A New Cover for Driven: A Novel

My book, Driven: A Novel was published in November 2017. The story takes place in Miami in the early 1980’s, just as the drug trade in South Florida was really taking off, and becoming much more dangerous. The main character, Alex Booth, dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, but he lacks the financial wherewithal to make a go of it. That is, until he’s offered the opportunity to fund his racing by smuggling drugs.

When I originally published the novel, I wanted a cover that represented the Miami lifestyle in the early 80’s with palm trees, lot’s of neon, “Miami Vice” fonts, and, of course, a race car. The book cover choices I was given weren’t the greatest, so I went with this one:

Even early on, I wasn’t crazy about the cover, but it came closest to checking all of the boxes I wanted. Since then, I have grown more and more unhappy with the cover. So, I’ve finally done something about it. I commissioned a new cover that isn’t nearly as gaudy as the first, but still let’s the reader know a little bit about the story. I think the new cover is more subtle and understated than the original, and does a better job of representing the story the reader can expect.

And without further ado, here’s the new cover:

So, how do you like it?

Over the next week or so, I’ll be replacing the old cover with the new one on social media, as well as on both the print and ebook versions of the book. Also, in a day or two, keep an eye out for an update on my latest work in progress. And, as always, thanks for following along.


Deep Dive: “Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes

Have you ever heard the song “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes? Everyone over the age of fifty or so has probably heard the song hundreds of times. It was a number one hit and was played incessantly on the radio in the late 1970s. If you’ve never heard the song, let me tell you about it.

The narrator of the song is tired of his relationship with his wife or girlfriend. It’s never clear if he’s married or just dating. He thinks his relationship is boring, so he scans the personal ads in the newspaper.

For younger readers, this might seem crazy, but back in the dark ages of the 1970s, there was no Match.com, eHarmony, or Tinder. If you were looking for a date, you took out a classified ad in the newspaper and hoped that someone would read it and respond. Crazy, I know. It’s amazing any of us are still alive.


Fun Fact: Rupert Holmes was born David Goldstein on February 24, 1947


Anyway, the guy in the song sees a personal ad that catches his eye. The ad reads:

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape”

Who could blame a guy for falling for that kind of poetry and passion in just four lines? Our song narrator couldn’t. So, what did he do? Did he write to the Pina Colada women? No, he did not. This is one of the many things I don’t understand about the song. Maybe I just don’t remember how personal ads worked, but I thought the person posting the personal ad included a way to contact her, like a phone number or a mailbox provided by the newspaper. In her personal ad, she even says, in the last line, “write to me.”

But our songster doesn’t write to her. He places another personal ad. That seems risky, doesn’t it? How does he know the woman he is responding to would even see his ad? Talk about a long shot. I’m sorry, but color me skeptical.

Here’s what our narrator wrote in his personal ad:

“Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape”

Naturally, if the woman from the first personal ad didn’t see his personal ad, it wouldn’t be much of a song, would it? So, miracle of miracles, she sees our hero’s personal ad and shows up to O’Malley’s.

Before I move on, let me discuss O’Malley’s Bar. Have you ever heard of a high-class club called O’Malley’s? I know, this is all fictional. It didn’t really happen. But if you were going to make up a place to meet a make-believe date and you wanted to impress her, would you call it O’Malley’s? I wouldn’t. O’Malley’s sounds like a place you’d go with your mates after the rugby match, or a place that functioning alcoholics gather after work. It doesn’t sound like a swank place to take a date.

Sorry for the tangent. Back to the song.

So, our hero is waiting at O’Malley’s, and his date from the personal ad shows up. Here’s what happens:

“So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s you’
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, ‘I never knew’”

At this point, my BS meter is going nuts. Are you kidding me? They both just realized that their significant other is looking for a hook up, and they’re both fine with it? I don’t think that’s how relationships work. The relationship is so bad that they both want to cheat, but when they both get caught, they laugh it off and decide to stay together. I don’t think so.

Also, is it just the way I’m reading it, or does the wife/girlfriend sound horribly disappointed when she says “Oh, it’s you?” If I was the guy, I wouldn’t be so anxious to stay in this relationship. He should really watch his back. She doesn’t seem that into him.


Fun Fact: “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” was the final #1 song of the 1970’s


The song was originally called simply “Escape.” There was no mention of pina coladas. In fact, originally, pina coladas weren’t even mentioned in the song. The original lyric was, “If you like Humphrey Bogart…” That’s right. Humphrey Bogart. Not quite as romantic or tropical as pina colada, is it? After Holmes wrote the song, he decided Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the feel he was looking for. He thought substituting an alcoholic drink might be the way to go, something tropical, and pina colada was one of the first drinks that came into his head. At that point, he had never had one and wasn’t sure what was in the drink, but it fit phonetically, so he went with it.

