24 October 2006

Customer service: a study in contrasts

Today has been a busy day for Geezer Gleck.

I worked early this morning, ergo my workday ended earlier than usual. I left about noon to meet the A/C guy back at the house (evaporator coils don't always crap out after three years ... do they? Eh, at least it's under warranty, although the labor and Freon recharging set us back $300!). But that wasn't the only household snafu ... more on that in a second.

On the way home I made a side trip to our Best Buy. I'd redeemed about $100 worth of their "reward zone" points I'd accrued when we bought our laptop back in August (viva la "triple points on a single item" coupons) ... the plans were to procure an MP3 player for Seraphim with that scrip. The player I thought would be ideal was another of the Creative players - a 1GB flash-based job, which also had a color screen to display .JPG files, a necessity because Seraphim wouldn't mind having her entire cake portfolio in that little device. And if it played music, that was a bonus.

Well, the ideal player was on the website. Ah, but there was a catch: it's available online only. Okay, no problem, one of the folks at Best Buy last week said one could redeem "reward zone" vouchers online. Well, problem. Said "one of the folks" was either A) stooooopid, or B) a lying sack of horse phlegm from Orion, Alabama.

No problem, right? I could buy another of the MP3 players, and then return it ... most stores treat non-cash returns by issuing a gift card (which ARE redeemable online). That's how Wal-Mart, golden beacon of everything that's right and proper with retail, does it ... how would Best Buy be any different?

Guess again. Best Buy treats such returns by "reissuing" the certificates. So ... I could either return it and then wait the usual 6-8 weeks for another set of funny money ... or be stuck with an MP3 player Seraphim won't have much use for. I asked for a manager, to whom I pleaded my case ... their selection of players lacked. And they had nothing else in the same price range which had the same features as the Creative player. It was as if he'd had wet dreams the night before about pointing out the small print on the "reward zone" certificates ... "not good on bestbuy.com" .... "cannot be used to purchase gift cards"

I didn't know David Spade and his "NO!" posters crossed the street from Capital One and went to work at Best Buy. Oh, and did I mention the "reward zone" rules changed last month? Used to be $150 in purchases would earn you a $5.00 bonus certificate. Oooooh, but they've changed that ... now it's $250. Some "loyalty program."

But what's my other option? Circuit City??!! Jeezuz Cripes, they're even worse!

Best Buy is making me pine for the good old days of Service Merchandise. Phew. Hell, I'm this close to taking back every bad thing I've ever said about Wal-Mart; while I've had some adventures at their (dis)service counter, I've never once had any grief about returning an item.

Well, after giving a roundhouse kick to the first smarmy jackass I saw in a blue polo shirt on my way out of the store (just kidding ... or am I?), I headed for Rincon, and my destiny with the Gods of HVAC.

The new coils freshly-charged, I turned my attention to our next issue: the faint "thump-thump-thump" we'd been hearing lately whenever the dryer was running. After thinking it was our fine Whirlpool workhorse tapping itself against the wall, I found out what it really was last night while bringing Seraphim's plants inside.

In the house, it sounded like "thump-thump-thump", but outside at the dryer vent it was more like "SLOSH! SLOSH! SLOSH!" Holy crap, there was a buttload of WATER in the dryer vent line. That might explain the sluggishness of our dryer's performance of late ... I cleaned the lint out of it early last week, but that didn't seem to work.

Whooooooookay .... I make a journey to the local Sears store in Rincon, one of those small-town franchise stores (we bought a TV from them earlier this year, and they gave us a good deal). I invested in a small wet/dry shop-vac, something we didn't have, and figured we might want to have on hand just in case we had SLOSH-SLOSH-SLOSH somewhere indoors! But one feature I wanted in such a vac was the blower function, where it would function either as a vacuum cleaner OR as a quasi leaf blower. What I wanted to do is stick the nozzle into the dryer vent (from the INSIDE, of course) and let'er rip.

I was assured by the gentleman who waited on me that all of their shop vacs had the blower feature. I bought one, and took it home to hug and squeeze and cuddle and play with and name. Then I found out that it does NOT have a blower. DAMN! And by now it was 5:50 in the afternoon ... Sears closes up at 6. I hurriedly repack the box and get my pimpled white butt back over to Sears, where I'd hoped to do a return .... the dryer was already disconnected and moved out of the closet.

The guy who waited on me was truly apologetic, and graciously proffered a mea culpa. He was led to believe that fact by those who'd trained him. I told him no hard feelings, and did he have any other models in the same price range that did have the features I needed? By that time the store manager came out and he too apologized ... and offered me the display model of another, more expensive, shop vac for damn close to what I'd paid for the first one. "Deal!", I told him.

