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At the "step-and-repeat" at the Opoli launch party in L.A., 6/26/14
Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
This fact is a stunner for many, who can’t imagine life in L.A. as a mostly-pedestrian; when they learned I was from New York City, many questioned whether I had ever learned to drive a car at all. (As a Jersey girl, I had.) Truth is, it was a challenge to live in this vast city without the great public transportation of NYC, and without wheels of my own. Cabs were expensive, public transportation was unreliable. But I made it work, by offering to drive friends to parties so that they could drink without worrying about impaired driving on the way back, and by borrowing or renting cars when I really needed it. It worked. But once I got my own car, things were obviously easier.
Naturally, as soon as I had my own car, Los Angeles saw an invasion of ridesharing services - Uber, Sidecar & Lyft, among emerging others - that offered cheaper-than-taxi rates for the vehicularly challenged or for people who didn’t want to worry about driving somewhere. As a (perhaps overly) cautious person, I found something about getting in a car with a stranger to be slightly scary, but Lyft especially made me feel safe, as if no axe murderers would be driving around in cars with pink carstaches and giving you fistbumps. The drivers I spoke to were regular people - non-professional drivers, but making a little extra money in their spare time. Still, I was aware of some iffy legal issues (especially surrounding airport pickups, which have been banned for Lyft & Uber), and at the end of the day, these drivers aren’t commercially licensed, and like with a cab, there was no way of knowing what the charges were before you get in the car. An app called Opoli wants to change all that, as a first step toward finding you everything you need, not just a ride from A to B. But rides are what they’re starting with, featuring drivers who are commercially licensed and fully insured to transport commercial passengers. (My experience testing the app is below this ABC news video segment, plus an offer to a number of readers to receive $50 test codes.)
Two weeks ago, I got into a Tesla (with an Opoli driver) which took me to the Opoli (pronounced "opp-uh-lee") app launch party (because that’s a thing now). The company founder described it as a “next generation transportation app,” that gives providers (previously known as “drivers”) and users the opportunity (therefore the name) to communicate directly with each other. After the app suggests a rate, the user can raise or lower the rate and send it out to drivers; drivers - considering where they are, what time of day it is, whether they even want another fare or not - determine what their price would be. Then the user can peruse the incoming bids, look at pictures of the drivers and their respective vehicles, and accept a bid to reserve the car at that cost, and pay using the app (which is linked to your credit card).
The prices run a bit higher than Lyft, but you get a certified and registered driver, in usually a much nicer car, plus you can order a car in advance for a specific date and time (like those pesky early morning airport runs). My Tesla driver said that Uber takes 25% off of the total he makes. (Another Opoli driver estimated it as 20%.) But with Opoli, he gets to charge what trips are worth to him (and with a nicer car, he can demand more) - with no commission to Opoli, customers get better prices.
For instance, for my trip from the iPic Theater in Westwood to my apartment in Pico-Robertson, Opoli estimated a charge of $26, giving me the option to bid lower if I wanted. I went to $23: within a few seconds, my phone populated a list of 7 drivers with different kinds of cars, different rates (ranging from $20 to $75). I went with a very nice Lincoln Town Car for $20. On a subsequent trip, a Town Car from LAX to Pico-Robertson cost me $36 (about $10 more than a Lyft and about $8-10 less than a taxi).
Thus far, I’ve been playing with “Opoli money” - a credit on my account that lets me test the app without actually spending any of my own freelancer cash. Depending on my budget and on timing, Opoli might be a nicer alternative that is just luxurious enough to indulge in every once in a while. And for small businesses that want to provide insured and officially registered car service from events - or for prospective dates looking to impress someone special with a night on the town free of the agita that accompanies driving and parking - I can imagine this app doing very well.
Because Opoli launched less than a month ago, they’re still working out some of the technical glitches. For instance, while the app predicts when your car will arrive, LA traffic is enough of a beast to impact that prediction - my LAX trip was estimated as 25 minutes away, and I waited much longer for the car to arrive - at one point the app said the driver was 6 minutes away, and it took another 20. (But to an extent, that’s just that LAX loop for you.) One earlier version of the app wouldn’t retain the credit card information associated with my account, requiring me to re-enter it every time I wanted to reserve a ride - but customer service has been responsive to problems, and the drivers I’ve spoken to it love the freedom it gives them to determine which rides are convenient for them when. They are happy to drive, greet you with a smile, open the vehicle doors for you (many offer candies and bottled water in transit), and at the end of the ride, say - some of them almost gleefully - “thank you for using Opoli!"
