Movin’ On Over

The Wolf: Maybe I can give you guys a ride. Where do you live?
Vincent: Redondo Beach.
Jules: Inglewood.
The Wolf: In your future… I see a cab ride. Move out of the sticks, gentlemen.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

This may be the first time I've attached a picture to the quotation.


 

 

 

 

 


So if you’re paying attention—and chances are, you’re not—you may have noticed a few changes here at Baltimore Diary.

First, there’s a new layout. I’m not quite sure I’m happy with it, but I’m still fooling around with it. We’ll see how that shakes out. The TV and movie quotes will remain; they’re a fun gimmick, even though they’re also probably the hardest part of my blog posts. Sometimes it takes me longer to find a good quotation than it does to write a post.

The tall boxes are for the longer posts. But the other important thing is that Baltimore Diary has its own domain now! Welcome to BaltimoreDiary.org!

There’s no more clunky Typepad address to deal with, and I think that’s pretty much all the difference for you. That, and the URLs of the posts appear to be a little less straightforward. But that’s OK, given that the URLs for the posts with longer titles tended to get weirdly complicated.

This blog is powered by WordPress software, as opposed to the Moveable Type software that Typepad works with, and while all 800-something of the posts have ported over, the formatting may be a little clunky, or images may be missing. I’ll do my best to straighten some of that out.

Incidentally, this has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with Typepad; they were a good home for many years. I just wanted a little bit of a different look, and the company that handled the domain purchase offered up a really good deal for the hosting, and that’s about that. Maybe that’s a little cold-blooded on my part, but I’m sure everyone will get over it before long.

Way Too Many Details

Nina Van Horn: You think too much.
Maya Gallo: That’s my style.
Nina Van Horn: Yeah, well, you’ve been trying the same style for fifteen years now. How’s that working out?

Just Shoot Me!, “Maya Stops Thinking” (5/3/01)

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Warning: This is going to be excruciatingly boring. I know it because I’ve actually told this to people, and I can watch them just glaze over. But, what the hell. I should update this thing more often, so sometimes you get wheat, and other times you get chaff.

It drives my doctor crazy that my A1C number is so high. She’s always poking around in my habits to find out whether I’ve got soft signs of Type II Diabetes (so far, no). And one of the questions she asks me is whether I’m thirsty a lot. The reason for that is because the excess sugar in your system will draw more water out, so you’re urinating more often. Dehydration = extra thirsty. But the problem is, early on in my adult life I got into the habit of having something to sip on with me nearly all the time. So when I decide I’m thirsty, it’s more like a force of habit thing—“Hey, I don’t have a drink nearby”—than it is an actual Being Thirsty thing. There are lots of times I’ll make a cup of tea or something, and then forget all about it. It’s just good to have it nearby and such. At any rate, peeing a lot and having a beverage on-hand all the time are just part of my normal routine. I drink a lot, therefore I pee a lot. And lemme tell you, oftentimes during the day, that urine is so clear, it’s practically potable. I’m soooo hydrated, yo.

But my blood sugar is not what I’m writing about today, not specifically. It’s my choice of beverage, and the weird lengths I go to with it.

In the morning, and during the day, I’m all about the tea. Hot tea with my breakfast sandwich, then I make a pot of the stuff at work and have a few cups of that throughout the morning. If I don’t finish the pot, I pour what remains into a plastic container and drink it cold, and unsweetened. (Back to the blood sugar thing for a moment: I put a single packet of sugar into each mug of tea I drink—and I usually use 12 ounce mugs. So my sugar intake from tea isn’t much, considering how much hot tea I drink.) Near the end of the day, I’ll probably have a can of Coca-Cola. And there begins the downslide, because soda is definitely my downfall.

So now I’m on the Coke Train, and when I’m on the way home, I’ll stop and get a fountain beverage. And here’s where I fully concede I get weird.

This could easily be me. More often than not, I stop at 7-Eleven and get myself the Super Big Gulp of soda. That’s the 44-ounce cup, and it’s actually at least TWO steps down from their largest. Hey, I’m no pig. But anyway, one of the reasons I like the 7-Eleven is that they give you a discounted price on the refills, so the cost gets cut nearly in half. (Getting the occasional freebie via their app is cool, too.) But the other thing you have to deal with is getting the clerk’s attention when you first come in, so they see you’re doing a refill. Sometimes if they don’t see you come in with the cup, they give you a hard time. So my tactic is to go in with a cup from another place, like Wawa, or Sheetz, or Royal Farms. This way there’s absolutely no question whether I’m getting a refill. And, of course, most times they still ask me, “Is that a refill?”

Man, I was dumb when I was younger, but when I worked in a 7-Eleven, I wasn’t that dumb. Maybe a little naïve, but that’s another story.

Look at that terrible, terrible lid.So if I’m not getting a refill, I’m less choosy about where I go. However, Royal Farms, Wawa and Sheetz all have a fatal flaw with their cups: the lids suck. They’re made of  this soft, flimsy plastic that doesn’t fit very well over the tops of the cups (looking especially hard at you, Wawa), and you really have to work to get that lid on correctly. Sometimes you wind up going through two or three lids to get one that fits right. And—AND!—more often than not, if you tilt the cup a little bit for those first few sips, the lid will leak and now you’ve got soda all down your shirt. As it happens, however, 7-Eleven has GREAT lids. They’re a slightly harder, transparent plastic, and best of all, they fit on all the other guys’ cups. What ‘s more, they fit better AND easier on the other guys’ cups. So now I’m going into 7-Eleven with the foreign cup, and snapping a 7-Eleven lid on top. (UPDATE: Royal Farms has finally gotten decent lids on the big cups! Hallelujah!)

But wait—that’s not where the madness ends. We still have to deal with the STRAWS.

7-Eleven straws are way too fat. So when you’re taking a sip, you wind up swallowing a lot of air before any drink gets into your mouth. Wawa has a nice, skinny straw, Sheetz isn’t bad and Royal Farms….well, they had the nice straws until they replaced them a couple of months ago with these fat blue ones. Pfui. So my habit is to re-use the Wawa straws for as long as I can, but I also take an extra whenever I’m in there. So if I have to go to Royal Farms or 7-Eleven for a new cup, I skip the straw and take one from the stash in my glovebox.

So, to recap:

  • Most beverages from 7-Eleven because of the refill discount;
  • Cups usually from Wawa but also Royal Farms or Sheetz;
  • Lids from 7-Eleven because everyone else’s suck;
  • Straws have to be from Wawa or, in a pinch, Sheetz.

And yes, I do think about this stuff too much.

Rhapsody in Balut

[Flipping a coin to choose between "ducks" and "clowns."]

Joey: Ducks is "Heads", because ducks have heads.
[a long beat]
Chandler: What kind of scary-ass clowns came to your birthday?

Friends, “The One With the Baby on the Bus” (11/2/95)

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Today I had a surprise adventure!

