Once upon a time…

A Business Trip to the UK With Sales

In April 2009 (a long, long time ago), I took a trip to England and Scotland with one of the IBM sales managers. As a sales trip, it was mostly customer meetings. The trip was designed for me to go over and teach the UK sales and technical sales team about one of our products. As internal travel was banned but the sales manager really wanted the UK team trained, it became an IBM sales trip. This was an old trick. If you needed to visit an IBM site somewhere, you find a couple of customers nearby, and call and ask if you can come visit. You spend an hour with them, exchange business cards, spend three days on site at IBM with your colleagues and it’s still a customer trip.

As an IBM sales trip designed by an insane person, this one meant one meeting in Birmingham, one in Glasgow and two in London over five days. With sales planning the trip, that meant two hotels, a one-day trip to Scotland (outbound flight 6:55 am, inbound flight 7:30 pm) and skipping Birmingham completely because the customer was actually in London.

Sales saw the trip as a great gift to me, because I got to go overseas. As part of the worldwide technical sales team, I was in Europe at least twice a year. When I had vacation and no idea what to do, I went to London. I had been in London for Y2K. I had my own local pubs in London. I had been to Scotland on a package tour. This was not an unusual or exciting trip for me.

It was probably the only business trip I ever did with someone from sales. Some of this may explain why.

It was one of the few business presentations I did for a hostile crowd – the IBM UK team hated the product I was demonstrating. It was an anti-spam product and I used to install it inline with the customer’s existing spam product as a demo to show what we would filter out that their existing setup wouldn’t. I would either add a hidden tag to the mail so we could find it, or create a log of all the mail that was declared spam so we read the log. The UK team was freaked out about installing anything in a live environment, even if it was in passthrough mode and didn’t actually filter anything. I said you could copy any spam to a log and let it get delivered. I said nobody knew you were there, unless they knew where to look. The UK team wouldn’t buy it. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. How do we indemnify ourselves? Finally, one asked what the US team (i.e. me) did to not get sued by a customer. I said, “Don’t fuck it up.” One of the few four-letter words I ever uttered in a meeting (well, an international meeting with people other than my team), and one that did not endear me to the locals. So it goes. They weren’t going to support it anyway.

I had managed to suppress most of the memories of this trip (except “Don’t fuck it up” because I was a bit proud of that moment), but my Facebook notes all showed up in my digital Memories this week, so I pulled them out and cleaned them up. For some reason, the Facebook versions had HTML tags all through them, and it was hard to read. (Without the HTML, it may not be that much easier.) I didn’t edit, just cleaned them up. Apparently, you can’t do notes on Facebook any longer, but the old ones are still on your timeline. I loved notes, because it meant I didn’t have to write a blog post. Ironic, no?

I just found my Tripit log from the trip. I flew out of Dallas (nonstop Heathrow) on Saturday, April 18, 2009, arriving on Sunday the 19th. Two internal meetings at IBM on the 20th. Flew up to Glasgow for two meetings on the 21st, and returned that evening. Day off Wednesday. Two customer meetings in London on Thursday. Flew home Friday. Seven days, two hotels (bad planning), six meetings, , four hours of customer work, two countries. Sometimes, I am glad we do everything with Zoom meetings now.

Random Thoughts on my Trip To England (so far)

(April 19, 2009) These are some random notes I scribbled in the lobby of the hotel while I was desperately trying to stay awake since they didn’t have a room available and I really didn’t think I should sleep on the couch. It started out as good points and bad points, so far. 

Good points

Free upgrade. Comfortable seats. Free booze. Taxi queue manager had actually heard of “Staines.” Taxi quote wasn’t as  bad as I feared. Guinness on tap at the hotel. Hotel has a restaurant and room service. Can hear trains rumble by while watching rowers on the Thames.

Bad points

Seat-mate forgot to lock toilet door on the plane, so almost walked in on him. Express immigration line was full of problem visitors (many long discussions.) Pre-booked taxi didn’t show after almost two hours and a page (so £31 for a ten-minute ride.) Mobile phone doesn’t work in Europe, so couldn’t call (and probably didn’t have number anyway.) Driver didn’t know where hotel was, so had to turn on laptop to get address (told him the street, and when he was going to turn onto it, the hotel was right in front of us.) Room isn’t ready (maybe by noon), so no nap. (Considering stretching out on the couches in the lobby.) No idea when (if?) the sales lead is showing up. It’s chilly – that crisp London breeze, and the doors to the patio are open.  

Why are so many people in shorts?

Would get laptop back from storage and check WiFi but clerk may have a nervous breakdown – he seems stressed.

Breakfast buffet is open but can’t deal with food right now. May just sit at bar until someone brings coffee.

After seeing some of the creatures wandering through the lobby, am beginning to think this is not a business hotel. Let’s just say one guy walked by in shorts and a shirt with patterns that clashed so badly, I said “Wow. Those don’t go together.”

My room has a view of the Thames River. It actually has a patio. I know this because the doors to the patio were open when I got into the room. Hey, just because it’s April doesn’t mean it’s warm enough for open windows!

Random UK Thoughts (Continued)

(April 20, 2009) Overslept – no wake-up call. Awakened by fire alarm test blasting at 8:45am. Supposed to meet colleague at 8:30am. Threw on t-shirt, ran downstairs to restaurant, no colleague. Was asked “Table for one?”

Arrived at 10:00am for a 9:15am presentation. (Wrong turn on walk over.) Colleague went first. Good job. Many questions. Left 10 minutes for my demo. My last technical presentation took an hour and a half. Actually finished early. Could see eyes glaze over – sales people not that much into technical information.

Going to another site to repeat the session this afternoon. Hopefully, I will get more than ten minutes.

Booked the Scotland trip – up and back tomorrow on British Midlands (bmi). Had to book over the phone – can’t book online within 24 hours of travel. Need to extend hotel tonight, so we don’t have to schlep our luggage around. Hopefully, they won’t forget the wake-up call tomorrow.

Presented to my internal team – the ones I support from worldwide. Bloodied but not scarred. Took almost an hour and a half. Mostly sales questions.

Can’t get the hotel extended – so moving tomorrow – before, during or after the Scotland day trip.

Birmingham meeting is actually in London on Thursday. This is a shame, as I’ve never been to Birmingham. On the other hand, I’ll be in London.
 
Let’s see – tomorrow’s flight is at 7am. Need to be at Heathrow by 6am. Need to take suitcases to new hotel first. So, need to leave hotel by 5:30am. Need to pack, shower and shave. Hmm. Need to be up about 4:45am. Ouch. Probably should have less pints than I’m planning to have.

In The George pub, Staines. Hand-pumped Courage bitter. There is a God, and when He doesn’t drink Guinness, He drinks hand-pumped bitter.

In the Boundary pub, Staines. Marston’s Smooth is very tasty. I think it’s better than Courage. Watching the cricket match. Life is good for now.

My colleague asked the bartender where to get good fish and chips and without hesitation, he said “The Swan.” Is it just the US where the automatic answer is invariably “Here.”?

At the Swan Hotel, Staines. Fuller ales. Specifically, Fuller ESB. Can I move here?

Dinner at the Swan. Salmon followed by fish and chips. Is that redundant?

(Note to Spousal Unit: no, I am not smootchy yet.)

Holiday Inn on Bath Road will be my home the rest of the week, as soon as I can book it.

Fish and chips were excellent. Cheese platter for dessert was good, as well.

Starting to worry about the time I have to get up.

Double-shot of Jameson’s to close the night. Time to go pack.

Mentioned to front desk that I didn’t get my wake up call. Reminded him we pay corporate rates and we drink. Still no room available tomorrow night.

Setting cell phone alarm “just in case” per Lucas.

Meeting at 5:30am to head out in the taxi. If I were ever to die in my sleep, this would be a good night.

A Day in Scotland

(April 21, 2009) Woke at 3:30am. Abandoned hope of sleep. Checked email, packed. Since I was awake, naturally I got my wake up call. Had time for one coffee after checking out. Taxi was almost on time. Driver was slow and deliberate – not a good quality when trying to make time to catch a plane. Made it to new hotel to drop bags. Discovered there are two Holiday Inns on Bath Road. Miraculously, I think we both picked the same one. Woman at desk was helpful, slow and deliberate. Almost had to kill her.  

Made it to Heathrow with a couple of minutes to spare. Had to take belt off to go through x-ray machine – did not lose pants, but close. Jogged to gate to catch colleague who had disappeared into the mist. Went through second security check – no disrobing required. Ticket class allows lounge access. Too bad I can’t drink my breakfast. It’s 6:30am.

Learned on the plane that bmi charge for all drinks in economy – even coffee. Business class seats have yellow towels – otherwise the seats are identical. I should have stolen one of the yellow towels to get free drinks.

Just found a £5 note I’ve had in my wallet for years. Coffee, please. (I knew it would come in handy someday.)

Four flight attendants on an hour-long flight. Impressive.

I was served tea instead of coffee. Not so impressive. Nice cup of tea, though – for £1.80. Pocket now full of heavy British change.

Brilliant concept: bmi hands you milk and sugar packets in a baggie so you have a trash bag for empty packets, stir-sticks and used tea bags. All airlines should do this.

Ears just popped – almost in Scotland.

Glasgow. 8:20am. Need a nap. Yet another airport with no ride apparent. This is not a good trend.

Wearing my suit – no wedding, no funeral. A new concept.

Found our contact, and he was on time. Also, a new concept. So far, so good. Brief meeting at Starbucks (oy vey) and we’re off to the customer site.

