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.

Recurring Nightmares

NIghtmares, unicycles, pets and a universal truth.

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.

Oh no, not again

Somewhere in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams recounts how the Starship Heart of Gold uses its Improbability Drive to escape an attack. By using the drive, the missles converging on the ship become a whale and a bowl of petunias, which is rather improbable. As the petunias fall through space, the only thought it had was “Oh no, not again.”

I know how the petunias feel.

So, in 2017, I was “laid off permanently” by IBM. My brother the attorney said there was no such thing, but my assumption is that by terming it “layoff”, they didn’t have to report the numbers somewhere. When I called the benefits managers, it turned out I had retired.

This was the most traumatic event of my life, and I’ve been divorced. I was shell-shocked for quite a while, but at least I had severance pay for a bit.

It took almost a year to find a new job because I’m old and my resume is all IBM and not something useful like AWS or Google. However, I finally got a job on an IBM project as a contractor. I became the liaison between IBM and the customer. This was challenging to my sanity, but not that challenging. I did learn a lot of Watson stuff, but, again. IBM.

That project got terminated by the customer and I had about two weeks notice that my contract was ending. Everyone felt really bad, because it wasn’t my fault the system really didn’t meet their expectations.

Oh no, not again.

I got another job rather quickly, ironically at IBM, because now I was a Watson person. On the bright side, I was an employee of the contracting company, not just a hourly contractor. We spent six months trying to figure out all of the documentation the development team had never bothered to produce, and here we are, at the end of another quarter.

Oh no, not again.

I was told Wednesday at 4:45pm that my contract ended that day. It’s a good thing I’m not a contractor, or I’d be out of work! Ah, but as my contract was ending, I was being furloughed. “Furloughed” is “laid-off” if you have a Masters Degree.

So, one job for 19 years. Three jobs in three years.

Broken Dreams

This report has been a long time coming. Still, better late than never, I suppose.

On January 10th, I was going to let the dogs out for a pee break. I was annoyed, which is not a good way to be when traversing tight areas. I caught the corner of the dog ramp with my foot, and tripped. As I fell, I considered my options: fall on the wooden ramp itself, fall forward and hit a glass coffee table, fall sideways and hit a wire dog crate, fall right and hit a brick fireplace. Eventually, I just collapsed on the floor.

The first (sad) thing to admit is that I had tripped over this particular ramp before. Every time I did, my Spousal Unit mentioned we should get rid of it, but she never will. Even now, it’s just blocking the other side of the couch.

The second thing is that this time, it really hurt. I couldn’t even consider getting up for a couple of minutes. I just lay on the floor, wondering what to do, and thinking I could soon be the second person in this house Dallas Fire Rescue might have to come lift up (RIP my Mom-in-law.)

Finally, I got up and struggled back to the couch. I never twisted my ankle this badly, but I assumed I could “walk it off.” However, unlike other falls, it wasn’t getting better.

By morning, it was worse, so it was off to urgent care. I would have gone to the emergency room, but didn’t want to waste an entire day on a sprained ankle.

The urgent care by us said on the website that they did x-rays and handled minor broken bones. This was useful, even though I was sure it wasn’t broken, because I had never broken a bone in my life.

The website lied. They had the equipment but nobody there who could use it. The physician’s assistant on duty was useless, but she seemed to confirm it wasn’t a break, so I just figured “Suck it up, Buttercup” and get on with life. Since the PA was an idiot, we decided to just get an appointment with my orthopedic practice. We could have driven across town for a x-ray, but the specialists always do their own, even if you walk in with them, so why waste the time and money? Besides, the PA said it probably wasn’t broken (she didn’t see bones sticking out), so even though she was an idiot, that confirmed my lifelong failure to break a bone, so that was good enough.

On Monday, we managed to get an appointment on Wednesday to see the orthopedist. Those guys are busy. So, I just hopped around in the meantime. The PA didn’t think I needed a boot, so I just limped around in my flip-flops, since I couldn’t fit into a shoe.

Wednesday morning, we saw the orthopedist. They sent me for x-rays before he came in, so I got to limp the entire length of their offices to the x-ray room (and back.)

The doctor looked at the x-rays and said I had broken my foot … and my ankle.

Broken, I believe

He asked why we had waited to come in, and we said we went to urgent care on Saturday, and they didn’t think it was broken. “Didn’t they do x-rays?” So, that was that story, again. My wife is always happy to trash one practice to another. “They didn’t put you in a boot?” More trashing.

Urgent care’s care did not look good.

That afternoon, I had a CT scan which also said I had broken the crap out of both my foot and ankle. From tripping over a dog ramp.

As they got me a boot, we started discussing surgery options. It was January 15th. We had an anniversary cruise on February 9th. Nothing major, February 11th was just our 20th wedding anniversary. The doctor said we could go, no big deal, it I wasn’t like I was going to do any more damage, but the idea of a cruise on a new ship with no snorkeling, actually no beach time, and getting around on a scooter wasn’t very appealing.

We canceled the cruise in the 100% penalty period. Always buy insurance! The checks are in the mail.

We scheduled surgery for January 21st. I had to go to the hospital the day before for a surgical pre-check, since there wasn’t time for my family doctor to do it. Luckily, I passed.

