Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's the Most Commercialized Time of the Year

2000 years ago God held up his end of the promise he had been making for centuries to send a saviour into the world to redeem man.  In honor of the birth of his son, we have developed many traditions, such as singing songs about magical snowmen and red nosed reindeer, turning our homes into giant light displays, and lying to our children so that we have something to hold over their heads in the hopes of better behavior (you'd better treat your sister nice or Santa won't give you the video game you asked for).   As an American I admit I get much enjoyment from many Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with the real meaning of the holiday, and feel no guilt over watching "A Christmas Story" or hanging stockings on my electric fireplace with care, in the hopes that Heather will stuff it full of goodies, although I try to remember the real reason many of us celebrate Christmas.  There is however one unsacred cow I never offered on the altar of the commercialized season until this year.

Black Friday, or African American Friday for the politically correct crowd, is a day when ordinary citizens camp out in front of stores overnight hoping to be rewarded by saving major money on a big ticket item, or by getting their hands on this year's must have toy.  Because nothing says "I love you" like "mommy broke a lady's arm getting you this tickle-me-elmo".  I have always avoided shopping on this day, because although I'm cheap, I also value my time, and the idea of spending hours waiting in line without being rewarded by a ride on something that is both terrifying and exhilerating is not appealing to me.  Plus, as much as I like people, I prefer not to share a shopping aisle with 72 of them.

This year I agreed to go with my friend Jeff to a "door buster" at midnight.  While I don't want to wait outside a store all night long I didn't mind the idea of staying up until midnight so Jeff could save a few bucks on some stuff.  I figured the store wouldn't be too busy, since all the awesome deals such as electronics didn't start until the main event at 5 the next morning.  Boy, was I wrong. 

My first clue was when we entered the store and there were no shopping carts in the front entryway.  We then entered a mass of people more chaotic than than passengers on the deck of the Titanic as she was going down.  We quickly decided to split up so we could save some time, so I took my half of Jeff's wife's list and made a bee-line for domestics, where a 40 piece rubbermaid food storage set was on sale.  I also got a shop vac and Buzz Lightyear coloring toy and headed to electronics where we had agreed to meet.

I found Jeff in electronics, looking as stunned as a Cubs fan after they win a game.  He hadn't found anything on his list yet so I took a tour around electronics to see if I could find any of the games or videos that were on his list.  We quickly realized that all the deals were located on pallets in the aisles, so off we went.  I decided to get a shop vac for myself, we found most of the items on the list, and were ready to go before 1 am.  This is where the night took a turn for the worse. 

After standing in a line that ended near the back of the store for about 5 minutes, I scoped the store out and discovered a far shorter line in electronics that only had about 12 people in it.  Jeff did a verification check while I watched the cart, then moved to the shorter line in hopes of getting out of there more quickly.  Our new line was moving slowly but steadily for about half an hour, then the girl at the register was replaced by a guy who obviously didn't know what he was doing.  I say this, because when we finally got near the register I heard him saying that he was not a cashier, and also because we stood in line for over 2 hours waiting to get that close.  This kid made more calls for a manager than the Dallas Cowboys.  And of course with each call the line did not progress for 10 minutes while a busy manager came from somewhere across the store to show this kid how to approve a credit card or whatever.  Finally, at close to 3:00 in the morning we got out of there with Jeff's 20 dollars in savings.  I will never go shopping on Black Friday again.  On the bright side, at least I got a shop vac for 15 bucks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bed, Bath and Beyond: It's like Best Buy for Women

I recently got an ad from Bed, Bath and Beyond that had some bar stools that looked like they might fit the bill of what I have been wanting to get for our newly remodeled kitchen, so I thought I would stop by and give them a look on my way home from Home Depot.  As I entered this tiny sliver of the local strip mall, I quickly realized that I had moved into territory that few men would dare to explore without the cover of an ovary-bearing being.  I was as out of place as a hippie at an NRA skeet-shooting competition. The store was a bee-hive of young to middle-aged hip women gliding effortlessly from bamboo bowls to aromatic therapy solutions. 

They sell things at BBB to meet needs I didn't even know I had.  Did you know that there are devices that remove the pits from cherries and others that take the leafy parts off of strawberries?  I thought that's what thumbs were for, but then I don't have the ability to pull off corderouy pants or cashmere sweaters either.  At the top of my want list is the homedics foot massager.  Think of it, a device that gently rubs your feet for as long as you like anytime you want, and you don't even have to wash the dishes or compliment it on its new haircut!

While wandering through the narrow aisles wide-eyed and self-conscious as a teenager at his first dance, I was stopped by a woman whose job it is to try and sell home soda makers.  As the name implies, this is a device that sits on your counter and allows you to transform regular tap water into soda pop by injecting carbon dioxide into it and carefully mixing in a pre-made syrup, one liter at a time.

I tried to politely let the saleslady know that I am quite happy with Coca-cola's products and the convenience of grabbing a can out of the fridge, but she had a sales pitch to give, free product to disburse, and time on her hands and even though I obviously was not in her target demographic of "eco-friendly, bargain loving, health-conscious mother of 1.5 children" she went through her spiel, which included such touch points as the lack of high fructose corn syrup (high calorie)in the regular and aspertane (which has been shown to cause cancer she reminded me) in the diet concoctions, the low price per liter, and the fact that I could save the local landfill from 10,000 bottles by using her product.  She also assured me that it tastes just like Coke, and gave me a free sample she made on the spot, carefully walking me through the three easy steps to making homeade soda as she did so. 

Unfortunately, I don't really have to worry about calories, I don't mind paying 40 cents per can vs. 17 cents per liter considering the convenience of not having to mix my own soda, and landfill space is near the bottom of my list of things that keeps me up at night, right below fearing for Nancy Peloci that her eyes will pop right out of her head during a session of Congress.  Also unfortunately, the sample she gave me, while drinkable, definitely did not taste like Coke, which means her presentation neglected step 4: pour out unsatisfactory soda and get a real Coke out of the fridge.  At least she was friendly and offered to throw my empty cup away as I politely thanked her for her presentation but declined purchasing her $100 RC Cola maker.

Believe it or not, this was not my only interaction at the BBB.  While I was looking at bar stools another lady came up to me with a store ad and asked me to show her where some napkin holders were located.  I let her know that while I would like to help her I was unable to point her in the right direction, as I was not a normal shopper there.  She was extremely embarrassed at her mistake, as she had assumed that I worked there, as apparently any men to be found in the store without the accompanyment of either a woman or a flamboyant life-partner are normally store employees.  After that I figured I had better get out of dodge before word spread through the store that a man had infiltrated without an escort and I was kindly asked to leave.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feel Free to Total my Car - I Don't have Any Kids

As I was talking to my boss tonight on the phone, or at least trying to talk over her screaming kid who couldn't seem to grasp simple concepts like he couldn't have any candy until after dinner, and he didn't really have any reason to talk with a total stranger on the phone (geeze Louise the kid's pushing 2 already, how long does it take to figure this stuff out?) I realized that having no kids has it's advantages.  No spending all my free time taking kids to sports practices, scouts, games, school.  No getting woken up in the middle of the night by a kid hurling, as happened to my buddy Jeff a couple nights ago (his dad of the year response to his wife: Why is he in our bed anyways? at which time he preceeded to roll over and go back to sleep).  No black eyes from the wife responding to a lack of caring for young violently ill children.  No being embarrassed at the airport by a screaming kid.  No being embarrassed at the mall by a screaming kid.  No being embarreassed at church by a screaming kid.  You get the point. 