I got home with our new shop vac, where I hugged it and squeezed it and cuddled it and played with it and didn't quite name it yet ... I'm thinking about "The Lint Slayer" right about now ... and stuck one end of the hose into the blower port, the other end into the dryer vent, and -- with Seraphim outside to watch -- engaged our new toy. With a roar, her 6.0 horses came to life. And not only did gales of water start gushing out the other end, but everything else that'd been in there for 2.5 years came blasting out, too. It kinda reminded me of the old Phil Hartman "Colon Blow" commercial years ago on SNL.

So, what I experienced today were two polar opposites -- an impersonal monolithic big-box with an arrogant disregard for the customer, and a small representative for a once-monolithic retail giant, in a small homey bedroom town that wanted a satisfied customer walking outside their door. Would that all businesses remembered the core reason for their success. It's not the shareholders, it's the customer. Without the latter, the former don't get diddly.

I really like it out here in Rincon ... the attitudes, while not perfect by any measure, are so much more personal. Rincon, Georgia -- fast food capital of south Effingham County -- is also home to one of the few remaining Western Auto stores. They were very nice and helpful when I was trying to find some replacement line for our weed-whacker, and was afraid I'd have to trapise back into Chatham County to find it. Thanks to the nice lady at Western Auto, I didn't have to.

And now, we have a dryer that again functions as new, an air conditioner that - we hope! - functions as new (note to self: when it comes time to get a new central A/C, do not buy a Goodman), a Lint Slayer that looks all macho and mighty, and a satisfied Talmadge.

Slacker punks in blue polo shirts aside, it was a good day.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Gotta Get Up Early Again Tomorrow" Gleck

20 October 2006

How to have a deep conversation in 1.2 miles

That's the distance from Movie Gallery to our house. After emerging with two videos (Mothman Prophecies -- which we've been wanting to see since our pit stop in Point Pleasant W.Va. recently -- and Click), and getting into the car, Seraphim asked me a question about the lyrics to KISS' hit song "Rock and Roll All Nite": Is it "I wanna rock and roll all nite / and part of every day", or is it "...party every day."

After assuring my dearest love of my life that it indeed is "PARTY every day", she then wondered why it isn't "part of every day", since a human being does need sleep -- and if you're rock and rolling all night, it can be ass/u/me'd that you slice off some Zs during daylight.

I then rebutted something to the effect of, what if they're rock and rolling all night WHILE sleeping part of the time (e.g. the radio playing a classic rock station while asleep) and, perhaps, get tired of listening to just one thing ... and for the remaining "part of every day" they listen to, say, easy listening ... country ... hip hop ... or, maybe, classical. How about polka?

Or, maybe, "rock and roll" doesn't necessarily refer to the genre of music bearing that name, and instead implies its original meaning, drawing from early 20th century black slang: to passionately make love like two crazed weasels in a Cuisinart. And you don't have to listen to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or - gawd forbid - KISS in order to make the bed squeak. People HAVE been known to consummate affairs while listening to The Carpenters. Maybe half-awake, but still trying.

Whoops, kill that. After a nice spin in the Cuisinart, you'll probably be all nice and worn out, so you'll sleep at least "part of every day."

So, we're back to square one. Rock and roll all night, fine. But partying every day on top of that would suggest a person either A) has an incredible superhuman ability to need zero sleep, or B) is so doped up on "No-Doz" that he/she/it would present a danger to other drivers if behind the wheel.

But maybe a person rocks and rolls while sleeping. Okay. What about the part of every day? Is that roughly 12 hours spent listening to stupid and pointless right-wing talk radio?

And by that time Seraphim and I were already in our driveway.

Y'know, maybe "Beth" was better off with the boys playing all night.

Eh, screw this. I'm gonna go watch a movie.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "4-F deferment from KISS Army" Gleck



Allowance ... what is that?

Got a phone call last night from my son Tiger. Another way his new location and school has made an incredible difference is in his grades. The kid went from Ds and Fs back in Montgomery to:
MARCHING BAND = 100 (big surprise there....)
WORLD HISTORY = 106 (extra credit is good, yes?)
ALGEBRA = 91 (damn......)
ENGLISH = 76 (wwwwwWHAT??!!)

Three solid As and a C. (The school splits its schedule to where the students get a full year's worth of class in a semester, with double periods - he'll have an entirely different class load come January)

He said the English grade was due to his 'concentrating so much on the other classes' ..... in any case, I find it hard to find fault with that single C. I'm still in something of a shock over that report card, if you wanna know the truth. The last time my kid had that many As, I think we were still back in Troy.

