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.)

Unemployed Pirate

I have decided that I am an unemployed pirate. It is an interesting job. Well, it’s not really a job, if I’m unemployed. I suppose I’m an unemployed chef, as well, because I made fish sticks for lunch.

Unemployed Pirate
Ye Host, The Unemployed Pirate

Jimmy Buffet said, “Yes, I am a pirate … 200 years too late”, and I know the feeling. I want to be a pirate. However, the hours aren’t that good, there’s apparently lots of work, and you might get killed or imprisoned.

It seems much simpler (and safer) to just take a cruise, demand drinks and food from the cheerful staff, and say, “Thank ye, matey!” when your order is delivered. I’m pretty sure most pirate ships didn’t have room service.

Still, it seems like putting “Pirate” on a resume (or a business card) would stand out as a desired position, and then you would also have the advantage of writing off all your vacation cruises as job training. Tax piracy is still piracy, right?

So, take a GPS on your next cruise. There’s probably one built into your phone. Track your coordinates as you travel from port to port. Now, you’re a navigator. Sure, you probably need to know how to read paper charts and use a sextant, but that’s just if you forget to charge your phone.

Tell your mate to go get you a drink. If you get a drink, you’re the Captain. If you’re told to get your own damn drink, you’re probably just the First Mate. Just don’t ever both wear T-shirts with your “ranks.” It’s very non-pirate.

Yes, I am a pirate. I’m simply unemployed, and I would like a pirate job with decent hours, a medical plan more extensive than just an eye patch and a hook, room and board, and a good chance of advancement. I’d also like a retirement plan a bit more extravagant than a stud earring. Oh, and little chance for arrest.

The Man Trying to Kill You May Not Be

So, it’s O’Dark-Thirty, and I’m trying to find the rental car return in Peoria International Airport.

I’m poking along, trying not to miss the Avis sign, when a Parking Shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me. Good Lord, man, can’t you see I’m lost?

I realize I’m in the Hertz return area, and it looks like real parking after that, so it’s time to turn around. This is why I leave early for the airport.

I’m slowly making my way down the lot when the insane shuttle bus comes roaring up behind me, again. WTF? I’m lost. Go pick up someone who knows where they are.

One more U-Turn, and the shuttle is behind me again. Seriously?

Now, he’s honking his horn.

That’s it. I’m going to die.

So, I pull over and roll down the window.

He says, “Need help?”

Wait. What? He’s not a murderer?

“I’m trying to find Avis.”

“Follow me.”

The van roars off at quite an inappropriate speed for a parking lot, but it’s not like anybody else is here.

He leads me to Avis (in my defense, it was out of the way.)

I parked and he said, “Want a ride over?”

Now, I can see the terminal, and my FitBit thinks I need the steps, but I’ve got two computers and two suitcases, and he seems friendly, for a murderer.

“Sure.”

“I’ll take you to drop your bags first, because the rental counters aren’t open yet. It’s easier to drop the bags, then drop the keys.

I was trying to get you to stop, because you looked lost, and you kept going. I was just following you, because I figured you needed help.”

So, trying to get me to stop so you can render aid just looks like stalking. Good to know.

So, a quick ride to the terminal, quick instructions on where everything is, and I’m good to go.

I’m back to being early, which is much better than being lost.

So, thank you, early morning shuttle driver, for taking pity on me, driving me around, and explaining the lay of the land.

Oh, and for not murdering me.

Lowered Expectations

I’m in Peoria, Illinois on business for three weeks, and two-thirds of the trip is now behind me. So, I will update this as required for the last week. I had quite a head of steam up the first week, writing everything down, but after that, I either got complacent or I managed to lower my expectations to where they were being met.

Somewhere along the line, it became too long and bitchy for a Yelp review, so it was graduated to a blog post.

I had some trepidation about staying at a Quality Inn, but this is my first contracting assignment with this company and nobody told me the hotel limits, and I was originally told the travel desk didn’t do hotels. (Had I been more in practice, I would have stayed at a really expensive place and said, “Nobody said there were limits”, but I really need to be reimbursed, and I’d like to keep the job, if nothing else for my resume.) If you put “quality” in the name, you’re probably concerned about being considered low quality. I can never remember where on the food chain Quality is, I think it’s actually below Comfort. However, I think it’s above Sleep.

I checked in on Sunday, May 20th, after my flight to Peoria got canceled and I got rerouted to Bloomington, instead. So, that was an extra hour’s drive. At that point, any room would be good. I hoped.

