The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

As someone who’s studied a bit of psychology, I know that many people crammed into an enclosed space rapidly can become unruly. And I know from first hand experience that traveling in an airplane is a miserable experience, start to finish.

Since the government bailed out the industry in 2001 with $15 billion in compensation and loan guarantees, the industry has thanked the taxpayer by not only imposing ludicrous fees on everything from reserving a seat to carrying on luggage, but also designing narrower seats with vanishing legroom.

For two summers in a row, we traveled out west, to Arizona in 2015 and to California in 2016. Here’s how our experience with air travel went:

1. Because of various bankruptcies and mergers in the industry, we’re quite limited in choices of airlines. We always go to a smaller airport because it’s not as crowded and closer to home. (We would have a greater selection if we used a larger city’s airport, but it’s much more of a hassle to get there.) 

2. When we check in, we always find that we have to rearrange our seats, despite selecting them online ahead of time. My children are too young to travel without my husband or me next to them.

3. The flight has been overbooked. The boarding procedures are time-consuming and asinine.

4. The first leg of our trip always is to the “hub” of the airline. Most often, there are delays at the hub because the plane for the second leg of the trip hasn’t arrived yet, or something’s broken, or there’s inclement weather, or we’re waiting for the crew.

5. Repeat #3, but with an honorable mention: the crew on the first flight can do nothing about connecting flights. Amazon recommends stuff for me before I need it, but an airline can’t flag passengers who are going to potentially miss connecting flights because of unforced delays and log it so personnel can already work on accommodating them by the time the passengers reach the gate?

6. Despite the second flight taking at least four hours, there is no movie and all the airline offers is free soft drinks. Do you know how happy my kids would be if they got to see a movie on a plane? They wouldn’t even fight over any of the selections, something that takes up a good 30 minutes of our “family movie night” now. Because the airlines prioritize profit over comfort, long flights are terrible. I have to shift every 10 minutes to stave off potential cramping in my legs. Getting to the restroom is a feat of ingenuity because the aisle is so narrow.

When staff ask for volunteers to give up seats on overbooked flights, my price is an upgrade to first class for my family and me for the entire trip. (When we were discussing an overbooked flight from Flagstaff to Phoenix, I was willing to forgo the flight entirely for a kickass rental and first class the rest of the way home.) No one has taken me up on it yet.

As of late this afternoon, United CEO Oscar Munoz, after two failed attempts, completely apologized for forcibly dragging a passenger off a plane who did not volunteer to give up his seat. You know, creating more stress and havoc over a process that does not seem to go easy, ever. I’d love to see some rules in place preventing airlines from overbooking, but given our president’s penchant for eliminating regulations that help consumers–and his lack of experience in flying coach–I don’t think he’ll help any time soon.

The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

Bear Crawls Are the New Planks. I Hate Them.

Ever since late summer, I’ve been working out at the gym in a small-group setting. I’d had a personal trainer before who focused solely on strength; the program at my gym, THRIVE, also emphasizes balance and functionality. New gym members are given two months’ worth of free sessions. My original trainer wasn’t a great fit, and it was an adjustment for me to go from one-on-one attention to being in a small group.

I signed up with a new trainer last summer and this second time around has gone a bit smoother. I work out with the same person, more or less, and we get along well. The new trainer has adjusted to me, too. I am mouthy and tend to get inordinately crabby when he tells me to do an extra round of exercises at the last minute or when he’s inflexible about the order of exercises or when he changes the music so I have to listen to the Timberlake station on Pandora for a whole hour, AGAIN.

But he bears the full brunt of my wrath when the workout calls for bear crawls. I thought my workout anger had peaked when I had to plank, but it dwarfs in comparison to the rage I feel about bear crawls.

Here is a prototypical enthusiastic personal trainer cheerfully advising others on how to make poor, unsuspecting clients instantly miserable:

I tweaked my back while doing some lateral bear crawls yesterday (and promptly exacerbated the pain while doing kettle ball deadlifts) and earned myself some snuggle time with a heating pad today.

My problem, even when I plank, is I stiffen my back and not my core. Like the trainer explains in the video, my legs make larger strides to overcompensate for weak upper body strength and in the process strain my quads. My trainer constantly corrects me on my large stride and I helpfully tell him large strides make the exercise go by quicker so I can stop using all my mental facilities in channeling my hate toward him, and use them toward something positive and productive.

He tries to sugarcoat with smiley faces and exclamation points on the workout boards, and when I tell him that I’ve watched lots of NatGeo specials and highlights of Chicago Bears games and the Chicago Cubs victory parade and I can say with some authority BEARS DO NOT CRAWL LIKE THIS, he just shrugs and tells me I have to do three sets of 20 yards of crawls.

Bear Crawls Are the New Planks. I Hate Them.