On the other hand, there are disadvantages.   No bumper sticker proclaiming how well my kid is doing in school.  No sign in the window reminding people to drive carefully around my car, as it has precious cargo on board.  No excuse to wear a shirt proclaiming that I am the world's greatest dad.  (I wonder if I could get a shirt that reads "I would be the world's greatest dad, but I decided not to have kids so someone else could have that honor").  No child tax credit.  No tiny hugs or cuddling on the couch.  No getting out of work to take care of the kids.

It's this last one that has been getting to me lately.  It seems like there are constantly people skipping out on work for their kids.  Taking a kid to the doctor, going to a parent-teacher conference, attending an important event, giving birth to a kid.  Dad's even get paternity leave now, which is like a vacation where you get woken up every two hours by someone screaming. 

As shown above, having a real family is a lot of work, so I've decided I need a pretend family.  This way when work is getting stressful I can head out for a "parent-teacher conference" or my kid can be "graduating from kindergarten" or when I want to sleep in I can call my supervisor and let her know "my kid has a fever". 

Of course this would require making up some stories about how my kid got in trouble at school or is at the top of the growth charts.  Or at the bottom.  It really doesn't matter, as long as they aren't average.  Most important are the pictures to go on the desk.  I was looking at picture frames the other day and hoping to find one with some cute kids in them so I could buy it and put it on my desk and people would just assume they were mine, but all the photos had a mom and dad in them too.  I don't think my photoshop skills are good enough to replace the guy's face with my own.  Besides, the body would be an obvious mismatch, as guys with bodies like mine don't end up in picture frames. 

I was thinking I could just leave the picture as is and explain that it's my ex wife and her new husband with my kids, but I don't want a messy divorce.  And how embarrassing that the wife wouldn't even take a picture of the kids for me without her new man in the picture?  Not to mention the obvious comparisons and people thinking "wow, she took a step up".  No, I will have to live without any pictures of my imaginary family. 

Sorry, I have to go; it's time to put the kids to bed.  You know how grouchy they are if they go to bed late.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Time Flies When You're Overwhelmingly Busy

Ok, this isn't an excuse, but I have been really busy.  Hence no post in a month.  My original goal was a post a day.  That quickly turned into a couple of posts per week, then one per week.  I have so much to write about, but have just been busy with other activities.  I can't slip below once per month.  This is just sad.

One of the things that has been keeping me hoppin' is a kitchen remodeling project.  I decided that the kitchen definitely needed a refresh. That was when we bought the house 3 years ago, but I have finally started turning desire into action.  I got some cabinets and a counter relocated, and ordered some new countertops from Home Depot.  I even manned up and took out the old tile-topped countertops myself.  Word to the wise - when you order Corian countertops you have to remove the old countertops, then wait for a couple of weeks for the new ones to get made and installed.  I suggest doing this prior to going on vacation, so you don't have to live with gaping holes where you used to keep the blender and sit your cup of coffee down in the morning.  I also suggest getting a friend or large acquantance to help with carrying out the old countertops.  Two sheets of plywood 7 foot long covered in tiles is a lot to handle by yourself.  Especially when you're smaller than many junior highers.

I also had to do some drywall repair when the old tile backsplash took some plaster hostage with it upon removal.  I have to say that I am pretty impressed with how good that came out, considering my overall lack of man-skills.  I also have to throw out a "whoop-whoop" to my friend Eric, who has enough man-skills for both of us for helping me install Corbels (I think that's what they're called.  I would just call them braces) to hold my new bar.  He also helped me install a ceiling fan, but since we're not done with that project (it still hasn't been hung from the ceiling mount we installed and there's some final connects to make with the wiring) he doesn't get any "whoop-whoops" for that one.  Ok, maybe one "whoop", but not two.

I still have to paint my kitchen, and get new flooring installed, as well as buy a new fridge and stove.  Then my kitchen remodel will finally be complete.  It's sad how much of this I will be hiring other laborers to do, and yet I find it overwhelming.  I did install my own sink and garbage disposal, which made me feel pretty good.  I had to hire a plumber to do the drainage pipes however.  I apparently don't have enough of a crack to pull off that level of plumbing. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Timely Fashion

Today I said goodbye to a dear friend.  One which has been with me on many an adventure - hours of work writing papers for my Master's degree, miles of running training for my marathon, thousands of feet of elevation ascent and descent climbing the mountains here in Colorado, not to mention the occasional make out session with my wife on the couch.  I'm speaking of course of my Timex Ironman watch.  Sadly the battery is about to die; I know this because when I turn on the light the numbers fade out of readablility.  The wristband's velcro is getting tired and although it was once as clingy as a toddler getting dropped off for the first time at preschool, it now has less strength to hold on than Jon and Kate.

Normally I would just replace the band and the batteries, but since they both are giving out at the same time, and since one of the screws that holds the face of the watch on has suddenly gone missing, making the waterproof nature questionable and detracting from the appearance of an already scratched and beaten down watch, I decided to just go for the replacement option. I now have a new buddy, which is going to take some getting used to, since I look at my watch multiple times per day, if not per hour, and I have seen the same gray face peering back at me for the past several years, which has suddenly been replaced by a deep blue that is both soothing and excitingly new at the same time.  It's like getting a new tattoo in place of an old one.  I haven't faced this kind of visual transition since Michael Jackson became white.  Who ever knew a watch could provide such visual stimulation?  Of course I had to get another Ironman watch, as this is all I have worn since I was in High School, but although the form and function are identical, the color really does spice it up.  May we make many wonderful memories together.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Night at the Movies

I admit it, I read the Twilight series, and actually enjoyed them.  Yes, I'm a guy.  No, I am not gay.  So once they started coming out with the movies I of course had to see them.  The first one was so ridiculously low budget that the special effects made me laugh and I felt uncomfortable watching some of the scenes, like I was watching a bootleg version of the rehearsal.  Thanks to a rabid following and large profit, the second movie got a huge budget increase, with exponentially better special effects, a better director, and the same bad actors, which led to a much better movie. 

Unfortunately for me, Heather hates scary movies and would not go with me to see the second movie, and let me know she would not go to see any of the others either.  Yes, I know that Twilight is a love story with some action thrown in, not a horror story, but try to convince Heather of that and let me know where it gets you.  Last year I was fortunate to be able to watch New Moon with a posse of Twilight-loving friends, but this year that was not an option.  It looked like I would be watching Eclipse as a rental at home.

Then at the 11th hour an opportunity opened up to watch it at the theater.  A couple of friends of mine recently moved to town, and Jenny was just getting into the series.  She burned through the books in no time and watched the first couple of movies at home in time to catch the third one at the dollar theater, so I asked if I could tag along with her and Matt, who I'm also good friends with.  We decided to go to a late showing so the kids would be in bed, leaving Heather less to have to do (she agreed to watch the kids so the rest of us could enjoy the movie.  Okay, in reality probably so Jenny and I could enjoy the movie, and Matt could tolerate it.  It's hard for Matt to enjoy a movie that doesn't contain one or more of the following elements: spaceships, laser weapons, and time travel).