The room is not bad. It’s not a suite, but it’s designed for long-term stays (I think.) There’s a dishwasher, a refrigerator and a microwave. There are (some) plates and glasses. Well, one less, because I dropped one. There are pots and pans – but nowhere to use them. There is a minimal amount of silverware.

All I really needed was a fridge, a decent-sized glass and an ice bucket. I drink soda in the room. I don’t cook.

I filled my ice bucket Sunday night. By Monday morning, I had a bag of water. I went to Walmart that evening to get some other stuff, and got myself a big-ass glass. So, I didn’t really use the ice bucket after that, which was good, since when I got back to the room, I still had a bag of water. On Saturday, I still had a bag of water. I began wondering how long this would go on. I will be impressed if it is still there after three weeks. (The bag was replaced either Monday or Tuesday of my second week. By that time, I had stopped looking – but I caught it in the corner of my eye as I was making coffee Wednesday morning.)

When I got back from work on Monday, I had a hand-written note from the maid on the bed. She hadn’t made the bed because I had left my gym shorts and t-shirt on it, and she can’t touch my stuff. Ma’am, if you’ve cleaned any lonely businessmen’s towels and sheets, you should not be afraid of shorts and a t-shirt.

My wife hates that I leave my t-shirt and shorts on the bed, but it’s an interesting test for me. I’ve had some maids fold them, some drape them on a chair, some toss them on a chair, and one folded them and put them on the pillow. One folded them and put them under the pillow. And then, one wrote me a note.

Tuesday evening, I realized I had a laundry order form but no laundry bag. I needed to send some shirts out since I refuse to iron, and I’m allergic to doing laundry. So, I went down to the front desk and got a laundry bag. It tore when I filled it, but I can’t pack like my wife.

Wednesday morning, I staggered down to the front desk first thing, before I forgot about it, since it was in by 9, back by 6. So, I arrive in shorts and a t-shirt, with a laundry bag in hand. The clerk said, “Checking Out?” Quite the leap. I guess hobos stay here. 

After he took the laundry, I decided to grab some breakfast. The woman restocking the spread said I couldn’t be in there because I didn’t have shoes on. So, hobos can sleep here, they just can’t eat.

That night when I got back from work, no laundry. This did not really surprise me. At a hotel, it would surprise me. Here, not so much.

Thursday night, when there was no laundry and also no emergency medical shipment from my doctor, I went to the front desk. Since my room is at the very end of the hallway, this is an excellent way for me to get my steps in. 

Now, I admit, I am having a senior moment on my room number – I’m off by 2 constantly. I didn’t know that was the issue, but I considered it. 

The front desk guy recognized me – in fact, when I got two sodas from the little shop and told him the wrong number, I went back to correct it, and he already had.

“Did I get a package? And, have you seen my laundry?”

His manager asked my name. “Oh, I saw that. Just a minute.”

My friend said, “It had the wrong room, but we fixed it.” – uh, if you fixed it, why am I at the front desk asking for my stuff? The manager came back with a package and laundry. She then showed my friend how to charge the laundry to my room. I hope I am not the first customer to send out laundry. Given some of the outfits I’ve seen walking in the hall, I might be. 

Saturday – a day to laze around a bit, after five days of being in the office by 8:30am or earlier. I went and got some breakfast (with my flip-flops on), went back, put up the Do Not Disturb sign, read all my email and took a shower.

I got out of the shower, and there was a letter under the door. “We respected your Do Not Disturb and won’t do your room.” The note was dated 10am. I found it at 9:45am. The letter said to contact the front desk for anything I needed. Uh, I need my room cleaned. Back to the front desk. There was an employee standing there, talking to the clerk, so I figured fast service, because guests outrank employees, right? So, after I heard the front desk clerk discussing the employee’s lack of a paycheck with her (well, maybe that’s why they take off early), I asked to have my room done. No problem. Just go find one of the maids and ask her. Hmm. The note said “front desk”, not “self-service”. So, I wandered the hall, found a cart, looked for an open door, and asked a maid. She looked down my end of the hall, saw no cart, got a pained look, and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have it done.” Amazingly, when I got home later that day, the room was done. I guess they’re expecting everyone to go to early Mass tomorrow. I’d better be out of the room early.

Saturday afternoon, there was some loud noise outside my window, and I’m by a parking lot (a lovely view, by the way.) I thought I had caught an illicit pool party – pool parties are verboten (in writing.) No, it was a tailgate party – with multiple tents and people in those fold-up chairs and everything. Well, at least it wasn’t a pool party.