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

My first, very cynical thought when reading this thoroughly reported New York Times story about Fox News settling harassment claims–to the tune of $13 million–against mega-star and cash cow Bill O’Reilly was, “how can anyone be surprised.”

After all, it’s been, what–nearly nine months?–since the cable channel’s founder, Roger Ailes, was ousted after creating and fostering a toxic work culture that thrived on misogyny, paranoia and corruption. To reward all his years of service and for his pesky habit of demanding sexual favors from his female employees in exchange for career advice, Ailes departed Fox News with a $40 million severance package.

Many predicted the channel would implode, but then Donald Trump won the election and despite having the highest security clearance in the nation, he chooses to get his news from–and live-tweet–Fox News programs. (To say nothing of the numerous sexual harassment claims filed against HIM.)

Bill O’Reilly’s response was that he’s a target because he’s famous and successful, and that none of the women–whom his network determined had serious enough causes to settle their claims–had followed proper procedure and documented their concerns with human resources or called a hotline specifically created to address sexual harassment complaints. Indeed, the network has doubled down on its star and extended his contract.

Lots of men in the network news business are famous and successful: Jake Tapper. Anderson Cooper. Scott Pelley. None of them have had to field sexual harassment complaints. And if you work for a company whose founder and CEO has encouraged a culture of sexual harassment, how comfortable are you going to be going through official channels at said company?

(And to be inclusive in all the nasty, here’s a woman at Fox News, an employee for two decades, who was fired for saying completely inappropriate things.)

How far do we have to go to believe women at face value when they claim they were harassed? A lot of the media world right now is bending over backward to accommodate O’Reilly’s response so the reporting is perceived fairly. How long do you think those employees had put up with the innuendo, the unwanted advances, the leers, before they had enough and filed suit? In those situations, women are subtly encouraged to just suck it up and deal for the sake of their careers.

Someone, somewhere had to do the math and risk analysis to come to the conclusion that O’Reilly is worth so much to Fox News that paying out $13 million worth of settlements was a necessary expense. That’s what makes this whole episode so sad and strange to me. Brian Stelter, CNN media critic, in his email newsletter compared O’Reilly to a troublesome sports star whose off-field antics begin to distract fans from his success in the game. But that analogy doesn’t work for me. I can’t think of many sports stars who were accused of harassing their colleagues in their work environment, like O’Reilly. (The only example that comes to mind is Richie Incognito.)

Finally, Fox News is one of the most successful networks, despite its toxic work environment. At this point, owner Rupert Murdoch is willing to look the other way as long as the channel makes money. How depressing.

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

On Leggings and Michael Pence

My 11-year-old daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is rapidly transforming into Lady Longlegs. She is uncomfortable in denim and wears dresses maybe twice a year, mainly because she can’t stand tights.

What does that leave her? Cotton pants, jeggings and leggings. (A post for another time: girls’ clothes aren’t nearly as sturdy and well made as boys’ clothes.) 

Her school has a dress code and since my daughter is a conscientious person it’s always at the back of her mind. Like most dress codes, it’s mainly written for girls and/or women. I imagine it’s similar to the dress code United Airlines has for people flying on buddy passes. 

My point here is not to argue about the dress codes in and of themselves, but how they perpetuate the assumption that girls and women need to be modest and cover themselves up. Otherwise, they become wanton temptations for boys and men. This argument not only does a disservice to girls and boys, reducing them to objects and urges, but also reinforces rape culture, a term I hate but is the most accurate in a society’s way of blithely assuming that women and girls are “asking for it” when they are sexually assaulted.

When other parents tell me they’re teaching their daughters to be modest, I immediately ask them what they’re instructing their sons. That girls have brains and feelings? That they should be respected and be considered persons in their own right, regardless of how many piercings they have or how their clothes fit? That they’re not objects of temptations, but the sum of more than their body parts, and future colleagues and bosses? 

When my son tells me he has a crush on a girl, he usually tells me it’s because the girl is cute, but I try to make him understand, even though he’s only 8, that girls can be attractive because they’re smart and funny, too. After all, those qualities have nothing to do with what clothes the girls are wearing.

There’s still a lot of work to do, because women (including me) have been harassed while fully clothed and wearing a winter coat. But I think it’s an important first step, to teach and reinforce these ideas in boys starting when they’re young and as they become teens.

To illustrate my point, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who considers women other than his wife to be such a distraction he won’t eat alone with them or attend functions alone with them where alcohol is served. Again, I don’t want to criticize his marriage. You do you, Mike and Karen! But I am concerned about how this affects Pence’s view of women in government and in places of power? Will Pence dine with Angela Merkel or Theresa May to discuss sensitive political matters without his wife? Nancy Pelosi? Elizabeth Warren? Does this policy mean he won’t hire women as high-level staffers in his own office, because there’s a chance he might have to dine with them alone? I mean, according to Pence, women are such distractions and objects of temptation there’s no way men can have platonic relationships with them. They’re not more than the sum of their parts. They’re solely objects.