Although “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” is the biggest hit of his career, Holmes didn’t view it that way when he wrote the song. He needed one song to finish an album, and wasn’t all that crazy about “Escape”. He just wanted to finish writing it, get it recorded, and go home.

So, while he was writing the lyrics, struggling to find a replacement word or phrase for “Humphrey Bogart,” the drummer from Holmes band got drunk. In fact, too drunk to play on the song. So, he was stuffed into a taxi and sent home, leaving Holmes to use a basic form of sampling for the drum track. It wasn’t ideal, but Holmes wasn’t too concerned. “Escape” was just a filler track so he could finish recording the album.

In a 2003 interview with SongFacts Magazine, Holmes said, “The original lyrics said, ‘If you like Humphrey Bogart and getting caught in the rain.’… As I was getting on mic I thought to myself, I’ve done so many movie references to Bogart and wide-screen cinema on my earlier albums, maybe I shouldn’t do one here. I thought, what can I substitute? Well, this woman wants an escape, like she wants to go on vacation to the islands. When you go on vacation to the islands, when you sit on the beach and someone asks you if you’d like a drink, you never order a Budweiser, you don’t have a beer. You’re on vacation, you want a drink in a hollowed-out pineapple with the flags of all nations and a parasol. If the drink is blue you’d be very happy. And a long straw. I thought, what are those escape drinks? Let’s see, there’s daiquiri, mai tai, piña colada… I wonder what a piña colada tastes like? I’ve never even had one. I thought that instead of singing, ‘If you like Humphrey Bogart,’ with the emphasis on like, I could start it a syllable earlier and go, ‘If you like piña-a coladas.’”


Fun Fact: Holmes brother, Richard, is an opera singer


When the album was finished, the studio decided they wanted to release “Escape” as a single. Holmes thought it was a bad idea, but didn’t fight them. The song floundered, never rising very high on the Billboard charts in the US. Then radio stations began reporting that they were being inundated with requests for “The Pina Colada Song.” Problem was, there was no song named “The Pina Colada Song”. The studio contacted Holmes and requested that the song be renamed. Holmes refused, but they came to a compromise: “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Once the song was renamed, it shot to number one.

Since then, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” has been featured in movies, such as Shrek, Guardians of the Galaxy, Grown Ups, and Like Father, as well as TV shows, such as Third Watch, The Goldbergs, Splitting Up Together, Living with Yourself, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Not bad for a song that was considered a throw away by its author.

Rupert Holmes is considered a bit of a one hit wonder by many people. However, that’s not only unfair, but incorrect. He had eight songs on the Billboard 100, including “Him,” that peaked at number six, and “Answering Machine,” which rose to number thirty-two. Also, before writing “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” he wrote songs for other artists, including Dolly Parton, Gene Pitney, and The Drifters. Here’s a song he wrote for The Partridge Family:

And here’s one that was included in Barbara Streisand’s hit movie, A Star is Born:

After writing “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Holmes expanded his horizons, writing a mystery novel entitled Where the Truth Lies, which won the Edgar Award and was turned into a movie starring Kevin Bacon. He also penned a play called The Mystery of Edwin Drood (later known as Drood) that won a Tony Award. He also created and wrote the American Movies Classic TV show Remember WENN.

Here is Holmes explaining the creation of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” as well as doing the song live:


The Best Books I Read in 2019

I’m getting a late jump on listing the best books I read in 2019. I’ve had some personal things going on over the past few months that have knocked me out of commission. I may write about those things here on the blog soon, or I may not say anything, and you’ll naturally assume the worst.

This year’s list, as in years past, contains books I read during the previous year. That does not mean that those books were published in 2019. In fact, most were not. I just happened to read them in 2019.

I ran into a bit of a problem this year when compiling my list. And the nature of the problem was very basic. That is, what is a book? That seems simple enough, but I read (listened to) many audio books during the year, and Audible recently started publishing what they call “Audible Originals.” Audible Originals are audio-only books. There is no printed version of the book available. So, are these audio books actually books?

I struggled with this question and ultimately decided not to include the audio-only books in my list. As I write this, I’m already regretting my decision. There were some very good audio-only books, including Midnight Son by James Dommeck, Jr. and The Dead Drink First by Dale Maharidge.

As in years past, I’ll begin with the tenth best book I read this year and slowly make my way to the book that was better than all the rest. The suspense will be excruciating. If you have a heart condition, please consult your doctor before reading further.

10. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I had heard good things about Station Eleven before reading it. Unfortunately, I saw in the description of the book that the story takes place in a dystopian world following the collapse of society. I’m not really into dystopian novels. I’ve read a few and had trouble telling one from the other. Even so, I read Station Eleven and was pleasantly surprised. The story is unique, the characters are well developed, and the writer does a good job of keeping the reader engaged, not spending too much time explaining the rules of the world she has created. I’m not ready for another dystopian novel any time soon, but I’m glad I read Station Eleven.