The pool party (it’s not a pool party!) went on until just after 11:30pm when I heard a baby start crying. I guess if I would have smacked the kid sooner, it would have quieted down.

Second Week.

Monday was Memorial Day, so I was actually off work. I still got up early, so I wouldn’t block the maids’ progress. I had breakfast and went back to the room. No maid. I went out to Walmart for sodas, stopped for lunch and went back to the room. No maid. I went to Best Buy, bought an Amazon Fire stick, came back to the room about 12:30pm and was in the middle of installing and configuring it on their TV, when … a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” Sure. Ten minutes in the lobby, clean room. Five minutes later, I don’t have to watch cable any more.

I finally decided to do my laundry, even though I’m allergic since there was a bunch of stuff I hadn’t sent out. Everyplace fun I would have gone to visit was closed for Memorial Day and the minor league team is on the road on the weekends the entire time I’m here, so I might as well do chores. The machines in the hotel are $1.75 each which seemed reasonable, so I went to the front desk for some change, since I didn’t see a change machine. One of my well-known clerks was there, so this should be easy – “Hi! How can I help you?” “Hi. I need some quarters for laundry.” Some rummaging around and, “We don’t have any quarters.” How is this possible?

So, off to find a laundromat, since I didn’t see the point of going out and getting change and coming back. Of course, it was almost 4pm, so everyone was closed or closing. All except one laundry about four miles away. I didn’t have the heart to ask the front desk for a laundry bag, so I just put everything in my small suitcase. The machines were more expensive, but they had quarters and a change machine.

Tuesday or Wednesday, one of the maids actually replaced my ice bucket. I didn’t notice which day, since I just load the ice directly into my big-ass cup. I was making coffee on Thursday morning, and I noticed a nicely folded, dry bag hanging out of the ice bucket.

Thursday evening, I realized that I had to send some shirts out again to get me through until I go home. So, I asked at the front desk for a laundry bag, since there was none in the room. (Dear hotel people, if you have a guest dumb enough to pay your laundry prices once, he will do it again. Give him another bag!) The woman at the front desk happily gave me a laundry bag, and as I walked off, I noticed there was no order form in the bag. So, I asked for an order form. (How can you use one without the other?) She was on the phone, and said, “Just a second, I have to print one out.” WTF? Don’t you have forms with the bags? The forms don’t come from the laundry? Apparently not. So, she printed me a form while she dealt with the call, and now she has an extra form, since the template they use prints two on a page and she had to cut them in half. I packed up my shirts, filled in the form, and double-checked I got the room number right.

Friday morning, I dropped them off at the front desk on my way to the office. I had to wait for the clerk to finish some very important task before I could drop them off, so I waited. Most places, I would just put the bag on the counter and wave on my way out the door. A lot of places, I would have just left the damn shirts on my bed, but here I probably would have had dirty shirts and another note on an unmade bed when I got home. So, I waited. He finally said, ‘Dropping off laundry?” No, I’m a hobo, and I’m checking out. I got home from work, and no laundry. This did not surprise me. I went out to dinner, and on the way past the desk coming back, asked if my shirts were back. “Oh, yes.” Shirts handed over. I guess nobody at the desk has a key to my room.

Saturday morning, I got up late (for me) but early enough to be out of the room before the maids rejected me again. I went to the buffet for breakfast, and decided to have a waffle. They have one of those cool “fill, flip” waffle makers. So, I get the cup of batter, open the machine, pour in the batter, close it and give it a spin. That’s when the hostess (an older maid promoted to buffet duty) informed me that the machine was being used. Excuse me? She said a young girl was using it. Hmm. Then, why was it empty? “I’m so sorry. It’s just the machine was empty.” “Well, she was using it. She only wanted 3/4 of a waffle, so she only filled three corners.” How was she using it? Telepathically? 3/4 of a waffle still requires batter and there was no batter. I apologized another three or four times, because it takes two minutes to make a waffle.

I got my (now tainted) waffle out of the formerly empty (yes, I’m bitter about this) machine and put it on a table, so I could go get some coffee. I came back, and some guy was putting his stuff on my table. Our eyes met, and we both looked confused. He finally said, “Is this your table?” I said yes, and he apologized profusely. He thought my waffle was his daughter’s waffle. Uh, Sparky, your daughter only eats 3/4 waffles. This is a full one. Get with the program.

I feel bad for stealing the waffle iron. The empty waffle iron. He feels bad for stealing my table. The table with food on it. Eventually, I said we should all just go back to our beds and start over. His daughter, the one with no damn batter in the damn machine, is still pouting.

