10 November 2010

No trespassing!

As I left it: I was on fire. Got put out. Big blister on ankle. 20 silly blisters up my left leg. Camping just past the edge of nowhere, so we're self-medicating. Now it's time to leave this Gilligan's Island paradise. Soooo...

The story continues (and this is just to close it out):

We leave from the island cove by noon in a pissy rainstorm. Within an hour, a thunderstorm hits. We have to get off the lake. It takes hours and hours to make it the 5 or 6 miles to the next portage. And it's still raining. The damn storm bounced off a bunch of the Four-Thousanders and hit us once an hour every hour, so we spent a lot of time along the shore.

We have this new portage to make. This one was only about a half-mile long. But remember, if a portage is 1/2 mile long, then going back to get more stuff makes it 1 1/2 miles long. (Maths lesson, cause someone always asks...if you walk 1/2 mile, then turn around and walk 1/2 mile back, then turn around again and go back to your original destination 1/2 mile away, you have walked 1/2+1/2+1/2=1 1/2 miles!) A second trip back for more stuff makes it 2 1/2 miles long. So you have great incentive to make as few trips as possible. Especially when it's raining, with thunder and lightning to top it off.

The storm is finally gone, but it's pitch black, and the first hundred yards of the portage is up a muddy bank with a rushing cascade beside us. It would have been beautiful during the day. All we've got to look forward to is mud and crap for the next half mile. We get organized. The goal is no more than 2 and a half trips. Then someone decides if we double up and carry loaded canoes, we can do it in one and a half. Loaded canoes are tough to carry. Especially when they're filling up with rain water. But off we go.

Some clown (yeah, me) started singing. "The Titanic". How appropriate. Take a second and go read the lyrics. I'll wait for you to come back.................Welcome back. Our only light was headlamps and flashlights which are hard to hold when you're using both hands to carry a loaded canoe. We slipped, slid and managed to get the canoes and gear to the other end in only one and a half trips (meaning only half made a second trip back).

Now we've got a new problem. The rain has let up slightly, to a mist. But it is dark, and there is no way to find the Adirondack shelter along the lake shore in front of us. But posted everywhere along the edge where we are standing on old, rotten, broken down docks are NO TRESPASSING signs. We're on the edge of an estate owned by some old New York family, perhaps the Rockefellers. But we have no real choice. We break out the minimum number of tents, set them up on the rickety docks, and 4 to a tent, crawl in to try to get some soggy sleep.

The next morning we're up before dawn (not that we slept much), and broken down, loaded, and on the water in about fifteen minutes. Probably a new record for us! No armed guards showed up. No repercussions. We paddled like mad until we found a nice, dry beach to fix breakfast, then we headed up through Utowana Lake, Eagle Lake, and into Blue Mountain Lake. We arrived too late to turn in the canoes, so we camped one last night on a rocky, rooty island. The next morning, the canoe trip ended, and we headed to Fort Ticonderoga to cross into Vermont and continue the trip.

06 November 2010

Oh yeah. I'm on fire!

One of America's great wilderness parks is the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. We were canoeing in the Fulton Chain of Lakes. Started at Sixth Lake, canoed through Seventh and Eighth Lake where we spent a night each, then had a portage into what I think was called Browns River. When we hit the shore at the end of Eighth Lake, the boys were looking for the signs leading to the portage trail. "Look up, guys." HAHAHAHA! The signs were 12 feet off the ground! Got to put them above snow levels, in sight of the snow machine drivers which are a lot more prevalent than canoers. In the winter at least, when the snow is 9 feet deep. But summer here is wonderful, too.

Click it to see it big enough!
We carried everything we had the mile+ to the river. On the water again. Whew. Paddling is so much easier than carrying all your crap. We wind our way up the river - watching for moose, they're a damn unpredictable animal when surprised or mothering a calf, so you steer clear and try not to make any funny noises that they might interpret as love songs. And now we have to drag our boats over a fricking beaver dam that is right at a bridge. Duck and tug. Trying to stay dry. The road overhead is the only way into and out of Raquette Lake, New York.