Surgery was thankfully not at the crack of dawn. We got to the hospital (well, the day surgery facility) and got checked in. I got my bed and my gown. It almost fit.

The anesthesiologist came in and said he was going to administer two nerve blockers to help get ahead of the pain. After that, it was general anesthesia, as well.

The doctor came in and autographed my foot so he would remember that the one amazingly larger than the other was the broken one.

Off to the OR. I’m traditionally a good patient who has recovered faster than average. This was going to be my first set of metal plates. The doctor said he would probably leave the ankle alone unless he saw something he didn’t like. He saw it. So, one plate in the foot, one plate in the ankle.

I woke up in the recovery room in the worst pain I have ever experienced. I couldn’t focus, it was so bad. Apparently, my body has alternate nerve paths to my foot which didn’t get blocked.

Unfortunately, since I had the nerve blocker, I wasn’t given any painkillers after surgery. So, after I couldn’t cope, the staff gave me Fentanyl and not much happened. They gave me hydrocodone, and that started to help, but I couldn’t get ahead of the pain. They finally admitted me.

After a while in the room, somebody gave me morphine, and that knocked the pain down. After that, it was hydrocodone every four hours.

As usual, the doctors successfully downplayed the possible pain aspects of recovery. They managed to have me never consider what cutting my foot open and screwing stainless steel plates into multiple bones might feel like after I woke up. Well played.

Overnight, my wife discovered the order for hydrocodone was “as needed” and not “every four damn hours so he doesn’t die”, so I had a dose an hour late, and the pain came back. An hour or so after that, I asked for more morphine, and it settled back down. From then on, we asked for hydrocodone a bit early, just in case.

The whole “drugs working slowly” was new for me. A nurse would give me something, and say, “You’ll feel better in a half-hour or so.” It would take an hour or more. So, getting meds on time became critical.

Here’s a funny thing I learned – anesthesia can put your bladder to sleep. Then, you can’t pee. Joy. Of course, trying to pee off the side of a bed into a handheld urinal while two nurses and your wife are discussing your ability to pee three feet away is difficult, anyway.

So, now they had to manage my pain and try to awaken my bladder. Day two in the hospital – the day facility not really designed for overnight guests. You know you’ve overstayed your welcome when they stop comping you’re wife’s meals.

I do have to say, the staff was great. The nurses managed to keep my wife calm and me medicated. I can’t ask for more than that.

Here’s a fun way to start an unexpected day in the hospital – physical therapy. As a new cripple, I had to learn to transfer from bed to a walker, from a walker to a knee scooter and from either to a potty chair. The physical therapist was very insistent that I do this all within about twenty minutes. I was a heavily-drugged patient who had no sleep. It was interesting.

I did enough transferring to get the physical therapist to leave me alone, and tried to get some sleep. However, they still wanted my bladder awake.

Have you ever heard of a catheter? It’s a small tube that goes into your bladder to help drain urine when you can’t pee it out on your own.

Actually, it’s a glass rod a nurse inserts into a body part you had once promised to reserve for your wife. “Small” may be true, but the opening it is going into is even smaller. It hurts like hell, but then it’s in. Don’t move too much, and it’s fine. Well, less painful.

Here’s a tip – drain your bladder for all your worth when the catheter is inserted. Otherwise, the staff will decide you need a more permanent catheter, which means pulling one pipe out of your manhood and replacing it with another one.

You know, a nurse handling a guy’s business is a key part of a lot of porn films (I’ve heard.) I doubt the hot nurses in those movies had catheters in their other hand. That would be a horror movie.

Here’s the interesting part of having a catheter in – you pee without knowing it. At one point, the nurse asked me if I knew when I peed, and I said, “No.” She said, “You’re peeing now.” Three women’s (two nurses and a wife) heads all did the “puppy tilt” to watch the tube running out of me.

Thursday, I got the catheter removed. A while later, I finally peed. I transferred to the potty chair to do so, which made physical therapy happy. I’m pretty sure one motivation was avoiding having the catheter replaced. Since I successfully emptied my bladder on my own (they measured it), I was allowed to go home. I would have run for the door, but … broken foot and ankle.

In Tuesday, out Thursday. For day surgery. I’m losing my touch.

The hydrocodone continued for a few days after I got home. In truth, I would never get addicted to it, but I was afraid to stop taking it. I don’t want the pain back. I finally started dropping the dose, and then spreading them out, and then it was gone.

The main problem with losing a foot temporarily is learning to walk without it. The technical term is “non-weight-bearing.” In other words, I can’t let my right foot hit the ground. I could hop for six to eight weeks, but that’s probably not feasible.

The solution is reams of equipment. When my wife had Achilles surgery years ago, all the equipment was so expensive, you had to get the insurance company to find someone to provide it. Now, you get it from Amazon.

Here’s the foot support gear:

  • Wheel chair (rented)
  • Walker (hospital)
  • Boot (doctor’s office, pre-op)
  • Knee Scooter (Amazon, two tries, sent one back)
  • Potty chair (hospital)
  • Bath transfer bench (Amazon)
  • Bath chair (Amazon, as backup)

I have been living in my wife’s recliner since the operation. The dogs are very confused. If there is a laptop in front of me, I’m at work. If there’s food, I’m on a break. If I’m reclined all the way, I’m sleeping. It’s two shuffle steps to the bathroom, two shuffle steps back. I hate it. My wife lived in this chair after her shoulder surgeries and I don’t know how she did it.