It’s Scotland, therefore it’s raining. Umbrella safe in suitcase at Holiday Inn Heathrow, so it won’t get wet.

Following the River Clyde out of Glasgow up to meeting. It’s a beautiful river.

Just passed IBM Greenock. Another site I’d heard about but never expected to see.

Just passed an Italian bistro on the Scottish coast.

Bridge is out (construction) on way to customer – will now probably be late two days in a row. Looking for Diversion signs, since they don’t have detours here.

Right on time, actually.

An hour and a half – good meeting. Now, off to lunch and then another customer.

Just ordered my first dish of haggis. This should be interesting.

Haggis rocks. That was very tasty. It’s really just like sausage, or ground meat, it’s just mystery meat.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties is not a Scottish law firm. (It’s haggis, turnips and potatoes.)

Time to head to the airport, then back to the new hotel. We’re there the rest of the week, so I can actually unpack my suitcase.

bmi wanted a £66 fee to change to an earlier flight, as opposed to the £30 I was told when I booked. Decided I didn’t want to explain that high a charge to my manager or eat it myself. I guess we will kill an hour in the bar (we’re flying in the wrong ticket class for lounge access – flew up on fully-changeable ticket, flying back on cheap ticket – why is it never the other way around?)

Successfully “dropped trou” in security line. It was only a matter of time. 

Oy vey.

No response from anyone behind me in the line. Didn’t notice stiff upper lip or actually stiff anything – which is  good.

Ordered first Guinness of the week to help forget “the flashing of the guard.”

I guess I need to start busking to get change to have a Coke on the flight home.

Switched back to hand pumped ale. I can get a proper Guinness at home.

Goal for this evening’s surfing – find a quick way to IBM South Bank for Thursday’s meetings. Also, find my old home pub (can’t remember the Tube stop near the White House Hotel, but it is one stop from Baker Street) and how to get to Porter’s. I need a copy of the Tube map.

On the plane back to the pub. I mean London.

I asked the flight attendant if I was on the right flight since they recheck ticket class stubs at the door. She said, “You are going to Barbados?” She belongs on Southwest.

My colleague has been drinking Strongbow which looked like light beer, but is actually apple cider – hard cider. Just bought a can on the plane – now I see why he drinks it. (Since it’s made from apples, it must be packed with vitamins.) I will have to see if they have it at the Tipp at home – I know they have cider, but I don’t know the brand.

By the way, our host in Staines yesterday drinks Dr Pepper. They had it at Sainsbury’s. I missed it, so I had Coke Zero.

Almost back to London and it looks like tomorrow is an open day. I think we have two meetings on Thursday and Friday I head home.

I want to go to Porter’s for dinner tomorrow, in fact, I just got an email from them today to remind me that they are still alive and kicking. Traditional British food at fairly reasonable prices – a bit touristy, but good. It was the place I first had Spotted Dick, which is not as dirty as it sounds.

I should have had more haggis at the airport pub.

How much is 440ML in American? This is a large (hic!) can of (hic!) cider. Strongbow is my new favorite drink.

I am really digging bmi. They’re now selling train tickets for the Heathrow Express on the plane.

My ears are popping – we must be almost to Heathrow. It’s been a long day. I need dinner, maybe a round or two in the pub, and sleep. The pub comes first because I can sleep at home.

Checked into the Holiday Inn – one of two on Bath Road and one of at least three at Heathrow. It doesn’t suck. Wired and WiFi access.

Considering going to Stonehenge tomorrow if no meetings planned. Need to do train routing to Salisbury. First, dinner.

What’s the British version of “Peace, Out”?

The Irritating Day

(April 22, 2009) I abandoned my Stonehenge plans – there’s really not enough time, especially since I was just told tomorrow’s meetings are on Domino and not Protector. It’s research time – I have to become a DAOS expert overnight. (Here’s what I know so far: DAOS strips and stores attachments from Domino databases. If you send 37 people a copy of your great presentation, only one copy gets stored on disk. This is much less costly in disk space. Cool.)

Somehow, my colleague is on the “bed and breakfast” plan and I’m not – which probably means I picked the wrong column when I booked the room. His breakfast is included, mine would be £17.50. I’m not spending that much of my meal allowance on a meal I usually skip. (It did look pretty good – a traditional British breakfast.) I had coffee which was better than the instant coffee in the room.)

Saw second Microsoft “Windows … Life without walls” billboard. If there are no walls, what’s holding the windows in place?

On the Piccadilly line, bound for Piccadilly Circus and the Bakerloo line. I love the tube.

Almost an hour on the tube. Heathrow is a long way out. We will need to take the Heathrow Express train tomorrow to make better time into the city.

It’s really too warm for a long-sleeve shirt.

Walked through St James Park to Buckingham Palace. Was not invited into the palace. Watched many tourists walking into each other’s photos (bad) or into traffic (very bad.) My feet are starting to hurt.

Walked back across the park in search of sustenance.

Stopped for a pint at The Chequers. Sitting near Bullshit Corner. I want this sign. Pub grub for lunch – sausage and onion baguette with chips.

I didn’t see a tube map at the station and I need one.

Just passed a store that has pre-owned Patek Philippe watches. How freakin’ expensive are they new if there’s a used market?

You can see a lot of London while looking for an AmEx ATM. This is unfortunate, as my feet are killing me and I have money.

Stopped at The King’s Head to rest foot. There seem to be quite a few pubs here. Seeing if Fuller’s London Pride ale cures blisters.(It does not.)

No matter what time you enter a pub, you will not be the only customer.

Now, for the dramatic (and bitchy) conclusion to the day. To my colleagues that know who’s with me, just pretend you don’t.

After wandering around with no real plan, it was time to head back to the hotel on the tube. Found the Piccadilly line, and dozed all the way back to the Terminal station.

We took a bus from Heathrow to the hotel since you have to pre-book a cab, and we hadn’t. I would have just gone to the terminal to get a regular cab, but colleague seemed to be in a huge hurry. He tried to call the hotel, but couldn’t get connected. I remembered the front desk told me this morning the U3 bus went from the hotel to the airport, so we got on it when it pulled in. I never saw the hotel, and pretty soon we seemed to be going into the neighborhoods. Colleague asked driver where the Holiday Inn was. Driver said the second stop. We were at the twelfth stop. Oops. So, we got off, walked across the street, and waited for the bus going the other way. I considered it an interesting tour. Colleague was not enjoying the ride. Apparently, it’s my fault, as much bitching ensued, directed at no-one, but aimed at me, and yes, I am sensitive about this.

Colleague now in charge of navigation since I am obviously a dumb-ass. He gets off the return bus three stops early and then walks two and a half blocks in the wrong direction to the Sheraton. Unfortunately, we’re in the Holiday Inn. He looks at me and says “Now, what?” So, now it’s my problem? I thought I was a dumb-ass. Why are you putting a dumb-ass in charge? I mentioned he might have gotten off too early, and he looked at me like I had two heads. Back-tracked. Went into a Chinese restaurant to ask directions. The Holiday Inn is a “ten-minute” walk in the other direction. Oops. I think that means I was right. We walked back to our hotel. I lost him near the end since I couldn’t keep up. My feet are killing me. I may be a dumb-ass, but when I was lost, I was riding in air-conditioned comfort.

So, lesson confirmed today: when on a sales project, when it goes south, you were in charge (whether you knew it or not). You will be berated when the mistake is discovered. If they screw up, it’s never mentioned, you’ll just get put in charge again. When you’re right, you’re ignored and they’ll abandon you in the end.  

You can also blog whatever you want about it because none of them understand blogs or Facebook.

I’m ready to go home. I never thought I would say that I was ready to leave London,  but I’m done. I was not meant to be in sales. Fire, Aim, Ready just makes no sense to me, and I can’t get any of them to Aim, anyway.

The Final Day

(April 23, 2009) The Holiday Inn has no soap in the bath. It has a squeeze bottle of hand soap by the sink and a squeeze bottle of shampoo in the shower (both wall-mounted) but I really don’t think you’re supposed to carry a handful of soap into the shower with you and I hope you’re not supposed to drip across the bathroom to get soap in the middle of your shower. I just used shampoo for soap, since I have normal hair pretty much everywhere.

Feet still throbbing. Changed shoes. Now ready for the last day of the UK tour, as feet are throbbing in different way than previously. I am beginning to see why one musician said he isn’t paid to perform, he’s paid to travel.

We’re going into the city, method unknown at this point. Taxi, Tube or Train + Tube are all options – and all have their good and bad points. I will have no opinion – I’m not falling for that again.

8:48am. Taking the tube. Train arriving in six minutes and only 19 stops to go.

Have a Zone 2-6 ticket, per colleague. Going to Zone 1. Exiting the station may be interesting. I was trying to get a Zone 1-6 ticket when he told me what he had. Figured we should argue with the transit police together.

9:23am. We’re at Barons Court, still in the ‘burbs, basically. Colleague on the phone – sounds like we may be late. Train is going underground, so it was a short call.

9:52am. Waiting outside Waterloo for our host. That was actually a quicker trip than I thought.

Turnstiles at Waterloo locked on my colleague’s tube pass. “Seek Assistance.” Bored guard let us through. It looked like she was considering explaining that we had the wrong pass, and decided against the bother.

Made the meeting on time. An hour-long discussion – I think it went well.

Had a ham, cheese and tomato panini, a bag of cheese and  onion crisps and a metric Dr Pepper for lunch in the IBM cafeteria – in other words, a traditional British lunch. Added a Mars bar since sweets seem to be mandatory.

