Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rosalynn Carter and a Visit to the Hill

This morning I was priviledged to hear former first lady, Rosalynn Carter, speak. It was inspiring to be in her presence, much less to hear her. She has been one of the biggest proponents of mental health reform in this country for many decades. She was one of the keynote speakers who kicked off the annual meeting for the NMHA today.

It is always a delight to hear people who are truly passionate about what they believe. She said today she had been involved in mental health for a long time, that when she started Amy Carter was 3 and now she's 38. Funny how we lose track of those sorts of things. If you'd asked me I wouldn't have had any idea how old Amy is now.

Paddy Kutz of Ohio is a Executive Director/CEO I really admire. I snapped a nice photo of her with Mrs. Carter today before things got underway. Paddy is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She is always gracious and always welcoming.

I met her at my first MHA event and have been impressed with her ever since. She always goes out of her way to greet everyone. I think of her often when I'm at an event and am not feeling very chatty. I think, "oh, now, Paddy would go say hello to everyone... just go do it."

Also speaking this morning was Representative Patrick Kennedy. The Kennedy family has long been involved in many social causes, and mental health is one of them.

As we always expect from any member of the Kennedy family, and as they always deliver, he was inspiring. He just got out of treatment at the Mayo Clinic on June 2. He didn't talk about that today, but he gave us much to think about. One of the interesting statistics was that Native Americans have a 870% greater chance to die from an alcohol related issue. I knew it was much higher, but I didn't know it was more than 800%. That's not a typo - eight-hundred-seventy percent.

I'm always amazed at the ability of a powerful speaker to seamlessly weave together many different threads into a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. He covered alcoholism, suicide, terrorism, veterans, legislative issues, and a myriad of other topics in well under an hour.

He talked about how the suicide rate is double what the homicide rate is. He said if we could get TV stations to do a nightly suicide toll that people would understand that the way they realize homicides happen every day.

He talked about the mental health movement in this country and said, "Prevention is the biggest bang for our buck." He talked about how half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills.

It was an inspiring morning. Mrs. Carter, Congressman Kennedy, our new Director David Shern, and Marley Prunty Lara, a young lady who told her story of recovery, rang the Mental Health Bell this morning.

The bell was created from iron chains and shackles once used in asylums. It is inscribed with, "Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness." The 300-pound Bell rings out hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses.

After that, we went to the hill to visit with our legislators. I had not done this before, so went to listen and learn. Rose Mary from Wichita, in the green blazer, is very good at it.

Congressman Jerry Moran took time to pose with our group today. I've always been impressed with him, although I've never been to visit him in DC. But he has always struck me as a thoughtful legislator. I don't agree with everything he's about, but I guess that would be true for any legislator. He was very kind and attentive to our group.

The evening was capped off by an awards ceremony. My favorite person who was honored was Frank Warren, who runs the PostSecret website I went up afterwards and told him I look every Sunday, which I do.

This concept in amazing. If you're not familiar with the site, take a look. You'll be amazed. He was attending with his family, including his 11 year old daughter. That was one of the highlights of the day to me. I've admired that site for a long time.

Other honorees included Brooke Shields, Joshua Wolf Shenk - author of "Lincoln's Melancholy," and Iraq war veteran Blake Miller, among others.

Hyatt Hotel - a Major Don't

Tuesday evening
I'm at a conference and staying at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. This is what you think of as a very nice hotel, right? They have been jerking me around since I arrived and there seems to be no end to it. They are now at the bottom of the list for "nice" places to stay in my book. If I never see the inside of another Hyatt I won't be unhappy. This is by far the worst customer service I've received at any place in a long time - and I don't mean hotels - I mean from ANY business.

I arrive yesterday and give them my name and they check me in. I go to my room and it's nice. Small, with no desk, but nice. Good view. I'm relatively happy although balancing my laptop on my lap is not the most comfortable way to write. I pull out a dresser drawer and make do. I'm crafty - I can manage.

I go out to dinner and return to find neither of my keys to the room work. I make the long hike back downstairs where they tell me I have to move to another room. Huh? I'm at a conference and the national office made the arrangements. Apparently I'm sharing a room with a lady who checked in after me. But, instead of putting me in a double room in the first place, they made a mistake and put me in a single. But, of course, now at 10 p.m. it's my problem to repack everything I just unpacked in the afternoon, and move. I raise enough fuss they tell me to stay that night and move tomorrow. My plan is to complain the the manager the next morning and tell them I don't want to move. They made the mistake. They should absorb the cost of the extra room and let me be.