The first two weeks after surgery, I was in a splint, waiting for the swelling to go down.

After two weeks, the splint was replaced by a cast. Before the cast went on, I had more x-rays. This time, I was taken in a wheelchair because it was broken. Then, the cast went on. My first cast.

My first cast (with Graham Gnome)

Three weeks later, the cast came off, and was replaced by the boot. The boot I was given the first day at the orthopedist, after they realized that urgent care didn’t give me one.

My last week in the cast, I moved back to bed at night, because I couldn’t take the recliner any longer. I vaguely remember “just going to bed.” Now, it’s getting the knee scooter to get down the hall, falling sideways into bed, moving the scooter so my wife can put the potty next to the bed, and then go to sleep. It’s still better than the recliner.

The longest challenge is taking a shower. I have a foot and ankle that can’t get wet. So, down the hall on the knee scooter into the bathroom. Do a 180 (harder than it sounds in a narrow room.) Slide onto the transfer bench. Scoot into the tub, sticking the boot out, so the boot can be replaced by a cast cover (waterproof, self-sealing). Into the shower. By this point, I’m exhausted. Luckily, it amuses the dogs. After the shower, everything is done in reverse, drying everything carefully to keep the foot and ankle dry.

I’m very glad I’m home-officed. I can work without much effort other than getting my laptop out and logging into the systems. My team is spread out all over the world, so time zones are a challenge but nobody is missing me in the office.

The only other concern is that the top of my foot isn’t healing as well as the doctor would like. So, he’s keeping an eye on it. Apparently, there’s not much skin on top of the foot. I’m a bit concerned they will be debriding it – which is a polite term for “cutting off a bunch of dead skin.”

It’s going to be an interesting scar. Well, scars.

On March 4th, I can put “some weight” on the foot. I need to ask what that really means. I’m thinking running a marathon is probably out.

On March 11 (a month after our anniversary), I may be able to walk again. Then, starts physical therapy. Two months or so since I tripped and couldn’t fall properly.

I’m hoping to be fully functional by my 60th birthday in April. Yes, this was going to be a year of landmarks without adding “first broken bone.”

The Day from Hell

Last Monday was a Day from Hell which stretched into the Week from Hell, and so much of it is blamed on “Corporate America” and so much of it was preventable – not easily, perhaps, but it’s not like they didn’t see it coming. Even more chilling, it’s going to happen again.

Every year about this time, we have Spring storms. On Sunday afternoon, we had a Texas-sized Spring storm. Trees down all over the place, a crane fell on a building, you name it. It was pretty bad, even by our usual Spring storm standards. Also, it was fairly predictable that it would happen eventually.

So, just like every year when we have a Spring storm, the power went out. This is because all of our power lines are overhead and nobody trims back the trees which are going to fall during a Spring storm. Therefore, power lines come down.

Oncor

Also, just like every year, Oncor sends out a note “Power will be back tonight”, then moves it to “tomorrow” and then eventually just sets their voicemail to a self-congratulatory message about how hard their crews are working under such stressful conditions (it was beautiful out on Monday, the day after the storm, not that I could enjoy it), and how people from other States are coming in to help restore their patient customers’ power.

Here’s a thought, dumbasses – how about trying prevention, since your damn cure always takes days?

I hate Oncor. This is probably not a secret. When Texas deregulated electricity a few years ago, what they really did was create another set of middlemen that do the billing. They buy electricity in bulk and sell it to the consumer. Whoever can lower their costs, say, by having no customer service whatsoever or selling at various prices under different names, can provide the lowest price.

However, Oncor owns the lines, the generators and all the other components that fail every damn year during Spring storms. So, every “electric company” in my area of the State has a sign on their website that says, “Oh, yeah, when you have no power, don’t call us, call Oncor.”

Oncor is what happens when you have a monopoly. They just cash the checks and don’t really consider making real improvements to the infrastructure because that costs money. They just make repairs as needed, at whatever speed they can manage.

I was just in the Caribbean, on the island of St Maarten, which had been virtually wiped out by hurricanes a couple of years ago, and as they’re rebuilding their completely destroyed infrastructure, they’re burying their electrical wires, to help withstand a storm.

There’s a thought. If the lines were underground, trees would have a more difficult time falling on them. Dallas has their streets torn up constantly anyway, why not bury the damn power lines?

The real issue is that some bean counter at Oncor is looking at the statistics, and we had power 362 of the past 365 days (mostly.) So, we had a 99% uptime. That’s really good.

Here’s the problem – all those downtime statistics don’t recognize whether the downtime was all at once. If we had an hour here or there all year, that’s one thing. 72 hours in a row is when all the food goes bad, the dogs become more psychotic, and I end up in a hotel.

So, Oncor disappointed me, but didn’t surprise me.

The irony is that Oncor has their own weather people. Apparently, they can’t predict any bad weather, but they can recognize it after it hits. I can do that without a degree in meteorology – if you want to know if there was a Spring storm, look out and see if all the houses are dark in the middle of the afternoon. If you wait until evening, it’s even easier to diagnose.