Finally we get to the village at Raquette Lake. The general store is a welcome site. We've been out for 3 days, so we need fresh food, ice, and BEER!!! All available. After restocking, we head across the lake to our favorite spot, but it's taken so we head around the island to another nice, secluded spot. When you are as rowdy as we are, it's nice to not have too many neighbors. We find three shelters by the cove, away from the main lake traffic. Ahhhhh, relaxation. The plan is to spend at least two days here. Good swimming, no motorboats, lots of woods.

We know how to cook. Almost everyone has cooking talent. When this group of guys goes camping, we eat well. Gourmet cooking in the wild. No freeze dried crap.

One night while we're camping here (the night after someone ran into a tree playing "Kill the Witch" in the woods and wound up with a shiner and a bloody nose), someone says "Hey J,G., how about fixing us a cobbler for dessert tonight?" Cobblers are  my specialty. Fruit, dough, combined and cooked just right. I fix cobblers in cast iron dutch ovens with covers.


Recipe for dutch oven Dusty Roads Peach Cobbler:
1 box Pineapple Supreme Cake  Mix
1 #10 can Sliced Peaches
2 sticks butter
Cinnamon Spice

Pour peaches into 10 or 12 quart dutch oven.
Set oven on hot coals. Watch peaches until juice is hot.
Pour Cake mix over the peaches. Do not stir.
Cut butter pats over the top of the dry mix on top of the peaches.
Sprinkle cinnamon over the top.
Cover. Cook about 15-20 minutes on hot coals until juice has bubbled through the cake mix.
Add coals on top of the dutch oven. Cook another 30-50 minutes. 
Check occasionally for the butter melting and the top browning. Cake mix should be well moistened with the juice boiling up from the bottom. When it looks done, it is.

Serve with a large spoon! YUM YUM YUM!!!!!!!

So back to the story. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!

"Yeah sure. Somebody go start me some charcoal." And I go back to drinking beer. A few minutes later I decide it's time to make the cobbler. I drag my ass off my sleeping pad and wander over to the pile of charcoal beside the shelter I've been calling home. The charcoal looks dead. Out. Piled up, never started.

Fuck me. Dinner is close. Dessert is going to be COLD. Uncooked!!! What the f? I'm waving my hand over this beautiful pile of charcoal and it's cold. Unlit.Damn it, do I have to do EVERYTHING?!?!?!?

I grab a can of Coleman fuel. Time to speed things up and get this shit lit. I open it. Pour it on the pile. And flames shoot up to the can!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What the f, again??????? (Apparently, there were lit coals in the pile that just weren't putting out enough heat to feel with a hand.)

I drop the can, and being so very smart I know that if I get the top covered, it will go out. So I stick a foot out to clamp over the 1" diameter opening. 

Just as one of the clowns near me decides to try to pick the can up with a stick. So I wind up KICKING THE CAN right in the side!!!! This results in burning Coleman being spewed up my leg and now I'M ON FIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let me tell you. I've heard STOP DROP AND ROLL since I was in elementary school. At that time, many, many years it made sense. Let me tell you something else. STOP DROP AND ROLL does not necessarily apply when YOU ARE THE BLOODY IDIOT ON FIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I headed for the lake, only a few yards away. But one of the guys saw me and reacted. He sprang. And put me on the ground, rolling me over and over. The fire went out. OMG, how awesome is that?!

OK, who knows first aid? What is the most important factor when a person suffers a significant trauma injury? I'll wait while you look it up ............................. BRAAAAPPPPP. Sorry, time's up. Shock. Well let me tell you, shock sucks. Couple that with pain and you have a serious combination. My system was rotating betwen a racing heart and panting for breath to feeling like I couldn't breathe at all. That coincided with the cycle of pain in the ankle and leg as I was helped back to the shelter and laid out on my pad. The decision that the others had to make was "do we evacuate him (meaning an hour of paddling, to a closed down town where we do not have reliable communications or a vehicle, and once help is called, a four or five hour trip to help - response time + travel to a hospital)  or do we treat this here?" Here was the only real choice. 