9. Gone So Long: A Novel by Andre Dubus III – Andre Dubus III is one of my favorite literary writers. His book Dirty Love was terrific, and I also really liked The House of Sand and Fog. Gone So Long is the story of an ex-con—a murderer—who is trying to reconnect with the daughter he has been estranged from for forty years. After life in prison, Danny is ill-equipped to navigate his way back to his daughter, especially considering that he was convicted of murdering her mother. But that doesn’t stop him from writing to her and making the long drive to Florida to see her. His daughter is reluctant to meet with him. Even so, Danny pushes forward, determined to see her before he dies. Dubus gives a master class in character development. Each of his characters is flawed, but all too human. I enjoyed the time I spent with them.

8. The Long Flight Home by Alan HladThe Long Flight Home takes place in England during World War II and is inspired by true events. Susan lives with her grandfather, and together, they raise carrier pigeons. The British military contacts them and asks for their help delivering messages to British troops in German-occupied France. Ollie is a crop duster from Maine who is determined to join the Royal Air Force. When his plans change and he finds himself alone in England, he meets Susan, and helps her and her grandfather with the pigeons. The relationship between Susan and Ollie grows as they work together, but the fates of war are not going to make it easy for them to be together. For some reason, I can’t get enough of books that take place during World War II, and The Long Flight Home definitely fits the bill.

7. Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonNext Year in Havana tells the story of a family in Cuba coming to grips with their changing lives in the face of the rise of Fidel Castro. Much has been written about this time in Cuba, but one of the things I appreciate about the author was how she wove in the struggles current day Cubans—both in Cuba and the United States—have with the island nation. She captures the love/hate relationship they had and have with Cuba. Part of the book takes place in 1958, just before the revolution, and part takes place in 2017 in both Havana and Miami, as relations between the US and Cuba are starting to thaw. I’ve always been drawn to the history and culture of Cuba. Next Year in Havana did a great job of sharing the history and immersing me in the culture of our Caribbean neighbor.

6. The Cost of These Dreams by Wright Thompson – For years, Frank DeFord was recognized as the dean of long form sports writers. He was celebrated in the pages of Sports Illustrated, and his stories carried him outside of sports onto the national stage. For me, Wright Thompson is our current version of Frank DeFord. He’s a terrific writer, but he also brings a unique perspective. He has a way of taking a subject—whether profiling former Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer or telling the story of a round of golf he shared with his father—and turning it into more. More meaningful, more emotional, more universal. Wright grew up in the cradle of Southern writers—Oxford, Mississippi—and brings a literary eye to sports writing. In The Cost of These Dreams, Thompson shares several essays that were previously printed in ESPN the Magazine. They showcase the depth and breadth of a true artist at the top of his craft.

5. Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at LeMans by A.J. Baime – Last fall, I was very excited to see the movie Ford vs Ferrari starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Damon plays Carroll Shelby, a legendary racer and character, and the inspiration for my daughter’s name (Shelby). But before seeing the movie, I wanted to read the book it was based on. As much as I liked the movie (I thought it was great), I liked the book even better. Go Like Hell gets into all of the details of the story that the movie didn’t have time for. The author did a great job of introducing us to the characters and slowly building the story. Everything was in just the right place. Reading Go Like Hell was a wonderful ride.


4. November Road by Lou Berney – In years past, I’ve read a lot of books written by Don Winslow. I think he’s a terrific writer and I’ve enjoyed several of his books, including The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Cartel, The Dawn Patrol, and Satori. I follow Winslow on Twitter and saw that he was recommending a book by Lou Berney. I had never heard of Berney, but I trusted Winslow’s recommendation. So, I read Berney’s book, November Road, and was blown away. November Road is an extremely well-crafted mystery novel that takes place in the 1960’s with the JFK assassination as a backdrop. I also read Berney’s book The Long and Faraway Gone in 2019, and if my list was one or two books longer, Berney would have had two books on it.


3. The River by Peter HellerThe River is the story of two college friends who go for a long canoe and camping trip in northern Canada. Their idyllic trip is interrupted by a huge wildfire closing in on them. They’re in a rush to get off the river and out of the woods, but they are halted when they hear a couple arguing in the distance, and then come upon a man paddling the river alone. Have they just run across a murderer? Will they be able to find out before the wildfire consumes them? Heller’s writing is tremendous. The world he created is serene, yet unforgiving, and his story only slows down enough so the reader can catch their breath before plunging ahead into another conflict or adventure.