Fortunately we left early, as we hit a major traffic snarl.  It turned out they were doing a sobriety check-point.  It also turns out the city can function with a few dozen of its police officers hanging out on the side of the road.  I couldn't help but wonder if a crime spree was occurring somewhere on the other side of town.  At least they were getting all the drunks off the road.  At least the ones who were driving at 9:00 at night.

The officer I talked to was friendly enough.  We engaged in some small talk so he could check my speech for slurring, my pupils for dilation, and my breath for the smell of alcohol.  Then he asked where we were going.  I told him "to the movies" and he asked which one.  As often happens when I'm unexpectedly asked to retrieve a trivial piece of information unexpectedly, such as "what movie are you headed to see?" or "what is your phone number?" or "what did you eat for lunch today?"  I drew a blank.  Luckily Jenny piped up from the back of the car: "Eclipse".  Yes, Eclipse, that was the name of the third book.  The officer, not knowing if it was me or Matt who was with Jenny didn't know who to look at with pity for being the third wheel, so he just directed us to drive on.

We made it to the movie in time, although there was a bit of a line for the tickets.  Jenny headed to the bathroom, and Matt and I stood in line for the tickets.  Apparently the lady on the opposite side of the circular counter called out that she didn't have a line and could help someone back there.  Matt, being the good friend he is, promptly went back and got his tickets, without letting me in on what she had said.  I wondered where he was going, and my question was answered a couple minutes later when he stepped out from around the corner with two tickets in hand and a goofy grin on his face.  So I deserted my place in the non-moving line and went to the back counter for my ticket.

When my turn came I handed the lady 2 dollars, obviously only enough to cover one ticket at the $1.50 price, and asked for a ticket to Eclipse.  She responded with "Just one?".  Yes, lady, just one!  I'm with two friends, I'm not by myself, honestly.  Don't judge me!  It's not my fault my wife thinks all vampires are scary!  I got my one ticket and joined Matt and Jenny.  We hung out for a while waiting for them to let us in, got pretty good seats in front of the smallest movie screen you'll ever see (but still much bigger than my TV) and enjoyed a couple of hours of an imaginary world where vampires and humans fall in love, and werewolves can't find enough t-shirts to remain fully clothed for more than a few minutes at a time.  I think even Matt enjoyed himself, although I'm not sure if it was because he got to see the bad vampires getting their heads knocked off, or the cherry slurpee he got from concessions.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Quandry Peak

Recently my friend Mike was in town for a conference, so we got to spend some good quality time together and he decide he wanted to go on a hike, but not "a lame 2 mile hike", so I suggested we do a 14er.  Since he is from out of town and only had a week to get acclimated, I decided we should do an easy one, so we drove up to Quandry Peak on Friday afternoon after he was done with his last session of the day.

Ok, so there are no easy 14ers.  But this is about as easy as it gets.  So up we went.  I packed Mike some snacks in Heather's Camelbak backpack, although he brought his own bladder.  It was very humorous listening to Mike try to explain to Heather what a Camelbak is, before I told him she has one.  She was so good about listening attentively I didn't want to break in.

The bottom half of the hike is very pleasant, with a well maintained trail that meanders through the woods.

I think some hikers must feed the wildlife, as these goats were very friendly.  Or perhaps they were attracted to my "wild goat" scented deodorant.  Either way, it was good to know that if a freak snowstorm developed I would have something to slice open and climb into for warmth.  I called dibs on mamma goat, as the kids wouldn't keep much more than my feet warm. 

Quandry Peak in the background.  Two of the Billy Goats Gruff in the foreground.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get the troll under the bridge to pose for a pic.

We ran into a couple of guys who were somewhat skeptical about us having enough time to get up and down before nightfall. Their words "I hope you brought a flashlight" helped keep us motivated. That and not wanting to run into the troll after dark. For the record I had planned on bringing a flashlight but forgot to pack it, so we were definitely motivated to finish before 7:45 - the official time of sunset. Since we didn't get started until 3:00, we knew we would have to stay moving. Needless to say, it was a tough haul for Mike, who wasn't properly acclimated. My hat's off to him for not only making it, but for summiting in only 2 and a half hours. We weren't able to take as many breaks as he would have liked, and he had a pounding headache and difficulty breathing, but he never talked about giving up.  He did find it necessary to stop and sit down often, but I couldn't fault him for that.

This is how Mike will remember our climb.

This is how I will remember it.

The views aren't as spectacular as other 14ers, but it's still a rewarding spectacle for all of your work.

Even with a 10 second timer I still almost didn't make it in time to get in the picture.

We hoofed it down and made it to the bottom right at 7:45. Mike was really glad he went, even despite hurling on the way home. I will never forget the haunting sound of his body dispelling the orange poweraid he had been drinking on the way home. Not that vomiting is ever pleasant, but the gurgling mixed in there made it especially awesome. At least I didn't have to hold Mike's hair back.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Car By Any Other Name

A couple of months ago my car suffered from a seemingly life-ending fire that started when my Ipod Nano overheated overnight.  Apparently the combustability of the Ipod was not a big enough selling point for Steve Jobs to tout when it was released, although I am not the only one to discover its incendiary properties.

Hoping she was still salvageable I took my faithful car, which I had just told Heather the day before how much I still loved, to a mechanic but the prognosis wasn't good.   If the car were my grandma, and the mechanic were a doctor, he would have advised pulling the feeding tube and starting to sort out who gets the afghan collection.  Have you ever wondered how the afghan was invented?  Was it like, "I've got a great idea!  What if you had a blanket full of holes made out of yarn, so it's neither warm nor attractive, but you can't throw it away because some old lady spent countless evenings hand making this thing?"  But I digress.

Needless to say, the car was going to cost more to gut and replace the melted wiring than it would cost to buy a replacement vehicle.  It seemed the Vibe was headed to the big junkyard in the sky.  Or more accurately, the big junkyard at the edge of town, where they would give me $300 bucks for her.  Then fate intervened.  A friend from church asked me if I was interested in buying a damaged Vibe at a car auction and using the parts from my car to fix it much cheaper than buying the parts from a junkyard or dealer.  I told him sure, and he found a t-boned vibe that was one year newer than mine with 5,000 more miles, and we got it for only $2,000.  It was in need of new doors and a couple of front fenders, but since my car's exterior is still in great shape, it was a great match.  In fact, the car was even the same color of blue, so it was a perfect match. 

