Not So Fast, Mr. March!

In 2010, New York City premiered a wee little romantic comedy called Leap Year. The movie starred Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, and spun a creative love story around a Leap Day tradition of marriage proposals. In Ireland (and Britain), the tradition held if a woman proposed to a man on February 29th, the man must accept her offer or face significant penalty. Leap Year begins in Boston with the intent of ending in a Dublin marriage proposal, but the coastal Irish town of Dingle (and Matthew Goode) gets in the way. That’s where the real story begins.

If you haven’t seen Leap Year, you’ll have to search elsewhere for the complete plot summary. Just avoid the movie reviews. Leap Year earned a not-even-modest 23% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a not-even-one-third 33 out of 100 on Metacritic. My favorite assessment comes from reviewer Nathan Rabin, who concluded, “The film functions as the cinematic equivalent of a (McDonald’s) Shamrock Shake: sickeningly, artificially sweet, formulaic, and about as authentically Gaelic as an Irish Spring commercial”.

Yeah, I get it. Mr. Rabin refers to the several “overly-Irish” details in Leap Year, which seek to pay homage to the country’s culture but instead come off as cliched (with a capital C). But do viewers really care? Leap Year‘s underlying story is fun, and even if rom-com isn’t your bowl of Irish Stew, at least you have Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. I repeat, Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, two of the most appealing actors in the movie industry today.

I’ve been hooked on the lovely Ms. Adams ever since she took her Oscar-nominated spin as Giselle in Enchanted (2007). It doesn’t hurt she grew up just a few minutes north of where I live here in Colorado. My wife’s been hooked on Matthew Goode ever since he stole scenes from Mandy Moore in Chasing Liberty (2004). It doesn’t hurt he added a passable Irish accent in Leap Year. Both actors have been nominated for awards in far better films, but put them on the big screen together and a little chemistry goes a long way.

Speaking of leap year, my preference for order and logic takes a serious hit whenever the short month of February rolls around. A month of twenty-eight days when the other eleven have thirty or thirty-one? Why not just reduce two or three other months from thirty-one to thirty days and make February “full”? The only credible historical explanation I can find is this: Caesar Augustus stole a few days from February to make his month (August) as long as Caesar Julius’ (July).  We future generations are left to deal with the anomaly. Gee, thanks Gus.

In a rather odd example of redemption, February gets extra attention by boasting an extra day every four years. We need the quadrennial Leap Day to put the calendar, the seasons, and the universe back into sync. Not so fast, Mr. March. And yet, pity the poor souls born on Leap Day. Must’ve been pretty traumatic as a kid, trying to understand why your special day doesn’t show up on the calendar like the other kids. Or consider a “leaper’s” 21st year (or whatever year one earns drinking privileges). How do you convince the barkeep you’ve reached your drinking birthday in a year without a February 29th?

Perhaps you’ll “celebrate” Leap Year 2020 by seeing the movie of the same name. We’ll watch Leap Year for the zillionth time. My wife will remind me Matthew Goode’s character and her own Irish Draught horse share the same name (Declan). I’ll remind her several Leap Year scenes take place in Connemara and County Wicklow, two of our favorite places in Ireland.

Matthew Goode recently admitted, “I just know there are a lot of people who say (Leap Year) was the worst film of 2020″. But Goode also admitted to signing on so he could work closer to home and to see his girlfriend and newborn daughter more often. Doesn’t that make the (English)man even more likable?  Maybe.  At least Amy’s doing a sequel to Enchanted.

(Author’s Note: Just noticed this is my 229th post on Life In A Word. 229 as in 2-29 as in February 29th as in Leap Day. WHOA.)

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the 2/28/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Leap-Year Babies Fight a Lonely, Quadrennial Fight for Recognition”.

Dusting Off Dumbo

In March, Disney will release a remake of the children’s classic “Dumbo”, almost eighty years after the original. An intriguing story (Tim Burton directs), and the wonders of computer animation suggest the new version will be pretty good; standing on its own the way Jim Carrey managed with his version of the Grinch. “Mary Poppins” also Returns next week after a fifty-year absence. Emily Blunt looks supercalifragilistic in the previews, but with all due respect, there’s only one Mary Poppins and her name is Julie Andrews (there is also only one Maria Von Trapp and her name is also Julie Andrews).

