Sunday, July 17, 2016

You Are an Ant to Us

Well, at least I got something accomplished today.  Sent in my complaint to American Airlines regarding the major SNAFU I suffered through at their hands a few weeks ago.  I knew it would take me weeks to get this post together, but here's trying to get *two*  things done on a lazy Sunday.

I wrote this on my phone back on June 19th:

I'm so cold...

It's 5:30 in the morning and I'm in São Paulo. I shouldn't be here, I arrived yesterday and I'm waiting to board a flight back to Salvador. By my own reckoning, I'm not even in São Paulo, because I never left the airport, and airports don't count.  So once I get home this will simply be an expensive, time consuming hole in my life, not to mention a big spike in my carbon footprint.

And in a couple weeks, I'm going to do it all over again. That is,  without the sleeping on a bench part, without the jackhammer and the unstable middle aged woman periodically announcing,  loudly, how some corrupt guy owes her a hotel room and how she would get the police involved, if they weren't all corrupt as well. No, in a couple weeks I only have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to make another non-voyage and dump a few more tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

But, as much as I am grumbling about this, I am doing it willingly. I volunteered for this. I'm going home by myself, but I came down with my son.  And in a couple weeks, I'm going back to get him.  I'm a chaperone, making sure a long planned trip didn't get cancelled.

I'm on the plane now, at least it's warmer in here.

We've been planning forever for my son to make a trip to see my family without me along.  It finally came together for his winter break from school, over the  (much dreaded by me) São João holiday. I bought the tickets months ago, and spent a lot of time and energy, and a fair bit of money, getting everything else together.  Lucas needed a new US passport, again, various documents needed to be prepared and notarized  (price for the services of a US notary in Salvador da Bahia? Now at $50.00 a signature).  Meanwhile, lots of planning was going on north of the equator, mostly orchestrated by my most industrious sister. Days off were scheduled, reservations made.

In the midst of this, about a month ago, I got an email from American Airlines informing me that there had been a change to my itinerary. When I had a chance to look at it, I noticed that Lucas' flight from NY to Miami had been changed by about an hour.

What I didn't notice was that the Salvador/Miami leg of the trip  had been eliminated.

Now, this may seem like a pretty major oversight, and it was.  But if I may say a few words in my own defense  (you know I will) the email didn't exactly make it clear just how significantly the itinerary had been altered.
...And that's as far as I got before the plane took off and I fell asleep.  Made it home OK, lost about 24 hours of my life but Lucas got to make his trip and had a great time.

I had planned to describe in gruesome detail the customer service nightmare of discovering the kid had no flight, but after about an hour of whittling down the complaint from about 5000 words to 2000, I don't have it in me.  Maybe I'll post it at the end.

When I went back to pick him up I wrote this, again on my phone:

I am back in São Paulo, 8 in the morning, I had to get up at 2 AM to be here to meet Lucas, who will be landing any minute now. By all accounts he had a wonderful trip, so I suppose by that measure this has all been worth it. I'm unfortunately not surprised I didn't get it together to finish this blog post, but that's how it goes these days...

Not having an easy time concentrating as I'm anxious about Lucas' arrival, so this will most likely be a multi-part post providing I can get it together to publish the thing. I also haven't written to American Airlines yet to write my scathing complaint, that needs to happen as soon as possible when I get home. Or maybe I'll get to it during the nice long day of hanging around airports (luckily in the company of my kid!) I have slated for today.
Well, well, Me Of The Past, wouldn't you be proud to know I just wrote that complaint and launched straight into finishing the post, only a month after I started it!  Here's hoping for frequent flyer miles or free tickets from the Corporate Behemoth.  They owe me.

As far as that day went, it was nicely broken up into little chunks: a couple hours at the São Paulo airport, a half-hour flight to Rio, another hour or so there, on to Salvador, couple more hours, then a cab back to the house and done.  Apparently the mentally unstable middle age woman is a regular at the SP airport because I saw her again on the way back, she seemed much calmer.  I made a grave repacking error with my carry-on, trying to get around the more stringent weight regulations for national flights - put some sharp things in there and almost had them taken away.  Point for Brazil, in the States that stuff would have been yanked in a heartbeat.

The kid came back much tanner, a better swimmer, and more fluent in English.  Also presumably with much stronger ties to his North American roots.  Everyone was great with him and I think it was a transformative experience for the little guy, although it's hard to tell seeing how quickly he's slipped back into his old life.  Them seeds might take a decade to bear fruit.  I tried to convince him to write something down about the trip, try to get some extra credit at school, but he's 11.  Maybe on the next trip, if there is one!

So here is my complaint, the original version which is more flowery in its prose as opposed to the 2000-character-limit one which is more terse.  Terse bad, not eloquent!

On March 25, 2016, I purchased a round trip ticket from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, via Miami to New York for my son, who is a minor.  At the same time, I paid the $300 unaccompanied minor fee for him to travel by himself and meet my family in the United States.

