Sunday, December 18, 2011

Driving From DC

Things I thought about driving to Mount Laurel, NJ from Gaitherberg, MD

MD-200 is the road I've dreamed about all my life. It was empty, patrolled by Office Ray Charles and went exactly where I needed to go, bypassing the Beltway.

As I passed an older man who who was drifting out of his lane as he was driving 40 miles and hour with those giant sun visors on, I wondered why we don't test older people for driving skills.

Who was Pulaski and why does he have his own highway.

Do people actually stop to visit the Decoy museum at Harve De Grace? And who was Harve de Grace and why does he have his own town? Did he know Pulaski?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Coffee Man

Hi, My name is Mike and I am addicted to  "Donut House" coffee from my new Keurig K-Cup machine.
(Crowd says "Hi Mike")

It all started a few weeks ago when the Chancellor declared that my faithful "Mr Coffee" machine would never do in our newly renovated kitchen and we needed a sleek new K-Cup machine. Since the Chancellor hates coffee, this had nothing to do with coffee, but everything to do with the display of appliances on the counter top as if a photo-shoot were about to occur in our kitchen for "Kitchens Today".

The model we purchased came with assorted coffees, one of which was an evil 12 pack of "Donut House".  I fell in love with the "easy going, bold and dependable" blend immediately and was soon having two to three per day. (Isn't that just like a drug dealer - offering the first one for free?) Meanwhile, I'm going through half and half at a rate usually reserved for the holidays or when we have guests. And Splenda? We are in lab rat territory there. I'm getting up early everyday just to get my daily input.

Soon my freebie 12 pack was gone and I was left alone wandering the streets, rubbing the insides of my elbows with an empty ceramic cup and wondering where my next cup would come from.

Word on the street was that there was a new dealer in town and one with a 20% off coupon, Bath, Bed and Beyond. (K-Cups must be part of the "Beyond").

Sure enough, right there at the entrance, was a wall of 18 pack K-Cups including my prized Donut House. I picked up a box plus a box of the 'posser Donut Shop.

Now that second box is gone too, faster than expected because Oldest Son also likes "The coffee with the friendly and inviting coffee-man on the lid". (It's sinister, getting our young people on that junk too.)

Now I find myself doing research as to where my coffee money is best spent. I found that at BJ's I can get the goods for 53 cents each if I buy 160 for $84.99.

Let me say that again slowly so that you understand the depths of my addiction. I was considering buying Eight-Five dollars worth of little, individual coffee dispensers just so I could have the peace of mind of knowing I had a grain silo full of "Donut House" K-Cups at my disposal.

E-i-g-h-t-y f-i-v-e dollars.

For Coffee.

Kids, there's a hole in daddy's face where all the money goes.

I don't think I'm going to pull the trigger on 160 (and how big of a freeking box is that and do I need to bring the mini-van or will it fit in the RAV-4?) but you will see me at BB&B with my coupon in hand today.

I'll be the wild eyed man clutching an 18 pack and a quart of half and half.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

All Things Must Pass

Wow. It's been a while.

I've been stuck on all things George Harrison for the past week since flipping through channels and catching the Scorsese documentary Living in the Material World. It's well done of course and the 4 hours are worth it just for the stories like Tom Petty talking about George with a trunk full of ukuleles and Harrison's son talking about how going to Military School was a form of rebellion in the Harrison household.

Ironically it reminded me of my father.

My Dad bought All Things Must Pass when it first came out in 1970/71. Looking back, this is like saying "My dad built a moon rocket in our backyard" or "My Dad was a spy". Unlikely.

I'd imagine he bought it because he liked the single My Sweet Lord but this seemed to be a period when he was trying new things like the group Chicago and The Moody Blues so maybe it was part of that too, I don't know - I was twelve.

In those days you bought music in a record store or the record department of a big chain store. I remember seeing that big boxed set in the record bins. Typically records were priced according to popularity and size with a letter code. I think "A" was cheapest. All Things Must Pass must have been a "EE" and cost a fortune in those days, something like $15.99!

This must have been because it was an unheard-of-before triple album. Well sort of. In 41 years I don't think I've ever listened too that third record of "jams" front to back but like the Yoko Ono tracks on a John Lennon album, they were included in the price of admission.

To listen to music, my parents had the obligatory TV/Radio/Phono Console. It used tubes, was only Black and White and I don't think it even received UHF channels. This is going to be shocking for any under 25 but you had to get up out of your chair to change the VHF TV Channel. FM may have been beyond it's capabilities too, but it played Stereophonic LP records and that was good enough.

I thought at the time that it was long enough to land a plane on it but looking back at pictures that include it, maybe that was just my imagination.  Here my brother stands in front of it and you can see "Days of Future Past" in the front of Dad's collection.

All Things Must Pass may have been one of the first albums I "taped" too. I had a Radio Shack cassette player/recorder and had an overwhelming desire to make perfect copies of the "good" records in Dad's collection. I have no idea why. I remember hanging the microphone of the recorder in front of the speaker, pressing record and starting to play the album. I recall that you had to be very quiet so there wasn't a lot of background noise and I have no idea how I did that in house full of younger brothers and a sister.

Right now I'm listening to it again front to back.

Instinctively I'm being very quiet.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sweat Shop

It's been jungle-hot out there with television news people, digital thermometers in hand, taking the temperature of everything from Phillies seats to sidewalks all the while talking about dew points and heat index like they know what the hell they are talking about. We are in day 7 of a nasty heat wave and yesterday was one of those days when you think despite running around the clock, your AC not doing a good job - until you step outside and back in.

The weather station here at Club 'Fred hit 104.6 while the water temperature hit 88.

At least I work in the cool of an air conditioned office. Actually it's a little too air conditioned as I have to wear a zip up jacket at my desk. I've tried to have it fixed, but gave up long ago.

Broad St in 1907. Factory is on right.
I've had worse. In college, I worked at a friends clothing factory during the summers and on days like this, that place was like the entrance to hell. I fully understood the term "sweat shop" there.

The factory was on Broad and Carpenter streets in Philly and my friend was the last remaining tenant in a six floor 19th century factory building. He occupied the entire 2nd floor.

It was the 1980's and this was the last stand for factories full of union labor in Philly.

One of the first tasks I had was to set up fans throughout the non-air conditioned factory floor where a league of nations sat chained to their sewing machines while the Puerto Rican maintenance man Edgar and I set up fans. The fans were on poles with a hefty weighted stand and of course everyone wanted the fan on them to blow the hot air across their sweaty brow and cool them.

It was one of my first days and I had somehow become the "ice water man in hell" with all the ladies begging me in a strange tongue to "put the fan here". We tried our best to accommodate the ladies until we were down to fans without stands. The remaining fans had a 4 inch plate with holes that should have been used to fasten the fan to a now missing stand.

Edgar told me in broken English to "nail da fan to da floor". I asked him if he was sure since I had my doubts. After all, I was an engineering student and had some concept of torque.  Edgar assured me that he did it all the time and so he left me to set up the first stand-less fan.

I nailed that sucker to the wooden floor with four six inch nails, powered it on and watched in horror as it twisted the nails out of the floor, striking the ground and bending the blades.

No one was hurt but needless to say, the ladies were not happy.  A noisy chatter broke out and I learned the word "stupid" in 15 languages. Of course, Edgar was no where to be found after sending me out on the floor to accomplish his cockamamie scheme and I was left alone to explain in a game of sweat shop charades that it was not my fault. 

