Sunday, November 30, 2014
Each year, the folks at Gondola di Venezia haul out their two beautiful Venice-built boats for winter.
They spend most of the cold season in an enclosure, but I was able to visit them after haul-out, and before they were moved into their winter home.
Normally it would only be possible to get a shot from this angle by standing
(or swimming) in the water, but I had lucky timing.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
On the eve of the U.S. Gondola Nationals,
some of us out-of-towners showed up at the dock
to catch up with our friends from Providence at La Gondola.
We enjoyed watching the way their operation ran and getting to know their waterway and the boats we'd be rowing for the next couple of days.
Here we see the "Cynthia Julia" at rest in the latter part of twilight.
Fall leaves float by, and the reflections of downtown buildings can be seen on the surface of the water and the deck.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Thanksgiving is such a great holiday.
We gather together, both family and friends.
We set aside time to give thanks for all that we've been blessed with.
I have so much to be thankful for, including the many great friends I've been fortunate to have in the gondola business.
Thank you for reading, dear friends,
and have a happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
He also had the opportunity to row in Venice on board one of the Row Venice boats.
Here's his story:
by Tim Jones
Saturday, November 22, 2014
On October 26th, on a cool and windy afternoon in Providence, Rhode Island, the participants in the 2014 U.S. Gondola Nationals raced in the final racing event of the competition - the Tandem Distance race.
The race was supposed to follow the same route that had been used in the Solo Distance race, but the winds had increased. To avoid having gondolas bouncing and grinding against walls and bridges in those tight quarters,
it was decided that the two-man distance event would remain in the lower part of the channel.
This was a timetrial event - so rowers had nobody to measure their speed against.
The distance of the race was just over two miles.
Like the sprint events, the timekeeper started the clock as the ferro of the gondola emerged from the Crawford Street bridge.
Two-man teams rowed down to the foundations of the old Route 195 bridge, with the wind at their backs, turning around or beyond one of the remaining foundations. Next it was a fight against the wind back up to the Crawford Street bridge, passing under to turn and re-emerge to do the same down-and-back a second time.
It became obvious early on that the biggest enemy to gondoliers on this course was the headwind we fought against while returning from the old Route 195 foundations. Many teams sought refuge by hugging the wall to their left, as there was sometimes a wind-shadow there. Finding a good stroke synchronization and making the best and tightest turns were also important.
As this was a tandem race, finding the right partner to row with was of great importance.
While describing the camaraderie between gondoliers, I've often told people "nobody understands you, and that weird thing you do,
like someone who does that weird thing too."
People who aren't gondoliers just don't understand sometimes.
I suppose it might be comparable to pole vaulting.
Sure, we've all seen it done, but until you've actually experienced it;
until you've run, planted, and then been flung into the sky by a 15 foot pole, you'll never be able to truly understand it from a vaulter's perspective.
As a gondolier, nobody understands you as well as another gondolier...
unless, of course, you have a brother who is a gondolier.
That guy gets you.
Want to find someone who will mesh well in a tandem row?
He's the guy.
Their names are Matthew and Alexander Haynes.
On the gondola they are known as "Marcello" and Alessandro".
They were born a couple of years apart - Matt's 35, Alex is 33.
Both played a lot of soccer growing up, then later on Alex was a wrestler and Matt got into traditional rowing in college
(yeah, the kind where you sit on your butt and pull).
A year later Matt found an amazing summer job and became a gondolier at La Gondola in Providence, Rhode Island - he ended up buying the business years later from the previous owner and, like many of us gondola operators, has truly found his calling.
Two years ago, Matt dreamed up and brought to life the very first gondola competition in North America - the GondOlympics.
This year Matt and his brother Alex competed against each other in other races, and they both did well. Their Tandem Sprint run was excellent too, but when they got on the boat together for a distance race, they were unbeatable.
They grew up in the same house, and sure, there were sibling rivalries, but Matt explained to me that because they were two years apart, they were never able to compete in the same league, much less on the same team.
"I was thrilled to get the opportunity to race with Alex.
They were both gondoliers, but didn't get much training for this race.
Both are married and have young children at home, both have day jobs,
and then there was all that planning and preparation Matt had to take care of just to bring this event to life.