While Opoli currently only provides access to car service companies (in Los Angeles county), it has its eyes on a future that provides many more opportunities than that, both for the providers and users. At the launch event, the company founders spoke about the platform as being more than just transportation - they imagined a future that enables consumers to find whatever they need, from a plumber to booking a hotel room. Beyond giving users the chance to name the value of the services they’re seeking, Opoli imagines itself as an opportunity to save small businesses, by offering them a chance to get their products in front of more consumers.
As Opoli works through its startup growing pains, the user experience will become more seamless, and enable users to access a fleet of experienced and licensed drivers with whom they’ve pre-negotiated a price for service. (If you’d like to be one of those test users, I’ve got a limited number of $50 codes so you can test it for yourselves…so drop me a line - myurbankvetch at gmail - and we’ll get you going...)
Sometimes social media can be the bridge that brings people together for a much-needed embrace.
Today, social media is an integral part of our lives - some say it is too integral, too impersonal; that it discourages real connection and human contact. I count myself squarely situated in the other camp: the company of people who understand that social media is a tool, and how we wield it is what makes the difference in how we connect with each other and how we provide support to those who need it most.
"'Control' Alternating with 'Delete'," an article by Renee Ghert-Zand in the current issue of Hadassah Magazine (not yet available online but embedded below) makes the case for social media and more, exploring how 20s and 30s are dealing with loss. I'm honored to be included on three fronts - one, to have the privilege of sharing approaches that helped me even slightly during a difficult time; two, to share space with people (including the incredible Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner of Modern Loss, and Times of Israel & Kveller's Sarah Tuttle-Singer, who has penned a few really heart-rending pieces on loss) who are doing really remarkable things with their grief in memory and tribute to those they've lost; and three, to be included in a demographic that I left a few years ago. (Although technically, I was still in my 30s when I lost my mother.)
Other highlights from the conversation (full video embedded below):
At the 8:20 mark, we talk the role of authenticity in connecting to people online, in person and in writing;
Around 30 minutes in, we field a question about why synagogues have such trouble engaging singles;
We talk the post-shiva grief role of community and the connections between individuals and their Jewish community around 33 minutes in;
About 36 minutes in, I talk about the silence that follows the flurry of comforting activity of the funeral and shiva;
Does the processing of all of this online and in writing impede the process of moving on? We talk about this around the 40-minute mark.
42:00 or so has one of my favorite lines, if I do say so myself: "If someone hates you and thinks you're a racist, they'll tell you, but if they really enjoy your piece, you might not hear about it. That's the sad truth of being a writer."
At the 43 minute mark, I literally use the phrase "drop the mic and leave."
At 44:15, Lisa and I talk about the concept of Facebook as a living memorial that's perhaps more meaningful than leaving a rock on the gravestone, which gave me the chance to talk about Dave Burnett, z"l, and his Facebook wall.
Thanks to ELI Talks for hosting me - tune into elitalks.org weekly for live conversations with interesting people, and check out their produced TED-style talks at elitalks.org or on their YouTube channel.
As everyone in the free world knows by now, Mick Jagger and the rest of the scraggly, scrawny superheroes of rock-and-roll have been touring Israel, taking photos at the Wall and - Mick in partick - showing off Hebrew study by interspersing their betwixt-songs banter with salutations and crowd-pleasing Hebrew phrases. (You can read all about it in Times of Israel.)
But what you may not know is that beyond the 12 phrases shared in TOI, Mick had a whole host of Hebrew phrases up his sleeves for use, should the occasion arise. In an My Urban Kvetch exclusive interview (so exclusive that the interview only happened in my brain), Mick shared an additional list of phrases that he's hoping to use at the Stones' upcoming concert to be held in Kikar Tzion (right near where the Kent sign used to be, you remember):
So is my mom in the 7%? And if not, can you connect us, Skype?
