New Shoes in the Rain

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The business of business

Friends, I come before you with a few tales of good old fashioned American commerce, and the individual needs and wants of a specific customer--me.

I sometimes use this space for venting purposes, but sometimes I don't manage to convey when something has been resolved or at least addressed to a point of mutual satisfaction, so allow me to relate at least one example of this.

So here's one that turned out well.  About three weeks ago, I recognized that I needed auto service.  Nothing major, just the usual oil change and tire rotation.  The stuff that if you do it regularly, you prevent problems down the road.  Rarely an issue beyond the time investment needed to take care of it.  We have dealt with a regional chain of tire and auto repair shops for a number of years, so I went to the nearest location to our house.  They were full up, so I went across town to one close to an appointment I had later.  They worked me in, and appeared to take care of my needs.

A few days passed, and I noticed that the car was riding roughly.  Gave it a little more time, due to weather and varying road conditions.  Went back to the original servicing location when it was convenient, they couldn't handle my issue at the time, so I went to my nearer location the next day, and they told me that the wheels were not balanced at the shop that did the work.  Problem solved, right?

Not quite.  Noticed that my problem was less, but still there, lot of vibration in the steering wheel.  I wrote a complaint on the company's website, and I received a call late last week from the regional director--the fellow who originally sold me the car's current tires (66,000 miles ago, no less).  We worked out a time and place to meet and he assured me that he would take care of whatever issue existed.  I went there this morning, we went for a test drive together, and he immediately noticed the issue.  Went back to the shop, where he removed both front wheels himself and examined the balancing.  Turns out the fix was not major, but still something that was missed the first two times.

Loyal customer now satisfied, and remains a loyal customer!

Remember my description about the new flooring?  The dealer sent a guy to do "our fix" and he was woefully underprepared for all that needed to be done, despite our extensive description, pictures, etc.  They are apparently sending the original install crew back to us to take care of these mostly cosmetic issues.  The guy whom the dealer sent said that they would "take away" a paying job from this crew as punishment for what they didn't do right the first time.  Somehow I'm not sure that gives them much incentive to do it right this time, either, but I suppose we'll see.  My wife will be at home with them when this happens next week, so I feel certain that they'll be kept at the house until full satisfaction is achieved.

Ever seen the movie "Falling Down," where Michael Douglas plays an aerospace worker who just snaps one day and goes on a violent spree?  The funniest part of the movie is where he enters a fast-food joint and asks for breakfast a scant five minutes after they stop serving it.  I'm reminded of this as I read this morning that McDonald's is finally going to consider selling their breakfast menu throughout their operating hours, and not just in the morning.  Good move.  Now, if they'll just do what they said and actually reduce and simplify the lunch/dinner menu.  I mean, how many permutations of the chicken sandwich or burger are necessary?  I walk in (or drive up) knowing what I want, but for those who need options, there are just too many for McDonald's to produce well.  Think about how far Wendy's has moved from the original formula of burgers, fries, Frosty frozen desserts and soft drinks.  Dave Thomas probably spins in his grave when he thinks of the expansive menu they feature now.

Last one....I received a letter from my cable TV provider yesterday, saying that my rates were going to increase by a net of $26 TODAY.  One day after the undated letter arrived at my home.  I called, explained that I didn't find this to be acceptable, and, wouldn't you know, they "reduced" my rates to the point that I now will pay $6 more than the previous rates.  Pretty cruddy way to extract a rate increase.  And think how many people would just ignore that letter or quietly accept that increased price as a cost of doing business.

I know deep down that at some point cable TV will get cheaper, and broadband Internet service will increase dramatically, as the cable companies are still the best providers of Internet service and they know it.  Cord cutters will ultimately find that they'll be paying through the nose for their standalone Internet service, or it will be tiered like data plans on cellphones.

Look through my examples above.  Anything strike you as the RIGHT way to do things?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What's in a (nick)name? I have shared in this space, I'm making my way through the masterful Ken Burns "Baseball" miniseries (my version of spring training, as I quipped to a friend recently).  Watching that, I'm struck by one of the lost aspects of sports--player nicknames.