Benadryl and beer. What a great combination. Turns out it takes six each to kill the pain of a blister that is 3 inches long and an inch wide, and a half inch thick right on top of the ankle where the sock had held the fuel while it cooked my foot, coupled with 20 other blisters over my leg that were no more than about 1/8th inch in diameter. This prescription kept them from hurting because without them, I wanted to throw up or just shriek in pain. But I actually got some sleep, and the next day, felt a little better. Second degree burns aren't as painful as first degree (think serious sunburn and its aftermath). The real danger is that the blisters will pop and get infected. A blister with skin over it remains sterile underneath.

Two days later we had to make another portage. That is another post (next). We popped the huge blister wrapped around my ankle because draining it and bandaging it with the skin in place was better than the possibility of rubbing it off while uncovered and getting it infected. I practically drank Betadine for the next few days ( topical disinfectant that we poured over the skin covered blister to avoid infection from the nasty water we were in). But nothing bad resulted. Everything healed up. It was painful. And I learned a powerful lesson. Let some other clown relight the charcoal. Oh, and some fool had the audacity to ask if I was still going to fix a cobbler. I think he still has the imprint of a Vibram boot sole on the side of his head.

21 October 2010


I have completely neglected this blog for over a month. If you've been looking for a post, I apologize. I got sidetracked. A new post is in the works. Something completely different (cite the reference in a comment, win a prize!).


18 September 2010

A Great Quote

"Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which are everything in this world."
- Blaise Pascal

You can read more about this great man here:
or here:

12 September 2010

Pet Peeve

I am convinced that we as Americans have become obsessed with packaging. That's right, merchandise packaging. The warnings are bad enough (see the previous post). And I can pinpoint when this started.

The Tylenol scare. Way back in 1982, someone tampered with Tylenol and seven people died. Johnson & Johnson then invented tamper-proof packaging for medicines. That's probably a good thing. But how difficult does it have to be to get the seals off? Most require two hands, a knife or scapel or other tool to penetrate. At least some have figured out a nice little piece of plastic that allows you to pull the seal off easily. I wish the others would, too.

But why did we need to start making everything else impenetrable? CDs were probably first. The shrink wrapping was bloody impossible to get open, and it took them a long time to incorporate a film strip to pull and open it - which usually broke and left you stranded and searching for a pair of scissors. Some still don't have it. GET A CLUE PEOPLE!!!

The plastic blister package has taken the world by storm. It's been around a while. But now it requires a fricking chain saw to open, and once opened, leaves sharp edges that can actually cut you. Why is this level of protection required for batteries, toys, almost anything smaller than a refrigerator?

I bought a big package of toilet paper. I tore open the plastic wrap on it, reached in for a roll, and my hand hit the SECOND plastic bag the rolls were in. What the bloody hell are you protecting me from? This is toilet paper, ffs!

Today took the cake. I've noticed it before, but today I actually read something that set me off. The half gallon of milk I bought is in a waxed cardboard container. The kind we had in school in the lunchroom. You squeezed the carton, pulled the two halves apart, and poured or drank your milk. Now they seem to think this is too tough for mere mortals, so they have installed a plastic screw-off top in the side of the carton top. You unscrew it, pull out a plastic seal, and pour your milk. Then you screw on the top. How stupid is this? Besides adding costs to the packaging, and thus the product, how is this necessary? It can't possibly add to the shelf life of the milk. It never spoilt any faster when you just folded the end over. And think of the petroleum resources used to create all this unneeded plastic. So, this company has decided to really make themselves look foolish, at least to smart people like me. They have GREEN caps, and this is supposed to encourage you to go to their website, enter the product UPC, then choose which of various green charities you want them to donate their money to. And I guess that money is only donated based on people voting. I love it! Using ANTI-GREEN packaging to promote green giving. How about doing away with the caps, and donate the savings to those charities without all the hoopla?