The IBM South Bank cafeteria doesn’t take cash, only smartcards (or IBM badges.) We had to each get a temp badge to buy lunch. We also have to remember to cash it back in before we leave – or have to eat more since there is still money on the card. Wondering if IBM thinks many guests will forfeit the £2 deposit to keep such a magical card as a souvenir. Me? Notsomuch. (IBM Hursley had them at one point, but on my next trip were taking cash, as well. It’s great if you have a badge, but a pain otherwise. My US badge didn’t work in Hursley, so I had to get a temp card, anyway.)

Some of the trash bins are color-coded. This is very useful unless you don’t know the code (or are color-blind, I suppose.) Left all my crap on the tray – let the professionals sort it out. (I was not alone in this.)

The smartcard machine only takes bills, but it only returns coins. Fifteen pounds in coins can be heavy.  

One more meeting to go. Pre-meeting at 1pm, real meeting at 2pm. This was a long way to travel for an hour to ninety minutes each.

Never try to help two salespeople meet. It is more effort than you would expect, since neither is on time or paying attention. Stick to herding cats.

Meeting was actually at 2:30pm. Very interesting customer. I think we were learning from him. 

Done with meetings – off for my own personal adventures in London. I managed to find Porter’s English Restaurant by going to Covent Garden on the tube and walking in larger circles until I saw the TGI Fridays, which is hideous but right down the street from Porter’s. (When traveling, I always think I should just stand outside random TGI Fridays and Starbucks and apologize to any natives that go by.) I get lost so often trying to find the same places, that I have landmarks.

I was going to go back to the hotel and change, but decided I didn’t have that much time to waste. Besides, rush hour was starting and I would have been standing most of the way. Best to have a couple of pints down first to prepare.

Just hit with an amazing feeling of relief that the week is done. It may have been the bitter. (Note to Spousal Unit: you are no longer the only one who can drive me to drink.)

Steak and Cheddar pie with chips. Tremendous. Porter’s has amazing puff pastry for their pies. However, chips of the week goes to The Chequers whose chips tasted like battered mashed potatoes. Double-amazing.

So, I started the week with haggis, and ended with Spotted Dick. I noticed that pie, pudding, cappuccino and a bottle of bitter I ordered was four pounds cheaper ala carte than the fixed-price pie, pudding, coffee and half-bottle of wine.

Suddenly wondering if I can find a cricket bat.

Two words I never thought thought I’d say to a taxi driver (or anyone) without the Spousal Unit in tow: “Harrods, please.” Where else would you go for a cricket bat on a Thursday evening? Harrods not only had cricket bats, they also had green Harrods bags shaped like a cricket bat to carry it home. (Note to Spousal Unit: I did not choose the £189 professional model.)

Harrods can also charge you in US dollars so they can give you a bad exchange rate instead of having to wait for the bank to give you a bad rate. (They also had a £12,000 foosball table but that made my head hurt.)

Now, back to the hotel to see if it fits in my suitcase, since cricket bats are on the “specifically forbidden carry-on items” list. How many cricket bats are being carried around the US, anyway?

An older couple standing by me on the train is getting frisky. Smooch, smooch. Ick. If a couple publicly kissing is younger than I, I think “Get a room!” If they’re older, I think “Viagra commercial?”

I took the infamous bus from Heathrow to the hotel – and found the proper stop, just outside the airport. It’s not a short walk, but it’s shorter than yesterday’s.

The cricket bat fits in my suitcase. Hurrah! Thank you, Harrods! 

Someone from the hotel read this before it was published, because there is now a bar of soap in my bathroom.  

It’s time to go home.

Bonus: The Kumars run a bar

(April 23, 2009) I went down to the hotel bar for a quick adult beverage and to see if my colleague had returned from the city yet. He had not, but I had a most amusing time.

First of all, if Ashwin Kumar had ever just opened a bar instead of letting his son run a TV show, I’ve found the bar. (If you’ve never seen The Kumars at No. 42, you owe yourself.) He would almost be Basil Fawlty on an incompetence scale, but he is exceedingly polite, as most Indians I have met are (a positive stereotype for a people scarred by doing too much remote tech support.) The head bartender (and I believe bar manager) is a completely overworked, almost elegant Indian gentleman trying to keep order, instruct the (incompetent in his eyes) staff and serve drinks to his customers, and between his running around and the customers either confused, annoyed or bemused by the service (depending on the number of drinks they’ve consumed), it is quite a show.

One gentleman ordered two pints to go before paying his tab and mentioned that the beer was preventing him from killing someone. I didn’t think the service was quite that bad, but we all have our tolerance levels. This gentleman is also dear to me because he had a sneezing fit that was comparable to (if not greater than) one of mine, and he said “I must be allergic to beer.” (I would never think such a thing. I would blame it on the glass.) I told him he needed to drink faster or slower, but I wasn’t sure which. He said faster was always better, so I deferred to experience. I also told him if the top of a beer made him sneeze, he should just send it back and start over.

I ordered a Scotch and Coke, because the Beatles used to drink it a lot (according to many quotes in various books), and I’ve simply never had the nerve to order it in the States because the bartenders there generally know me, and they don’t like ruining good Scotch. I told “Ashwin” to use the house Scotch so nothing of much value would be harmed. (It was Bell’s, which is probably just above rotgut.) Scotch and Coke with cheap Scotch and Pepsi (curse hotel tie-ups with the wrong brand) is actually not bad. The Coke (Pepsi) takes the edge off the Scotch, so if you don’t like Scotch, it would probably make it palatable. It’s not like Boone Farms wine, and it shouldn’t have an umbrella, but if you don’t like the taste of Scotch, this would help. Personally, I like Scotch, so while it was an amusing little drink, it’s not going to make my usual rotation. “Ashwin” asked if I was going to pay cash or charge it to my room. I said “room”, he rang it up, I said “Can you just keep it open?” and he said “No, your room number goes there, and sign it please.” So I did.

I ordered a refill (eventually.) Same procedure. That’s when I began to notice everyone around me was running a tab. Considering I’ve had bartenders start tabs for me when I walk in off the street into a bar I’ve never visited (even when the locals have to pay cash per round), I found this strange. Bartenders usually look at me and think “He’s good for it and he’s going to need more than one.” So it goes. Maybe “keep it open” is not English, but American.

After that, I decided to apologize to the gods of single malt, so I ordered Glenfiddich, one of the few single malt Scotch whiskies I can pronounce sober. (Did I do that joke already?)

Actually, I decided to see how long it would take to have him ask me if I wanted another drink. After serving at least four people and having a discussion with one about how to mix his tomato juice (the guy also asked for his bill, but that part was missed), and then spending five minutes actually mixing the tomato juice (with a splash of Tabasco and something from the seltzer gun), he finally asked if I would like something else. That’s when I asked for Glenfiddich. They were out. Well, he couldn’t find the bottle, so he announced they were out. There were two different vintages of Glenfiddich on the menu, so that’s out of a lot. I asked what single malts they had and when he got to Laphroaig, I said that was fine. I said “straight up, with just a couple of rocks.” To my horror, he put Coke in it. So, I sent it back. He looked pained as seven pounds fifty went down the drain, but nobody said anything about Coke. I had planned to tell him I was done with kids’ drinks and wanted a real one, but I didn’t think he would necessarily understand. Maybe that would have helped. Coke and single malt? Shudder.

After that drink order, I was awarded a small bowl of crisps. They were a bit stale, but it’s the thought that counts. I’ve been in this bar every night since I’ve been here, and he’s the only one who’s ever gotten me a drink, so I really thought I would be a regular by now.

I may have to go back later this evening, since one of the goals was to meet my colleague, since I left him in the city hours ago and he does like a Scotch to finish the evening. I would really like to know if he gets less manic as the place clears out (I doubt it.) I would also like to know if I go and say “I’d like to run a tab” first, if that would help. I’ve been tipping them on each round, and that didn’t seem normal with the crankier customers that were leaving. One of the other staff told me they’re open until 1am. I don’t have a plane until 2:30pm tomorrow afternoon. This could be a fun night. (Note to Spousal Unit: it’s called research.)

Travel Day 

(April 24, 2009) I wasted as much time as I could in the hotel but finally had to head to Heathrow. I counted £20 in change to exchange at the front desk for bills (“unchange” in the Urban Dictionary – accepted for publication last night.) Desk clerk just applied it to my bill. Brilliant.

Taxi ride was five minutes, eight pounds and worth it. Driver refused my tattered £20 note that has been in my wallet for ten years or so. He told me to change it at the bank.

Managed to hit a lull at all the lines at the airport which is a bit miraculous. I would rather have the miracle of an upgrade, but there’s still time. Was one pound something over in suitcase weight (damn you, extra PC and topcoat) but was let off with a warning. [Editor’s Note: What was that about a cricket bat?] New security question: “Have you had a laptop or any electronics repaired while you were here?” Is there a master list of repair shops likely to put bombs in broken electronics? If you have a receipt from Terrorist Electronics Repair, do they confiscate your laptop?

Made it through boarding pass checkpoint and prepared for the X-Ray walk of potential exposure. Security did not make me remove my belt (whew!) or shoes. Sailed through. Passport Control found the stamp from Sunday and decided to let me leave. Next was shoe security – your shoes are scanned while you walk by with your carry-ons. I wonder if the Shoe Bomber is pleased with all the stupid security procedures he caused.

Considered a day pass to the Admirals Club since I had two hours to kill but decided I couldn’t drink or steal enough bitter lemon to make it worthwhile.

There is a Krispy Kreme in the terminal. My head almost exploded.

