Helping nonprofit customers

I work at a company that wants to democratize decision making via “digital experience optimization.” In other words, we’ve created a technology that allows businesses to do online testing and use data to drive their decision making. As we’ve grown and seek to become viewed as a more enterprise-focused business, what unfortunately also happens is that customers who are smaller and, well, pay us less money, tend to fall to the wayside in terms of love and attention they get. Sadly, this has affected customers in our nonprofit sector, who by definition are time and resource-strapped, but they really need someone to guide them in the right direction.

So I got tapped by our nonprofit/charitable giving lead to see if I could help some of these customers by reaching out to see what stage of testing maturity they are at, and what assistance we could provide them to be successful. The hardest thing with working with these customers is figuring out if they even want to be helped; as with any person, people can only be helped if they want to be helped. We cannot force things upon them. Now, what does that sound like?

It’s really annoying when customer frustrations remind you of the frustrations you have in your personal life with your own family.

Trump supporters everywhere

Today really was not my day. After my meetings ended and I had my customary visit to Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean, in Millennium Park, an Uber picked me up to take me to O’Hare Airport. And while on that ride, the driver decided to turn on some AM radio, which is playing some conservative radio show that is praising Trump, criticizing the Democrats grilling Brett Kavanagh while being evaluated as the next Supreme Court justice, and saying that Kavanagh is a fine, fine candidate for this position.

I wanted to throw up. But I was too passive and nice, and instead of asking the driver to switch the channel, I just consumed more and more news on my New York Times app, aka what Trump calls “The failing New York Times.” Instead, I gave him a crappy rating, no tip, and got out of the car when we finally arrived at the airport. He wasn’t particularly friendly or nice to me, anyway.

Then, as if it didn’t get any better, when I got on the plane and sat in my window seat, a white man from Montana sat down next to me in the middle seat between me and an Asian man, presumably Korean (I’m just guessing based on his appearance). He teased the Asian man, asking if he wanted to sit with the “pretty girl in the window seat,” and declared, “All Chinese people like to stick with their own kind. Chinese people will only marry Chinese people.” That absolutely is not true as we all know, but what does this guy know, anyway, to make such a sweeping and ignorant statement like this? Not to mention that I’m not married to a Chinese man, nor is this guy even Chinese! He then whipped out The Russian Hoax book, which apparently is ranked #11 on the Amazon books bestsellers list (this is the liberal bubble I live in, to not be aware that this book was recently released), and started reading it, completely engrossed. This book, as I briefly looked up, basically says that the concept of Russian collusion is completely fabricated by the left, and that Hillary Clinton got away with endless law breaking and should be locked up. It got glowing praise from Rush Limbaugh. That’s how we know we cannot take this book seriously.

On my ride to the airport in Chicago, I was driven by a Trump supporter. Then, on my flight back from Chicago to New York, I was sitting next to a Trump supporter. WHY??????

 

Chi-town visit

After getting back late from Charlotte last night, I had to haul myself out of bed at 4:30 this morning to catch an early morning flight to Chicago for two long days of customer onsite visits. These are the moments when I dislike travel, when I know I have to wake up extremely early after a limited amount of sleep, and I have to spend the full day completely engaged and with my business brain on.

Chicago is just as beautiful as I remember it to be four years ago when I came for a work trip. But it’s definitely a lot more expensive than what I remember: while looking up menus of things I thought about eating, all the prices for the most part seem to be on par with New York’s. And based on the Yelp reviews, people seem to be noticing that prices are rising and are endlessly complaining about them.

At least Chicago is still a universally known and loved place. What I really didn’t understand was on Sunday when we were in Asheville, all these restaurants that were supposed to be popular and tasty had multiple-hour waits, and even asked if I wanted a 9:30 or 10pm reservation, as they tend to book out months in advance. Sorry, but Asheville, North Carolina, is not New York, San Francisco, LA, or Chicago. You cannot get away with that with someone who has lived in San Francisco and lives in New York. Asheville is just another small town city that seems to be be trying to be something from a culinary perspective that it will never be. I guess they can keep trying, and the locals will deal with it.

“Miracle on the Hudson”

Today, we visited the Carolinas Aviation Museum just outside the Charlotte airport to see the exhibit for the US Airways Flight 1549, also known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” This recounted the story, the plane, and the aftermath of the U.S. Airways flight that had a flock of random Canadian geese fly into its engine and as a result, had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River where every single person survived and barely got injured back in January 2009. It actually had a happy ending, which is not usual when emergencies like this happen with airplanes.

It’s strange to think that what these passengers and flight crew experienced could easily be any of us on any given day. Chris and I fly so much between business and pleasure travel that our probability of having something like this happen is just so much higher than for the average person. But I guess it just goes to show that it really does matter to understand the flight safety card, where all the exits are, and what to do in an emergency. For the most part, I don’t really listen anymore to the flight attendants as they are explaining this now, but occasionally, I do stop and listen… just in case.