The factory floor was bad enough in that building, but the real horrors lay in the back at the steam tables. There, men labored in the steam, ironing the finished Military Uniforms in 120 degree heat. I hated even going back there and I remember that they always had wet towels around their necks while they worked.  I've never seen men more exhausted after a days work then the men that worked back there on days like this.
My main job at the sweat shop was to "Cut paper". I worked along side the fresh-off-the boat-Italian designer Mario as he would extrapolate a 40 regular pattern into all the sizes the factory floor needed. My job was to cut out a complete set of all sized parts from heavy cardboard and stamp them with the size, ready for the cutters to lay them on the cloth laid out on the cutting tables. Mario and I would work side by side at our table over looking the cutting room floor through sheets of plastic. We had a small AC unit that blew hot air unto the hot cutting room floor but it didn't do much but piss off Joe and the rest of the "cutters" since the design room was pretty much open to the factory.

Everyday at exactly 10 AM Mario would say "Coffee Time" in a thick Italian accent, an expression that is stuck in my head to this day. CoffeeTime. Coffee-Time. Coffee-Time. Coffee-Time. Coffee-Time. Coffee-Time. Over and over and over.

That was a different era in Philadelphia, one where there were factory jobs like that and you could raise a family on that kind of income. That whole section of the economy doesn't even exist anymore.

My friend would go on to build a new building with air conditioning out by the airport in the 1990's and the Broad and Carpenter building was demolished to make way for the "Avenue of the arts".

There is still an undeveloped piece of land at Broad between Carpenter and Washington Ave.

I am not sure I miss it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

No Clarence.

Been listening to a lot of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out since Clarence Clemons passed away last week. I must have 5 versions on my pod, most of which are captured live. It's a tight, concise story of how the E street band was formed and I keep thinking how hard it will be for Springsteen and the E street band to ever sing that again live since so prominently featured Clarence.

I guess he has three choices:

1. Never play it again. Sad but fitting.

2. Play it but change the lyrics to something in tribute the memory of Clarence. Sounds like Bruce.

3. The "Darren" solution - named after the character Darren in the Bewitched television show: Play it with some new Sax player and pretend he is the Big Man. He's the new Big Man.

The passing of band members as they get older is inevitable and now two original members of the E street band have passed, Danny Federici in 2008 and now Clarence. While Danny played in the back and has been very ably replaced by Charles Giordano, it's going to be tough to replace The Big Man, especially in Tenth Ave since there is a whole verse about him. His sax was such a big part of the E street sound.

There is no Danny song.

No denying it, the E Street band isn't going to be the same with out him.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Last week was Youngest's son graduation from High School believe it or not. I'm still in shock that I have now two in College and thank goodness for that money tree otherwise I'm not sure how we would do it.

Because it threatened to thunderstorm, the Graduation itself was held in the High School Gymnasium which was near wood-fueled, brick-oven temperatures by time they got to the the "F"s. Notice I said the "threat" of rain. It never did actually rain, which the High School principal later acknowledged during a heat induced confession near the end of the ceremony.

img_4082:Lenape 2011 Graduation

This is actually our second indoor graduation. Oldest Son's 8th grade graduation was also held indoors as well. That was awful with the heat as recall too.

Everyone was relieved that the powers-that-be called an audible at the line and decided that they would forego the reading of the 50,000 awards and scholarships given out. I'm guess here but this decision came after the ceremony was stopped for a short time while the EMTs came a took away someone's Grandmom from the sweltering crowd.

This saved us from hearing that So-and-Sos kid got $250 dollars for the Classic Chevrolet most congenial scholarship. I think unless the award pays for more than several lunches in someone's future cafeteria, it shouldn't be read out loud.

My other scholarship idea is to have a financial award for the kid in the exact middle of the class ranking.  I'd call it the Suburban Stories "Welcome to the middle" scholarship.

Of course graduations mean parties and we had Youngest sons the day after graduation. Catered of course - after all we have that tree. The one thing you really don't think about when selecting the catered menu is "Am I going to be able to eat this for week after the party?". I swear by Wednesday I had sworn off fried chicken and pulled pork for life.

In other News, Oldest Son continues his adventures in Italy with a week in Sicily followed by ten days in Paris and then home. Yesterday was the Palermo, Sicily to Paris  travel day and I haven't heard from him yet so of course am a little concerned.

He will be returning to the states just after the 4th of July so we are looking forward to that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rome Day quattro e cinque

Days 4 and 5 were on the weekend so we spent them driving short distances in our rented Puegeot "piccolo". These were the only days that Oldest Son did not have classes and we squeezed as much out of them as we could.

We were very fluid in our requirements about how long to rent a car but not flexible on price - it had to be cheap. All told, I think we spent more on gas and tolls then we did on the car.

Actually renting the car was adventure in it's self. The line wasn't bad when we got in it, there was one German guy in front of us that The Chancellor labelled "Prince Charming" because he looked, well, a lot like Prince Charming.

Prince Charming was taking foooooorevvvvver and we couldn't figure out why. The car rental agent was an older Italian guy who was all smiles and very little efficiency. Mr Italian Smiles was talking and writing numbers on paper then Prince Charming would ask questions in broken English and the Italian guy would answer them. More writing, more questions.

In the mean time a giant line formed behind us and pressure was building on Mr Italian smiles but it didn't bother him in the least. He just kept working with Prince Charming.

Finally Prince Charming rented his Mercedes and then we found out what takes so long. In order to get the advertised rate on the car, you had to hold thousands of Euros on your credit card as a deposit. APparently there was a lot of negotiating between smiley and Prince Charming.

The Chancellor did not like this and was very honest with Mr Italian Smiles. I asked for other options and we got a slightly high higher rate but lower deposit and after 20 minutes of paper shuffling, Mr Italian Smiles handed us the keys.

After a slight snafu getting out of the parking lot (Mr Italian Smiles neglected to tell us to get a parking ticket before getting the car) we were off with Oldest son navigating from the back seat of the piccolo. There were a few "look kids, it's Big Ben and Parliament" moments but for the most part we were headed to Florence for the day.

Nearly 300 Km later through ups and downs along the A1 Autostrata, the piccolo got us to Florence safely. There was a lot of shifting between 5th and 4th gear on the uphills but we were there (Not nearly as much as the next day though).

IMG_2266We visited the top of the Cupola at the Duomo of the Basilica of S Maria, shopped, ate a quick pizza (what else?) and we headed back to the car.

The Chancellor had wanted to drive through country side of Tuscany as one of her "must dos" and Oldest son and I thought this was a little vague. We thought a drive needed a destination, a direction, something and given our lack of sleep, the pace we had been going and the long car ride in the piccolo, this nearly caused an emotional breakdown. In the end we decided to take back roads on the way home, at least through parts of Tuscany.

We did not regret this. The sun was setting as we drove along the curvy mountain roads and the Chancellor attempted photographing every river view, sometimes hanging her camera out the window. I refused to let her do this with my new Camera.

We had dinner at a little local spot in the hills of Tuscany. It was like the only little family restaurant and since it was Saturday Night, all the locals started showing up as we ate. It was fascinating to see this part of Italian country life.

We got home late and after a pinball like drive through Rome to get to Prati, got some sleep and did the same thing the next day but headed out to Ascoli Piceno in the Marches region on Italy.

