07 November 2009

This Is It

Last night, Ella and I had an evening on the town. We decided to have supper at Marathon Grill and then take in the Michael Jackson documentary, "This Is It."

I didn't get to catch up on Ella's life as much as I wanted to since I hogged up much of the conversation telling her about the dysfunction at work. And, unfortunately, we spent some amount of time trying to flag down restaurant personnel in an attempt to find out if we would actually get to eat our supper before we had to leave for the theater (it took us about 40 minutes to get our food).

The food was good but not spectacular, but props to the restaurant for hiring some excellent eye candy. Well done, hiring people! I won't speak for Ella, but I felt slightly skeevy upon finding out the server who I'd been eyeing wasn't even old enough to drink. Oops.

We headed over to the theater with ten minutes to spare. After we had put in our order, Ella had run over to get the tickets and there was reserved seating, so there was no particular rush, although I did have to wait in line to get the assistive listening device headset. Then, when we got seated, there was a whole seating debacle. I won't go into the whole thing because it was too stupid to take up my energy here and now, but it was ridiculous. Ella summed it up neatly in three words: sense of entitlement.

The movie. OMGWOW. Since I found out last night when I got home that the domestic run has been extended through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I WILL be seeing this again in the theater. If anyone would like to go with me, just say the word. I also called my mom (an MJ fan, although not as big of a fan as I am) and encouraged her to go see it as there are certain parts that just absolutely will NOT translate to the small screen ("Thriller" special effects, I'll talking to you).

There were times in the movie where I giggled, laughed, and (of course) cried. I came prepared with plenty of tissues, and I used them liberally. I sat next to two middle-aged women who were also pretty familiar with MJ's body of work, and they kept a running dialogue throughout. With my headset on, I couldn't make out what they were saying, though.

I was worried that I'd be upset by the treatment of some of the songs or the dances, as if it wasn't MJ doing them, which is ridiculous. But you know how it is sometimes... you go to a concert and the artist decides to "jazz up" your favourite song and completely ruins it. I guess I've become SO jaded and SO cynical and SO defensive on Michael's behalf that ANY time the media does something about him, I get my guard up.

However, I was only disappointed three times, and I think only die-hard MJ fans would have looked for the moments I was looking for. Once was when he did "Billie Jean." When he did "Billie Jean" for the "Motown 25th Anniversary" special on television, he debuted the Moonwalk. But when he rehearsed the number for the concert, he broke out a LOT of moves and he seemed to be working up to the Moonwalk, but, no. Turns out that MJ is just a cocktease.

The second that disappointed me was when he did "Smooth Criminal." The moment in that video that blew most people's minds was The Lean. And while they recreated a lot of the dance for the concert, there was no lean. Boo. ALTHOUGH I love love LOVE what they did do. I think maybe some moviegoers might have had a "WTF?" moment when they started that segment of the movie, but as soon as it came up, I knew without a doubt that it was going to be "Smooth Criminal." MJ is SO predictable sometimes (and I say that with love. L-O-V-E.) No spoilers here, though. Go see it. (or buy it on DVD at a store not named Wal-Mart on 17 December. /Shameless plug.)

The third (and final) disappointment was that his treatment for "The Earth Song" was almost an EXACT replica of the video. While the video WAS good, I daresay that only the most diehard MJ fans could tell you what it was, the premise of it, or how it unfolds. It certainly isn't one he's KNOWN for. And while I know that environmental issues were always near and dear to Michael's heart, I wish he had come up with something different. He certainly never had a dearth of creativity; I'm not sure why he'd choose this video to recycle.

Overall, though, the movie was amazing, spectacular, wonderful, and then amazing some more. It made me remember how gentle and humble Michael is. How much he cared about the other artists and their talent being showcased. How much he just LOVES what he does. How much he loves music and dance and performing. How much he KNOWS music and IS his music. How much of a technician he is. How much he craved perfection, and how much he wanted his fans to see The Best Show EVER.

