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    Friday, July 25, 2008

    You Tube Fun - 80s Female Edition



    Katrina and the Waves

    Toni Basil

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Paul Simon Was Wrong

    Not everything looks worse in black and white.

    (For those who don't get the reference, watch the video, listen to the video, and look at the new blog template.)

    So of course they switch up the song lyrics in that one. Here's the original song put to a bunch of images.

    And just because

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    True Car Conversations Two and Three

    A little bit of background. Ethan takes a backpack with some toys in it whenever we get in the car. As much as he likes talking with me on our daily drives (30 miles to work, 30 miles home again), he also likes playing with his action figures. He talks as he plays, carrying on conversations between the toys.

    So we're driving along, and from the back seat I hear

    Ethan: You're trapped, Count Dooku. Drop your light saber!

    Me: Cool - you caught Count Dooku.

    Ethan: (Pause, then exasperatedly) I'm trying to play here.

    Me: Sorry.

    Some more background. The word hell has creeped into Ethan's vocabulary. I know that this is more than partly my fault as a parent. Not that I use the word around him, but I allow him to watch movies, play PS2 games, and watch tv shows that use the word. We've spoken about it, and I've tried to tell him how some words are good words, some words are bad words, some words are fine to use when you're older, and some words are fine to use when no one can hear you use them. He gets the basic concept - he's an incredibly smart boy - but sometimes things like the following happen.

    Ethan: (Playing in the back seat, while acting out a battle between action figures.) What the hell?

    Me: Dude!

    Ethan: ... Sorry.

    Side Note One: I use the word dude way too much for someone in his late 40s.

    Side Note Two: There is something incredibly inherently funny about a five-year old saying "What the hell?"

    Side Note Three: Side Note trademarked by Side Notes.

    Customer Service At Its Finest

    On the last full day Drew was here, Thursday June 12th, I went out to McDonald's at the outlet mall to get breakfast. Now, this isn't the best staffed McDonald's you can find - it's incredibly busy, and the local staffing options are the elderly and high schoolers. Still, it wasn't a busy morning, so I didn't double-check the sack after getting the food, opting instead to just drive home.

    Of course, this means I didn't get the complete order. Fortunately, the food for the boys was there, but mine wasn't. So I drove back out, went inside, and asked for the food I wasn't given. They had realized I hadn't gotten my food, so I didn't have to prove it. As the clerk was putting together my order, she asked the manager on duty if she could give me a complimentary meal card.

    The manager said no.

    The clerk stared at her, then asked again. "This guy had to come back to get food we didn't give him. Can't we get him a meal card?"

    The manager said no. "But I'll go get a coupon for a sandwich." And with that, she walked to the back.

    Now, I hadn't gone in there with the intention of getting something to recompense me for my troubles. I just wanted my breakfast. And if no one had said anything, I would have walked in and out without comment. But the fact that the manager vocally didn't want to give me anything, then had to be talked into giving me a sandwich, was, well, kind of insulting. I worked in restaurants for almost fifteen years, over five of those in management. If you feel your actions have negatively impacted the customer to the point you think you should comp the customer something, you comp them something at least of equal value to what they ordered.

    I waited for the manager to come back, ready to tell her that her offer of a sandwich was insulting, but before I could get that far she said "Here's a meal coupon." So I took it, glanced at it, thanked her, and went home.

    I took the coupon to work, thinking I would use it for lunch some time. I had seen a date on it, but didn't look closely enough to see what the expiration date. I figured it was good for at least a month, if not a year. I had looked closely enough to see it was good at any O'Brien's McDonald's, the franchisee in the Iowa City area.

    Jump forward a couple of weeks. McDonald's is sounding good for lunch, so I pick up the coupon and get ready to go. For the first time since I got it, I look at the date.


    Remember the date I mentioned above, the date this happened? Thursday, June 12th? June 12th, 2008? In other words, 06/12/08?

    I checked the date on the coupon again, thinking that couldn't possibly be right.


    They gave me a coupon that expired that day.

    I looked it over, thinking that had to be a mistake. Thinking there must be something on the coupon saying "Valid for 30/60/365 days after the date on this card."

    But no.

    The expiration date was that day. THAT DAY!

    Customer service at its finest.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008

    An Eventful Week Part II

    The first sign that there might be trouble came Thursday afternoon, when reports started circulating that the Iowa Department of Transportation planned on closing I-80 at the Atalissa and Tipton exits Friday night at 7:00 pm. At that point I realized I would probably need to be moving out Friday afternoon instead of Saturday morning. Still, I could leave home as late as 5:00 in the afternoon and still clear those exits by 7:00 pm. My mother suggested that I take the boys right then and go down and stay with an aunt and uncle on the east side of the closure. I briefly considered it, but decided to wait.