2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – By now, I assume most of you have seen the movie, The Help, that was based on this book. Both the movie and the book were terrific, but of the two, I thought the book was better. Rather than talk about the story, I’d like to use The Help to briefly talk about something that has been in the news recently. The book, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, was catapulted to fame when it was selected for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Then, it was harshly criticized throughout the media. I haven’t read the book and don’t know if it was any good, but the quality of the writing isn’t what’s being criticized. What many pundits are critical of is the fact that a white female writer wrote about a Mexican woman and her child who flee Mexico after her family is killed, being chased into the US by narcotraffickers along the way. Critics accuse Cummins of cultural appropriation, claiming that she does not have the right to create characters or storylines that aren’t part of her lived experience. In other words, she can only write about people like her and situations she has experienced. I call BS. Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help, is a privileged white woman who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi (where the story takes place), but she has never been black, never been poor, and never been a domestic worker in Jackson, working for rich white people. Yet, she created a wonderful and important book, not just from her own experiences, but from her research and imagination. The Help is a work of fiction, and the world would be a worse place without it.

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – You can be pretty sure that a book is good if it stays with you for weeks after reading it. It has been six months since a read The Great Alone and I still think about it often. The story is about a family from the northwest United States who moves to Alaska in 1974 after inheriting some land. The family consists of Ernt, a former POW from the Viet Nam war, his wife, Cora, and their thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni. What they find in Alaska is a beautiful, but unforgiving, land. Life is hard, made all the harder by Ernt’s frequent angry outbursts. He beats Cora when he’s angry. She makes excuses for him, never holding a grudge. Leni loves her father, but sees his dark side and does everything she can to avoid it. When a neighbor takes steps to modernize the town in order to take advantage of tourist dollars, Ernt does everything in his power to stop the inevitable. Hannah does a masterful job crafting the characters and the storyline. The Great Alone deserves to be the best book I read in 2019.


My First Flash Fiction Story Has Been Published

I’ve been toying with writing short-short stories. This kind of writing is commonly called flash fiction and it’s usually a thousand words or fewer per story. The length varies depending on the publishing outlet. Some places restrict the word count to 100 or less, while others go as high as 1500 words.

In any case, the general length is shorter than a full-fledged short story, which presents challenges to the writer. Every word has to carry its own weight. There’s no room for superfluous language or red herring plot lines. With flash fiction, the story has to be direct and to-the-point, but the characters still have to be well developed and the plot has to be complete and logical.

I’m happy to report that my first attempt at a flash fiction story has been published. The story is “Kissing Gigi.” It was published by Flash Fiction Magazine. You can find it here.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Writing this book has been a lesson in patience, frustration, anger, and disappointment. It has also shown me that sometimes, good things can come from bad situations.

The book I’m talking about is The Ones That Got Away. It’s my latest novel, and I’ve been working on it, in its various iterations, for five years or more. It’s about a man who’s part of a bad marriage. After having an argument with his wife, he goes to bed in the guest room, and wakes up in his college apartment, just twenty-two years old, and ready to live his life over. All of his memories are intact. All he needs to do is decided who he’s going to share his life with in his second (and third, and fourth) chances at life.

A while back, I wrote another blog post detailing my frustration with writing the book. In a nutshell, I had written about 40% of the book before I lost it all due to a computer malfunction. The good news in that post was that the second version of that 40% I lost was better than the first. So, although it was frustrating and infuriating, at that point, things had worked out. Since then, things have just gotten more frustrating.

After writing the previous post, I’ve dealt with even more snafus. At one point, I lost two full chapters due to my own inability to save my work. Then, I lost four chapters of edits. Recreating the edits wasn’t difficult, but it was annoying to have to do it again.

In August, the manuscript was finally done, and I sent it to Sean, my editor. I was feeling good about the book until I got it back from Sean. He had cut over 17,000 words, and suggested that I add several more chapters. Man, was I disappointed. I had wanted to have the book available by October 1 (after initially missing the March 1 deadline). Now, it looks like the book won’t be available until after the new year. UGH!!!

Okay, deep breath.

Sean and I talked about the changes he suggested, and I agreed with about 90% of them. Sean suggested edits are going to make the book better. It’s going to tell a fuller story. And the writing is going to be better. So, despite my frustrations, the results are going to be worth the headaches.

As things stand now, I’m still working on Sean’s edits. I’d like to say that the book will be ready January 1, 2020, but with the holidays just around the corner, I’m setting a new publication goal date of March 1, 2020. That’s one full year after I had intended on publishing the book, but I’m convinced it’s better to delay putting out a great book than it is to quickly publish a mediocre one.

Okay, back to work.


The Truth About Those Nasty Little Love Bugs

I took my car to the car wash today. The front of the car was covered with dead love bugs. Those nasty little critters have been swarming for the past few weeks. They can cause all kinds of problems, including clogging up car radiators, and, if you don’t wash them off soon enough, their acidic little bodies can eat away at the car’s clear coat.

Have you ever heard the story behind how love bugs came to be? The story I heard for years was that the University of Florida created the little monsters as a way of combating another type of pest. Another story I heard was that the love bugs were an experiment at UF that went wrong, and then they escaped from the laboratory to annoy people for generations.