Decided to get lunch at the fake Irish pub. Cappuccino was very good. Ham and cheese sandwich was a panini, like yesterday, but an Irish panini rather than British. Chips were really good, but The Chequers chips are still the best. When you want it done right, go to the pub. Eight pounds, which was not bad for airport food. It all seemed cheaper this trip.

Decision point: More cappuccino? I could see how high my heart rate would go. Last pint? Alcohol before a flight, yadda yadda yadda. Go to Harrods? Wandered through on the way to the pub, nothing jumped out at me except really high points food. So it goes. I guess I should buy duty-free booze on principle. I may try to find a book. I may even go to Krispy Kreme. Who am I kidding? One last pint, it is.

The barmaid just winked at me when I approached the bar. Now, that’s what I expect in a pub. Maybe she should give “Ashwin” customer service lessons. Maybe the Irish are just more friendly.

Gave her the ancient £20 note for a pint of Guinness. She accepted it happily and gave me an ever more tattered £5 in change. She then asked for it back and gave me a newer one. I need to start mystery shopping pubs. It’s where customer service excels.

Forty-five minutes or so until gate assignment. Time to wander, although I will miss the barmaid of the year.

Forty minutes and £70 cash. If I had ovaries, this wouldn’t even be a challenge.

Harrods knick-knacks purchased. Decided against trying to find toast to sample  marmalade. Would probably be overkill to spread marmalade on a Krispy Kreme.  

Waiting for a gate assignment – an interesting concept. You can’t just get to  the airport early and crash at the gate because they don’t tell you which gate it is until an hour or so before takeoff. It’s the gate where the plane from DFW landed this morning.  

Gate is now “Please wait” which is a bit ominous. The plane should be here – it arrived this morning as the matching flight inbound.

Switching back to Dallas time on PDA. It’s now 7am. Suddenly sleepy.

Gate 36. Time to go.

Find sign for gates 23-50. Staring down hallway to infinity. Sudden flashback to long walk in from gate on Sunday. Starting to regret heavier purchases.  

Old fart reunion in front of me. Old guy describing plane seating layout and facilities, then realized he was remembering a Continental 777 and we’re on an American 767. Thanks for the loud, booming lesson anyway, plane expert. Beginning to think this is an AARP package tour flight. I may need to put the iPod on in self-defense. Blue hairs now discussing coffee drinks. Apparently, cappuccino is bad.  

Next year, this could be me. Cyanide, anyone?

Older guy is getting frisked by security. Hopefully, not a Viagra commercial.

Kids and grandkids inventory discussion commences. Where is the plane expert when you need him?

Holy crap, this is a small seat. It feels like an MD-80 seat from the “pack ’em in” era. On the bright side, there isn’t much of a view, although I can see business class. If you ever meet someone from the IBM internal finance team, kill him. As usual, I think I got the upgrade on the wrong leg of the trip.  

Managed to use the toilet while the AARP brigade was still tramping onboard. That will save one trip climbing over whomever is next to me.

Seatmate seems reasonable and about twenty-five years below the average age in the gate area. This is a blessing. Younger guys don’t talk about their grandkids. Break out the iPods and let’s get out of here.

I miss the 777 that brought me over. This plane blows chunks.

Powering down for takeoff. The next time we land, I can turn the phone on again.

8:52am Dallas time – takeoff, twenty-two minutes late. After initial climb completed, flight attendants played security video. Oops.

A brief prayer of thanks – just prior to taxi, a flight attendant told me seatmate there were open seats. He left and never came back. Now, I have room to spread out. Thank you, Lord. It’s not business class, but I will gladly accept it.

Crew is very chatty, but only among themselves. Wondering how much we will see them in the next nine hours.

My next steps will be in America. My phone will work and some people will speak with a drawl. Plus, it’s the start of the weekend.

Stroganoff or tortellini? Gas chamber or firing squad?

Delta gives you one free drink with dinner. American, notsomuch.

The stroganoff was not bad. Even if it had been, it wasn’t that much. On the plus side, the sauce blended well into my shirt.

You know you have left Europe when asking for coffee just instantly gets you a cup of brown liquid instead of “Cappuccino? Espresso?”

Idly wondering (again) what would happen if I started singing along with my iPod. As Oasis is playing currently, I would expect my fellow passengers’ probably loud protests. Maybe if I had champagne music instead of Champagne Supernova. I always thought an interesting music video premise would be some poor bastard in coach starting to sing a song, randomly people join in, and then they find the band is in First Class, with their instruments. Just a thought. (“Don’t Look Back In Anger” is playing, and that’s a bizarre but guaranteed audience participation song for Oasis, so I just had a vision of someone in the back of the plane starting with the chorus, only to have Noel Gallagher wander back with his drink to pick up at the start of the verse. Of course, the flight attendants would probably just chase him back to his ticketed cabin.)

Wouldn’t it be interesting if your iPod could tell you if anyone else on the plane was listening to the same music? You could find a kindred spirit.

Dear Noel Gallagher – What is a freakin’ Wonderwall, anyway?

Seven and a half hours (or therabouts) to go. It may be time for some sleep, although I am a bit afraid of what I may dream.

Not even Oasis can drown out the toilet flushing right behind your seat.

Listened to Bob Newhart, Jay Mohr and Gordon Ramsey read their books; so not much sleep.

Turning off electronics. I’m home.

INS needs more people – six lines for 280+ people coming in is not enough. Luggage was actually coming off the carousel as we arrived from passport control. Limo driver was actually in the lobby with a sign.  

Half-hour down LBJ and Central, and I’m home.  

RIP

There are many phrases I never thought I would write, and one of them was, “Well, now I’ve been to a funeral on Facebook Live.”

My cousin Joey Koch died from COVID-19 this week and his funeral Mass was in D’Hanis this morning. There were actually more people at the service than I expected. Most of the people I talked with weren’t attending, and they were family. I find this tragic, but not surprising in this times.

His was not only a COVID case, it was a Facebook case. On January 21st, he posted that he had been fighting COVID for eight days. Two days later, he posted that he was in the hospital. By February second, his blood pressure was low and he was on a ventilator. He seemed to rally, took a turn for the worse, and then he left us this week. In the midst of all this, he had his fifty-seventh birthday.

So, this morning, Holy Cross Church live streamed his funeral. Without this, I wouldn’t have attended. His sister sent me the link to the livestream during the rosary. I was crying in my recliner. I hate funerals, but I really hate funerals through a small lens that somebody in the back of the Church remembers to adjust randomly.

At the end of the rosary, before Mass, while everyone was readjusting things, the camera panned around the front of the Church, and I saw Joey in his coffin with his Texas A&M cap beside him before they closed the lid. I am not sure this was helpful for me.

Watching one of my cousins’ funerals online was a very strange occurrence. Usually, a death in my Mom’s family implements the same drill. Call or text relatives you haven’t spoken with in a while. Coordinate arrivals in Hondo or D’Hanis. Assume you will meet at least some of the mourners at Hermann Sons the night before the Mass. Attend the reception after the services, and somewhere in the afternoon, realize you are probably laughing quite a bit more than proper at a memorial.

However, this is the time of COVID-19. When we talked online during the drill, I think we were each waiting for the other to say, “I don’t think I’m going to attend.”

Finally, my brother suggested we have a Celebration of Life (a memorial where you’re expected to laugh) some time this Spring, when people are vaccinated and everything is back to normal-ish. This way, nobody had to feel badly about skipping the funeral.

That’s when I realized we’re also celebrating the one-year anniversary of the two-week lockdown. Everything is probably never going to get back to normal-ish.

This morning, I realized I still felt badly about skipping the funeral.

So, now I actually know someone who died from COVID. I have friends that have recovered. I know people who lost relatives. I know people that know people. This one was close to home.

I hate funerals. I hate saying “Goodbye.” I don’t like endings that I don’t control. However, I don’t like skipping funerals even though it was the right thing to do from a safety standpoint. I never thought I would regret not going to a funeral, but this one is close.

I really don’t like endings that were pointless. Joey’s ending was pointless. His ending was pointless because he died of COVID-19.

Joey was being cautious. He had mentioned on Facebook that it wasn’t just about you, it was about the people around you. If someone in your household is in a high risk group, you’re in a high risk group by default.

However, caution does not beat stupidity. It is rumored that he contracted the disease at work. Someone in his office went to Florida to visit family for Christmas and someone there was showing early symptoms. His coworker came home and just went back to work. No mention of any disease. Oops.

COVID-19 is the idiots’ disease. Not that idiots contract it, but that idiots spread it. If you travel somewhere, self-isolate when you get back. Not because it’s the law, but because it’s just common sense. If you think you’ve been exposed, get a test. If you think you’re sick, warn the people you’ve been around. If you don’t feel well, just stay home. If you don’t, you may find yourself feeling better just in time to bury someone you knew.

Happy Accident

My Brewsy kit contained three airlocks, so I can have three bottles of wine or cider fermenting at a time. Plus, my half-gallon glass bottles arrived from Amazon this afternoon. Virginia wanted to try black cherry and the basic advice from Brewsy (which I ignored) was to do cranberry first, so I had ordered RW Knudsen Just Black Cherry and RW Knudsen Just Cranberry – both 100% juice. The slight problem with the juices is that they are only available in 32oz bottles, so I needed two of each. (A Brewsy packet will process between 1.5 quarts and 1.5 gallons, but I’m not going for volume, yet.) The bottle size issue is why I did apple juice first – the Kroger juice is a 64oz bottle, and it is processing in the actual bottle.

