From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

Archive for January, 2007|Monthly archive page

game, set, match

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Disclaimer: All characters and events in the following are factual. Any resemblance to any person living or dead, is thoroughly intentional.

They say you never forget your first time…that it only leaves you craving for more. I mean its fair to say that you’ve arrived in the socio-economic scheme of things when you have…say…the proverbial flashbulbs popping everytime you step out of…well…anywhere really. or lets say when you have adoring masses clamour for any sign of having been withing touching distance of you. yes…its a heady feeling alright…they say (you might’ve noticed they say quite a few things…but then…they can be quite garrulous)…back to what they say, that you never forget the time you sign your first autograph.

So it shall be with me, 30th Jan 2007, the ‘Kabab-e-bahaar’ restaurant at the Taj Banjara in hyderabad. Just as I let the the juicy kabab flood my mouth with the most unbelievable flavours (who would’ve guessed a joint by that name served mind-blowing kababs) that a l’il kid, maybe 12 years old walks up to our table, notepad and pen in hand, earnest expression on his face, says “Sir, can you please sign your autograph for me…Mr. Mahesh Bhupati?”

Those moments where the nerves connecting your grey matter to your speech functions absolutely refuse to cooperate…not that they’re flooded with traffic at the best of times in my case, but here’s a case where the heart was willing but the rest…no go! Finally…explained how I was in my ‘non-celebrity’ avatar…and sent the fan on his way…
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emotionally having good times with joy

In airlines, opinion on January 28, 2007 at 5:39 am

scenario 1: The attendant approaches your car with a friendly smile as you come to a stop outside the terminal. As you step out, he politely asks “Sir, x airline?” and when you shake your head, he loses interest, the smile disappears and he moves towards the vehicle behind you.

scenario 2: The chap manning the boarding gate is glancing at each boarding pass and punching them into the system. As he hands each pass back, he sends you on your way with a cheery “Have a good flight sir”. An uncertain looking passenger approaches and asks him “Can you tell me where the y flight (other airline) to Mumbai is boarding?” The response, a terse “No, I have no idea” as he goes back to loading his flight.

2 instances where the ground staff of respective airlines, while adequately aware of the concept of customer service, have not been briefed about the logic of being equally courteous to those who are not current but could easily become future customers. In my mind, a customer would be at his most vulnerable to switching when he has been at the receiving end of some poor treatment by his current service provider. In either case, a golden opportunity to convince them to switch by making them aware of the treatment they could expect was lost.

The alternate versions of the 2 scenarios:
1. The attendant says “Am sorry you’re not travelling with us sir, Have a nice flight”..*smile*. The passenger lugs his luggage in thinking how it’d be nice to have assistance at this stage.

2. The boarding staff gets the other person standing at the gate (doing nothing) to find out which gate was boarding the other airline’s flight (shouldn’t be too difficult to find out). The passenger leaves very aware of the difference in customer service and the people boarding the coach are reinforced with how they made the right choice in spite of paying 500 bucks more than the other airline.

Also made clear how its all well and good to draw up a marketing strategy that defines customer-service as the axis of focus, but the difficulty of getting it implemented by every last person in the organisation.

Needless to say, this line of thought got me comparing the different airlines I’ve frequented over the last 6 months. The ‘methodology’:

  • While the split is far from even, my cutoff is 5 flights
  • Forced ranking out of 4 on each parameter with differing weightages
  • ‘Check-in’ is the time-spent in line, courtesy extended by staff, speed of transaction (indian still uses manual systems as opposed to sabre or such by the others)
  • ‘Timeliness’ only gets 30% because a large part of whether a flight leaves on time is not in the realm of control of the airline’s operations
  • ‘In-flight comfort’ is a function of newness of the aircraft, legspace, seats

slipstream

In blah, life, work on January 23, 2007 at 9:01 am

Engine taken apart…overhauled..put back together..finely tuned (ok..tuned)…brake lights and other electronics tested…the muffled thud on the side of the tank indicates its brimming…seat set just right…squeal of tires as you keep the clutch depressed longer than it has to be…and you’re off on that long drive that you just know is gonna be the most exciting of your life. The almost mirror-like finish of the tarmac contrasting the stark white lane markings as they hurry past you on either side.

