the suck.

  25. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Maybe you just weren't raised right!

    http://dangerousminds.net/comments/ayn_rand_worst_aunt

  26. Jestbill Says:

    OT @ Jack of Hearts

    I used to work with a guy who always wanted to split up the work. "You do this, I'll do that–you do that, I'll do that other." Trouble was, as soon as you'd agree to his system he'd go convince the boss that none of his stuff was necessary. He always finished early.

    Any time another tenant says you should get together to share the work, watch carefully how much HE contributes.

  27. mothra Says:

    You know, I live in a city/state where we've been satisficing pretty much since it became a state. We are the poorest state (finally beat out Mississippi, yay!), we have next-to the poorest pay, crime rates are sky high and yet, when you try to point out that we have a serious fucking problem, people say, oh, yes, but look how beautiful it is here! Look at how delightfully diverse our state is! Look how many artists love to live here! We should change our motto from "Land of Enchantment" to "Land of Satisification." But now we are seeing just where that leads us–and will leave us: at the bottom of the heap and unable to climb up at all.

    I guess at least the weather is nice.

  28. c u n d gulag Says:

    The even worse news is, as much as the powers-that-be have fucked this country over 9 ways to Sunday, and shit down its throat, they want to do more bad things to most of us.

    Of course, they look at that as 'good,' if not great, for them!

    The French Revolutionaries had the better idea.

  29. Mo Says:

    oh mothra, how could you miss "Land of Disenchantment"?

  30. Mo Says:

    Jamie Dimon suggests you simply get your own jet, pilot, and servants.

    And a helicopter for the short hops from skyscraper pads.

    Easy.

  31. GunstarGreen Says:

    I simply do not understand why people put up with America's dogshit airline industry for anything short of intercontinental travel.

    Atlanta to New Orleans is roughly 470 miles. Your trip, all told, took you 12 hours after the airline dicked you around, and you paid god knows how much for the privilege. Last fall, I drove Atlanta to Delaware, a trip of a bit over 800 miles, in a bit under 12 hours. And I was taking rest stops at every state line, plus stops for lunch and dinner, AND a toll bridge or two (that Chesapeake Bay area, man).

    It would literally been faster, cheaper, AND far less infuriating to just drive. There was absolutely no benefit to flying.

  32. Andrew Says:

    GunstarGreen: Driving on seems cheaper than flying because most people reckon the cost of driving as the cost of gas, parking, and tolls. This is complete bullshit.

    The IRS allows 57.5 cents per mile for business use of a car in 2015, up from 56 cents in 2014. They're not known for their generosity, so this figure, plus parking and tolls, is probably about what it costs to operate the average car.

    A 940-mile round trip thus costs $549.90, which is probably a bit more than airfare from Peoria to New Orleans.

    If you don't like the 57.5-cent figure, consider this: My 2013 Honda Civic, modestly appointed, cost about $21,000, out the door, brand new. If I manage to put 210,000 miles on it before I need it towed away to the scrap heap and replaced with another, similar car, I paid 10 cents per mile to purchase the car. Fuel in my area is about $2.40/gallon, and I probably get about 28mpg on road trips, so that's 8.5 cents per mile. Even if you forget about tires, oil and filter changes, scheduled maintenance, insurance, windshield wiper blades, etc., you're looking at a bare-bones fuel-plus-depreciation cost of 18.5 cents per mile. That's $173.90 for your Peoria-New Orleans round trip, and Ed's car is probably less fuel efficient than mine.

    If you need a car at your destination, and would rent one if you flew, you can factor in that cost in making your decision, but flying isn't cheaper than driving under most circumstances. Obviously if two or more people are sharing all expenses at the IRS rate, it can be, but for solo road trips (which I dearly enjoy), be prepared to shell out significantly more than airfare.