Movie remakes are blog-worthy, but that’s not my mission today.  I’m here to talk about Dumbo.  Even though his modern-day movie doesn’t come out for a few more months, you’ll find him at any one of the six Disney parks.  He’ll fly you in dizzy circles with his big ears and colorful cap; as happy an elephant as he’s ever been.  But on closer inspection, you may find your Dumbo needs a little dusting off.  That grey may be his (plastic) skin perhaps, but – brace yourself – it may also be the scattered remains of deceased Disney devotees. Apparently some souls choose to be interred in an urn known as The Happiest Place On Earth.

Okay, I know some of you were anticipating a jolly-holiday post this time of year, with visions of chestnuts roasting on an open fire (“pop! pop! pop!”) or a “Baby It’s Cold Outside” fire (romantic embers) but sorry; today we’re talking about a cremation fire.  Doesn’t the topic make you just a little curious?  Did you know for instance, we humans spread our ashes (or I should say, have our ashes spread) at sea, in woodland groves, into volcanoes, over sports stadiums and on golf courses, and yes – all over the Disney parks, but “at sea” is the only legal option on the list?  Or, did you know, if you spread an entire urn’s worth, you’re talking about five pounds of ashes?  Not exactly a spoonful of sugar, Mary.

I never knew Disney had this sort of problem in its parks (although at The Happiest Places On Earth, there are no “problems”).  Scattered ashes are reported at least once a month.  Disney handles these incidents the way they do other “real-world” stuff: with complete discretion.  First, an employee notices said “pixie dust” (maybe with help from Tinker Bell?).  Then a “HEPA” text – high-efficiency particulate air – is sent to maintenance, because that’s the kind of vacuum you’re gonna need.  Then the ride or area of the park is closed off and the deceased is sucked up “spit-spot”.  You can almost see the maintenance guy whistling while he works.

HEPA vac

Scattering ashes (other than at-sea) is a misdemeanor, but in true Disney fashion no charges are pressed if you’re caught.  Instead, your mouse ears are removed and you’re escorted out the nearest gates, back to the real world.  Any patrons inconvenienced by your actions get reimbursed with a Fast Pass or a store voucher.  Having said that, plan on a few extra minutes getting screened at the entry gates.  Besides knives, bombs, and alcohol, they’re looking for urns.  Or, in the backpacks of the more determined: plastic pill bottles and makeup compacts.

Disney’s Dumbo ride is a common place to scatter ashes (specifically, the moat under the flying elephants), as is Cinderella’s Castle (flowerbeds) and It’s A Small World (anywhere near the delirious singing dolls) but where do most scatterings take place?  Why, the Haunted Mansion of course.  It’s the only truly morbid location at Disney.  As your “ghost host” says over and over, “we have 999 happy haunts here, but there’s room for 1,000 – any volunteers?”  I guess some people take their ghost host seriously.

On a related topic, several years ago Disney sold personalized hexagonal pavers at its Florida park.  You could put anything you wanted on the tiles, except the words “In Memory Of…” Why?  Disney didn’t want people to have death on their minds at The Happiest Place On Earth.  As Mary Poppins would say, they’re just trying to be practically perfect in every way.  But clearly, some people have death on their minds anyway.  Or at least, ashes in their backpacks.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Disney World’s Big Secret…”.

Good Times and Laughter Too

My wife and I will attend two weddings this summer; one for friends and one for family.  This week I noticed one of the brides-to-be on Facebook, requesting “songs you want to hear/dance-to at the reception”.  Clever girl, making sure her guests have a say in the music.  My guess is – whether requested or not – the deejay will find room for Kool & The Gang’s enduring party anthem, “Celebration”.  It’s as timeless now as it was when we first heard it in 1980.  And ce–lah–brate-ing good times is as timeless at weddings as it is for the passing of a loved one.

Plucked from another section of the significant-life-events portfolio, my wife and I attended a Celebration of Life this past weekend, for my uncle (my dad’s twin brother).  I label two aspects of my uncle’s passing as “merciful”: 1) He was weakened by a heart condition over the last three years of his life; and 2) One or two of his family members were not available for an immediate memorial.  Because of the first aspect, the extended family had plenty of time to make peace with my uncle’s eventual passing.  Because of the second aspect, what may have been a funeral became a celebration of life instead.

