Saturday, January 26, 2013

Not-SO-Bad News

Contrary to the cliche, it didn't hit from out of the blue. It came instead from out of the black, rolling into the area lit by my headlights from the left, crossing at such speed in front of my car that I barely had time to identify it as a 4-5" rounded cube of concrete, judge that I couldn't possibly avoid it by stopping even while my foot reached for the brake pedal, resign myself to the idea that I couldn't possibly even control where I'd be in relation to its path: either it would hit one of my tires or it would pass harmlessly between, before I heard the loud "Kthunk!" coming from the front passenger side followed immediately by fsss-fsss-fsss.

I knew what that meant.

That was the first two seconds. I spent the next three looking left while I eased off the brake, letting the car slow slightly as I realized I still had full control even with a flat front tire, wondering where the chunk had come from. There was no vehicle in either of the other two freeway lanes on my left or just in front of me to have kicked it up and given it such a trajectory and speed. Might it have gotten kicked up by an oncoming truck, perhaps, with enough of a lift to cross the median concrete barrier and keep rolling across the northbound lanes?

It was about 6:40 PM Thursday night, heading home via I-35, approaching the second Forest Lake exit. The plan had been to do a tiny bit of shopping on the way, as this was early for me. We needed dog food, and I needed some jerky to munch at the upcoming auction Saturday, a good low-carb meal that left my keyboarding fingers clean and freed up for the job. Well, there was still time to hit Wal-Mart, but now it would be the automotive service section. I'd for sure need some air, but was prepared to need a new tire, and hopefully they still stocked one that matched what they'd put on this fall.

They looked at the clock too, and started to protest that it was time for them to start shutting down the service section since they closed at 7. I persuaded them that they had one last job to do. (Apparently I can do helpless elderly female quite well, especially when that's my take on the situation.) They found a tire, their last of the kind I needed, and pulled the car in. Within two minutes they were back, informing me since the tire had been driven on and the sidewall ruined, but also showing me my bent rim. It would be impossible to mount the new one. OK, could they check my toy tire and put that on so I could drive home? Also, I decided to buy the tire so I'd have it tomorrow after finding a new rim.

At least I thought it would be that simple.

First thing Friday morning I found out that the dealership parts department opened an hour later than I thought they did. Rather than sitting home cooling my jets, I contacted my favorite mechanic, Glen. He has in the past secured used parts for me, and could he do it this time too? After checking, he let me know the closest one was in Wisconsin, and even if it were overnighted, it would be Monday before it could be installed.  How much? He replied that it'd be $150, even used: they know what rims are worth even used.

I didn't want to put another full working day in on that toy tire, having already put several hundred miles on something rated for maybe a 50 or 60 miles life span. A work day for me easily runs 300 miles, often more. Nor did I want to miss a day of work. I called Glen back: where in Wisconsin? If it were reasonably close, I could go fetch it myself. After checking, he called back with a location of Green Bay, ridiculously far. But now he also knew of a rim just down in Rosemount, same price. I could easily go fetch it. Only thing was, it was a 5 inch, and we didn't know whether I needed a 5 inch or a 5 1/2. I could drive down to St Paul and Glen could measure, and we could go from there. He thought the only difference might be that a 5", if too small, might only be too small for a front mount but might go on the back. I gathered that had the replacement rim been a 5 1/2", it wouldn't have mattered.

When I arrived, he pulled out the damaged rim/tire and looked at it. There was about a 4" section of rim bent out from the concrete. "Is that all? I can fix that!" About half an hour later - I had to wait on another car ahead of me - he called me over to see his work. I couldn't tell where the ding had been, and the bubbly stuff he smeared around the rim/tire showed no leak. He had put the old tire back on, after examining it and finding no visible damage despite what the WalMart guys had said, although with full pressure we both felt the teeniest of bulges at one spot on the sidewall. We decided to put the new tire on just to take no chances. With winter and all the driving I do, plus the difficulty I have with my knees these days in being able to change my own tires any more, it was an easy decision.

While I was there, he put the calipers around the rim to find out its size for future reference. It was exactly 5 1/4". Does that make it a 5" or a 5 1/2" rim? Anybody? Anybody?

A little time, and a lot less money than I had anticipated, and I was back on the road, ready for work. All in all, not so bad a day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Excuse For Loadtime

It was one of those drug runs, pharmacy to customer's house. To be more precise, it was 13 drugs. The reason that makes any difference is that it was also C.O.D:  $405.17 to be exact. Yes, breathtaking.

I'd been to this house before. The customer/patient was a very nice woman with a bunch of health issues. The first time was last summer, and she opened the upstairs window to let me know it would take her a while to come down the stairs to answer the door and would I please wait? The second time she was already downstairs and had a helper with her. It was the same today, with the helper doing a lot of cleaning in the background.