Three years after losing my mother, I'm beginning to gain some perspective.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still devastated at my mother's absence and irritated by the onslaught of media messaging. And while I appreciate the sentiment, Skype telling me to call my mom on Mother's Day is a bit much - unless they actually can connect us, in which case, a resounding "yes" and "my bad for calling you out."
But halfway through Mother's Day here on the West Coast, I'm encouraged by the variety of posts I'm seeing - primarily on Facebook, but in other media outlets as well (see some interesting links below) - that indicate love for mothers past and present, hopes for future maternal roles, and the acknowledgement that although this holiday is an invented Hallmark one, its presence can be one that inspires some and hurts others.
Especially that last circumstance is something I'm seeing explored more and more, and although I don't envy the hurt that provoked the shift (because I do have my own), the fact that more of us are speaking out about this day as complicated (for some, suddenly so) is a good thing. It creates empathy among us all, increases appreciation and encourages us to reach out to those who make an impact regardless of whether they're biologically mothers or not.
As some of you may know, I have published two Mother's Day pieces - "Dealing with the Mother's Day Motherlode Now That Our Mothers Are Gone" last year, focusing on the media onslaught, and this year's "Marking Mother's Day When Mother is Gone" in the NY Jewish Week, which (if the Facebook Like counter is a reliable measure) has been read hundreds of times since it appeared on Wednesday. I've been blessed with really great feedback on these pieces, and have been very gratified to see this subject covered so well by other people who are putting their lives back together again after loss, and putting words to the process to share publicly. I wanted to use this space to share four pieces - not written by me - that I found moving, helpful and resonant over the last few days.
I've seen Star Wars more times than I can count (because I stopped counting around time #47); I know a good portion of Episodes 4, 5 & 6 by heart, and prefer to forget about most of 1, 2 & 3. But my favorite part was always Mos Eisley Spaceport ("you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany - we must be cautious...") and its creature-diverse cantina. Big drama goes down at the cantina - altercations that result in an arm on the floor (more on this later) and a dead Greedo; smugglers make business deals; and we get a glimpse of fan favorite Hammerhead. And of course, best cantina music of all time. Iconic.
And so, in honor of Star Wars Day - May the 4th Be with You All (get it?) - it's about time that the cantina had its day in the Tatooine suns. So before I run back to Toschi to pick up more power converters, I'm pleased to share this collection of some of my favorite cantina-related video clips (some of them new for this year).
College Humor takes you inside the auditions for the new Mos Eisley band - featuring some familiar faces.
Kid Snippets has children retell the Mos Eisley scenes with adults acting out and lipsyncing the kids' audio. Ponda
Speaking of the aforementioned arm on the floor, here's Robot Chicken's version of what happened to Ponda Baba (Walrus Man) that day.
"Sid Caesar invented sketch," said comedy legend Carl Reiner in an interview with Phil Rosenthal (creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond") at the opening night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival on May 1, which was in honor of Reiner and in memory of Caesar, who died in February. "Sid performed it in such a way that it was never the same after."
As the evening stretched on, the 92-year-old Reiner used his memories of time served on "Your Show of Shows," "The Dick Van Dyck Show" and others to bring the crowd to laughter and applause. Of course, we were there to laugh, and had been warmed up considerably by the film that preceded the conversation: "Ten From 'Your Show of Shows'," a 1973 compilation film by Max Liebman of ten sketches from the show's 1950-1954 run. Although the sketches were first performed 60 years ago, the actors' commitments to character and relationship made the bits are relatable today as they were when first they aired.
Ten seems like a good round number. A one and a zero to please the mathematicians. Passover's plagues. Sinai's commandments. So I understand why "Ten From 'Your Show of Shows'" focused on the number 10.
In that spirit, here are 10 things I learned from Carl Reiner at tonight's event:
I've been flying Virgin America domestically for a while; I love the inflight experience, from the order-at-your-seat refreshments to personal entertainment screens. The flight attendants seem capable and friendly (and took care of me most recently when I got sick on a flight). Virgin America has also always had a bit of a sense of humor when it comes to safety videos.