I just don't understand. Yes, I want my new product, or food, or medicine provided to me clean, safe, and easy to use. But do NOT make me work for it. And how about saving us all a few cents and drop the extra layers of crap you use for completely unfathomable reasons. Thank you. Rant finished.

04 September 2010

Gasp, gasp, help me, I'm choking!

Wandering through a mall one day, I followed a friend into a Dollar Store (or something similar). I browsed all the trinkets that can be manufactured, shipped and sold at retail for about $1, with the entire supply chain making a profit! What a business model that must be!

I found a product that I just had to have. A baseball. Not because I play baseball (I am sort of a fan of baseball). But because of the warning on the package. Here is the baseball, in its original package as it came from the store:

The package indicates that this is an "Official Size" Baseball. But please note the warning! How silly is this! For those who may not be able to see the warning well, it says:
CHOKING HAZARD-This toy is a small ball.
Not for children under 3 yrs.
If your child under the age of three can open their mouth the requisite 3 inches to insert said baseball, please send a picture. I want to put you in touch with a carnival that needs a new sideshow act!
STUPID! 'Nuff said!

18 August 2010

Dogs, again...

I have a 90-odd pound Lab/Shepherd/Chow mix (think Lab body, Shepherd markings, Chow coat and a black spotted mouth and tongue - and LOTSA fur). I had a conversation about dogs today with a co-worker when she spotted my picture of Bullwinkle on my bulletin board (different pic below, I can't find the other one).

Bull is a calm, submissive dog. He is, in my mind, a wonderful pet. He doesn't jump on people, he loves all other animals, and in general, has no bad habits. He obeys me about 90% of the time (show me a kid that meets that standard). His favorite thing is to make you love him, and therefore receive petting and treats! He gets lots!

She shared with me that her dogs are basically out of control. Savage barking at passers-by. Destroying the house. Jumping up on people. Intolerance of other dogs. All things that mean the dogs think they are in charge. This is a bad situation. You can't enjoy your pet(s) if they run the joint. Take control. Be the calm assertive pack leader.

Here's the answer. Use dog psychology. Cesar Milan does. I did with Bull long before I ever watched the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. Cesar's way works. Owners must be calm assertive pack leaders. I am. Lord knows I am calm (mostly). Owners must own their territory. I do. Owners must be consistent. I am (though in many pet homes, there are as many ways of acting out with the dog as there are people living there - and there's only me here).

Try Cesar's way, you'll like it!

21 July 2010

Dogs and cleaning up

I am a dog owner. My animal is 90-odd pounds of Lab/Shepherd/Chow mix. He creates nothing but fur in his wake. Bullwinkle (the name is a post in and of itself) is the near-perfect example of a calm, submissive dog. He walks at heel, stands quietly while other dogs examine his smell, and steps away if one tries to nip, snap or otherwise become even slightly aggressive. Humans excite him somewhat, because he believes all humans were put here to pay attention to him. But this is limited to enthusiastic greetings with no jumping, pawing or licking. Just a lot of nose, eyes and ears bouncing around. And he calms down quickly.

(this is the Bullwinkle mutt)
I noticed a Letter to the Editor (scroll down to "Some Pet Owners Can't Always Pick Up") in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper on July 11, 2010 where a dog owner claimed to be unable to clean up after his dog because of the dog's size and the owner's inability to control the dog without using two hands, plus he claimed he could not carry the necessary equipment to clean up after his 200+ pound animal.