The piccolo struggled mightily through the Mountains of Abruzzi along the A24 but once again, got the job done.

Ascoli Piceno is not your typical tourist destination but instead is the area that my Father's family was from. My brother had gone in November and I wanted to see it too. It's a shame my Dad didn't get to see it before he passed in January and he would have been proud of Oldest Son as he spoke fluently with the locals but knowing Dad, he would have been anxious to get to what ever was next.

Here are pictures from both days with a personal best of 261 Pictures for Sunday (Day 5) with some help from The Chancellor and Oldest Son while driving.

Day 4 
Day 5

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rome Day Tre

Day 4 in Rome will officially be known as the "day of the strike".

The Italians have regularly scheduled strikes at least one Friday a month according to Oldest Son, so we knew this one was coming, it just showed up in a different form than expected.

We planned a day at the Vatican Museums and then later in the afternoon we would walk over to our pre-purchased, special tour of the coliseum. We expected to walk all day  and so Oldest Son and I headed out the Vatican Museum line about 9 AM with our prosciutto sandwiches and fruit for lunch.

We were surprised to see the 990 bus since there was supposed to be strike but we hopped on it for a few stops. While on  the bus, oldest son overheard a woman talking in Italian with the bus driver that the strike didn't start until 9:30 AM. How timely.

This was actually good and bad since The Chancellor stayed behind at Apartment Maximus and we were to gather information about the walk and relay it back to her. Now all we could say was "there was this bus..."

The line to the Vatican wasn't bad by Vatican line standards. Oldest Son and I were in the security checkpoint by 10:30.

In 2006 I had been in the same checkpoint and had to check a tripod, so I knew not to bring one of those again or it would be arrivederci tripod. But, what I had forgotten was that I had a laptop security lock in my bag and wasn't I surprised when I saw it on the x-ray of my bag. So was security and I was sent in the direction off the controllo bagagli.

I knew where this leads. I end up with a ticket and no bag, a ticket that I will later lose.

So I simply got out of line and went into the Museum. It was sort of scary how easily this was done.

By 11:30 we had made our way to the Sistine Chapel where it is still absurd but this time I took pictures and movies of being there. Of course this too is against the rules.

Here is a picture I took of the last judgement by simply pointing the camera in the general direction of the wall:
Rome2011-Day3 035
At the exit of the Museum I saw I sign for the baggage claim and I made Oldest Son ask in Italian if they still had my tripod from 2006. No, I did not have a biglietto. He was embarrassed to ask but they made an effort to at least look. The guards say that if you mail them the ticket, they will ship the item back to you for free.

Nice to know - now.

By 1 we called the Chancellor and had her make the walk to St Peters from Apartment Maximus.

We were a little concerned about letting her make the walk on her own but she clearly did not want to see the Vatican again since as far as she was concerned, she had checked that off in 2006 during our first trip here.

According to Google Maps, it's a 30 minute walk and Oldest Son and I had planned to map it out with pictures along our walk and we really had good intentions - until the bus came.

View Larger Map

We told her we would meet her at the Obelisk in St Peters but we found ourselves directly in the path of her walk so we thought we would call her to get a status update and try to meet her. This seemed like a good idea at the time - really. Of course what we could not predict was her exact path and somehow we missed each other.

Oldest Son and I realized that too much time had passed and headed to the Square and the original meeting place of the Obelisk.

As we are walking, we see TV film crew ahead talking with someone.

Guess who.
Rome2011-Day3 047

They interviewed her about what her take was on the royal wedding and when she didn't have one, they told her to make something up.

From there we made our way to the Coliseum where we discovered it very difficult to tell if it is opened or closed from a distance. We learned that you really have to be right on top of it to see that the iron gates are all closed and there is an absurd number of people outside it and none inside it.

They were on strike.

We emailed our tour company and rescheduled for the following Friday.

Lesson for the day: prescheduled items are good in the beginning, bad at the end. (imagine if we scheduled the Coliseum for the end of the trip).

All day 3 pictures are here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rome Day Due

On Day two we began our touring of Rome in earnest and took the Metro from our Apartment to Piazza De Popolo. From there we went up the hill to Villa Borghese and made our reservations for later in the week for the Art Museum there.

Along the way, the Chancellor and I began work on our new hobby, taking pictures for strangers. It began on the hill over looking Piazza De Popolo where we ran into an English couple who had picked out the very spot that The Chancellor wanted to use for our picture.

You can tell a lot about a couple just from the very first words that come out their mouths. When we first asked if they wanted us to take their picture, the husband - busy being the subject of the picture said "Well, I'm not in charge of the camera". Aha. Enough said. We thought that a bit awkward until the Chancellor asked where they were from and they said Devon, England. She responded that she too was from Devon - PA and we were off. We asked again if they wanted us to take their picture, this time directing the question to the camera controller and she said yes.

The Chancellor began directing them around with commands like "OK Stand over here, take off your sunglasses, take off your purse" etc while I took up their camera. We make a team. She directs and I take over the technical aspects of the photo.

I noticed right off that Mrs Camera Controller was no serious photographer as she had the camera upside down as she handed it to me. That's correct, she had been holding the camera upside down with the words SONY upside down, facing her and the shutter on the bottom. (Had she been taking photos this way the entire trip?) She also had the flash on, in direct sun. I took one picture and saw it was completely washed out and asked to take another with the flash off. Mr Subject objected a bit saying she wanted it that way but I said let's try one.

Later they will get home to Devon and call us stupid for taking their picture upside down but they took a beautiful photo for us. They forgot to tell us to take our sunglasses and purses off.
Rome2011-1 053

From there we had a little lunch outdoors on the Via Veneto and Oldest Son went off to class. The Chancellor and I headed to the Spanish Steps on our own where worked on our new hobby a bit with a set of 3 French women.

The language barrier made The Chancellor's part a bit harder but she turned it into a game of charades, gesturing "taking off your sunglasses, what about your purse". My job was also more difficult with three cameras. (Why do people insist on taking the same picture with their own camera? Do we not share the pictures?). Our hobby helps us get pictures of ourselves too.
Rome2011-1 135

From there we headed back to Apartment Maximus to relax a bit before dinner and then it was off to meet Oldest Son at his Apartment.

He was late so we worked on our hobby a bit and found a new twist - people that do not want to be photographed together. I thought that was weird until I realized that these two people were not supposed to be in Rome together and they saw this as not a memento of a vacation but as evidence.

Dinner was excellent and my friend John D has so far been correct with his adage -  "You can not get a bad meal in Rome". We had dinner at a tiny little restaurant called "Alfredo e Ada"  around the corner from Oldest Son's place. Dinner was excellent but it would have helped to know that it came in two courses - "Primo" and  a "Secondo".  I was full after Primo of Carbonara but pressed on with my Secondo of braciole like steak.

We sat at a long table with two Japanese women. We did not offer to take their picture and we took more pictures than they did.

Day Two's lesson: Not everyone wants their picture taken

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Rome Day Una

If you find yourself at Zara on Via Del Corso in Roma, I would be very cautious of trying on pants in my size.

Let me explain.

Day one's afternoon found us in our apartment waiting on Air France to deliver our lost luggage. I needed a shower but the only clothing I had were literally the clothes on my back.

1 Short Sleeved Man's shirt
1 Pair Men's shorts, 1 size too big
1 Pair of low cut white athletic socks.
1 pair of underwear
1 pair of athletic shoes.
1 "sleeveless coat of many pockets" officially known as the "tech vest"

And courtesy of Air France's "Sky Team", 1 plain white mens undershirt.