RambutanThe school in which I work has several Filipino teachers, and they know that I once had a roommate with Filipino roots, and that I enjoyed some of the food she made, and so every now and again when they make something traditional, they’ll bring some to me to try. So we’ve had Adobo together (no relation to the seasoning you can get from Goya), Pancit, a noodle dish whose name escapes me, and a few exotic fruits, including one called Rambutan, which you can see in the picture to the left. “Rambutan” literally means “hairy”, which refers to the coarse“hairs” that grow from the fruit. To eat a Rambutan, you hold it in both hands and, with your thumbs, you squeeze down and pull apart at the same time. The skin just splits open, leaving this white fruit inside. It’s got the approximate taste and texture of a grape, but beware the huge seed inside. Anyway, it’s tasty, although I like them chilled, which will brown the hairs a little bit.

So a couple of years ago we were talking about some of the foods I’d heard of, and some I hadn’t, and one of them brought up Balut. They were surprised to learn that I’d actually heard of it, but the only reason I knew anything about it at all was because I’d seen them eating it on Survivor. Balut is basically a working-class street food in the Phillipines, and I’m told that it’s most often sold in the evening from roadside stands. It’s basically a hard-boiled, fertilized and incubated duck egg.

Wha-a-a-t?

You read that correctly. Duck eggs are fertilized and then incubated, so that a duck embryo begins to form inside. The longer the egg is incubated, the more formed the baby duck will be. However, Balut is always eaten while the bones are still soft enough to be eaten whole. You can buy the eggs based on how long they’ve been incubated. The most popular eggs are about 16-18 days old. The egg is then hard-boiled for about thirty minutes and finally plunged into ice water to stop the cooking. The eggs are served cool, or lightly warmed, and usually with beer.

So there we were, chatting about Balut and I’d said something about how I’d heard of it and I thought it would be a cool thing to try. They thought this would be pretty hilarious, and set their plans to get me some Balut. As it happened, their first attempt fell through, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We were at a staff function and they didn’t realize that I had to leave early. It seemed like the matter was largely dropped. Until…

…this afternoon! One of the teachers came in and said, “By the way, I brought some Balut today, if you still want to try it.” Are you kidding? This is going to be wild! What a break in my otherwise routine day! She went back to her classroom and came back with two eggs, saying we needed a container to warm them up. I broke out my soup mug and we put the eggs into it, then covered them with water and microwaved them to get them warmed up a little. Then I took the cup out to the water fountain and drained off the water. In the meantime, a couple of my officemates gathered to watch the hijinks. The photos, incidentally, were taken by the co-worker who brought in the Baluts.

Eggs in cupCup O’ Baluts.

I had done a little research on how you’re supposed to eat a Balut, and so I had an intellectual idea of what was supposed to happen. The first thing is that you take the egg, which is just a little larger than a typical chicken egg, and turn it “blunt” side up. There’s a little space in there, between the egg’s shell and the top of the cooked embryo. You break out the top of the egg, and there’s supposed to be some broth inside, floating on top.

Tapping it open

If you watch videos of people eating Balut for the first time, they usually just sip it out of the top. And they usually say it tastes just like chicken broth. So here I am in the photo at left, carefully tapping the end off the egg with a fork so I can expose the broth. By the way, my hair is a complete wreck because I just ran a wet brush through it this morning without using any stuff to hold it in place.
No broth inside

Unfortunately, and it’s tough to see in this picture, there wasn’t any broth in the top of the egg. Sad for me, but I was told that that’s not atypical.

Peeling away some more shell So I started peeling away the shell. Inside was essentially textured like a hard-boiled egg, except instead of white albumen, I was treated to a grayish-tan color with blue lines shot through it (proto-veins?), mottled with yellow in spots. I was being careful about removing the shell, and my assistant asked me if I was delaying on purpose. I said, “Yeah, a little.”
About to bite So in this pic the egg is pretty much peeled and I’m about to take my first bite.

One of the reasons I was a little hesitant was that, while I knew intellectually that the egg had been boiled, I somehow hadn’t counted on the egg being so much like a hard-boiled egg. And while I do like eggs, I don’t much like hard-boiled eggs. Ah, well.

One down One bite gone. So far it just tastes like hard-boiled egg. So at this point I opt to add a little salt and pepper to it.
That's duck in there Another bite or two down. See that dark spot in there, the brown area near my thumb? That’s the baby duck. It doesn’t look like much of anything, though.

It’s at this point that my co-worker scrutinized my egg and opined that my egg was roughly 11-12 days into the incubation process.

Jones can't deal My assistant just can’t deal with this. She thinks the whole idea is gross.

Starting to fall apart

At this point there’s maybe one or two bites left, but the different components are also separating, so the whole thing is falling apart. Now the flavor is like boiled egg, but with a definite poultry overtone, too.
One bite left At this point, the only reason I’m struggling with this is because I just don’t dig the hard-boiled egg thing, but I’m determined to finish it. The Balut tastes fine, but the texture of the egg put me off. My assistant gets me a can of Coca-Cola so I can wash it all down (because it’s a little dry, after all).  

I finally take what’s left and shove it into my mouth.

Achievement Unlocked!

So I finally got to try Balut, and that was cool fun. Have you had any weird food adventures?

Thanks for Sharing

Frankie Heck: Okay, listen, Mike, I was thinking. You know how we always say that only losers and sad, pathetic people go out to dinner for Thanksgiving?

Mike Heck: So you’re saying we’re going out this year?

The Middle, “Thanksgiving VI” (11/19/14)

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Have you ever had a vegetable garden? They’re a lot of work at first, but if you plan carefully, a lot of the effort can be spread out over time and you end up having a much easier time of it in the end.

Once the garden is established that first season, the key is to plan ahead and start assessing what happened this past year: what went well? What was successful? What did you grow too much of, and what did you not grow enough of? Did you have all the tools you needed? For things that needed more than one person to complete, were you all coordinated, or were the lines of communication fuzzy? And how did this affect the final outcome?

And so you take this information, and you start planning for the next season. Too many green beans and barely enough potatoes. And perhaps you should have started some things sooner; better get a jump-start on ordering stuff for next season so it arrives in a timely fashion, rather than your going panic-shopping because you forgot. And so on.

Time passes and it’s time to start that garden again. You plant seeds and you water, and you fertilize, and you take care of stuff, and everything is great at first, until…

Destroyed from the inside…the Infestation.

It’s happened to me, a couple of times. The first time was the worst. Many years ago (mid-1980s), I planted a garden that included, on a lark, pumpkins. The pumpkins did fantastically early in the season. Then suddenly, they began to die. The die-off started at the ends of the vines and worked its way inward. After a few days of this mystery, I thought, “Maybe if I just cut off the dead stuff, it’ll encourage new growth.” So I worked my way along some dead vine until I found the point where it was still healthy, and I cut the vine. As it turns out, pumpkin vines are hollow tubes, so in my hands I had one healthy tube, and one—holy cow, look at all the borers inside there!

