Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friendships Through the Fourth Dimension

Back in the 80's Michael W. Smith penned a blockbuster (at least in Christian circles) song on the immortality of friendship.  I actually sang this song along with my junior high choir cohorts at the high school graduation in 1988.  If you were at the performance, I was the short blond-haired kid in the front row that left you wondering how a fourth grader got in the junior high choir.  For those of you who don't remember this particuar gem of syrupy sentiment, the chorus went something like this:

And friends are friends forever,
If the Lord's the Lord of them,
And a friend will not say never
Because the welcome will not end

Though it's hard to let you go,
In the Father's hands we know
A lifetime's not to long
To live as friends

Based upon my own experiences of friendships and the passage of time and distance, I later rewrote the words to better fit my observations:

And Friends are friends forever,
Until they move away
Then they'll never write or call you
No matter what they say

It's so hard to let you go
Because time I'm sure will show
A lifetime's just to long
To live as friends

Over the ensuing years this overly pessimistic view of friendship has unfortunately been too often validated, but I am happy to report that some of my friendships have lasted the trial of separation.  This week was an especially poignant reminder of that fact as two dear friends visited Heather and I from out of town, and I enjoyed a phone conversation with a third, and an email exchange with a fourth.  I am not often so blessed as I have been this week with connecting with long range friends, but this was a great week.  Now if I could just figure out how to prevent that homesick feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes after my friends have departed.  But it's definitely worth it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living a Life Unplugged (Sort of)

A while ago I thought it would be an interesting experiment to unplug totally from the wired (and wireless) world and then keep notes on the experience, reporting on it at the end of a predetermined span of time, such as 6 months or a year.  I'm not sure I'm ready to take that drastic leap, but moving to a new city has given me an opportunity to try the experiment on a smaller scale.  Since we moved  a couple of weeks ago we have not established internet service at home.  This doesn't mean I haven't been connecting, but it does mean that getting on the web, sending an email, or using any online apps on my iPod Touch requires a committment of at least a half hour and a half tank of gas just to drive somewhere to connect.  Suddenly I'm combining trips like a suburban mom conserving gas during the 70's oil embargo (ok, when I go to Home Depot to shop for shelving I can stop by the McDonalds, get a sundae and get an hour of surfing in). 

It is amazing just how used to being able to connect at any time of the day or night one gets with time.  It's the great thing about the internet.  Want to know what movies are playing at what theaters at what times, read some reviews of them and get directions?  Just log on.  In an argument about how many games are played in a baseball season?  You can prove how right (or wrong) you are in a few seconds.  How much does an adult bull elephant weigh?  All I need to know is whether you want to know African or Asian.

Unfortunately, as useful as the internet is for looking up info, paying bills, reading the news, playing games and a plethora of other things, it is also a time stealer.  Ever spend 2 hours online doing nothing?  How about half a day?  You know you've done it more times than you can remember.  So while not having the convenience of instant connectedness at my fingertips is, to be redundant, very inconvenient, it also makes me more cognizant of how much time I normally spend online, and makes my web use more focused.  I don't know how long this experiment will last until Heather or I finally break down and decide we need internet at home, but it is good to get a detox from the need for constant data download.  And as a bonus, I get to experience things that I wouldn't otherwise, like the kid sitting next to me at Starbucks softly singing over a sheet of music (there's really no better place to do that?), or the guy at the outdoor patio area sitting with a parrot on his shoulder (Did I just unwittingly board a pirate ship?)  Don't worry, it's still my goal to produce a blog entry per week, so you can continue to have a yardstick for mediocrity.  Now go look up the weight difference between African and Asian elephants; you know you're curious now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Buying Furniture Was Never So Insulting

Heather and I recently decided to buy some bunk beds so that when our friends with kids come visit they have actual beds to sleep on.  Since our household goods haven't arrived yet, I figured this was as good a time as any to make the purchase, since we could sleep on them until our bedroom set comes with the rest of the furniture.  We bought some bedding and it was off to the furniture stores to find a couple of beds.

After hitting a couple of stores we visited a Texas Gallery Furniture on the south end of town, and found the staff to be quite helpful. Unfortunately, they didn't have the beds we wanted in stock, but they told me if I didn't want to wait a few days for one to come I could go to the Texas Gallery Furniture store on the northwest side of town.  Since this was closer to where we live I figured, why not.  The northern store was a totally different experience. When I got there they told us to wait while they got the paperwork faxed from the southern store.  After 15 minutes or so they said we could drive around back to pick it up.  When we pulled up to the loading dock a worker told me they didn't have the bed I wanted but offered me an "upgrade". He couldn't explain how this bed was an upgrade but promised that it was better than the bed I had paid for. "It's like the one you ordered is the phone the phone company gives you, and this is an iphone" he said.  Finally I relented and took the new beds home sight unseen in the box. 