VA's previous animated video was jaggedly drawn, a bit jarring and edgy, chill and sarcastic, featuring a bullfighter who didn't know how to use a seatbelt and a nun who was traveling with more devices than you might think a woman of the cloth might acquire. And then a few months ago, a new video dawned on Virgin America - flashy, with choreography and different styles of music to drive the safety messages home, with karaoke-style subtitles to encourage people to sing along (and hopefully remember the instructions in a way that didn't induce the panic that comes with realizing that those safety instructions are supposed to guide us in the event of a catastrophic air event, but I digress, and yes, I do have airplane anxiety, why do you ask?).
Tonight I just viewed a new safety video that must have been created to compete with (or perhaps, "pay homage to") the Virgin America style. The unlikely airline challenger? El Al, Israel airways, with a video with a kitschy, near-nonsensical vibe, that doesn't even attempt to rhyme and is so weird that I can't believe this is the first time I'm seeing it. (Video embeds and more discussion after the jump.)
Me (and my purple scarf) leading a group in improv exercises at the ROI Summit
Back in New York, people had been encouraging me to do comedy for years. But as far as I knew "doing comedy" meant either a) moving out to LA, pitching agents and studios on ideas, only to have your heart trampled on, or b) doing standup at an open-mic or "bringer" night at a comedy club after midnight, only to have your heart trampled on. And then someone suggested I try improv classes - where there are no scripts, and - kind of like "the Tree" in Empire Strikes Back - the tools you bring in with you (thought, intelligence, sense of humor, and the rules of improv - more on that below) are the only ones you have (or need).
While I wouldn't quite say that I "do comedy" (although I did move out to LA, so maybe part of me thrives on the possibility of heart-trampling), improv has changed (or in some cases validated) the way I think about things. I'm often able to detect improv training in performers on and offstage, and even watching TV, I see some sitcoms reflect improvisation training more than others. There was a lot about improv that I enjoyed - the energy of the spontaneous, the ability to find things that were funny because they were true. But chiefly, I enjoyed the teamwork, finding "the game" of the scene and playing it through, helping others on stage who were struggling by giving them something they could work with, and using my quirky (yet-I-hope-delightful) brainworks to play things truthfully while building something together. Standup is solitary and lonely; improv is group energy, a family.
There's a classic joke about the oleh chadash, the new immigrant to Israel, who sees that wherever he goes, people are parking on the sidewalk. One day, he's driving around and looking for parking. Nothing. Not a single legal space free, but people are still parking on the sidewalks. He sees a policeman and asks, "Excuse me, officer, is it legal for me to park on the sidewalks?"
"Absolutely not!" the policeman says sternly. "It's absolutely illegal and unsafe!"
"So why is everyone else parked there?"
"THEY didn't ask."
Leave it to Israelis to carry forward this classic parking humor joke into the Tumblr era. In "Dear Officer: Love Notes to Parking Cops," journalist Daniel Estrin is posting photos of interesting, moderately convincing and humorous notes from Israeli drivers to traffic cops pre-emptively begging that they not be given parking tickets. This means that they parked in a space that they knew wasn't legal, and instead of finding a legal space or paying the meter to park there, they decided their best or most just option was to leave a note in the window, explaining the car's presence with classic excuses like "our family is sitting shiva" (fair), "I'm picking up my kid from kindergarten" (okay, but so are most people, especially in Jerusalem), and "I'm performing a bris" (who hasn't been there?).
It's chutzpah. But it's also an "only in Israel moment" - the parking cop isn't really seen as mishtarah, the police that you might fear, but as a guy who's doing something annoying by giving out parking tickets, and why should you get one? You don't deserve it! You're doing something important. Like for instance, attending a local soccer match.
I live in Los Angeles. Driving and parking is all most people do here. I've seen busted meters with plastic bags over their "heads," burned-out shells of cars, cars held together with twine, and people living out of their cars. But pre-emptive notes to parking enforcement? Not in my neighborhood. (Although the Valley, which has a higher density of Israeli natives than some parts of Jerusalem, might be an exception - for all I know, this has been going on for years.)
So next time you're driving around, looking for spaces, and wondering if you can actually park there, why take a chance by asking? Leave a note, just in case. (And make it entertaining, because it will probably end up on Tumblr.)