Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Prequel...

It was a Thursday, April the 21st, we were working the day shift out of robbery, when a call came in, My partner, Bill Gannon and I...

Oh, sorry, just channeling Joe Friday for a moment.

Anyway, it was a Thursday, April the 21st, to be exact, when we left work at 3:00 p.m. to head south for vacation. I picked up Subway from the shop across the street from Mrs North's office, then slid into the passenger seat and we were off! I then informed Mrs North that when I had my leave sheet signed this morning for the early out, it came up that my supervisor did not have any notice on her calendar of my being off the next day nor the following week! I grabbed the sheets showing that I had requested the time off back in January, and handed them to her. She promptly handed them right back and asked where her signature was.

Uh oh.

As she is a very nice boss, she said I could have the time off. I said thanks, and didn't say I was leaving anyway, and that she could track me down in another state if she so desired.

That swift getaway did not go as planned, however.

The eastbound freeway was a mess even downtown. Mrs North said she nearly went down Third St to 71 to 104 and across to 33, and now wished she had. We exited at 18th (locked the doors) and went south to Livingston, hanging a Ralph, followed by a Louie at Ann St, intending to take it until we saw a light that would get us out onto Parsons. Many streets later we found one, and zipped along Parsons until we hit the turnoff for 104, then to 33, down to the Ohio River and on into Ravenswood WV, a trip of about two hours or a bit more.

Under normal conditions.

We rolled along 33, observing as we did the extensive overflow of the banks of the Hocking River as a result of the recent torrential rains in the area. Although no water was on the roadway, drivers seemed to drive as if they were expecting it to be flooded at any second, until we came to Nelsonville. The town of Nelsonville is known for being the (former) manufacturing home of Rocky Boots and Shoes, and still maintains an outlet there, as well as being the childhood home of actress/model Sarah Jessica Parker, who is considered by some to be an attractive woman. If I preferred horse-faced women, then, yes, I might be inclined to agree, but somehow I doubt it. Actually, Nelsonville exists for one single reason: to bottleneck traffic between Logan and Athens in the hopes of draining off money from people passing through the town on their way to anywhere else. And on this day, people were crawling through town, in a traffic sense, for no reason that ever became evident. Perhaps the town council had decreed that to be the day all the traffic lights were to be deliberately out of sequence, out of spite, as there are once again big plans to make a bypass around Nelsonville. It will not happen for a number of years, if at all, but maybe the Village Elders just wanted to vent their collective spleens ahead of time. And if any place deserves to be bypassed, Nelsonville is surely in the running.

After we managed to waste precious fuel dawdling in N-ville, we decided to fill up the tank in Athens, home of The Harvard on the Hocking(c), an actual phrase used in the letter of acceptance I received from that fine institution of higher learning known as Ohio University, almost 40 years ago. When we finally located a gas station, the lines were 4 deep at each pump, as I suspect everyone was in the same pickle as we were: low gas because of Nelsonville. We headed back toward 33, encountering heavy lines of still-dawdling motorists who seemed to have no clue as to how to find a route out of Athens, it having more than one way in and one way out, unlike the town to the immediate North.

By now we were at least an hour behind schedule, and while I attempted to make up the time, I only slightly succeeded, as we could not avoid the nightmare of the WV turnpike. I am convinced that people who found themselves living in WV decided to put winding roads and mountains in the way of drivers from other states simply to force them to pay for the privilege of visiting their fair state (cough). Otherwise, one could drive through WV in about 45 minutes and be none the poorer. WV is sorta like Nelsonville on steroids.

We finally made it to our stopping point at Wytheville VA for the night without further ado.

(insert previous blogpost here)

And, a Sequel...

We woke up the next morning with sniffles and coughing, likely from the fan in the room's vent running all night. No temperature was right, no fan setting was right, and shutting it off made it too stuffy.

I managed to get over the worst of mine after a couple days. Mrs North continued to hack and cough until she had had enough, so off we went to the Doctor's Care Clinic in North Myrtle Beach, arriving at 8:45 this morning. They accept walk-in patients and are covered under our insurance plan, fortunately.

We left there at Noon with a diagnosis of bronchitis for the Mrs.

I had such a lovely time whilst waiting that I read over half of the book I had started when we sat down in the waiting room. I was only somewhat-expecting to finish it before she came back out after being seen.