What was different today was the bill. When she asked how much it was, she was shocked. "I don't have that much!" Her helper had already disappeared with the bags of meds upstairs where they needed to be for use. I asked did she need to call the pharmacy and check on her insurance, whether it had gotten credited.

She did reach for the phone, but dug out her insurance card and called the insurance company to demand an explanation. She informed me she just switched from Medica to Humana, and before had only had to pay $190 for the month's supply.

I sat down to wait.

She had to go through a long voicemail system with a lot of prompts, and had a problem figuring how to navigate, talking to it like there was an actual person there, asking questions like, "Why can't I talk to a person instead of a machine?"  or "I can't give you the first five letters of the medication, there are 13 of them". I have serious doubts about the capability of the most sophisticated voicemail system to cope with that. Eventually she got to a point where she asked it, "Why didn't  you tell me before that I had to hit '0' to get a person?"

Once she got a person she spent about five minutes expressing her displeasure with the voicemail system. While I completely sympathized with her point of view, this was my time as well as hers she was wasting. I pulled out my Blackberry and started typing dispatch what was going on and requesting getting paid for the lengthening loadtime.

Eventually she got to her point. Why was her bill so high? There was a lot of listening and asking questions, and I eavesdropped unashamedly. Apparently this was the first time in her already lengthy and well-insured life that she'd heard of something called a deductible. She didn't understand the concept. In addition she kept protesting that this was the first time she'd heard there was one in the policy. She berated the salesman who only wanted his commission and hadn't adequately explained the details.

Now at this point you might think she was a bit non-compos mentis. Hardly. She recognized me from previous visits months ago and asked about my house in Arizona. (Hmmm, apparently we'd had a bit of a chat last time. I didn't remember a bit of it.) It might also be worth mentioning that never once did she resort to swearing or any abusive language. Perhaps the designation "Rev." before her name on the check helps explain that kind of restraint.

She was finally winding down the conversation, ending on the note of needing to call her attorney and have him there when she called back, and making sure she had the proper number to avoid all the voicemail nonsense. Since she was directed to the number on the back of the insurance card again, I doubt the avoiding part was accomplished. And I didn't tell her that the attorney would cost her far more than the $300 deductible she had to pay (done now, for the year) before the co-pays kicked in.

She finally decided she had to write the check or she'd not get her medicines, so the next 7 minutes were spent in digging out the checkbook, reconfirming the amount and payee, and painstakingly writing it all out. Then there were two forms for her to sign. While she was doing that I tried to explain a bit about deductibles and how they worked. Next month should be easier, but she ought to plan that next January it would start over and she'd have another big bill.

She thanked me for my patience and I texted dispatch to let him know things were ending, finally. He was on hold with the pharmacy by this point while they probably were trying to contact this customer (no call waiting I bet) to figure out what the problem was and what was the plan? Pay? Return? Could somebody please decide so they didn't have to spend a lot of money paying me loadtime?

Yep, it's never boring.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not a Conspiracy

Steve was upset. It was something he'd read on Facebook.

Now that's something I don't do - go on Facebook. I don't have the time, for one thing. I've seen him devote hours to everybody's posts, pictures, cutie cartoons, what-have-you. I also have issues with Facebook's ever-changing standards. I'd never be able to keep up. But this is beside the point, except to point out that he'd read it, not me.

The topic at the time was mass shootings, coming right after Sandy Hook. There was no air in the newsrooms or behind radio microphones anywhere to spare for any other topic. And somebody found that a problem. Or rather, how the discussions were going was a problem. Here's how Steve described what he'd read to me.

You've heard the opinion expressed that more guns could cure mass shootings, although nearly any policeman would argue more guns only add to the confusion, increase the danger to bystanders, and are unlikely to actually stop a shooter, even if used by someone actually used to killing another human, and especially when the original shooter is wearing body armor.

Steve read that an actual case refuting that argument had just occurred, a theater shooter had been stopped by an off duty cop who was "packing", and the liberal media was keeping it hushed up to reinforce their slanted views.

Wait, what? Liberal media? I already know that's not right. I decide to investigate a bit on my own. I asked Steve when and where this supposedly happened? Dec. 17th, just a few weeks previously, in Texas.

When I got home from work, I Googled "Texas theater shooting Dec.17". I got a bunch of results, mostly from TV and newspaper sources, and came up with the actual story. Yes, a guy with a gun was shot by an off duty cop in a theater. But that's only the end of the story. It's the beginning of it that really defines it. It started out as a domestic, where the shooter fled into the theater to get away, winding up in the bathroom, where he was shot. He didn't go there to shoot a bunch of moviegoers to make a horrible name for himself.