Every now and then, I am still haunted by the Malaysian Airline plane that went missing, and is still missing to this day. My heart aches when I think of the people onboard, as well as their loved ones. You can’t always be prepared.

 

Discrimination at the bar in Asheville, North Carolina

It’s always comforting to visit the South and not receive any service at all, whatsoever, as a person of color.

We tried to eat at this popular spot called Tupelo Honey en route back from Great Smokey Mountain National Park yesterday in Asheville, North Carolina. Since there were no free tables in the evening for dinner, I decided to sit at the bar and wait for Chris to park the car and figured we could eat and drink at the bar. Well, I never had the opportunity to eat or drink anything, not even water, because the bartender completely ignored me for the entire 20 minutes I sat at the bar until I decided to walk out. There was no way I was going to give hard-earned money to an establishment that chooses to completely ignore me and treat me like I don’t matter or don’t exist.

Not only did the bartender ignore me several times when I tried to say hello, but when I finally raised my voice and asked to see a menu, she didn’t even make eye contact with me and said, “sure, I can get that to you” as she looked away from me. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt given it was peak dinner time and so she was probably busy, but she proceeded to have small chitchat with all the other couples sitting around me, giving them drinks and more water, getting their bills processed, so why would it have been so difficult just to say hi to me and hand me a simple menu?

We’ve traveled to the South so many times and have received amazing service from every state and restaurant down here, so it’s sad to see that the bartender during dinner time on Sundays at Tupelo Honey wants to perpetuate the same treatment that the Greensboro Four, four activist African American men, received when they tried to sit down at a “Whites-Only” counter at the Woolworth’s back in February 1960 and were refused service. It’s like a teeny tiny fraction of the hate and bigotry that people of color had to face in our country back then, just right in face today in 2018. If this wasn’t based on race, I have no idea what else it could have been based on — the fact that she maybe didn’t like the way I looked or was dressed? Regardless, it was wrong and terrible.

Sometimes, people forget that segregation as this country knew it was not just dividing whites from blacks; it was physically dividing all white people from anyone else of color, even Jewish people. Yes, that includes Asians. So yes, that’s people who look like us. To the white people then, and some white people now given the white supremacists who still rein in this country, people who look like Chris and me will never be good enough. We are a threat to white America. So they can go fuck themselves and stop leading their delusional lives.

Racism justified then, racism justified now.

Today, we started our holiday weekend in North Carolina by having a Southern biscuit sandwich breakfast and driving out to Greensboro, North Carolina, to visit the International Civil Rights Museum. Although the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock Central High School tends to be more well known and covered in American history courses around the country, the “A and T Four,” also known as the Greensboro Four, the four black activist students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University, is also a notable group: In February 1960, they protested segregation in the form of sitting at the “Whites Only” lunch counter at the local Woolworth’s, which ended up sparking a movement across the entire south that emulated this sit-in against “separate but equal” in the thousands. The museum provides a fully guided tour, and it is built where the old Woolworth’s with the lunch counter actually was. They preserved the lunch counter/diner just as it was back in 1960 when these sit-ins occurred. It reminded me of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that was preserved where MLK was assassinated by building it into the Lorraine Motel where he was shot and killed on his balcony in 1968.

Our guide, Dillon, did an incredible job recounting endless facts of the atrocities that happened during this period in our history and the Civil Rights Movement in general, and you could tell by the way he talked that he truly cared and was emotionally invested in social progress for all. He became the most choked up recounting the lynching of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who came from Chicago (non-segregated) down to Mississippi (obviously segregated) in 1955 to visit relatives and was kidnapped, mutilated, shot and killed, and then dumped with weights attached to him into a local river. All of this happened to him simply because he had a debated interaction with a white woman, who ended up accusing him of touching and flirting with her. This led to her husband and his half-brother kidnapping him and brutally murdering him. They said that Emmett didn’t understand the social and racial ‘caste’ system of the South.

Emmett’s name is memorable because he came up many times during history courses, and his sad, gruesome story is at every major civil rights museum and monument across this country, including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Brown vs. Board of Education historic site, the Rosa Parks Museum, among others, that we’ve visited. His mother, so enraged and distraught at the injustices her young son faced, chose to have an open-casket ceremony so that the world could see with their own eyes what the white racist South had done to her poor son. This is not something anyone would wish on anyone, even those they hated.

