March 14, 2014

How the Log paid three times to see one show

This happened in 1976, so excuse me if I have missed some salient details, but the moral of the story is, I know a guy who paid three times for one ticket to see one concert. The fact the show sucked is actually irrelevant.

Ron Hippert (aka “Log”, a nickname I can only guess the origins of)red-oak-log-2 had three tickets to see Aerosmith, Slade, and Mott the Hoople at the Providence Civic Center on the second night of a two night show. He bought his ticket (purchase #1) and sold us the others to go with him. We drove to Providence, parked the car, and went to the gate, only to be turned away because the tickets Log had bought (and also sold to us) were for the show the night before. The Box Office would not honor them for this second night’s show. How three supposedly bright college students failed to read the date on the ticket before actually traveling an hour or more to see a concert (whose only lasting effect on me would be to impair my hearing years later and offer this funny story), that is a question I cannot really answer other than to say “rock and roll”.

As disgruntled young fans might do, and before more strict latter day security was yet in place, we walked around the outside of the building and happened upon an enterprising individual who had opened a fire door and said “you want in? $10.00 each”. We all paid him the $10.00 (Log’s ticket purchase #2) and made our way inside the nearly empty theater, 60-90 minutes before the first act was to actually begin.

Log decided the best course of action was to hide in the men’s room with a large number of other scofflaws. Another friend and I decided it might be best to hide in plain sight, so we took seats in the right side loge near the stage next to two females in their late 20s dressed as gangsters. It turns out one of them claimed to be Joe Perry’s girlfriend… and perhaps she was, at least for that night, and they chatted with us for several minutes. We had high hopes for the post concert party invite that was never going to happen.

At this time the concourse doors burst open and 20 cops entered and immediately went around the building to all of the rest rooms, rousted out all the hoi polloi who had no tickets, and escorted them out of the building. We sat calmly with the lovely groupies and no one ever approached us to ask if we had tickets.

About 45 minutes later Log came over and sat down next to us. He had been tossed out, so he went back to the box office and bought a ticket (purchase #3) so he could get in… thus making Log the only person I know to pay three times for one ticket to one show.

For those of you who care to ask… the show was a loud mess. Aerosmith mailed it in, Slade was just noise, and Mott the Hoople… well, I remember one of the guys wore a funny hat and sang “all the way to Memphis”.

March 3, 2014

Tuukka and the Evil Plant Stand

This is the story about two naive puppy owners, the puppy they adore, and the evil plant stand. photo 1

Tuukka loves his crate because we put him in it as soon as we got him home the first day and never lock the crate door. He sleeps in it at night. It is his home… so when we leave the house for short periods, we put him in the crate with the door open, and close the bedroom door where the crate is located. The puppy has the entire room to roam… this is apparently not as good an idea as we originally thought.

Last Saturday we were out for two hours. When we got home we did not hear the barks or yelps we expected upon Tuukka’s hearing the back door open and close, or hearing our voices. When I went upstairs he was not just inside the bedroom door as usual… in fact, I did not see him at all in the room. As I walked around the bed I saw that the three plants in the plant stand were now on the floor surrounded by dirt. The plant stand was a few feet away, laying on it side. I figured the dog was under the bed… ashamed, or eating a pair of my shoes.

It turns out Tuukka was actually right there. He had somehow wedged his left rear leg in the iron swirl that is one of the feet of the plant stand. He and the plant stand were now… well… one. Kind of like a Vulcan mind meld. The amazing thing is this little dog was not yelping, or whining, or barking… he was just standing there completely still, realizing he could not move and that trying to do so HURT.

The next 10 minutes or so were interesting. I couldn’t get his leg out of the swirl without turning and twisting the entire awkward stand, and when I did move it he let me know that was painful. At this point I had no idea how injured he was. Or how long he had been in this condition (last five minutes? Whole two hours?) My wife Lisa was so upset she was visibly shaking and kept asking who we could call. We could not move him without hurting him, so taking him anywhere connected to a big stand was out of the question.

Enter the hacksaw.

At this point, since I was cradling the dog and trying not to move him while considering all options, I asked my wife to go downstairs to the workshop and get the vice grips and a hacksaw. She admitted she had no idea what either of those things looked like so the instructions were to bring back anything that looked like a saw or pliers. She returned with four options for each tool, and one of them was the hacksaw.

If you notice the picture, one leg is missing. After five minutes of slowly cutting the stand leg with one hand (while making sure to miss the puppy’s leg ), all the while cradling the puppy with the other hand, we could finally move him. It only took a moment to slowly spin the iron swirl off his leg just under the knee.

What we had now was a mildly traumatized puppy and a VERY traumatized Lisa (who simply adores this puppy to an extent not believed possible by the humans who have surrounded her for the past 12 years). We brought Tuukka some water and laid on the floor with him for 10 minutes or so. I kept gently squeezing his leg from hip to toe but he did not react in any way that showed pain.

We then had Lisa go downstairs and fill his food bowl so he could hear it. BOING. Up on all legs, right to the door, no limp, no problem. This dog, who gets love and attention 24/7, got even more that night.