This is crap. Nonsense like this ticks me off. I clean up after my dog every time we go for a walk. So I fired off a response. Here's my take on the situation:
Editor, Times-Dispatch

   I must take umbrage at Robert R. Black's assertion that he should not have to clean up after his dog because he one, cannot control the dog satisfactorily and needs to "avert bloody warfare", and two, he is unable to carry the necessary tools to make such a cleanup possible. ("Some Pet Owners Can't Always Pick Up", RTD, July 11, 2010, Letters to the Editor)
   To the first point: If Mr. Black is unable to control his dog in a manner that avoids dogfighting, then I suggest that he invest in training for himself and his animal so that he can learn that controlling a pet, whether a 2-pound teacup chihuahua or a 210-pound mastiff is in the mind of the owner and the animal, not in the muscles of said animal. If he is unable to avoid aggressive behavior in his pet no matter what another animal is doing, then he should not allow that animal to be in public. He could cross the street, or otherwise divert his pet from an approaching animal that was behaving aggressively towards him. An aggressive dog can be very dangerous, and I question whether he should be in public at all with a dog he cannot physically control that could hurt another animal - what if a small terrier or toy poodle began barking or just rushed at this massive animal to say "hello"? A dog doesn't recognize size in an opponent, it only recognizes mental intent and immediate behavior.
   To the second point: Large dogs are working dogs. If Mr. Black is unable to control his dog without using two hands and presumably a much smarter mind, then perhaps he should invest in a doggie backpack, and have the dog carry the tools himself. I can't see where a couple of plastic bags (and perhaps a pair of latex gloves) could possibly weigh that much, or be all that bulky. After cleanup, the dog can carry his own waste to a suitable disposal site.
   I resent that I should have to watch out for the waste left behind by Mr. Black's dogs because he thinks loving them is reason enough to not perform a pet owner's duty to clean up after the pet in public places. Also, love is a part of controlling aggression, and an aggressive animal remains in danger at all times of hurting someone or some other animal - so that's not love, that's neglect!

I think all dogs deserve the best care available. Part of that is teaching them that they are part of a pack that should optimally consist of humans at the alpha positions, and that include dogs as submissive members of the pack. If you can't control your dog with your mind rather than your arms, you're not doing it right!

19 June 2010

Free time for kids...essential!

This is written in response to this blog post at Mampedia.com. My experience is that this study is crap.
"Current wisdom says that flooding kids’ schedules with extracurricular activities like sports practices, music lessons and art classes, may not allow any time for kids to be kids, but are today’s so called “hyper-parents” really doing anything wrong?"
I was a scout leader for 30 years. The boys that we had who fit the description in the blog post were incapable of dealing with "down time" or "free time", something many of the other boys treasured.

Let me give one example.

We had a camping trip to go rappelling. The complement of boys included several older scouts who were the youth leaders in the troop, and several new scouts - meaning having joined the troop within the last two months, along with two of the new scouts' parents. Rain prevented this activity (wet rocks are dangerous rocks, and while those of us who teach this stuff don't care, we do care about the safety of our charges who don't have our skills or "rock capable" footwear). So now what do you do?

First, I sent them all on a no-adults hike around the campground with the youth leaders in charge. They got back for a late lunch - the leaders incensed that I'd suggested a 5 mile hike when it was closer to 10 (I responded that they didn't bother to read the map before they left). The younger ones were ecstatic with accomplishment. And everyone was back in one piece (not unexpected). The older ones finally realized that it was a good thing to have done, and were happy their leadership had been trusted and expanded, and they realized that the trust I'd placed in them had transferred down to the younger scouts.

BUT!!! That afternoon, the boys said they just wanted to "hang out". So I said "OK". Within a few minutes, the three boys who played 4 sports, were in scouts, had lessons in this, that and the other, and for 2 of them, had an 8:30am to 5:30pm summer schedule typed out by mom for the "male nanny" (an 18 or 19 year old hired to "babysit" the 11 and 13 year old) were "bored", and were causing trouble because they had NO IDEA HOW TO AMUSE THEMSELVES!!! They could not find things to pass the time on their own! They could not PLAY without STRUCTURE! I was amazed.