Not only did those two white men get away with the lynching, they publicly said while being recorded that they did not think they did anything wrong. They were fully acquitted. Nothing ever happened to the white female accuser, even though she very recently admitted (because she’s still alive) that she actually lied during her testimony and what she said Emmett did never actually happened. Even though I’d heard and read about the story before, Dillon gave a far more detailed account of what happened, and it disgusted me when it suddenly hit me: I realized how similar this was to the false accusations that white people have today against black people that cause the police to accost, arrest, and even shoot and kill black people. These stories have become more and more reoccurring in the news in the last several years. A black owner of a popular hipster lemonade shop in San Francisco almost got arrested while opening the doors of his own business one morning because a white person called the police, saying that it looked like some black man was breaking and entering into the shop. A white man prank called 911 to lie and say that a black man was pointing a rifle at people while walking through Walmart in Ohio; the police showed up and shot innocent John Crawford, simply because he was a black man. Crawford is now dead, and his family is trying to get justice and is failing to get the peace that they deserve. And there’s also the case that seemed the most senseless to me in Philadelphia when a white female worker calls 911 because of two black men in the store who haven’t bought anything. These two men got arrested for “trespassing,” and Starbucks in the end had to mutually agree to let that white female worker go, and publicly apologize to the world for how stupid and short-sighted they had been in this occurrence.

All of these stories are the modern day 2018 versions of the Emmett Till lynching. When I hear these stories, I think it’s just the more “acceptable” and “nuanced” way to be racist and discriminate now. No one wants to acknowledge it, especially our Republican and white supremacist “friends.” But funnily enough, when I did a Google search for “Emmett Till” after we left Greensboro, this July 2018 Huffington Post article entitled, “The Word of a White Woman Can Still Get Black People Killed,” is one of the first results that shows up, which hits the nail on the head of all the feelings I had leaving the museum.

These echos, these parallels, these evolved iterations of discrimination, these are just one of a myriad of reasons that history is so important. You’re supposed to understand the past to learn what’s worked, what hasn’t, and not to repeat the horrors of the people before us. If you want to ignore the past, you will just be more narrow-minded for it in disregarding the atrocities of the past, and instead, you will continue these atrocities into the future and blindly believe we live in a new, different world. The world is certainly getting better, but that’s because of the people who are actively working to create progress and social justice for all, not the ones who are just sitting around denying anything is wrong to begin with.

But you know what also made me sad visiting a museum like this? In the same way with really well written, balanced pieces of everything our country debates about, from gun control to healthcare to gender and race-based discrimination to immigration, the people who would truly benefit from learning all of this will likely never come. Ever. And that is really depressing to me.

Broken foster care system in New York City

I met with my mentee for tea this afternoon, and she’s finally moved out of her foster parents’ house into her new dorm in Queens to start her third year of college. Despite having moved out, her foster parents haven’t made a single attempt to call or speak with her in a week. They haven’t even texted or emailed. So, it’s been zero communication since she told them she was going to move out of their house. She told me that her foster mom cried and told her she didn’t want her to leave, but when she finally did leave, she said nothing to her. Her foster mom is going through a depressive bout, and her foster dad, who has never been that involved other than to leave money on the table for her, hasn’t said a word to her in months.

I have no idea what the screening process is like to become a foster parent, but if this is at all representative of what it actually is like for other children who have been in the foster care system in New York City, much less the rest of this country, I’m extremely disheartened. The whole point of being put into foster care is because your own parents could not give you the love, care, and support you needed, so you are then placed with another family that is equipped to provide you these things. This is obviously not happening in this current situation, which infuriates me to no end every time I meet with my mentee and she shares these horror stories with me. She thinks something is wrong with her as a result; it’s nothing wrong with her. It’s what’s wrong with the world and the stupid system she has to deal with.

Team cooking outing

This afternoon, we had an office team building event at My Cooking Party, a cooking space that allows for classes and team events for schools and workplaces. We were split into two teams and each team got paired up with a professional chef, who would help “guide” us in the direction we’d want. Each team got one protein, one starch, and one vegetable, and had to come up with the most creative way to use each. At the end, two secret judges would evaluate each team’s dishes and decide upon a winner.

To be frank, there really wasn’t much creativity by the actual team members involved, as the chefs clearly had ideas in mind for what to do. I get why they set it up this way: the vast majority of people who take these classes have little to no experience cooking (New York City is the land of delivery, after all, and here, speed and convenience are king), so it would not be good to have a cooking competition where blind people are leading other blind people on a team. My team had shrimp, Israeli couscous, and string beans. The other team had skirt steak, potatoes, and spinach.

Our chef pretty much said, let’s make a pesto for the shrimp! And let’s also do a roasted tomato and vegetable stock based couscous! And who were we to object? I suggested using the ground coconut for a Kerala string bean sauté; he was not on board with this, and lightly suggested ginger-soy string beans. This excited everyone on the team except me. That just screamed “boring and predictable” to me. The other team ended up making a marinated skirt steak, French fries with rosemary oil, and buttered spinach. And somehow, they won despite how predictable their menu was, that their skirt steak was mostly well done, and at best, medium well in the center. The judges said that the fries were “creative,” but when did French fries become unique?