Currently Garry is working on transferring my old Vibe's exterior parts and hoping to get it fixed up for around another $2,000.  The new Vibe does have a couple of key differences from my old one - I will now have front wheel drive instead of all wheel drive, which means hopefully better gas mileage and acceleration (yeah) but less sure-footedness in the winter (boo).  On the positive side, the new car has the moons and tunes package, which means 6 speakers, a better radio, and a moon roof.  I love riding my motorcycle but with summer winding down I am looking forward to having a car again.  Not just having a car again, but having my Vibe again.  I have even decided on a name for her: Christine.  Seems appropriate since she is a reincarnation of my old car rising from the ashes.  Let's just hope she doesn't chase me down any alleys.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bureaucracy: The Fastest Way to Slow Things Down

A while back I wrote about my foray into the real estate market as an investor purchasing a second home in which I likened the experience to playing Monopoly.  Buying a property in Monopoly, for those of you who grew up without any siblings, consists of landing on a space that holds a property, looking at the amount required to buy said property, and giving the banker (usually the child with the strongest will who wants to be in charge) the appropriate amount.  The banker then gives you the "deed" and the transaction is complete.

In the real world, there are commissions to pay (selling agent, buyer's agent, mortgage broker) and paperwork to complete.  It is said that the seller pays the commissions, but if the buyer is providing the funds to the seller, aren't they in fact paying the commissions?  I digress.  During the last several months I determined that the best way to finance the second home was to clear out our savings account and place it all on "Mama's Cooking" at the racetrack.  Heather would have none of it, despite the 20:1 odds, so I had to revert to plan B, which involves the aforementioned mortgage broker and a lending institution.

I found a mortgage broker with reasonable fees and a great interest rate through Zillow (I'm not kidding) and started down the road to financing.  I quickly realized that there were two options to finance the investment property.  Option 1 was to take a mortgage on the property, which would be classified as an investor loan, which has a higher interest rate.  Option 2 was to refinance our primary residence and use those funds to buy the investment property with cash, which allowed for a lower interest rate.  I opted to take that route, and the beauracracy began to wield its ugly head.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been required by the lending bank to provide the following in order to take a mortgage on my home (which I own free and clear):

Purchase title insurance.  Really?  Because I'm afraid the previous owner might have a lien against the house?  But I am the previous owner.  I have owned the property for 3 years.  I understand the need for title insurance on the home I am buying but on the house I live in and am refinancing?

Write and sign a letter of intent.  I had to write a letter stating that I am refinancing my home to purchase an investment property, and that I will use savings to finance the remainder of the purchase.  I had to submit a bank statement showing said savings, and Heather had to sign a letter saying she was ok with using this money since her name is on the account.  What does it matter how I use the money?  Could I not refinance my home and blow the money at Vegas if I wished?  The bank has a lien against my home for a reason - if I can't pay my new mortgage they get the house.  Who cares how I spend the money that they loaned me in return for the lien?  Then when Heather signed the statement on using the savings and the statement on how the mortgage money would be spent I had to reaccomplish the latter document with just my signature, since she's not on the loan. ???? Really?

Submit a quote for homeowners insurance.  This one makes sense.  I had to show that my home is insured since it is the collateral on which the loan is based.  No wait, the bank didn't want to see the insurance on the house I live in, but the cost of the insurance for the home I'm buying.  The one they have no vested interest in.  Why?  Because they consider monthly homeowner's insurance premiums (as well as the annual property tax) as "debt".  I actually lost my patience on this one and asked the mortgage broker if they wanted to see my monthly cable bill as well since that could easily run higher than the insurance.  I know, don't shoot the messenger.

Once we jumped all the hurdles Heather and I were finally able to sign the mountain of paperwork that comes with taking a home loan.  On one of the forms Heather noticed that I had signed but forgotten to date it, so she dated her line and my line.  That was a mistake.  Two days later the title company informed us we would have to not only reaccomplish that form with my handwriting for my date (because apparently having 30 sheets of paper with my signature and date accompanied by one sheet with my signature and someone else's handwriting for the same date is unacceptable to some bean counter hunched in a cubicle somewhere) but we also would have to resign the "right of rescision" paperwork, which means instead of closing on the home on Monday we have to start the mandatory three day waiting period over again and the bank won't release the funds until Wednesday.

The sad thing is that all of this analness is not ultimately driven by the bank's lack of desire to lend money, but by the government's felt need to insert itself into every facet of our daily interactions.  I would not want to wade through the volumes of regulations that have driven every piece of paperwork I had to sign or create.  Buying property was so much easier as a kid.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Travails of Travel

My mom and niece are coming to visit, which is nice.  Unfortunately mom doesn't like making airline reservations so this job usually falls to me.  I could understand this when mom didn't have a computer.  Now that she has high-speed internet I'm not sure what part of Priceline befuddles her.  She did squeeze me out of her body after 12 hours of labor so I guess I owe her.  After a plane delay in Dallas last year she decided she wanted to fly straight to Denver this year.  Since I didn't want to drive all the way to Denver and I'm not a good travel agent I booked her a flight to Colorado Springs with a connecting flight in Dallas again and assured her that she would not get delayed in Texas this year.

An hour before her flight is scheduled to leave mom calls from St. Louis to tell me her plane was delayed and she will miss the connecting flight in Dallas.  Mom's not happy.  I'm not happy.  I tried to talk her through the process of getting the airlines to help her rebook to a different flight.  She called back after managing to wrangle a new departure time 15 minutes after the original one - still missing the Dallas flight.  Now she is spending the night in Dallas and leaving in the morning.  I told her to insist on a free hotel room if they hold her overnight.  She got them to offer her a discount.

An hour on hold with American Airlines and I got mom a new flight.  I was offered a flight through Chicago but the plane is delayed and I was concerned she would miss the connecting flight if it is delayed again, so I got her a direct flight to Denver.  Mom will be thrilled.  When mom got to the counter the plane was full.  So she's back to the original flight with an overnight stay at Dallas.  The agent promised me she'll get a voucher for a hotel room.  I hope she's right or I'm going to be picking up a very grouchy mom at the airport tomorrow.  Next year mom's booking her own flights.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Can't Believe I'm Getting Paid to do This

Today was "Wingman Day" at work.  Wingman Day is where we get talked to about suicide awareness, safety, and looking out for each other.  After a series of speeches by the higher ups, we watched some informational videos and then broke for teambuilding.  Since 2 of my officemates are gone for the week, that left Rhett and I to do our teambuilding mano u mano.  We decided to go for a hike in the foothills at the Air Force Academy.  We of course interspersed our hike with Wingman Day reminders like "hey, don't forget we're not 17 years old, so let's not kill ourselves running down this hill".

The first half of the hike was steep and rocky terrain along a stream, while the second half meandered through woods and glade.  Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures in the woods which were very pleasant.  Sorry.

There was a reservoir at the top.  Rhett wanted to fish here but I had to be at a home inspection at 2:30 and we didn't get to the top until after 1:00 so we'll have to do that another time.

We saw a couple of hummingbirds on the hike.  I didn't get any pictures of them, but I did get this picture of Rhett messing with his Camelbak.

There were some nice views coming down.  We ran the last half mile so I wouldn't be late.  This photo op was a welcome 15 second break.

Thank you Air Force for letting me and Rhett get some bonding in on the trail today.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Do I Roll the Windows Up on This Thing?

After a few days with no motorcycle while the battery was being charged and saddlebag brackets were being installed I was happy a couple days ago to have my bike back for my daily commute.  Being the cheap guy I am I had put the saddlebags on without a bracket, but once one of them had a hole rubbed in it from contact with the rear tire (which is impressive, considering they are made of leather) I decided the bracket was a necessary accessory.  It turns out I would have been better off taking the car.