The great George Herman "Babe" Ruth, possibly the most famous baseball player to ever live, had MANY nicknames, in addition to the name by which most know him:

Sultan of Swat
Wazzir of Wham
Caleph of Clout
Behemoth of Bust
and more

His New York Yankee teammate, the durable and underrated Lou Gehrig, was nicknamed "The Iron Horse," owing to his consecutive game streak that was broken a few years ago by Cal Ripken, Jr.  And Cal had no nickname that I know of.

Another Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, was known alternately as "Joltin' Joe" or the "Yankee Clipper."  National League slugger Jimmy Foxx was known simply as "Double X," and Rogers Hornsby was called "The Rajah."

So what happened?  Why don't athletes have colorful nicknames anymore?  In more modern times, the best nickname I can think of was for former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who became known as "The Mayor."  This was largely because he was so outgoing that he would chat with EVERY baserunner and even the umpire during play.  A close second was former outfielder Lenny Dykstra, who was known as "Nails."  As in tough as.

Ken Griffey, Jr. was known as simply "Junior," which was more of his name (to separate him from his dad, Ken Griffey, Sr.) than a nickname.

Still another that comes to mind was the great Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell, who, in the latter stages of his career, became a vocal leader on the Pirates club and was dubbed "Pops" by his younger teammates.

I want nicknames to come back.  And not the idiotic ones that Chris Berman of ESPN is known for.  The worst one of his?  Bert "Be Home" Blyleven.  Clever once, but not if it's often repeated.

Who's with me?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where are they now?

Greetings, all.  I don't usually post on Sundays, but opportunity knocked this morning, so to speak.

Was thinking not about people who have faded from everyday sight, but rather some products that I (and most likely a number of others) formerly used, when they were readily available.  As quickly as consumer products arrive on the scene and store shelves, they appear to disappear just that fast.  So here are some such items that fit that description.

First up--a childhood snackfood and breakfast favorite--Concord grape Pop-Tarts, by Kellogg's.  When I was a kid we didn't eat much cereal at our house (I didn't and still don't drink milk, so that was a big holdup); in fact, breakfast was kind of a foreign concept in our family, except on weekends, when time allowed preparation of something pretty good.  So packaged stuff was about the only breakfast to be had during weekdays.  And we liked Pop-Tarts, and I can almost remember when they were first introduced in the early 60's, but really took off in our minds when frosted varieties appeared, around 1967.  We tried a variety of flavors, but one in particular was my favorite---Concord grape.  I didn't like much grape flavored food (my younger brother would ONLY drink grape Hi-C, so that was the only "juice" we ever in the house) but these Pop-Tarts were an exception.

Fast forward to adulthood and early in our marriage, my wife encouraged me to eat breakfast, SOMETHING to start the day.  So I gravitated to time-saving items like Pop-Tarts, and the grape flavor again became a favorite.  Then they just went away.  Same fate as the Dutch apple flavor, I suppose, which were also pretty good.  A few years ago, in an effort to capture the fickle youth market, Kellogg's introduced a series of "wild" flavors, and grape was among them, complete with purple frosting.  They were OK, but not like the original.

About a year ago I happened upon a number of "limited edition" flavors of Pop-Tarts in a store display, and, how about that, Concord grape was among them.  They looked and more importantly tasted the way I remembered.  I bought several boxes, knowing that they had a long shelf life.  Our primary grocer sold out, so I went to a competing store and bought out their stock.  Just ate the last ones about a month ago, and still miss them.

Here's another one---Scrubbing Bubbles flushable toilet bowl cleaner pads.  Dow Chemical was the original maker of the Scrubbing Bubbles cleaning line, and one of their products was a kit that involved a wand about 18 inches long to which one would attach a pad of layered paper that was treated with a cleaning product.  You dunk it in the bowl and the cleaner is activated, so you can clean your toilet bowl thoroughly and then flush the pad.  No nasty brush to store next to the toilet, which is a far better solution, in my estimation.