No need to vote on this topic.  Whenever circumstances permit, choose Celebration of Life over Funeral.  Funerals lean to the shock and mourning of a life lost – somber affairs are they.  Celebrations of Life revel in the happy memories of one life, and the joy brought to countless others.  Such was the case with my uncle.  His celebration included a church service, hymns, and a homily (given by the “celebrant”, of course), but what moved me to my core – and what I couldn’t get enough of – were the stories shared by my cousins (my uncle’s children) and my father (his brother).  Those memories included things I never knew about my uncle, such as his talent as a cartoonist and his childlike demeanor with his grandchildren.  I’m even more inspired by the man than I already was.

My uncle’s celebration moved on from the church to a beautiful setting by the San Francisco Bay, where drinks, lunch, photos and memories were shared for several hours.  It was as much a family reunion as a celebration, and my uncle wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Before he passed, he let it be known we should make merry instead of mourn.  And so, …There was a party goin’ on right there; a celebration to last throughout the years.

Whether we celebrate births or birthdays, weddings or wedding anniversaries, Sunday Mass or Christ-mas, we get a healthy dose of festive occasions in our lifetimes.  Perhaps that’s why we’ve come up with so many words to describe them.  Merriam-Webster published one such list here, including Bash (America’s melding of “bang” and “smash”, somehow maturing into “party”); Blast (surely inspired by loud musical instruments and champagne bottles); Rave (actually inspired by a Middle-Ages term for “acts of madness”); Blowout (once defined as a “one-off indulgence”; somehow morphed into “major festive occasion”), and finally my favorite – Wingding (once “feigned seizures”, now “wild partying”).

But enough digression.  Well, almost enough.  My nod to all things “celebration” wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the town in Florida by the same name.  Developed by Disney as a utopian master-planned unincorporated community “created from scratch”, and “a town worthy of its brand and legacy”, Celebration was/is Disney’s nod to New Urbanism: development based on the small towns of early America, with compact downtowns, “walkable” streets, diverse housing stock, and plentiful public spaces. Celebration doesn’t even consider itself a town, preferring instead the label of community, as in “strong spirit, and desire for friendship with neighbors”.  Sounds like a festive gathering to me!

There will be many more celebrations of life before the one that has my own name on it.  I’m okay with that.  Celebrations of life are a unique blend of revel and revere, partying and paying respects – the dual reasons we raise our glasses to someone’s name.  Just be sure it’s a party.  As Kool & The Gang puts it: We’re gonna have a good time tonight… Let’s celebrate… It’s all right.

Wait For It

Let’s wager a guess over something that happened to you in the past few days. It probably happened several times in the past few days. It wasn’t by choice, nor were you alone.  It might even be happening right now. What is this recurring, oft-maddening event in your daily world (and mine)? Somewhere, for some good reason, in person or in the car, deliberately or unintentionally, you found yourself waiting in line.

Call it a common courtesy or call it the primary by-product of consumer demand. Waiting in line is a timeless (or time-wasting) necessary evil with no satisfactory alternative.  While the world behaves efficiently with smartphones, computers and even data-consuming “IoT” appliances, those snaking, switch-backing, several-option, several-category lines of humans seem to grow ever longer.  Including traffic on the highways – another version of waiting – you’ll spend one to two years of your life in line.

Consider some of the common reasons why we wait in line:
– store cashiers
– airport security
– phone calls (on hold)
– amusement parks
– voting
– public restrooms

If I wrote this post fifty years ago, I would’ve listed the very same reasons why we wait in line.  We have options now, but let’s face it; those options are waiting-in-line in disguise.  Store cashiers now work side-by-side with an area of self-check-out machines (which draws its own line).  Airports promote pay-for lines like TSA Pre and CLEAR.  Telephone on-hold mechanisms offer callbacks instead of waiting (“for an additional $0.75”).  Disneyland installed “FastPass” lines; again, for a fee.  Voting can be done by mail (forcing your ballot to wait in line instead of you).  And public restrooms?  Okay, there’s no option to waiting for the potty.  Maybe reconsider that second beer.

The Brits refer to a line of people as a queue.  I like that (and not just because we need more words beginning with the letter “q”).  Leave it to those on the far side of the pond to class up the most mundane activity imaginable.  At least we have our phones as distractions when we “queue”.  But the old-fashioned distractions still work.  It’s why they put candy bars by the cashiers, magazines in the waiting room, mirrors by the elevators, and televisions in the airport.  Anything to help you forget you’re waiting in line.