All of which stank after 24 hours of travel and thinking the worst, I needed to buy clothes and now.
Since Apartment Maximus has a washer (but no dryer, as is common here in Italy), I decided to wash the shirt, socks and underwear.

Oldest Son came by to pick us up and guide us to the shopping areas and so I wore everything not in the wash.

And so that is how I got on the 913 bus - unintentionally commando, which I really didn't think much of until I had to try on new pants.

That's when things got a little dicey.

Yes, I had to try on pants without underwear, all because the weather changed in Philly as we were leaving:

Which caused air traffic control to switch the outbound runway at Philly International
Which caused us to be 30th, yes 30th, in line for take off
Which caused us to take off 1.5 hours late.
Which caused us to land in Paris 1/2 hour late.

That wouldn't have been so bad except for the fact that our flight to Rome took off within 50 minutes of touching down in Paris and that would n't have been so bad except it took 20 minutes to taxi to the gate and another 10 minutes to get off the plane.

From there it was like an episode of the Amazing Race. In 20 minutes we:

  • Talked the French police into letting us in the short line so we could run through Customs like blur. (just stamp the f'ing thing)
  • Had to find Terminal F, Gate 27 
  • Had to be security screened again since Customs is outside the secured area of the Paris airport. 
  • And run to the plane. 

Given the snappy efficiency of the average French baggage handler, I was pretty sure our luggage wasn't going to make our flight so it wasn't a surprise that we found ourselves hopelessly watching an empty baggage carousel go around and around

Oh and since I was fooling around with my phone on the runway in Philly, the battery was completely drained because there are no cell towers at 38,000 feet but the phone spent all of it's energy try to reach out to one ever 15 seconds. (it's like a 5 year old in you backseat saying "are we there yet, are we there yet,are we there yet, are we there yet,are we there yet, are we there yet..." Is there cell tower, is there a cell tower...")

Our driver was there, our bags were not and so we had little choice but to go to the apartment.

All is well today. Air France delivered that bags to our Apartment around midnight last night. I now have underwear.

Today's lesson:: pack underwear in your carry on.

The first 160 pictures here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Don't get old.

I can't get the opening riffs of "Can't you hear me knocking" by the Stones out of my head. I must have listened to it 50 times over the past two weeks.

Hearing it reminds me of the Steven Wright joke:

"I can't believe the Stones are still doing it after all these years. Fred, Barney Wilma...."

Maybe I should be hearing "Under Pressure" by Queen and Bowie since that's more how I feel these days.

It's a function of the way things are at work: stressful and chaotic. Stressful is one thing, I understand pressure to get things done. It's the chaos I'm finding disturbing and it's all having a negative effect on me.

Not to complain openly about it but I'm also having issues with my teeth. I've had a temporary crown in my mouth since the beginning of the month and at the same time broke a tooth on the same side. Luckily I have redundant sides for chewing but having the temporary crown is like having a ticking time bomb in your mouth.

My Dentist, Dr R insists on mixing the temporary crown glue with Vaseline.Now I'm no materials engineer but that sounds good for her and bad for me. I'm just constantly fearful of the crown falling out and leaving a nasty post exposed. This fear is based on the first 24 hours of the fakey-crown, when at dinner with my wife, the whole thing came off in my mouth and in a panic I spit out all the food in my mouth to search for the missing crown.

Let me repeat that: I spit out all the food I was chewing to look for this stupid crown.

I found it, but I'll bet that was a moment she didn't foresee when she was saying "for better or worse" twenty something years ago.

Dr R has twice tried to put the permanent crown on but it just doesn't fit right. "The lab", wherever that is,  keeps messing it up. Every time she pulls the temporary crown off she says the same thing:

"OK Mike, you are going to feel a lot of pressure"

What I didn't realize was she meant at work.

This last time I insisted on no Vaseline and attempt number three is in two weeks. Wish me luck, pray for me, light a candle, what ever.

All of this dental crap reminds me of something my Mother's Aunt used to say: "Don't get old". I remember thinking "the alternatives aren't good either" every time she said it but as I get older, it actually makes more and more sense.

"Don't get old" Say it to yourself. Feels good doesn't it?

Another famous saying in my family comes from Grandfather on my Dad's side.

"There are no good jobs"

Which is another which I 'm finding more and more true.

If I have one famous saying to leave the generations it would be:

"I like vacation better than work"

To that end, the Chancellor and I are off to Italy soon. I can't tell you when because the Chancellor believes that all four of  my blog readers will rush right over to our house and steal everything we own even though both our Moms and Youngest son will be here. Well, three of the readers anyway, my Aunt reads and she's welcome to come see her sister. Just don't steal anything.

We are seeing Oldest Son in Rome for X days. Where X is greater than 3 and less than 25. And there will be armed guards at our home during those X days. With tanks. With sophisticated communications devices and aircover.

Obviously we are really looking forward to that. We have rented an apartment  over the Internet and have our airline tickets ready to go. I was a little queasy about renting over the Internet since I sent some stranger 200 Euros and he said "OK you have the place" and that was the extent of the transaction. I was thinking how easy a scam this would be and so I developed a little test to help me sleep at night.

I made up a character, let's call him Charles S Bailey, and I had "Charles" rent the same apartment during our stay. I figured if it's a scam, Mr Italian landlord will get greedy and try to rent it twice and if he says it's already rented, at least either he's smart about it or there really is an apartment.

He said it was already rented and then I took out insurance.

Today is Phillies game number two of our Sunday Plan with Aunt Tina and Mr C. Two weeks ago the Chancellor bailed on me at the last minute and I had to find a replacement. I learned something that week: You can leave tickets at the window for someone. This was because I invited someone from PA who met us there. Who knew? Last year I waited out front for my sister to show and I could have just left a ticket at the window.

I just can't have a Tony Luke Jrs Roast Pork today at "The Bank" because of fakey-crown.

Enjoy today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The booby prize.

A big week for travel for the family as the Chancellor was off to Mexico for her birthday on what they were calling "International Girls Weekend", Oldest Son is in Rome for his semester abroad and Youngest son and I went to beautiful, downtown, Towson, MD. I must have missed a meeting or something when we were giving out assignments.

The Towson trip was for a college visit and tt was a packed house for "Destination Towson" as they were calling it. We checked in and found that some how Youngest son had been accepted as a business major instead an education major. At least that is what the school on his name tag read: College of Business and Economics.

We were digesting this news when I felt nature call and headed out to the Men's room. When I came back I found Youngest son chatting it up with some pretty thing. It turns out she was from his high school, now a hundred miles to the north and they had advanced Bio together. Small world.

And then she added "and I'm in your first period English"

To which he said "Your are?".

Excellent. The long line of painfully honest men continues in my family. It was a little awkward for a moment until I went off with the parents and he went off with the prospective students to our separate meetings.

(Later I pulled him aside and coached that when a pretty girl says she is in your first period English class, nod your head up and a down like a dashboard chihuahua, even if she isn't.)

img_1557:The Parents meeting was mostly a question and answer session with the parents peppering a panel of Towson parents, students and administration with the usual  "how are room mates picked?" and "Can my son/daughter change roommates?" etc.

It was all pretty boring until one parent in the back asked how accepting the University was to the LGBT community.