I don’t really have to obsess about 100% juice, since some of my co-vintners are fermenting Hawaiian Punch and Dr Pepper, but I haven’t been that brave yet.

This was going to be the same simple procedure as yesterday, and I was going to do Cranberry, since that is supposed to be your first project, and I was running back and forth, checking the Sweetness Calculator, and trying to learn how to use my hydrometer, and measuring sugar and a lot of other steps. Plus, the added “complexity” of fermenting in a bottle other than the bottle the juice came in.

The process still went well, I don’t really believe the specific gravity reading, but I will ask for help on that later. I’m pretty sure I did something wrong or I can’t read. I really need to remember to get large print everything from now on.

So, everything mixed, sugar measured, juice measured, magic packet added, dogs tripped over, and it’s in the closet, ready to become wine. Whew.

Then, Virginia said, “Hey, you used one bottle of Black Cherry and one bottle of Cranberry!”

She was drinking the juice I had left out to leave headspace, so I said, “Wait! What juice are you drinking?” She said, “It’s cranberry and it’s tart.”

So, we have a mistaken mixture, or what a vintner would call a “blend.” It is 32 ounces of Black Cherry juice and 18 ounces of Cranberry. I call it “Happy Accident”, because I don’t think I should put “Dammit!” on a wine label.

So, I have sugar measured to make Cranberry semi-sweet, when 2/3rds of the source is actually Black Cherry. This is going to be interesting.

5 Feb 2021 9:45pm

Source Juice: 32 oz RW Knudsen Just Black Cherry (100% juice), 18 oz RW Knudsen Just Cranberry.

I followed the Brewsy “semi-sweet” recipe from the Sweetness Calculator, based on Cranberry juice. We’ll see what happens.

  • Removed 14 oz of juice from the bottle – later had to figure out which bottle it was from
  • Added 229 grams sugar
  • Added one Brewsy packet

Proposed Schedule (updated with actuals):

DateTimeStepCompleteComments
Fri Feb 59:45pmFermentation BeganHere’s hoping for a happy accident
Sat Feb 6 Morning
11:55am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbles – had to swirl the bottle to wash some yeast residue back into juice
Feb 6Afternoon
7:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleA bit late! Bubbles – still some yeasty residue on bottle, another swirl
Feb 7Evening
4:15pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling happily
Mon Feb 8Afternoon
11:00am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleSlowed down but still bubbles
Feb 89:45pmEarliest End for Fermentation(Will probably need more time) – Decided to leave it until morning, at least
Feb 8 9:50pmEarliest Racking after FermentationPostponedRack before Cold Crash
Feb 8 10:00pmEarliest Start for Cold CrashPostponedRemove airlock, replace cap, into fridge
Tue Feb 91:35amTaste TestWee bit boozy. Think I will leave it until morning and then cold crash.
Feb 99:25pmRacking Prior to cold crashing
Feb 99:30pmCold CrashInto the cold
Wed Feb 10 MorningCheckingSome sludge developing, will rack this evening
Feb 10EveningRackingSkipped
Thu
Feb 11
3:05pmRackingNot too much to filter
Feb 119:30pmEarliest End for Cold CrashWe have wine!
Feb 11 9:35pm Tasting
Checkpoints – Wine-making

Opening a Winery

Well, a cidery, anyway. Well, I started one bottle. My Brewsy kit arrived today, so it’s time to make some cider, since we have apple juice in the house. (OK, I ordered it because I wanted to try cider.) Wine comes from grapes, cider comes from apples, hangovers come from either.

This is supposed to be a really simple process – you add a magic Brewsy packet and sugar to the base juice, ferment it for three days (or more) and then a couple of days in the refrigerator to kill off the yeast. This is not standard wine-making, rather,this is wine-making with Brewsy.

Now, if you read the online (very detailed) manual and follow the conversation on the private group on Facebook, it is a simple process with a couple of key steps involved. If you watch the random YouTube videos of people using the kit, none of them have read the manual or followed the conversation on Facebook.

So, I have some confidence I will be making different mistakes than the people on YouTube. However, being married to someone who actually cooks, we do have measuring cups, a digital scale and a funnel, and I actually know how to use them, unlike some of the YouTubers I saw.

My notes for YouTubers:

  • Read the instructions, but not live on your video
  • Measure, measure, measure
  • Don’t split Brewsy packets
  • Sugar amounts are important and based on the amount of sugar in your source juice
  • Measure, measure, measure
  • Rack the chilling wine (cider)
  • If there are lumps in your wine, you didn’t rack it (don’t drink it)

I ordered a hydrometer so I can check specific gravity and actually calculate alcohol by volume (ABV), but it’s arriving tomorrow, so I think I will just make my first cider as the kit says, and see what happens. (Apparently, you need an initial specific gravity and a final specific gravity to calculate the ABV. I think you multiply ABV by two to get proof which is what we old folks care about.)

Here is what I like about Brewsy before I even get started – the support is amazing (others have mentioned this, as well.) I got a text when I ordered the kit and it said to save the number in case I had questions. They were serious. I texted this afternoon about trying to determine carbs, and got a response almost instantly. It was actually a conversation, and it wasn’t a chatbot because it was coherent.

So, updating this post as we progress. We should be fermenting through the weekend.

4 Feb 2021 9:45pm

Source Juice: 64 oz Kroger Apple Juice (100% juice) – well, I think they added Vitamin C. We will have cherry and cranberry juices arriving tomorrow, along with the hydrometer and extra bottles (for racking and making larger batches.)

I followed the Brewsy “semi-dry” recipe from the Sweetness Calculator.

  • Removed 1 1/2 cups of juice from the bottle (it was tasty)
  • Added 162 grams sugar (weight is probably more accurate than volume)
  • Added one Brewsy packet
Prepared for fermentation

The cider-to-be is wrapped in a dish towel and resting in the bottom of the pantry. I’ll be checking for bubbles from the airlock.

Waiting for the yeast to do its thing

Here’s the plan, according to Brewsy’s basic timeline:

Over the next few days, we will check for the rate of bubbles from the air lock. Hopefully, fermentation will be slowing down by Sunday or so – I’m a bit concerned about the temperature in the house, although my wife likes it about as warm as Brewsy fermentation requires. After that, it’s into the fridge for a couple of days to kill off the yeast. This will also be the time to rack the cider (siphon out the good stuff and get rid of the dead yeast – the tun) – a step many YouTubers have missed. I’m planning to rack the cider at least twice, so I don’t have to swirl it around to disperse the dead yeast before tasting.

Proposed Schedule (updated with actuals):

DateTimeStepCompleteComments
Thu Feb 49:45pmFermentation BeganHere’s hoping for the best
Feb 411:30pm Started my personal wine-making logShould have done this sooner
Fri Feb 51:00amCheck for bubbles in the airlockThank you, insomnia
Feb 510:00am 10:40amCheck for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 5Afternoon 2:00pmCheck for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 5Evening
9:45pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Sat Feb 6Afternoon
11:50am
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Feb 6Evening
7:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleBubbling
Sun Feb 7Afternoon
4:10pm
Check for bubbles – swirl the bottleVery slow bubbles and sludge on the bottom – may be getting close
Feb 74:45pmTaste TestWe have firewater with an apple aftertaste. It’s not very sweet, and it is certainly not just apple juice any longer. I think I will cold crash it later tonight. I may have to figure out how to rack it first.
Feb 79:45pmEarliest End for Fermentation(Will probably need more time) Will cold crash, based on taste test.
Feb 7 10:40pmCold CrashDecided to skip the racking before the cold crash. Will see how much sediment is produced in the fridge.
Mon Feb 8MorningRacking Skipped12 hours after cold crash
Feb 8EveningRackingSkipped12 hours after previous racking
Tue Feb 9 Evening
9:20pm
RackingFirst racking – goodnight, sludge!
Feb 910:40pmEarliest End for Cold CrashPostponedWe have cider! (Hopefully)
Will leave one more day after racking
Feb 9 10:10pm TastingPostponed
Wed Feb 1011:00amCheckingSome sludge developing, will rack this evening
Feb 10EveningRackingSkipped
Thu Feb 113:00pmRackingA lot less sludge than first time, but still some. Almost ready.
Checkpoints – Wine-making
Cold Crash: Cloudy, with a chance of cider.

Name Blindness

I am perplexed. However, this time I know what I am perplexed about – and it is something that occurs every once in a while, but predictably. In fact, I can cause it to happen at will. The next time you’re bored, you can try a simple experiment, and see what happens.

Most people have two names at a minimum, a first name and a last name. Most probably also have a middle name – it’s the name in-between. That said, middle names don’t get used very much, unless your Mom is really pissed at you or you’re an accused or convicted murderer – then, you get all three names, like John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

(Yes, growing up in Texas, I know some people of Mexican descent who have a first name, a middle name and two last names. I’m not one of them, and I always have to remember that the last name may not be the last name. Let’s not get into that, shall we?)

Nonetheless, I use all three of my names from time to time. I have a long last name, so the other two names balance it out.

I will explain my logic mathematically:

  • Kevin (5) Gilhooly (8)
  • Kevin (5) John (4) Gilhooly (8)

5+4 = 9 and nine is closer to eight than five. So, it’s balanced. Approximately.

Besides, John was my Dad, so it helps me pay a little tribute to him.

As a bonus, my full name takes up a lot of room on a line of text, so it stands out in a list of names, which makes it easy for people to find when scanning lists of people on the pre-sale ticket list. So, even though it might make me look like a murderer (or Mom’s pissed at me again), there are some times I use all three names. Also, some computer forms ask for a middle name, so I always fill it in, because I have one. Use it or lose it.