I got back to my room. No maid. There is some altercation outside my window, though. Lots of loud voices, and what sounded like arguing. I looked through the curtains, and there were all the maids. It must be break time.

I decided to take a drive down the World’s Most Beautiful Drive, which is about ten minutes from the hotel. It is very nice, and the river views are impressive. On the way back, I stopped at Hardee’s for a snack (really, for the bathroom, but I’m polite enough to buy something.) I managed to get to Hardee’s just as they were changing from breakfast to lunch, so five chicken strips took almost fifteen minutes to make. I should have had biscuits. Got back to the hotel. No maid.

Started writing a note to answer one last question from work, since my boss will be out next week. 12:45pm, bright and early, a knock at the door. “Would you like your room cleaned?” I managed to not say, “No, ma’am, I prefer filth.” So, I went out to the lobby, and ten minutes later, I had a clean room. There was even blue water in the toilet, but I think she just did that out of spite.

Why did I get up early? Oh, yes, so I would be out of the maid’s way.

Maybe my expectations are too great. Maybe I’m just out of practice on business travel. This place actually has some good Yelp reviews. I now assume those writers are comparing it to boondocking  or boot camp.

Week three begins.

Sunday, I got up early. I didn’t mean to do so, I just woke up at 7:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, then was the question – throw a t-shirt and shorts (and flip-flops! don’t forget the flip-flops!) on, and grab something from the free buffet, or shower, dress, and go out.

I’m not saying I’m tired of the gravy from a huge can or still traumatized by Le Incident De Waffle, but I decided to go out. I had laundry to do, so instead of discovering the front desk was still out of quarters, I figured I would get breakfast and hit the laundromat.

So, I went out, had breakfast, went down the street, did the load of laundry, came back, spent an hour and a half on the phone with my wife, booked a cruise for this evening, checked my work email, looked at the time, and it was ten to two. You know who hasn’t come into my life today? The maid. I just checked and she’s six doors down the hall, at least.

This means the first week was an anomaly – or all the maids that liked to work early didn’t get paid and quit.

So, when I was leaving for dinner and had heard most of the maids leaving (and having another loud discussion in the hallway), I saw what looked like a supervisor, and mentioned my room had not been done. She asked one of the other staff who had my hallway, and I just wandered off, as I had a cruise to catch.

I spent the evening on the Spirit of Peoria, with a buffet dinner and the music of Kenny Rogers. It was great fun.

When I got back, lo and behold, my room had been cleaned. My assumption is twofold, one, that a supervisor did it and two, there will be hell to pay tomorrow.

You Can’t Go Home Again

So, I’m in Peoria, Illinois for three weeks on a work project and I’ve been up here before, so rather than travel back and forth on the weekends, I decided to just stay up here the whole time.

Flights to Peoria from DFW can be painful – you can connect through O’Hare (no, thank you!) or to fly back and forth non-stop on a commuter plane, you would lose half of Friday, which as a contractor is a very bad idea ($$$) and you would have to lose half of Sunday coming back. So, what’s the point?

(My flight up here was canceled, so I had to fly to Bloomington-Normal instead, change my rental car, and drive an extra hour to get to the hotel. I was not the only one on the plane who had done so. This may have been a warning.)

Besides, I was up here 20+ years ago on another project and had a good time with happy memories, so what’s not to like in Peoria?

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting for the maids to arrive, so I can vacate and then come back to binge-watch Netflix, I realize how much has changed in the 20+ years.