Here’s why power is important to me. There are basically three things I do at home, besides cater to the dogs and appear to obey my wife. I eat, I work and I sleep. With Oncor’s courageous three to four-day repair cycle for a very predictable, almost annual occurrence, I can’t eat (we’ll be throwing out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer), I can’t work (I need WiFi, which needs power – even though I’m pretty sure the phones are working because their lines are underground) and I can’t sleep (I use a C-PAP for my sleep apnea, and without it, I wake up constantly during the night. I spent Sunday night constantly dreaming I was drowning. It was not pleasant.)

So, I’m a wee bit bitchy as I’m starting to write this on Monday night, because the only way for me to get a decent night’s sleep – and get some work done in the morning, was to break down and get a hotel room. I am now at a work staycation, two miles from home, at $200 per night. The Spousal Unit is home with the dogs, who are freaking out about being in the dark all day.

I got the hotel room because a couple of other companies failed me. One I hadn’t dealt with in years, and one I deal with constantly.

Amazon

First, the one I deal with all the time – Amazon. How do you get around a dumbass power company? You purchase another independent power source. Amazon had a battery backup that other people used for their CPAPs, so that would be perfect. Sure, it’s $250 that Oncor should pay, but it would be delivered by Monday evening.

Wrong. Somewhere between hitting Enter and the first delivery update, the delivery day got changed to Friday. By Friday, even Oncor should have the power restored. (It actually arrived on Wednesday.)

So, great try, Amazon, but when I order something for same-day delivery, there’s a reason.

REI

When Amazon said “delivery on Friday”, it meant I could spend another sleepless night at home or find a generator or battery locally. We called everybody we could think about – and nobody had one, but then I remembered someone had mentioned “camping with my C-PAP”, so we went to REI. The one by our house was sold out (obviously, since I was not alone in this thought), but they found us one in Plano (which wasn’t affected by the storm), so we drove the 25 miles to the Plano store to pick it up.

We had selected this unit from the small list of units available specifically because it could be charged in the car – it has a 12-volt adapter. Since we have no working outlet to plug it in, we needed a backup power source without spending another $150 on a solar panel. This is partially on us, because we should have asked, but the 12-volt adapter is the one thing that is not included in the box.

We talked to Lee at the Plano store (who shouldn’t be at REI, he should be at Dick’s, because he is one) and his solution was to try to upsell me to the more expensive model because “those batteries come charged.” Then, he suggested just going to Walmart or McDonalds and plugging it in. Uh, I’m not going to spend eight hours in a McDonalds, Sparky. I’m on a low-carb diet.

So, Monday I bought two battery backup units in one day and one will be here Friday, and the other one could easily be charged in my home if Oncor restored the power – which was the problem in the first place.

So, REI Dallas, rock stars. REI Plano, not exactly helpful. (While Lee was trying to upsell me, Virginia called the Dallas store to see if they had the adapter, and they said “No.” She asked if they could see if any other store had one, and they said, “Sure, but the guy in Plano can do that.”

Then, it turned out the upgraded unit was available in Southlake, which is another 50 miles or so of driving, so we declined.

Sprint

The final culprit in my near-breakdown is Sprint, who must have lost some towers during the storm because our cell service was for crap yesterday. I couldn’t get anything done without being on WiFi. I couldn’t make calls, I couldn’t browse. If all I had was cell service, it wasn’t going to work.

By evening, the Sprint connections seemed to be improving, so maybe there is hope for humanity.

Actually, there is hope for humanity, because every dark cloud has a silver lining (or a lot of rain.)

Starbucks

Finally, some heroes, or at least companies that meet the challenge of a Spring storm in Dallas. Thanks to Starbucks for being open, having coffee, and having a web app, so I can walk in, see a line around the store, find a seat, log in and order my coffee, bypassing the line. By the time I explained to my boss online (over their free WiFi) that I was going to be out all afternoon with a doctor’s appointment and had no power or Internet at home, so I was taking the day off as vacation, my coffee was ready.

That was the final blow. I’m a contractor on my current project, so taking a day off basically means losing money. I really couldn’t see charging someone when I was probably going to be dozing off all day, and I was supposed to start a three-day medical test Monday afternoon – and was told to expect two hours to install the equipment.

So, I took a day off.

I got to the doctor’s office fifteen minutes early. They were closed for the day. The building had no power.

DoubleTree by Hilton

Every hotel around me was booked solid, because my neighbors were smart enough to avoid the four hours of touring the Metroplex while trying to find a generator and just moved out of their houses for a couple of days. By the time I conceded the fight and decided I needed a hotel to sleep and work, everything at a reasonable rate was taken.

I’m not saying DoubleTree is unreasonable, I’m just saying it’s a rate I’m used to paying with an expense account, not out of my own pocket. By the time I booked, what they had available was a Junior Suite. Not the most inexpensive room in the building, but if you’re going to suffer, suffer in style.

I love this place. I would stay here all the time, but it seems silly to stay in a hotel two miles from your house, and I can’t afford it all the time.

The staff is great, room service is fast and on-time in the mornings, the WiFi works, and I have a view of East Dallas out my floor-to-ceiling windows. Suffering should always been like this.

