Friday, August 22, 2014

Fast food

Happy Friday to all.  Hard to believe that summer is almost unofficially over, but it's true.  They'll be playing football very soon, and that's always the surest sign to me that summer is nearing an end.  I also think that way in reference to the baseball season---when football starts, baseball is winding down, at least for the regular season.

This morning I have food on my mind, and not just because my breakfast today consisted only of a banana.  Full disclosure--when we buy bananas at our house, they become my "property" when the peels achieve that speckled, darker appearance.  My wife won't touch a banana in that state, except if she plans to make banana bread.  Likewise, I don't like them when the peel still has a greenish cast to it, too firm and not sweet enough.

Anyway, I was about to prepare dinner a couple of nights ago, with boneless/skinless chicken breast on the menu.  I looked at the weather forecast earlier in the day, weather appeared to be clear enough, but when I went outside to uncover and light the grill, the skies looks rather ominous.  So I pivoted quickly and decided to bake these breast pieces instead.

The heavens opened up a few minutes later, and I congratulated myself on my judgment, as I had avoided some weather issues.  About twenty minutes into their preparation, though, the storm had passed but then our power went out.....and our oven and range are electric.  Hmm.  What to do?

So I went out, uncovered and lit the grill, and proceeded to prepare our dinner on the grill.  Sweet potatoes that would have been prepared in those handy plastic micro-bake skins were instead wrapped in foil, and the frozen corn I was going to prepare accompanied said sweet potatoes to the grill.  The chicken, which was about 3/4 done by the point where I moved outside to cook, went a bit later.  By all accounts, the meal was passable, but my wife and I thought the chicken was rather dry.   That's the problem with cooking it partially, allowing it to cool as the oven temperature declined, and then cooking it some more, I guess.  Anyway, we didn't go hungry, even though we were without power for about three hours.

I had a couple of other experiences with food away from the house recently that are worth sharing.  First up:  a new age McDonald's just opened, within sight of an older unit across town from us.  We had business on that side of town, needed a quick lunch (sorry, but I still LOVE McDonald's) and so we gave it a shot.

Brand new building, which meant that they had registers on one side of the service area, and a separate area to pick up your food, which is well overdue.  The service person had a little trouble with the register, but only because it was new to her and the store.  Anyway, we got our food quickly and accurately, which is always nice.  Comfortable environment, too.  I hope to see more of these, as McDonald's is on my "they have Wi-Fi" list for when I'm out in the field and need to do some computer stuff!

I had to go to my sometime office yesterday for some meetings, and rather than commute there mid-morning, I decided to go before an early morning conference call began.  And often that means breakfast on the run, so yesterday I decided to visit a nearby Starbucks.  Ever been in one near 8:00 AM?  It's a ZOO!  The drivethru had about ten cars in line with more trying to join in, and when I entered the store, there were about six people ahead of me.

Despite this, everyone was waited on briskly, and served in turn, which is how it should be.  Pretty impressive, since most everyone else was ordering a mocha-decafe-latte-somethingorother and I was just having black coffee (Komodo Dragon blend yesterday!).  I ordered two small croissants and that required more time than pouring my black coffee, but no more than I would expect.

Then last night, my wife and I surrendered to the hectic pace of the day we'd each had and decided to go out for a burger.  This time, that meant Burger King, which generously circulates some pretty good deals via coupon regularly.   Dinner for both of us was around $8.50, which was only a little more than my coffee and croissants had cost that morning.  And it was served very quickly, hot and delicious!

The only downside was that Burger King has apparently done away with their lower calorie SatisFries, which I found to be quite tasty.  Oh, well, I suppose somewhere they're selling those alongside the aborted McLean Deluxe that McDonald's used to sell (which I also liked, although I was very much in the minority, I'm sure).

I firmly believe in credit where credit is due, you know, but also will pass along the negatives, too.  Good recent streak of positive service experiences, and I certainly hope it lasts.

Have a great weekend!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Business as (un)usual

Happy Friday, campers...looks like we've almost made it to the weekend.  Barring unforeseen issue, of course!