Julio C. Negron

You’d think waiting in line is mindless – no-brainer science really – but I have experienced flaws in the system.  Recently in Lowe’s, waiting patiently in a single, central line at the self-check-out area, I was confronted by the person behind me, who demanded I “choose one side or the other” (as if logic demanded a separate line for each row of self-check-out machines).  My response to him was not one of my finer moments.  Another example – at the airport – my wife and I waited at the curb with a dozen others for the parking lot shuttle, only to discover the “front of the line” was a variable determined by the point on the curb where the driver chooses to stop his vehicle.  If you want to see what not waiting in line looks like, try to catch a parking lot shuttle at the airport.

In today’s world, we have new reasons why we wait in line:
– to purchase the latest iPhone
– at restaurants, with pagers (clever disguise for waiting in line)
on-line (i.e. for concert tickets or sports tickets at a specified time)
– Black Friday sales

Finally, we will always stand in line for our kids, whether to see Santa Claus at the mall or to buy something they simply must have.  Years ago, I remember taking my kids to the local bookstore for the latest “Harry Potter” (which they started and finished before the next sunrise).  It was the only time I’ve stood in line for the right to stand in line again.  The bookstore insisted on selling a limited number of tickets at noon, to be exchanged for the book later that same day, when the publisher allowed its release.

I believe the longest I’ve ever waited in line is five hours – to see the first Star Wars movie in 1977.  With no electronic devices to keep my friends and I company back then, five hours was even longer than it sounds, especially knowing two consecutive showings of the movie would run before I even entered the theater.  Then again, the truly morbid among us believe we are all simply waiting to die.  If that’s the case, let’s hope we’re in a really, really long line.

Land of Flying Cars

My wife and I live in a rural area of Colorado known as the Black Forest.  The high density of Ponderosa Pines in our small geography gives us our name.  Remarkably, there’s only one other notable place on the planet named “Black Forest”: the region near Bavaria in southwest Germany.  As it turns out, I have personal ties to both places, though I’ve never been to the south of Germany.  Follow along as I connect the Forests.

Fill in the blank, “Best Childhood Movie: ________”.  Most of you would respond with an offering from Disney.  Including “Snow White…”, “Mary Poppins”, and “The Little Mermaid”, you’ve already covered sixty years of film-making, with countless other Disney classics in between.  I don’t think I missed a single Disney growing up in the sixties and seventies, yet – go figure – my favorite childhood movie doesn’t come from the Mouse.  It doesn’t even come from my home country.  My childhood choice?  The UK’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, based on the 1964 novel by Ian Fleming.

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” – the captivating musical about the inventor and his kids who lived in a windmill cottage; about those wonderful-though-not-always-perfect inventions (my favorite: the eggs-toast-sausage breakfast machine); about the candy-maker and the toy-maker and the captivating castle world of Vulgaria; and most importantly about the magical flying motorcar itself – created figments of my imagination like no other movie.  The lyrics to the title song (“…Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four-fendered friend…”) were burned into my brain.  Someday I vowed to visit the lands of Caractacus Potts and Baron Bomburst.

     

As it turns out, the Potts’ windmill cottage really does exist (and not on a movie set) – as the “Cobstone Windmill” in Buckinghamshire, England. The mansion where “Truly Scrumptious” lived is in the same area of the country.  And the Scrumptious Sweets Company was a working factory in Middlesex (today a steam-engine museum).  But it was the castle and village in Vulgaria I really wanted to see.  Not long after seeing the movie of course, I learned “Vulgaria” was a fictitious country.  Baron Bomburst didn’t actually lord over the land, nor did he ever keep all those children as slaves beneath his castle. But the castle and the village are based on actual places.  The village is Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria.  The castle is Castle Neuschwanstein, also in Bavaria.  And how ironic; both locations were inspirations for Disney as well: Rothenburg for the village in “Pinocchio”, and Neuschwanstein for the Cinderella castles in the theme parks.

To bring my journey full-circle, Rothenburg, Castle Neuschwanstein, and Bavaria sit in southwest Germany, adjacent to… the Black Forest.  Germany’s version of the Forest is a mountainous land of picturesque villages, castles, vineyards and spas.  This is the region that brought the world Black Forest Ham and “truly scrumptious” Black Forest Cake.  This is the land of glass-making and cuckoo clocks.  From the photos above, it looks every bit as charming as “Vulgaria”.