There’s just one problem with using three names. It causes name blindness.

It came up again this evening. I got an email request for some nonprofit consulting, and the request started with “John -“. The only time someone addresses me as “John” instead of “Kevin” is when my middle name is included, and they don’t know me. I went and looked at my profile page, and it is headlined “Kevin John Gilhooly.”

Now, it makes sense that no strangers ever call me “John” when I don’t use my middle name, because they wouldn’t know what it was. However, even when it is on the form, it’s in the middle.

What happened to “Kevin”? Why does everyone who doesn’t know me skip over it? Is this one of those balance things I was supposed to learn in photography class, where the eyes are drawn to the middle?

It happens all the time. If I have my first and middle names on a form, my first name just disappears to people seeing my full name. Am I the only one who is confounded by this?

I actually tried an experiment a few years ago, and included my middle name in my Facebook name, and I started getting called “John” by acquaintances or people trying to become my acquaintances. Friends know my name, so they just continued to call me various expletives. Family avoids me, so it didn’t matter. I dropped my middle name from the name field, and the same acquaintances-to-be all started calling me “Kevin.”

WTF?

I would expect that three names would throw some people off, but I don’t understand the universal tendency for people to assume a middle name is the name to use when a perfectly good first name is included in the same full name. It’s called the first name because it is … first.

Maybe Lincoln called John Wilkes Booth “Wilkes” at a reception, and he finally snapped. Just sayin’.

If I would have put Kevin “John” Gilhooly, then I would expect people would think “John” was my nickname, like “Scooter” or “Bulldog” or any number of other, better nicknames, because “John” is a really bad nickname for “Kevin.” The only nicknames for “Kevin” are “Kev” and “Kevino.” So if I had put “John” in quotes, then I would understand being called “John.”

If I put K. John Gilhooly, I would expect robocallers to ask for KJohn, and I would understand people calling me “John” and not “K.”

Actually, that would be funny, because every time somebody called me, it would sound like they were asking for my agreement. K, John?

However, my full name is “Kevin John Gilhooly.” I suppose if I added my Confirmation name, it’s “Kevin John Peter Gilhooly”, so maybe then I would be called “Peter.”

This is why formal letters use “Mr. Gilhooly”. It’s pretty obvious which one I want you to use for my last name.

If you see a middle name, do you assume the person wants you to use it instead of the first name?

By the way, if you’ll be my bodyguard, you can call me Al. Otherwise, “Kevin” will do.

Always Acknowledge a Request

I had a flashback to my early coding days this week, thanks to Dallas County. It then occurred to me it was the same issue that caused the Christmas miracle. (Summary: I signed up for a hydroponic garden from the city (well, I thought I was asking for more information), and after silence, it arrived. Out of the blue.)

This was caused by a computer system receiving a request and then not acknowledging it.

My wife signed us up for COVID-19 vaccines and got nothing in response. Silence. So, I assumed if questioned, I could just say I didn’t know (since I never got anything) and signed us up again. This time, we got an email acknowledging the entry, and telling us to sit tight for more information.

Obviously, somebody fixed the system so it would send a reply.

That’s when I had a flashback to 1983 or so. I’m working at a telecom company, doing systems programming, applications programming, operations .. (it was a small company.) There was a daily report that showed, actually, I don’t remember what exactly it showed, but it was really important to one of the finance people, a rather cranky old woman named Verna. (In my defense, I was in my early twenties, and I thought she was old, so she was probably 32.)

The problem that Verna had was that pretty much every day, the systems were out of balance, so there was a report for her to review. On the very rare occasions when everything was balanced (say, a full moon and a solar eclipse on the same day), there was no need for a report, so nothing printed. Everything had worked, so there was no out-of-balance report.

This was logical but it was also a problem. Since the report was usually a one-page report, if it didn’t show up on Verna’s desk, there was a possibility that everything had balanced out, but there was also a probability that the overnight operators had just misplaced it.

So, she said we had to print a report to say that there was no report.

Because I was young and foolish, and hadn’t received a hydroponic garden I had forgotten I had ordered arrive yet, I thought this was an insane request. Nonetheless, I was on call, so I found the source code, added a flag that was set to True (no report) at the beginning of the program, and got set to False as soon as something was out of balance.

At the end of the program, if the flag was still True, I added enough code to print a one-page report that said “Today there is no report.” Then, I forgot about it. Verna either got a report or she got a report that said there was no report. Peace in the valley.

Six months later, we had auditors come in. They were reviewing everything. I mean everything. They looked at the tape maintenance procedures, disk backup procedures, computer room access, and all sorts of procedures.

Then, they started reading source code. All the source code.

Two days later, one of the auditors came over to my desk. He looked puzzled. He said, “Uh, do you know about what the So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag does?”

This is why people should not read other people’s code.

So, the auditor actually had to document that Verna had complained that was not a report that said there was no report, and I had to fix the original code to determine if a report had been created, and it not, print the “no report” report.

I may have been a wee bit cranky when I did the update, since I thought, “I’m wasting my time making a stupid program update to print a report that there was no report, specifically so Verna will stop bitching.”

The great thing about COBOL was that you could be very literal. So, I added the “So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag”, and forgot about it. That’s the answer I gave him.

The auditor never asked me another question.

So, when Virginia registered with the county, nothing happened, which annoyed me no end. Did nothing happen? Did something happen and she threw the email out? Was I registered or not? When I registered a week later, I got an email. Now, I knew.

My assumption is that somebody in downtown added a So_Kevin_Wont_Bitch_Flag.

Well done.

The Secret Garden – Revealed

Oh. Shit. Now, I remember.

I am not hallucinating. I do not have a Secret Santa who thinks I’m worthy of a $200 present. My sister-in-law was not just denying sending us a hydroponic garden to drive my wife crazy. It wasn’t even a gift at all – it just arrived around Christmas.

So, I did not drunk-order another indoor garden. However, I did kinda order it. Well, I applied for it, and then forgot about it. If it weren’t for a rather cryptic email I received this afternoon, I never would have remembered applying for it, because I had assumed I didn’t really meet the criteria.

This is a good lesson for businesses in how leaving tracks with customers is important because in this case, THERE WEREN’T ANY. I was convinced that this was a truly remarkable screw-up (wrong machine, wrong address) by a Chinese company pretending to sell stuff on Amazon. It wasn’t. It is part of a non-documented, well-hidden program from the City of Dallas.

Our tax dollars at work.

Here is how I finally remembered that I had signed up for the City’s program for indoor gardens, before I had ever seen the Amazon ad for the AeroGarden we got my Mom (I think).

I received an email today from City Hall, which states:

Hello,

Thank you for your interest in receiving an in-home garden kit! 

The gardens have already started shipping and you will be receiving your kit via contactless mail delivery. December is a high peak season for shipping so please be patient and allow up to four weeks for delivery from the vendor. The City does not have the ability to track packages for you.

This program is part of a pilot that addresses short term food needs for COVID as well as potential long term food access. You may be contacted to learn more about your experience using these in home kits and your health. We are excited to learn more from you about the idea of helping people grow food indoors.

Happy holidays and happy gardening!

That’s it. No signature. No links to rules and regulations. Nothing to sign to acknowledge receipt.

So, apparently, the city is sending out free hydroponic gardens. Then, I vaguely remembered signing up for a city program for in-home gardening, because it sounded interesting. I just couldn’t find any receipts. I searched every email account I have, I wandered through my Chrome history, I drove my wife partially insane asking her questions, but there was no record of me ever having ordered anything from the city or applied for a indoor garden program.

This would explain how Click and Grow got my name, address and cell phone and thought it was drop-shipped — and why Amazon had no records of it.

Off to Dr. Google.

This took much longer than it should have, but as I said, the City doesn’t seem to have any record of it, even though it’s a city program. I tried every search term I thought made sense and several that didn’t and finally found a link to a image on one of the city council member’s pages (ironically, not my city council member.)

Now, I remember, still vaguely. At the time, I didn’t really think I was a “vulnerable population” member, but I am currently unemployed and I am over 60, so who knows what the criteria was? For one thing, you had to have Internet access, since I saw it online somewhere.

I remember that I figured I would fill out the initial form, look at the paperwork that inevitably followed, and determine if I was really eligible. If not, maybe I would just buy one of the gardens, because they sound cool.

That’s how government programs work, right?

Not this one. I filled out the SurveyMonkey form (which is now closed, so don’t bother), and it just accepted the input and said, “Thank you” (I think – again, there’s no record.) I think you can have SurveyMonkey send a receipt or a copy of the form – or you can choose not to bother anyone with a paper trail.

Note the description in the image – “nine plants.” Note the photo (which when Googled returns “Click and Grow Smart Garden 9 – White”.)

Mystery solved.

We’re growing lettuce that we bought with our tax dollars.

Now, I just have to figure out where I saw the invitation in the first place. That’s for another day. I did close out my ticket with Click and Grow support trying to find the origin of the package.

Our Government Lettuce

The Secret Garden – A Christmas Mystery

We have a Christmas mystery, one that is nice to have, but perplexing nonetheless.

First of all, I will admit that I never know what to get my family for Christmas. Well, that’s not completely true – I will regularly buy my grandkids something I want to play with so when we visit, I have toys ready to go for me, unless they’ve been broken or lost in the meantime.