After explaining to the mostly white suburbanites over 50 crowd what the LGBT  community was, the administration folks were all over that one with how accepting they were and that they had clubs and generally how much they just love gay people. (Especially ones with money). The students on the panel piped up with similar responses.

My favorite was one young lady that hung out at the Rainbow club because there are not a lot of places to sit in the public areas of the University and the "Rainbow Club" had a lot of empty couches, so she sat over there with them.

I got stuck there for a moment.

I was trying to imagine what all this couch sitting in the Rainbow Club was like for her. I'm sure there had to be an awkward moment or two that ended with "err.. ahh... ummm... I'm just here for a seat", right? Looking back, I'm sure this is what happened to Rosa Parks. She was just looking for seat and look what happened there.

I snapped back to the present as one Dad followed that line of questions with  "did the university put roommates together on the basis of sexual orientation".

Clearly, you had a sense of where this was going and it wasn't pretty. It was as if he had just realized that his son could, potentially, have a gay roommate and this could somehow "rub off" on him.

I thought for sure that this was going to go off a cliff but the staff handled it well and the "situation" was diffused with grace.

After that we moved back to more mundane topics like "actually paying for school" and "how hard is it to change majors". Which reminded me that I had a question and so I asked:

"Hypothetically, suppose this friend of mine applied for the wrong major. How hard is it for him to change majors now? Hypothetically of course"

It turns out to not be a big deal as Towson accepts on the merit of the student overall and not for a specific school or major.

After that meeting we broke up into groups based on majors and now I realized I had a problem. Do I go with the one on the badge or the one that he intended to sign up for? Apparently, I chose more wisely that the meeting where we gave out assignments because Youngest son was in the room for the School of Education when I got there.

The rest of the day was lunch and of course a tour following a bright young cherub who walks backwards through dining halls and dorm rooms. Then the drive home.

Overall, I think he liked it. We have one last visit scheduled for next Monday and then a decision must be made.

Pictures here

    Zen and the art of Car repair.

    The Aluminum Falcon was in desperate need of repair with a turn signal out, a muffler leak of unknown origin and the check engine light on. The check engine light AKA CEL or MIL was the lowest priority in my mind since I was pretty sure that was something stupid. It had come on one fall morning (OK, it was as different season) after the car started. The car's engine hesitated just for a second, sounded like it was going to stall and then miraculously pulled out of it at the last second.

    Then the CEL came on.

    After that the car ran fine. On a 14 year old car with one door that doesn't open and large crease down one side, the CEL just adds to the ambiance.  I mean it was like some American cars where the model of the car should be named after the CEL like a Chevy MIL or the new Buick CEL-6000. 111,000 miles and CEL came on once. It's really a miracle.

    One night last week I stopped by the Auto parts store and bought a turn signal lamp and a muffler repair kit. I thought what the hell, if I can fix muffler for $3.50, why not? I was doing this because I had misplaced the lifetime warranty that I know I had from the muffler I put on the car in 2009.

    The turn signal lamp was a snap since that side of the car looks like a large monster took a chunk out of my car. I reached up into the fender, found the socket and replaced the lamp. It took all of 5 minutes and I was so proud of myself.

    The muffler was another story. Apparently reaching under a 5.9 inch high car to access the muffler and tail pipe is not an easy thing. Who knew? Last just leave it with "Just was stupid and it didn't work" and the next day I called my mechanic, the one with the very large boat and steep monthly boat payments.

    He couldn't get me in until Monday. This was bad as it gave me more time to consider DIY options. Friday night was my second stop to my new best friend, the auto parts salesman.

    This time I bought two new kinds of DIY muffler repair kits. One was tape. Yes, tape. It was aluminum tape but still, it was tape. The other was putty. This time I got wise and used the jack that came with car to get a few more inches under it.

    Believe it or not, I fixed my muffler with tape and putty. I was ready for inspection.

    Now I still had the CEL, but I thought that was a nothing, remember? Well apparently the state of New Jersey has a different idea and here's a handy tip for those of you out there with a CEL on and you don't have a reader: Get your car inspected and the state of NJ will read those codes causing the CEL for free!

    Mine failed with a "MIL Command Status: FAIL" and a "OBD SYSTEM - DIAGNOSTIC CODES PRESENT"  and they listed three codes.

    I looked them up on the internet and they were "Cycl 2 misfired, Cyl 4 misfired and general cyl misfire". I literally failed inspection because back in October my car nearly stalled. Of course the State zombie at the inspection station made it sound I like I was personally responsible for global warming but really this was non-sense.

    So now the Aluminum Falcon as the very appropriate scarlet "R" sewn to it's windshield telling the public to stay away, I'm dangerous.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Buying a new car in 2011.

    Buying a car has changed since my wife and I bought our last new car ten years ago. I'd like to pass on the tips we learned along the way. These may be something you already know but maybe you don't so here goes.

    My plan was to Evaluate->Price->Understand Finance and Incentives ->pull the trigger

    1. Stay out of the dealership. 

    Car dealers only want you in the dealership to put the full court press on you. They know that most people are intimidated with face to face negotiations. They will do everything in their power TO GET YOU IN THE DEALERSHIP.

    Now there are valid reasons for going to the dealership since they have the actual cars and so you need to plan a dealership visit like you left your wedding ring in an occupied bear cave.

    First, there should be two reasons to visit a dealership: Test drives and to drive a car home.

    Your test drive needs to be planned and pre-arranged. Do not just wander into a dealership without a plan. That's what we did for the first two visits that ended badly. Also, dictate the terms of your test drive up front. Tell them you plan to drive on a variety of road conditions including highway. If they refuse, they are off your  list and move on.

    If it's been a while since your last new car purchase or this is your first one, I would pick a practice dealership first as reconnaissance. Pick a "dark horse" brand and "geographically undesirable" dealership for your first visit. If there are two dealerships in your area and one is a little further away, start there.

    Finally, don't be afraid to walk out. There is nothing funnier that a car salesman frantically looking for you in the parking lot.(Also, don't show them your present car in the lot. It's none of their freakin' business and it makes the whole "where the hell are they" experience that much more fun).

    Remember: The dealers are sharks and you have a shark cage: your home. Do not leave the shark cage unless you have to.

    2. Get informed. 
    Consumer Reports was the best $40 I spent for this adventure. They have everything from videos and head to head model comparisons to blueprints for how to make your purchase. They also have a build and bid function that I'll get to later. Study the functions and feature of each make and model. In the end, we had several makes we would have been equally happy with and CR helped us understand the differences of each.

    I also found truecar of value.  Edmunds was good too.

    Part of this is to plan ahead as well. Target the final negotiations for months end. 

    3. Start chumming.
    The internet has revolutionized the car sales business. Use it to price your car.

    I had a two forked approach: email local dealers and use a service to put out bids. If you email local dealers, send them a specific list of options, features and at least two colors. Ask for a price on specific vehicle and not a generic internet price. Ask them to disclose any and all fees in their response. Tell them that any post production options such as pin striping, mud flaps, trunk liners and other expensive BS is not part of the deal up front. Tell them that if it is already on the car, it's at dealer expense and do not include in the price.  

    Most are going to ignore everything in your email and send a canned response luring you into the dealership. DO NOT ENTER THE CAVE. Politely request an answer to everything you asked and if they ignore you again, scratch 'em off the list.

    Here was a typical response to my request for a price on specific car and all disclosures:
    My request:
    Thanks for taking the time to meet with us on Monday.