He checked out fine today. He is doing much better than the plant stand , which has been exiled to the garage (Lisa would be happy if it never entered the house again) until I can get the leg welded. plantStand

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December 31, 2013

My First Cardinal Adventure

Image

The players:

Surrogate Father

The Nest

The Eggs

The Dog

The Squirrel

The Escape

 

The Nest

The Cardinal nest was not hard to find… just outside the bay windows over the kitchen sink, the windows looked out over a large holly bush just outside. The birds has built the nest in a crook of branches that was easy to see from the window but difficult to see when walking past the bush from the other side.,, Mom and Dad knew what they were doing when they built it.

 

The nest was an amazing construction project I had never taken notice of before. A combination of twigs thatched together perfectly so it held a circular form that  still stayed balanced in the crook of the branches regardless of wind, water, or how many occupants were in there.  What started out as small and cozy soon got rather crowded but the nest held up very well until… well, let’s get to that later.

 

I never noticed the nest in the construction phase… but one day when cleaning up around the sink I happened to look out the window and see three tiny eggs in a nest… and not soon afterwards the mama bird returned to the nest to warm them. Mama was a cardinal, but female cardinals do not portray the image of the bird we think of when that bird is mentioned. The female cardinal is a duller color than the male (who has the dramatic red feathers, black face, dark eyes and looks like it belongs on the front of the baseball uniform). The female has a little faded red, some orange, and if I had not seen Dad occasionally flying in to check on things I might not have known Mom was a cardinal at all.  In what foreshadowed my involvement to come, and love of baseball, I named the birds one day: the dad became Stan (after Stan Musial) and the mom was Gibby (after Bob Gibson).

 

The Eggs

 

It was mom’s diligence that was so amazing. She spent all day sitting on these eggs… occasionally flying off to get something to eat, but rarely leaving the eggs for very long before she returned. But when the weather started getting bad was when I not only started noticing Mom, but admiring her. The weather than spring had some periods of wet weather that lasted pretty long… 3-5 days of rain, all day, every day. Mom rarely left the eggs despite the weather, and watching her thru the window getting soaked for hours at a time left me with some serious respect infor how much the mama bird had to go through to get her eggs hatched.

 

It was around this time that my first idea to intercede happened… the poor mom was getting so wet (and it just seemed so miserable to have to endure days of rain) that I proposed to my neighbor Brian the idea that I put an umbrella  up ( stuck in the bushes  but high enough to allow mom and dad in and out ) to cover mom from the rain and save the nest from becoming waterlogged. I was told the umbrella might spook the birds and they may abandon the nest (there was no shortage of folks with Bird-Ideas) so I let the soaking continue. But every time I left the house I peeked in on Mom in the nest from the walkway, never getting too close but not exactly tip-toeing by either. After a day or two I found myself calling “hi Mom” to the nest each time I passed it.

 

A few days later I woke up and found the situation had changed. Mom no longer had three eggs but two  baby chicks and an egg in the nest. A day later there were three chicks and let the naming begin. We named the larger two Beanie and Cecil (named after an old TV cartoon sea serpent and his  companion) and the third, smaller bird Little Peep.

 

Mom’s duties changed a bit after this. She still kept the kids warm and safe most of the day, but she flew off for 5-10 minutes at a time and went for food or maybe just for exercise. Dad flew in with food, fed the boys, and flew out. What was remarkable was the way both birds visited the nest. Mom flew in from above from the front but left from the back towards our house. Dad approached from the Magnolia tree, watched the bush and nest for a minute, flew over to the Dogwood tree, scoped it out some more, then landed at the base of the bush and hopped up branch to branch to reach the nest. He  fed the boys, and then flew out from the back of the nest towards the house. Dad’s approaches were always the same, and once he hit the nest I had about 20 seconds to try to snap pictures of him with nothing blocking the view. I nearly always failed.

 

Watching the boys grow was like seeing a home movie of your own life sped up to fit the format. They start out with eyes closed and know nothing of the world,  outside of Mom keeping then warm, then Dad feeding them. They felt Dad arrive by the extra weight on the edge of the nest. As soon as he hopped on they all raised their necks and opened their mouths for a feeding. Just to test this one day I waited until Mom was away, put a finger’s pressure on the nest edge, and sure enough they all popped up, mouths agape, waiting for the worm treat.

 

I told most of the neighbors about the boys and watching them with any free time became my pastime.  Little Peep never seemed to get as much food as the other two and that was worrying me. The idea of feeding them worms on my own did  not escape me either… anything to help.

 

The Dog

 

The chicks still had their eyes closed and were spending a little more time every day alone in the nest while both mom and dad went out for food. On Memorial Day Weekend I had a small outdoor BBQ for some of the neighbors. After a couple of hours outside on the patio, only a few feet away from the nest, and all of us sneaking some peeks at them, I decided to play wiffleball with one of the neighbors in the driveway. It was during this game (everyone else was still on the patio) that I noticed my dog Jackson barking at the bush where the nest was. I yelled at him to be quiet, sure he was barking at a wiffleball that had landed nearby. A moment later he started climbing in the bush, then got on all fours and was swiping his paws at something UNDER the bush.