As for the "liberal media" doing a major cover-up so nobody would hear how effective it was having another shooter being the good guy with the gun fighting the bad guy with a gun? Hogwash! First, it was all over the place in the local news, available on the internet for anybody. The lack of national attention was nothing more than a commentary on how boringly often domestic disturbances happen and end in violence.

No cover up. No conspiracy. Just unremarkable tragedy on a minor scale.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

OMG! A Complaint!

About an inch of snow had fallen overnight and my side of the highway heading into the cities was two mostly black lines surrounded by packed white snow yesterday morning. Salt may have been spread, but wasn't taking effect yet. Later the temperature would rise to near 40 and they would clear and dry, enough to justify getting a car wash, but this was now.

I completed the five miles to my nearest Holiday station to top up the tank for the day, and was just putting the nozzle in when a woman approached me with a pen and notebook and began jotting information off my car door.

"Is this a company car?"

"No, it's my personal vehicle."  Who was she? Someone interested in a courier job, perhaps? I usually spare a couple minutes for them without letting them know how hard they get to work for how little money.

"Is this where you work?' pointing to the door.


"Are you going there now?"

"No." This wasn't sounding like a job hunter, and I wasn't feeling like handing out unasked-for information. I had work on board, a delivery return from last night, too late to finish then, and not going near the office. None of her business.

"Well, I'm going to be calling them with a complaint."


She went on a great length about how insecure a driver I was, how unsure I must be of the area, or else why would I possible be driving 15 mph under the speed limit?

Ignoring the insults, and refraining from questioning her assessment of how slowly I must have been driving, as 15 mph seemed an excessive amount to me unless she thought the speed limit was usual traffic speed as opposed to posted limits, or she hadn't noted when limits dropped from 55 to 45 to 30, I merely suggested any slow speed might have been due to snowy conditions. I do admit to allowing a little attitude to creep into my tone. Just a little. She was obviously stupid, by my standards, if she thought road conditions were safer than I thought they were, but I try not to let myself rub folks' noses into something they can't help, if stupid is a result of brain capacity instead of willful ignorance. The latter I have been known to engage.

"So why didn't you just pull over to the right and let those of us who know the road better go at the proper speed? That's just so rude!"

By now my tank was full, and I just didn't feel like taking the time to set her straight on everything wrong with that last statement, from how well I actually knew the road, to how much slipperier the shoulder would have been, to my actual speed, or even whether or not my slowing her down a tad might not have been more than overcome by her pulling in behind me to confront me and take down the information she needed to make her complaint.  Trying to keep my opinion of her out of my face, I just commented as neutrally as possible, "You go do what you gotta do," hung up the hose, and walked into the store.

I can't help but comment that once back on the road, part of a long string of traffic, I glanced at the speedometer and noted that we were all going along, on a nicely cleared piece of highway, at a steady 13 mph under the posted limit.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Don't Get Sick Unless You're Dying

We had a little scare.

Last night Steve informed me he'd not been feeling well. I asked for details. He'd been having some trouble breathing, sometimes waking up feeling as if Fred (his basset) were sitting on his chest.

Wait a minute: how long has this been going on? About three days? Are you insane? You let it go three days?

I didn't actually yell this at him, but finally convinced him this might be serious. He should get it checked out. Of course, at 8 PM one's options are limited, more so when transportation is an electric scooter with reflectors but no lights, and the nearest medical facility is across an 8-lane highway. Sure there's a stoplight and a center island, but...

Once I finally convinced him that now was still a good time to see what's going on, we discussed options for transportation. The neighbors to either side, whom he knows, hadn't been in residence for days, nor was the lady across the street who was so helpful when we had the water flooding problem that turned into a slab leak. He assured me he'd do something and be back in touch to let me know what was going on.

I was still an hour and a half from home at this point, and I used the time well: worrying. Mom taught me well. I learned from the best. What-if scenarios ran through my mind. I worried about him, about transportation, even about Fred if Steve had to be away for a few days. I'd have to drive down rather than fly if I were needed to go down, since transportation would be needed and last minute airline tickets are outrageous. And if it were truly serious, what would I do without Steve?

Yeah, my mind goes there. As I said,  learned from an expert.

Just before getting home, I couldn't stand not knowing any more. I called him. How/where was he?

Fine. And home. He'd called the fire department and they'd checked him out. They hooked him up to oxygen first thing through the door, and the little finger thingy showed his blood O2 levels were at 100% of normal. Their portable EKG showed normal rhythms, and his BP was the envy of a 30-year-old. There was nothing going on that they could find.