    We've now driven all the vehicles and are requesting quotes from dealerships for the following:

    Your Requested Vehicle

    2011 Hyundai Tucson AWD 4dr Auto Limited
    Your vehicle
    Exterior:Cotton White
    Interior: Black
    Options:· PREMIUM PKG 3 (03)
    · TOW HITCH (TH)
    MSRP as configured:$30,340
    Invoice as configured: $29,004
    None Selected

    Please provide a quote for a specific vehicle on your lot or obtainable through a dealer trade.

    Please explain any terms for the pricing such as "Internet Cash Price" etc

    Please disclose any additional fees your dealership typically charges such as documentation fees, advertising fees, tire fees, etc

    Please do included any non-requested post production options such as window etching, pin striping and mudflaps. We are not interest in them and if these are already on the car, they are at dealer expense.

    And their response:
    We will gladly work with you at our invoice price on any in stock vehicle.
    Please let me know when you can come in.
    Thanks in advance,

    And...... We are done.

    I responded that unless he could follow my request, we were done. I never heard back.

    It's like asking a question and getting a non-sense answer.

    The other way to start negotiating with dealerships is through a service like Consumer Reports. They have a "build and buy" button right on the price tab of their web page if you are a member. This allows your to enter your make and model, add your options and then send bids off to "local dealers". These "local dealers" turned out to be in PA (20 miles away) but that ended up being a good. thing.

    American Express, AAA and other vendors have a similar service. Use it to get started and then follow up as you did with the local dealers. Email them the same form letter and ask the same questions after the service responses roll in.

    I found all the overall responses fell into three categories:

    1. Total BS. They will tell you why they are different and why they are the best dealership ever but they never give you ANY kind of price. One sent me this BS about a "value package":

       *Full tank of gas at delivery
          *Full detail at delivery
          *Shuttle service (8 mile radius)
          *Loaners w/ scheduled service appointment
          *Express service/19 point inspection/$21.99 w/ scheduled appointment
          *Referral Program $100
          *Over 800 vehicles to choose from - new and used

    Total XXXX Honda Advantage Package Value: $1500.00

    This alone is blog gold. How this is "valued" at $1500 is way beyond me. Are they charging YOU $2 a vehicle for every vehicle on their lot?  Or, let's say gas cost $40 a tank. $1500 buys 37 FREAKIN TANKS.  This leads me to my value axiom:

    If a dealership uses the word "value" to describe any package, feature or function, they have their hand in your pants. 

    This particular dealership won my "saying a lot without saying anything of value" award. The send me emails EVERYDAY telling me how great they are and never gave me an actual price.

    2. Dealers that give you prices, but you are not sure exactly what it's price of.

    These dealers give you their "Internet Cash Price" or the "Internet Manager's Special tmp Cash price" what ever that is. I'm not buying Internet, I'm buying a car. Make sure you have them define terms.

    3. Dealers that give you what you asked for.
    Out of the 15 dealerships across 4 makes I interacted with, exactly two did what I asked. 2. Luckily they were the same make.

    One last tip for dealing with dealers over the Internet exclusively: Stiff arm them at the telephone. Give your home number and not your cell or work number. Screen your home calls. This worked well for us since neither of us are home and the kids avoid the home phone like they are superman and it is kryptonite. 

    4. Close the deal over the Internet
    Do all price comparisons over the internet and make sure you have at least two dealers in the final price negotiations. Don't be afraid to go out of state. We found that Toyota dealers were aligned regionally with NJ aligned with NY and CO and PA was aligned with MD and DE. PA Dealerships were offering 0.0% financing and NJ wasn't. This ended up being the differentiator for us.

    Don't be afraid to switch to the phone and text in the final negotiations. I finished our deal while attending a Temple University visit with my wife and youngest son via text.

    Be patient at this point too. We almost jumped the night before the final deal on what we thought was a good deal but waiting saved another $1000.

    And that's it.

    my final tip "Don't be drunk". You know who you are.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Kruger Industrial Smoothing

    The car hunt continues and our latest test drive was the Subaru Forester.

    Employing our new Internet "by appointment only" methodology, we emailed ahead, asked for appointment at 3:30 on Saturday and received said appointment. Then the dealership responded as if we had just walked in off the street.

    We were to meet a salesperson named Rich and when we arrived, Rich, if he exists at all, was "busy". We were told this by Salesman #2 who ambiguously was sort of, but not really, kinda taking Rich's place.  We told him the model we wanted to drive, gave him my license for copying and he took us out the car.

    Now I expected the usual. Salesman would get in the car, show us around the car then take us for a pre-established route and then back to his office for a time out in the penalty box.

    Nope. Salesman #2 let me get in the drivers seat, showed me where "D" was on the transmission and basically said "have a good time" with our $30,000 automobile with 3 miles on it.

    Actually, he didn't even show me where the right "D" was. As I pulled into traffic and accelerated, the engine rev'd higher and higher without the transmission shifting. I realized he had put it in some kind of manual mode and I was supposed to hit the "+" shift position to make it shift.

    Great, someone else's brand new car in heavy Cherry Hill Saturday traffic and I have to shift. Not good but I figured out the correct "D" position on the fly.

    I also have to turn around. This is the same road I had to turn around on to find the Kia Dealership so I know that if head the direction I'm going, my next good turn around spot is in Camden. So I make a right, intending to turn around on that road and then come back and make a left, thereby effectively making a U-Turn.

    I went to turn around on that busy road and ended up in the world's busiest and crowded shopping center at peak mindless-consumerism time - 4 PM on a Saturday.

    I narrowly avoided several minor fender benders including one involving some A--hole in BMW who stopped suddenly when they couldn't turn into a row of parked cars. (BTW, you BMW owners, to the rest of the world you are "that A--hole in the BMW", Ohh, I know you think you are a winner, but really, that's what we are all thinking.) (in fact that should be their sales tag line "be that A--hole in the BWM")

    Finally we were headed in the right direction, in heavy traffic, fiddling with hundreds of new gadgets on strange car and feeling good. I had brought along the iPod and the USB interface so I was driving and explaining the differences between USB iPod interface, bluetooth and iPod patch cord interface for what felt like the 100th time.(Yes, you can still do Pandora)

    It went well. We drove on the busy Interstate, bumpy side roads and heavy traffic, all while playing with the iPod and CDs.We liked this car.

    We switched positions and drove back to the dealership, pulled the new car in and we were promptly ignored.

    We wandered around the showroom for a few minutes trying to make eye contact with salesman #2 who was obviously standing around shooting the bull with the other sales man when it hit me.

    We were so conditioned to abuse that we were now looking for it.

    We don't want to stay.We did not want a time out.

    So we headed out. We had somehow found a complacent car dealer,  the Kruger Industrial Smoothing of Subaru dealers and we took full advantage of it. Although, as we left I had an overall sense of vague dissatisfaction with the whole afternoon even though we had accomplished our goal of driving and getting out. 

    Bottom line, weird dealership, great car.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Shark vs Puppy.

    The car hunt continues.

    Saturday was spent at the Honda dealer where we bought our Odyssey way back in 2002. Those were the days. You waltzed into a dealership with giant sign across your forehead that said "please take my lunch money". No plan. Just show up.

    And that's pretty much what we did Saturday as well.

    We went in, asking to drive a CR-V and ended up on the wrong end of 20 minute time out in the penalty box at the salesman's desk.