It’s some insidious stuff, let me tell you. An insect gets into your garden and somehow you didn’t count on it, which doesn’t make sense. Everything is OUT THERE, and what you’re trying to do is bring it in, take some slice of the world in with you and hold it close, get close to your earthly roots, bring order to chaos. But the world doesn’t play that way. It doesn’t know what your rules are, nor does it care.

The insect wants what it wants, and it doesn’t care about anyone else, because it’s an insect. And it’s amazing how much damage one insect can do to an entire garden. It can take the whole thing out and before you know it, your harvest is gone, just like that. More often than not, by the time you discover you’ve got something like that, it’s far too late.

So instead of eating your freshly-grown food which you created with your own two hands, you find yourself out somewhere, spending much more money than you would have in the first place, eating someone else’s work instead of your own. Despite all your work, despite your planning, despite everything, you don’t plan on an insect coming in and destroying everything. Because, really, you can’t plan on something like that. An insect’s actions are short-sighted, without consideration for the ramifications down the line and the effect that it’s going to have on the gardener—and everyone else who depends on that gardener to provide them with food.

And that’s just kind of sad.

A Little Poetry

Daffy Duck: [singing] From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli/Hear those bells of freedom ringing – Oh, no, it’s just the phone for me.

Draftee Daffy (1/23/45)

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This afternoon, I had the TV on, and I was watching the ceremonies surrounding the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is the newest museum to open up on the National Mall.

 

Image result for smithsonian african american museumAs it happened, I was in the area a few weeks ago with Daughter, and in our wandering through we were able to see the building from across the street (the museum side of the street was fenced off). It’s a truly impressive-looking structure. Older museums on the Mall are built to pretty much look like museums. Then along came the National Museum of the American Indian, with its curvilinear design which is meant to emulate naturally-carved rock formations and landscaping that simulates wetlands. Suddenly people got the idea that the building didn’t have to look so much like a building as all the others do. This new museum is a boxy building but it’s covered by an architectural scrim made of bronze-painted aluminum, designed to resemble a crown from Yoruban culture. The design also tricks the eye into thinking that it’s an inverted step pyramid. In addition to the three floors above the ground, the museum goes five floors down as well.

So, back to today.

I was watching the ceremonies on the TV up in my bedroom, and President Barack Obama was making his remarks. As he wound down, he referred to some people to his right, and identified them as members of the Bonner family, including seven-year-old Christine, up to 99-year-old Ruth.

Ruth’s father was born a slave.

Ponder that for a second—in a very real sense, we’re only ONE generation beyond slavery in this country.

Ruth’s father ran away, became a farmer and ultimately graduated from medical school.

President Obama then said:

“…in a brief moment, their family will join us in ringing a bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia — one of the oldest black churches in America, founded under a grove of trees in 1776. 
And the sound of this bell will be echoed by others in houses of worship and town squares all across this country — an echo of the ringing bells that signaled Emancipation more than a century
and a half ago; the sound, and the anthem, of American freedom.”

Now, there aren’t a lot of churches in my immediate area, but perhaps there’s one or two willing to participate. So at that point, I stepped to the window and opened it up, and turned the volume down on the TV to listen to the outside.

I heard nothing. Well, that was a disappointment, but as I noted there aren’t a lot of churches close to my house. And the one that’s closest doesn’t have a real bell; it’s got pre-programmed recordings of bells. Ah, well. So I shut off the TV and headed downstairs to let the dogs outside.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I decided to open the front door and let some fresh air into the house. There was a lovely breeze going on, and it blew through my brass wind chimes on the front porch. Being big and brassy, they don’t do a teeny ping! ping! like the aluminum ones do. Instead they make a deeper bong! bong!, much like a church bell.

Good going, wind chimes.

Why I Was Late to Work Today

Leslie Knope: George, I notice you’re wearing glasses; yet, on the day in question, I don’t recall you wearing glasses. Could it be because you WEREN’T wearing glasses?
George: I never wear ’em on the job.
Leslie Knope: Can you take your glasses off please
[George removes his glasses]
Leslie Knope: and-and read this for us?
George: [George reads the paper in Leslie’s hand] "I could read this…
[Leslie moves the paper away, George reads louder]
George: …if I weren’t so blind!"
Leslie Knope: Well, well, that went terribly.

Parks and Recreation, “The Trial of Leslie Knope” (12/1/11)

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For most of my life, including when I first moved to Baltimore, I had some pretty good vision going on. In fact, I had some pretty great distance vision.

Then, around 2003, I was getting an eye exam and the doctor noted that I was having some trouble seeing smaller print. It was his opinion that I needed glasses to read.

“I’ve had great vision my whole life,” I protested. “What happened?”

He said, “You turned forty, that’s what happened.”

So that’s pretty much the way it goes, it turns out. Around age 40, the lenses in your eyes start to harden—specifically, they become less flexible—and it affects your vision. You need more light to see well, but you’re also more susceptible to glare. And, of course, smaller type becomes a big problem, you should excuse the expression.

Over the 13 years since then, my vision has really deteriorated, to the point where if I’m not wearing glasses, absolutely nothing in my field of vision is clear. I’m pretty sure that if a person with normal vision were to put on my glasses, they could actually see the future.

So this morning I was on my way out of the house, when I heard a loud rumbling nearby. I realized that it was the garbage truck making its rounds, and I realized that I had time to grab the trash I’d neglected to put out last night and get it to the curb. So I tossed my stuff into the car and grabbed the trash bin.

Just as I passed the car, the bin bumped into the front end of the car. I took a stumble and, as I gesticulated wildly to regain my balance (one-handed; I was still holding on to the bin), I accidentally knocked my glasses off my own face. They went flying off; I saw that much. But because of that nearby truck, I couldn’t hear them when they landed, so my echolocation skills weren’t going to help me. Despite this, I figured that if they’d hit the sidewalk I probably would have heard some clattering, and I hadn’t. So I started searching the immediate area. They wouldn’t be behind me because my car was there, plus my head would have been in that pathway. But ahead of me was some sidewalk, to the left, more sidewalk and several potted plants, and to the right was a garden that Wife had put in a few years ago. I started looking through the potted plants, the most likely suspects. Nothing. I looked in the garden. Nothing. I looked (carefully) around the sidewalk and, just for completeness’ sake, under my car. And again I came up empty. Another factor working against me is that it was overcast to the point of being about to rain, so the sun wasn’t shining down and reflecting off the glasses.

At this point I’d been looking for over ten minutes, so I said “To hell with it” and went back in the house to put in my contact lenses. The lenses will get the job done in that I’m able to read most print and drive safely, but a lot of stuff still just isn’t sharp. I wear them to social events and such, but it’s a lot of strain if I try to do computer-based work with them. So now, armed with better vision, I went back outside and looked again for the glasses.