    I woke up Friday morning to discover that the DOT had closed I-80 earlier than expected. Indeed, they jumped the closure from Friday evening to late Thursday. I started looking at maps, trying to figure out how to go east. It seemed pretty simple. Head up to Cedar Rapids, then take Highway 30 east to Tipton, then back south to I-80. I needed to make arrangements to board the dogs, and started making calls. By the time I found a place to board them, not only was Highway 30 closed, but pretty much every bridge and road north of I-80 that went east was closed. On top of that, I-380 in Cedar Rapids was one-lane only, and there was talk that both I-380 and Highway 965 were about to be closed between I-80 and Cedar Rapids. My only option to the north was heading west, then heading north to Highway 20, then east to Dubuque, then south to I-80, then on to Chicago. Not a very attractive path.

    So I started looking south. Highway 92 was already closed going east, but that still left Highway 6 and Highway 22. I got the boys dressed, then set off for Victor where I was boarding the dogs. By the time I got home, less than an hour later, Highway 6 was closed. Highway 22 was still open, though. If that closed, my only option would be driving down to Mt. Pleasant, taking Highway 34 across the river at Burlington and over to Galesburg, and then taking I-70 up to I-80.

    We set off about 2:00. Before we leave I double-check to make sure Highway 22 is still open. It is. By the time we reach Highway 22, about 40 minutes later, it’s closed. We set off for Mt. Pleasant, hoping Highway 34 is still open. It is, and the rest of the trip is uneventful, except of course for hitting I-55 into Chicago right about 6:00 p.m., just when traffic starts to go back into the city. It took about an hour to travel the 30-some miles between I-80 and the Harlem exit, and then another 30 minutes or so to get to the hotel.

    The next day was busy – turn in the first rental car, get a new rental car, escort Drew to his flight, go to the BMW dealership and take care of things with the old car, then drive back home following the same route. We dropped the rental off at Budget, got a lift home from a friend (thanks Brian!), then settled in and watched flood coverage.

    So that was my week. It cost me a car, it cost me over a $1,000 out of pocket (rental car, hotel, gas, diagnosis of car problems, towing fee), and I still consider myself fortunate compared to the many, many people in the area who lost a lot more. A friend, someone I’ve worked with for close to a decade, owns a house in one of the worst-affected areas of Iowa City. I spent an afternoon helping him clean-up - tearing out carpet, tearing down drywall, hauling out trash. It was horrible to see the damage caused by the flood up close. And he was one of the lucky ones. He was about four rows of houses away from the river, and though he is looking at tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages, he could conceivably rebuild if he needs to do so. There are many others in far worse shape. I got to leave it behind at the end of the day, but those affected can never leave it behind. It’s always with them.

    Monday, July 07, 2008

    Someone Needs To Work On Their Sales Technique

    From the Gazette

    CORALVILLE — A Louisiana woman allegedly offered to perform a sex act on a man for $40 then struck him when he refused, according to police reports.

    Dinora Santa Maria Wilson, 41, of Kenner, La., was charged with prostitution, an aggravated misdemeanor. She was taken to the Johnson County Jail and is held on a $5,000 cash bond. She faces up to two years in prison.

    Wilson allegedly knocked on the man's door around 12:30 a.m. Saturday at the Motel 6, 810 First Ave., and offered to perform a sex act. When the man refused, Wilson allegedly said, "What are you, gay?" In the midst of an altercation, Wilson then struck the man in the face. Wilson appeared intoxicated, according to police reports.

    Call me crazy, but if a drunk stranger knocks on my motel door at 12:30 in the morning, I don't open the door. I'm funny like that.

    Thursday, July 03, 2008

    True Car Conversations

    Ethan: When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.

    Me: That's a good career. You have to work hard at it, and go to school, but you are smart enough that if you want to be a doctor you can do it.

    Ethan: I also want to be Spider-Man when I grow up.

    Me: (Pause) That one's a bit tougher.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    Odds and Ends

    I've opened a Flickr account. I've set it to private, but I'm willing to invite anyone who visits here who wants an invite. Drop me an email if interested. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of my friend Ethan and me.

    An Eventful Week Part I

    All okay here on the flood front, in case anyone is wondering. I did have a rather eventful week the week the flooding hit the area, but it wasn't related to the weather. Let's just put it like this - I now have a new old car. A 2005, which is the closest I've been to the current model year since 1998, when the late, lamented Saturn was three years old.

    Andrew came out for a week starting June 6th. It was between the end of school in Delaware and going to his father's in Oregon. He flew into Midway in Chicago on Southwest. Flying in and out of Midway is cheaper, even with the money spent on travel, than flying out of Cedar Rapids. So I drove in to Midway that Friday morning. The trip started without incident, but I got a speeding ticket shortly after entering Illinois. But from there to Midway things went well.