    Let me explain.

    We did get a test drive in a Honda CR-V. We liked it but it just didn't grab us. The salesman was a real shark. He was a grizzled auto sales veteran, with 20 plus years in the business and lots of sales plaques in his little cubicle to show for it.

    We went back to his desk after the drive to "see what was in inventory" like two lost children wandering into a bears den and asking "what's in here?". Yep-yep-yo. Sure, we'll have seat, nice Mr Salesman.

    With today's technology, I expect that the inventory is in a database somewhere available online form every desktop in the dealership and on the internet on the dealerships web site. We told Mr Shark that we had a something to do that Saturday night and that we had to leave but Mr Shark insisted that we "see what was in inventory". He tapped a few details into the computer and the disappeared to "find what was in inventory". I have no idea where he went or want he was doing but I'm sure it involved getting a sales manager for the full court press.

    We waited politely for a few minutes and couldn't help but over hear what was going on behind us. A sales manager was all but water-boarding a Japanese man behind us over what seemed to be a $200 difference in price. It was brutal.

    We waited a bit more. It was not going well for the Japanese guy.

    Finally we just got up and left. I did find the Shark's cell number on one of his cards and let him know we were leaving. In retrospect, this was a mistake. We got up, stepped over the Japanese man's corpse and walked across the sales floor and headed out.

    By time we reached our car, Mr Shark was on the prowl and at the door, looking frantically for us. He realized he would have no conquest today but he was not giving up. He tried to get us to come back in but we were firm: We had other cars to drive. He asked if we could come back on Tuesday,  but we said no. We left, knowing there would be phone calls and emails from Mr Shark in our future.

    Then we got smart and decided it was time to form a plan of some kind. This walking into the shark tank and expecting nothing to happen was foolish. These people are time suckers. Thier entire purpose in life is to keep you in that chair until the sales manager comes over.

    So, later in the week, we changed strategies. We emailed a local Toyota dealer and made an appointment. We dictated the model we wanted to drive, the route we were taking and the time we would show up (1 hour before closing). We thought we were so smart. We were prepared for the great white shark and we got.... a puppy.

    The Internet Toyota salesman had been on the job 2 months. Two months. We showed up at our appointed time and he had a brand new Toyota RAV 4 picked off the lot and brought it up front. We were ready for our test drive.

    One mistake we had made with the previous to dealer visits was to follow the pre-determined test route the salesman had picked out. This time we decided where we going and we decided we were going far. I drove up to the Interstate, got on Northbound headed for the next exit. Once there, I let the Chancellor drive.

    Her drive was, well, interesting. It was part Astronaut test and part sales tips for Mr Puppy. The RAV 4 was peppy and she made some tight turns in the thing that had me swinging in the leather front seat. Then she would tell Mr Puppy "It doesn't matter what you are selling, you are selling yourself" Just the way Dale Carnegy would have. From her pep talk, you would have though she was Alec Baldwin in Glen Gary, Glen Ross and not a CAT scan tech. Coffee is for winners!

    She made her way not on the Interstate but back to the dealership through the back roads in our neighborhood. She had Mr Puppy totally lost and when we popped back out on the road the dealership was on through an intersection Mr Puppy had never been on, he exclaimed his excitement at not being 50 miles from the dealership.

    Upon our return, we sat and talked for a few minutes as the dealership was closing but there was no full court press. We met the sales manager but there would be no water boarding tonight.

    By the way, we loved the RAV4.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Car Buying

    The Aluminum Falcon had a near death experience last week.

    I was driving home from work when I looked up to see the line of cars in front of me had stopped. I hit the brakes and of course, this being February in the northeast, I hit nothing but ice. Somehow, at the very last second, I managed to turn the wheel to the right, narrowly missing the gigantic white SUV directly in front of me but hitting the guardrail. I bounced off the guardrail and ended parallel to the SUV without making a mark on it.

    Bernie Parent would have been proud of my reflexes and it was nothing short of miraculous. I wanted to stand up and bow.

    Then, I drove off like nothing happened.

    This means I need to step up the pace on getting a new car and by "step up the pace" I mean "actually start".

    Let me start off by stating that I absolutely hate buying a new car. This is why I am driving a 97 Civic. My  strategy has been total car dealer avoidance. If I never have to buy a new car, I never have to see "those people" and step into "that place". That's quite a statement and it means I would rather drive a 14 year old car with dents on both sides and a bad muffler than talk with the lowest form of life on Earth, the car salesman.

    These deep seated feelings come from a long line of stupid things that have come out of the mouths of car salesmen in my presence. Like the guy that told me that the air coming out of certain brand of Japanese car was actually cleaner than the air going in. Ponder that for a moment.

    The Chancellor had to physically restrain me at that one.

    So off we went the Kia Dealership last week in order to simply drive a new Sportage. We had down selected to the Hyundia Tuscon, the Honda CR-V and of course, the Kia Sportage.This was so the Chancellor can drive herself in snowstorms to the Hospital where she works.

    We head out and I have a big frowny face to begin with. We start the adventure with me missing the entrance to the dealership from the divided suburban highway. It takes 15 minutes to turn around - twice and we finally enter the dealership, where we find there is absolutely no where to park. It's like South Philly in there with giant mounds of snow and cars parked crooked and all over the place.

    This is not making things better.Move to Angrycon 2.

    I finally find a spot and we head in and now on the door to the showroom, I see a sign someone drew up in Powerpoint and it reads:

    "Absolutely no cell phone use allowed inside as it interferes with our computers"

    And with that little gem, we move to Angrycon 4, skipping 3.

    To me, this statement says "We don't want you getting any outside information because we want to bamboozle you and we think you are stupid enough to believe that common electronic devices interfere with each other, only within the confines of our showroom"

    This is a stupid sign for many reasons, including:

    1.  If your smart phone has a data plan it is CONSTANTLY communicating with the mothership. Sitting in your pocket and you not touching it doesn't make a difference.

    2. I defy you to turn off a modern smart phone with a data plan. Those things are like a terminator. Everytime you think they are off, a text comes in, an email comes in or their little eyes light up red again and they start swinging.

    3. What the hell is so special about these computers inside a dealership showroom that makes them sensitive to an electronic device WE ALL CARRY. 12 year olds carry these things for crying out loud. NASA and Hospitals have no such rule and no one dies in space because a car salesman can't figure out how much fake undercoating costs. Let's have a little perspective.

    Needless to say, I'm steamed. I'm practically muttering to myself about "how stupid do you think I am etc" and the very first thing I do inside the showroom? I text a friend and ask the name of that website that gives you dealer invoice pricing. So there.

    In the showroom there is a nice new Sportage that's loaded. And it's locked. But me being a smart guy, I reach into the Sportage and open the door with the inside handle.

    Bad move.

    This sets off the car alarm. In the showroom. I am now in full Angrycon 5, standing there next to the beeping car in the showroom, embarrassed.

    Eventually we drove a Sportage. It was a nice car. Lots of nice features. I like it but I doubt I'll ever buy one there.

    Saturday, February 05, 2011

    The Italian Adventure begins.

    It's been an unbelievably bad 2011 so far.

    My Father passed 15 days into the new year, then I got sick with what I can only guess was some sort of new strain of bird/duck/pig/tiger flu and now oldest Son took off for a "semester abroad" in Italy. (BTW When did including a European vacation in a 45k/year college experience become the norm?)