Nothing. What the hell is going on here? How far could they have gone?

I finally had to decide that this was a mystery to solve later on, as I’d been doing this for about twenty-five minutes and I was definitely late for work. So, off to work I went. Fortunately it was not a computer-intensive day.

When I got home, I parked the car on the street rather than in the driveway, and I began searching anew for my glasses. The sun had broken through a little bit, so even though it was now on the other side of the house, it was still brighter out than it had been in the morning. Potted plants? Nope, not in there. On the sidewalk? Nope. On the ground near the potted plants? Nope, even moved them around. In the garden? Appears not.

Damn…Could they have flown across the sidewalk and into the lawn? I started to look that way but gave up quickly, then I came back…

…and there they were, in the garden.

20160901_183000

To the left is the view from where I’d been standing as I did most of my searching. 20160901_183011See my glasses?

Of course not. I know where they are, and I can’t even see them. Now, to the right is the opposite-direction view, taken from about the sidewalk meets the edge of the left-hand photo. Even from this angle, they’re pretty tough to see, but there they are, upside-down in the upper-right quadrant of the picture. You can’t even see the whole thing from that side.

But there they were, and there is where they spent the better part of the day, before I finally located them, almost accidentally.

And as for me, I spent the better part of the day trying to adjust glasses that weren’t there, which meant that I appeared to be saluting a lot.

Soak Up The Sun

Maj. Don West: We’re not getting any power. Must be a loose connection in the solar batteries. I’ll go up and see if I can fix ’em.

Lost in Space, “The Hungry Sea” (10/13/65)

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I was saving this story until it had more of an ending, but what the hell.

These guys.I do like being an energy-efficient kind of guy, not just because it keeps the bills down, but because Save the Earth and all that. So when I saw a representative from Solar City standing in Home Depot, I figured it was at least worthwhile to talk to someone about it.

So I chatted for ten minutes with a very pleasant lady, who gave me the basics about how it works and such. She was having a hard time getting the wifi signal on her tablet to work, but she still managed to get enough information across that I decided we needed to hear a little bit more. So she took down my information and that was that for the time being.

A few days later I heard from someone at the company. He wanted to make an appointment with both me and Wife so he could show us the whole thing and make sure all of our questions were answered. We set the date and that was that for the time being.

During the visit, the way the plan was explained to me was this: Solar City puts the panels on the house at no cost to us. Then, for the next 20 years, we’d be buying some of our electricity from our regular supplier, and some of it from Solar City (but at a lower rate). Whatever the panels generate that doesn’t get used, would roll back into the grid, effectively turning the meter backward. Solar City then makes money that way as well, by being the ones who sell the electricity back to the electric company. If the panels need maintenance, we just call them and they make the fix (or, something at our end detects a problem and alerts Solar City). After all, they own the things. If we need roof work, they’d come out and remove the panels until the roof is fixed, and then they’d put them right back on. Our only obligation is to pay for the electricity they generate, and pay for 20 years. If we move or die, the 20 year lease transfers to the new owners (because, who knows: maybe our new place doesn’t get enough sunlight).

So, to break down that deal in bullets:

  • They install and maintain the system.
  • We buy some of our electricity from BGE at the usual rate.
  • We buy the rest of our electricity from Solar City at a lower rate, and this is ALL we pay for.
  • Solar City gets the profit from the electricity flowing back into the grid.
  • The deal is attached to the HOUSE for 20 years total.

This whole thing was acceptable to us, so we agreed to move forward. They set a date for a guy to come out and measure/inspect our roof, and that was that for the time being.

Not Pictured: My daughter's window, you perverted fuck. Awhile later, the guy came out and did his thing. He had a Google Earth photo of the house (the initial salesman did, too), and he had a rough idea of how many panels were going to be put up there. Every jurisdiction has its own rules about this sort of thing, and in Baltimore City, solar panels have to be three feet away from EVERYTHING, including the edge of the roof (including the peak), chimneys and any vent pipes that might be sticking up. So given the size and configuration of our roof, they figured that they could put eight panels up there. In the meantime, the roof itself is in very good shape, so that’s encouraging. He took his measurement notes and such, and the next step is having a formal design drawn up.

After a couple of weeks, I got an email with the design for our panels. This is the document that they’d be sending to Baltimore City as part of the permit process (another step I didn’t have to deal with). You can see part of the image to the left, here. The front of the house (with the dormer) is to the top of the picture, and the rectangle on the bottom is where my kitchen sticks out. Most of the other stuff (the D, M, and AC) are utilities that are actually in the basement. “Inv” is where the inverter would be mounted to the side of the house. “B” is the junction box that would lead from the panels down to the inverter. The inverter is the gizmo that turns the solar power into something that the electrical appliances can actually use. According to the legend (I cropped it out), there are supposed to be lines indicating where the conduits go, but they’re not on this picture. So Solar City took this picture and a bunch of paperwork and submitted it to Baltimore City for the zoning approval, and that was that for the time being.

Several weeks went by, and finally the word came back that Baltimore City had approved the plans. Now, all we needed was an installation date.

Awhile after that, we got an email AND a phone call from Solar City that it was time to schedule the installation. I called them back and got a date. It was a weekday, so I had to take a day off, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Installation Day: I don’t get to sleep in, because they’re coming kind of early. A truck pulls up, and while their crew chief is talking to me, there are guys running all over, carrying equipment and such and getting it ready for the install. Other guys are setting up ladders to get on the house. I show them where everything is, then I pen up the dogs in the kitchen because these guys are going to be all over the inside and outside of my house. Some of them will need to be in the basement fooling with the circuit breakers, one guy will be in a bedroom attaching some gizmo to the internet router, others will be on the roof and side of the house. And the work proceeded apace, until…

…until it wasn’t. At some point in the afternoon, it occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing people running around, nor was I hearing much of anything else. I went to the front door and looked outside. The truck was gone. The crew was gone. Most of the trash generated by their work had been cleaned up; what remained wasn’t a big deal. But that was IT. They’d left without saying anything to me at all. I called Solar City and they were puzzled by this too, but they did say that the next step was to have BGE inspect the installation and install a Net meter. A Net meter is the kind of meter that can run backwards and allow the power from the panels to come through. So we needed an inspection date from BGE, and that was that for the time being.

A little time went by and I called BGE to see what was up. BGE told me that they hadn’t received the completion paperwork from Solar City, and once they got that they could do the inspection and then SCHEDULE the meter installation. Aha. So that’s a separate step, then. So I had to wait for Solar City to set up the inspection and that was that for the time being.

The inspection itself was a relatively brief affair: a guy from Solar City came to the house and waited for the guy from BGE to show up. BGE’s concern was largely related to the interior of the house, but it was brief and largely consisted of the BGE guy nodding sagely at everything the Solar City guy told him and then giving the whole works his personal blessing, which came in the form of a sticker I had to affix to the electrical panel. Can I schedule the Net meter installation now? No. In a few days Solar City will send them some information and THEN I can schedule my Net Meter. And that’s that for the time being.