Now before I go any further, please pardon me while I look something up in the dictionary......

al-low-ance (uh-LOW-uns) n. 1. The act of allowing. 2. Something that is allowed. 3. Something given, as money, at regular intervals or for a specific purpose. .... (American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Ed.)

Oh, okay. I'd completely forgotten. Allowance -- that's a weekly stipend a parent gives a kid for whatever entertainment and edification as he sees fit (within reason).

Now, I did tell the kid that I'd restore his allowance (something he hasn't had since the end of 2004!) upon a report card with all As and Bs. Well, there's the small matter of that C. However, given his exemplary progress in the other classes -- those As, holy crap! -- I chose to bend my own condition and give it to him based on his GPA: 3.67. That's a high B. And I told him he'd BETTER pull up that C for the second nine weeks. If not, I threatened him with a non-stop orgy of Coldplay songs for an entire weekend. The kid detests Coldplay.

Frankly, I'm still in numb surprise. I knew Tiger would do better in this improved setting, but this much better??? Wow.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Never so glad to open his wallet as he is now" Gleck

10 October 2006

One is the loneliest number...

...unless you're at a band competition.

My son Tiger's marching band received an overall score of "1" at last weekend's Lake Martin Invitational Band Tournament. That, of course, is top score ... 2 is middling ... and I don't even want to think about 3. Fortunately for all the bands present (damn near half the high school marching bands in Alabama), there were no 3s doled out. Out of three judges, two of 'em gave the Elmore County High School "Maroon Machine" band a "1" -- the other one, alas, copped 'em a 2.

Eh, he's probably the dentist who voted against Trident. Screw 'im. What's important is, ECHS got an overall 1. And best of all, the percussion section (of which my son is part) got a 1. I was fortunate to be sitting next to him as the results were announced ... and the elation on the kid's face!

Backtracking a few weeks: I had the pleasure of seeing the kid in action at a football game back in mid September, and I had the even higher pleasure of observing a sight I hadn't seen in many, many years: my son, grinning and cutting up among friends. Tiger is so obviously in his element, especially within the band clique.

After the game, I was waiting in the car outside the band room, and when he got into the car he began gushing about some of his bandmates, who were then staging an impromptu drum recital outside the band area. Then he said five words that made a grown man cry:

I'm so happy here, Dad.

He didn't have to tell me; I could see it all over his face. He has nothing but great things to say about his friends in the band, about his band director ("Mister V" they call him), and the school in general. Geographically, it's 28 miles from his old school, Capitol Heights in Montgomery, but in my son's attitude, temperament and overall state of mind, it feels more like 28,000.

He even feels comfortable in his new hometown of Eclectic, Ala. ... even though the closest thing to fast food is Subway, and his three favorite eateries -- Burger King, Chick-Fil-A and Whataburger -- are all more than 30 minutes away. For a 14-year-old, that's saying something.

We had a wonderful time heading southward toward Troy with a (very) late-night supper at Whataburger on the way down. His tastes in music are beginning to tread into classic rock, and has discovered stuff his Dad has known and loved for many years. Lately my son and I have had some great fun together ... his sense of humor has suddenly blossomed into a thing of beauty: fun, dry, acerbic and sarcastic! Yet, there's no disrespect anymore. I ask him to do something, and there's little resistance (there'll always be some; my son's a teenager, after all!).

Simply put, I love being around my kid again. My son can sometimes drive me into fits of laughter just with the way he'll say something.

Compare that with that a year ago. Last year, Tiger was borderline "goth" -- carrying a big chip on his shoulder, full of darkness, bitterness, poor grades, slipshod attendance, and doing everything to alienate himself from just about everything in his life, Dad included.

It's remarkable what a year, a change of location, and my ex-wife waking up and smelling the coffee can do. And even more so when this all occurred largely at the suggestion of Josiebelle's sister, who lives in Eclectic! I have to give the real credit here. It's my ex-SIL Laurie who pulled some strings and helped get him into the band. And that's no small feat, given he practically burned his band bridges in 7th grade at Capitol Heights (blame spread: 45% Tiger's laziness; 20% environment; 35% band director is downright mean and intimidating, and did not return phone calls and e-mails to Dad ... sorry, I don't think much of "teachers" who won't respond to parents).

If the initial plan (getting him over here to Effingham County - ironically, another ECHS!) had happened, there was no way I could've gotten him into band. Band is what is driving my son's passion right now, and I believe I'm witnessing the birth of a real "band geek."