As it turns out, neither of these stories is true. In fact, the University of Florida wasn’t even involved. I suspect the stories were started by someone from Florida State.

One of the top experts on love bugs (I wonder if it says that on his resume) is Nash Turley, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Central Florida. In this video, he tells us everything we ever wanted to know about love bugs. And if you’re like me, after watching the video, you’ll likely end up understanding love bugs better, but hating them as much as ever.

I have to go scrub my bumper now. The car wash couldn’t get the lousy little pests off of it.


How AirBnB Stole $800 From Me

On Tuesday, August 27 I logged into my online bank account to transfer some money, and saw an odd entry. It was so fresh, it hadn’t cleared my checking account yet, leading me to believe that the charge had just been made in the previous hour or two. The entry was a pre-authorized debit to AirBnB for $787.20. The entry included a confirmation code.

I knew I hadn’t made a reservation on AirBnB, so I contacted my bank to inform them of the fraudulent charge. My hope was, that if I notified them right away, they could decline the charge. As I said, the charge had been pre-authorized, but it hadn’t been funded yet.

I admit, I don’t know what rules the bank has to follow once a charge has been pre-authorized, but I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have declined payment once they were aware that the charge was fraudulent. In any case, they didn’t decline the charge.

Next, I contacted AirBnB. The representative referred my issue to the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department. This is where things began to fall apart. Someone named Julia from the Trust and Safety Department sent me an email telling me that I should work with my bank to do a chargeback. The email went on to explain that, due to privacy concerns, AirBnB could not provide me with any information about who made the reservation (with my debit card) or what they reserved.

That kind of irritated me. My card was used fraudulently, but AirBnB was more concerned with protecting the privacy of the scum bag who stole my debit card info than with helping me. That just didn’t seem right.

Even so, I did as I was instructed and contacted my bank so they could do a charge back. I sent the person I was dealing with at the bank a copy of the email from AirBnB, and assumed the charge back process would be quick and easy. Boy, was I wrong.

The bank contacted me two days later to let me know that AirBnB wouldn’t deal with them. Initially, AirBnB told the bank that they weren’t entitled to a charge back because they weren’t an AirBnB member. {See Update #3 below. I initially misunderstood the explanation that the bank shared with me. Update #3 contains a detailed explanation.} The bank tried again to explain the process, but their email was blocked. The woman I was working with at the bank asked if I could contact AirBnB to let them know that my bank was trying to do a charge back for me.

I did as I was asked, and the process started all over again. This time, Conn from the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department sent me an email telling me to work with my bank to do a chargeback, and telling me that I had no right to know anything about the reservation that was made with my card.

I immediately sent another email asking Conn to please read my entire email and reach out to my bank to handle the charge back. Instead of doing that, Conn sent me another email telling me to contact my bank. He went on to say that if I had any questions, I should ask my bank. In other words, we’ve done all we’re going to do. Don’t bother us again.

Despite his effort to get rid of me, I reached out again (via email) to Conn and repeated my concerns. Conn gave up, but his partner, Joaquin, added insult to injury by sending me yet another form email just like the first two. I sent a strongly worded (READ: Angry) response to Joaquin letting him know that their charge back process had broken down and asking him to please reach out to my bank.

Joaquin couldn’t be bothered to reply to me, nor did he reach out to my bank, as requested.

A few days went by without any further contact from AirBnB, so I called them again. I spoke to Trish and explained everything that had happened to date. She had all of the information, including all of my emails asking AirBnB to return my $787.20 via chargeback to the bank. Trish seemed concerned about how things had been handled to that point and agreed not to send my case back to the Trust and Safety Department. At my request, Trish agreed to escalate my situation to someone in management at AirBnB. She advised that she would have Marion call me back “within the day.” She said she wasn’t sure when Marion would call, but she encouraged me to make myself available throughout the day. I agreed.

To my surprise (Although, at this point, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised), instead of a phone call from Marion, I received a slightly edited form email from Alfonse in the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department. The letter starts out like this:

“We’ve received your email and understand your concerns with the unauthorized and/or unrecognized charges you’ve reported. Unfortunately, it appears this charge has already been investigated and further reports of the same charge will not result in a different outcome.”

Really, AirBnB? Do you understand my concerns? If you do, you’ve never responded to them. I’ve told you several times that my bank has attempted to do a chargeback, but you wouldn’t deal with them. As things stand, a month after I notified you of this situation, you still have nearly $800 of mine that you received fraudulently, and you refuse to return it. You won’t even respond to my emails. And by respond, I mean engage with me. Read my emails and do what is necessary to remedy this situation.

AirBnB, I’d really like my money back. You received it through an act of fraud. You didn’t earn it. Please return it. At least six of your employees are aware of the situation, but none of them has lifted a finger to help me.