And it is only Tuesday of vacation week!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mr & Mrs North Go To Dinner

So, there we were, on a Saturday afternoon in the quiet little town of Ocean Isle Beach NC, a place we have visited several times before, having enjoyed our stays. We decided to beat the madding crowds to dinner, so we set out about 4:15 for the nearby town of Shallotte, home to our destination, Jerome's Steakhouse. A trip of perhaps 10-15 minutes on most days.

Not today. (Yesterday, actually.)

First, the engine died as we were backing out of our parking spot. Not good. After several attempts to re-start the vehicle, I succeeded, only to have the check engine light stay on. Never a good sign.

Well, we believe we saw a Firestone in Shallotte as we passed through on Friday, so we decided to go there first. Our preferred Mr Fix-It, Johnny Lad, was back home, so that was not an option. As we drove toward Shallotte, the car decided to have a little fun with us, balking and surging ay a whim, and keeping the accelerator floored got us up to a max of 40 mph. We had to use our emergency flashers to let other drivers know we were not a pair of 83-year-old's who could barely see over the steering wheel on our monthly big night out on the town. As we finally neared Shallotte, I had to brake to take a corner whose max safe speed is 15 mph. Our lovely Hyundai Sonata, an otherwise reliable car, decided it was time to surge and provide more power as we rounded the curve. Much fun. We made it to the main drag and headed toward where we believed the Firestone was located. Nope, wrong direction, apparently. Gingerly reversing course in a parking lot, we headed back the way we came, but again did not see the Firestone. It was now after 5:00, and it being (1) a Saturday evening, (2) a holiday weekend, and (3) a small town in NC , some of whose population may have been biased against Yankee flatland tourists invading their piece of the South, our options were very limited. I pulled into a grocery store lot, left the car running, and inquired as to the whereabouts of the local Firestone. The young lady behind the office counter smiled and said, "I've never heard of a Firestone." So much for our collective memories.

She did point out the Advance Auto about 200 yards away, and thinking this was probably the best we could do, headed there.

Inside, I told our tale of woe to Big Rick, who was indeed a big guy, and whose name, Big Rick, was stitched onto his Advance Auto shirt. H


...to continue...

(h)e ran a diagnostic with a hand-held machine, and gave out some mumbo-jumbo (to my ears) about P1 and P0 codes, and said a crankshaft angle sensor was needed. (Never heard of that one before.) They had one in stock ($50-$80 depending on the manufacturer) but was not allowed to install it, for liability reasons. We asked about reliable, honest mechanics, and he recommended two, Jim's Auto Service and Big H, who, he said, was a really big guy, but he did have a mobile service for touristas such as ourselves. Jim is a Master Mechanic and a workaholic and was probably still in his shop nearby. We tried him first, but only got his answering machine. Big Rick said if we swung by and saw a big rig out front, it meant Jim was there, even after hours.

Uhh...Big Rick, the car isn't safe to drive, remember?

So, we tried Big H with equal success.

So, we placed a call to AAA and were told a wait for 45-50 minutes was expected. Great.

I had visions of an old, balding, very overweight good ole boy reeking of cigarette smoke and probably with a wad of chaw in his cheek, and a continuous loop of Dueling Banjos being played on an 8-track player. Fifty minutes later, our help arrived for our tow. Despite the large metal studs in each earlobe, he was pleasant, polite, and did not reek of smoke, although he did light one up later when unloading our car. The inside of his truck was as clean as a tow truck ever can be, given the nature of the beast.

We had called our Mr Fix-It, Johnny Lad, who was able to tell us the nearest Firestone was in Wilmington (NC, not DE), and that he had talked to Chris about the problems we were having. Chris' shop closed at 6:00 that evening; it was almost 6:30 before we got on the road to Wilmington.

40 miles away.

In the meantime we contacted both Robert T's Beloved and Handsome Son to check for a phone number for Enterprise Rent-a-Car at the Wilmington Airport, which we were told was the only one still open. When we called, they were closing in 15 minutes. Great.

Mr Enterprise said to call Alamo/National, their sister companies, who actually were located at the airport. (Why not brother companies?) We did, and were told cars were available until around midnight, when the last flight came in.

We had also gotten three phone numbers for cab companies for use after we dropped off our car. Fortunately, our driver took pity on the out-of-towners and said he would swing by the airport after he cleared the call, so we left him a big tip for his efforts.