A week or so later, I was able to set up the Net meter installation. If your meter is outside, no problem: they’ll just go and do it and you’ll never know it happened. If it’s inside, well, I hope you have another day off to spare. And BGE is like so many utilities in that you get that gigantic window of opportunity for their service person to show up. You know how long it takes to change out a meter? About five minutes, and your entire house loses power for maybe thirty seconds. The next step is getting word from Solar City with the directions for actually turning your system on.

So the email came in, but not everything looked quite like the pictures in the email, even though they’d accounted for several different systems. The problem was that I was supposed to turn on a circuit breaker down in the basement. And the problem with that was that there was NO breaker dedicated to the solar system in the panel. There was a breaker that had been identified on the chart as being the Solar breaker, but it actually connects to an outlet in my kitchen. On the panel itself, there was a big red sticker reading SOLAR, but it was over a blank space (i.e., no breaker) on the panel. So I called Solar City and told them that I couldn’t follow the directions as emailed. They said they’d send a technician out, and started to set up yet another weekday for the visit, but I put my foot down. It was several minutes of me complaining before they agreed to send someone out on the weekend.

A few days after the phone call, on Saturday, the technician arrived. First I showed him the display on the inverter and such, then I showed him the electrical panel. He opened the thing up, and sure enough, there was wiring but no breaker in the place indicated by the panel sticker.  So remember how I told you about the inspection and what it entailed? Now you know what I mean. If the BGE guy had taken two minutes to open the panel and see that there was no breaker in place, the inspection would have failed. So the technician installed the breaker and fired everything up. So far as he could tell, everything was running fine.And that was that for the time being.

About a week ago, I got an email and a phone call telling me that the system is registering zero output, and I need to call them. Because I was out all day Saturday, I didn’t get to call them until Sunday. The person on the phone asked me a few questions about what was on the display, then he told me that another technician had to come out. I told them that as
long as they don’t have to come in the house, they can come whenever they like during the week. They set me up for Thursday in the afternoon. They even gave me a courtesy call on Wednesday telling me that the arrival window had changed slightly. I told her, “Frankly, I don’t care because I’m not gonna be there.” On Thursday evening I got home and there was a door-hanger waiting for us: “Sorry we missed you!” and, at the bottom, an hand-written note: “System is off and electrically stable.” Thanks, guys! I didn’t know that stability was going to be an issue! I gave them a call.

According to their system, the tech had reported that some part of the inverter itself had gone bad and needed to be replaced. So they had to order something, which would take 7-10 days to get in, then they’d contact me to discuss coming back to replace it.

So that’s where the story ends for the time being. I have a system on my roof that’s generating zero electricity, and maybe it’ll be working again in a couple of weeks. But let me lay some extra details on you, because I’ve been deliberately obscuring them until now. Here’s the entire timeline (some of this I’m filling in gaps, other stuff I have the emails saved):

  • I met the woman in Home Depot in June 2015.
  • Wife and I met with the salesman in mid-July 2015.
  • The guy who inspected the roof and did the measuring came at the end of July 2015.
  • On August 13, 2015 I got an email that the design had been finished.
  • At the end of August came the approval from BGE to install a system.
  • On November 3 I got the email that it was time to schedule the installation.
  • On November 20, the crew installed the system.
  • In early December the system was “inspected” by BGE.
  • On December 30, BGE still hadn’t received anything from Solar City, so they couldn’t schedule the meter installation.
  • On January 12, BGE let me know that I could finally schedule the meter installation. That got done sometime over the next week or so.
  • On February 10, Solar City told me that they’d gotten the final approval from BGE.
  • On February 18, I tried to start the system and failed because of the missing breaker.
  • On February 20, the technician arrived and fixed it. So
  • The system generated power from February 20 through March 30, then stopped.

imageimage

  • On April 2 I got the “No output” email and phone calls.
  • On April 3 I called them and was told a tech had to come out again.
  • On April 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, according to Solar City’s website, the system was generating power
    image.
  • On April 8 it stopped again, presumably because the system had been shut off.

So counting from an approximate date of June 15 (although it was probably earlier because school was still open) to today, that’s 299 days I’ve been involved with Solar City, during which time I’ve had panels generating power on my roof for a grand total of 45 days. Not an auspicious start, I say.

And that’s that for the time being.

Everybody Must Get Stones

William Shatner: I was recently at a celebrity auction where I sold one of my kidney stones for $75,000. Oh, yeah. And do you understand what I have done? I synthesized uric acid and calcium inside my bladder and turned it into a house for Habitat for Humanity! Who’s the Warlock now, bitch?

—The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (9/19/11)

Warning: graphic, T. M. I.-type stuff ahead. At this rate something like this is going to be my featured post every February.

As many of you know, a short while ago we had a pretty big snowstorm around here in Baltimore. There were the usual stories in the news, with the usual headlines about Snowmageddon and such. I was campaigning them to use Snowtorious B.I.G. but that didn’t pan out. Wife and I shoveled the walk on Saturday, while the snow was still falling, in a misguided attempt to make it easier to clear the walk when it actually did stop. What with all the wind blowing the snow everywhere, it didn’t make much difference. When the snow stopped, you’d never know that we’d shoveled. So, we took to it again and cleared out most of the sidewalk, then we dug out the one vehicle we had with the four-wheel drive…so we could drive it to Sears and buy a snowblower. That was on Tuesday.

Wee One was disappointed by all the snow, largely because she’s been in rehearsals for a play (her first starring role in Amateur Theater, folks) down in Greenbelt, and the snowstorm postponed the show’s opening weekend. So when the roads started to clear, the director called one last rehearsal before the delayed debut. That was on Thursday. On the way down, I started getting a pain in my lower back. It was a little weird because it was on my right side and when these things happen to me, it’s usually on the left. Also, this was a pretty sharp pain for a muscle ache—plus, it was a pretty delayed response to all the shoveling we’d done two days earlier. But…I’m staring another birthday in the face; it’s probably just one of those “getting older” things.

It hurt me so bad that you could actually see the cartoon lightning bolts. On Friday night, Wee One’s new opening night, Wife and I took Wife’s mom to see the show’s opening. My back was hurting again and Wife offered to drive, but I turned her down, thinking I’d still be sore and maybe the drive would distract me a little bit. However, I was wrong: despite taking some over-the-counter pain medicine, it was like having a knife in there. The pain subsided some and I was able to enjoy the show, but it never quite went away. The next night, the same thing happened: huge pains during the drive to Greenbelt. It was especially intense in the back on the right, but it ran through me all the way to my groin, to the point where my right testicle was actually kind of sore. We’re still thinking muscle pain, so Wife gave me one of her muscle relaxers and about nine Ibuprofen tablets. For the third night in a row, I slept quite poorly.