Please read my emails, reach out to my bank, and return my money. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Update #1 — About 30 minutes after I posted a link to this post on Twitter, @AirBnBHelp reached out to me and offered to help. We corresponded a couple of times over the weekend, but ultimately, their response was no different than what I’ve been told all along. Here’s what they said:

“Thank you for that information Lou, we have reviewed your account and can see that our Trust team followed up with you on September 25th via email with information regarding your case. We encourage you to review that email for the complete details.”

The email that AirBnB refers to is the same email I quoted above where AirBnB told me to contact my bank and leave them alone. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Update #2 — Yesterday, I posted Update #1, and tweeted out the update on Twitter. A few hours later, I received the following note from AirBnB Help:

“We’re really sorry for the frustration, Lou. We’ve asked our specialized team to follow up with you as soon as possible. Thank you for your continued patience.”

That sounded promising, but rather than hearing from a specialized team, I heard from Marco in the Trust and Safety Department. And what did Marco say? He sent me the exact same form email I’ve received four times before telling me to contact my bank. I’ve made it clear to everyone I’ve communicated with that I’ve contacted my bank, but AirBnB refuses to engage with them. In fact, I have some additional information about AirBnB’s response to the bank that I’ll be posting a little later. The saga continues…

Update #3 – This update gets a little technical, but I think it will help explain why AirBnB is refusing to deal with my bank.

When my bank contacted AirBnB and requested a chargeback (as requested over and over again by AirBnB in emails to me), my bank received a memo indicating that the bank did not have dispute rights for the charge. The memo stated:

“According to the network dispute resolution rules, there are no dispute rights for this transaction. This is due to the merchant participating in the ‘3D Secure’ program, and the transaction obtaining an authorization message.”

Let’s break this down a little. The merchant referred to in this paragraph is AirBnB. They subscribe to “3D Secure,” which, according to Wikipedia, is:

“…an XML-based protocol designed to be an additional security layer for online credit and debit card transactions. It was originally developed by Arcot Systems (now CA Technologies) and first deployed by Visa with the intention of improving the security of internet payments, and is offered to customers under the Verified by Visa/Visa Secure brands…EMV 3-D Three Domain Secure (3DS) is a messaging protocol developed by EMVCo to enable consumers to authenticate themselves with their card issuer when making card not present (CNP) transactions. The additional security layer helps prevent unauthorized CNP transactions and protects the merchant from CNP exposure to fraud. The three domains Secure consist of the merchant/acquirer domain, issuer domain, and the interoperability domain (e.g. Payment Systems).”

Okay, that’s long and boring, but in a nutshell, 3D Secure is a security system designed to be used when the credit or debit card is not present, as with internet purchases. According to my bank, the way 3D Secure works in practice is the purchaser enters their card number, and then a box pops-up asking the purchaser to provide an authorization code that the merchant provides via text.

In order for this particular purchase with AirBnB to have been approved (assuming it was), AirBnB would have had to send an authorization code to the purchaser. Since it was my debit card that was used, I assume I’m considered the purchaser, but I never received a text containing an authorization code. Somehow, assuming AirBnB used 3D Secure properly and required an authorization code (I have no way of knowing if the transaction was handled properly since I wasn’t involved), they would have had to send an authorization code to a cell phone other than mine.

There are a couple of things to consider. First, assuming you didn’t nod off while reading the Wikipedia explanation of 3D Secure, you probably noticed that it said 3D Secure adds an additional layer of security that “helps prevent unauthorized CNP transactions and protects the merchant from CNP exposure to fraud.” In other words, 3D Secure primarily protects the merchant, not the consumer.

In this same vein, the Wikipedia article goes on to say:

“Analysis of the first version of protocol by academia has shown it to have many security issues that effect the consumer, including a greater surface area for phishing and a shift of liability in the case of fraudulent payments.”

So, here’s the bottom line: AirBnB subscribes to a cyber-security system that has been shown to be flawed, and was obviously flawed in this case. Even so, they are standing behind the 3D Secure rules that state that they don’t have to return payments to consumers, even if those payments were received through fraudulent means. Seems pretty sweet for AirBnB, but it really sucks for the consumer.

As I think this through, there are only two ways that AirBnB could have charged by card without my permission. The first is that they didn’t follow the 3D Secure protocols and did not require an authorization code before charging my card. If this happened, AirBnB is obviously negligent in their actions and should not be able to hide behind the 3D Secure rules.

The second way is if the person who stole my debit card info created an AirBnB member profile, and connected their own cell phone number and my card number to their profile. Then, when AirBnB sent the authorization code, the scammer entered it and the transaction was complete. But can it really be this easy to scam AirBnB? If this is all it takes, the 3D Secure protocol is useless. If anyone can set up an AirBnB profile and can attach a stolen debit card to it without AirBnB requiring verification, the 3D Secure protocols are meaningless and serve to protect no one other than the merchant.