When I arrived at work, I decided to take my helmet in, rather than leave it with the bike, since there was a good chance of rain in the afternoon.  As I rounded a corner approaching the building I scraped the faceshield against a brick wall, leaving three nice permanent scars on the visor.  The drive home would cause me to forget about this mild annoyance.  A meeting kept me at work almost two hours late, by which time a nice storm had brewed up.  At least I didn't know until the next day that there was a tornado watch at the time.

Fortunately the poor weather was still travelling my way when I got to my bike, allowing me to gear up with my water-proof jacket liner and pants.  I knew my leather gloves and boots wouldn't hold the water out for long, but at least the majority of me would be nice and dry.  This proved to be true as the rain and intermittant hail pelted me until about halfway home, when I realized the water was running down my jacket liner and down between the waist of my rain pants and my body.  The thing that clued me in was the unmistakable feeling that my underwear was slowly filling up with water.  If you've not felt this sensation it is a disturbing one.  Especially when you are travelling at 60 miles an hour 20 minutes from home and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

I decided to alter my route by taking a country road that adds a few miles and about 5 minutes to the ride, but would keep me away from a low lying hilly road that I suspected would be flooded due to the volume of rain.  As the road approached a town 5 miles from my house I realized I could stop by and visit a friend from work who lived there and get out of the rain until the worst of it passed.  Of course, this would add another 10 minutes to the ride overall, but I could get out of the rain sooner.  My boots now had standing water sloshing in them, and my hands were soaked, as well as my bottom, so I decided to go for the "longer to get home but out of this weather sooner" option.  I was quite happy as I pulled up and rang the doorbell.  I could hear the yellow lab barking on the other side.  And barking.  And barking.  Nobody but the dog was home.  Back on the bike and another 15 minutes of soaked riding in front of me.  Not cool.

As I finally got near my house, the rain was coming down so hard it was running across the road in sheets.  I saw a deeper section in time to let off the gas, but not to brake.  As I hit it the force of the wave shooting up from my tire actually forced my feet of the pegs and felt like someone hit my feet with a two by four.  I was just happy the bike stayed stable.  I slowed down a bit more after that.  A few minutes later and I was home and wringing the water out of my socks.  Some dry clothes and love from a hair dryer and all was well again in my world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Moments Are Best Shared With Scraggly Haired Strangers

One of the benefits of having my friends Matt and Jenny move into town is that Matt and I are old disk golf buddies.  On Saturday we decided to hit the links at a local course in town while Jenny took the kids to the local playground to wear themselves out.

If you have never played disk golf (also known as frisbee golf for the uninitiated who don't realize that the hard plastic disks are similar to frisbees but smaller and much harder, and are never used to play catch with a border collie) allow me to give a brief introduction.  This sport is played much like traditional golf, with a concrete pad to "tee off" of, various hazards (mostly trees, bushes and ravines) and instead of hitting a ball into a hole your objective is to throw a disk into a basket.  To make it easier the basket is mounted on the middle of a pole, with chains hanging from the top of the pole down into the basket.  If you hit the chains squarely the disk generally will fall into the basket.

Matt and I began playing disk golf while stationed in Minot North Dakota, where there are not many options for entertainment, unless you enjoy pushing round bales of hay through a farmer's field with your truck.  Since neither Matt nor I own trucks, we had to find something else to pass the time.  (In fact archaelogists, upon finding remains of some of the earliest indiginous peoples in the region, at first believed they had frozen during the harsh winter, but upon closer forensic examination realized they had been bored to death, don't you know.)  Needless to say, a relatively easy to learn but difficult to master sport that requires no fees other than buying a couple drivers and a putter (yes, there are different disks made to use in different situations) is an opportunity hard to ignore.  So Matt and I played a lot of disk golf in North Dakota.

But on to the present. Unlike our small 9 hole course from ND the course we played on Saturday has 18 holes, many of which are deep amongst a grove of trees, making it difficult to find the basket you're shooting for from the tee.  When we ran into a couple of old-timers (who as it turns out have been playing since the 70's) who offered to let us play with them on the premise that they would take us along since they knew the locations of all the holes, we jumped at the opportunity to tag along.

In addition to guiding us through the forested playing field, these kindly men also gave us some helpful pointers.  After I missed an easy putt, they gave me a couple tips on how to focus my aim on a single chain above the basket and how to hold the disk upon release. 

On my next hole I was about 50 feet from the basket (more of a chip shot than putting range) and tried out my newly received advice.   I focused in and released the disk.  There was nothing between myself and the basket but distance, although a tree on the right 2/3rds of the way down threatened my disk, as I tend to have to aim right due to a natural hook.  In this instance my throw sailed straight for the basket, rising some 15 feet into the air, avoiding the tree on the right, and sank down into the chains hanging above the basket with a successfully resonating “ching!” Throwing my arms in the air with an exuberant “Yes!” I turn to Matt, who is behind me, and he has his back turned looking back on where we started playing the hole. He was trying to remember how many throws he had made! I told him he was as bad as my dad, who missed my one triple in little league because he had gone to get a cheeseburger at McDonalds.  I'm just glad the two strangers we had just met were there to witness my feat and celebrate with me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Prefer When You Provide the Propulsion

While riding my motorcycle to get saddlebag brackets installed on it at a bike shop downtown  a couple of days ago, it unexpectedly died at an intersection.  After doing the obligatory inspection of the bike both to see if there was an obvious cause (out of gas) and to appear like I knew what I was doing (hey, there's a guy kneeling by his bike poking around, must know what he's doing), none of the obvious solutions were the cause.  With only 85 miles on the tripometer I knew I wasn't out of gas.  The battery terminal was still connected.  Didn't have a clue what else to check.  In my world bikers aren't mechanically inclined.  At least not the short ones with no tatoos.

As it turned out, I was only a few blocks from the shop, with no hills left to climb, so I decided to push Bessy the rest of the way.  I didn't want to risk the helmet falling off the seat, and had no place to put my jacket, so off I went in the close to 100 degree heat, pushing my bike while fully suited up.  While the invention of wheels, one of man's greatest achievents, and eclipsed only by the realization that bread can be sliced, made the process doable, it was still hot and hard work.  One lady in her car asked if I was alright, an elderly gentleman asked if I was out of gas, and a young troop circled around on his bike to see if I needed assistance.  Respectfully declining their offers with thanks for their concern, I plodded on, passed by cars, a bus, and a cop car. 

Finally I arrived at the shop, and informed the clerk that in addition to getting my brackets put on I would need to have a service call.  He let me know that I didn't have an appointment for anything beyond getting the brackets put on, and they may not have time to look at it for a few days.  I replied that I had just pushed the bike a half mile and wouldn't be self-propelling it any further, and whenever they could get around to it would work for me.  He was adament that they might not be able to work on it simultaneously with the bracket install.  I was adament that the bike wasn't going anywhere any time soon.  We came to a gentlemen's agreement that they would check the battery connection and Heather took me home in the CR-V.