Alex told me:
"My brother and I hadn’t really rowed much together. We’d said we wanted to get out there and train but never
really trained for it."
Last year, at the U.S. Gondola Nationals in Huntington Harbour, I heard about Matt's brother Alex, and how it was a shame he couldn't make it. Those who knew him were sure he would've been a strong contender.
Indeed, Alex took third place in the Solo Distance race.
When these two brothers rowed together in the Tandem Sprint, they finished in second place.
So what was it that this team had on their side to take second in the sprint event, and then finish ahead of everyone in the Tandem Distance?
Based on my conversations with both men, and having been there to see the race go down, I believe the Brothers Haynes had several things going for them.
Like I said, nobody knows you like your brother,
and if he rows (and you can stand each other),
he's the guy you want on the boat with you.
In a post-race interview, Matt stressed to me how important it was to have, and maintain good form throughout the race.
"Form wins a race", he said.
This was a discipline he had carried over from his traditional rowing back in college.
Matthew Haynes - pushing hard and maintaining form.
photo by John Kerschbaum
As Matt explained to me: "where you're pushing as hard as you can,
but then take it to another level - two strokes to warm up,
and then counting to ten with power strokes."
Matt served as a sort of coxswain up front. Alex said:
"He kept counting to ten. That little focus method made the difference".
During their second approach to the dock, I walked down to the wall that they were passing.
I snapped this image with my phone.
The guys were so close I could hear them breath.
I heard them counting to ten, in between counts their breathing told me that they were rowing at maximum capacity.
I stood there in my orange jacket and they didn't even notice me.
Obviously the focus trick worked.
Looking back, Matt told me:
"I remember very little of the race - except that we were racing."
Matt has a nickname among his fellow gondoliers in Providence.
Two years ago, when everyone was competing in the GondOlympics,
the winds were a real challenge. When it was time for Matt to take his turn, he stepped on the gondola, rowed out to the starting line, and the winds and the water all mysteriously went calm - allowing him to row with an extra competitive edge.
For that reason, Matt is also known as "Poseidon's Illegitimate Son".
I can't speak to his true lineage, and unfortunately I wasn't able to be there to witness his run two years ago.
There are two statements I can make though:
first, it did seem less windy during Matt and Alex's run this year.
Secondly, it was windy as HECK during my run with John Kerschbaum.
I have no basis for comparison here, because I wasn't on the boat during other runs, but based on the treatment John and I received from the wind,
I had to wonder if Poseidon or some other force associated with wind...hated us that day.
As it was for many competitors, I think the guys on this boat were a little frustrated after watching a certain San Diego rower take first place in everything...including the slalom.
This was the last race, the last chance to blow it all out, empty the gas tank and leave it all out there on the water.
Alex tells me that Matt said:
“all I want you to do is stand on the back and push”.
This was it, the race for all the marbles.
All the hopes and pains, all the inspiration, frustration,
dedication and even retaliation went into one race.
Two brothers on one boat,
rowing their hardest while counting to ten - again and again.
Throughout the race, they had no idea how they were doing - no idea if their run was even worthy of the top three. It was a true case of "be the best you can be".
They pushed harder than either of them thought they could.
"We left it all out on the water.
I couldn't stand up after that race.
My ribs were sore for three days afterwards."
Alex Haynes in full "battle mode"
photo by John Kerschbaum
It had been a good ten years since Matt had competed in traditional rowing, and yet some of his greatest advantages were borne out of those days of rowing crew in college.
The sense of accomplishment could be seen in their faces as they finished the battle - against the wind, the water, the clock, and themselves.
They had given it their absolute all. Regardless of how the times stacked up, we all knew how hard they'd rowed, and respect was in the air.
As it ended up, the two sons of Jackie and Ed Haynes finished in first place, and wore gold medals that night.
My sincerest congratulations to Matt and Alex; for rowing an excellent race,
and showing everyone how it's done.
Tandem Distance - complete results
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Monday, November 17, 2014
Sunday, November 16, 2014
On the eve of the U.S. Gondola Nationals, a few of us out-of-towners
showed up at the docks in Providence and spent some time visiting with our friends from La Gondola and getting acquainted with the boats we'd be competing on in the following two days.