  33. Khaled Says:

    My wife travels for work between 15 to 20 times a year. Delays, missed connections, shitty service? All in a day's trip to the airport. She HATES United with a passion- one of the clerks at a service desk literally said "It's not my problem, find someone else" and walked away when she asked at the gate her flight was supposed to leave from, after being delayed, cancelled, etc. Atlanta is one of the airports she prefers to get stuck at, since it beats the hell out of Cedar Rapids or any other small airport that she's been stuck in for hours. Here in Dayton, there are only about 7 flights to other airports from here- Chicago, Atlanta, BWI, Denver and a few others thrown in for good measure, which means that direct flights are basically impossible unless she's flying to Chicago. And while she could get some better options at Port Columbus or Cincinnati, she doesn't want to have to drive an hour and half after working all day, flying and praying the connection goes through, and then arriving at about 10:30-11 PM at night. It's on the company dime, so she'll take that flight to and from Chicago, even though it doesn't really save her that much time, because it's easier than driving solo after working all day and still getting home at 11 PM.
    I'm also guessing that since Ed's trip was for a work event (I'm assuming so, since you mentioned on FB that you were sitting next to your U's president) Midwestern Liberal Arts University may have booked everything for them, and by golly, the president and big admins aren't going to drive somewhere to fly- the University can pick that cost up. Plus, bet that the admins have access to the Delta Club in Atlanta, which makes sitting around in an airport pretty tolerable.

  34. GunstarGreen Says:

    @Andrew: While it's true that driving isn't free, the cost analysis can vary wildly from person to person based on fuel economy, individual usage patterns, etc. It's an in-depth analysis if you want to do it seriously, which you have in your case and that's laudable, but suffice it to say that in a whole lot of cases, you'd be very hard-pressed to find airfare that beats it out by a substantial margin — less so once you factor in the non-monetary overhead of "being absolutely gorram infuriating".

  35. Andrew Says:

    I don't disagree. I love road trips and lament that my busy work schedule rarely allows for them. Also, my wife is not a road trip fan. I usually fly Southwest or Jet Blue out of Oakland or San Francisco, and I generally find the experience quite pleasant, or at least tolerable. Drugs help.

  36. waspuppet Says:

    I get what you're saying, Ed; I'm so old I can remember when slashing rich people's taxes was actually supposed to make things BETTER for average people. Nowadays, its big selling point is "Well, if you hold it up to the light at the right angle and squint a little, it's kind of only a little worse than things used to be, and besides that's how James Madison would have wanted it so shut the fk up."

  37. cackalacka Says:

    Tangentially related.

    You know, the altitude differential between Peoria and New Orleans is some 700 feet. The non-circuitous route between Chicago to N.O. takes one through St. Louis and Memphis.

    Essentially, it is a damn shame we don't have high-speed trains that can service relatively flat expanses of the country.

  38. jeneria Says:

    I'm traveling to NOLA in April for a conference. I'm driving from Milwaukee to Chicago so I can get direct flights. It's so worth it sometimes.

  39. jharp Says:

    I quit flying a few years ago. Just ain't gonna do it anymore.

    And I have flown well over one million miles.

    I live in central Indiana so the west coast is a problem. Should I have to get there I will either use drugs or go by train.

  40. Skepticalist Says:

    I'll second waspuppet and Jack Of Hearts.

    The thing is that after carefully planning a trip, a purchase, or other service, we should expect something decent, not just to be pleasantly surprised when it works out. Knowing alternative ways around shitty service is fine but getting some at all shouldn't have to be akin to planning an invasion. Good, better and even excellent results, ought not be the rare exception.

    "The Jack Of Hearts" is right. Business is interested in cheap, not good. There's no time for quality service when employees are so outnumbered. Goodwill has become not important. It's cheaper or at least appears so, to "let it go." It's a bigger world now and evidently pride in service or product is secondary to the shining lights at corporate.

    What a shame.

  41. Andrew Says:

    I fly between Oakland and Indianapolis on Southwest approximately annually. First a quick 80-minute, largely on-time flight to Las Vegas, then an hour or two layover, then a three-hour or so largely on-time flight to Indianapolis. It's really quite painless. I sometimes consume a little something to make me not give a crap, but even without it, no big deal.

    I've noticed that generally happy and upbeat people (like me) have vastly different experiences than depressives like Ed. This isn't meant as a superiority dance, just an observation. I'm not suggesting Ed change his fundamental makeup. I like him just the way he is, kind of like Eeyore's friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

  42. Andrew Says:

    I'm old enough to remember when flying was much more pleasant. It was also priced out of the reach of the average American. I'll take today's shitty experience over that.

  43. Skepticalist Says:

    Right Andrew.

    I remember those days too. The short lived "Pan Am" TV series, for example, displayed the way boarding a plane used to be.