  

Colorado’s Black Forest barely amounts to a dot on Google Maps.  Within our pines, the “town” is a hodge-podge of nondescript businesses clustered around a couple of traffic signals, with nothing more alluring than a Subway, a post office, and a couple of coffee shops.  The terrain is fairly flat, with no windmill cottages or mountaintop castles or cuckoo clocks.  But it’s a great place to live, with its own unique charm.  And every now and then, when I’m deep in the pines, I’ll start humming that forever-familiar Chitty-Chitty tune, as I gaze up to the skies in search of a flying motorcar.

Go For a Drive

Imagine the conversation you’re having with your grandson several years from now, where you’re waxing nostalgic about a favorite car you used to own.  You’re smiling into the details, remembering how your stylish sedan hugged the open highway curves at a crisp 75 mph; how the in-dash digital receiver cranked favorite tunes via smartphone; how the feel of the steering wheel leather gave you the perfect combination of comfort and control.  Only then, your grandson interrupts you and says, “what’s a steering wheel“?

This week, the Wall Street Journal published a make-you-pause article titled “Your Next Car May Be a Living Room on Wheels”.  The subject matter is the technological luxuries in a vehicle where “driving” is no longer necessary.  Forward-facing seats rotate to face each other, perhaps around a central console.  Touchscreens – to control the vehicle; cameras – to enlarge the outside views; movie screens – simply for entertainment; each of these appear on the window glass with simple voice commands.  Microwaves, refrigerators and ice chests hide nearby for always-available snacking.  In other words, the very definition of “car” gets turned on its ear.  Your grandson won’t even know what a “dashboard” is.

Your grandson won’t remember “The Jetsons” either – the Hanna-Barbera animated sitcom from the early 1960’s.  In a mere twenty-four episodes, “The Jetsons” gave us a peek into a fascinatingly advanced world of the future.  George Jetson and his family enjoyed luxuries only present in a 1960’s imagination, like robot housekeepers or in-home treadmills.  The Jetsons lived in a high-rise apartment building floating in space.  My favorite concept: the “aerocar”.  There were no roads in George’s world, so he and his family bopped around in a airborne car.  Per the illustration above, the aerocar is effectively a flying saucer with a transparent bubble top.  I still hear the sound of its little engine.

At least George still drives, which is the premise of this post.  No matter how advanced the mode of transportation, I want the option to navigate whenever my heart desires.  If my family and I are heading out for a Sunday jaunt, I want to be able to steer us wherever the wind blows.  Maybe that’s the provider in me, or maybe that’s just driving for the sheer enjoyment of it.  We need our steering wheels.

Flying cars are closer to reality than you might think.  Airbus, Uber and a handful of other companies have created concept “cars” that take-off and land vertically – no wings.  No rotors either, like you’d see on a helicopter.  Yet some models – like Airbus’s “Vahana” – are designed to be pilot-less.  What fun is that?  Who’s at the controls?  Sounds like going for a ride in an oversized drone.  Regardless, even with perfect technology the real hurdles with flying cars lie in regulating airborne travel.  There must be rules.  You’d better believe the environmentalists will have a seat at the table too.

In my childhood days at Disneyland, I was led to believe monorails were the future mode of transportation.  I pictured vast elevated networks of elegantly formed concrete spreading out across the country, with graceful trains slithering along topside at impressive speeds.  Alas, Disney’s monorail in Florida – at 14.7 miles – remains one of the longest of its kind.  Only two others, in Japan and China, claim more riders.  Monorails just never took.

Maglev (magnetic levitation) replaced monorails as the potential mass-transit solution of modern times.  Magnets are super-efficient, providing both lift and propulsion towards a high-speed, low-friction, no-moving-parts solution.  Assuming an aesthetically-pleasing design, even the environmentalists would be on board with zero-emissions engines.  But there’s always a negative.  In this case, costs of maglev are projected at $50-$100 million per mile.  No wonder the few installations around the world travel very short distances.

Even if we mapped America with arteries of monorails or maglev, I’d still find dissatisfaction in the notion no one’s driving the bus.  More to the point, I am not driving the bus.  But at least we’re talking about mass-transit here; an option I chose willingly over my own car.  If I’m not “licensed to drive” I’m happy to leave the controls to someone else.