When the pain hadn’t subsided by Sunday, I started to think maybe it was something else, and I started to do some research on the internet. Here’s a word of advice for you: when it comes to symptoms, The Internet Is Not Your Friend. It will scare the hell out of you. Within minutes you’re convinced you have Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (and for god’s sake, don’t look it up).

On Monday I went to work, still hurting. This was the first day back after all the snow, so I spent the day trying to get cancelled meetings re-scheduled. On Tuesday, the Motrin and Naproxen I’d been taking just wasn’t getting the job done. I finally left work early and headed for the local express clinic, where I described my symptoms. After some examination, they said, “We think you have a kidney stone, but we don’t really have the equipment to tell you for sure.” They gave me a prescription for some high-octane Tylenol and directions to hit the Emergency Room if it got worse. Later on, it occurred to me: I haven’t moved my bowels in a couple of days. For me, this is unusual: many people classify me as kind of weird, but in this respect I’m definitely a Regular Guy. Could this be the problem? I’m just constipated? While I was getting my prescription filled, I also picked up a bottle of Miralax. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to take a laxative right before the Super Bowl. The bottle said that a typical dose takes about a day or so to work. OK, I can live with that.

By Thursday, I’d had a bowel movement,but it wasn’t exactly what one would expect from someone who hadn’t gone much at all in several days. Now I’m thinking it’s some higher-level form of constipation, like a bowel obstruction or such. (Again, let me stress: The Internet is NOT YOUR FRIEND.) But I wasn’t especially uncomfortable, so I let it go for the time being.

Or…maybe this is the New Normal for me and I’m just getting used to being uncomfortable? Working for Baltimore City Schools has taught me that I can get used to anything, after all.

On the way home from school I stopped at a pharmacy and talked to the pharmacist about what a next-level laxative might be. She offered some suggestions, and at that point the least scary (or, perhaps more accurately, least harsh-sounding) of them is the suppository. I bought a small package of them and used one that night.

For what it’s worth, these things aren’t so bad; it’s just that we have this whole “up yer butt” association with them so we get squicked out. I think the way the ones I bought work is that they draw water from the surrounding body tissue, which softens the stool and encourages increased bowel action. They’re supposed to work in about 15 minutes, so OK: away we go. And again, the result wasn’t quite what I expected. I tried again the next night with the same result. Now I’m thinking: well, if I’m blocked, it’s gonna be way up in there. Something’s getting through, but not much.

So on Saturday I picked up a disposable enema bottle and tried that. Again, relatively quick and not as bad as I thought it would be. And again, still not quite the result I’d hoped for.

Flash-forward to today. I got a bunch of stuff done at work, but I was again in pain and general discomfort, so I went to the Principal and told her, “I can’t take anymore, I’m going to the E. R.”

She said to me, “You shoulda gone last week. Go. And don’t come back till they tell you what’s wrong with you. BYE!”

I have a cool Principal.

So I drove myself up to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, at Wife’s suggestion. As it turns out, GBMC—like most metropolitan hospitals—is especially busy on Mondays, so there were lots of people in the waiting room when I arrived. At this point I’d convinced myself that the problem was some form of constipation, so that’s what I told them was going on when I arrived. I told them I was having pain, and they took all my pertinent information and sent me into the waiting area, where I sat among the Ill Folk of North Baltimore. After maybe 45 minutes a nurse came out calling my name. She’d come out to give me Motrin for the pain I’d reported. I was puzzled but took the Motrin anyway. She also gave me a packet of graham crackers in case my stomach was empty (in fact, it was). About 15-20 minutes after that, another nurse came out and led me inside.

I was met right away by a doctor who listened to my whole story, including the visit to the express clinic and their kidney
stone theory and all of my laxative adventures (there were another couple I didn’t tell here because nothing cmae of those, either). He said he’d like to do a CT scan to rule out any blockages and such, and we’d take it from there.

Then a nurse named James came in and set me up with an IV of basic saline, I guess, and gave me a huge cup of liquid. “It’s Go Time,” he said. Then he explained that the liquid was part of prep for the CT scan. I was to have two types of scans: a Oral Contrast and an IV Contrast. This drink was for the Oral Contrast: I drink it down and then as it works its way through my intestine, it shows up on the CT scan. This means that I have to knock this stuff down within an hour, then they wait a while longer before doing the scan, to give it a chance to work its way down. I said, “I guess I should call home and let them know I’ll be awhile, since this will take a few hours.” That’s when I discovered that my phone had no signal in the exam room. So James said, that’s OK, we can bring a phone in here for you to use. And away goes James, reminding me to drink my contrast drink. The drink, by the way, was probably just some stuff mixed with water, since it pretty much tasted like room-temperature water and appeared to be clear. (Sometimes they give you barium, which is thick like a shake and usually minty.) Someone else came in with a low-end phone for me to use, and plugged it into the wall, then established that it had a dial tone and left. Belatedly, I realized that the phone still didn’t quite work: the “4” button was inoperative. And let me tell you, my friend: when you live in an area with ten-digit dialing and that area’s codes are 410 and 443, you’re not going to get far with a phone that doesn’t do “4”. Fortunately, my phone had a wi-fi signal so I used Facebook Messenger to let Wee One know what was up. Then I used Twitter to bitch out GBMC for giving me a defective phone.

Well over an hour later, I was getting antsy, partly because I had to use the bathroom (32 ounces of contrast fluid, plus the IV, plus the bottle of water I’d had in the waiting room, plus a prostate that just turned 53 last week = a good reason to be antsy, thanks) and I was still connected to the now-empty IV bag. The nurse who’d brought me the phone came in and I told her I needed to use the bathroom, “and your phone doesn’t work.” She got James to come back in to disconnect the IV bag and set me free to go pee. When I came back, James decided to find out whether they were ever going to take me down to the CT. He made a couple of calls, then decided that if this was going to happen, he’d have to bring me there himself. So, off we went to the CT room. CT Scan of the Future.

I was greeted by a tech named Jamie, who told me the basics of how all this was going to work and asked a few questions about allergies, etc. A few minutes later, I was brought into the room with the CT machine. Most people have this image of a big tunnel and lots of banging noises, but that’s an MRI. a CT is more like a big donut, and it’s relatively quiet. Picture the Guardian of Forever, only in a perfect circle. So Jamie and her assistant lay me on the bed and arranged me just so. She told me that the machine was going to tell me to hold my breath, and when to resume breathing, and if I couldn’t hold my breath that long, just breathe REALLY SLOWLY. Sure enough, when they started up, a voice came from the CT machine (again, just like the Guardian): “TAKE AND HOLD YOUR BREATH.” and, a few seconds later, “YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN NOW”. Sadly, I did not time-travel as I passed through, although I did have a flashback to the time I had the MRI taken of my head. Jamie then came in and they did the IV Contrast portion of the test. She took a syringe of iodine and injected it into my IV. Iodine in your veins doesn’t usually hurt, but it does give you a weird, warm feeling through your body, almost like you peed yourself. You also briefly get a taste of copper in your mouth. This all settles down pretty quickly, though. And again, the CT told me when to breathe and when not to. The total elapsed time in the CT room: about ten minutes.