When I opened the box to start assembing my new purchase, I quickly discovered that this was no iphone of furniture.  This was more of a pay-as-you-go model from Korea, and I'm talking North Korea.  This bed was in the Mission style, and you could see a shadow effect where the stain is apparently sprayed on, and the opposite side of the slats is lighter behind the slats than it is between them.  One piece of wood was partially split, others had scuff marks, and the headboards had holes where screws were to go and be left exposed.  I don't normally think of silver screwheads on the top of my headboard as an upgrade.  According to the kid at the loading dock they didn't have any of the model that I had ordered because they were sold out.  On the beds they gave me the bottoms that had been sticking out of the box were dusty from sitting in storage so long.  I'm guessing others also didn't think of this set as an upgrade either.

So I loaded up the bed and took it back to the northern store a couple days later. This is where the tale takes a bizarre turn.  When I told the store owner behind the counter that I had ordered one bed, had been given another, and upon taking it out of the box and laying eyes on it had determined that I would rather have the one I originally picked out, he gruffly asked another employee "will you take care of this...apparently he doesn't understand what an upgrade is". Yes, I do understand what an upgrade is, and it is an item of superior quality or features, not a piece of crap. I also understand when I am being spoken down to, and don't appreciate it.

The 2nd employee asked me to explain to him what it was that I didn't like about the bed they gave me. I didn't realize that it was my job to convince a store employee that the product they gave me was truly inferior to what I had actually paid for, so I told him politely that I preferred the style of the first bed better, which was also true. After going back and forth for a couple of minutes the owner, still sitting back at his desk, finally had lost all patience with a customer having the gall to want what he paid for and shouted at me "You'll have to deal with the other store!  We don't carry that model at this store!"

Needless to say, I was more than happy to deal with the manager at the other branch, who actually treated me like a valued customer, and not the son-in-law who impregnated his daughter then skipped town after burning down his house.  When I called the store manager at the southern store he was very polite, looked to see if they now had the model I wanted (he did) and had it delivered for free. He also let me know he would have his guys assemble the bed for me to make up for my bad experience of the other store not having the bed (I hadn't even told him how the store owner had treated me like trash).  Now I have two bunk beds that I actually want, and I know one store in town where I will never shop again.
This is what I wanted - and finally got

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ridin' in Style

Last year I accidentally destroyed my car and my iPod in one tragic overheated battery incident.  Since I loved my Vibe and had a lot of useful Vibe parts in the now defunct car, I purchased a nearly identical model that had been T-boned and swapped a lot of exterior parts from the original to the new car.  Unfortunately, I did not swap the tires on the cars.  I did not realize this at the time, but one of the rear wheels was bent and needed to be replaced.  I'm guessing that whatever crushed in the sides of the car also damaged this wheel.

I did not realize the wheel was bent until I took the car in recently to get the struts replaced.  The folks at Sears (which was having a sale on strut install) decided to be nice and rotate the tires.  They also decided I needed more car work to complete the strut install.  On the ride home, with my wallet a thousand dollars lighter, I found that once the car exceeded 50 mph the steering wheel began shaking so violently that I feared I was about to be raptured by a UFO hovering overhead.  Needless to say, I returned to Sears and had them put the tire back on the rear axle where the defect wasn't as noticeable.  I would have had them put a new wheel on the car then and there, but after the strut work I was afraid it would cost me $500 for a new wheel.

After driving the car a thousand miles cross country to Texas, I finally figured I should get the wheel replaced.  The Tires Plus guy told me they didn't have any steel wheels that would work with my hubcaps, and that an aluminum wheel, at $78, would only be slightly more than a steel one, which would set me back $70.  Of course, I could always go for a full set of 4 rims, and then the car would look pretty sharp.

Unfortunately, I'm cheap, and I'm driving a 7 year old car with 120K miles on it, so I opted for just replacing the bad wheel.  As you can see by the picture though, I now have a pretty sharp looking rear quarter of a car on the driver's side.  I just hope I never have to park in a bad part of town and get my rim stolen.