I had the room to myself most of the time, since my wife declared she “wasn’t leaving the dogs.” I’m not sure if this was to remind me of my place in the hierarchy or make me feel guilty, but it’s very hard to make me feel guilty when I’m looking out a 10th floor window and I already know where I rank.

She did spend afternoons at the hotel, which made working a wee bit difficult. I’m not used to the person in the next cubicle laughing at Facebook videos and memes. Well, I was at one point, but I’ve been home-officed for so long, those memories faded.

The hotel even had enough outlets so we could plug in the REI battery backup unit so my wife could have power for a reading lamp at home. She didn’t need it as badly as the dogs, who are apparently now afraid of the dark. (Actually, they’re afraid of the normal noises in the neighborhood they usually don’t hear – so much for dogs’ vaunted hearing ability – because the windows aren’t wide open to get a breeze in the house.)

We did not have the famous Doubletree cookies because my wife is minimizing carbs and she was watching me. After we got everything set up in the room and she went home because “she wasn’t leaving the dogs”, I forgot to go back downstairs and get one. Or six.

Epilogue

Just after I booked the hotel, Oncor texted me that the power was back. After just enough time for me to start cursing and reading through the cancellation policy, they texted and said it was out.

The Oncor auto-text messages went from a specific time estimate to “We are reviewing damage in your area.We will provide an update when your power will return.” which is the marketing version of “Beats the fuck out of us. Ask one of the power guys from another state. They seem to know what they’re doing.”

My favorite text from them is “Your power is restored. Please reply “N” if it is not.” Don’t you know?

The power finally came back Wednesday, so I went home after work that afternoon to help throw out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer.

I spent one last night at the hotel so I could do my homework and because I didn’t have much faith the power would actually stay on. Also, it was a nonrefundable rate. (At one point, our power was back and the house across the street was still out.)

MR-Ay-yi-yi

I hate MRIs and it hasn’t happened yet.

I hate most medical procedures. Let’s just get that fact out of the way. No matter how cool the technology is, they never let you look at the screens, so what’s the point?

I haven’t even had my MRI yet and it’s already been a bad experience.

The only person who hates tests more than I do is my wife which is why I need to keep her about sixteen miles away from me before I have a procedure done because there is a very good chance she’s done it before and there is an absolute chance she will be filled with the need to share all the negative, horrible things about it.

Now, she’s a horrible patient, so I can take most of it with a grain of salt, but I had to have an MRI this week and she got into my head before the machine did.

I’ve had three MRIs. When she had to have one, I really didn’t understand the whining and gnashing of teeth – but then I realized hers was on her shoulder (head-first into the machine) and my first one had been on my knee (feet-first into the machine.) She needs tranquilizers. I think tranquilizers are for sissies.

I’m not usually claustrophobic – except in really, really crowded spaces, say, an elevator on a cruise ship right after muster drill and before drinks are available.

I had an MRI on my neck a couple of years ago when my doctor thought I might have a blockage (no, I did not.) It was loud. They give you headphones and play music, but you can’t necessarily hear much other than the machine. The operator asked what I wanted to hear and I said, “Adele” which got a strange look, but my wife had been listening to her a lot and all her songs seemed about five minutes long, so I figured that would be a good way to estimate time in the tunnel. That assumed I could actually hear when one song ended and the next started. (That’s not a comment on Adele, it’s a comment on the noise level.)

I had an MRI on my brain last year when I was having a massive vertigo attack that people were hoping wasn’t a stroke, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t that bad. It was loud. They put a cage around my head so I couldn’t move very much. That was very unpleasant. I kept suppressing the need to call out “Clarice”. I passed the time trying to guess what song was playing because it was much louder than the first one, and I just requested “Classic Rock”.

So, I had some trepidation about yesterday’s test, but it’s not like I haven’t survived it before. My wife had told them I needed a larger machine, but I didn’t really think it mattered much. I have a beer belly, not a beer head.

Ho ho ho.

The technician was very polite – he could have just said, “Wow. What a lardass. You’re never going to fit in here”, but he didn’t. He said, “They want me to give you an IV, but let’s just test this first and see how it goes.”

I got about two-thirds of the way in, and that was it. Wow. Panic attack. Claustrophobic attack. Give me some Valium. Stat.

He rolled me back out and said, “Yeah, you probably need the bigger machine. The front desk can get you scheduled at another facility that has one.”

So, here’s a question. You have some machines that are almost guaranteed to cause panic attacks in probably half the population, and larger machines everyone can use. Why do you still have small machines? (Yes, I know, they’re expensive, but still. If you’re not using them because prospective patients keep running [waddling] off in fear, you’re not making any income, anyway. Sell them cheap to a rival lab and get some Hungry-Man sized machines. Increase your business.)

Another question. Can’t you train the staff at the check-in desk (better yet, at the referring doctor’s office) to recognize the difference between, say, someone who enjoys food and a fashion model, and route them to the proper clinic?

I got the MRI rescheduled this morning for next Wednesday. Now, I have almost a week to remember I finally couldn’t handle an MRI. Almost a week to remember the Silence of the Lambs cage they put around my head. Almost a week of the wife saying, “Maybe you need Valium. Wait. They’re looking at brain function. Maybe you can’t have Valium. Wow. I really needed Valium for mine. It was horrible.” This may finally require drugs next time – and I swore I would never take drugs just for a stupid test.