On May 3 I received an email indicating that the flight had been altered.  I checked the itinerary and noticed that there was a flight change for his return flight (from flight 1254 to flight 1365) from New York to Miami, so I assumed that this was the only effected portion of the trip.  What I did not realize at the time was that the flight from Salvador to Miami had been canceled.

Nowhere in the email does it indicate that the flight from Brazil to the United States had been canceled, and that I was left with a useless ticket from Miami to New York.  There was no warning that my son's travel plans had been essentially cancelled by American Airlines.  Additionally, I was not refunded for the price of the ticket from Salvador to Miami, which would have alerted me to the situation.  I was left believing there had only been a minor change in scheduling. Would it have been so difficult to inform me that more than half of the flight had been eliminated?

On the day before my son was to travel to the United States, I contacted American Airlines with some questions about the unaccompanied minor program.  It was then that I discovered that he no longer had a flight: American Airlines had canceled all service in and out of Salvador.  Needless to say I was upset, and wanted to know what American Airlines could do to rectify the situation.  I was told my only options were a refund or to change the origin of the flight to Sao Paulo.  American Airlines was unable or unwilling to provide a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo for my son, because he was travelling alone.  I asked why I had not received a reimbursement on my credit card, and I was told that that would have happened at check-in.  Exactly how was that supposed to work?  When my son arrived in Miami?  Unaccompanied?

I was also informed that if my son had not been using the Unaccompanied Minor program, American would have put him on a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo on a different airline.  This was cold comfort at best.  If that was the case, and since I was in fact paying extra for the Unaccompanied Minor program, shouldn't I have received some notification due to his special circumstances?

I was left with only two options: cancel a trip that I and my family had been planning for months, or travel with my son to Sao Paulo and put him on the plane myself.  I opted for the latter, which required the purchase of three additional round trip tickets from Salvador to Sao Paulo, one for my son, and two for me, one to bring him down, and one to pick him up.  The total cost of the tickets was 2635.01 brazilian reais, or about 800 USD.

I have been a loyal customer of American Airlines for years, I participate in the AAdvantage program, and possess a CITI/AA credit card for the sole purpose of accruing miles.  I feel that I have been the victim of callous indifference on the part of the airline.  Admittedly I didn't notice that the flight to Miami was no longer on the itinerary, but would it have been so difficult to notify me that the flight had been cancelled?  That in fact there were no more flights to and from Salvador offered by American Airlines?

One time I was bumped from a flight from Miami to Salvador and I was offered two nights in a hotel, vouchers for meals, a flight the next day, and an additional round trip ticket from Brazil to the USA.  This time, I was offered nothing except for an overdue reimbursement and the opportunity to inform my 11 year old son that his travel plans had been cancelled by an airline that didn't bother to inform us that his flight no longer existed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

BTC 2016, Madre de Deus

It seems my blog has been reduced to the occasional super important event, a couple posts a year, if I can actually be bothered to write something.  That's okay.  This blog had it's run, it was fun, and it gave me a chance to vent at a time that I didn't really have much of an opportunity to do so.

So here in Brazil we find ourselves in the midst of a massive political crisis, an attempt at the impeachment of the president, an attempt at jailing a wildly popular ex-president, and the attempt to shield him from prison.  I'm not going to write about that.  I don't really understand it, it's terrifying, but I'm not a reporter and wouldn't pretend to have an educated opinion on the subject.  However, I will say this: it occurred to me a couple years ago that I arrived in Brazil at what may be viewed historically as a lull in the storm: the economy was doing well, politics relatively stable, free press, etc.  If I'd showed up here during the dictatorship, during the years of hyper inflation, it's difficult for me to imagine having stayed here, and even more difficult to imagine starting a business here.  But I did both, and now that the proverbial shit is hitting the proverbial fan, what happens next?  On the one hand, if things completely unravel here it's hard to imagine that there will be guerrilla warfare in the streets of Salvador, although I suppose anything's possible.  On the other hand, is it really time for me to pull up the stakes and get the fuck out of Dodge?  The US in spite of its own political shit storm does seem to be keeping its head above water economically speaking, at least for now.  But the thought of starting over again is daunting, although it won't get any easier as I continue on the path to middle age, and I will eventually leave this place.  I decided that a long time ago.

One last thing on the subject and then I'll shut up: can anyone say "Really Bad Timing"?  Maybe this is just my non-Brazilian perspective, but Brazil is just about to host the Olympics.  It's gotten a huge amount of bad press for not getting its act together in preparing for them, not to mention the sewage in the bay and the now notorious zica virus.  It has invested millions, if not billions, to make the Olympics happen.  And now, like two months before it starts, you're going to impeach the president???  It's like your family is planning this huge party or wedding or something, catered, maybe you got the house landscaped and painted and installed a pool just for the occasion, and then the weekend before it happens there's a massive, violent fight and the cops are called and a couple family members are arrested and the whole neighborhood is in an uproar about it.  The party/wedding may still go on, but it's going to be extremely awkward and probably some people aren't going to show up.