On Leggings and Michael Pence

The Biggest Scam: Arcades

My sister and I took the kids to a mammoth sports complex for some rock climbing. (I don’t use the term “mammoth” lightly. Just yesterday, the complex hosted a softball tournament, a home show, baseball tryouts, soccer games and more. Parking was so much fun.)

My daughter had been invited to a birthday party at the complex last year (of course they do parties) and we’d gone rock climbing there before. But all our kids were interested in was the Hall of Overstimulation, or the arcade. 

I don’t have a problem with skee ball, air hockey, the cathartic whack-a-mole, or other games that combine dexterity and endurance. But simply pressing a button and hoping a ball lands in the right spot for eleventy thousand tickets, I’d argue, is a waste of time. 

We had some time to kill and I relented against my better judgement and allowed the kids to have $10 each, and it lasted approximately 15 minutes. Then the kids progressed to the exalted Room o’ Prizes, to carefully select cheap crap, Subject of a Million Fights, that’s either immediately broken or has such strong staying power it never leaves my house despite Herculean attempts on my part to throw it out.

Arcades are popping up in more places, at least in my town. Usually solely the bastion of shore towns, arcades now appear in our local movie theater and mall. Miniature arcade games show up in orthodontist and dentist’s offices. Miniature slinkies have had NO effect on my kids brushing their teeth. I feel I have to gear up for a fight (beyond arguing that a 15-minute errand does not mandate an iPod) everywhere we go. It’s so exhausting.

The Biggest Scam: Arcades

Here’s How to Make Classic Minestrone Soup (That My Kids Now Won’t Eat) in the Crockpot

I found the recipe on Facebook, of all places. I used Northern beans instead of navy beans, and substituted baby kale for the escarole. I paired it with crusty Italian bread dipped in rosemary-infused olive oil. (Which is a fancy way of saying I put rosemary in the bottom of a shallow dish, poured olive oil on top of it, and let it sit before eating.)


It’s easy. It’s healthy. My kids can’t even. They had a bacon sandwich and a PBJ sandwich for dinner tonight, respectively. 

Here’s How to Make Classic Minestrone Soup (That My Kids Now Won’t Eat) in the Crockpot

Buy Stock in Clorox: We’ve Been Hit With the Stomach Bug

The Offal family, usually stalwarts of health, have been uncharacteristically sick this winter. Random, dry cough that doesn’t respond to any medicine? Check. Head colds? Check. Flu? Check.

But this week? This week, when we’ve been graced with a snow day, two mornings of two-hour delays and another day off school from a previously planned teacher in-service? That’s when my kids pull in the mother of all illnesses: the stomach bug.

My children react to being sick quite differently.

My son woke me up in the middle of the night on Sunday. “I barfed.”

Me: “Where?” 

Son: “In my bed. You may want to look into that. I’m just going to sleep in the bathroom for the rest of the night.”

After the first of five loads of laundry (my son sleeps in his underwear but nestles snugly in a cocoon of roughly 12,000 blankets, pillows and his “stuffed animal council”) I found him on the bathroom floor, wrapped in a couple towels, fast asleep. He woke up once more to puke and then claimed the couch in the morning.

After his sister went to school and he gleefully claimed the remote, we had a couple episodes of another variety; he referred to them as “farts with something extra.” He kept down Gatorade at this point, asked when his sister would be home, and requested soup for dinner. He was back to his old form in time for the snow day.

Last night, my daughter complained of a stomach ache right before bed. She’s an anxious child so this isn’t out of the ordinary. However, she made it to the bathroom successfully. After she came and told me about it, she returned to the bathroom, left the door open and the lights on, and proceeded to give me a play-by-play of how things were going. This morning, she moved into the bathroom with a blanket, pillow pet, favorite stuffed animal, a selection of books and some electronics. I practically needed an ambassador to convince her to return to her room for a rest. 

We’ve had lengthy discussions about how miserable she is, how she hates getting sick, how she’s so bored. She takes a trash can with her when she’s not in the bathroom. Unfortunately, she gets herself so upset about being sick that she ends up getting more sick.

At this point, she’s kept down electrolyte freeze pops but she’s still staying home tomorrow.

As for me, I smell poop and vomit everywhere, even though everything’s been bleached into oblivion and there’s no reason the stench would still be around. It hasn’t been this bad since the kids were babies. My husband and I have so far withstood the onslaught, and neighborhood Facebook friends tell us that something is going around, as their kids succumb to the same bug.

Buy Stock in Clorox: We’ve Been Hit With the Stomach Bug