    I have to work at being a pussycat when dealing with people.

    A friend of mine does so well killing with kindness that I'm often stunned. He's right that in most cases asking a few simple questions, whether necessary or not, often gets people on your side. People love to show how it's done. Just don't overdo it.

    Being a white gray haired geezer helps too.

  44. Anubis Bard Says:

    @Andrew, I fly fairly often, but I only fly on Southwest. (I've had nothing but soul-withering horrors from Delta / American / United.) How is it that Southwest manages to be cheap without making the trip a misery?

  45. Anubis Bard Says:

    I'll fully admit to satisficing when it comes to Southwest.

  46. Andrew Says:

    I find that strangers are usually nice, or at least neutral, toward me. I try to be nice to others, too. It's not really that hard, for me. I say please and thank you and keep my requests to a minimum. When a flight attendant asks me to do, or not do, something, I obey without question. I'm not small, but I fit comfortably in most coach seats and can lower the tray table without it hitting my gut. I don't need a seat belt extension. I don't smoke, rarely drink, and generally try to avoid drawing attention to myself unless I'm telling a story and the other person seems at least mildly interested. I'm not a genius about picking up when they're not, but I'm trying to improve in that area, with slow but steady progress.

    I really don't mind flying, and delays not caused by severe weather are, in my limited experience, fairly rare. I flew Southwest from the Bay Area to Tucson 12 times in 2013-2014, and only twice was there a delay or screwup. What's more, complaining politely about the screwup netted me $250 in Southwest credit.

  47. Andrew Says:

    They're well run, and their employees seem to enjoy their jobs.

  48. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    At least now you're in fucken New Orleans! Get cracking on those muffalettas and hurricanes!

  49. Xynzee Says:

    @Isaac: re Australian airlines and quality of service. Qantas—aka the flying rat— used to be exemplary. The current CEO is doing his damnedest to drive the company down either to kill it or more likely prep it for a takeover.
    It's child airline is JetStar, which is a "budget" airline. It is trying to set new standards in shittiness. Fortunately there are aviation standards, otherwise Joyce n Co would be the Khazak-air of the West.

  50. D Shannon Says:

    "apparently even Greyhound has made huge improvements in bus service." – Nan

    I have taken four long trips on Greyhound during the past decade. The first three were from Western Pennsylvania to Burlington, Vermont; the fourth was to Chicago.

    FIRST TRIP
    Itinerary: Hometown – Harrisburg – New York – Boston – Burlington

    The Harrisburg- New York leg of the trip was driven by someone with no experience on the route; the driver admitted he never drove a bus on the route before. The trip went well until we left the Allentown bus terminal, when the driver proceeded to (a) drive the wrong way across a one-way bridge, and (b) drive onto a dead-end street in a residential neighborhood, before 30 minutes of smooth driving. He stopped because he was unsure of where he was.

    The driver was making good time, but he was driving towards Philadelphia, and away from New York. Greyhound had given him a bad set of directions. We got into New York about three hours late, just in time for me to make my transfer (but not get anything to eat).

    SECOND TRIP

    The problem here wasn't with the actual driving. I had tried to purchase a seven-day bus pass over the internet, but the Greyhound web site kept saying that "it could not load the next page" in the process. My town no longer had an actual place to buy tickets or passes, as it did on my first trip. For over a week, I tried to buy a pass. I repeatedly e-mailed their customer service center. Phone calls didn't help — they said that it was too late to mail a pass, and I couldn't pick one up locally, so I had to print it out.

    Three days before I wanted to leave, my credit union informed me that there were three separate charges for Greyhound on my credit card, and there was evidence that someone had tried to repeatedly charge things, but was denied because the card's credit limit had been reached.

    Every time I had tried to buy a pass, Greyhound had charged my account, but failed to produce the page where I could print out the pass. Nobody at Greyhound had mentioned the website failure or told me that the pass had actually been bought.

    I had to go an hour from home to get my printed-out pass.

    THIRD TRIP

    Greyhound no longer sold passes, and, to save travel time and spend a day in Boston, I purchased a set of four tickets: (a) hometown-PIttsburgh, (b) Pittsburgh-New York-Boston, (c) Boston-Burlington, and (d) Burlington-home. My ultimate destination was Middlebury, Vermont, and I scheduled my arrival in Burlington so I had two hours between that time and the time a local bus left for Middlebury.