We did end up with a nice new black Dodge Avenger, which was a very nice riding vehicle. The drawback: rental charges and repair bills that were not planned on.

Suffice it to say, we returned back to OIB about 9:00 p.m., and our dinner, such as it was, consisted of leftover cheese pizza from Joey O's, pbj on toast for me, and a toasted blueberry bagel for Mrs North.

A far cry from the steak I was going to get at Jerome's.

The hand-held gizmo at Advance diagnosed the correct problem, according to Firestone, and after our We Know Johnny Lad Discount, we were "only" out $213 for the repair. Better than I expected, overall.

Perhaps we had "take pity on these tourists" stamped on our foreheads for all to see.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get in and drive, that's all

As the world turns, new technology emerges and then becomes wrapped up in everyday life. We use these technologies so extensively they almost disappear in front of our eyes even though we see them every day. It is disconcerting however how little the users of these technologies actually know how to work them.

I have determined that the people who use home/personal computers know as much about them as they know about their automobiles. And to be honest, that ain't much. Think about what most of us actually use them for. What do we know? We know how to turn them on. We know how to grab the mouse and keyboard. We can navigate to the internet and click on links. We know how to use the software for writing letters and printing photographs. We use a little window (no pun intended) of the machine in front of us. That's about it for 90 percent of the populace.

Compare that to your automobile. You know how to get in and turn it on. We know how to shift and steer getting to lanes to travel we use every day. Sometimes we can even go to where we have never been before. It is a useful tool. When you consider both, that is where the knowledge of the majority of the public stops. About the only other thing the car's owner can do is put in gasoline. Many don't know where to check the oil. That's about the same as paying for your internet service.

Now, I am not an expert in either autos or computers being neither a mechanic nor a techie. Some maintenance and repair on both systems, because they are systems, require specialised tools and knowledge. That's what experts are for. I am still amazed on a daily basis how even the most rudimentary knowledge of computers is deemed too hard or unimportant by the average adult.

It's a sad state of affairs when your children and grandchildren have to go and buy your ink for you because you don't know even the name of your printer. If you're over seventy years old, you may disreguard this post. If you're not, it's time to get a little understanding of either, or both.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just turn and walk away

The fallout from baseball's drug enforcement continues. Manny Ramirez abruptly retired after testing positive again. This would likely have forced him to endure a 100 game suspension. Apparently he didn't want to do that and would rather retire from the game. He will then fall into the basket with the others and have the legacy of being labeled a cheater. It is probable that even with his impressive numbers he will never enter the hall of fame. Not that I care, but I'm okay with that.

Athletes of his stature earn an incredible amount of money. In his case he has likely earned over $200 million dollars. No one I know will ever see that type of wealth, yet live adequate lives of comfort and normalcy. Not that we as a group don't have things to worry about. We all worry about expenses, employment, health and such. But what causes those in his situation to rise to such a level of infamous behavior?

I fully understand what causes those who do the unthinkable in dire situations. Does the parent who doesn't know where the next meal for their child is coming from steal? I can understand the conflict. Often that is something they would never do under 'normal' situations. Dan Akroyd's character in the movie Trading Places doesn't serve as a model for behavior. Someone who earns at that level will not be sleeping on the streets within a week. That, however can happen to someone who is unemployed and behind on the mortgage.

Ramirez leaves behind a legacy (to me at least) of being a quitter. He quit on his team in Boston just to get traded. He failed in Los Angeles and finally quit on his team in Tampa after just five games. At his age he didn't need to play like he was thirty years old. The favorite line others have always used is "that's just Manny being Manny." Actually, that's an arrogant superstar who chose to further his career by any means available to him. Not once has he apologized to those he offended or quit on. In Boston he was beloved by the fans then he turned his cheeks to them and said 'kiss it'. How many of us 'everyday guys' would go to such extremes to further our success?

I would hope no matter where my life takes me I would always try to do things the 'right' way. Being blinded by money should never enter the equation. But, that's just Robert T being Robert T.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shaddup already!

I recently went to a new eyeglass store with Mrs North as she was looking for a new pair of glasses. In the space of about 5 minutes my ears were assaulted by hearing the following telephone greeting thrice in that span of time:

"We're having a great day here at Dr Barnes' EyeMart, this is so-and-so, how may I help you today?" And, of course, it was all done in a bright and cheery manner. They did a great job faking that sincerity, too.