Living rooms on wheels will be tough for me to swallow.  The focus has shifted from enjoyment of the drive to enjoyment of the ride.  Maybe I should’ve seen this coming when automatic transmissions became an option to stick-shift.  Certainly it hit me over the head when Uber debuted its self-driving fleet.  Sir, please step away from the controls.

Here is my futile plea for now: don’t take away my steering wheel.  Let me have the option to play pilot.  At the very least, give me a set of handlebars and a little weight-shift control.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Touched by Midas

We’re in the midst of America’s red-carpet season of horse racing; the trifecta otherwise known as the “Triple Crown”. Over the course of five weeks we’ll witness the fastest three-year old’s thoroughbred racing has to offer. The jewels of the Crown – the Kentucky Derby in Lexington, the Preakness in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes in New York – showcase a combination of sport, fashion, and tradition like no other.  Don’t miss the Belmont on June 10th; at a mile-and-a-half the longest of the jewels.

The service industry also has crown jewels.  Apple, Starbucks, and Amazon deliver a customer experience just about as satisfying as the products they sell.  FedEx is so reliable a delayed or lost package is not even a remote possibility.  But let’s kick it up a notch and talk about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.  The Ritz-Carlton is such a renowned, decorated jewel of service excellence it deserves its own category.  Only the Walt Disney Company could claim such preeminence.

My wife and I were fortunate to experience “the new gold standard” of Ritz-Carlton’s hospitality this past weekend.  Celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary, we ventured into the Colorado Rockies for a couple of days of rest and relaxation at the Ritz in Beaver Creek, near Vail.  Colorado is in “mud season” now – mid-May through Memorial Day – so mountain-town resorts deep-discount, befitting the budgets of mere mortals like us.

Pulling up to the Ritz, the valet offered us bottled water and whisked away our luggage and car.  At the front desk we were assured a “lovely, quiet room far out on the north wing”.  In the room itself the porter promptly stowed our bags and explained all the little details.  With our modest room-service dinner our attendant produced a complimentary bottle of champagne and stack of those little pillow chocolates.  Happy Anniversary!

But here’s where our story gets a little dicey.  Sometime after midnight my wife and I woke to the sounds of a very nearby party.  Turns out the room next door housed the groomsmen and a whole lot of guests from a wedding at the hotel.  Blasting our sleepy ears: music, dancing, dozens of loud, happy voices, and… the unmistakable smell of marijuana.  Thank you neighbors; my dreams were colorful enough already.

The next morning over room service breakfast, we voiced a carefully-worded complaint to the attendant who brought our tray.  How many guests do you allow in a single hotel room?  Is this a non-smoking hotel?  Can you smell the still-pungent aroma of pot drifting under the doorway of the adjacent room?

Time for a taste of the Ritz-Carlton gold standard.  Our attendant immediately comped our breakfast, assured us we would be moved to another room, and said to expect a call from the hotel manager.  The manager told us another room was already being prepared and we would be moved at our earliest convenience.  When the bellhop escorted us to the south wing, he was quick to note, “this is one of my favorite rooms in the hotel”.

In fact, the room was breathtaking.  The Ritz labels this one an “executive suite”, complete with large sitting room, fireplace, refrigerator, two televisions, two bathrooms, separate shower and bath, and a spacious outdoor balcony facing spectacular Vail Mountain.  Safe to say, the remainder of our anniversary weekend was spent in unexpected luxury.

The gold standard of Ritz-Carlton service excellence is no secret.  Early in their colorful history, the hotelier recognized no amount of luxury or elegance derives the same return as an attitude of “the customer is always right”.  Every interaction begins with the thought, “The answer is ‘yes’!  What is the question?”  The hundreds of valets, bellhops, and concierges are trained as thoroughly as the management team, as they are the true face of the hotel.  Thus are these employees always addressed as “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”.  To add an exclamation point, the Ritz created a Leadership Center and Learning Institute, where thousands of managers from other companies train on the Ritz’s incomparable principles.

You can learn more about Ritz-Carlton’s brand of excellence by reading Joseph Michelli’s The New Gold Standard.  You can also sign up for a session at their Leadership Center.  My advice: stay at a Ritz hotel sometime (hopefully you have a “mud season”).  Nothing explains the gold standard better than the Midas touch itself.