You shift up into 3rd as you round that first shallow bend…and woah..glowing brake lights all over the place…you downshift..waiting for the temporary impediment to be moved…as you stutter along with the traffic…this is taking longer than you thought…The early winter months and those of fall are kinda like that. You peer into the distance trying to identify landmarks well in advance so that you don’t depend on seeing the bright green and white signs. Just because sharp turns of the wheel are only taken as advise and not commands by the hulk of metal glass and rubber you’re in, considering the wind-swept fall of almost liquid-but-not-quite slurries are forming a rather non-adhesive coating of slush on the ground. You try and maintain course and treat the gas pedal like this chick you’re initiating epidermal contact with and hence do not know how she’ll react rather than the bedspring shattering acts you’d do on a near-empty stretch of asphalt on a bone-dry summer morning.

Just not good enough. A break in the brush on your side of the tarmac..a path leading off in a direction and disappearing into the brush…dusty..rocky…no idea where its going. You look around at the adjoining lanes and fellow commuters…as they try hard to stay awake as the cavalcade lumbers on..that does it…you wrench the wheel…gun it…go bouncing down onto the dust-track..good thing you finished with that coffee a while ago else it’d be all over the upholstery by now…you wonder if the tyres are up for it…you wonder if you’re up for it…other dusty roads leading off this one…no maps here…you grip the wheel tighter and turn up the volume a couple of notches…you grin…

Quite the ridiculous way of summarizing my 7 professional months post-B School but then thats exactly why free-speech is such a wonderful thing. One would think getting into a different line of work with 6-day work weeks and bucket-loads of travel would be a handful and one wouldn’t be wrong. However, those haven’t precluded initiating merger-discussions (or is it a takeover) with a company (more accurately its marketing arm) known more for its refineries than Code-Division Multiple Access coverage. Add to that, getting approval from the top managements of both firms, going on promotional tours to gain buy-in from senior managers , engineering bilateral talks and drawing up the implementation plan for the merger have been on the ‘to-do’ list and are now on the ‘phew-done’ list. Lots more remain.

You brace as you gun it to launch yourself over a fallen tree-trunk…its all happening…you grin broader…

p.s: all references to M&A activity (however inaccurate in its terminology) are in no way related to anything in the corporate world…just a clarification

Life’s a roller coaster!

In top 10 on January 14, 2007 at 2:44 pm

There’s a reason for the title to the post…but for now…my top nine (am lazy..so sue me) roller coaster rides ever…

9. X-Flight (Six Flags – Ohio)

This one’s on the list mainly because it was my first experience of a roller coaster outside of the dizzying terrors at Esselworld. That and the fact that you lay on your back to get strapped into this monster which then corkscrewed its way through space with your perception of the three coordinates severely impaired. They ‘decomissioned’ it last year when the park was sold by Six-Flags

8. Batman – Knight Flight (Six Flags – Ohio)

Who would think of changing a name like that to ‘Dominator’?! Sure, there were franchise issues, but certainly no clause that excluded the use of a smidgeon of creativity? Unlike most other rides where you board at ground level and are taken up by the ride, here you board almost at the top of the ride. The procedure itself is awesome with the floor falling away once you’re strapped in. Really long ride this one with swooshes and really tall vertical loops make you think its all happening in slow-motion except when the drops skims lake Michigan.

7. Dr. Doom’s Fearfall (Universal Islands of Adventure – Florida)

They say its all in the mind. And does this ride do a good job of screwing with precisely that! Once strapped in, the slow…painfully slow climb to the top…the vista of the park unfolding in front of your eyes…all other noises dying down and all you hear are the voices in your head. Or rather, those condemned alongside you. Imagine hearing the following from your ‘formerly fearless’ brethren as it almost reaches the top “Mummy!”…wasn’t me…honest. The ensuing power descent from 150 feet…to ‘land’, bounce up half that distance and to finally settle at the bottom. Makes you fall in love with terra firma, this one.

