Cheaper Than Botox

image4In June, Elizabeth’s fourth grade teacher nearly got me fired. As if that wasn’t enough, I almost dragged several of my friends down with me. To be fair, it wasn’t really her teacher’s fault. She certainly had no idea that an innocent cell phone app would lead to a dereliction of MS Office duties and general loss of productivity across several companies.

Let me explain. I had helped out in Elizabeth’s classroom one day and was chatting with her teacher after school. At some point during the conversation, she introduced me to Bitmoji, an app that allows you to create a detailed avatar of yourself. I was immediately fascinated.  (I also couldn’t help but wonder why none of my elementary school teachers had fun stuff like Bitmoji. Instead they threw chalk at us.)

While the concept of an avatar was hardly new, when you have young kids, “new” takes on a different meaning. This is because, beginning with the birth of your first child, you are on a perpetual five year delay when it comes to anything hot off the press. To my point, I didn’t even see the 2009 film Avatar until 2014.

The next day at work, the PowerPoint presentation I was drafting crashed my computer. Sadly, similar to drafting a PowerPoint presentation, restarting my computer can be a painful and time consuming process. IT attributes this to the software I run, however, I’m fairly certain the true reason is that the computer I was issued is so old that it shouldn’t be running anything more modern that Microsoft Works. IT was most likely instructed under threat of death not to reveal the truth of the matter.

In any case, since my computer was obviously out of commission for the near future, I came to the logical conclusion that downloading Bitmoji on my cell phone was the best use of my time. I opted against the other option, surfing Facebook, since “liking” anyone’s status at 10am on a weekday would at best be perceived as suspect and at worst a performance issue.

Once Bitmoji was downloaded I realized how much better it was than I had realized. There were countless options to personalize my avatar. Not just hair and eye color, but even things like eyebrows, face shape and body shape. I was completely intrigued with the possibilities. In fact, I was soon so busy trying out haircuts and shades of lipstick on my fake self, I had completely forgotten about real life, including my technologically-challenged computer and my half-finished PowerPoint.

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About 30 minutes in, I discovered I could make myself taller, a feat which has defied me in real life. I was barely able to contain my excitement; this avatar was cheaper and better than either Botox or plastic surgery. Since my life is spent in one of four places – behind my computer screen, in traffic, at home, or at Target – I never see anyone I know in person. Consequently, the chances were slim that anyone would figure out my new avatar was not a completely honest representation of me. I began madly texting my friends these images of my new self. They seemed to share my philosophy, because the next thing I knew they had ditched their spreadsheets and PowerPoints and were texting me back images of their new Bitmoji avatars. Corporate productivity had decreased across Southern California.

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I truly don’t think I’d been that excited about advances in technology since moving back to the U.S. from Switzerland in 2000 and learning that you could get “cash back” at the grocery store. [I had been living in Switzerland for a number of years, and while the Swiss were obviously superior in many areas (watches, Army knives, direct Democracy, cheese with holes), the idea of getting cash and chocolate in the same transaction had not made it to the Alps.]

When I finally regained my senses, I realized that I had been hunched over my cell phone in front of a dark computer screen for at least an hour. I got my computer up and running and frantically checked my Outlook calendar for any meetings with my boss I might have missed. Next, I scanned the halls for any sign that my idleness had been detected. All was calm; I was met only with the faint sound of productive employees typing on their keyboards. It appeared I had dodged the bullet this time, but if I wanted to keep bringing home a paycheck, it would probably be a good idea to embrace my wrinkles and delete Bitmoji from my phone…

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Car Show Mania

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Every year in October we go to the car show. This is an important event on our calendar, and we take attendance very seriously. In fact, few know this but our vow “in sickness and in health” actually applies to the car show. When I was 4 months pregnant with Elizabeth and still getting emergency IV fluids, I ditched the IV to go sit in some brand new SUVs. Elizabeth can be glad her middle name isn’t Explorer or Durango.

Today was the day. The car show runs from Thursday to Sunday, and we always go on Sunday. We also make sure to arrive first thing in the morning, before the crowds descend. While others are sleeping in, we’re riding around the Camp Jeep obstacle course in Wranglers and Grand Cherokees until all four of us are car sick. This really is something to look forward to. Besides, not only is the car show cheaper than Disneyland (kids get in free), but you can also load up on free crap you don’t need and won’t ever use.

The freebies were sparse in past years, but if we use this year’s car show as a barometer, the Great Recession is clearly a thing of the past. Not only did we receive quite a few neat gadgets from Kia, but Jeep has clearly upped the quality of the cloth shopping bags they pass out to obstacle course riders. Admittedly, Jeep’s quality upgrade may have nothing to do with the ending of the recession and may instead be due to the number of nauseous participants who needed a thicker bag in hand in case their breakfast made a reappearance.

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This year at Camp Jeep I even got to learn about technology. For instance, to take the required picture of the barcode on your wristband with the tablet at the sign-up booth, you must place the barcode in front of the camera on the side of the tablet. Waving the barcode back and forth in front of the tablet’s screen is something only old people do. The kid who had to save me from my incompetence could barely contain his disgust.

After Camp Jeep, we moved on to test driving vehicles. This is a great opportunity, because not only is there no sales pressure, but the test drive is longer than what you get when you are actually going to drop thousands of dollars on the car…go figure.

Last year we learned an important lesson when our test drive strategy backfired. Since my SUV was significantly older than my husband’s sedan, our focus was only on SUVs. This seemed like a reasonable approach. However, as fate would have it, a texting teenager totaled Thomas’s car the week after the car show, leaving him with an immediate need for a new car (and me with an immediate need to punch that kid’s lights out…but that would have been illegal). Since we hadn’t as much as looked at a sedan, let alone driven one[1], we decided we needed to take a more balanced approach at this year’s car show.

This year, in keeping with this new approach idea, we test drove both a sedan and an SUV. The sedan drive with Marco, the product representative, was fun. We drove around singing along to hits on the stereo system, while Marco told us all about the car’s features and even managed to remember our names.

Driving the SUV, on the other hand, proved to be a little disturbing. The vehicle, a Kia Sorento, was great and is definitely one we will consider when the time comes, but the Kia product lady left something to be desired. She was not only snippy with us, but her behavior was erratic, and she barked mysterious orders during the test drive that I was unable to decipher. At one point she wanted me to “get in the center lane and turn left”. Depending on the width and design of the street, this could be possible. However, given that this particular street only had 2 lanes, I was slightly confused. Did that mean I was supposed to drive in between the two lanes and then make a left? I was afraid to ask.

The closer we got to the upcoming left turn, the more agitated she became. I was fairly certain at some point she was either going to grab the steering wheel from me or kick me out of the car and run me over. When the time came, I maneuvered steadily into the intersection, made a left turn and used my peripheral vision to determine if I was going to need to block an incoming punch.

Luckily, she seemed satisfied and backed off. Driving back onto the car show lot, I breathed a sigh of relief. Though Kia made us take a breathalyzer test before getting into the car, it was obvious they didn’t apply this standard to their employees. I wondered if I should make this suggestion when I took the post-drive survey.

All in all, we came out ahead of the game. We managed not to throw up in the Jeeps, didn’t get beat up at Kia and even got a few free stylus pens to boot. Thomas has already marked the calendar for next year…

[1] This isn’t completely true, since I test drove a Fiat 500 for kicks. However, since Thomas can’t even fit in one let alone drive one, I’m not counting it for purposes of this argument.