About six months ago they ceased to be available.  Whomever now makes these products still has plenty of Scrubbing Bubbles products, mostly for bathrooms, but finding these flushable pads is nigh unto impossible.  If you know where they can be had, let me know!

Coffee is another frontier of varying product availability.  Several years ago my mother-in-law wound up with a Senseo pod coffee maker.  I can't recall if it was a gift, or purchased with a gift card, but she really liked it.  Then about a year ago she began to complain that the pods were getting harder and harder to find.  Compounding her problem is that she lives in a small town, where she has Wal-Mart and not much else for groceries.  So my wife and I found a couple of places here in Lexington where they still have the pods that fit, one coffee variety in particular for her, so the crisis has been averted for now.

Funny sidebar:  somehow I bought a Keurig coffee maker that was pretty basic (didn't cost anything, I made the purchase with some sort of rewards points that were expiring).  We gave the maker to my mother-in-law for Mother's Day that year, probably two or three years ago.  This was at about the same time that she first began to experience difficulty finding pods for her Senseo.  Anyway, given the wide availability of K-Cups, we thought this would be an excellent solution, right?  Not quite.  My MIL stated flatly that the coffee didn't taste good and that we could have it back.  I believe it now resides in my daughter-in-law's office.  So at least someone is using it.

One more product missing in action---Chi-Chi's taco meat.  We have been buying this stuff for years, off and on.  Great for a quick snack or lunch, as long as you have tortillas or chips.  Lots faster and tastier than browning and seasoning ground beef from scratch.  But now we can't find this, either.  Not tragic, but an occasional quasi-Mexican meal could be had relatively easily with this product, and now that's not an option.

I could go on (and on and on, of course) but that's a pretty good start.  What products were part of your regular routine, whether it's food-related, cleaning products, or something else that you now cannot locate?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am suddenly craving a Pop-Tart....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Well seasoned

Good Monday morning.  What's good about a Monday, you ask?  It's gonna be over 70 degrees here in central Kentucky today!

Washed the accumulated salt, filth, grime and other corrupting influences from my car's exterior yesterday, which must be an expression of my confidence that the worst of winter is most likely behind us.  Our usual car wash is closed on Sundays, so we considered a couple of alternatives and wound up at one we hadn't used before.  Good result, a little less expensive for the full-tilt exterior wash (we keep up the interior ourselves) than the norm and hand dried by a very polite young woman who thanked us for turning off the car while she did her thing!

The weather was similar yesterday, mid 60's and sunny, so I seized the opportunity that the great weather provided and overseeded and fertilized my yard.  Now I'll have to water it, which seems counterintuitive, given all of the water that soaked in with the rain and snow melt.

And my wife and I visited our neighborhood butcher shop and purchased steaks for yesterday and pork chops for today.  Steaks were of the Akaushi variety--check that out by Googling, as I did, very impressive!--and were outstanding!  This butcher shop opened about a year ago and we don't shop there frequently, but when we do, the results are quite good.

Oh, and the Kentucky Wildcats still have not lost a basketball game this year.  They ran through the Southeastern Conference tournament over the weekend to extend their unbeaten streak to 34 games.  Now they're the top seed in the NCAA tournament, which begins tomorrow night.  Go Cats!

A couple of updates on some newsy things I've reported here....

First, the office chair issue....the dealer contacted me last week to say that my part is in, meaning the lumbar support unit that had broken.  I was able to remove the old and install the new one in about five minutes last week.  Much more supportive and comfortable.  Will still need to get a gas lift, but now that I know that the dealer will charge me for the part but not the labor I need to weigh out the pros and cons of having them do the work, but being without the chair for a week or two, potentially.

The other item I want to follow up is our new flooring.  My wife is ecstatic at how great it looks and feels as I am.  But we are both disappointed by some inconsistencies in the trim work--the little rounded pieces at where the baseboard meets the floor ("quarter-rounds") are in, but the hardwood install crew did not calk their joints or the nail holes, as the vinyl installers did in our bathrooms.  And there are a couple of doorways where the transitions from one surface to another are inconsistent or missing entirely.  The dealer was quick to reassure that they'd take care of this, but that was over a week ago.  My wife is on a slow boil now, so I'll step back and let her handle it.