I was originally rescheduled for Tuesday but then the scheduler noticed my neurologist wanted a 3T machine. There are 1.5T machines (T is Tesla, some weird unit of measurement) and 3T machines. 3T produce better images, faster. Why are the 1.5T machines still around? Can’t you sell them to the rival clinic and get the best ones? Can’t we speed up the depreciation? (Yes, I just passed my accounting class.)

So, I need the wide-bore 3T MRI machine. In layman’s terms, the lard-ass, high-quality machine.

So, I have a few days to think about getting rolled into a tube headfirst (with my head locked down) so they can shoot magnetic rays at me. Also, the same few days for my wife to remind me how horrifying an experience it is for her, and therefore, for the universe at large.

I may need Valium now.

Murphy James Gilhooly, 2006-2019

Murphy James Gilhooly was my puppy for almost thirteen years. As much as Ripley was supposed to be my dog, Murphy was my dog. It is very difficult to say “goodbye.” However, today we had to do so.

fullsizeoutput_1d45

We met Murphy after an East Lake Pet Orphanage Advisory Board meeting in early 2006. He was at least a year old at that point, but we’ll never really know, since he was adopted. The rest of the board said there was a gorgeous Cocker we just had to meet.

This should have set off warning bells.

The rest of the board assumed we would love a Cocker since we already had one, and they knew we had adopted an additional dog already. Most of them were pet fanatics, so what’s the difference between two and three dogs?

So, we went down to the adoption area to meet Java. As the staff opened his crate, a brown blur rushed out, straight into a glass window, and bounced off.

Then, he did it again.

This should have set off warning bells.

What really happened is that I thought, “This dog is so stupid, he deserves to live with us.”

I didn’t like “Java” as a name, since Java was a computer programming language I fought with every day at work, but I liked having a name that reflected his coloring. (The staff picked “Java” to mean “coffee”.) My first thought was “Guinness”, but he wouldn’t pass as an Irish Setter, so I had to find another Irish Stout. Murphy’s Stout, founded by James Murphy. So, reverse the name, and Murphy James was ready to come home.

Virginia still blames me for the adoption since I had him named before we left for home. However, this is not true because I had to get home first to look up Murphy’s Stout.

Murphy and Katie doing laps
Doing laps with Katie

Murphy actually accumulated names over the years. I’m not sure how it started, but by the end, he was Murphy James Elliott Macintosh McIlhenny Molanaphy Gilhooly, Esq. Elliott is my sister-in-law’s cat (with a slightly different spelling.) Macintosh is what I am typing this on. McIlHenny is the maker of Tabasco, which Virginia requires for her eggs. Molanaphy was a classmate of mine in grade school. I think. However, Murphy was pretty sure his first name was “Dammit.”

Before the adoption could go through, we took Bubba over to meet his potential new brother and they got along fine, so we signed the paperwork and Java became Murphy. I’m still not sure Murphy ever knew Bubba was a different dog. I have a feeling he always thought Bubba was his reflection, just a different color and doing different things. Murphy was not a Rhodes scholar.

The Graduate

However, as much as Murphy’s intellegence has been questioned over the years, he is the only one of all of our dogs to graduate from puppy training. I’m still not sure how he did it, but he actually graduated. (They didn’t let him keep the hat.) He has a diploma (somewhere) to prove it.

Murphy drove my sister-in-law Mary crazy one visit while she was Mom and pet-sitting because he always wanted to be touching her. Most dogs want to be in proximity, but Murphy perferred direct contact. (He would sit pressed up to me on the couch.)

We had phone calls in France about “the brown one won’t stop touching me!”

That said, Murphy was the only one of our dogs Mary said she would take if something happened to us. So. maybe “annoying” eventually became “a certain charm.”

We’re not sure where Murphy actually came from – we know he began his rescue life abandoned and tied to a tree with his sister at the SPCA. He had chronic eye issues, so he was thought to be unadoptable. Luckily, East Lake Pet Orphanage took him and nursed him into shape, and then he met us – a couple who already had a dog with chronic eye issues. We knew how to do eye drops. Well, Virginia did.

Murphy had eye issues. He had allergies. He had bad skin. He blew out one of his ACLs before I blew out mine, then he blew out another one. He was basically the poster child for why breeders are often considered evil and why pure-breds are not always better. He had every issue Cockers were known to have. He had more specialists than I do, but he enjoyed car rides, and he loved his vets, no matter what they did to him.

His biggest problem was his food allergies, since it meant we couldn’t put his pills in bread or hot dogs or Pill Pockets, like normal dogs. His hunting instinct was pretty much useless on anything other than medications hidden in his food, and finding cookies in his eye doctor’s lab coat pockets. By the end, Virginia was making grilled chicken, grinding it up, and putting his pills in chicken. Maybe he wasn’t that dumb.

Peanut Butter

He also could not easily be distracted. One of the vets said that when we had to give him a allergy shot, we should just distract him with a spoonful of peanut butter. A normal dog would start licking the peanut butter off the spoon, and never notice the shot. Murphy would ignore the peanut butter until he had been given the shot, and then lick it off.