Certainly, AirBnB understands this. Their system is easily usurped, yet they continue to rely on it to the detriment of their customers. This is obviously wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.

So, what’s next? I don’t know. Various people have suggested I sue in small claims court. I really don’t want to deal with that headache, but I hate seeing someone in power (AirBnB) take advantage of someone who has no power (me). So, it’s a possibility. I’ll keep you posted.

Update #4 — I hate how this is all playing out with AirBnB. I used to like the company and thought they had a terrific, useful product. I enjoyed my experience with them, and had planned on using them again. Unfortunately, the way they have handled my situation leads me to believe they are an untrustworthy company that deals with customer issues in bad faith. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Check out this article on Vice.com by Allie Conti about her experience with AirBnB. Our issues are different, but AirBnB’s response to our issues is very similar.


Why I’ll Never, Ever Buy Another Chrysler Product Again

I hate to spew my personal issues on this blog. I started it to talk about my writing and to share stories I find interesting or inspiring. But as it turns out, people like it when I complain. We all have issues we’re dealing with in our lives, and as the old saying goes, misery loves company. So, for those that enjoy my complaining, I have a real treat for you. My next two posts will be nothing but complaining. Ready? Here goes.

I own a 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Since I bought it, it’s been a pretty good vehicle. There are a couple of things that bother me about it, but overall, I’ve been happy with it.

Two Fridays ago, I was getting ready to go on a week-long road trip. When I started the vehicle (It’s an SUV, so do you call it a car or a truck?), the radio screen on the dash had a pop-up indicating that my UConnect software needed to be updated. The pop-up detailed the updating process. I followed it, but it didn’t work. And because it didn’t work, I couldn’t use my radio or the vehicle’s blue-tooth capabilities for the first part of my trip.

I tried to download the software a couple more times, but it still didn’t work. When I got to my destination in Wisconsin, I went to a Jeep dealer. The service writer and manager were both very nice and tried to be helpful, but there wasn’t much they could do. However, the service manager did find something called a Star Case, which is apparently a way that Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers are notified of ways to fix unusual problems that spring up on their vehicles. Kevin, the service manager, went over the software update process detailed in the Star Case, but again, it didn’t work.

A week went by, and I returned to Florida. I called a local Jeep dealer and was told my problem was with UConnect. The service writer gave me their toll-free number and told me I would have to call them. She said they didn’t know what to do about UConnect problems.

Okay, let’s stop for a second and think about that. Jeep dealers sell Jeep vehicles, but what the service writer was telling me was that they could not fix—actually, did not know how to fix—problems with the computer software in the vehicle that they sell. As it turns out, she was wrong (I’ll get to that in a minute), but can you imagine anyone at a Jeep dealer actually believing that they couldn’t fix something on a Jeep vehicle? It boggles the mind.

I didn’t know any better, so I called UConnect. The first woman I spoke to was very nice. She walked me through the steps I needed to download the software. But, of course, it didn’t work.

Let me take another time-out to explain something. The pop-up on the radio screen explains how to download the new software. You just schedule the download (it has to be when you’re not using the vehicle), and you should be good to go. Except, you’re not.

The Star Case that the dealer in Wisconsin shared with me had completely different instructions. In fact, they were so complicated that there was no way anyone could have figured them out on their own. And again, they didn’t work.

When I called UConnect, the nice woman I spoke to walked me through yet another process to download the software. The only thing it had in common with the first two processes was that it didn’t work either.

So, I called UConnect again and told them that the process they had me try didn’t work. I spoke to Alexander and he told me that I should take the vehicle to a dealer. I informed him that I had already taken it to one dealer in Wisconsin, and that I had spoken to a dealer in Florida who said they didn’t know what to do and had sent me to UConnect.

Alexander told me that he would escalate my issue to a UConnect specialist (I don’t know what Alexander’s title was, but when I heard that there were UConnect specialists, I wondered why I was talking to him). Now, this is the important part: Alexander told me that the UConnect specialist would be calling me back, and he said the specialist would also call the dealer to make sure they knew how to solve my problem. So, with good reason, I expected that the UConnect specialist would call me, as well as the dealership, in an effort to download the necessary software.

After my phone call with Alexander, I called the dealership again and told the service writer what I had found out. She seemed confused that my issue was being put back on my plate, and said she would talk to her manager, then call me back.

Twenty-four hours later, I still hadn’t heard from the UConnect specialist or the dealership. I called the dealership and again and again spoke to the same service writer. She did not apologize for not calling me back. However, she did inform me that UConnect never called her (Welcome to the club!). She put me on hold so she could talk to her manager, and when she came back on the line, she said that she could make an appointment for me to bring the vehicle in. She said they still didn’t know what to do about the software update, but they would look into it. That really didn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the problem would be solved, but it was my best option.

