Showing posts with label Hawaii. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hawaii. Show all posts

23 December 2021

It's Better to Travel (Or IS It?)

With apologies to Swing Out Sister...
 It is better to travel well than to arrive.

       – Siddhartha Guatama (The Buddha)

This story has a happy ending. Going to say this up front, because it will be important to remember while you read the following.

Funny story: this past Summer no less than TEN people I know took vacations in Hawaii. My wife, son and I had taken a vacation there three years ago, pre-COVID, during one of the hottest Julys on record.

So rather than join the Summer Vacation exodus, we decided to delay gratification, and book something for Winter Break. We got a smokin' deal on a hotel on Wailea Bay, booked it, and began dreaming of a week-long respite from a dreary Puget Sound December.

And then August rolled around, and my day-gig started up again. Full return to school, no remote learning options in my district.

A colleague who sat next to me during the first day of staff meetings upon our return tested positive later that SAME DAY for COVID. She wound up having to isolate and quarantine for the next two weeks. She had just returned from a week at her time-share.

In Maui.

We tried not to consider this a bad omen.

Somewhere around this time the State of Hawaii clamped back down hard on COVID travel restrictions. We heard from a variety of sources (including the owner of my wife's favorite coffee stand) that the paperwork involved in just getting to Hawaii had become many-layered, complex, and confusing.

On top of that, we had TSA-Pre memberships that were about to expire, and we needed to either renew them or upgrade to an even more exclusive pre-screening service, CLEAR. We opted for the latter. 

Around this time COVID boosters became available for people in our age group, so my wife and I signed up for the booster. While we were waiting for our appointments for that, the under-12 vaccine became available for children, and we signed our son up for that, as well.

With all of the above combined with the level of documentation in quintuplicate required by the State of Hawaii, it turned out to be something of a logistical nightmare.

It started with CLEAR.

We provided all of the documentation required for our application, paid all of our fees, with a single final step remaining: a trip to the airport, where we would have our retinas and fingerprints scanned at one of the CLEAR kiosks. Required time, approximately ten minutes apiece.

If. Only.

We went to the airport. We found a CLEAR kiosk. We attempted to finalize the process ourselves. No dice.

Just as we began to look around for help, a young lady wearing a CLEAR badge hustled up to us, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and breathlessly asked whether we needed help. Relieved, we said we did, and laid out for her what we needed to accomplish.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I can help with that! Please wait right here! I will be right back!" And with that she high-tailed it through a rail gate with the CLEAR logo prominently displayed on it.

We did as we were told and waited. Right there. On that spot.

And waited.

And waited.


After at least twenty minutes of this type of waiting, we came to the conclusion that this enthusiastic young CLEAR employee and had somehow gotten side-tracked. Maybe she was new? Maybe she got lost?

So we chanced passing through the rail gate with the CLEAR logo so prominently displayed, and after a fairly lengthy trek down easily a quarter of the terminal, we came upon another CLEAR employee, this one with an impressive man-bun which threatened to eclipse the CLEAR ID tag he wore.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said in a tone that bore not the slightest whiff of apology, "we can't process your applications here. You have to go," he pointed vaguely back in the direction whence we had come, "down to the next kiosk and Gate Whatever..." and  then without another word he went back to being completely unhelpful.

After retracing our steps and traversing half of the terminal, we came to the aforementioned kiosk and found a very helpful employee, who quickly set about helping us get our CLEAR memberships finalized.


Total time spent running around the airport on this "ten minutes, tops" errand? An hour-and-a-half.

With the above accomplished, we got our boosters, got our son vaccinated as soon as was remotely possible, and settled in to upload all of our vaccination documentation to CLEAR. That proved a breeze. All that was left was to go through the  State of Hawaii's online travel tracking service ("Hawaii Safe Travels") and provide exactly the same documentation we had provided to CLEAR. Over and over and over again. And that doesn't include the number of times the site crashed and we were required to start over from scratch.

It took about six hours of submitting, swearing, sweating and more submitting followed by ever more swearing, to get all of our documentation uploaded.


Fast-forward to the day of our flight (middle of last week) - we arrived at the baggage check for our airline (name redacted to protect the guilty). After a fairly substantial wait in line to check our baggage, we finally got to the front of the line, and were waited on by the single most unhelpful gentleman I have ever encountered in the hospitality industry, anywhere. 

We checked our bags, provided all of our documentation, including vaccination credentials, booster credentials, the whole nine yards. The entire time this "gentleman" spoke to us in a soft, warm, sunny, "ALOHA" voice, asking for this, and then this, and then that, and then this, and then that, never flagging, never sounding the least bit officious or tendentious in his tone.

But the wringer he put us through insisting we provide everything short of a pint of blood or our first-born (he was there with us, but no way were we giving him up!)? Breath-taking. All the while he continued to sound delighted in a way so consistent it would have been the envy of any game show host anywhere, ever.

And then we hit "The Snag."

"You don't have your son's vaccination information uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels site," the "gentleman" exclaimed gleefully.