The one time I had to take him to visit one of his specialists alone, we were lead to an exam room and he immediately pooped on the floor. A lot. So, I asked, “Uh, did you guys need a stool sample today?” The vet tech said, “No”, so I said, “Then we need some paper towels. And a mop. And a gas mask.”

Murphy wrote our family Christmas newsletter before Rocky took over. It was vastly more popular than the ones I wrote. Murphy got a thank-you note from my Aunt. Hand-written. In the mail. The next year, Murphy wrote about how my sister-in-law was “cheap with the treats” and started a firestorm with my in-laws. Virginia had to remind them Murphy didn’t actually write the newsletter.

Murphy was a good dog, but they’re all good dogs. I’ve had some hesitations about adding dogs to our household with almost all of our dogs. My only hesitation with Murphy was I wasn’t going to call him “Java.”

Cocker Guards
Murphy and Bubba, guarding the yard

He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

Godspeed, Murph. We’ll see you on the other side. I hope Heaven doesn’t have a glass door.

around-the-far-curve_453034438_o

History of a (Lost) Flight

It takes two days to drive from Cedarville to Dallas (with an overnight stop), so this was still faster, but it’s interesting how long it took American to just say, “We’re not flying this plane back to Dallas.”

We were on American flight 1492 from Columbus (ha!) to Dallas, and the plane was in a bit late, but everything looked good.

Then, the new crew did a walk-around, and the Captain called Maintenance. Run-Roh. That’s never good.

The gate agent assured us it wasn’t a big deal, everything was fine, but the Captain didn’t want to board us while they were doing paperwork. So, just relax, everything’s going to work out.

A bit later, she said, it wasn’t a big problem but they weren’t sure if everyone or only some or nobody was flying to Dallas. Hmm. The non-problem seems to have worsened. What would cause a plane to hold less people?

I found all the texts I got while we were at the gate, attached below. Basically, every fifteen minutes, you got a text moving the flight out fifteen minutes. This is silly, especially if the flight has not arrived yet. If a flight arrives late, it will depart about forty-five minutes after it finishes unloading, unless they can’t get a slot to take off. Minimum.

Here’s the annoying part – all the systems (gate agent, app, text messages) are slightly out of sync. You can’t really depart at 3:15pm if it’s 3:17pm and the plane hasn’t arrived yet. I’m pretty sure the gate agent knew the flight was canceled before she finally announced it wasn’t officially canceled yet, but it wasn’t going to depart.

So, after looking at the plane just sitting at the gate for a couple of hours, and listening to ever more disturbing and cryptic announcements, I called the AAdvantage Gold Desk (one time being lifetime Gold helps) and asked for alternatives. I said I thought the flight I was on was about to be canceled. The only other American flight was sold out. The agent offered to just move us to Delta, but that meant a connection in Atlanta, which adds hours of travel. Still, it seemed better than a hotel at the airport and flying out the next day, so I took it.

It occurred to me later that either she moved us to another airline out of the goodness of her heart or she already knew the flight had been canceled. As far as the rest of the people at the gate knew, we were still leaving – or some of us were. We were safe, to a certain extent.

We got to see a small part of Hartsfield International Airport and discovered the seats are better on Delta. (We also got delayed out of Columbus after there was a ground stop in Atlanta, which cut into our connection time.)

We saw a few people from the gate on the Delta flight with us, so we weren’t alone. We were just first, and I didn’t have to stand in line at the gate to negotiate a switch.

I would love to know what was wrong with the plane, especially as it had just flown up from DFW.

Text updates are generally helpful because they will tell you your gate changed before the gate agent announced it, or before you look around and notice you’re alone. However, the sequence of texts for a cancellation is just sad.

Getting Ready to Go

Reminder: Flight AA1492 CMH-DFW on Jun22, 2:45 PM out of Gate B19. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 ON TIME
Arrives DFW 4:20P Gate A10 Bag A15
Departs 2:45P
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At the Airport, at the gate, no plane.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:10 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:10P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 4:47P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

The Plane has just arrived, so we’re boarding 100+ people in ten minutes?
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:25 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:25P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:02P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

If we start boarding ten minutes ago, we might make this.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:45 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:45P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:22P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Thinking this is a doomed flight.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:55P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:32P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

I called the Gold Desk.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:20 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:20P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:57P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

On Hold with the Gold Desk
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:35 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At this point, we were rebooked.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 6:00P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 7:37P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Good thing we took the Delta flights. Look at that line forming.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 22Jun 6:00P CMH to DFW is
CANCELED.
Please call 800-433-7300 for assistance.
Local rates apply outside U.S.
www.aa.com/PHONE for help

Uh, I haven’t driven it much

If you don’t drive enough, the car stops working.

So, this is probably a contender for the ultimate White People Problem, but my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call for help. I am the first to admit I’m not mechanically-minded, so in times of crises, like warning lights turning on or off on the dash, or cars not starting, I find a professional.

My car is a 2017 Ford Fusion that we got specifically so I would have something to drive to the office, and then (as you may recall) my office got eliminated. So, it hasn’t gotten nearly the usage we expected. In fact, the insurance company kept calling me to tell me their tracking device (that gave me a policy discount) obviously needed replacement because it wasn’t sending any data.