Today I picked up Bessy, with a freshly charged battery that had apparently lost its charge due to a loose cable.  We went much faster, and had a more enjoyable time together, with her providing the power this time.  With "Back in the saddle again" playing in my head I gleefully returned home on my faithful steed.  Welcome back, Bessy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Hike up Mt Princeton

I finally made it up another 14er this weekend.  This time I took a buddy from church named Sam.  Sam was really excited about going hiking, so we met up at 4:00 and made the drive over to Buena Vista.  I learned to never take a 12 year old up a mountain.  I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, but Sam kicked my butt.  It was all I could do to keep up with him.  Oh to have that kind of energy.  He wouldn't even help drive on the way home so I could take a nap. 

When we arrived in Buena Vista, it was just short of sunrise.  We were treated with a beautiful pink sky as the sun approched the horizon.  We found the parking area at the bottom of the trailhead with no problems, and parked the car.  I had read about parking along the road going up the mountain and considered driving further but decided not to risk not being able to find a space.  As several cars rumbled past and we walked on and on I realized the folly of my mistake.  In all we hiked 14 miles and ascended close to a mile in elevation, which is cool, and didn't phase my pre-adolescent partner, but if I had it to do again, I would have shaved a few miles and a couple thousand feet of climb and parked up the road.  Lesson learned.

The first half of the hike was all on the dirt road, before we missed our turn onto the trail that leads to the peak.  After seeing almost no other hikers the turnoff seemed a funnel where everyone came together.  Several of us missed the turn, but I expect I was the only one carrying a handheld GPS unit that should have clued me in.  I had long since turned the sound off, as I tired of hearing it beep with every waypoint I had plugged into it, seeing as how there were 250 total plotted it was beeping every minute or so.  Luckily another hiker was heading back down and informed us that he (and we) had missed the turnoff.  I was looking for the steps as shown in the route description on and still didn't see it.  At least I wasn't the only one.

Having made the turn we proceeded along a pleasant cow path cutting through a green field before getting to the rocky portion.  I normally enjoy scrambling, but there was a sufficiently large enough field of talus that even I was getting tired of climbing over rocks.  It didn't help that I crushed my middle finger between two rocks, and almost fell a dozen times.  My normally cat-like balancing abilities were in tune enough to save me from any serious falls but failed me enough to make for a few exciting moments.  Of course Sam didn't have any issues.  I would blame his smaller size but since I'm not much larger I wouldn't have much of an argument.

While crossing the talus field I noticed large black spiders and their accompanying webs every few feet.  I have a distaste for spiders that borders on phobia, so this was a bit disconcerting, but I was able to avoid them pretty well.  I have found that if you don't focus on whatever causes you distress, it bothers you less.  What do hundreds of spiders feed on at 13,000 ft?  Lost hikers perhaps?

We hit the peak three and a half hours after starting.  We took the obligatory pictures, took in the wonderful views, and started back down.  We stopped at 10:30 to rest and get a bite to eat, then made our way down to the car without event.  It was a good hike, and I'm glad I was able to keep up with my hiking partner the whole way.

Sam on the road we should have driven up.  At least it was shady. 
Sam definitely added to the cool factor of the group.

Nice views looking back

And along the trail

This is looking back where the cow path had turned into rock.  It is only a half-mile to a mile from the road to here.

This shows the large field of rocks you must cross.  We followed the trail up to the saddle then followed the ridge to the peak at center right of the picture.  We often were without trail here and just picked our way through the rocks.

Sam looking cool  The rocks looking rocky.  This portion makes wearing boots preferable to cross-trainers like I had chosen.

This picture from the top shows a majority of the trail after it leaves the cow path just on the other side of the ridge.

It's hard to believe you're seeing this with before your eyes and not in a magazine or painting.

Yes, I love Colorado.

We made it!  Too bad you can't see more of the view in the background.  Thanks Sam for letting me be the tallest.  Don't worry, you can be the tallest next year.  When you're a teenager.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Where There's a Melted Mess of Goo, There's Fire

Recently I had the pleasure of turning a one week vacation to Hawaii into a two week vacation driving all over the western US for a week, then going to Hawaii for a week.  For a full description please see my previous blog.

Once I returned on a Friday evening, I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend prior to heading back to work.  Saturday morning Heather informed me that the featherbed we had left in the back seat of the car was venting and had fogged up the windows.  She went off to a wedding rehearsal, where they practice to make sure everyone can make it down an aisle or repeat vows, as necessary, and I got into the car to retrieve my sunglasses to take a ride on my motorcycle.  This is where the story takes a radical turn for the worse. 

Upon opening the car door I saw what Heather was speaking of.  Indeed, the windows were fogged over, but not with a milky white fog of built up water vapor or outgassing of some manmade material.  Instead they were smoky colored.  As I was wondering what was up I looked down at what had once been the center console of my car.  In the place where a plastic base had once stood proudly below the gear shifter was now a space as empty as Bernie Madoff's promises.  The gear shifter had a melted spot and the base of the console was now a pile of black hardened goo, like the volcanic shores of the tropical paradise I had just visited, without the beautiful ocean backdrop. 

Several realizations quickly came to mind: My car caught on fire, this is not good, how much damage is there? is this fixable? how did this happen? why did it go out? why can't the Cubs ever win the world series? what if the house would have burned down? 

Then I remembered that I had left my Ipod nano plugged into Heather's cigarette lighter powered charger.  As I pondered whether this had started the fire I unplugged the charger and followed the wire as far down as I could before it ran into and melded with the melted goo that once was my console/my Ipod/ a coin purse/ my Blackberry that had been in the console compartment.  I was only able to determine which part of the brisquette had been my Blackberry by the general shape, but at least the change in the coin purse was still recognizable.  I pried it out and washed it, happy that despite thousands of dollars worth of car damage I could lessen my loss by 65 cents.

A call to the insurance company and my expectation that my liability only car insurance would not cover it and my hope that my homeowner's insurance might were proven correct and dashed, respectively.  Of course the representative couldn't tell me this until I had gone over every detail of my car and the incident possible.  While cleaning out the car to prepare it for its transition to the big junkyard in the sky, I found the vinyl owner's manual cover had melted to the bottom of the glove box.  I also found Heather's 4th gen Ipod nano - a greater loss than my 1st gen Ipod nano.  It looked unscathed and I tried to turn it on but it was apparently a victim of the high heat.  I waited until Heather got home to tell her what had happened.

I asked Heather do you want the bad news or the really bad news?  The bad news is that your Ipod is dead.  Somehow Heather thought I said her grandpa was dead, which in hindsight didn't seem to phase her as much as I would have expected it to.  We figured out the mix-up only after I had related the really bad news: The car now smelled badly of smoke.  And was no longer able to start or drive.  And was probably totaled.  And wasn't coverd by insurance.  The good news, besides the fact that the feather bed didn't catch fire, and the car didn't go up in flames burning the house down with it, was that Heather's Ipod was only locked.  It still pumps out the incredibly bad music Heather overpaid 99 cents per song for.  Sorry if you like Country music, but that's my opinion.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vacation: Or Why I Haven't Blogged in 3 Weeks

I have been off the radar for a while while on vacation.  Now it is time to capture my thoughts on the blogosphere once again.  Thanks for coming back.