"We didn't think we were required to," my wife said. "The website was unclear on that. Plus, we have CLEAR, and CLEAR says it's not required for travelers under age 18."

"Safe Travels Hawaii requires it," said Mr. Gleeful. 

My wife presented our son's vaccination information. Mr. Happy shook his head, his smile wide. "No-no-no-so-sorry. It must be uploaded to the site." And with that he dismissed us out of line because, and I quote: "That takes a while."

So there we stood in the middle of the terminal, struggling to get our son's vaccination documentation uploaded using my wife's phone. A good fifteen minutes later we got it uploaded, received confirmation, and my wife went back to Mr. Sunshine, where he confirmed we had uploaded our son's information, and then said, "Ohhhhh you have CLEAR!" His smile widened as though he had just won the lottery. "You're all good. Just go to the CLEAR kiosk in front of your gate and you are ready to go. Mahalo!" 

We left him in our wake convinced he would have delivered the news, "You've been poisoned and have thirty minutes to live!" in exactly that same tone.

Once we'd traversed half the terminal to get to the same CLEAR kiosk where we'd waited so long for help a few weeks, previous, a CLEAR employee greeted us, checked our names on her list, and informed us that with the level of CLEAR we had, we could go through TSA Pre, which was a whole other level of CLEAR, and way easier to get through.

She sent us back the way we'd come. "It's just around the corner to your right," she said.


It turned out to be about a hundred feet past where Mr. Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy was still loudly plaguing would-be passengers in that gleeful tone of his. 

He hadn't bothered to tell us.

He just let us waste time heading in exactly the opposite direction.

TSA-Pre was, as always, great. Quick, professional, no-nonsense. Worth every nickel. The CLEAR employee who greeted us and squired us through TSA-Pre was like the employee who helped us finalize our memberships: just great. Knowledgeable, professional, courteous and helpful.

And then we got to the gate.

No sooner had we seated ourselves to await boarding, than I got called to the gate. 


Turned out I was all set. But the airline officials needed to confirm my wife's ID. And then they looked at our son's vaccination information, and sent us to a second desk, where yet another airline official who informed us that because our son's second vaccination had come less than two weeks prior to our flight, and we had not gotten him a COVID test within the previous 72 hours, it was possible that he might need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in the Aloha State.

My wife and I looked at each other. Then she turned and said slowly and clearly to this airline official the exact same words she had used repeatedly with Mr. Cheer-and-Sunshine: "We have CLEAR. On the CLEAR website it states that we didn't need to register the information of any children under 18. And it said nothing about testing."

This time it worked the first time. The response: "Oh, you have CLEAR? Let me talk to my supervisor." Three minutes later: "You are all good to go."

Just in time to board.

Is it any wonder THIS happened:

Less than one minute later....

Hey! Don't judge me!

I said to my wife as we settled in for take-off, "I feel like Hawaii really made us earn a trip there this year!" 

She agreed.

But like I said, this story does have a happy ending! See below. Best vacation we've had as a family. 

Worth all the considerable trouble!

Just remember: if you're planning a trip to Hawaii, get started early on all that paperwork!

Happy Holidays, and see you in two weeks!

11 July 2019

The Long Overdue Revenge of the Customer Service Representative

by Brian Thornton

Aloha from Maui!

Every time I've driven past the signs for Kihei in the past week, I've thought of old pal and fellow Sleuthsayer R.T. Lawton, and his better half, Kiti. (And they know why!).

As I sail toward the end of the first real vacation my family has taken in years, my thoughts have been on an amazing and amusing thing that happened to me during the final week of the school year a couple of weeks back.

One of my students (hard-working, charismatic, a real leader, just a fine young lady) informed me that her mother works for the credit union where I and my family do most of our banking. "Oh," I think to myself, "Small world."

Turns out there was more.

"My mom finally remembered where she recognized your name from," this amazing kid went on.

"From the credit union?" I said, still not quite getting it.

"Yep. She sees your name quite a bit there."

These are vacation pics and having nothing to do with this post: that's the island of Kaho'olawe across the bay.
Casting back in my memory to try to recall whether I had any recent NSF fees (Hey–no judgement. Most of us have been there at one time or another, after all.), I asked, "What does your mom do at XXXX Credit Union (Not its real name)?"

"She's Quality Control for Customer Service."

This information sends my thoughts in a new direction. Have I complained about the service I've received lately? Nope. Does that mean someone's complained about me? Is that even a thing customer service folks even do?

I asked myself this last question because a few decades back, I was one of those people working in a variety of entry-level customer service jobs. It was some of the hardest and least rewarding work I've ever done. I worked in food, in hospitality, in transportation, all while working my way through college so that I could embark on a different–yet–not–all–that–different type of customer service: teaching.

Back in those days (and we're talking the early '90s here) one customer complaint could mean the end of your employment (I didn't have a union job until I started teaching, everywhere I worked was a one-counseling session and you're fired kind of place.). I know this because at least once I got fired because of a customer complaint.