    I had a two-hour gap in Pittsburgh scheduled, as well as a fourteen-hour gap in Boston. If I missed my connection in Pittsburgh, there were two further Pittsburgh-New York-Boston runs, with the latter arriving in Boston two and a half hours before the Boston-Burlington bus was to leave. It seemed impossible for me to miss the Boston-Burlington link.

    I reached the bus stop 45 minutes before the bus was to arrive, and waited in the rain. 75 minutes after the bus was due, it still hadn't showed up. I called customer service for help. They said that the bus had left Harrisburg 30 minutes late, but they had no idea where it went after that. So I waited, and waited, and waited.

    For 4 hours.

    There was one diner open on the block were the stop was, so I went in there. I then learned that there were times in the past that Greyhound had simply bypassed the stop in the evening. It would have been nice to know that in advance.

    The next hometown-Boston service on Greyhound would be too late for my connection to Burlington. Luckily, I was able to get an Amtrak ticket to New York, and a Greyhound ticket from New York to Boston. (I would have preferred to get an Amtrak ticket all the way to Boston, but they were sold out.)

    Amtrak was fine — it reached my station in time, and reached New York just 5 minutes late. I made it to the Port Authority Terminal in plenty of time. However, Greyhound wasn't ready. They didn't have a bus, and didn't know how long it would take to find one. We left 30 to 40 minutes late.

    Two blocks from the Port Authority Terminal, one of the side doors to the baggage compartments suddenly opened. That had to be fixed. When we got to Massachusetts, the driver knew we would be late, so he contacted the Greyhound office in Boston and asked it to hold the bus to Burlington.

    The officials in Boston didn't hold that bus, so I had to spend the night in Boston (and miss my connection in Burlington; the local buses ran only in the morning and evening). Ordinarily, Greyhound would provide hotel vouchers for people who missed their connections because of late buses.

    This was the night of Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park. They weren't providing vouchers.

    At stops along the Boston–Burlington run, I made phone calls to find taxi service to Middlebury. I eventually found such a service, and, luckily, they had already scheduled to pick up somebody in Burlington, so I could share that ride. Unluckily, the driver had left the car at the Burlington Airport, and I had to wait a further half-hour before getting the ride.

    Greyhound gave me a $100 voucher for the foul-ups. Unfortunately, they did not give me a refund for the ticket out of Johnstown.

    FOURTH TRIP

    I learned that, if I used the voucher, I could leave home in the afternoon, arrive in Chicago early the next morning, spend a day in the city, leave around 11 pm, and get back home around noon the next day, all for just $24.

    The voucher had to be presented in person. I stated earlier that there is no actual Greyhound ticket office in my hometown. Thus, I had to find someone who was willing to drive for an hour each way to get me to a place where I could use the voucher to buy a ticket. Once I got to an office, it took 45 minutes to purchase the ticket; the local agent had no idea how to enter the voucher into the computer to buy a ticket.

    The trip went fairly smoothly, if one ignores the fact that the bus broke down on the Cleveland-Chicago leg of the trip. Fortunately, it broke down before we left the parking lot of the Cleveland bus station, so there was a wait of only one hour in the cold before we got into another bus and left.

    Isn't Greyhound wonderful?

  51. Isaac Says:

    So a month or two ago Ed asked us where to go on a trip. Now we're giving him a pretty good run-down of how not to get there.

  52. Nick Z Says:

    Nice weather + SPSA = Give your paper, gtfo of that conference and see the town.

  53. Jestbill Says:

    Greyhound goes Peoria to Champaign in 2 hours. Amtrak would take you to NOLA in 16 or American Airlines would take you to Chicago or Dallas and then NOLA in 4 or so.
    YMMV!!

  54. Samuardo Says:

    "…we've ruined most of the things that used to be great about this country far beyond any hope of repair…"

    As a non-American, I'm really interested to know what these things are. I'm not being a smartass or suggesting that America wasn't great, I'm just interested to know what Americans feel nostalgic about.

  55. Mel Finn Says:

    You in New Orlins ,you got a gun this is a very dangerous place..