Those of you who are not baseball fans would have missed this, but for the first time in about twenty years, the team owners of major league baseball yesterday elected a new commissioner, to start work in January.  His name is Rob Manfred, and he's been the deputy commissioner and primary labor negotiator for some time.  He will be replacing Bud Selig, who used to own a team but has been in charge of baseball for many years.

I had used this space to promote my own candidacy for this august position, in jest, of course, but that's one of the things about these professional sports leagues that drives me bonkers.  You'd think they'd want or recognize the need for some clear perspective, from someone who's NOT been a part of the "business as usual" mentality.  Not so, and in the other major professional leagues, when the torch is passed, it passes more or less internally.  It's pretty much that way in business, too.

I learned recently that a former employer that laid me off when it significantly restructured the sales division of which I was a member of management is now moving back to its old structure, the new setup having proved itself a failure.  They apparently are telling the employees who remain (and there's not all that many of them, as the parent organization is openly courting buyers for that division) that they plan to conduct an exhaustive national search for the right person to lead the divisional sales effort.  Something tells me they'll look around the organization and tap someone who's already there for this position.  Because they've done it before!

Funny story about a credit card account that we don't use very often.  I've done business in one form or another for over thirty years, starting out in catalog form and moving to major appliances and lawn equipment.  This entity (nameless for obvious reasons) farmed out the management of its credit card program to a global banking company a couple of years ago.

Yesterday's mail brought a notice from that banking company, letting me know that my account was delinquent.  Now, those who know me know that's a virtual impossibility, unless something unusual happened.  And for those who don't know me, I'm VERY cautious about financial matters, paying bills and such well before the due dates, etc.

Anyway, I called the financial institution, and was told that I was more than thirty days overdue on my account.  I countered that I had not received a statement in some months, but only realized it after receiving the letter.  The agent then informed me that I had at some point agreed to have all statements transmitted to me via e-mail.  I didn't recall having agreed to that, as I like the piece of mail that reminds me to make that payment.  I also don't remember seeing anything in my e-mail that looked like a statement, so I'm guessing that it was categorized as spam and never appeared in my inbox.

I explained to the agent that I've done business with ___ for over thirty years, and, until this recent stretch had a very timely record of payment.  I asked him to examine my past history, and he countered with "all I know is that we haven't received a payment since May, and if you don't pay ___ today with me by phone, you'll be hit with ANOTHER late fee."  I attempted to reason with the man, but to no avail, and after he expressed incredulity at my statement that I would pay the balance in full today, but through my bank, and not over the phone (for obvious security reasons), I then asked for his supervisor.

When I got that person on the phone and reviewed the entire scenario, I finally used the "this call is being monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance" thing to my advantage.  I told this "escalation agent" what had happened and what I was prepared to do to remedy the situation.  I also told her that she would need to remove the existing late fee and provide me assurance that I would not receive another, since this was the institution's fault that I stopped receiving mailed statements.  Repeatedly, I added "since this call is being recorded or monitored" to my statements and all she could do was agree.  I also added for emphasis that "you're prepared to have me pay the balance in full and then close an account and end a business relationship I've had for over thirty years because you were interested in saving sixteen cents a month on statement and postage costs, is that correct?"  The response was another sheepish "yes."

Needless to say, I was not a satisfied customer, but since that company closed their larger operations in my home area recently, I don't consider that a major loss.  In the end, they'll get their payment, they're removing an late fees or any credit reporting regarding late payments (they say) and I can shred another credit card.  I suppose doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it's always the RIGHT thing.

Enough ranting.  Have a good weekend!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Genius

Good morning to all.

The title isn't a word I would use very often, and certainly tire of folks in the media throwing it around endlessly to describe people who coach football teams or write books.  But I found it to be the only appropriate word this morning when considering the very untimely passing of actor and comic Robin Williams.

Remember the first time we all saw him?  He played a far-out alien on the old sitcom "Happy Days," designed probably to be a one-off appearance.  This turned into "Mork and Mindy," then a contract dispute and then his entry into movies.  And many of those movies were pretty bad, if you recall.  "Popeye," "The World According to Garp," and many more that were largely forgettable.