When I was a kid, if I uttered the words "I'm bored" within earshot of my parents, I was scooted out the door, or if the weather was worse than a downpour, handed a book. Within minutes, I was no longer bored. These boys were helpless. No scheduled, structured activity, so unable to cope. The older boys grabbed a Frisbee and were tossing it around in a field. Some of the younger ones wandered over. They were immediately included by the older guys who had led them on the hike that morning. Bonding is great, and it was so obvious that they'd bonded. The other three? Still whining. Hanging onto their daddies (to whom I was shooting dirty looks). I told them to find something to do and went back to talking to the dads who were one, new to the troop, and two, watching this whole exchange very carefully. I knew my every move would be reported back to every other parent of boys in the troop.

After moping around for another few minutes, they wandered over to the field. Everyone just made more room, and a spirited game of Ultimate Frisbee broke out. It included every kid on the field. No keep away, no ignoring "throw it to me, throw it to me!" Just a lot of fun. And every boy was included in the game, and encouraged by everyone else.  I think they spent 2 or 3 hours just having fun together. No structure, no adults, just 15 or so boys, varying in age from 11 to 15, playing Frisbee (and later on, football) in a field with no adults close enough to even shout at them.

The dads were amazed. They could not believe that I would send 15 scouts out on a hike with no adults. But I explained that I trusted my youth leaders (the oldest of whom was 15), and that by sending them out on a hike that had a clear route, almost no chance to "get lost" and a carefully explained (to the senior scout in charge) safety rule: don't cross any asphalt (the topo map I had clearly showed that if they followed the loop trail, the worst they could do was bushwhack downhill to the clearly defined state park we were in), they realized I had a plan and purpose in mind. That afternoon, they couldn't believe that we didn't have to leave our comfortable camp chairs and go direct (read: referee) an Ultimate game taking place within sight, but far enough away to not be able to intervene. They were astounded that the boys who were "small", "shy", "unassuming", or "not athletic" were included and clearly having a great time.

As the reports of this trip spread, the troop started "scheduling" down time, and we used this as a selling point to prospective members, which turned out to be a major selling point. "Come join this troop, we'll turn your boys into men but not by scheduling every second". I learned the importance of letting boys be boys. And everyone of us benefited from this.

So, I respectfully disagree with the "study" that looked at total achievement of kids who many of us would consider "over scheduled". My experience is that boys, at least, need time to "be boys"...free, unstructured time, play time, time to just do something else! As the years have gone by, I have been gratified to see many of these "over scheduled" youth attain the rank of Eagle Scout, an achievement recognized worldwide as a mark of distinction.

Just think how your stress levels will go down if you just let the kids go play on their own. A chance for you to talk to the neighbors without CHEERING (or screaming at the refs), a chance to read a book, or call the hubby and chat. Without you or him being in a car driving while on a cell phone.

Let your kids have some free time. They deserve it!!!

16 June 2010

Not a happy post...

This is not a happy post. I got word on Monday that the wife of an old friend of mine was killed last weekend while climbing in the New River Gorge. A combination of a rigging error, and possible equipment failure caused Karen Feher to fall at least fifty feet to her death.

My friend, J. Feher, was in the campground a half-mile away with their two children when the accident occurred. My heart goes out to J., the kids, and all of the families on both sides during this period of enormous grief.

Here is a link to the story on TV, showing J.'s great faith in God (this may or may not work, below is the direct link).

Direct link to video at wtvr.com

27 April 2010

A Great Quote IX

"Many a truth has lain unnoticed for a long time, ignored simply because no one perceived its potential for becoming reality."
- Albert Schweitzer

02 March 2010

Customer Service That Works!

I consider myself a pretty "up to date" person. I prefer to pay bills before they are due, and make an attempt to look at statements. Financial statements, at least.

Today I found a piece of mail stuck to another envelope as I was paying bills and sorting tax paperwork. Imagine my surprise when I discover a notice from my insurance company (Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company - yes, I'm giving credit where credit is due) "prepared on February 10, 2010". It told me that:
"1/8/2010 - We previously billed you."
"2/1/2010 - We did not receive your payment."
...along with a few more boxes that indicated that if they did not receive $81.16 by February 27, my home owner's insurance was null and void. Today is March 2.