That was brought back to my mind from the place to where it had been banished when I had the misfortune to have to place a call to AT&T on Monday. I was told to call a certain 800-number and ask for an work order, as we are having to move our phone line because of the impending arrival of the world famous Mother-in-Law Suite. The first person I got through to (after choosing from the various button-pushing menu options), gave the phrase I was destined to hear seven times over the next four phone calls: "It's a Great Day at AT&T, this is so-and-so, how can I make it a Great Day for you?"

The first person was somewhat helpful, although he could not give me what I needed. He did tell me what further information I would need to complete my request, though. After obtaining this information, I placed another call and told the person what I wanted. She had no clue. After I gave more detail, she transferred me to Sales. After telling me she was having a Great Day, and wishing me a Great Day as well.

Naturally, Sales was not where I needed to be. When I explained, I was met with silence, before getting the Great Day message again, and a transfer to yet another area, where I got yet another Great Day greeting, etc. At this time, my work phone rang and I had to hang up.

The next call began with my teeth gritting from the inane greeting, and a transfer (after "Uhhh...what is that?", and a wish for a Great Day! I was transferred to Business Customers this time. Not where I wanted to be, and not how I wanted to be greeted, either. I was getting irked, and said so, and then was disconnected when I was being transferred. Yeah, right.

The last time was the charm, though I did have to survive another Great Day welcome. I was at last able to converse with someone who knew what she was doing, and my request was placed within 60 seconds. I know she put the work order through as I received a voice mail confirming it had been processed.

I just wish I did not have to be put through the Great Day! wringer every single time.

It also brought to mind, for some odd reason, the opening lines to "Wannabe", the Spice Girls hit song:

Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,

You can look that one up, MegaByte.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Whistle while you...?

"You know how to whistle don't you? Just put your lips together and blow." A very famous line from a movie. You don't hear many people whistling these days. Not that this has been something I have heard much in my lifetime. Personally, I can't whistle a tune worth a crap. Most of the whistling I recall has come from movies or television, westerns primarily. I can do the loud, shrill whistle to call my dog, but that's about it. So, why bring this up?

As I walked across the store today I heard someone whistling. I was intrigued. Unfortunately I was unable to catch up to the customer before she made her way up to the cash register. Strangely, it was a woman. In all my years I don't think I have heard many women whistle. Most of the tune carriers have been men.

I'm not sure I completely trust those who whistle. I'm not sure why. Those who whistle just seem as if they are hiding something. I'm sure there are those who are just in a really good mood, but I think they are a relative few. Whistling seems to put up a false front, someone covering something up. There are also those who whistle that put on an air of aloofness, superiority. Perhaps that is because they can and I can't.

Perhaps they may come across as aloof because I can't whistle and therefore feel inferior? Nah, I can't play a harmonica either but that doesn't make me feel inferior. If I don't trust men that whistle what does that say about women? Whistling can be a distraction to the person hearing it, putting others on guard or heightening defensive awareness. Perhaps I'll just practice so I can whistle a happier tune.

I know, I'll bet it's those damn dwarfs.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's just too complicated

I am generally a good housemate for My Beloved. I do my share of the housework, cleaning, cooking and the like. I even do as much or more of the laundry than does she. I have a system, simple as it is. One pile of blacks, one of whites and one of everything else. That should work, shouldn't it?

My clothing consists of mostly T-shirts, polo shirts, khaki pants and jeans. It makes for a nice and simple ritual. When I do laundry, three in and three out. When it comes to My Beloved's clothing the entire system breaks down. When she's not here it goes very quickly. When she's here, I have questions. Does this go in the dryer? How long? I have to hang these? Why? Last night was a new one. I have to turn these inside out? Why? What do you mean they'll fuzz? Why won't they fuzz the other way? Oh.

After a few hours there are clothes hanging all over the family room, most in some state of wetness. Don't hang them that way, it'll leave bumps. As you can tell, most of the issues center around the dryer. I'll fess up, I have ruined more of her clothes than mine. Why? Mine are simple. After all, I only own two colors of socks, black and white.

Perhaps some day some inventor will go on the show Shark Tank and propose a new super fabric and then all the clothing we have will be made out of that. It will require no more separated laundry due to compatibility issues or color fading. Oh, wait. They tried that once, it was called polyester. It worked fine until someone made it into a leisure suit. Stupid idiot.