  56. April Says:

    When I first got to China four years ago, what amazed me was when you buy something in a box, or something electric – from a regular store, not a street market – the sales clerks will take it out of the box, check to see that all the pieces are there and plug it in to show it you it works. Batteries don't last two months in anything, and sometimes they don't work at all. (Again, bought from real stores. Street markets, of course, you're on your own.)

    In my first schools I gave the students this http://www.angelfire.com/hi3/pearly/humor/hotel-soap.html which I have always found hilarious. (Yes, I know it's probably a joke by Shelly Berman, but still funny.) I had two different sets of students read this and there wasn't even a smile. I asked the students why they didn't find this funny and, turns out (and now I understand) that this kind of fuck-up is par for the course over here and thus hardly worth noticing let alone funny.

    Lately I've noticed how new expats actually seem to think China is superior to the US in some ways. (Well, we do have bullet trains that are clean and run on time.) How sad is that?

    Is the revolution ever going to start?

    Sigh.

  57. April Says:

    @Samuardo I'm 60 so I guess I qualify to talk about "the good old days". Things just seemed to work. People would get a toaster for their wedding and would still be using it at their 40th anniversary right next to their 40 year old coffee pot. I remember my folks buying a new washer after 35 years (which needed a belt replaced once IIRC) just because she wanted a new washer, not because it didn't clean the clothes any longer.

    Things got fixed when they were broken. You weren't put on hold when you called customer service (probably because there was no technological way to do that, but still…). Working class people had regular jobs – not 4 part-time ones – that enabled them to buy a decent house and often let mom stay home. State universities were cheap so you didn't come out with a huge debt.

    I know, I know…rose-colored rear view mirror. Funny thing, the other day my daughter – who has been trying to get a hold of someone – asked how we did this in the old days before text and voice mail and email and…. I said we just had to keep calling, or write a letter. Certainly I like the systems we have now better.

    Of course it's all part of the plan by our plutocratic overlords to get us used to a shittier and shittier way of life so that when we're all scrambling on the ground for crumbs we'll blame each other and not them.

  58. Anonymouse Says:

    @Samuardo; besides the airlines, which used to be a pleasant-enough experience, America's having problems with infrastructure collapsing. I live a half-hour from a major city that just spent millions of dollars building a sports palace for the billionaire owner, but the average citizen has to contend with broken water-pipes (some of which were 150 years old without any maintenance), a sinkhole that collapsed an entire side of streets, general road and bridge decay, and failing schools.

    I travel just under 400 miles to my in-laws about once a year. I could fly it, but with the average flight delays and then having to rent a car at my destination for the 50-mile trip from the airport to their house, it's only an hour longer to drive than to fly. Driving is so much more convenient; you can bring water in any sized bottle you want, you can have snacks, and the route is inhabited enough that the nearest public bathroom is only a half-hour away, tops. The car seats in the family sedan are much more comfortable than anything you'd find in an airline, there are no screaming babies or drunken louts to contend with, and there's none of that Last-Flight-Out-of-Saigon atmosphere.

  59. schmitt trigger Says:

    "and there's none of that Last-Flight-Out-of-Saigon atmosphere."
    This sentence is priceless.

    Let me add my two cents for Samuardo:

    -one wasn't scared shitless that at retirement age one would be left holding an empty bag.

    -when traveling abroad, many foreigners would talk with awe and admiration about the US. A lot of that was that the US Dollar was really the king of currencies.

  60. Anonymouse Says:

    @schmitt: the last few times I've flown, I've invariably found myself in the middle of a scrum trying desperately to get through the one open check-in before their plane leaves without them. I'm old enough to remember when flying meant sauntering over to the nearest check-in station, which was staffed with several smiling airline clerks.

    In the name of profit, the numerous friendly clerks have been replaced by underpaid, overworked drones who are exhausted and surly. This is going on everywhere. Department stores are closing their multiple cashier stations in favor of a single, understaffed station. Grocery stores now depend on self-service kiosks that never work right so they can cut back on human staff.

  61. Kaleberg Says:

    I don't remember flying ever being all that wonderful. My first flight, a UFT charter in the mid-1960s was moved by a day and my family had to scramble to catch up on our itinerary after landing in Brussels. Our next flight was delayed overnight, so we spent the night at a hotel overlooking Flushing Meadow Park a few miles from our house. Coming home, we couldn't get a cab and had to call my uncle to get us home. The jokes about flying were a lot like today's, except for the ones about getting hijacked to Cuba.