For the past few years, gifts haven’t been a major issue, because we’ve been traveling over Christmas. So, while we might still exchange gifts in person with our local family, but it was short and sweet, i.e. I cannot guarantee the amount of thought that went into the choices, and the gift exchange was way before or way after the actual date. However, this year, we’re staying home, which means we needed gifts for my Mom and my little brother. My little brother and I usually just promise to take each other to dinner, and then forget about it, which is equal value for both of us. My Mom has so much stuff in her condo that she is regifting things to me every time I visit her. Also, my brother knows her personal shopper at Neiman Marcus and I don’t, so he has the upper hand on Mom gifts.

However, this year, inspiration struck for both of them. In other words, a couple of online ads actually worked. I got an email from an unnamed company with something that my brother will appreciate, if not enjoy. (I would mention specifically what I got my brother, because it is extremely cool and very expensive [as far as he knows], but he hasn’t see the gift yet. I’m pretty sure Mom doesn’t read my blog – or know what a blog is, so I can talk about her gift.)

One day while I was flailing around for something to get Mom (OK, one day while I was wasting time online), I saw an ad on Facebook for an AeroGarden, a hydroponic indoor garden “system” for growing plants – mainly small vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Side issue: yes, I know, you can grow pot in them, but that’s not legal in a lot of areas. I’ve known this since two of my fraternity brothers were growing pot in an aquarium turned “herb garden” in our dorm in the early 80s. They thought they were extremely clever and would never be detected until the rather elderly maid told them, “Your marijuana plants need watering.”

Sorry for the interruption, I just like that story.

Much like the Instant Pot (a pressure cooker) and the Ninja Foodi Grill (a convection oven), the AeroGarden provides function that could probably be found for less, but it would not be nearly as cool, because it is a sexy-looking package with one rockin’ name.

Anyway, the smallest AeroGarden – a Sprout – that holds three plants was on sale for $59 which is within reason for a temporarily unemployed person. (Sprout. It’s so freakin’ cute.)

So, we ordered a AeroGarden Sprout with a Salad Greens kit for Mom. Done. Finished with shopping.

Truth be told, I had a ulterior motive for ordering my Mom a AeroGarden. I wanted one. So, I sold my wife on the benefits for Mom (cribbed from the AeroGarden website and their constant marketing emails) until she started coming up with her own benefits, and then she discovered that there was an AeroGarden Sprout that came with an herb kit. These were the same herbs she grows in planters on our patio, but it’s getting colder now, so she had dug them up a couple weeks ago.

I said, “Gee, Sweetie, you could grow your basil indoors year-round!”

Sold. (Heh heh heh.)

I was given permission to order another AeroGarden Sprout for us, with the herbs kit. It arrived on November thirtieth, and I planted it the same day, so it’s been growing for just over three weeks. Left-to-right, parsley, dill, and basil (amazingly, Parsley, Dill and Basil were my ex-wife’s divorce attorneys.)

Our first AeroGarden. Parsley, Dill and Basil after just over three weeks of growth.

Then, my wife started thinking (which is never good for my wallet), “Hey, maybe the grandkids would like one of these! They all love tomatoes. Do they have one that will grow tomatoes?”

I’m still trying to get her to stop saying “One that grows (x)” – it’s a garden. It’s just water instead of dirt. It grows whatever you plant in it. There isn’t a specialized one for tomatoes or herbs or pot (not that people would grow pot in one.)

Now, we had already purchased Christmas gifts for all three grandkids and their parents, so I was going to hold off until the next gift occasion – like Arbor Day, but it’s $59, so why not? I ordered one for the kids and requested the tomato kit. Well, I ordered a slightly larger one for the kids, because the Sprouts were sold out. So, they’re getting a Harvest. A Harvest holds six plants instead of three.

I was in a panic when I ordered it because AeroGarden was rapidly selling out of all the entry level models. I’m not really sure when it went from “an extra gift” to “has to be there for Christmas”, but so it goes. I found the Harvest model on Amazon, but I managed to not pay attention while ordering and selected some fake seller in China as a supplier, so that order never arrived. Now, I had disappointed the grandkids by not getting them something they didn’t know about that wasn’t their actual Christmas gift. (AeroGarden still had none in stock. Apparently, those online ads really work.)

I canceled the Chinese order, got a refund from Amazon, and ordered another on Amazon from Amazon, because the AeroGarden site was still sold out. It was $50 more, but it will probably get there. (It shipped while I was writing this.) Today, AeroGarden now has that model back in stock for $50 less. Have I mentioned I hate Christmas?

Where was I going with this?

To summarize, we have an AeroGarden Sprout with dill, parsley and basil which has been planted since November thirtieth and is doing quite well (see photo above). We have an AeroGarden Harvest that is waiting for its tomato kit to arrive (see below), so we have a field waiting to be sown.

There’s another Sprout in a box, wrapped for Mom that will be opened on Christmas, which hopefully has the Salad kit included. If not, I’m sure she’ll plant whatever is in the box, or we can give her one of the extra tomato kits (see below).

There’s (allegedly) an AeroGarden Harvest on a slow boat from China for the kids that had the order officially canceled but may still arrive someday. There’s another Harvest shipping directly from Amazon to the kids, which will arrive after Christmas, but we had already bought their Christmas presents before the whole indoor gardening thing started, so it doesn’t matter – although they already have received their tomato kit. (Christmas Miracle Update: The Harvest arrived on Christmas Eve morning.)

That’s a lot of gardens, but then my wife decided she would really like to grow tomatoes, so I ordered another AeroGarden Harvest for us, since the Sprouts were still sold out. It arrived with the salad greens kit instead of the tomato kit I specified. Oops. Easy solution – I just ordered a tomato kit from Amazon. After a day or two, Amazon said they couldn’t deliver it, so I canceled that order and ordered one direct from AeroGarden. That one shipped.

Then, I got an email from AeroGarden apologizing for the problems with my order and letting me know the tomato kit was being shipped immediately.

Now, I’m not sure if AeroGarden is apologizing for sending the wrong kit with the Harvest, or apologizing for Amazon not being able to fulfill the tomato kit order to make up for the wrong kit they had shipped, since the order number they mentioned was for the free replacement tomato kit. So, I may be getting two tomato kits. I’m a bit afraid that if we get two $15 tomato kits, my wife will want to purchase another $150 Harvest so we can plant both immediately. Of course, the Harvest is $99 today, so she would remind me that we would be saving money. Somehow.

So, we’re basically farmers at this point, and there were enough orders to enough places that eventually some confusion was bound to occur.

To quote Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and the great Arlo Guthrie, “That’s not what I came to tell you about.

In the midst of starting gardens all across America, I got a notice from UPS that they were going to deliver a package from a company in New Jersey. I didn’t recognize the company name, but this happens often, because my wife’s deliveries show up on my UPS MyChoice account. However, “New Jersey” could also mean our self-appointed favorite niece (I’m not taking sides until all the gifts arrive) sent us something. I looked up the company, and it was a drop-shipper that does distribution and deliveries for other companies, so that meant it could be from anyone, so I just waited it out.

Then, the package arrived. It was addressed to me. It had my cell phone number as a contact number on the label. That’s all that was on the label. So, we opened it to see if there was a card. There was no card.

Inside the rather large box was a Click and Grow Smart Garden 9 and a lettuce seed kit. After some research, I determined that Click and Grow is basically an Eastern European-invented version of an AeroGarden. In other words, it’s another hydroponic indoor garden system with a seed kit. That’s it. No card, no insert, no bill.

Where the hell did this come from?

That was not a very charitable thought, especially given the time of year. So, I apologized to the Lord for the uncharitable thought, and rephrased it.

Who the hell sent us this?

Now, there is a relatively long list of suspects for sending us unlabeled gifts, especially on my wife’s side of the family. People order items online, change the shipping address, and forget to mark “gift” or there’s no gift option available. It happened to us with some presents which may not have been opened yet (but rare and highly expensive) that we sent our nieces and nephews this year, so we sent some frantic texts to cover it and tell them the gifts were not wrapped (and get credit for the gifts). However, when I determined from Click and Grow website that a Smart Garden 9 was approximately $200, the list shortened significantly. I’m not saying my friends and family are cheap, I’m just saying I know how much they value me in their lives.

My first thought (which almost caused a stroke) was that the fake Chinese company from Amazon that was currently failing to deliver the kids’ AeroGarden Harvest had managed to send the wrong brand of hydroponic garden to the wrong house. After I managed to get my blood pressure down to a level where I could read my computer screen, I checked the order status at Amazon, and at that point (this was before I canceled it), it was still showing as “ready to ship”, and the order was addressed to my son’s house.

Hmm.

So, if it wasn’t a mistake, how did it get here? Whoever sent it knows my name, address and cell phone number (all on the shipping label.) So, it was probably sent on purpose by someone that knows me fairly well.

Did I drunk order it? If so, why didn’t I drunk order another AeroGarden? Wait. We have InstaCart – why didn’t I drunk order more liquor? When was the last time I was drunk enough to shop online?

I had to Google Click and Grow since I had never heard of the company. (We’re an AeroGarden family.) Once I found them, I asked to reset my password on the site. The site had no record of any of my email addresses. So, if I drunk ordered it, I didn’t order it directly from them. Hmm.

If drunk ordered anything, it would probably be from Amazon, who knows my credit card, bank account, blood type, wife’s ring size, dogs’ names and favorite treats and who knows what else. Therefore, it would be in my Amazon orders list. So, I scrolled and scrolled (and scrolled) and never found anything. I even searched for “Click and Grow”. Nothing. Hmm.

I still don’t know in which order that the two companies (AeroGarden and Click and Grow) were founded and started shipping, so I’m not sure which is a knock-off of the other. But the AeroGarden looks more polished and obviously has a better marketing team, so I thought, “Who would send me a knock-off of something I already have?”

