Times for a Smile


Have you noticed that if these weren't such bad times, they would be pretty good times?

I just traveled on business from San Jose to Las Vegas and the roundtrip airfare plus a night at a major hotel was $139.03. There was no line at airport security, only a platoon of smiling TSA agents. On the plane, each passenger had a full row. The hotel was, let's just say, not crowded.

Meanwhile, gas is just over $2 which, after reaching $4.50 last summer, makes you feel as if you've won some kind of contest each time you fill up.

People Magazine sent me a one-year renewal statement for $100. The same mail brought People's offer of $35. I'm holding out for a better deal.

At the small food market in town the other day, the owner was handing out free samples at the door and actually smiling at everyone who stopped to chat. I know he's desperate for business, but the fact is this guy hasn't smiled in public in ten years.

Pauline Frommer, who publishes travel guides, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that one sure way to feel better is to go where things are worse. She suggests Iceland. "Icelandair is desperate because their own citizens can't afford to fly right now," she explains, and visiting Americans discover that the dollar is worth about twice as much as the krona. Of course, to reap this bonanza you must go to Iceland.

Many companies and some government agencies are encouraging employees to do more traveling by rewarding them with "furloughs." The military invented that term back when getting furloughed was, indeed, a reward for service. Prisons offer furloughs in return for good behavior. So you've got to hand it to the business world for coming up with such a kindhearted term for unpaid, forced, short-term layoffs.

Hyundai Motors began the year on an upbeat note by offering car buyers the opportunity to return their vehicles and skip out on loans if they happen to get fired. You can't beat a deal like that for peace of mind.

And here's a cheery thought: if the U.S. Postal Service makes good on its threat to halt deliveries one day a week, that's one less day on which we'll receive bills. Nothing good comes in the mail anymore. If someone wants to hire you, or give you a prize, they're certainly not going to mail you a letter. The Postal Service should consider cutting back to one delivery per month.

One sector benefiting handsomely from the economic turmoil is the Internet-naming industry. The latest Web-for-your-woes site: AStrongMiddleClass.gov. The Obama Administration launched the site to encourage, among other things, suggestions from the public for fixing the economy. As an apparent gesture to fiscal conservatives, all suggestions "must be limited to 500 characters."

Ben & Jerry is seeking to put a happy face on the economic mess with ice cream to suit the troubled times. Among the flavors being considered: Housing Crunch, Cookie D'oh!, and The Grape Depression.

Sounds tempting, but Ben & Jerry will have to come with more than fancy names. Until the financial crisis ends I'm buying things discounted at least 70%, and only from smiling sales people.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.

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