For our vacation Heather and I normally go on a cheap vacation for a couple of years, such as camping or doing some local sightseeing, then go on a full-on vacation every few years.  This year we decided to visit some friends in Hawaii, and decided to try and save money by flying what in the military is called Space-Available or Space-A for short.  Essentially you go to a military hub and sign up to get on a cargo plane, which can have anywhere from a handful to 70 seats for passengers available, and you hop along for the ride for free, hence the term "hop" flights.  We decided to travel to a base in Northern California to try and hop to Hawaii.  

Warning: This will be an unusually long blog.  Feel free to break it into manageable chunks if it doesn't hold your attention long enough to finish.  What follows is a true story.  Names were not changed.

Friday - Vacation Day (Vaday) 1

Heather talks to the personnel at the military flight terminal. They say they have 6 flights departing for Hawaii on Saturday. We choose to drive through the night to arrive Saturday and increase our chances of getting to the island on our first day.

The GPS keeps asking me if I want to take the “better route available” it has located. I say sure and it reroutes me. The roads keep getting more and more remote.  While driving on a gravel road I swear I can hear the GPS laughing at me. At one point I realize we are running low on gas after leaving a small town, but hate backtracking so I keep driving. As we get further and further into the desert of Utah I start to question my decision. The GPS is showing all gas stations within 50 miles are behind us. I’ve got about 80 miles worth of gas left. I start wondering how far I will have to walk through the wilderness before someone is nice enough to pick me up and take me to the next town. There’s not much traffic on this road. It could be awhile.

We finally find a gas station in the middle of nowhere but I don’t want to pay the $3.14 they are charging, now that the GPS is showing a larger town 50 miles down the road, so I put in one gallon, estimating that I have about 30 miles worth of gas left in the tank, and can get 30 miles per gallon on the additional gas.  An hour later as I’m looking at the guage below E I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t play it safe and put two gallons in the tank, especially with no guarantee that the price will be lower. I start thinking about the walk to the gas station again. We make it and the price is indeed cheaper – 3 cents per gallon. I win! We fill up and drive on. I turn the AC and radio back on and start driving the speed limit again.

After driving 14 hours from Colorado Springs to somewhere in the middle of Nevada, I turn the keys over to Heather so I can take a nap. We are 5 hours from the base. We call for an update on the flights. There are now only two flights on Saturday.  They will have 10 and 19 seats. Heather drives 90 minutes until we get to a small town where we can get a room for 4 hours sleep before taking off again for the remainder of the drive. We don’t get on the flights – there are too many passengers above us on the list. No big surprise. We get a room at the Econolodge downtown to try again tomorrow.  The hotel is cheap but it comes with free Wi-fi.  While moving the nightstand to plug in the laptop I discover that it also comes with a bonus: a free condom.  At least it's still in the wrapper.

Saturday Vaday 2

We get up excited to possibly be leaving today for Hawaii. We leave too early to take advantage of the continental breakfast but that’s ok; there are flights with 15 and 19 seats, and we are around number 22 on the list.

After making my deposit for parking, leaving the car in the long-term parking lot and walking the mile and a half back to the terminal, we find out there is now only one flight, which only has 10 seats. A guy with 3 dependents shows up on emergency leave and takes four of them. He wasn’t on the list but gets priority. We aren’t flying out today either. The next flight is scheduled for Monday with limited seats, and none scheduled for Tuesday so we decide to go to Yosemite for three days and try again on Wednesday.

As I walk the mile and a half to pick up the car and bring it back Heather meets a Marine who is heading to San Diego to try and fly out of their terminal there. There is a plane coming tomorrow with 43 seats available going to Hawaii. The guy at the terminal assures us this is almost a guaranteed bet. We make the decision to drive there and go for it. I get my deposit fished out of the box for the parking and we go to the store and buy a feather bed, some pillows and sheets to throw in the back of the car. I feel like we're on the Amazing Race and headed for the next checkpoint. 

I drive from our location near San Fran to San Diego. We stop at an In-N-Out along the highway where there are at least 20 people in line. We drive on to a Jack in the Box 20 miles down the road where there are only 2 people in front of us. On the way we pass a woman wearing a traditional Chinese pointed straw hat.  I have never seen anyone wearing one of those except in movies about Vietnam.  On the bright side the traffic in LA late on a Sunday night is light. We find a U2 concert playing on the radio and listen to it for a while. We finally arrive in San Diego, where we have never been before.  It’s a pretty city. We find the air terminal and sleep in the back of the Vibe. The fold down seats are nice. So is being 5’6” and 4’11”.

Sunday Vaday 3

We wake up to fogged up windows and the smell of human funk. My shoulder hurts from laying on it and smashing it into the floor of the car.  We’re excited to finally be going to Hawaii, even if a shower will have to wait until we arrive. Heather swears the smell is coming from the feather bed. I believe it is us but can’t smell it once we’re out of the car so all is well. We talk with the Marine Heather met at Travis. We find out shortly before the plane arrives that it is coming from Texas and filled up with passengers for Hawaii at that location. There are only 4 seats left. The Marine and his family get 3 of them. We’re happy for him and wish him the best.

We find the gym to take a shower. The Navy showers have more privacy than the Air Force gym. This surprises me.  I’m still wearing the same shorts to conserve clothes, but finally change my socks. It’s amazing what a difference a shower and clean socks can make.  We head back north to visit Yosemite. Heather gives me a break and drives after I get us north of LA. We drive all the way to Yosemite and there are no campsites available. The Best Western wants $100 for a night. We sleep in the Vibe again, in a mall parking lot. This time we leave the windows cracked.

Monday Vaday 4

Apparently the guys using the leaf blowers at 5 in the morning in the parking lot don’t have any respect for vagabonds sleeping in their car. On the bright side, the car doesn’t smell this time. We get up at 5:30 and are quickly on our way to Yosemite. We decide to explore the Sequoia forest first, which is only a couple miles from the Southern entrance. It is amazing how big these trees are. We hike around a few miles and look at some of the named trees, like “Grizzly Giant” and “Faithful Lovers”. We spot some deer along the way, and some cool red plants that have sprung up here and there.

Heather is getting less and less patient with my spelunking, so when we hit a sign that says parking lot 1.2 miles this way, we decide to head back. After walking what must be more than 1.2 miles I come to the realization that the sign must be off. We keep going. And going.  I ask Heather several times to turn on her watch pedometer so we can get a guage on how far we are going. Heather’s complaints are becoming more frequent, and revolve around me being to blame for getting us lost. The trail is beautiful, if one can shut out the occasional complaints.

I finally decide we have gone much further than a mile, and this trail is going in the wrong direction to bring us back anywhere near where we started. I turn us around. The complaining grows much louder and more frequent. I begin to realize that if Heather and I ever survive a plane crash in the mountains I will be going for help alone. Heather is close to panicking. I begin calculating how far I can carry her if I have to pack her out. I repeatedly assure her that if we follow the same trail out that we followed in, it will lead us back to where we started. She’s not convinced. The odometer measures one mile. We are covering about a mile every half hour. I estimate that we went down this trail for 3-4 miles, so it’s going to take a while to get back. I’m regretting not bringing any food or water. Or earplugs. The odometer reads two miles, then three. I try to remain upbeat, but it is difficult. Heather tries to remain downbeat, and finds it much easier. Finally I see a sign up ahead. It is the sign that lead us here. I realize that I misread it and we were headed down a 5 mile trail to a location down the road. Heather was right – I did get us lost. I’m glad we turned back rather than continuing down that path. I’m glad to be only a mile from the parking lot. Heather finds the energy she didn’t have before now that she knows where she is going. Birds begin singing again. We finally make it back to the car, about 5 hours and 10 miles from the beginning of our hike, and down some water and snacks. It’s good to be back.