Here's a shot of Richard Corbaley of Sunset Gondola heading out on a
passenger cruise with Adam “Ivano” Alves supervising
(yes, I did post this photo previously, but it's just such a great image that it deserves it's own post).
Friday, November 14, 2014
I don't ask anything of you, my beloved readers, but your curiosity,
as I post news, musings, and random and relevant photos.
Now I'm asking for about twenty seconds of your time.
My Daughter is "Moxy" of Moxy and the Influence.
She sang the national anthem at last year's U.S. Gondola Nationals,
and if I may say so - she rocks!
The band is in a contest to have one of their songs used in an upcoming movie.
All I need is a small effort and about twenty seconds of your time.
Another competitor is getting dangerously close to beating Moxy, so if you would be so kind, simply click on the link and like the post. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=588379477955880&id=335731836553980
Thursday, November 13, 2014
I recently discovered a funny and yet disturbing story about a ridiculous Yelp review and the response it received.
Funny, because of the way the business owner responded to it.
Disturbing, because of the way the reviewer saw things.
Quite obviously, the reviewer and her husband feel that the universe revolves around them, and they are the "magnificent exceptions".
Woman Leaves Bad Online Review,
The Owner Finds Out And Responds
If that link doesn't work, try this one:
These folks clearly hadn't even checked to see if their requests were within the restaurant's guidelines. As I was reading this account, it became clear that they wanted what they wanted, and that was that.
A sort of "don't bother me with the facts" mindset.
In dealing with a business, it seems that there are two ways that reviewers look at things:
"I'll check out their product or experience and receive it in the way the proprietor intends it."
Or - "I'll walk in, act like I own the place, and tell everyone working there how to do their jobs."
Yes, I do realize that I'm painting with a big brush here,
but hyperbole is the best tool to make my point.
There are some Yelpers out there who seem to only speak in hyperbole.
Mr. Feng Shui
Recently we had a review that reminded me of this.
The client had come in with obvious visions of how our business should be, and was so focused on his own ideas...that he missed the experience we'd prepared for him.
He began his review by telling us (and the rest of the world) that we needed a cushy waiting area.
have a receiving / reception area where you can wait for your gondola; leather love seats with some feng shui (trickling water, fountain, nice foliage, maybe calming music, and magazines to read).
Mhmm, I'll get right on it.
For over twenty years we've had our gondoliers meet their passengers on the dock. This allows them to make sure that any surprises go off without a hitch.
Put your unsuspecting loved one in a waiting area for a gondola business, and your all-important surprise will trickle away like that feng shui fountain.
But since this guy has opened my mind to the possibilities:
of buying leather furniture,
investing in water fountains and ficus trees,
renting more space from my landlord,
and paying more staff to oversee this whole "waiting experience".
I'll run, not walk, to grab my checkbook.
Instead of pumping in "calming music" electronically, perhaps I should just hire a cellist or even a string quartet.
This guy doesn't want a gondola cruise, he's confused my business with some sort of new age spa.
I drove a friend to see their therapist today,
Why was this waiting area so important?
Instead we walked onto a small dock with a bunch of other covered boats and no one was around to greet\receive. Once the boat arrived we awkwardly tried to stay clear of the couple returning from their ride to not kill the mood for them.
Of course when we saw this review, my staff and I went in to full Crime-Scene-Investigation mode.
As it turned out, the author of this review arrived early, and instead of patiently waiting (as he had been instructed to do when booking),
he and his date walked past a swing-gate and several signs that said things like "no admittance".
It's not surprising that they ended up on the dock as the earlier cruise showed up.
I am surprised that he didn't have the time to check his watch,
but took plenty of time to write such an authoritative critique.
Checking My Seats
The next chapter in his review was dedicated to how comfortable the seats were in the gondola. This boat has been in service for 17 years. We have never heard a peep about the comfort level of the seats.
I personally made sure they were as comfortable as possible when they were re-upholstered a year and a half ago.
Caution: hyperbole alert!
The reviewer chose to compare the seats in my gondola to those of the Metrolink train - and according to his review, the Metrolink seats were more comfortable.
I was dumbfounded.