The atmosphere in the theater was almost like seeing a mini-concert - there was a small-ish crowd of people who clapped after most songs (not after every song because of the nature of how the movie segued); when familiar songs came on (like "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5"), I wasn't the only one rolling my arms back and forth; it was nice to be a room where I could sit in my chair at the end and sob and feel like everyone understood.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for me was when he performed "Human Nature." He seemed to just completely get lost in the moment and let loose and have fun with the dance moves and the vocals. And that song... what a classic. The other moment when I just about lost was when the first strains of notes of "Man in the Mirror" played. See, when Michael's memorial service ended and they took his casket out of the stadium, that was the song they played. And since then, I can't hear that song without seeing the image of his casket leaving the room.

Missing you, Michael, as always.

06 November 2009

SEPTA Strike: Day Four

SEPTA strikers, how dare you!
by Ronnie Polaneczky


As a fellow trade-union member, I'm having a big problem with you, solidarity-wise.

Not only is your strike strangling the city - keeping kids from school, people from jobs, patients from doctors' appointments - but it's a thumbed-nose to something for which most folks reading this paper would give their back molars: The promise of a paycheck for the next 60 months.

I'm thinking about the 400 employees at Crozer Chester Medical Center who lost their jobs this year. And the 22 staffers axed last Thursday at Drinker Biddle & Reath. And the Comcast employees who learned on Wednesday that the cable giant plans to pink-slip a number of workers, even though the company is enjoying a fabulously profitable year.

Hell, it's a promise I wish we had right here at the Daily News.

We've lost dozens of staffers in recent years, and the paper's possible demise is a topic of endless speculation.

So let me get this straight: Unemployment is rampant in this region, and your union actually chose to strike rather than continue hammering out the details of your already excellent jobs? Jobs that we, the transit-dependent public, need you to perform so that our own financially teetering lives don't crash and burn?

Where do you people get off?

Your good jobs would only get better with SEPTA's opening offer - a deal that Gov. Rendell rightly described as "sensational." The contract calls for you to pocket a signing bonus of $1,250, just for agreeing to the damn thing. It would give you a 2.5 percent raise next year. And a 3 percent annual increase for three years after that.

The proposal doesn't require you to donate even a nickel more to your health-care plan. Do you have any clue how sweet that is?

It even comes with an offer to increase pension contributions to 11 percent over the next five years. I know, your leadership disputes that figure. But at least you still have a pension to argue about. Not everyone is so lucky.

Yet you looked at all of this and said, "Let's walk out."

So, please, tell me: When you're behind the wheel of the bus, what planet are you driving on?

This is the part of my rant where I think I'm supposed to toss you a bone. To concede that interacting with the city's rough citizenry can be punishing to even the sunniest people in the transit business. That moving millions of people from here to there is so much more grueling than we could ever know.

Sorry, no bone.

Your 3 a.m. walk-off, which left tens of thousands of us stranded without notice, was outrageous. It cemented the worst belief about SEPTA workers - that you hold us, the people who pay your wages through taxes and the fare box, in contempt. Good luck trying to improve that image once the wheels start rolling again.

Sadly, your strike also unfairly strengthens the perception that all unions are as entitled and grabby as you are. Your president, Willie Brown, actually said, "We agreed not to strike during the World Series. We took people to the game because we are professionals. Now it's time to reward us."

Reward you? For doing the jobs that we pay among the highest fares in the country for you to do?

Can we wipe your noses for you while we're at it?

You also have a bizarre notion that you're in some sort of profit-sharing relationship with SEPTA. Brown has pointed out that, while the economy is doing badly, SEPTA is not. Ridership is up, and the agency has gotten money from state and stimulus funds. So, your warped thinking goes, you're entitled to a fatter slice of the pie.

News flash: It's not your pie. It's ours. If SEPTA is flush, it's incumbent on the agency to plow that money back into new equipment, improved routes and - here's a fun idea - customer-service training for workers whose job protection keeps them from caring whether they snarl or smile at us.