 

Why the red light did not go on sooner is not clear (or it was simply the slowing down of senses after a can of beer), but by the time I got over to the area I noticed that the dog was pawing at the baby birds… all three were on the ground under the bush next to what was left of their once sturdy nest.

 

The breath went out of me all at once. The birds, who could not see, and were totally helpless, fell roughly 3-4 feet to the ground and could not have had any idea what had just upended their entire being. After getting the dog back inside (and to this day I have non idea WHY the dog decided, after weeks of knowing the birds were there and completely ignoring them,  to take down the nest and either play with the birds or eat them depending on your point of view) I found all three birds were still alive but I had no idea if any of the three were injured. The nest was about ½ of the size it started out as and was no longer in the crook of the branches.

 

Part of bird lore that many espoused was ”don’t touch the birds with your hands or the parents will smell this and abandon them”… so I ran into the house and put on dish gloves (apparently cardinals and other birds have no issues with the smell of rubber) before carefully picking up the three birds, placing them back in their suddenly smaller home, and trying to figure out how to get the nest to STAY in the bush without causing it to tip over again, never mind stay secure while mom and dad were in it or on it. It became pretty clear pretty quick the nest was not going to stay in the bush on it’s own.

 

Solution #1:  I got a shoebox out of the closet, placed the nest in the box, and tried to set to box in the bush so it would be stable. The one good thing that happened was that mom came back to the nest to feed the guys and had no problem with the scent (or lack of) on them or the fact their organic home now said NIKE on the front and back. When she left a few minutes later I decided it was time for a better mousetrap. I took the box into the house with the birds in it (they were adorable) and considered how I could make a square box fit in a holly bush without falling out (or falling apart) and get the box back in the bush so Mom would not return and see them gone and possibly figure she had no reason to return again.

 

Solution #2 was to put was left of the nest in the shoebox, stuff the sides of the box with heavy paper that kept the nest centered in the box, then tie the box into the bush using heavy duty string. The resulting construction was not pretty,  but the box, while occasionally leaning a bit, would not fall out of the bush no matter how much we tried to get it to tip out. When Mom returned 30 minutes later and sat back in the nest everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but she left soon afterwards. A day later I went out with a knife and cut drainage holes in the bottom of the box so the cardboard would not rot and fall out causing another mini-drama.

 

In bed that night I remember crying like a baby over their plight… to be that helpless, blind, and totally dependent on Mom and Dad and then end up four feet below on the ground with no idea of what happened or why… it just seemed the cruelest thing imaginable. As much I love Jackson, I had a hard time looking at him the same way for a week or so.

 

The following morning was going to be a watershed moment; we needed to see if the birds were still alive from the fall, if the parents were sticking with them, and if the nest held up overnight and was something the parents could deal with.  I really could not wait, so I got up at 2AM, took a flashlight and quickly flashed it at the nest through the kitchen window. I was worried I would scare mom if she was there, but I had to know if she had come back to keep them warm through the night. The options if she did not return were not pleasant.

 

I took the flashlight, climbed atop the sink, and scanned the bush from left to right. When I thought I saw a glint of a flash back from an eyeball I aimed the light directly at where I thought the nest was. Mom was back! The moment was magical and I called my wife  down to show her. Everything was going to be OK.

 

Or so I thought. Monday morning we noticed only two baby birds in the nest. There was no sign of Little Peep.  The last thing I wanted to do was look around the  bush for a tiny body, but I did, and could not find one.  Little Peep was not in the nest and it appears that Mom or Dad must have taken Little Peep from the nest that night and left him somewhere to die.

 

Over the next several days Beanie and Cecil grew. They grew a lot. They grew to a point the two of them filled the small nest completely. Then their eyes opened. And they began getting feathers… and through it all they ate and ate and ate and when not eating they slept or cried for more food. Mom was at the nest less and less and Dad kept dropping in more and more (always scoping out the area from two trees, then climbing up the bush from the ground) to feed the guys. By the end of the week both parents were pulling molting feathers from the chicks after the feeding  and flying off with them (I surmised that they did not want to leave evidence of their existence by dropping them on the ground under the bush).

 

Since it was an unusually wet May when we were expecting more rain for a few days, and since I had a bond with the boys and with the parents, I covered the nest area with more holly branches to try to keep them dry so they would not be soaked. Beanie, then Cecil, would sometimes stretch up a bit out of the nest, but neither ever so much as stood up.

 

The Squirrel

 

The following Monday morning I was in the kitchen and staring at the nest as I did dozens of times a day to see the boys. The bush started shaking a bit, which usually indicates Dad is about to pop up into view with a small green worm for breakfast. Only this time I did not Dad, but a squirrel, who began to climb into the shoebox.

 

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE YOU FUCKING SQUIRREL” (or words to that effect).  I leaped at the window, pounded on it, screaming all the time at the squirrel to get lost. It did, but the secret hiding place was secret no more.