However, nobody really knew we had one. So, then it was, “Who would assume I would like something like this?”

Then, more depressingly, “Who would spend $200 on me that doesn’t live in my house?”

This basically lead to a list of all of the eccentrics we know. Crazy people are all around us, in and out of our families. Eccentrics are the specific crazy people that will buy you $200 Christmas presents. Eccentrics are the crazy people that you like. Time to visit the eccentrics list.

Two of the members of our eccentric list will be here on Christmas Day, unless my wife is sick, which is her usual condition during the holidays. While a hydroponic garden would have been out of character for my little brother, he has moments of whimsy, so he remained on the suspect list. The other is my Mom, and the chances of her getting us the same thing (from a different company) as we got her were fairly slim, even though hilarious, especially since I do all of her online ordering. I didn’t have an email from her asking me to send myself a hydroponic garden, so she was probably off the list.

Nonetheless, I checked with both of them. Neither claimed credit. (Well, my brother instantly claimed credit, but slipped when I asked him to identify exactly what he had given us. As I had to remind my wife, you never ask, “Hey, did you send us a $200 hydroponic garden?”, you ask, “Hey, did you send us something expensive, and if so, what was it?”)

The next two on the list are friends that live in New Mexico (together), and we had talked to them and showed them the AeroGarden Sprout (with buds – not those types of buds) before the mystery Smart Garden 9 had even shipped (according to UPS), so they were some of the few people who knew we already had one. It’s not out of character for them, but we had already received something from them for Christmas, and they probably wouldn’t give us something we had. Plus, they said it wasn’t them. Suspects cleared.

Next was my sister-in-law up North who is allergic to the Internet (and most things invented after 1950), and she would have had to call my wife to do the online ordering for her, which would have spoiled the surprise. Plus, she has a real farm, so a countertop garden would have seemed silly to her. Also, she had sent us something already. She didn’t know anything about it, but has found the daily phone reports of this investigation highly amusing. She will never read this, because it is on the Internet.

Next was my other sister-in-law who loves the Internet, but had already given us gifts. She said it wasn’t from her. I assume she will buy one soon, especially if our herb crops come in, and my wife starts gushing about it.

So, my wife posted the question to her Facebook friends and acquaintances, where many of my wife’s friends immediately took credit, but none could identify what they had actually given us. Nice try, Brooklyn.

At this point, I decided to track it down from the shipping information.

We called the shipper in New Jersey, whose phone forwarded us to their office in California – which is closer to China, in case it really was the wrong product to the wrong address. They couldn’t help.

I emailed the Click and Grow company and had a lovely week-long email chat with their support team, trying to explain why I had no idea why one of their products had managed to get to my house, but that I was pleased to have it. They requested a picture of the box and serial number, and a picture of the UPS label.

After a couple of days, they gave up and said it looked to them like it had been ordered from Amazon and drop-shipped, so it wasn’t in their system.

So, my wife called Amazon where the operator seemed fixated on solving the problem of an “unwanted package.” She did not grasp the concept of “unexpected.” Apparently, Amazon employees do not receive gifts. She finally checked the UPS tracking number, couldn’t find it in their system, and concluded it was not from Amazon. I am still not sure how a package that was traveling around just before Christmas was not from Amazon.

Finally, my wife called UPS whose automated system helpfully told her the package was delivered on the seventeenth. Thank you, logistics experts. She finally forced the system to route her to a human (sic) who managed to not understand the question, and then dropped the line. Well, hung up on her, since the call routed to their survey robot (bad move).

UPS then called back hours later and gave my wife the reference numbers for the shipment. These were the numbers from the label that was on the package. One of them is coincidentally my cell phone number. This was a Double Jeopardy answer for “What is less than useless?”

During the search for the gift-giver, another seed kit arrived for the Click and Grow, so whomever sent the garden decided we should not just grow lettuces. Either that, or the sender told someone else, “Hey, if you don’t know what to get them, send a seed kit. I sent them a Click and Grow.” This seed kit will be planted after the two that arrived with the garden have been grown, so about the time we go on our next cruise in 2022. I’m a bit concerned another garden arrival may be imminent.

The Back Forty: our AeroGarden Harvest, waiting for tomatoes. Our Mystery Click and Grow Smart Garden 9, growing lettuces: Green Sorrel, Romaine, and Arugula.

I’m breathlessly waiting for the mail to arrive today. Merry Christmas!

Christmas at Home

We’ll be at home for Christmas this year, for the first time since 2007. (Technically, we were home on Christmas in 2013, but we were gone the week before.)

Fleeing for Christmas started in 2008. In 2008, my sister-in-law passed away in January, and my mother-in-law passed away in June. It was a bad year. My wife didn’t want to be home at Christmas and her brother didn’t want to be home at Christmas, either. He had a timeshare in Orlando and was taking his kids, so he invited us to go along.

Here’s the thing about Orlando – I hate Orlando. I have no love at all for Disney (never understood the attraction), and I don’t particularly like a cold swamp in December. Also, I was at IBM at the time, working for Lotus, so I was going to be in Orlando three or four weeks later for Lotusphere. Lotusphere was scheduled in Orlando in January because the weather is generally miserable, so the hotels are cheaper. So, I was not looking forward to Orlando in December.

We went. It was a nice time, in spite of the fact everyone was basically in mourning. The parks were freezing but seeing European tourists turning blue in short shorts and t-shirts who believed the “weather is always beautiful in Florida” marketing mantra was fairly amusing. We did get to see Blue Man Group – and I never realized the irony until I wrote this.

After we got home, all was quiet for a few months, and then my wife declared she didn’t just want to be home last Christmas, she didn’t want to be home at Christmas forevermore. So, I didn’t even think about “this will be expensive”, I thought, “How do I prevent ever spending Christmas in Orlando again?”

The answer: find something else to do that will be so enticing that she won’t think freezing in Florida is a good idea, even if it is with family.

That’s why in 2009, we took our first cruise. One Sunday, I Googled cruise lines, and sent information requests to all the major ones – Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean. I got emails from Carnival and Royal. Norwegian called me ten minutes later. We have a winner.

Maricela introduced herself as “my” cruise consultant and asked what I was looking for as a cruise. I said I wanted to cruise out of Galveston. She said, “We sail from New Orleans.” I found it difficult to argue with that. It’s pretty much the same port, except for the State and location, and New Orleans being almost twice as far away by car (I wanted to drive to Galveston.)

We booked the Norwegian Spirit out of New Orleans for a seven-day cruise. It was an interesting start – we got our sea legs easily, but we tended to miss dinner every night because we would get back from an excursion, decide to take a “quick nap” and wake up at 10pm. I’m not sure what was on that first cruise that made us so sleepy, but it was amazing. Somewhere along the way, I had a strange feeling I didn’t recognize. Later, I realized I was relaxed.

That started our cruising adventures that are documented here. I can help you book your cruises now, as I’m a travel advisor.

That brings us to 2020. This was not a good year to be a cruising fan. This was not a good year to be a travel advisor.

So, we’re home for Christmas. We’re having family over which will make Mom happy because when my Dad died, she refused to leave home for Christmas, even though we invited her along with us (that was the year we sailed early.) Hopefully, nobody in the family will die from having Christmas at home in 2020.

I didn’t think staying home for Christmas would have a major effect, except for being cold in Dallas instead of warm in the Caribbean. However, I’ve noticed I am getting crankier than usual (my wife may disagree), and I am certainly not relaxed.

We don’t have a cruise booked until October 2022. This is very distressing to me. We have had three cruises in a year a couple of the past years.

So, Christmas at home. For the first time in 13 years or so. Unemployed. With family. With a wife who will spend more on food for four than a cruise would have cost. I’m pretty sure this is how alcoholics get their start.

Merry Christmas!

Recurring Nightmares

I just woke up from a brief nap. We had fairly broken sleep last night because Katie probably has a urinary tract infection, so she was visiting the yard every couple of hours.

I woke up because I was having a nightmare. I was lost on my unicycle in my parents’ old neighborhood, which isn’t that far from here. I lived there for over ten years, and it’s not that large, so I’m not really sure how I was lost.

That’s when I realized I have been having the same recurring nightmares lately. I’m lost in a neighborhood that resembles one where I had my old paper route, or I’m lost in a neighborhood that resembles where my parents used to live. Sometimes, it has combinations of both with parts of Plano added for extra terror.

There are a few other constants in the dreams – I’m lost, I’m on foot or on a unicycle, there are rarely other people around. When I wake up, I’m still trying to find my way home.

The only true constant is I am always approached and befriended by dogs, usually three white ones, a large one that looks like a poodle, a medium-sized one that looks like a Lhasa Apso, and a small mutt.

I’m sure the white is symbolic. The sizes are just from reading Goldilocks too many times as a child. I have no idea where the unicycle popped up. I’m pretty sure my foot surgeon would frown on a unicycle since I broke my foot walking.

As to the causes. maybe it’s depression from 2020. Maybe it’s stress from being unemployed again. Maybe it’s from sleeping too much with a dog smashed against me.

However, I prefer to think it’s a reminder for everyone – dogs are often your only true friends, and dogs will love you even if you’ve lost your way.

So, a gentle reminder, especially at the holidays: pets are not good gifts. Pets are a gift that come with instant responsibilities, and long-term commitments. Don’t give a gift that brings happiness on Christmas and is in the shelter by Easter.

Most importantly, if you have a pet, love your pet. They love you, no matter what.

And stay off your unicycle. You don’t want to get lost.