6. Big Shot (Stratosphere Hotel – Las Vegas)

“Those with vertigo, not a good idea!” The rides brilliance is its simplicity, a vertical shaft on the roof of the Stratosphere hotel in sin city. Strap you in, countdown music, and boom! Rocketed up (quite literally), you forget the unadulterated terror that makes you ask yourself if you have a death-wish as you see all of the city that’s brighter at night than it is in the day. You bounce a couple of times and when the ride ends, you’re still almost a kilometer above ground-level.

5. Magnum XL-200 (Cedar Point – Ohio)

Supposedly the grand-daddy of all the other gleaming steel skeletons at the park, its biography reading over 10 years of sterling service and the benign looking structure made us line up for it as a break from its diabolically homicidal spawn all around. I mean what self-respecting roller coaster has a thin steel bar across the seats as the only restraint?! But those thoughts subsided gradually as the chain-lift took kept climbing to its full height of what was once a record 205 feet. And ‘benign’ is not the word on your minds when its hurtling towards Lake Erie and veering aways inches (or so it seems) from the surface. The significance of the flimsy-looking restraint became clear when that was all that kept you from being launched from your seat on the coaster that provides maximum “airtime

4. Superman Ultimate Escape (Six-Flags Ohio)

Since the park was sold by Six-Flags, its been renamed to a rather vague ‘Steel Venom’ but this one brought tears to my eyes…mostly cause of the chilly spring air stinging them, partly cause of pure terror. P and I decided the only way to fly was up front and after being strapped in to the suspended seats dangling from the U-shaped frame, we barely had time to brace when the “catapult-launch” system sent us spiralling up one arm of the ‘U’. Up front, with nothing to see but clear blue sky and your own feet, just as you feel weightless, gravity beckons…back down the arm, and up the other…remember..backwards. The other arm is a vertical climb and as it reaches its full height…it stops! Picture being strapped in…abt 10 storeys up… facing vertically downward, your body weight supported by the harness across your chest…motionless. And then the inexorable plummet towards earth and no amount of logic can convince your brain that you aren’t going to be smashed into the ground. Ultimate escape indeed.

3. Dueling Dragons (Universal Islands of Adventure – Florida)

Several inversions, one zero-g roll, a Cobra roll, two corkscrews and two vertical loops. If those terms mean nothing but jargon, how about the l’il bit of trivia that this roller coaster is essentially two roller coaster intertwined in a manner that three times during the course of the ride, you come within colliding distance (18 inches) of the flailing arms and legs of the other coaster. They’re called ‘Fire’ and ‘Ice’ and when the line to embark splits off at one point with a sign that says “Make your choice”, brrr…That first time that you round a curve and see the terrified faces on the ‘dueling’ coaster hurtling towards you to veer off at the metaphoric ‘last’ moment…damn!

2. Millenium Force (Cedar Point – Ohio)

The marketing folk decided that a new term befit the first coaster to break the 300 foot height barrier and called it the first ‘giga-coaster’ in the world. Its the stereotypical old-fashioned roller coaster with huge hills, steep drops…no 360s or loops on this one. Had it not been for that other monster, this one’s quite easily the scariest ride in the world.

1. Top thrill Dragster (Cedar Point – Ohio)

It was the newest addition to the park and the banners screamed it deserved every superlative there was – tallest, fastest and yeah…frikkin’ scariest…420 feet tall, 120 mph top-speed (from 0 in 4 seconds)…90 degree drop. The damn thing stalled twice (not with people in it) as we stood in line waiting. More than twice, the bunch of us immigrants looked at each other wondering if final calls home were called for. The sheer audacity of this ride is..well…you figure it out…

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