 

I spent the next four days on Squirrel Watch. I sat outside next to the bush for most of the daylight hours with a cell phone in one hand and club in the other. Since the rats with tails are most active in the early AM that was when I needed to be the most vigilant, but how can you watch the nest full time? What if one of the little bastards went to a nocturnal attack plan? I needed information fast.

 

Step one: THE INTERNET. I did searches on Cardinals, squirrels, and anything in between. Of course one site confirmed that in England squirrels will attack and eat baby birds and bird eggs. Wonderful. An American Squirrel would probably eat the birds and torch the nest.

 

Step Two: Professional help. I called any agency I could think of from the ASPCA to Mass Audubon to ask 1) Is there anything that will deter squirrels from an area 2) Can I bring the birds inside until they are ready to fly? 3) Can I do anything to keep them from being an entrée for an acorn pest. What I was told actually just made me angry; “this is nature… do not mess with it”.  There was NO WAY these birds were going to be a squirrel lunch if  had anything to say about it.  Not on my watch.

 

One web site mentioned that squirrels could be deterred from an attic with mothballs, so I bought a bag of them and placed them under the bush in the hope it would repel Rocky and his pals. The smell thru the kitchen window made me sick, but it may have helped. Another thought was if the little buggers have enough to eat they will not go after the boys, so I filled the bird feeders every morning and let the long tailed rats dine on bird seed. I ran the risk of attracting more squirrels to the area, but what else was there to do?

 

The Escape

The immediate squirrel threat was past but the issue not yet over when everything changed one Thursday around 4 PM. I had turned to glance out the window at the boys for the umpteenth time (and check for the evil squirrels) when I noticed both Mom and Dad at the side of the nest being, well, noisy. They were both chirping at Cecil  incessantly. I grapped my cell phone, which had a terrible little digital camera and video making capabilities, and slowly opened the window so I could get a clear shot of what I thought might be happening. Then Cecil  hopped up on the edge of the shoebox (the first time he ever had done so) and with mom and dad chirping at him non-stop he hopped off the box edge to a branch six inches away. He wavered but did not fall.

 

Now the chirping increased and after 5- 10 seconds (and he never looked back at the folks) he moved his wings once, pushed down off the branch, and flew for time first time in his young life…  three seconds later he was in the branch of the Dogwood tree about five yards away and looked quite pleased with himself, if somewhat tired as he stayed there for the next 10 minutes.

 

The short cell phone video captured his take off but not the flight or landing.

 

Now it was Beanie’ s turn to try out his wings. He did not get out of the nest for another several minutes (and at one point it seemed like he was not going to come out of there). He flew off to the fence that separates the yard from the driveway, then flew across the driveway to a large four foot hedge. He hit the hedge about a food too low but hung on to the branch and popped up to the top. Full of over confidence he then flew straight into the garage door window before heading back to the fence, where he stayed for the next 15 minutes, contemplating all he had just done.

 

I tried to follow the boys as they hopped around from tree to tree in my neighbor’s yard and took photos of them as they perched in branches there. I was calling everyone I knew to tell them what had just taken place and must have sounded like an excited 8 year old, but this was something I was truly seeing for the first time.

 

Where are they now? Neighbor Brian says he sees young full colored cardinals his yard all the time. I saw a beautiful young male and female in the Magnolia tree just yesterday and immediately assumed they could be Beanie and Cecil (Beanie is an androgynous sounding name, don’t you think?). What I want is for them both to come back, land in the holly bush, tap on the kitchen window glass and let me know everything turned out OK.

 EmptyNest

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 23, 2013

Name your own profit margin

I never tire of telling the story when Priceline charged me $5.00 over the walk in rate for a hotel room… but it turns out this is not an isolated incident.

I was in need of a hotel room in New Jersey and used my phone app for “Frugal Hotel Finder” to get nearby choices. Expedia and Booking.com showed me a Best Western across the street for $99.00 a night, $113.00 with tax, for a king size bed non smoking. Both said there was “Only one room left”, which was odd, because I had driven past the place 30 minutes before and the lot was empty.

I used Expedia to book the room for the $113.00, but the app would not finish the process and confirm the reservation. So unsure of the status, I drove over and asked the desk clerk if she had a reservation for me from Expedia. She said she did not, but called Expedia to double check so I would not be charged twice if I bought the room directly at the desk. The price, she stated was “$85.00 per night, but I do not know what Expedia was charging”.

SO… Expedia added $14.00 to the room charge for the privilege of booking the room, putting my credit card info input through my cell phone, and then not actually booking the room. I have never seen their business plan, but somehow I think adding a fee to the existing hotel room rate and telling people it is an off price deal was one that would not get excite investors.

I am done with them.

August 29, 2013

Driving through the past

Everyone remembers their first kiss, their first lover, and first car. As for cars, I have made it a point to try to remember them all… some fondly, others not so much.