Well, that and the fact that the guy who fired me (someone who really put the "ass" in "assistant manager.") was a real piece of work.

But that's another story.

These and other memories were washing over me during my conversation with that awesome student of mine. So I said: "Quality Control, huh? She fields complaints, things like that?"

"Yep," Awesome Kid (not her real name, but it might as well be) said.

"Does she like her job?"

"She does. And she likes you."

I cudgel my brain trying to recall whether I've ever met Awesome Kid's mom. Nope. I'm pretty sure I'd remember. She didn't come to conferences, and I didn't see her at Open House. So that surprises me.

"She likes me?" I ask, all intelligence and awareness, now.

"Yes. You're one of the highest-rated customers they have."

I blink at her, not comprehending. "They rate customers?"

She nods. "And the customer service reps all really love you. You get high marks all the time and you're near the top of their list."

And just like that, with this small kindness, Awesome Kid made my year.

The island of Lana'i (left) and the West Maui Mountains (right) framing a spectacular sunset

My early experiences with the downside of customer service (being the one to catch the irate call, or get someone's order wrong, or commit one of thousand small errors) have informed my interactions with the people who work in those positions ever since my own days in customer service, lo those many moons ago.

In the years since I've striven to be patient, to be polite. To be courteous and respectful, even when I'm pretty pissed off about something.

Because, nine times out of ten, it's not the fault of the person I'm talking to. They're there because they picked up the phone, took the chat request, what-have- you.

I've never forgotten what it's like to be on the other end of that call, and I hope I never do.

So it did my heart good to know that customer service reps are getting a chance to rate their interactions with clients: getting a voice in how that back-and-forth went. Because, hey, it's a hard job. And it usually doesn't pay all that well.

Plus, I gotta admit, I like that someone on the other end of that phone call notices how I try to treat them well.

After all, Couldn't we, each and every one of us, use a little more humanity in our daily interactions?

This is why I've been tipping people left, right and center (something I do religiously anyway) over the last week, and will until we head for home.

Like I said before, it's a tough job, and people don't get paid a whole lot to do it.

And that's all I've got for this go-round. I hope you're all having a wonderful and productive July.

Mahalo, and see you in two weeks!

23 March 2015

The Detective Doctor

"You see, doctors are detectives, are they not, Rra? You look for clues. I do too.”
--Mma Ramotswe, proprietrix of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. "Doctors, detectives, and common sense," by Alexander McCall Smith

Mystery readers are clever, so you may have deduced that your newest SleuthSayer (moi) is also an emergency physician. I consider this great training for my detective alter ego, Dr. Hope Sze, because medicine trains you to…

1. Talk to people.

On a vacation in Hawaii, I met a 29-year-old who’d been retired for a year. Who does that? I set about quizzing him. How did he do it? Why was he so eager to make bank? I could tell he wasn’t crazy about answering me, so I explained, “I’m an emergency doctor! My job is to extract the most amount of information in the least amount of time.”

Granted, a detective may be more tactful than me. But we both have to learn how to ask intelligent questions, listen to the answers, and throw out the B.S.

Ancient Hawaiian justice system: if you broke a kapu (sacred law),
your only hope was to swim to a sacred place of refuge
like this one at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

2. Learn patience.

You know how long doctors slog in school? I spent 25 years of my life from kindergarten until my emergency fellowship. And I’m not, say, a vascular surgeon with seven years of residency under my belt. Plus they estimate that doctors spend 50 percent of their time doing paperwork. You never see ER, Nurse Jackie,and Grey’s Anatomy spending half their waking hours on forms.

As for detectives, the New York Times recently published the provocatively-titiled essay, The Boring Life of a Private Investigator.

For both of us, TV cuts out the dull bits and maximizes the drama. Wise move.

3. Use your powers of observation as well as technology.

Once my senior resident told me, “The more I practice, the more I realize that the history and physical exam don’t matter. It’s all the tests you order, like the ultrasound or CT.”

Within the hour, the attending staff asked me, “Did you see bed 4?”


“Did you notice anything unusual on the physical exam?”

“I noticed a systolic murmur.”

“That senior resident [a year above you] missed a grade III aortic stenosis murmur. You could feel the delayed upstroke during systole.”

Which may sound like jibber-jabber to people outside the trade, but what it means is, even in the age of technology, you should use your brain at all times. The imaging and other technology will help you, so you may end up doing the right thing, but you can look like an idiot.

Or, to quote Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."

At the moment, I’m enjoying both medicine and writing. As Dorothy L. Sayers’ detective said in Whose Body?: “It is full of variety and it forces one to keep up to the mark and not get slack. And there's a future to it. Yes, I like it. Why?"

So if you’d like to follow how my fictional medical resident became a detective in her spare time, take a gander at Dr. Hope Sze.

Or if you can take medical stories straight up, for the next week, I’ll also post a free excerpt from my book, Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy.

What do you think? Does medicine train you for detective work? Or is another profession better? Let me know in the comments.

And tune in on April 6th, when I plan to talk about book trailers.