Next stop is Glacier point. I figure on knocking out all the southern points so that when we come back to the park in the future we can focus on the northern portion. By the time we get there after an hour and a half driving, with 3 stops for pilot cars in construction zones, we are well rested and ready to go again. The views are spectacular. This is much more enjoyable than being lost in the woods. We take in the sights, snap some photos, and have some ice cream. Then it’s back to the car. Rather than try and make our way through the valley we opt to head south and get a hotel in Fresno, then head back to base tomorrow to make one last attempt at flying to Hawaii. If that doesn’t work we can come back and spend another day in Yosemite on our way home.

We find a Hotel 6 for only 50 bucks. Wi-fi is an additional $3. I buy it. It doesn’t work. I get my $3 back. Before shutting off the computer I realize I can connect to the hotel across the street’s wi-fi for free. I get online and find tickets to Hawaii for $500 each. I go with my original plan and book tickets out of Vegas. Looks like we’re going to make it to Hawaii after all.

Tuesday Vaday 5

We get up early and head to Vegas.  After driving over 3000 miles over 4 days, we are flying out of a city 12 hours and 600 miles from our house. I have seen more of California than I ever wanted to.  I drop Heather off and park the car, then I’m off to the airport on a shuttle. We make our way through the ticket counter and security, get some lunch, and then finally board our flight. The flight is uneventful, with a layover in San Fran, and our friends met us at the airport with leis, water and root beer. We stay up for a while talking with them and then it’s off to bed. Our Hawaiian vacation has finally begun. 

Wednesday Vaday 6 - Friday Vaday 16

We enjoy a week of sun, sand and sea, then fly back to Vegas and drive back home.  Our visit with our friends is great, the weather is awesome, and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves.  Essentially, it is the opposite of our experience trying to get out to Hawaii.  Although we had a blast it is good to be back home.  Another vacation is on the books!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For Customer Service, Please say: "Frustrated"

While on a business trip in the Washington DC area, I needed to create a travel voucher over the internet via a government travel website.  Normally this would be a simple transaction, but at the hotel I’m staying at there is no free Wi-Fi, so I have to carry my laptop down to the business center (where all the businessmen apparently gather in a cramped room to share 3 desktop computers because professionals don’t own laptops in Hilton hotels’ world) and plug into the LAN there. Granted, my room is only $200 a night, so maybe my expectations are a little high. Just because the Best Western with cigarette burns in the bedspread and hair in the bathtub has free Wi-Fi, that doesn’t make it the standard. Paris has bills to pay after all. Those diamond-crusted sunglasses don’t come cheap.

But back to my travel voucher.  I was uncertain of the amount billed for the airfare, and since I was logged into a landline internet connection rather than unsecure wireless I decided to log on to the credit card website to check my credit card statement. The website said that my password had expired; I had to fill out my information to reset it. After doing this it directed me to contact the web division over the phone to reset the password, as the online option had failed. I called on my cell phone, and worked my way through several unhelpful layers of menus (can the first option be “To hear the rest of this recording in the standard, painfully slow voice-over, press 1 now. To hear someone read the options with a sense of urgency and the assumption that your brain can process more than 30 words a minute, press 2 now. To cut to the chase and hear how to talk to a real person that can answer your question, stay on the line”?)

I finally got to the good part “To speak with a technical representative, press 5 now” and punched the required number. Finally I would be having a heart to heart with someone somewhere in India. The reception on my phone had been fine until this moment, when, and I don’t mean to confuse you with technical jargon, it “crapped out”. It was like I was being jammed by an invisible, yet incredibly irritating, electromagnetic monster outside the room. I went for a walk outside the hotel, at which point the static went from so overwhelming that I was unable to hear anything but fuzz, to simply annoying in a pulsating every few seconds with a wave of static sort of way. As I was on hold for over 10 minutes, I had plenty of time to walk around trying to get out of the dead zone, or more appropriately the gravely injured zone, but to no avail, and eventually, having gotten tired enough of hearing a blast of static in my ears every 2 seconds, I placed the phone on speaker.

Finally, about 15 minutes into the call somebody picked up on the other end. I heard “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your SHOOWOOP-KHHHH”. I said, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your SHOOWOOP-KHHHHH”. I’m not kidding, the static broke in at the same part of the sentence. Did they want my name or my card number? “Hold on” I said, “I’ve got you on speaker, let me take you off so I can hear you better”. I took the phone off of speaker, and nobody was there. The dude hung up on me! After listening to bad elevator music overridden by repeated discharges of static for a quarter of an hour!!

At this point I was frustrated, but unwilling to give up I returned to my hotel room to call from a land line. This time there were no reception problems, and after getting through the menus I was of course placed on hold again, with the admonishment that call traffic was heavy (at 10:00 at night? Really?) and that my wait would be around 2 minutes. I can only assume that this is the same prediction given with the first call, which I missed due to the overriding electromagnetic interference blasting over my phone at that time. 15 minutes of blessedly static-free elevator music later and I had another rep on the phone. “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your credit card number?” “Who am I speaking with?” I asked. “This is Paula”, the voice on the other end replied. “Ok, I got hung up on by the last guy, so I just wanted to have a name in case that happened again” I told her. I could actually hear Paula laughing on the other end of the line, before she came back with “How can I help you?” So we went through the whole rig-a-ma-role of my information and what I needed, with Paula demurely asking if she could put me on hold a couple of times, and got my online password reset. Paula was very polite, and I was happy to finally have internet statement viewing capability restored, an hour after first trying to log on. You have to love technology. And real customer service when you can get it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Day at Royal Gorge

Sunday Heather and I went to the Royal Gorge for the day.  The weather was beautiful and we had a great time.  Thanks Frankie for the idea.

This is at the entrance.  The clocks track the year, month, day and hour.  It's a great place to come and get your bearings if you do any time travel or fall asleep for 20 years.

First view of the bridge.  It spans 1,000 ft, and is over the same distance from the canyon floor.  It was built at the beginning of the Great Depression in just 6 months.  Today it would take longer to do the environmental assessment.

The Bridge offers awesome views of the Canyon.  The Arkansas river cuts through the middle of the canyon.  You can't see Arkansas from here, though.

This is what the bridge looked like at the time it was built in the 1929, when everything was black and white.

There's more to the park than just the bridge and gorge.  There is also wildlife.

Some is tamer than others.

If you've ever wanted to visit a real mining town, don't come here.  But if you want to experience the ambiance created by a small replica of an old west mining town, they have that covered.

There is also an incline railway to take you to the river's edge, and a suspended tram to take you across, if you get tired of travelling over the bridge. 

A train runs along the river.  The tracks are suspended at this point.

One last view and it was back home for us.