I read the review, grabbed my car keys, walked out of my house, drove down to the docks, and at about 1:30 in the morning, I climbed into that gondola to make sure that there wasn't some sort of major upholstery malfunction going on. No problems there.
He had also taken issue with the angle of the backrest.
No problems there either. No complaints there, ever, until this guy blessed my boat with his enlightened presence.
The client was not remarkably tall,
and yet complained about legroom - I don't know why.
And according to the expert, my table was "fixed", when in reality,
it slides fore and aft quite conveniently.
Understand that there are a few "professional complainers" in my life,
and if they've never complained about this gondola,
in my mind, she passes the test.
Ah, but he saved his best advice for last:
let the gondoliers wear contemporary formal rather than cheesy black and white striped shirts with a red sash...this isn't Disneyland.
Yeah, he went there.
He went on to pick apart a few of our cruising traditions, speaking like a true expert on the subject.
Much attention was given to the fact that "We're not in Italy"
and he took issue with the fact that his gondolier said things like
"in Italy it's tradition to..."
I can't help but wonder if when this guy goes out for Chinese food,
if he schools them on how they're not in China, so maybe they should just call it "food" rather than misrepresent it by referring to it as "Chinese food".
Heck, I wonder if he might stand up in the audience during a Shakespeare play and tell the actors to cut it out "cause we're not in Stratford, England!"
Like most of my friends in this great business,
we strive to give our customers a "great escape".
It's one part Newport Beach,
one part Venice, Italy,
and the rest is tailored to meet specific needs
such as making sure she says "yes"
or someone has a great birthday or anniversary.
Mr. "We're not in Italy" looked right past all that,
and instead chose to tell us all the ways we're doing it wrong.
Trust the Experts
Whether you're talking to a butcher, a barber, or a garage mechanic,
unless you're an expert in meats, haircuts, or engines - there's a good chance the guy you're talking to knows more than you do on the subject.
He may in fact be more than just a professional.
He might just be a passionate fanatic in the field of work that he's chosen - that's certainly the case for nearly all gondola company owners I know.
In my previous post "Getting Yelped" I touched on the topic of "reviewing by the masses" which is really what this is.
Anybody can review.
Experts, idiots, objective compassionate thinkers,
and self-absorbed blowhards.
As a business owner you have no control over what is said about your establishment. As an extension, waiters, cashiers, and yes, gondoliers - also have no control over what is said online.
Fortunately, most people who review my business have had nothing but positive things to say, and that has helped us quite a lot.
But even so, just this past week I found myself on the phone with a guy who was considering hiring my service for his proposal.
Guess what he asked about...
"Are the seats comfortable?"
"Why doesn't the table move?"
And "why don't you have a waiting area?"
One review, by a guy with his own strong opinions, who in my mind fancies himself as the next great critic of all things gondola, and I'm on the phone assuring someone that everything will be alright and that his proposal won't suffer because of these supposed seat, table, and waiting area issues.
A bad Yelp review is like a bad rumor:
doesn't matter if it's true or not - once it's out there, it's out there.
When I was a kid someone told me that gossip was like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.
Once it's out, you really can't get it all back in the tube.
We're Missing a Button
When you look at a Yelp review, you'll notice a few things at the bottom of the review.
There's a little piece of text asking "was this review..."
and then there are three buttons to choose from:
"useful", "funny", and "cool".
There's no thumbs up/thumbs down option, no button options that say that it was "not useful" or worse.
Sure, there's an option to flag a review, but in many cases the flagging options don't apply.
What about "funny?" It seems like Yelpers are encouraged to not only be reviewers, but comedians as well (sometimes at our expense).
It seems to me that if we are now stuck with being "reviewed by the masses", that the masses ought to be able to also rate some of these reviews.
Proprietors have the option to respond to reviews in writing, but what if other people could rate existing reviews a little more realistically?
My wife suggested to me that Yelp should add a button that says
"you're an idiot"
She's Italian with parents from New York. She doesn't mince words.
Although I tend to be more of a diplomat than my wife, on this point I agree.
In fact I might suggest that Yelp also add a few more buttons:
"Go home - you're drunk"
and "Step away from the keyboard!"