  • I was single back then, so it really didn’t matter where I was at any given time. I had visitation with my son on first, third and fifth weekends, but that was easy to arrange. I’m married now, so now I actually have a reason to be in Dallas – my dogs and my perpetually injured wife (just kidding, my love!)
  • I was home on the weekends back then. I really never stayed in Peoria over the weekend, so I didn’t have to find something to do. I did go on a river cruise yesterday, which was fabulous, and I might go again today, because everything else is closed.
  • I had someone from Caterpillar to hang out with last time. Mike was always happy to hang in the evenings and there may have been drinking involved. (The drinking may be why I am still blanking on his last name.) I’ve had two drinks this week, and one of them was on the airplane up here.
  • I was staying in a really nice hotel in the middle of downtown that was walking distance from my office. Now, I’m working at a plant so far out of town it doesn’t have an address, just an intersection. I’m in a Quality Inn & Suites (more later) on the outskirts of town which let’s just say is not the level of service to which I have become accustomed on business trips.
  • I was working for a really small company that tended to turn a blind eye to “interesting” expenses (until someone rented a U-Haul to help his girlfriend move.) Now, I’m really concerned about reimbursement and toeing the line (which in many cases has not been defined), which tends to put a damper on fun.
  • I’m older. Let’s just say I’m not as adventurous as I used to be. Back then, I had any number of co-workers to call to help me get out of jail. Now, I would have to call my wife, and she would probably just hang up on me, so she could call her sisters.
  • I picked a very bad weekend to start trying to hang out in Peoria – it’s Memorial Day. You would think that would mean more things to do, but the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team is out of town until Tuesday (and out of town next weekend!) and the Caterpillar Museum is closed on Sundays and holidays. There is nothing scheduled at the Civic Center – and that’s 3/4ths of the TripAdvisor top four things to do. The other is a scenic drive, part of which I saw from the boat yesterday.
  • The one great memory I had of Peoria was surviving the Flood of ’93 and flying in from Dallas on a Super-80 that had about eight other people on it. I realized this week that during the Flood of ’93, I was actually in Des Moines.

Kick ‘em when they’re down

A job search is a very painful process when you’re an old, white guy who has spent the last 19 years inside the same company (especially when the company is often an industry punching bag.) So, I should be used to rejection letters by now. I usually don’t mind rejection letters that much, since at least it’s closure, and it’s a chance to think, “I didn’t want to work there, anyway.” With today’s automated application systems, much of the time, your application and resume just go into the bit bucket and you never hear anything at all.

However, some rejection letters are really unnecessarily detailed. Like today’s.

I got an email from a corporate recruiter last week, thanking me for my application (I actually thought I was a reasonable fit for the job), and asking me for some times for us to discuss the position. (I was lucky I saw it, since it was in my spam folder, but I check my spam all the time because I can’t afford to lose a lead.)

It got my hopes up. I should know better by now, but hope spring eternal.

So, I replied, and heard nothing. It’s not a mega corporation, so I thought, “His mail went in my spam folder, maybe mine went in his.” So, I replied again.

This morning, I got a reply.

I reviewed your resume with the manager and compare to the job description and requirements we decided to not move forward.  This system email was sent in error.

Ouch.

So, rejected before the screening call. A new low.

I’m not really sure why this hurt more than the others. I’ve gone through three levels of interviews in before getting rejected twice, but this one really hurts.

I think it’s the implicit “we were wasting our time reviewing your resume.” After all, the erroneous system email was the bright, cheery note that asked me for available times to chat.

So, their applicant system failed twice. First, it told them they might give a shit about me, and then it told me they might actually give a shit about me.

They don’t give a shit about me.

For any other recruiters who may be reviewing my resume, I really don’t need two reasons why I was rejected for your company. Just one is plenty, and is one more than the apparent industry standard of zero. Also, if your system is sending emails in error, an apology would be nice. You’ve wasted my time now.

I sent a “thank you for letting me know” note, but I really wanted to say, “If you would like someone to come review your recruiting system to determine why it’s sending emails to obviously unqualified candidates, please just let me know.”

Also, I wanted to say, “If your system email is a bright, cheery, personalized email from your internal recruiter, but the core system can’t accurately match candidates to positions, you’re customizing the wrong part of the system.”

The search continues.

Stayin’ Alive

The job search continues. It’s been a bit busier lately, but nothing of substance yet. There were a couple that were close, but not close enough. I’m still looking at random alternatives, and there are a lot of sites that seem to think I would be a really good Uber driver. There are also a plethora of recruiters who seem to be keyword-matching my resume to jobs and then asking to present me – if I send them a copy of my resume. Uh, how did you think I was a fit for the job? Maybe I should start a recruiting company.

We’re not going to sell the house and get an RV since the Spousal Unit has decided she’s probably afraid to drive an RV. Luckily, she determined this before we dropped a hundred fifty grand on a rig (and sold the house), so I have that to be thankful for.

I’m also thankful that this year can’t possibly be as bad as last year. (Yes, I realize that is a challenge to the universe.) However, I realize that every other time I thought I had hit rock bottom, I bounced, and then fell further, but I’m pretty sure that losing a job after 19 years (“retiring”) is about as low as it can go. If nothing else, I outlasted the co-op who also wanted to retire as an IBMer. Also, technically, I retired. On the bright side, it was a job I really hated. I didn’t hate the job, I just couldn’t handle the politics. So, if you need a program manager and you’re at a company that’s too small to have politics and turf wars take up most of the productive time, call me.