So that's that.  Pardon the profanity, I will not be using such foul language from here on in.  In the face of political meltdown, we hosted our second graffiti event, Bahia de Todas as Cores 2016, "Esse Spray Tem Dendê."  We had it in the city of Madre de Deus, which is about an hour outside of Salvador, a city notable for it's complete domination by the petroleum industry: vast fields of massive holding tanks and elaborate pipelines that line the roads.  In spite of that, it manages to be a lovely place with lots of local charm.  One of the major differences this year from last is that everything seemed to be more relaxed, getting out of the megatropolis and away from the traffic and the negative elements was an excellent, excellent idea.  Wish I could take credit for it.

All the rest is just art and details.  I'm going to skip the details and post some art, with a little commentary.  The main wall was enormous: it snakes along the back of a neighborhood, separating it from one of these fields of petroleum holding tanks.  It's not going to get much visibility from anyone but the people in the neighborhood, but it was an awesome place to have an event.  Mostly stuck at my booth selling paint, at the end of the day yesterday I finally was able to walk the wall from one end to the other.  It became clear to me that I had two options: take dozens or perhaps hundreds of photos, or make a video of the whole thing, from one end to the other.  I opted for the latter, as I think it gives a much better sense of the continuity of the thing.  The video runs for eight and a half minutes, which gives you an idea of just how long the wall is.  It's kinda shaky, and if you have a short attention span I suggest that you skip the middle (although there are some great pieces in there) and watch the end, which has the most amazing collaboration of the event.  My phone's battery died right at the end, but luckily it happened when I reached the very last piece, the only thing that doesn't appear in the video are the logos of the sponsors, which include my store.  No biggie.  I'm not really one for self promotion.  The downside of the battery dying is that I would have taken some more photos, at least of the massive production with the western scene, but it was not to be.  I'm sure we'll have some better photos eventually on the site: - coming soon!

On Friday we had a 'multirão,' where anyone could show up and paint.  The wall was much smaller than the main wall, but it is much more central and will be seen by many more people.

This last one is probably the most important painting from the multirão, at least for the city of Madre de Deus.  It is a portrait of a 16 year old girl who was killed by a stray bullet about a week ago, she studied at the school that we painted.  The artist's name is Trigo.  I shoulda taken a photo of the finished painting, it came out really well.

All the photos that follow are from the main wall, painted over the saturday and sunday of the event.

And now, (assuming really bad fake french accent) the Pièce De Résistance:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ugly Head Reared

Recently we hosted a German couple at our house and they left us the following review:
“Mark is fluent in English which is very helpful and rare in Brazil. The room itself was exactly as in the pictures, clean and with a comfortable bed. We didn't really like the bathroom, because it smelled gross and we made the first and only time aquaintance with cockroaches in a house. Unfortunately the room is on the ground floor on the side of the road, which is very dirty and smelly. All day and and half the night there were people in front of the room, talking, laughing, screaming... When leaving and returning you had to fasten and undo 3 (!) locks and it was not recommended to leave the house and turn right (!!). We felt very unsafe and uncomfortable as whites in Mark's neighborhood. In comparison to many other (website deleted) opportunities in Brazil so far, we would NOT recommend this place (exception: black males who can live with the circumstances). We are very sorry to say that.”
Needless to say I was shocked and infuriated by this.  Street dirty and noisy?  Yep, aware of that.  Cockroach in the house?  Say it isn't so!  Gross smell in the bathroom?  That's a new one.  Neighborhood only suitable for black males?  Go f*ck yourself people.

I had hoped to write a long, carefully considered post on this topic; I spent a huge amount of time thinking about it and lost most of a night's sleep as well.  But as is so often the case the days go sliding by and if I don't write something right now (Sunday night) chances are I won't write anything at all.  It's getting late and I should be asleep so I'm going to have to keep it short.  Let me say only that I received a lot of support from friends and family when I mentioned what happened on Facebook, not least of all my elderly mother who has visited us four times and has not felt threatened here, despite being neither black nor male.  Also the website in question, which I have decided not to name, did the right thing when I complained and removed the review, stating that it violated their content policy.

My critique I will leave in the form of the response I was planning to leave to the review, in the event it was not removed from the site.  Here it is:
This review is inappropriate and borderline racist.  I wrote this couple a follow up email, asking if something had happened to them, if they had been discriminated against as white people in my neighborhood.  They didn't answer, which could mean that they didn't receive my email, or that they chose not to reply, but I think the truth is that, in fact, nothing happened to them that could be described as racial discrimination.  I have lived in this neighborhood for over ten years and I have never felt discriminated against on the basis of my race, and as far as I know none of the other hundreds of guests that have stayed with us ever have either.  In all probability, they felt uncomfortable as obvious foreigners in the midst of a sea of dark faces, in a neighborhood that is often chaotic and definitely loud.  Discomfort is not the same as discrimination and they should not be confused: protections exist against discrimination, effective or no, and indeed white people are sometimes subject to discrimination although not nearly to the degree of other races.  If you are going to claim discrimination, be prepared to back it up, at least with your version of a specific incident.