Jelly Belly: great candy, disappointing tour

“Sweet sensations and a world of delight await you at the Jelly Belly Center, a mouthwatering stop located off the I-94 Milwaukee/Chicago corridor, near the state line. The Center is designed so visitors can take a tour of our warehouse (really, it’s fun!) and taste the magic of “the original gourmet jelly bean,” Jelly Belly. ” That’s a quote off the Jelly Belly website inviting you to take a warehouse tour.

The tour is nothing more than a “train” ride around the perimeter of the warehouse about the size of a Costco. The ride stops every few yards in front of a some big screen that shows you a video covering a portion of the process of making a Jelly Belly or a bit of the company history. And while it is somewhat educational, it is all rather boring. Luckily it is all free.

Outside of the main entrance to the tour, there are signs marking the wait time. The farthest sign marks 1 hour wait time. If I had to wait 1 hour for the tour, I would’ve been extremely disappointed and upset.

So if you happen to be visiting the Jelly Belly factory, don’t waste your time. Skip the tour, skip the waiting and go straight for the factory shop. Sample some candy. Buy some bags of Belly Flops – the irregular candies that didn’t make the cut. And mark the Jelly Belly factory as another place you have visited in your travels.

Garbage filled Canada – some photos

Here are a few photos that I took in the area around Toronto Beaches.  This is all just up the street from the lakefront, along the Queen Avenue.  Not exactly something you would want to see while having dinner in an outdoor patio…

Nice, eh?

Trip to Canada? What a horrible experience!

On my usual annual family visitation trip to Canada, I am saddened and disgusted by the state in which I find Windsor and Toronto, both in Ontario.

The public workers of both cities are on strike.  They have been on strike for 3 months in Windsor and now close to 1 month in Toronto.  The strike means no garbage collection, no taking care of parks, no life guards at public swimming pools.  The garbage cans everywhere are overflowing with garbage.  Residents can drop off their garbage at 3rd party collection facilities but these are being picketed by the strikers, making the experience as cumbersome as possible.  In Toronto parks garbage is everywhere: in garbage cans, all over the grass, all over the playgrounds.  In Windsor, the formerly beautiful Jackson park is overrun by weeds and wild vegetation of every kind.  The grass is so tall, they will need a harvester to clear it up, if the city workers ever go back to work.  The whole situation, going to a public park, is completely disgusting and is a public health and safety hazard.  I am surprised that the courts are allowing the strike to continue this long.

I don’t know what exactly the strikers want.  I don’t know all the details behind the current situation.  I was told the demands differ somewhat in different cities: preserving their retirement benefits, increase in pay, increase in benefits.  All in all, in the face of today’s economy, the world-wide credit crisis, the rising unemployment I find it impossible to sympathize with the strikers.  When most people out there feel lucky to still have a job, demanding a pay increase is not likely to provoke any feelings of support.  How will these benefits and increases be funded?  Through increased taxes?  Taxes paid by people who are struggling to make ends meet.

These strikes are thoughtless, irresponsible and selfish.  They are damaging the image and the reputation of these Ontario cities.  They are hurting the image of the public workers.  They are hurting the residents of the cities.  These strikes need to end and the strikers need to issue public apologies.

If the strikers do win, and I hope that they won’t, I wonder how they will sleep at night, knowing at what cost to their neighbors and friends this victory was achieved.

In the mean time, I’m going to do my best to try to deal with the filth while I’m here, in Canada.

Why do they advertise ERs on billboards?

This falls into the category of things that baffle me…  Driving along I-355 in Chicago I noticed a large billboard advertising some local hospital.  The gist of the ad was that there is no waiting in their ER.  Now, this was maybe 3 hours ago but I already forgot the name of the hospital.  And what value does that billboard provide?  If I’m heading to a hospital’s ER, it is because I’m either hurt real bad or I’m in the back of an ambulance.  In either case, I’m heading to the closest damn hospital.

What is the biggest difference between an ambulance and a taxi? You can’t tell the ambulance where to take you.  It’s going to the hospital it services.

And if I’m heading to a hospital any other way, I’m going to the closest hospital I know and not to the hospital I have to Google the directions to, hoping to remember the name of that one place that promised no waiting in their ER.

So, dear hospital, the one that advertises on I-355 whatever your name may be, please save your money and try to direct your advertising budget towards things that really matter to your patients, things like making sure that saving lives does not cost an arm and a leg in the end.

Ed (Brill), my response or more on customer service of airlines in general

Ed, your comment brought so much to my mind, that I didn’t think I could fit it all into a response comment of my own…

Every time I fly, which, I admit, is not nearly as often or as far as Ed, I can’t shake the feeling that since 9/11 most airlines have come to view their passengers as necessary evil, a nuisance of sorts, with first class and premier level passengers, perhaps, being the only exception.  I generally don’t fall into either of those categories and if United could make the same amount of money transporting live stock, they would rather give my ticket and my seat to a cow.  The overall goal of the airlines seems to be one of cutting costs and looking good to Wall Street analysts at the expense of passengers.  It’s like a giant human experiment with everyone an unwilling subject: how far can we squeeze the passengers without them rebelling?  I think if the airlines could get FAA’s approval, they would replace Boeings and Airbuses with Stolypin cars.