I bought my first house in 1993, the second in 1999, this one first in 2002, a refi in '07, and outright in 2009. I've NEVER paid a home owner's insurance policy premium. It has always been paid from closing costs and escrow payments by the loan servicing company.

However, I made a tactical error when I bought out my former roommate and still best friend Scott in July 2009. I went with a "low-ball" mortgage broker. It cost me a lot. Money-wise and headache-wise. Total lack of communication, and then they "lost" my first payment so I had to spend hours on the phone with Security American Mortgage (the idiots) and Bank of America (the heroes). BoA worked with me then to get the payment, at no penalty to me. (SAM held the money for over 60 days after telling me to pay them since they had not sent the package showing who they had sold the mortgage to.)

Fast forward to March 2, 2010. I am paying bills, sorting tax stuff, and find a Nationwide Insurance envelope stuck to another envelope. I open all of their correspondence. It's my INSURANCE COMPANY!!! OF COURSE I LOOK AT THEIR MAIL! But this envelope was different. This one was telling me that my house was no longer insured against fire/peril/catastrophe. For non-payment of premiums. SAY WHAT???

I grab my BoA Mortgage statement. Undecipherable, so I call. I have learned the tricks of automated phone systems. Give them the basic ID, then when they start wanting to know what you want to do, hit 0. That usually gets you to a real person. Try it at various times. (If that doesn't work, choose "ESPANOL", then say "habla ingles?" Most are bilingual, and the connect time to Spanish speaking reps is much faster than waiting on an English speaker.) Punching zero a couple of times takes me less than 5 minutes to get connected to a real person.

Agent Y7FO is completely professional in the face of a somewhat miffed client. "Why didn't you pay the d*#! bill?" is the basis of this conversation. He quickly figures out that they never received a bill from Nationwide. They pay the bills as soon as they come in. He assures me that if BoA can talk to Nationwide, a payment can be set up immediately. Say WHAT?

So now I have to call Nationwide. Nationwide does not identify their agents by name or number, but the gentleman that answered the phone was quick to assuage my fears. He also assures me that my policy has not lapsed. Thank you bad weather. Nationwide placed a moratorium on policy lapses because of the awful January and February weather in Virginia. WHEW!!!!!! But what is the next step?

The Nationwide agent was looking at my file, and he mentions "Security American Mortgage". OOOPS. Another sign of SAM's incompetence. Most sellers of mortgages pass on ALL the information that is associated with the file. They did not. So I get this straightened out. Now Nationwide knows that BoA owns the mortgage.

Nationwide calls BoA and conferences me in on the call. After all the preliminaries, they are talking together. All info is exchanged, and BoA is ready to get a payment to Nationwide in 2-3 business days. Nationwide  annotates the policy to show payment is pending, This holds off any further cancellations.

Pretty amazing how two huge companies, who are convinced that automated telephone systems are the way to go, can actually manage to connect me to two live human beings, who speak unaccented English, and solve my problem in less than 30 minutes of connect time. Of course, the premium went up $24 a year, on a house whose value diminished by $12,000 since last July. But if it burns down, Bank of America will get their money from Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company!

28 January 2010

Dumb Animals - An Adventure in Nearly Killing Someone

Now that my heart has been shoved back down my throat into my chest cavity, and the brown stuff cleaned out of my shorts, I get to rant about the stupidest person that is still alive.

I hate my commute. Thirty minutes of stress from stupid drivers, toll plazas, waaay too many cars. But this morning topped the worst of the days driving twenty-one miles to work.

The drive was ridiculous today. There is a winter storm predicted for tomorrow night and Saturday, so everyone was driving like fools - three or four miles of twenty miles an hour, back up to fifty-five or so, then "oh look the sun, let's slam on our brakes after sliding in between you and car in front of you that is also slamming on his brakes." I'm used to all that, and just try real hard not to tailgate anyone. Mario Andretti I'm not, though I think almost all drivers today think they have somehow inherited NASCAR driving skills just by watching the races on HDTV.