I bought a 1966 Ford Mustang hardtop (dark blue, 200 cubic inch six cylinder manual with 50,000 miles on it) for $300.00 when I was in high school. Bucket seats and a three speed floor mounted shift that moved two feet with each shift and would rattle when resting in third gear; I had to put a scarf around the shift and tuck it in between the seats to stop the noise. The car was a classic even at 7 years old. What I remember most about it is not that I drove it 30,000 more miles before I sold it to my brother, or that it made a trip down to Daytona and back with four people in it (a trip I recommend to no one in that car, especially if you had to sit in back), but that one day the FBI came to the door and said my car was hot. Man flashed a badge and said it was stolen in South Carolina a few years before and if the owner wanted it back, the car was to be returned. I could sue the person I bought it from, and they could sue the person they bought it from, and so on and so on. Turns out the distance from here to there to get back a 66 Mustang was more than the owner could afford.

After dumping the Mustang on my little brother I bought a 1968 Pontiac Tempest coupe (Green, black vinyl top, automatic) that I adored until the transmission failed about 6 months later. Bought a junkyard transmission for $100.00 and put it in with a friends help on my garage floor. Worked for about a month…

While the Tempest was in it’s final days I came across a 1972 Toyota Carina (the Cadillac of Corollas) in a friends yard. Seemed it would not go in reverse, so I bought it for $100.00, bought a used tranny for $75.00, and installed it. This car is memorable for two things. First thing is, in a moment of youthful “I can do anything for almost nothing” I actually cut a hole in the roof and installed a Dodge Panel Van window as a sunroof. Yes, it leaked water, snow, and anything else into the car onto my head, made security a thing of the past, and made me the butt of sunroof jokes to this very day.

The second memory is that this is the car I was driving when I got a job as a new car salesman at a Ford dealership. One day the right brake caliper failed and as I was too poor to replace it, I just kept buying and adding brake fluid daily and using the emergency brake to help slow the vehicle. When few wanted to buy a new car from me I assumed it was because they must have seen what was I was driving.

The Toyota lived through a timing belt and welding the rear seats back to the body’s rusting frame, but could not hold compression through the cold winter months… when I actually took to placing a blanket over the engine at night to help keep it warm.

As the Toyota was breathing it’s last I happened upon a friend of a friend who had bought a new 1980 Mazda GLC Sport and after three years wanted to move on to another car. This was a five speed with a teak dash, orange two toned seats, and would actually pass inspection without going to a “friendly” garage and greasing a palm or two. Outside of a quirk that the car would not start or run in the rain very well, I held onto this one for seven years.

There are cars that you sometimes just HAVE to own. Sometime in the early 80s I decided I had to have a Toyota Land Cruiser… after seeing lots of them I bought the most rusty, foulest looking, worst running POS I could find. Drove it perhaps six times in winter storms. Found someone as stupid as me to take it off my hands a year later.

Around 1984 I decided I HAD TO HAVE an MGB… so I found a 73 convertible for $1200.00 from a guy who had just had brain surgery but still had the faculties to know a sucker when he met one, and without checking out anything, I bought it. I paid a local MG mechanic enough to buy a second house to get it running. Drove this British Racing Green (yellow interior) car back and forth from Worcester to Long Island dozens of times, and once drove it under the influence of some malt beverages through Central Park NY at 3:00 AM with two other people in it (it is a two seater). The car is still alive somewhere in Rhode Island after I got so bored with it I beached it for three years in my parent’s yard, then sold it for $400.00
to a guy who rebuilt it completely in a month.

There are always brief dalliances that just go wrong. I still owned the MG and the Mazda, but neither was a good winter car by that point, so I bought one of my employees’ Chevrolet Impala. I liked it because the replacement radio offered a warm green glow, the car smelled of his Obsession cologne and he picked up a lot of women in it. I bought the car and the cologne. I soon discovered it was him, not the cologne, and not the car, that got the girls. Water pump failed about a month later on the Long Island Expressway. I will remember this car only because I once pulled over to let it cool after it overheated, only to have a passing care on the LIE fire a paintball gun at me and steaming car. Only the car was hit.

In 1986 I bought my first new car. A Mitsubishi Montero SUV. Please stop laughing.
The first time I tried to change the oil on it I mistakenly drained the front crankcase of grease (sure was way too clear for used oil… but that did not stop me). Only realized the mistake when the wife had the front axle seize on her during a storm. Dealership picked up the cost and figured it must have come from the factory like that. Wife got the Montero when we split, then after some thought, gave it back to me since I had actually paid for it when new. Drove it for a bit, then sold it in 1990 to some Haitians who said they were floating it back the main island for use there. Since it would be hard to drive back and demand a refund from there, I gave them a nice cash deal.

1989 was the year I had to have a pickup truck, so I bought a friends Toyota Turbo pickup (red five speed manual) and this thing was faster than any car I ever owned. Decided pretty quickly I was not a pickup truck kind of guy. Sold it a year later for what I bought it for.

1991 was the year it all turned around. I bought a 1988 Saab 900 S with 90,000 miles on it for $6000.00 (18K new). Drove this car until 1999 and put 180K on it for my $6K cost, and sold it to a friend who drove it from 270K to over 300K. He cannibalized the tranny and combined it with two other Saabs to create one “Frankensaab” car that is still running.