    He left last Monday from JFK in New York.

    We showed up early at the airport and so Atalilia offered him a direct flight to Rome rather than one with a stop over in Milan that would allow him have his luggage ransacked by both Roman and Milanese baggage handlers. He took it.

    That meant there was only a minute for a tearful goodbye before he got in the security line. We took some picture, said our goodbyes and left.

    It all happened so fast.

    Then came the anxious 12-24 hours when we wouldn't hear anything. It was like when the astronauts would reenter the atmosphere in the 60's in their little capsule. You would sit on pins and needles waiting to hear something.

    What made it even harder was the whole phone issue. He had an iPhone back in the states and leaving that on, connected to lord knows what Italian rip-off data service it connected to over there seemed like a bad idea. I could only imagine getting a bill for 1,000,000 Lira. Everything we read said just buy another phone over in Italy, one without a contract. It made sense at the time but now that he was headed over there with no phone it was making less and less sense.

    You have no idea how dependent we have become on these devices and yet some how he found the driver for service and found his apartment in Rome across the river from Saint Angelo's Castle, right down the street from the Vatican.

    The next day he bought a phone. I guess. We haven't heard a beep out of it. 

    We are supposed to "skype" with him instead of call. This has happened exactly once so far in the 4 days he's been there. His mother caught him in the apartment and "skyped" for a few minutes before he fell asleep.

    I had a facebook chat with him on the Tuesday he arrived and that has been the source of most of our information so far.

    We hope to hear more this weekend.

    His blog is located here.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Alfred J Falciani, 1933-2011.

    My Father passed away last Saturday. It was both expected and a surprise.

    He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in November of 2009 and had outlived any expectations I had during his fight.  He had only gone into hospice the week before so we all honestly thought he would have a tough go of it through the winter. It was more than likely tumors that had spread to his brain that made for a quick end. God's timing was evidenced from my sister's wedding through Oldest Son being here instead of on a semester to Italy.

    From the time he passed on Saturday until the funeral yesterday were some of the most stressful days of doing nothing I have ever spent. The family gathered at my parents home in Broomall for the week where we sat and made arrangements, met with friends and family and worked on the family tree. My brother said it was a lot like the movie Ground Hog Day where everyday you just got up and got through it, waiting for the funeral Thursday.

    The week wasn't without its funnier moments like my mother exchanging the burial plot and dealing with the "strictness" of the Archdioceses of Philadelphia's rules. Maybe I'll fill you in on those later.

    Thank You to all offered condolences and stopped by the house, it was special to see and hear from so many.

    This morning when I woke up I was pretty sure Ground Hog Day was over because we received a dusting of snow over night.

    Sunday, January 09, 2011

    What I'm Watching

    It's winter and while I don't have cabin fever just yet, it is prime time for TV viewing and since this is my blog, here is what I'm watching these days.

    How I met your Mother.
    I'm Tivo'ing the reruns and I'm hooked. I hardly watched the show when it was a primetime only thing but now that I have queue 10 deep I can't stop. My only regret is that the reruns are not being played in order. It's like popcorn.

    The Larry Sanders Show.
    This is a show I liked but didn't have HBO when it was on. It features brilliant writing and unbelievable guests and regulars. Reruns are showing on IFC weeknights in case you missed the marathon on New Years.

    The ABC Wednesday night line up.
    In the Middle has been great recently (puts head down and says "great" in a wisper). We especially enjoyed the episode where the parents decided to take back the house. Loved it. Modern Family is a hoot and Cougar Town is oddly entertaining.

    Breaking Bad.
    AMC is playing episodes on Wednesday overnight and I'm finally catching them. They are playing them in order and are almost halfway through. Here's me explaining it to the Chancellor:
    Me: It's a show about High School Chemistry teach who finds out he has terminal lung cancer and decides to sell Meth to make enough cash so that his family is taken care of when he is gone.
    The Chancellor: Why didn't he just buy life insurance?
    Me: Because then there wouldn't be a show past the pilot.

    The Walking Dead
    I've decided until AMC puts on an "According to Jim", I'm watching anything they do. They get it. I missed the first two episodes and went back to catch up but then we didn't miss a thing.

    Hot in Cleveland.
    Betty White. 'nuff said. We caught the marathon on New Years and were hooked. We are looking forward to the second season later in January.
    NFL Football.
    Now there's some surprise. A white male in 50's watching football. Just shocking. But this time of year, I'm not just watching playoff games on Sundays but I am watching everything about football the rest of the week include game repeats on the NFL channel. I even recently picked up the DVD set "10 Best Eagles Games" and it was very interesting to see the evolution of the game on TV. I was lost at the 1981 NFC Championship game between the Eagles and Cowboys because they don't tell the game time until there is less than two minutes left.

    What I'm looking forward to:

    Californication comes back tonight. How will the sins of Hank Moody catch up to him. It's witty. It's crude. It's hilarious. I want to see the other two new shows Showtime is putting with it as well. Shameless and Episodes look funny, we'll see.

    Saturday, January 08, 2011

    Baby On Board

    The sunrise flight from Las Vegas to Philly was packed, every seat was taken. That's just the way things are these days - empty seats have gone the way of in flight smoking and hot meals with silverware.

    Of course I was in my usual zone 508 or something for boarding and one of the last ones on the plane. How I end up in the last zone EVERY. TIME. I'll never know, It must be part of the airline's "bendover" program for business travelers. The bendover program pays the highest possible amount for tickets and then gets zone 508.

    Finally, I'm in the long slow line to get everyone seated and I feel like asking "is this the bus to Cartegena". I swear I saw a woman with a chicken along the way. Luckily, I only have my backpack with laptop and other in flight essentials, no luggage. This is good because zones 1-507 have taken all the overhead compartments.

    For this early December flight, I have a windows seat which is unusual with the "bendover" program because I usually get a middle. I'm counting down to my row. 8, 9, ... I'm looking for my row. I look for my seat by the window.

    There is a woman in my seat.Some woman has taken MY seat.

    Of course I'm thinking "here we go". Now it's confrontation time. The long line to my seat only gives me more time to fuss and worry about the coming confrontation. Is she going to be a witch? Did they put two people in one seat? I'm I getting bumped?

    I'm slowly making my way to my seat, step by step.(Of course I'll be the one to get bumped, they'll never bump some woman).  I'm two rows away and I'm making the "you are in my seat" eye contact with the woman.

    I get to my row, turn and look into my row, am about to say "you are in my seat" when I realize the woman has something in her arms and it's a baby., Before I can say anything, she says "the stewardess said I could sit here instead of on the aisle".

    Of course I was looking forward to looking out the window but her need for not having her baby elbowed by  300 lb men making their way to the bathroom clearly exceeds my wanting to recognize Kansas City from the Interstates.

    I've been trumped.

    As I'm telling her "of course, you stay there" I'm thinking this baby is going to wail for the next 5 hours.

    I smile and take my seat.

    For the next 3 hours my seat mate and I are amazed that this seven week old baby doesn't make a peep, a wimper, a cry or a sound. For 3 hours.

    Finally I have to go to the bathroom and when I'm returning, I find this:
    Airman and Baby
    My seatmate, a Master Sargent in the Air Force is holding the baby while the new Mom went to the bathroom.

    I had to take a picture of it.

    I never got the woman's name but that baby was quiet until the "put your seat backs and tray tables to the upright position" time of the flight.