Seraphim and I could've given him a better environment, a great school and a stable life (not to mention a cleaner, more orderly house). But Josiebelle, with Laurie's help, has given him two out of three (sorry, but Josie's new house looks just as trashed and decrepit as the one back in Montgomery) ... not to mention something else: a second chance in band, which has relit my son's passion for making music ... and with it, lots and lots of friends!

And while my neat-freak Mom would disagree - I think that's vastly more important than the look of one's living space.

Thank you, Josiebelle. And double thanks, Laurie.

Please continue to pray that this keeps up. I want nothing but a good, fun and happy high school existence for my son, something I didn't really have.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Proud Dad" Gleck

03 October 2006

Subterranean Freeway Blues

We're home.

Monday at exactly 950 PM, Talmadge and Seraphim arrived back in Rincon, Georgia, completing their fun-filled little junket to Pittsburgh.

Sunday, October 1, my former colleague Deb took me on a "dime tour" of Pittsburgh, truly a one-of-a-kind city. I don't think I've seen that many bridges in a single line of sight in my entire life! Downtown sits at the fork of two rivers - well, actually three; the Alleghany and the Monongahela merge to form the Ohio River. Deb showed me her beloved city in a way no "Gray Line" hack could ever match.

Oh, and she treated me to lunch at a Pittsburgh institution called Primanti Brothers. I don't think I've ever had a sandwich that has the fries IN it, not on the side as is usual. The perfect food if you're in a hurry -- jam it all between two toasted slices of thick bread, and eat. There's a mural along one of the walls where caricatures of notable Pittsburgh natives are shown: Andy Warhol, Andrew Carnegie, Stephen Foster (y'learn something new every day....), and of course, the immortal Fred Rogers.

Can you say "fun"?

From there it was downtown, where I was given the grand tour of where she works. I imagine Deb was stifling many rolled eyes off to the side as this radio geek was damn near starry-eyed. For, you see, I was in the master control room of KDKA, just the oldest radio station in the history of western civilization, that's all.

And then I was taken on one of the 'incline trains' (the city has two). Gotta tell you, folks - the one at Chattanooga doesn't hold a candle.

A nickname I heard used for Pittsburgh was "Iron City" -- talk about a heavy sense of deja vu! Birmingham, Ala. -- which made its name for its steel industry in the early 20th century -- has also been referred to by that nickname. Among its many other affectionate names is "Pittsburgh of the South." After Sunday, I could see why.

Both cities' former industries weren't the only similiarity; driving around parts of the city on Saturday, and riding with Deb on Sunday, a lot of what I saw - from 40% incline residental streets to house architecture to the basic feel of the smaller neighborhoods, to their love of sports, even to such ephemera as the style of road signs and signals, reminded me so much of parts of the 'Ham. In short, Pittsburgh struck me as a bigger version of my native city.

*********

However, Pittsburgh has one huge feature to its infrastructure that Birmingham doesn't: TUNNELS. One in particular is the Fort Pitt. Deb took me through that one; when you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the whole skyline of Pittsburgh suddenly jumps out at you. Truly awe-inspiring.

About the closest thing Birmingham has to anything tunnel-esque is that quasi bridge/tunnel like thing on Red Mountain Expressway. Or that man-made "tunnel" at the Palisades shopping center. Of course, Alabanana doesn't have mountains too high or challenging to cut through. The only real tunnels the state has are both in Mobile. The George C. Wallace tunnel and older Bankhead Tunnel burrow underneath the Mobile River, the shipping lane into the city's port facilities.

I love tunnels. I've always been fascinated by 'em, and this trip gave me a "tunnel overload" I won't soon forget. We drove the Chesapeke Bay Bridge/Tunnel back in '03, we did the I-540 tunnel between Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Ark. earlier this year, but there ain't nothing like the tubes that allow you to pass through some of the more rugged mountains of Appalachia.

*********

After Seraphim finished with her last session on Sunday, we hit the turnpike and headed south into the beautiful state of West Virginia, the fifth time we entered the state on our trip. Our destination was Fairmont, W.Va., where its Red Roof Inn was a beacon atop a hill overlooking the hustle and bustle of I-79.

After three nights of glorious luxury at the Hampton Inn (farm fresh "eggs" notwithstanding), it was hard getting used to the very spartan surroundings of our Red Roof Room. That room was barely large enough to hold the king size bed. There was no Wi-Fi available. But the room was clean, there was a functioning TV (with a good movie on HBO at the time - Walk the Line), and the motel staff was as friendly as could be. Who could pick nits? The room was $42.99 .... compared to the Hampton room setting us back $119.00 a night! The Red Roof had no breakfast, "farm fresh" or otherwise. Just a single coffee machine and some cups in the lobby. And on that particular morning, their Mr. Coffee was all tore-up.