    However, as I parked in the lowest level of the parking garage at Midway (that's where short-term parking is) it seemed like the engine was running hot. I popped the hood, and saw light coming out of the engine area. This is not how it is supposed to be.

    I got out of the car, opening the hood fully, and spied the fire. Yes, fire. It was small - maybe the size of two fists, and it didn't seem like anything was on fire; rather that something had hit the engine block and started on fire - but as any mechanic will tell you, any fire on the engine block is a bad fire. I leaned in, blowing, finally putting the fire out. And yes, I realize this was probably not the smartest thing I've ever done.

    I went to get Drew, and called my mechanic in Iowa while waiting for Drew's flight to arrive. My mechanic confirmed my impressions that a: I should not attempt to drive the car, and b: the cost of transporting the car to Iowa to get it looked at would be prohibitive. I got Drew, then called Lesa. She got the numbers for some car repair shops and dealerships in the Chicago area, finally settling on the BMW dealership in Orland Park. They recommended a towing service. I called both, making arrangements to have the car towed and subsequently diagnosed. I then went to secure a rental car.

    I got a car at Budget in Midway. This was not without complications; they told me there was no Budget drop off in Iowa City, which I knew for a fact wasn't true, because I've gotten vehicles from them before. In fact, it was my satisfaction with the service at Budget in Iowa City that made me go to the Budget counter in the first place. Nonetheless, for some reason, it was not in the system. My only choice was to get a car I could drop off in Des Moines or get a car to bring back to Midway. Since I would need to get back to Midway the following weekend so Drew could fly out to Oregon, I decided to go that route. Besides, at that point I was still hoping I would have a BMW to drive home on the return trip.

    Meanwhile, we needed to wait for the tow truck to arrive before we went to pick up the rental. When the tow truck finally got there, he couldn't get into the parking garage. As a result, I needed to drive my car out of the parking garage to where the tow truck was parked by the departure drop offs. I wasn't particularly thrilled to be driving a car that had previously been on fire, but it worked out. The driver got the car hooked up, I paid the $200 towing charge, and Drew and I went to get the rental car.

    We got to the Budget lot and found out they had given our car to someone else because we hadn't gotten there right away. This despite the fact that I had told the person at the rental counter that we wouldn't be going right over to get the car. We ended up waiting another hour there til they had a car for us. It was a Cadillac, though. A very nice car. I was assured that there wouldn't be any extra charge, and we were off. We got back home around 11:00, about five hours later than I had hoped to return when I set off that morning.

    I'll leave out the fun aspects of Drew being here. Suffice it to say, it was great that he was able to be here for a week.

    Even if Ethan was sick for three days of that week.

    Anyway, on Tuesday I get the call from BMW of Orland Park. There's $4,000 worth of repairs, and that's just fixing the stuff the fire damaged. Finding what exactly caused the fire, and how to repair that, would be more. And that doesn't even touch the $1,000 in repairs the car needed before I drove to Chicago. (Nothing that was urgent, but things that needed to be taken care of in the next year or so.)

    The car cost me $6,000.

    Needless to say, it didn't seem to make much sense to drop $4,000 plus into it. The repair agent I spoke to, after I said not to fix it, told me that if I had said to fix it, he was prepared to try to talk me out of it.

    But that left me needing a car. I went out to the local Ford dealer. As much as I loved the BMWs, I wasn't prepared to get another car that was more than a decade old, which was the only way I could get another BMW. I found a nice Mercury Sable wagon that had been traded in just the previous week. 2005, low mileage, decent miles per gallon. The price was okay too. I got a quote, then went to the bank. Fortunately, the bank was willing to write a new loan high enough to pay off the previous loan and get the new used car. So that was taken care of.

    I still needed to dispose of the old car. I got that taken care of by donating it to charity. They would go to the dealer, pick it up, tow it away, and auction it, all at no cost to me. That's two headaches down.

    The final headache was getting the rental car and Drew back to Midway, then getting a new rental that I could drop off in Iowa City. I stopped in the Budget location in Iowa City, and was assured that, no matter what I was told in Midway, I could drop off a car there. They said I might have to rent the car to be dropped off at Des Moines, but even if I did, I could drop it off in Iowa City.

    So that just left getting Drew back to Midway. Unfortunately, his father booked Drew's flight at 9:15 in the morning. That meant we would have to get up at 3:00 am to make sure we got to Midway on time. Inconvenient, but possible.

    Until Mother Nature intervened.


    Sign posted on the outside of the Metrodome, spied on Saturday 06/28/08:

    The Minnesota Twins Baseball Club Bans Guns In These Premises

    I realize there is probably a legal reason they need to post this, but I really hope there aren't a lot of people walking up, seeing this, and then turning to their spouse to say

    "Damnit! Honey, give me the keys and my ticket. I've got to go back and put my assault rifle in the trunk. I'll catch up to you."