So, I’m still alive. The dogs still like me as long as I cough up the snacks. I can still work, if somebody needs a presales technical engineer who can learn a product in a week or two and be presenting to customers the week after that. I’m constantly amazed that even though I’m apparently very old, companies seem to be choosing millennials over me, especially since I’ve seen millennials almost pass out while doing a presentation, and use instant messaging to ask a question of someone in the same conference room. For the record, I’ve never passed out doing a presentation, and I just ask questions if I don’t know something.

So, my New Year’s resolution is to survive until 2019. It’s one of my poorer resolutions, but hopefully, I can accomplish it.

Still Retired

It turns out that I wasn’t really permanently laid-off from IBM. I had been there so long, I “retired.” Unfortunately, I was not planning to retire this early, and so the job search continues. 

It’s interesting trying to do something that should be an intimate, personal experience all online, with no immediate feedback, but so it goes. 

You don’t talk to people first any longer. Most of the time, you don’t talk to people at all. You fill in forms, upload resumes, and hope to hit enough keywords to get to the next level. Even if you don’t get to a human, you can get rejected after a couple of months. So, you can’t just send in an application and wait and see. You have to fill your pipeline of rejection.

Here’s a question – if your resume doesn’t get past the computer scanner, how does that take two months to tell you? Aren’t computers fast? The ones I used to have were, and they were old.

I’ve submitted over 250 applications at this point. I’ve had less than a handful of actual, personal replies. 

At a company I really wanted to join, I was told on my second interview that I wasn’t technical enough. I think he meant “you know IBM technology, instead of ours”, but I may be trying to justify it. 

Another “almost” was a phone call two months after the application, “Are you still interested in the job?” I said that I was most interested, so I was invited to a in-person team interview. I survived, I thought. There was someone leaving when I arrived, so I expected an offer or “We’re going with someone else.” After hearing nothing, I sent a follow-up note, and the reply said, “We just had a reorganization, so we’re not opening a center in Arlington, after all.” (I will not miss two hours of driving each day, but still.) 

The most painful (even more than “you’re not technical enough “) was applying to a firm where I had a friend on staff, which seemed to help. I had a pre-screen and was quickly invited to an interview with one of the managers. After I called the recruiter (who had never called with results), here’s what I was told: “The manager who interviewed you grades all his interviews. He gave you an “A.” He never gives people an “A.” Unfortunately , we had some changes on the team, so the position was filled.” So, at least that was close.

Most don’t bother to reply, at all. 

I had two calls with a corporate recruiter just before I left on vacation, and then, radio silence. This would be the same job I was doing before I retired. No reply.

I had an interview I scheduled during my vacation to meet the interviewer’s schedule, and I thought it went well, but now the manager and the recruiter won’t answer me. I would like to at least be told there was a re-org.
It’s almost like dating. Unfortunately, I never needed to date to pay my expenses. (That is the one industry I haven’t considered.)

On the happy side, I will be a guest educator for Enriched Schools, it’s part-time but I’m looking forward to teaching (even as a substitute) in the Fall. So, technically, I did get a job.

I just need something to do in the meantime, to fill the hours and the bank account. 

Job Search Updates

The job search is ongoing. My manager said this morning that he’s been told to start the separation paperwork, so I should get some emails next week. I guess the divorce is about to become final.

So, no job, but a couple of prospects on the horizon.

I did update my resume, and that has started calls from some recruiters, so I recommend take a resume course if you’re looking.

I also accidentally discovered the fastest way to find a new job – become a recruiter.

I got a call from a woman in Houston yesterday at 2:25pm. She had a perfect position for me and wanted to discuss it at my earliest convenience. I was in a meeting (ironically with another recruiter), so I missed the call, but I sent her a polite email and said I’d call today.

I called at 11:34am this morning, asked for the recruiter, and the receptionist said, “She’s no longer here. Could someone else help you?”.

I said, “No longer with the firm?” and the receptionist said, “She decided she wanted to follow a different path.”

So, my recruiter found herself a new career and left the firm in a little under 22 hours.

WTF?

I guess if you read job requisitions all day long, eventually, you will see one, and say, “Screw this! I could do this job!” and just send over your resume instead of your client’s.

I wish her good luck in her new career, whatever it may be. I hope she’s not a presales software engineer, as I really don’t need the competition right now.

In the meantime, the receptionist found my by my phone number, found the job requisition in question and gave me the name of my new recruiter, who had just left for lunch. She will call me.

I should have asked, “Are you sure she’s coming back from lunch?”