I make the long hike back upstairs. I go to check my email. The wireless doesn't work. The wireless I have paid $9.99 for. I call. They know nothing about it. But I'm welcome to come down to the desk and check my email there. Oh yeah, that's why I bothered to carry my laptop with me through the airport, and pay for the priveledge of using your wireless that you say is everywhere that doesn't really work, so I can hang out in the lobby to check my email. Yeah, that's good thinking.

This morning I get up and repack all my stuff and they move it to the other room. The manager is pleasant, but they will not take responsibility for their mistake and absorb the cost of the room. The woman was "in training" who sent me to the first room. As if, somehow, it is my fault that their training is insufficient.

They've given me a key to the room. So, at my first break I come up to make sure they moved my stuff. They key doesn't work. I make the hike back downstairs to get the key rekeyed. I come upstairs to check my email and my wireless signal is very low - I can't. I call - yet again. I can go use their business center for 53 cents a minute. Did I mention that I PAID for wireless again for a daypass. She wants to know if I've moved around the room. Well, no, I'm at the desk. Well, wireless isn't consistent, she says. Like I'm an idiot. They'd be happy to give me a dialup modem. Oh, great - that's why I have a wireless capable laptop and paid for wireless access - so I could wait for an hour for my email to download. This, of course, is the wireless they are promoting so heavily that it's the ONE card they have at the front desk. T-mobile - in case you're wondering.

While I was writing this, there was a knock at the door. I thought maybe they were coming to do someting about the computer situation, but no - they were coming to work on the TV. Apparently the TV doesn't work. I didn't even know that. First there were two repair guys - then three - eventually five - and when I left for a meeting there were six guys working on the TV. I don't care about the TV. Fix the wireless. Not their department.

Needless to say, my opinion of Hyatt Hotels has plummetted since my arrival and continues to go down with each passing moment. And, as far as I can tell, they could care less that they have one very unhappy customer.

Wednesday - late morning
I have an hour break. I came upstairs to check my email and find out about some work things. I can't get on. My roomie can't get on either. I call the front desk - as if that will be helfpul. You would think I would have learned by now. After 17 rings, they finally deign to answer the phone.

They transfer me immediately to T-mobile where I spent 34 minutes on the phone to find out that they cannot give me signal on the floor I'm on. They're testing the equipment. It's not working. Duh. I knew that already.

Their solution is for me to get an adapter from the front desk. I call the front desk back. Yes, I know, I'm a slow learner. 23 rings later, they answer. However, I actually get someone helpful this time. What a pleasant change of pace. Not that she seems to actually be able to accomplish anything, but she does care that I'm unhappy. And says I'm far nicer than she would be in the same circumstance.

But, there are no adapters. Tmobile hasn't sent them yet. Add them to the list of companies I don't like. However, I will say that I spoke with someone who could communicate in English and who was very nice. Like everyone he apologized way too much. I finally told him and the front desk person to stop apologizing to me - that just pisses me off - people think apologizing is a substitute for actually fixing a problem. I don't want an apology. I want the problem fixed.

The front desk woman calls the business center to see if I can borrow one of their adapters. No. So, she's looking for somewhere I can go where I can have signal. Gosh, let me think, where would that be. Oh yeah, the freaking room I was in in the first place.

She will call back in about 10 minutes.

Wednesday - late afternoon
Well, long after 10 minutes was up I left for my Capitol Hill appointments. I'm now back and I have very limited access - very low signal strength - which means it could disappear at any moment. The lobby is full of people working on their laptops. Apparently they don't have any access either. I'm not comforted by the misery of others.

I never got a call back. I have no message. Maybe my roomie got it, but somehow I doubt it.

I've gotten far better service at Econolodges. I'm starting to long for one. They have real wireless. It's free. The $9.99 I'm paying a day for this "service" is one of the worst ripoffs I've ever seen, not to mention the nearly $200 a night national is paying for the room. That's a HUGE ripoff. I suppose they could be less interested in customer support, but I can't think of how off the top of my head.