Are there some outstanding issues you have with SEPTA management? No doubt. All grown-ups have issues with the boss. Unlike you, though, what we don't have is the ability to hold a city hostage for as long as our tantrum lasts.

So, please, get back to work. And admit that your negotiating hasn't been just about getting more for yourselves.

It's been about getting more - much, much more - than the rest of us.

04 November 2009

SEPTA Strike

Yep, another strike.

My life is all about strikes right now. As a lot of you know right now (either from my status messages on Gchat, my incessant phone calls, or my nonstop IMs), SEPTA (that's the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority - or mass/public transit - to you non-locals) is on strike.

Their contract expired last March, but they didn't strike then because they wisely decided that it wasn't in their best interest to strike then. They issued a statement then that they recognised that it wasn't a good to strike, that too many people were depending on them to get to jobs, etc. Then, last week, they suddenly decided that they couldn't work without a contract any more and that they would strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning.

And, oh, it was just a coincidence that this was the same weekend as three World Series games, three Pearl Jam concerts, a Philadelphia Flyers game, and a Philadelphia Eagles game. Now, for you non-locals, all of these events take place in the same area - the Sports Complex in South Philly. And the best, fastest, easiest way to get there? The Broad Street Subway.

Governor Rendell finally stepped in and threatened to withhold SEPTA's state funding if they went on strike. So they didn't. And the city breathed a collective sigh of relief. And all was well.

Until the Philly part of the World Series ended in the wee hours on Monday. People went to sleep happy because the Phillies had won, extending the Series. Not knowing that SEPTA employees would walk out mere hours later.

Tuesday morning, I woke up at 5:20 a.m., got ready for work, walked to my trolley stop and waited. And a women walked by and informed me that I shouldn't continue to wait for the trolley because SEPTA went on strike as of 3:00 a.m. that morning. WTF???

So I walked to the nearest train station. Last week, I had purchased a train pass, in case they went on strike (it only costs $6 more than my usual pass since I'm in Zone 1 so, for me, it wasn't much of a gamble) so that was okay. I walked the five blocks to the train stop, practically running so I could catch the first train, mistakenly thinking it came at 6:15 (it comes at 6:07). However, it didn't come until 6:39 anyway. So I ran (in my dress shoes and work clothes) for nothing. Yay me.

I meet up with my coworker on the train. We get off at the main university campus stop, which is two miles from the hospital campus. My coworker and I end up meeting up with some other random hospital worker, so now there are three of us facing a two-mile walk to the hospital. My coworker decides he doesn't want to walk, so we get to red light, he picks a car, knocks on the window, asks the guy if he's going up to the hospital and if he minds giving the three of us a ride!!!! AND THE GUYS SAYS OKAY!!!!

So, yeah, we hitched a ride. And the guy didn't kill us. Getting home was another story. I had to walk the two miles from the hospital to the main campus, catch the train, and get off in the city because I had an appointment. Then to actually get home, I had to wait in a long-ass hour-long line at the train station. At each station, they only let a certain number of people get on so that they can still guarantee people getting on at each station, which is pretty smart of them.

Today, instead of hitching a ride with a random person this morning, we flagged down a random empty SCHOOL BUS. Yeah, you heard me. The hospital is supposed to run shuttles, but all HR will tell us is that the shuttles run a 40-minute loop and that the shuttles are clearly marked with the university logo in front. Well, this bus was clearly marked with the Philadelphia Eagles logo all over. And one of the women in our group flagged it down and asked him if he was going by the hospital. He said he was, so he gave us a ride.

Who knows what tomorrow's adventure will be.

Oh, and by the way. The offer the SEPTA union turned down?

Wages: No raise this year, but a $1,250 ratification bonus; a 2.5% raise in Year 2, and 3% raise in Years 3, 4, and 5. An 11% increase in pension contributions, and no increase in workers' contributions to health insurance benefits for five years.