So, the Fusion has been resting quietly in the driveway. For some time.

It rested so long, that when I finally needed it, I couldn’t get into the car.

What I mean is that the automated key clicker-thingie wouldn’t open the door, so I couldn’t get into it the easy way, and at that point, I didn’t know that there’s a secret old-school key hidden in the automated key clicker-thingie, so I was stuck.

Eventually, I found the secret manual key documented on YouTube, but I was afraid I was pushing too hard on the secret manual key (to pry off the secret manual cover), so I gave up.

That was a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been to Ohio and back. Actually, we’ve been a lot of places, but since Virginia is usually with me, we just take her car (which used to be my car.)

So, I’m not really sure when I drove it last, but it’s been a while. I could estimate it, but my attorney has advised against it.

Hey, I lost my job, I’ve been looking for a new one, I was accepted as a SCORE volunteer mentor, we’ve been on a couple of trips, the Spousal Unit had surgery. I’ve been busy.

Let’s just say it’s been a while.

So, I assumed the battery was dead. When the automated key clicker-thingie didn’t work, that confirmed my assumption to me. That is the extent of my automotive debugging skills. It was time to consult a professional.

It occurs to me that if we had driven it to Ohio, my son (who is not a mechanic, but is amazing with tools) probably could have fixed it, but if we could have driven it to Ohio, there wouldn’t have been anything to fix.

So, I called AAA. Well, I filled in the online form. Then, I remembered the last time I had a dead battery, the mechanic sold me a new one, so I canceled the call. Then, I called Ford Roadside Assistance, since their new battery would be under my warranty. I hoped.

I’m not really sure why I have AAA when Roadside Assistance comes with our cars, but so it goes. Call both, have them race to the house. I’m pretty sure some mechanics work for both, anyway.

Ford Roadside Assistance is great. The 800-number texts you for the address, so you don’t have to read the address to a voice-recognition system. The operator can figure out much of your life from the last eight digits of the VIN. They text you a URL where you can track the tow truck from when it is dispatched until your injured car arrives at the dealer.

They dispatched someone to tow my car in, which seemed like overkill, but having just been to the ER and then admitted overnight for a vertigo attack, I’m used to overkill.

When the mechanic called to verify the address, he said he’d just jump it first, since it sounded like a dead battery. (Dead battery, you say? Maybe I should be a mechanic!)

So, this should be simple.

However, it’s my life. Simple, it is not.

The mechanic was a lovely gentleman who managed to get the secret key to remove the secret cover, and got the driver’s door open. When I told him I was afraid it would break, he laughed in that not-at-all-condescending mechanic laugh, and told me I couldn’t break it.

Sir, may I remind you that you are standing in front of a broken car to which I have done nothing?

(I didn’t say that, because I still needed him on my side.)

With the door open at last, we could try to start the car, which didn’t work, as expected. I was afraid he was going to show me a secret way to use the secret key when the push button didn’t work, but either there isn’t one, or he spared me.

So, once in the car, we popped the hood.

Hmm.

He said, “This car has not run in a long time.”

So, I admitted it may have been a short while since last usage.

He said, “You know how I can tell? Look at those nuts in here.”

It really helps if you’re familiar with the Southern/Texan African-American accent, because the soft lilt of horror is what makes this conversation the fun ordeal it was.

I looked where he was pointing. These were not “nuts and bolts” nuts. These were pecans.

“They’ve been chewing on some of these wires. Something was livin‘ in here.”

Pause.

“I don’t know if this will jump. I can’t tell if any of these wires have been chewed through.”

Pause.

“See where these are chewed?”

Pause.

“If this jumps at all, you’re very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

So, now I’m ashamed, and I started quietly removing the half-chewed pecans and empty shells from the platform in front of the battery. I’m beginning to understand why there didn’t seem to be as many squirrels in the yard this winter.

He attached the jumper cables, and the car started right up.

“You got very lucky.”

I nodded.

Very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

More shame duly noted.

So, he ran it until there was enough of a charge for the “Check Engine” light to come on, and then he decided towing it would be the best course of action.

I think he really just wanted to give the car some quality time away from me.

It’s at the dealer now. If he’s a character witness, I may never see the Fusion again.

On the other hand, I drove it from the driveway to the front of the house, so he could drive it onto the flatbed. (In his not-at-all-condescending voice, he said, “I’ll take it from here” as I pulled up next to the flatbed.) So, when the dealer asks the last time I drove it, I can just say, “Today.”

On the Walk of Shame back from the car, my flip-flop strap broke. Yes, I blew out my flip-flop, without even stepping on a pop-top. Broken Flip-Flop

So, now I can’t walk or drive.

At least, there’s Uber.

*** Update ***

The “rodent” chewed through the windshield washer fluid reservoir. It is called a “reservoir” because you can’t, in good faith, charge $337 for a plastic jug. Rodent damage is not covered by the warranty.

Worse news? Apparently, the squirrel in question needs braces.

The investigation continues. For $74. So, if they’re charging, you know they’ll be finding. More updates as available.

*** Update #2 ***

He chewed through the coolant reservoir, as well. So, we’re past $700 now, but at least if I see a stoned squirrel, I will have the suspect.