I got off of I-64E at the airport exit. There is a scant quarter mile to come off the ramp, and shift three lanes over to the left turn lane.At the best of times, it can be dicey because of the traffic already approaching the intersection, and this morning was no different. The light was red going towards the airport (my direction), so the traffic was backed up. I managed to get into the left turn lane and was slowing down for the red light.

HOLY CRAP!!! THERE'S A PERSON IN FRONT OF ME!!! This idiot truck driver had parked his rig on the other side of five lanes of traffic (on the shoulder), crossed Airport Drive to the WaWa, then jaywalked through the red light traffic. He stepped out from in front of box truck right in front of me. There was absolutely no way to see him. I slammed on the brakes - fortunately I was already slowing for the light - and shuddered to a stop. He could have put his hand on my hood. The fool doesn't acknowledge me, wave, nothing, just continues his stroll across the highway. Of course, at this point he's holding up traffic because the light has turned green and he is half in the lane with the truck beside me. Maybe he was as shocked as I was. I hope so.

How many ways was he stupid??? Let me count the ways. One, he'd parked illegally on the shoulder of the road. Getting coffee is not an emergency. Two, he could have turned right and pulled into another convenience store, parked on a spacious lot, and walked a lot less distance to get his coffee and donuts. Three, he could have turned left, and parked in the WaWa lot if WaWa coffee is the only kind he'll drink. Four, he could have crossed at the intersection instead of threading his way through traffic making him effectively invisible.

But no, he does all these stupid things and comes within about one quarter of a second and about two feet of spending time in a hospital or morgue. Once again my theory is proven: There is no animal dumber than the general public.

07 January 2010

A completely off topic rant...

I love technology. I work in it, I play in it.

Why the heck can't I push a button on my remote when I see a promo for a TV show that I want to record on the DVR, and have it schedule the recording????

In fact, I should be able to push a button and have the DVR ask if I want the whole program, the whole series, or just the one episode airing 2 or 3 or 4 weeks in advance - way past when it's doable to fast forward the on-screen guide out that far - IF it goes out that far...mine certainly doesn't, and there is no date search.

If the networks know when a program will air, and promotes it relentlessly, why can't the delivery systems (Cable, FTTH, over the air- well, ok, not OTA) make it easy to work out as far as the networks do?!?!?!
Just a rant...

03 January 2010

More on the story...

Shortly after posting the previous story Be Prepared, I decided to write a letter to the Editor of the West Virginia Gazette, Charleston, WV"s newspaper. Charleston is the capital of West Virginia. I wanted to thank the people that worked so hard on Sandstone Mountain to get us stuck fools on our way again as quickly as possible. Here is the article as it was published, as a Guest Commentary.
January 2, 2010
Joseph G. Murphy: Agencies hardworking during storm on Turnpike
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I commend the West Virginia Division of Highways, the West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Turnpike Authority on their handling of the severe winter storm that erupted over the Mid-Atlantic region Dec. 18.
I was one of the "unfortunate" motorists trapped on Sandstone Mountain for about 18 hours that night. I must confess that the blame lies with me. However, the response of those West Virginia agencies made a bad situation much better. I am sure there is much blame to be passed around, but most of it lies with the drivers, who, like myself, decided to continue traveling even in the face of deteriorating weather conditions and worsening road conditions.
I fell into a line of vehicles following a snow plow up the mountain on I-64, starting on level ground at the base of the "hill." I am sure I was better equipped and better able to deal with poor driving conditions than many of the drivers I saw on the mountain that night, in that I know how to drive in snowy conditions, and my preparations took into account the possibility of an extended stay. I had food, water and plenty of warm clothes. To castigate the state agencies listed above for lack of preparation does them no justice. You should be responsible for yourself  if you choose to venture out in such conditions.