But then something happened wherein it looked like Hollywood had figured out how to harness the immense comedic horsepower that Williams brought to a scene.  He was in several successful films, garnered Oscar nominations for "Good Morning Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society" (audio clips of which appeared in recent Apple iPad commercials), "The Fisher King," and an Oscar for a great supporting role in "Good Will Hunting."

Along the way he kept doing stand-up comedy, got very publicly sober, went through divorce and remarriage, had children and kept making movies and appearing on TV and elsewhere.  Laugh out loud funny when he turned "it" on.  Can't breathe funny when he kept "it" on, too!  I always wondered where that stuff came from, as he seemed to have an endless supply of pithy comments and observations about everything and everyone.

Like so many artistic folks, he was haunted by personal demons, above and beyond his substance abuse issues and was reportedly suffering from severe depression at the time of his death.  And like these other artistic people, his demons probably served as a foundation for his enormous creativity.

I won't say that I loved everything he did.  I also won't say that I found everything he did to be funny. But I will say that he was a true genius and he will certainly be missed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Quick turnaround

Good morning, all.  Hope your weekend was exceptional!

A little behind the curve this morning, folks.  Late yesterday afternoon, my son and I ventured down the road to Louisville, KY to Louisville Slugger Field.  We went there to see the Louisville Bats take on the Rochester Red Wings in a minor league baseball game.  Slugger Field is an exceptionally nice minor league park, always very clean at the start of any game and staffed with friendly and helpful folks.  Last night was no exception.

One of my minor gripes in the past was the fact that the park did not accept credit cards for anything except souvenir and ticket purchases, but that is no longer the case, as most major concession stands now also accept plastic.  That's handy, particularly for someone like me who got out of the habit of having cash available for, well, most every occasion.

And last night's tilt, which the Bats ultimately lost 6-5, was also exceptional, in that it was the longest game in the history of Slugger Field, lasting well over five hours.  So yours truly didn't manage to return to home base until the wee hours this morning.  Good fun, regardless, and since the game ran 15 innings, we were treated to a considerable amount of free baseball!

Since I'm a bachelor for a few days, as my wife is out of town visiting family, I took the opportunity to clean some carpet.  We have a Bissell ProHeat machine for that task, and a couple of times a year I try to clean the carpet, to keep it looking and smelling as fresh as possible.  It's not that physically taxing to actually run the machine, but getting ready to do it, and emptying the dirty water and refilling with clean solution water can be a chore.

Yesterday I tried something new.  We had become disenchanted with many of the commercial carpet cleaning products out there (every machine maker has their own brand, of course) some time back, as most of these products seem to have way too much detergent in them, and foam and suds like crazy.  So the last few times I've simply used plain water, as hot as I can get it, and that's done pretty well.  But our soil level demanded something stronger than water this time.  The Internet yielded a number of interesting suggestions in this area, but the one that resonated with me was to use white vinegar in place of the cleaning product.  This mixes with the water on board and is what's sprayed into the carpet.

So I decided to use the upper level of our home as the beta test subject, and completed that part of the job yesterday afternoon.  From what I can see this morning, the results are pretty good.  Carpet looks much better than it did, and there doesn't appear to be any vinegar smell (which almost all of the online notations promised) except from the machine itself, because I left it out to use downstairs tonight.  And the dirty water that I dumped from the machine was that--dirty.  So I consider this to be something of a success.

And on the subject of vinegar, I'm also going to clean our windows this week with a squeegee, vinegar, ammonia and water, thus ensuring more rain for our area.

Wouldn't be one of my blog entries without mentioning the Cincinnati Reds, who apparently took a longer All-Star break than most teams and finally started playing better.  After coming out of the break by losing seven straight games, the Reds have now won four of their last six and are only four and a half games out of first place.  If you had told me that this team would have had this many players (I think it's up to fifteen) on the disabled list at different points of the season and would still be within sight of the lead, I would have questioned your rationality!

So it'll be another busy week for me, probably for you, too.  Make it a good one!


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