So the Oral contrast would be used to determine if there were any blockages in my intestines, and the IV contrast w
ould be used to look for blockages in some of my blood vessels and other organs.

Jamie told me that it’d be about an hour before the results came back, but in fact, my doctor came in the room right after I’d returned. He told me that I do, in fact, have a kidney stone, about 3 millimeters in size. I asked him, “Is that big?” He said, no, not really. but the weird thing about kidney stones is that sometimes the really small ones are the ones that hurt the most, because they can bounce around and do more damage. Anyway, it should pass pretty easily, especially once I start taking a few days’ worth of Flomax. So here are some prescriptions, and you’re good to go.

Wait a minute, says I. What about the constipation?

“Well,” he said, “there are no blockages and, for that matter, there isn’t a lot going on in there. Let me ask you this: since you started having pain, have your eating habits changed?”

In fact, they had—the pain had affected my appetite to the point where I ate maybe once a day, and that was usually soup. So I haven’t been pooping because I haven’t been eating enough stuff to generate much poop. So I need to drink lots more fluids and get extra fiber in my diet and in the long run I’ll have a happy ending (you should excuse the expression).

Everything Comes in Trees

Cameron Tucker: Mitchell, where were we sitting when Lily first rolled over?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: Where is home base when we play hide and seek?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: And where did we sought shelter from that frightening lightning storm?
Mitchell Pritchett: It wasn’t a good idea, but it was under this tree.

Modern Family, “When a Tree Falls” (11/28/2012)

When we moved into the current Parkville Palace one fine Spring morning several years ago, Wife and I were especially taken with a couple of large trees that were in the yard.

One was a gum tree, which resided in the front yard. Frankly, it wasn’t long before the novelty of that tree wore off. The gum tree is one of those jobbies that drops the big spiky balls later in the year. And as the Spring became Summer and the tress all over started putting forth leaves and such, it was clear that this tree was in a bit of distress: there were several branches that weren’t producing leaves. Plus the spiky balls were just making it impossible for me to walk around barefoot out front, and they made the lawn mower sad as the blade would hit them, and the first couple of hits would just ricochet the balls around the inside of the mower before the blade managed to finish them off. When, during that first Winter, the tree actually dropped several branches, we realized that it was probably not long for this world and we should consider having it removed.

Farewell, old friend.The other tree, in the back yard, was a big cedar tree. It was about 50 feet tall and a beautiful old thing that provided just the right amount of shade for the corner of the yard where we had the patio and the pergola installed. We loved the tree, but unfortunately over the last couple of years, we could see that it wasn’t doing well: branches were dying off or falling from the tree altogether; it was starting to lean a little bit, and so on. We started to wonder if that one could be saved, or if it would have to go as well.

Finally we made the call to a couple of places and asked them to come in and give us estimates to have the trees removed. One place gave us a price that was over $2000 for those two trees, plus a dogwood that he’d noticed was also about at the end of its life. The other one, AmeriTree, was more in the realm of $1600 so we went with them. I called them up and the woman who answered the phone said, “OK, I think I have some spots open this week, let me get the calendar.” Before I could continue that there were some date constraints, she’d put me on hold. When she came back she immediately launched into “OK, I can get you down for either Friday, or Saturday—“ at which point I finally interrupted her and told her that she’d put me on hold too quickly, and I needed a date after July 11. (For those of you not in the know, July 11 is the second Saturday in July, the weekend that Wife and I stage our Annual Pig Roast. And if you’re not in the know, why not? Why haven’t you been coming?) We settled on the 13th.

On July 8th, AmeriTree called me to tell me that they see they have me down for the 13th, but a spot has “opened up” on Saturday the 11th, could they come by then? I told her no, we have a lot of guests coming that day, and they were all going to say goodbye to the tree. (Yes, I really said that.)

On July 9th, a guy working on a tree in another yard nearby came by and suggested to Wife that the gum tree probably needed to come down, and could he put in a bid on it? We told him that we’d already committed to a company. Out of curiosity, he asked who we went with. We told him it was AmeriTree. He said, “Okay.” Then, after a beat, he said, “You should be careful; those guys aren’t always so great with the safety side of things.”  We thanked him for his advice and that was pretty much it from him, although we did ask him to take out a smaller tree that AmeriTree hadn’t bid on. He said he’d come over after the job across the street was done, in a day or so.

July 10: we got another call from AmeriTree: “I see you’re down for the 13th, but there’s an opening tomorrow if you can accommodate them.” I told them that no, we STILL can’t accommodate them because, as I’d already explained, we had a lot of people coming to the house that day. This time she took the time to write on the estimate that it couldn’t be changed.

On July 11, we held the Pig Roast and a merry time was had by all, and there were, indeed, toasts to the impending demise of the tree. We even toasted once to the gum tree, but we were pretty drunk by then.

So Monday rolls around, the last of the guests have departed, and I’m getting ready to run an errand when the AmeriTree guys arrive at about 10:30 or so. They look at the gum tree, which is pretty accessible and shouldn’t pose a problem at all, and then we go to the back yard. The guy’s a little worried about the cedar tree, because they’re not sure about getting the pieces to the chipper. I take him into the alley to show him that big trucks, can, indeed, go back there, and he’s a little more confident about their ability to do the job without hassle.

Of course, if that actually happened, then I’d be writing a 140-character Tweet about how guys came and cut down my trees and that’d be it. Instead, I’ve got this story to tell you.

Right before I left, their lead guy said, “OK, before we get started, we’re just gonna go get lunch, all right?” Hey, what can you say, guy’s gotta eat some lunch. I don’t know why you check in and get lunch instead of lunching first, but whatever. I go on my errand, leaving Wife with the tree crew.

It was about an hour later when I got back. The gum tree was completely down already, and some of the workers were raking up the leftover branches for disposal. Wow, says I. That was quick. They’ll make short work of the cedar tree. Then Wife told me that the stumps weren’t going to be ground down that day; that was for another crew and another day that we had to arrange. I asked the crew chief if that was true, and he told me yes, that was always the case. I noted that I wished I’d known about that so we could have planned ahead; we thought everything would be done that day. So I got on the phone with AmeriTree and set up a second visit for the stumps. Nobody had an answer for me with regard to why I wasn’t told this in the first place.

So I sat in my dining room, looking out through the back door and paying my bills online. Wife sat on the small deck we have outside the dining room door, watching the guys work. In fact, she snapped the pic here shortly before they came to the back yard. They were doing a bang-up job of cutting away those lower branches and generally reducing the tree to a big stick before tackling the trunk—or trunks, as you can see: about ten feet up the trunk really split up into about a half-dozen main branches. I got wrapped up in what I was doing, which involved a more-or-less static screen, when Wife popped the door open and asked me: “Do you still have internet?”