Remember the movie The Money Pit? Automotively speaking, that is the Saab 9000. I sold the 900 S because I HAD TO HAVE a Saab 9000 automatic. Saw a car I liked on a Boston street, left the owner a note that said if they were selling I was buying, and a week later it was (much too easily) mine for $16,000. If only the note had blown off the windshield. The car blew a fuel pump, water pump, ignition system, and then the tranny went in 50K miles, then the replacement tranny failed after a new radiator blew up and spilled all the transmission fluid that cooled there under antifreeze section. 1-877-Karsforkids.

Which actually brings us up to date. Needing a car after the 9000 was given up for nothing, I did a little research and bought a new 2004 Acura TSX for $27K. I wanted the new TL, but settled for the TSX automatic. 210,000 miles, one tune-up, four sets of tires, and one set of brakes and rotors later, it is still sitting in the garage raring to go anywhere at any time.

May 21, 2013

How my wife was directly responsible for the Bruins winning game 7 vs Toronto

For the past couple of years, every Sunday night I play ice hockey, which is a great time for the skate, except I miss watching new episodes of Nurse Jackie and Mad Men with my wife. These are a couple of the too few shows on TV we watch together and I consider that time very important… just not more important than my Sunday night skate. So we have agreed to DVR the shows on Sunday and make Monday our TV watching night.

A wrinkle to our well thought out plan happened on Monday May 13th. I mentioned that the Bruins were playing game 7 against the Leafs at 7 PM and it would conflict with our usual TV plans. She graciously agreed to letting the night begin with me watching hockey, but after the 1-1 first period I called her in and started Nurse Jackie and said we could flip back to the hockey game after the 30 minute show was done. As soon as the Showtime show ended I switched back, only to watch Toronto go up 2-1. My wife said “I am jinxing them by watching”. I told her that was not the case and that the problem was the Bruins were standing around and not keeping their feet moving, but just to be safe I turned off the game and started watching Mad Men with her.

At some point during Don’s affair with the doctor’s wife I heard my phone give me a score alert or two. When I checked, the news was a grim 4-1 Toronto lead half way through the third period. I told her we would finish Mad Men rather than watch the Bruins lose.

Here is where she won the game for the Bruins. As Mad Men ended I flipped back to the hockey game to find what had been a 4-2 game had become more exciting after Bruins pulled the goalie and scored with 1:22 left to make it 4-3. My wife immediately leaped off the sofa and said “If I watch this they will lose… I will jinx it!!!” and ran upstairs, never to venture back down for the evening.

There she remained… (likely watching reruns of Everyone Loves Raymond) as the Bruins tied it with 51 seconds left and then won it in overtime. Bruins fans everywhere owe her a word of thanks.

Addenum: she was not watching the Stanley Cup Final game 6 when the Bruins choked like Mama Cass on a ham sandwich… so this jinx thing is likely all in her head.

May 16, 2013

Iceland and me

While any vacationer with some common sense is sunning themselves on an island in the middle of February, I took a trip (under the guise of a hockey tournament) to Iceland. Big_waterfall_3

I will not attempt to repeat what Wikipedia will tell you… but you have to see this place to believe it. Much of the landscape is other worldly; few trees, lava rock everywhere, shifting tectonic plates… and the famous Blue Lagoon. Despite being 22 degrees further north, the weather in Reykjavik was better than it was in Boston both before I left and after I returned.

Sleep is the most precious commodity in Iceland. The bars close at 5 AM and most of the locals come out at 2:30 after drinking at home for a few hours (a Guinness draft is $8.00 plus). At 3:00 AM there are lines out the door of any pub with entertainment (or not). There are 600 policemen in the entire country policing some 300,000 total inhabitants, roughly half of those in the immediate Reykjavik area.

Reykjavik reminded me of the nicest sections of South Portland Maine, but with a mountain view included at no extra cost. While nothing in Iceland is inexpensive (as any island, everything must be shipped or flown in), everything in Iceland is worth seeing or experiencing at least once.

March 7, 2013

The Customer Service Professional… what?

On Tuesday of this week I decided to use some free time for home repair projects. A couple of years ago we replaced both a bathroom and kitchen faucet with lovely to look at Home Depot products that cost much more for a plumber to install than the units themselves cost. It did not take long for one Pegasus faucet plastic soap pump dispenser to fail and a fancy Delta kitchen faucet to leak. To add to the water issue based misery, a Cuisinart coffee grinder/maker began leaking water when pre-set overnight, so we stopped using that feature and made the coffee fresh each morning. It still leaked.

Call #1 was to Pegasus, who could not have been more cordial. When I could not identify the model of the faucet, they asked me to email a photo, recognized the item while still on the phone, and after searching their database for the part (out of stock) decided just to send me a new soap dispenser to match what I had. No question was ever asked when or where it was purchased. When I mentioned I had another issue with a Delta faucet from Home Depot she said Delta could handle that directly and connected me with them on the same call.