I understand that charging a premium for certain seats is the policy of some airlines and that they have to protect their revenue stream.  However, once the doors are closed – “armed” – it is not like the plane is going to dock mid-flight over Ohio and take on more passengers — those seats are going to remain empty and will generate no more revenue.  At that point, if the circumstances permit, i.e. the flight is only half full, and the airline cares about the comfort and satisfaction of their paying customers, they might want to offer at least certain passengers to take more comfortable seats.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to walk through the cabin and spot people who are the most uncomfortable: tall people, heavy people, people squeezed in middle seats.  Offer them to move somewhere else.  Some of the older passengers, for one, will certainly appreciate the offer to stay in the front and not have to schlep all the way to the back of the plane with their carry-on luggage.  To me, this would fall into the category of common sense.  Alas, common sense is anything but common and even less so when it comes to most of the airlines of today.

There are exceptions, of course.

Air Mexico automatically reserves front rows for their older passengers and minors traveling alone.  That’s common sense.

Southwest, which is my favorite domestic airline, on “empty” flights would anything but force extra snacks and drinks on its passengers.  That’s common sense.  Compare that with United sharing each can of Coke between 3 passengers.

(Perhaps, I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think I’m too far away from the truth.)

I hate United. Part I — getting there.

I try not to fly United airlines.  I believe that United is one of those airlines that deserves to go out of business and it has nobody to blame for it but itself.

The last time I flew United was to go to Orlando in January, for the Lotusphere.  On my way back home, they cancelled my flight and forgot to tell me.  I complained and ended with a 100-dollar travel voucher.  So in order to redeem the voucher, I flew them again.  Big mistake.  I’ll probably end up with another voucher out of this.

Getting there was OK.  Surprisingly enough, the flight left O’Hare on time and arrived to Washington on time.  However…

The day of my trip, was the first day United started charging for any checked-in luggage.  You want to check-in a piece of luggage?  Insert a credit card and get charged $15.

If you ever wonder if we live in a class society, go fly somewhere.  While the socialists believe that we live in a two-class society, United prefers a three-class model: First, Economy and something called Economy Plus. $39 buy you a seat at the front of the plane, which has a little more room than a regular economy seat at the back of the plane.  On my flight, there weren’t many people travelling to Washington.  Almost all of them ended up being sardined into the regular economy seats.  A few brave souls decided to venture away from their assigned seats and into the forbidden Economy Plus territory. Not so fast! The flight crew had immediately issued a warning: if you’re in an Economy Plus seat and you’re not supposed to be there, you better have a credit card ready or be so kind and move back toyour assigned seat at the back.   It is beyond me why the crew wouldn’t let us all scatter around the plane, giving each person more room: leg or shoulder or both.

Vacation is over — back to life

Last week I took time off work.  The grand plan was to visit my friends in Washington D.C. and see the capital itself.  Its been over a year since I last saw my friends and I’ve never been to Washington.

My first ever visit to Washington and it left a great impression: The White House, the monuments, the government buildings, the Smithsonian museums — I got to see, touch and experience all these places that I’ve seen in movies, read and heard about.  However, it ended up being a very working vacation.  As it happened,I worked harder during my vacation than in the weeks leading up to it.

A Blackberry is a great and a terrible invention, a blessing and a curse: emails and phone calls that find you anywhere — who came up with that?!  I must have been quite a sight walking with a messenger’s bag over one shoulder, a camera hanging off the other shoulder and a cell phone pressed to my ear, talking to a client and closing business.  Talk about mixing business with pleasure.

But a few words about Washington…

Washington is HOT.  And I mean HOT.  The temperature was in the 90s, the Sun was beating down mercilessly, there is not much shade around all those monuments and it is humid.  Wearing jeans in that weather is not the best idea.  I was amazed by all those government types walking around in suits.  Better them than me.

Monuments, monuments and more monuments.  After a while, I did not want to see another white-stone structure with names of states on it and tourists all around.

Washington requires lots of walking.  I don’t remember when was the last time I had to walk so much.  All the monuments are set quite a distance apart.  They look deceptively close, but they are not.  I never actually made it to the Capitol Hill, it seemed like the horizon — always close but you never actually reach it.

The Washingtonians are very active.  I was tired just watching all the people who were jogging, running and biking in this hot weather.

The museums’ security is not consistent.  At the Washington monument, my stuff went through a scanner and I walked through a metal detector and set it off.  At one of the art galleries, security just briefly looked through my bag and let me.  At another art gallery, security made me open and show every compartment of my bag.  The security guard never actually touched my bag.  At the museum of natural history, security poked through the main compartment of my bag with a stick and I walked through a metal detector, which, this time, I did not set off.  Some food for thought there.

Our government is busy with things that we take for granted.  A man sat down next to me on the subway.  He was reading minuted of a congressional meeting on truck weights and dimensions.  I never really thought about this before, but there must be someone who governs and decides those things and a million of others: how far apart should parking meters be placed, the type and color of flowers to be planted around the city, availability of public toilets, water pressure in the municipal water system.  Fascinating stuff.
Washington is like no other city — Also on the subway, I sat across from a man working in the Information Technology Security group of the Pentagon.  A group of people was discussing their Army contract and why the Air Force didn’t want to go through the same steps of signing a contract.  Where else do you get to overhear conversations like that?!

I hate United, but more on that later.

I need a real vacation.  I need a vacation somewhere where my BlackBerry won’t work, my laptop won’t connect and phone calls won’t reach me.  Any ideas?

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