I called UConnect and mentioned that a specialist was supposed to call me, but that I hadn’t received a call. The rep (or whatever the person who answers the phones at UConnect is called) said it can take one or two business days for a specialist to call. When I complained, saying that the person I spoke to the previous day hadn’t said there might be a day or two delay, the rep offered to have a specialist call me. Although that didn’t make me happy, I had to appreciate the circular nature of the rep’s reasoning. After a little more complaining, the rep said a specialist would call me right back. And best of all, I wouldn’t have to wait a day or two. I was being sent to the front of the line.

My reward for dancing to the UConnect shuffle was to receive a call from Stephanie, who identified herself as a case manager. I don’t know how many levels they have at UConnect, but I think they could save some money by flattening their organizational hierarchy.

Stephanie got right to the point. She explained that specialists do not call customers or dealerships, and then told me that I should be working directly with my Jeep dealer. Based on the things she was saying, Stephanie didn’t seem to have a grasp of what had previously happened in my case. She also didn’t seem to care. I tried to explain what had happen before she became involved, but she wouldn’t listen. She constantly interrupted me and made statements that ignored what I had just told her. I finally asked her to stop interrupting me and allow me to finish my thought. Her response? She hung up.

I get as frustrated as anyone when things don’t go right, but I understand that processes and systems don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. What I don’t understand, and cannot tolerate, is when a person in a customer service position (Isn’t that pretty much everyone), refuses to listen, is rude, and simply doesn’t care to help the customer. There’s no excuse for it. So, I called UConnect back to voice my displeasure.

This time I spoke to Alex. I don’t think Alex and Alexander are the same person, but they could be. In any case, I explained my experience with Stephanie and asked if I could speak to her supervisor. He explained that he couldn’t do that, but he could take a complaint. I asked what would happen after I filed a complaint? Would somebody call me to discuss it? Would anybody care? He said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the complaint after he sent it in. At least he was being honest.

I gave him the information he needed, and I asked him to please include in the complaint that I would like Stephanie’s supervisor to contact me. Then, without me asking, Alex asked me to hold the line and he would try to connect me to a UConnect Consultant.

Alex was showing concern and initiative. Hooray, Alex! I wasn’t sure what a UConnect Consultant was, but I was willing to share my tale of woe with anyone that would listen. I had to hold for about ten minutes, but my patience was rewarded when Jasmine came on the line.

Jasmine did a tremendous job of listening to my story, responding appropriately, and setting my expectations for the future. We spoke for a long time, but throughout, Jasmine was professional and knowledgeable. She was also very concerned about my interaction with Stephanie. I told her that I felt I deserved a call from Stephanie to apologize for her behavior toward me. In a professional way, Jasmine said that probably wouldn’t happen, but she did promise to send the information to Stephanie’s boss so s/he could meet with Stephanie to work on her deficiencies.

My conversation with Jasmine was great. Even so, as soon as the dealership handles the software issue, I’m getting rid of my Jeep. And as God as my witness, I will never buy another Chrysler product again as long as I live. Life is too short, and I never want to deal with this type of unnecessary headache again.

Bye, bye, Jeep. . .


Happy Publication Day to On the Road

Sixty-two years ago today, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published. All these years later, it is one of the best loved and most popular American novels ever written, and it remains the seminal piece of literature produced during and about the Beat Generation.

My novella, “Back on the Road,” which can be found in the novella collection Road Stories, was heavily influenced by Kerouac’s work. In the novella, a group of friends, all recent college graduates, set out on a road trip to follow Kerouac’s protagonist’s, Sal’s, route across America. On the way, through adventures and mishaps, they learn about the country, each other, and themselves.

Happy Publication Day to On the Road. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. And while you’re at it, check out Road Stories to read “Back on the Road.”


Art for Art’s Sake

I love any type of art that is created for no purpose other than the intrinsic value of the art itself. In other words, art that has no agenda, political, financial or otherwise. That’s not to say that agenda-driven art can’t be beautiful or powerful. It absolutely can. But art created for art’s sake is special, even sacred.

That’s why I was so taken by the re-creation of Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” that was done by artist Stan Herd. Herd’s rendition of Van Gogh’s painting was done on more than an acre of land in Minnesota using various plantings, mulch, rocks, and lots of manpower. The project took six months to complete, and when it was finished, was quite impressive.

When it was originally completed, the project, which Herd called “The Earthwork,” could be seen by passengers flying into and out of Minneapolis Airport. Sadly, the artwork has since been plowed under. It was commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and is just one of several similar works of art Herd has created in the Earthworks series.

Take a look at this short video of Herd re-creating Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.”

Stan Herd, Of Us and Art: The 100 Videos Project, Episode 30 from Minneapolis Institute of Art on Vimeo.