“I think so,” I said, then I hit the F5 button to refresh. Nope, the internet had died. How did she know this had happened? That’s when I looked outside and realized that the work had stopped.

To hear Wife tell the story, one of the workers was up high in the tree, making the cuts, while another one or two guys was on the ground, pulling the tree parts this way and that with ropes as a means of guiding the pieces
down in a specific direction. One large piece, however, did a kind of pirouette at the end of the cut and, instead of falling to the left onto the grass (see the grassy area in the photo? There), it fell at about a 90-degree angle to that point, just missing the pergola but neatly hitting the two wires that are strung across my yard. One wire was the power line for the house next to ours; the other is the Comcast cable that provides my internet service. (Shut up, DSL isn’t available in this part of town, and FIOS isn’t available anywhere in Baltimore City.) The power line was pulled away from the neighbor’s house, and now hung about three feet over our yard, but was still connected; about half of the brackets that held the cable to the house had been torn out. Our cable had been torn out at BOTH ends: at the pole and at the house. So while our neighbor still had electrical service, we had no internet.

I got on the phone to AmeriTree to ask them what their protocol was for this sort of thing. She said she’d have to call the crew chief to see what was up. I went out back and asked where  he was, but nobody seemed to know at that moment. When he did turn up a minute later, I told him that the office was supposed to be getting in touch with him. This was the beginning of numerous phone calls, back-and-forthing with the crew and with the AmeriTree office, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really want to hear, but I’ll add these few tidbits:

At one point in the afternoon, around 4:00 I called AmeriTree to ask when Comcast was supposed to come out and fix the cable. She said she didn’t know; all she knew was that it would be sometime the next day and here’s the work order number if I want to call them myself. What about BGE, for the electrical wire? “Well, it’s not a high-power wire, they can probably fix it on their own…” And, in fact, they did that, putting the brackets back in and re-mounting the cable against the house. They did kind of a half-assed job of it, so the cable is no longer lying flush against the house, but they did something, I guess. They also trimmed the hell out of a tree that the cable was passing through. In addition, they took the time to trim my neighbor’s hedges for free AND, because she’d asked for the gum tree wood for her fireplace, they cut that up into smaller, more manageable pieces (still too big for a fireplace but easier to turn into fireplace-ready pieces). In the meantime, Wife is discovering a bunch of other damage they’d done to parts of her garden that we hadn’t expected to see damage on. Our cherry tree (at the far left in the photo) had a bunch of its branches broken, and the crape myrtle’s trunk had been split down the middle. The crew chief knocked $100 off the total cost as an apology and against the possibility that the crape myrtle would have to be replaced; as he’s writing the bill up he said to me, “Sometimes these guys, they want to work really fast and I have to slow them down because they don’t always do things the right way.” This statement flew directly against my next phone call to the office, which involved me being told that their crews are always concerned with doing things safely. She did not, however, have a reply when I repeated what the crew chief had told me. She did note, however, that they wouldn’t have been in business for as long as they were, with an A+ rating (from whom, she didn’t say).

Pay attention to this, AmeriTree: you don’t keep on being in business by resting on the laurels of the previous work; you keep on being in business by delighting the NEW customers you have so that they’ll come back and give you referrals.

A supervisor came out the next day, and Wife and I toured him around the property, showing him everything that had happened and some of the attitudes we bumped up against. He was (sort of) apologetic and offered to replace the crape myrtle if it, in fact, didn’t survive its injuries, and said he’d send out a second crew to fix the power line. (Coincidentally, the Comcast guy arrived at almost the same time he did, so the internet was back up before he left.) But in the end, we weren’t left with any real assurance that the next person down the line wouldn’t experience something like this, or that they held any real remorse for what had happened. So we’re pretty much in a “time will tell” loop at the moment.

Small Measures

Principal Skinner: Justice is not a frivolous thing, Simpson. It has little, if anything, to do with a disobedient whale.

The Simpsons, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" (5/5/94)

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This morning, as I stumbled down the stairs in my usual fog of grogginess, a text message came in on my phone. It was from the folks at Discover; they'd identified some unusual activity on my credit card and needed to get in touch with me. I logged into my account online and got the same message, with a few details. Apparently overnight, "I" had tried to buy over $2000 worth of stuff from Franklin Covey, along with $4 of something else I didn't recognize. 

Now, Franklin Covey has some very nice stuff, but I–and most FC fans, I think–would have a pretty hard time coming up with two thousand dollars' worth of stuff to buy. So I called Discover, as requested, and spoke to the representative in the Fraud unit. They asked for a ton of information, basically trying to establish whether I actually had the card in my hands. They then went back through the last several charges (all of which had been declined because Discover thought they were fishy) until they got to one I recognized. So all is well, I'm not responsible for the fraudulent charges, and new cards will arrive in a few days. Happy ending, but not the way you want to start the day. 

So on the way to work, I'm headed up Belair Road and approaching the turnoff for the Beltway, when a guy in a silver Mercedes minivan** comes flying in from the left lane, cuts me off and continues into the on-ramp. As it happened, there wasn't anyone ahead of us, so he just kept rocketing down the ramp and disappeared into the traffic. 

And of course it's annoying because he's rude and I nearly spilled my tea and the crappiest part about it is that there wasn't even anyone ahead of him to slow his ass down, so he pretty much got away with it and that's the worst part. You're minding your own business and following the rules of the road, and you have to be extra careful when you're driving because there are ASSHATS LIKE THIS out there on the road. 

So for the uninitiated, from the Belair Road exit on the Beltway, it's maybe a mile to the interchange with I-95 and, about another mile or two south of that, the highway splits so that motorists have two tunnels through Baltimore to choose from. It's a very busy piece of road during rush hours, but for the most part it's well-designed and seems to go smoothly, even if the volume means that you're not able to go at full speed.

Today, however, was a little different. The merge to southbound I-95 was pretty easy, but after the split for the tunnels, the traffic seemed to slow down. It was kind of an unnatural place for this sort of thing to happen, and I got worried that I'd be late to school, because I'm also aware that there is construction beyond the tunnel that tends to slow things down. Could the slowdowns actually be backing up through the tunnel and continuing another four miles? This could be bad.

In the distance, however, I saw some police lights flashing, so I figured, cool. We get past that, and things should open up. I hope. 

As I get closer to the police activity–and, sure enough, I can see at this point that the traffic is lightening up after that point–I see that it's a single marked police car, and fortunately he's not reporting on an accident; he's got a single car stopped for some infraction. 

And that car is a silver Mercedes minivan. 

This may be a good day today, you know? 

 

**you can call it an "SUV" all you like, it's a minivan unless it's actually spending some time off-road. And this thing ain't spending ANY time off-road.