It was all fun in the end, and it was nice to be able to get out of the office and do something that wasn’t work related. But I didn’t really like that they made it sound like we had free reign to do whatever we wanted with the food and to be rated on our “creativity” when it was clear that we were at the whims of our assigned chefs and not our own minds. In that case, I would have preferred to just have assigned dishes with recipes per team and to eat everything together in the end. It’s either a real competition or not. It’s either with recipes or it isn’t. You shouldn’t have it somewhere in between.

 

Friends we wouldn’t trust with our babies, dogs, or even job referrals

My colleague, who owns a dog she adopted recently, is going away for a quick two-day trip, and she said that although she had a number of friends who love her dog, she literally would not trust them with her dog’s life. “My friends cannot be trusted!” she exclaimed. “They’re so irresponsible! I’m scared I’d come back home to my dog either getting poisoned or dead.”

This was comical to me because it reminded me of the time when I was arguing with a former colleague two companies ago about how to differentiate friends versus colleagues. Just because you trust someone as a friend in your personal life does not mean you’d trust them in the workplace to do a good job, and vice versa. Good times do not require responsibility. Likewise, you may get along swimmingly with a colleague when working on projects, but maybe he’s not really someone you’d want to have dinner and drinks with after work, or someone you could conceivably have a good time with anywhere if you did not have work in common. We had this conversation after this colleague referred his friend to our company despite his friend having zero industry experience, and having the audacity to not even research the company nor the role he was even applying for. He genuinely had no idea what he applied for and what he was interviewing with me about. He never got passed round one of interviews, needless to say. My then-colleague argued with me, saying that everyone deserves a chance (at getting a job? Yes. At this job? Absolutely not). He was completely incapable of differentiating friend vs. colleague, or responsible vs. not responsible.

One of my friends repeatedly questions how worthy my other friends are of me when he hears the irresponsible stories that I’ve shared. “These are the people you call closest to you? Really? Don’t you think you need new friends? How can your friends be so irresponsible?”

I don’t know. How can they? Maybe it says more about me than it does about them? Maybe I just subconsciously like having people around who are more irresponsible, selfish, less trustworthy, and not as confident, because it makes me feel better about myself? Who knows.

Pre-conceived bias

People always say that if you educate others, then they will be more knowledgeable and open minded. Frankly, I don’t really think this is true if someone already has set pre-conceived notions of something. I’m not really exempt from that either. For example: you’ll never get me to agree with you if you say that abortion should be illegal. I understandwhy people want it to be illegal, but I do not and will never agree no matter what information you share with me. But it bugs me when people have pre-conceived notions of a place they’ve never been to merely based on random news stories they’ve read or anecdotes that friends have shared with them of places they’ve visited.

Tonight, I was telling my friend about my India trip, and she asked me if I felt safe. “Safety,” or the feeling of it as I recently read, is strongly rooted in feelings of race and class if we care to dig uncomfortably into our subconscious. “You always read about how women are constantly getting raped in India,” she said. “It’s so scary.”

I countered her point by asking her if she was aware of how scared many people in other countries feel about the U.S. in terms of how lax we are with guns, with the number of school shootings and shootings in general that happen in this country every single day. “People actually think that if they come here, they may get shot and killed,” I said to her. “It’s so easy to get a gun; anyone can do it. That’s the way it’s covered abroad. But we live here, and we know that’s not the case that we’re all fearing for our lives every single day.” Our mutual friend lived in Asia for years and said she was scared watching the news coverage of all these shootings in the U.S. Her in-laws, who lived in Singapore, said they didn’t feel comfortable with the two of them potentially moving back to the States. Not only that, but there are people who simply do not want to enter the United States while Trump is president because as foreigners, they do not feel welcome. I literally just heard this back and forth conversation between a dad and his son in Canada this past weekend. Tourism has notably declined into the U.S. since Dipshit took office.

“Maybe,” my friend said skeptically. “I’m not sure about that.”

I don’t really know what there is to be skeptical about. If you have perspective and you are aware of what’s going on around you and outside of the city or country or continent where you live, you will know that places like India or the U.S. really are not as “dangerous” as the media make them out to be. A lot of what ends up happening in our lives occur because of our attitudes and pre-judgments before events actually happen. If you complain and say that you will have a terrible time at a party before attending, you’re probably going to have a crappy time. If you keep obsessing over your luggage getting lost on a flight like that insufferable woman from Sunday, I’m pretty sure your luggage will get lost. But if you enter India or the U.S. hoping for an enjoyable time and are optimistic, it’s more likely that you will actually have fun and stop worrying about getting shot in the head or raped in the streets. I told her this. She remained skeptical.

And if you are really unsure or feel unsafe about going to a place… just don’t go. Also, don’t ruin it for other people when they express that they want to go.