    The 70s were pretty awful, except for the Boston-NY-DC shuttle which was pretty convenient. The flights usually made it through, but I remember calling my sister using the in-flight phone to tell her I was on my way. A minute later, the pilot announced that LGA was socked in, so it was another expensive phone call.

    The 80s were worse, especially after Reagan fired everyone who knew how to do air traffic control. I remember lots of circling, traffic delays, weather delays, awful food, and terrible air thanks to the smoking section. HEPA filters can only do so much. Oh, and did I mention deregulation? The fares really dropped, if you could book in advance, but airlines kept coming and going and the schedules were constantly changing.

    I wish I could say the 90s were the golden years, but the planes kept getting more crowded and the "fun" airlines like PSA were getting gobbled up by the titans. Flying in or out of Ohare was a challenge. It was like the Post Office in reverse, "Just some rain or snow or heat or even gloom of night seems to totally muck up the schedule of these faithless carriers."

    The next decade meant even smaller seats, the first serious unbundling, fewer new airlines and lots of security theater. I mean, what is some poor National Guardsman with an M-16 going to do if a terrorist attacks a crowded airline terminal? Start shooting?

    I think travel was always like this. It has always sucked. Wasn't the old saying "That's a hell of a way to run a railroad"? Didn't Shakespeare casually remark about "more diseases than four and twenty horses"?

  62. Anonymouse Says:

    I started flying in the 1960s, as a military dependent. We flew commercial airlines from Locatoin A to Location B, about every 18 months. I remember flights that weren't completely packed that allowed room for my siblings and I to lie down across several rows. I remember actual meals on flights–tv-dinner-type things, and not particular tasty, but filling enough.

    In the mid-1980s I flew from the east coast to the west to be part of a wedding party, the week after knee surgery. A direct flight wasn't available, so I landed in San Diego and boarded a commuter plane in San Diego to take me to LA, then on to Sacramento. I woke up in San Francisco–I slept through the LA stop (pain meds). The friendly staff first offered to send me back to LA (crutches and all), but the timing wasn't right, so they put me on a direct bus on the airline's dime with their apologies for not waking me.

    In the 1980s I began to travel for work and I remember liking the foreign carriers better than American ones.

    In the mid-1990s, I had to fly from England to San Diego for a funeral, alone except for two small children (my own–not kidnapping victims). I booked Heathrow – JFK – BWI – San Diego going out, and the reverse coming back. The next morning I boarded the flight. Things went fine until I got to BWI, when I was informed the airline no longer had direct flights from BWI – San Diego. Reminder: I had bought the tickets *the evening before*. You'd think they'd have mentioned a little thing like they no longer offered the flight I was buying while I was buying them.

    The new flight plan? BWI – Phoenix – San Diego. Hey, at leaset I'd get there, right? Nope. Forgot about flight delays. By the time the airplane left BWI, I'd already missed my connection in Phoenix. So, I landed in Phoenix with two exhausted children seven hours late, was re-routed (with half the rest of the plane) to Salt Lake City for a non-reimbursed overnight, then to San Diego the next morning. I was 20 hours late to my father's funeral, and by the time my brother picked us up at the airport, I was as much an exhausted, cranky mess as the kids.

    I had a day on the phone to arrange a flight back, because of course the direct-flight tickets I bought were no longer valid. After lots of unpleasantness, I managed a San Diego – LAX – O'Hare – JFK flight. We made it to LAX, but Chicago was having Weather (perhaps the gloom of night mentioned earlier?), so we were rerouted to Phoenix, where we sat on the runway for six hours waiting for some part that I think they must have been bringing from Mexico. Of course they couldn't let us off the plane, feed us, or let us switch to another flight.

    From Phoenix, we eventually landed at BWI, where the very-nice USO people offered us the first sustenance we'd had in about 18 hours: coffee (for me), soda (the kids) and donuts while I argued for a flight to JFK–the airline felt no responsibility to get me there, even though they were the ones who re-routed me. The JFK – Heathrow flight was fine–I flew on AerLingus and the seats were fine, the food was fine.

  63. Xynzee Says:

    Did you inspire this?:
    http://m.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/01/1355081/-Why-Airlines-Collude-To-Make-Flying-As-Miserable-As-Possible?detail=email

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