Again, we didn't complain. There was a Hardee's just down the way, so we grabbed some breakfast biscuits and drinks and hit I-79 southbound. Rincon, Georgia wasn't exactly down the street, ya know.

We stopped at the New River Gorge visitor center before crossing the New River Gorge bridge, the world's second longest single-arch bridge. We exercised off our Hardee's vittles as we plodded down the boardwalk to the lower platform, where we viewed the bridge and surrounding beauty in its awesome splendor.

US-19 linked up with I-77 and the West Virginia Turnpike, and the Mountain State gave us an unforgettable farewell token by presenting us with the East River Mountain Tunnel. What's really cool about this one is that it crosses the line between W.Va. and Virginia. You go in one state, and come out another.

One more tunnel (Big Walker Mountain) awaited us, and soon after we crossed into North Carolina, the beautiful Appalachian mountains became mere rolling hills before transitioning into the familiar coastal plains of home as I-77 terminated in Columbia, S.C., about two miles from what is positively the best barbecue in the world: Maurice's. Love him or hate him, the man has a way with pigs. Since having my first experience in 2005, all I had learned about 'cue in Alabama went flying out the window. I am now a devotee of mustard-based BBQ sauce.

I don't think you'll have any trouble guessing just where we ate supper.

The remaining ~150 miles were largely anti-climactic. I-26 to I-95 to Ga. 21 to home.

And on that note, I'm going to bed. Some further comments will have to wait for another time. It's late, and this thing is long enough already.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Tunnel Vision" Gleck

01 October 2006

The wonders of a laptop.......

It's 545 PM, and I'm sitting here in front of the Holiday Inn in Monroeville, Pa., waiting for my darling Seraphim to finish up.

This afternoon with Deb was a fun-filled time ... more on that later.

Meanwhile, I've been checking e-mail ... all courtesy of Holiday Inn's (not password protected) wireless access, which I totally appreciate.

Oops, I think that's her coming.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Ain't Wi-Fi Neat?" Gleck

The incredibly inedible "egg"

It's morning on day #3 of our pleasurably pusillanimous Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania powder.

Seraphim is finishing up her Cake Summit next door at the Holiday Inn, and everything (exceptin' for the laptop, duhhhh) is packed and ready to go. Check-out time is 12 noon.

Deb's picking me up at noon and will be taking me on "the grand tour" of Pittsburgh, to while away the afternoon before my wife is finished up at 530.

Meanwhile I'm left pondering a deep subject: Chicken embryos. You know, those things many of us are fond of consuming for the breakfast meal (or on a late weekend night at IHOP. If only we could get one of those @#$%ing things close to Rincon....).

And the thought of the almighty egg gets me thinking about one of the well-known perks of Hampton Inn, and that's their hot breakfast. Now most of your motels tend to offer a bare-bones free breakfast, ranging from the classic "continental breakfast" to something a little more upscale, such as doughnuts or bagels or cereal - usually stale from being in those dispensers.

In any case, playing the lead role in the hot breakfast downstairs at this Hampton is something they call FARM FRESH EGGS. Okay, I wish they had bacon on the menu, but eggs I could live with.

I open the cover of the hot dish, only to find .... well, it looks like a fried egg. I mean, it has the yellow in the middle and it's surrounded by white. But it's perfectly circular, about 1/4 inch high, and there's no convex, bubble-like middle where the yolk is supposed to be. Jeezuz Cripes, this is what I'd expect to find served at McDonald's. This isn't real egg, it's ... it's ... pre-fabricated, processed, fried egg-like product.

If this is "farm fresh", I wanna know which farm these things came from, so I can avoid it. I'll bet the hogs they slaughter yield massive amounts of Spam (the "lunch meat", not that other kind).

Seraphim liked 'em okay. She can do so for both of us. Yeccccccch. I partook of what the menu described as HOT, FLUFFY BISCUITS.

Biscuits? Yup.
Hot? No, lukewarm.
Fluffy? As Calista Flockhart.

But at least the orange juice was good and pulp-free. It beats nothing.

This is why I never consider the free breakfast amenity in a motel. If it's just myself, I don't even think about 'em. I scan the lobby - if there's something good, I eat it. If not, nothing lost.

After all, it's why God invented the International House of Pancakes anyway.

Which leads me to my closing point. I'll bet those "farm-fresh 'eggs'" are virgins.

They don't get laid.




Ahem.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "I want some bacon. Real, please." Gleck