Delta was as customer service oriented as Pegasus (a brand name of Home Depot). I identified the faucet and explained there was a leak and asked if there was a fix. Delta never asked where or when I bought the product… they identified a cartridge replacement that would fix it, assured me I would not need a plumber to install it, and had it sent out in the mail the same day.

Both of these calls took a total of 15 minutes and I was knocked out by how helpful both reps were.

Flush with the success of this I called Cuisinart and very politely explained the leaking coffee maker situation. I had looked on line and leaks in these machines were quite common with various solutions suggested. So I asked the male customer service professional for some help for a fix. All Cuisinart wanted to know was the serial number, and once given the helpful rep explained “that is unit is over four years old and the warranty is three years… we do not do repairs, we just replace units, so I cannot replace this one as it out of warranty”.

Translation (as if one is needed): “This is a cheap product made in China, it made it through the short period we expected it to before failing, go buy another one”. No matter how I tried to explain to the rep how two other companies had just handled a similar problem, and if the life span of their products is this short that I would never buy another Cuisinart product ever again, the “customer service” professional was unmoved.

I then sent them an email comparing their service with the two other companies; I asked only for some solutions to repair the unit I had (which cost the same as each of the two faucets did) and to offer me something to keep me buying Cuisinart products. The next day response can be broken down to “sorry, you are out of warranty”.

Three companies. Two completely different results. Pegasus and Delta actually “wowed” me with their customer service. Cuisinart was a lot like dealing with US Air (see the blog piece “US Air’s attempt to End Bankruptcy, $419.80 at a time”).

June 19, 2012

US Air’s attempt to end Bankruptcy, $419.80 at a time.

When is a refundable airline ticket not refundable? I am not sure how many answers there are for this question in reality, but one answer is when purchased through US Air.

At 6:30 PM on May 15th I bought a refundable ticket for the 8:00 Boston-La Guardia shuttle one way… for the low, low price of only $419.80. Before the 8:00 PM flight left Logan I decided not to take the trip and left the gate at the security area. I looked to refund my ticket at the counter, but by 8:00 the counter was closed and there were no US Air employees to be found. So I went on line that evening and requested the refund on the website. This is where the story should end.

On June 8th I received an email from US Air Refunds denying me the credit due, claiming that I took the flight in question. Since I was holding the E-ticket and the actual unused boarding pass in my hands at the time I got the email I was pretty sure they were wrong. Contacting an airline is like trying to reach the White House to leave the latest knock-knock joke with the VP. The US Air website actually lists a phone number for refunds, but the 800 number connects you to sales. The guy who answered the phone actually said “how may I have the luxury of serving you today?” in a tone that was dripping false sincerity.

When told of my plight he poorly and (as I eventually learned) incorrectly explained US Air had no record at all of my purchase of the ticket and no record of me in the system at all, so he could not issue a credit. The confirmation code identifying my ticket was apparently already in re-use for another customer for a flight two weeks in the future.

I then went to Logan Airport (always a pleasant little drive with traffic, a $3.50 tunnel toll and $9.00 parking fee) and spoke with the shift supervisor at the US Air counter. Holding my unused boarding pass, the manager explained that US Air keeps their records for about two days before they archive them to an area she could not access, and thus she could not issue a refund for a charge since they had no record of it in their system. She also said the refund should be requested within two hours of the flight time, which is an interesting policy to have since it is not stated anywhere on the ticket, mentioned at the time of purchase, and does not take into account the counter is closed nearly 50% of the time.

With nowhere to turn, I went back to the people at US Air refunds and sent them a copy of the unused boarding pass. They said the scanners at the gate no longer keep the boarding pass and they give it back to flyers (since when?) and that my pass had been scanned into the system to show I had boarded, and that someone was sitting in my assigned seat (shocker! someone moving to an open seat), and that the manifest did not show a missing passenger (shocker deux; an incorrect count). They have provided me with no proof from the records that my boarding pass was scanned at the gate. If there is a security camera at the gate (which would prove I did not board) they are not admitting it’s existence.

So it is apparently up to me to prove to them I was not on the flight rather than the other way around. I have presented them what I think is a pretty good case.

1) What idiot buys a $420.00 refundable one way ticket at the airport 90 minutes before the flight unless they were never planning on using the ticket?

2) I have a history of buying this ticket nearly once a month for the past two years and having it refunded every time. US Air admits the records indicate that I do this. They asked why, but I told them the answer is not pertinent to the issue. And it is not…

3) I have a credit card receipt from a Logan restaurant with me cashing out at 8:06 PM.

4) I have a credit card receipt from Logan parking showing me using my credit card to pay my parking ticket and leave the airport in Boston at 8:28 PM (remember the flight left at 8:00).

5) I have cell phone records showing me making a call on my cell at 8:20 PM on the evening in question. The calls can be traced by GPS to their origin. This will show they were not made from an airline somewhere over Connecticut.

6) My refund request, made on line, was likely made while the plane was still in the air, and originated from my home computer. US Air could verify this.