Before they left, they imparted a last bit of information. Going to the hospital wasn't an option. They were taking no more patients. The flu is hitting so hard they were packed to the gills, with very sick folks waiting as much a 10 hours just to get seen. So it was a very good thing he checked out as well as he did. He wasn't about to get transported anywhere (though the gurney had been brought in, in case) unless he was dying.

Luckily, not.

He did decide, however, that he'd sleep that night in his recliner, keeping his head slightly elevated. Just in case.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Answer for the NRA

You've probably heard about their latest obnoxious ad by now. It's the one that asks whether Obama's kids are more important than yours. They're protected by armed guards (aka the Secret Service, and protected by law), so why shouldn't yours be? More guns everywhere make us safer, right? If you agree, they've accomplished their goal of getting you to go buy  more guns, supporting their true interests, the manufacturers, not their members.

First, the ad presupposes that our instinctive reaction to their opening question is a "no". But they suppose wrong. Are Obama's kids more important than mine? Absolutely yes!



First, think about what I'm not saying here. I'm not saying they're more loved than mine. I'm sure we each love our kids dearly. I'm not saying they're better or more valued as human beings than mine. They're not cuter, smarter, more talented, nicer, or whatever than mine. But none of those things were what the opening question was in that awful ad.

And yes, they are more important. As much as I love my kids, and as tragic as it would be if something happened to any of them, nobody can hold my kids hostage in order to topple a government, start/end a war, or change the course of a nation. I'm not the President. Obama is. For that alone, his kids are more important than mine. And yes, the children of the President of the United States deserve and need armed guards 24/7/365.

Our nation depends on it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If You're Going To Break Them Anyway...

It's January 9th. We're getting used to a full work week again, post all the holiday breaks. Traffic is jamming accordingly. Kids are back in school, legislatures back in session. We're gaining seconds of daylight each day, but statistically the worst winter can throw at us is still ahead. Financial documents from last year are getting pulled from their file folders and organized for tax preparation, though it's unlikely a W4 or 1099 has graced the mailbox yet.

And, because it's January 9th, a significant number of us have already broken one or more of those annual New Year's resolutions. You remember back to last year and what you promised yourself, so long ago. Right? Maybe it was about losing weight. Exercising more. Saving more. Whatever.

So how're you doing?

Before long nearly all of us will have broken our resolutions. Too hard, too much work, life intervenes. Since so many of us will break them, how about looking at it in a new way? Why not make resolutions where breaking them will actually do something good and leave you feeling better?

I do, of course, have some suggestions. Next year, consider resolving some of the following:

- to get fat(ter)
- to become a complete couch potato
- to be ruder to everybody
- to start fights at every opportunity
- to spend money like you're going to die tomorrow
- to forget about looking for a (better) job
- to max out all your credit cards
- to get drunk and stay drunk all year
- to see how much cholesterol you can cram into every meal
- to throw all your cans, bottles and paper into the regular garbage - if you pick them up at all
- to steal everything you can get your hands on
- to close your mind to new ideas and information
- to smoke more, lots more
- to lose your temper at every provocation
- to spread as much gossip as anybody will listen to, and always tell it bigger and worse than it was
- to whine about everybody and everything, becoming the complete victim
- to eschew all responsibility and blame everybody else for everything
- to delay paying all your bills
- to never clean _________
- to sprinkle your conversation with every offensive epithet you can
- to ignore your kids and cheat on your spouse
- to give half a day's work for a full day's pay
- to text while driving, also while ignoring speed limits

Then, just remember to break them just like you do the regular ones.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

While We"re At It...

Rich is finally finishing the flooring in my bedroom. It was going to be done while I was in Arizona, don't ya know. Now most of it's laid down, but the margins need finishing and then the trim strips replaced. Then it'll all be laminate through the house except for two bedrooms.

Allergies are the reason. Carpeting holds lots of the stuff I'm recently allergic to: pollens, dog and cat dander, dust mites, molds. A hard surface yields them up to cleaning. It's an unending process.

As soon as he finishes, I can move my stuff back into my room, not just the bed and a few essentials. This means I can organize it again instead of wondering where stuff is in the stacks of boxes and totes piled along, finally, just one of the living room walls.

One of the things that came out of the closet was cedar planking, still in the boxes it's sat in for the last 20 years or so. I forget just when I bought it and stuck it back in a corner of the closet after I gave up on it's prompt installation. So now, while the closet is still empty and its walls accessible, it's coming out of the box, getting trimmed to fit, and nailed in place. I'll have an actual cedar closet finally!

After all this time I can't actually smell the cedar any more, unless a piece of it is held under my nose. At least not with the first pieces up on the wall. We ran out of finishing nails so only a few pieces are up right now. I can still be optimistic that it's not too late for any smell to be left.

Or maybe it's just my stuffy nose from my allergies.