US Air’s reaction from their refund rep to all of this: “I will pass the information on to customer relations and someone will get back to you. As far as the refund department is concerned, we have no reason to refund the ticket”.

The promised call from Customer Service did not come on Tuesday as promised, or on Wednesday, and on Thursday I called again and was told they will contact me when they are through “reviewing” the documents. There is no way for me to contact customer relations by phone. You have to email them begging for a phone call, then watch your hair grow.

Late Friday I got a phone call from Mark Wells in Customer Relations, who admitted there were some “discrepancies” in their records, and he would be reviewing them over the weekend and would call me on Monday. True to form, Mark failed to call and instead emailed me late Monday that the refund request would be re-entered. No phone call. No apology. No admittance of error on their part. This turned out to be not all that surprising, because five days later Deana Worth, the “lead” representative for customer service emailed that they were still denying the refund and I should take up the issue with the Refund Department (who had twice denied the claim and told me only Customer Relations could only help me now). Catch 22. Then it came to me as clear as it did to Del Griffith: “While you were calling the airlines, I was calling the Brentwood Inn”. I was wasting my time trying get Discover or US Air to see reason and respond to it… so I called the FAA. After all, if US Air has no idea who is actually on their flights it is a serious security issue for everyone.

The US Department of Transportation’s Jessica Ilich returned my phone call in an hour, took all my info and proof via email, and said they tend to get quicker results than most. Six days later US Air emailed yet again (another faceless name who had not been involved before) and said the refund was not only approved but the money was already credited to my Discover account.

No apology from US Air. No admittance of any error. Nothing done in any manner to smooth over taking a simple refund procedure and turning it into a 7 week nightmare. This airline cannot go out of business soon enough for me.

May 29, 2012

Tired of Tires

And now a few hundred words on NTB (National Tire and Battery) in Waltham, who have managed to expand the variety of car services they offer but have failed to build a motel on site, as it now takes an overnight stay to get your car back for even the most simple procedures.

I made a 11 AM appointment on a Monday to have an oil change and tire rotation for the very low price of $21.00… which is a nice deal compared to a Valvoline, who charges a minimum of $34.00 with a coupon for an oil change… but more on them a little later.

I arrived at 10:50 AM, the store was empty, and the service guy asked if I wanted a “free alignment check while we were at it?” (Sure). Did I want synthetic oil as it was also on sale? (No, thanks). I took a seat in the lounge, where there is a TV, bad coffee, several recent car magazines and bathrooms. After reading every magazine on two end tables, watching more morning TV than I can hold down, and four trips to the bathroom, I asked where my car was, as it had been an hour already. The NTB guy then brought out my engine air filter ($24.00 please) and cabin air filter ($43.00 please) and explained how they needed to be changed. Reminding them that I had asked for a tire rotation and oil change only I declined the service and returned to the lounge.

Crawling out of my skin at 12:22, 90 minutes after I had brought in the car, I asked again where it was. The service guy said “let me go check” and brought it out, handing me a receipt for the quoted price with a listing of “recommended” services required. One of these was for four new struts. When I asked if they were leaking or showing signs of wear he said “no…” and explained it was because the car had so many miles on it. Carrying this logic forward I should likely replace every moving part on the car. What the billing did not have on it was the free review of the front wheel alignment they suggested I get. When asked why he said “you were in a hurry for the car, so we did not do it”. Apparently not waiting to wait more than 90 minutes for an oil change and tire rotation put me in the “pushy customer” category.

The next day this pushy customer went to the NTB website area for feedback and gave them the above written story. The next day the manager from NTB Waltham called me and apologized for the service time, explaining they were busy (they were not), the car had to be moved from one lift to another for the alignment check (something they did NOT do), and he offered a free oil change at another date.

This guy (his name was Bob) was trying to do the right thing without actually admitting there was is no reason a 15 minute procedure should ever take 90 minutes without gross incompetence being involved. He said he had been the new manager of the store for a couple of weeks and this was not how they usually worked.

Now I have a long memory. I actually bought the tires on this car from NTB 18 months ago… and have done business here off and on for years (shame on me). The service here is almost consistently bad. Not more than three years ago they were so short staffed on a day I was there, I ended up answering the NTB phones for them as no employee was picking them up. I was losing my sanity listening to them constantly ringing until the potential customers hung up, only to immediately call back again. I took down customer names and numbers and told them someone would get right back to them. At somewhere past the three hour mark I can recall calling the NTB main office and demanding the cell phone number of the regional manager for this location, so I could ask him from the desk of the unit what kind of operation they were running. The secretary would not release his cell phone number and gave me only his email address even when I explained I was answering their phones for them.

I am sure an NTB is very much like a restaurant. When you open it for the first time you either do it right and runs right forever, or it opens badly and never runs well. This one, to my experience, has never run well. It likely never will either.

I ended up telling Bob I would not accept a free oil change until we both knew when I went back there it would not be a bad experience. Unless Bob is planning to live there 24/7 for the next six months, and is not part of the problem himself, go elsewhere.

This leads us to Valvoline…

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