And finally, here's a funny for you.  I think I've mentioned in this space my affinity for traditional aftershave products.  Have been a bay rum fan for about twenty years, but over the last few years I've also added back some other products that are more commonly found in drugstores than at the fragrance counter at a department store.  Old Spice, Skin Bracer and Brut are among these, as are some products from Pinaud, who make a line of products called "Clubman" in a variety of scents.  Like them especially.  Anyway, a while back we were at Bed Bath and Beyond and I ran across a product called Lilac Vegetal, which I recognized from western movies (you know, the hero has been on the range for weeks, and when he arrives in town treats himself to a trip to the barber shop, where he gets a shave and a bath for a quarter, and the barber offers "lilac vegetal" for an extra nickel, saying that the ladies love it).  So we were at that store Saturday evening, and I bought a bottle.

Let me warn you---if you ever considered this product, please reconsider.  Reviews on describe it as smelling like, well, a lot of unpleasant things.  I'll just say it's not the kind of scent I would want on my person for the day.  The nice folks at Bed Bath and Beyond agreed that it did not smell good and graciously refunded my purchase yesterday.

So I'm looking forward not only to a good weather day today, but a day where I don't stink, either.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sprung forward

Good morning, folks.  Hope that the week is going well wherever you are!

I don't think I'm in the minority when I state that I have had a difficult time adjusting to our "new" time, with Daylight Saving Time going into effect over the weekend.  Had significant difficulty sleeping the first couple of nights, and have had a couple of especially busy workdays since.  I slept better last night, so I'm hopeful that my biorhythms are getting into sync.

Unless you're totally disinterested in sports, you likely know that the University of Kentucky men's basketball team just completed their regular season undefeated.  That's quite an accomplishment in this day and age, since television contracts demand that major college sports be played on odd days and at unusual hours.  Plus, the Southeastern Conference is a lot bigger geographically than it used to be, having now included schools from Texas and Missouri.  Next step for the Cats is a trip to Nashville for the SEC tournament this week.  Because of their regular season performance the team gets a bye into the Friday round, and they'll play in front of a largely partisan crowd, since the Music City is relatively close to the Commonwealth.  Go Cats!

And the Reds are off and running in spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, as are all other teams.  I have seen a couple of innings of one exhibition game and listened to parts of a couple more.  As I said to a friend about his favorite team recently, it's kind of difficult to get too high or low based solely on spring training performance.  So we all will see what transpires once the teams head north and east and start playing games that count in April.

Hillary Clinton faced the press, and to some degree the music, yesterday to explain her use of a personal e-mail account while serving as Secretary of State.  Notable that information emerged this week that both former SecState Colin Powell and recently departed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also did the same, opting for a personal e-mail account instead of a .gov account.  Clinton says she did this out of convenience, but there's already been a couple of instances where news outlets located video of her talking about having and carrying a variety of devices at any given time.  Eventually this will become less important, but her opponents, both within her own party and outside, will likely keep this going as long as possible.  But I'd wager that she won't be adversely affected by any of it, in the long term.

And if you're keeping score, the heavy snowfall that we had last week is now virtually gone, with the exception of parking lot snowpiles.  Instead we have rain and fog currently, owing to the warmer temperatures and saturated earth.  No locusts yet, that I've seen.....

Finally, I've been fighting with a local furniture dealer over what I believe to be a warranty issue.  I bought a rather expensive ergonomic office chair in 2003, when I began working at home full-time, and one of the reasons I purchased it was that it carried a twelve-year warranty.  Unheard of, right?  During the time I've owned the chair (a Herman Miller Aeron) I have had the seat pan replaced (the original cracked) and I added a better lumbar support at my own option and expense.  But now the gas lift is apparently failing, and the dealer says they have no record of me purchasing the chair (they said they changed computer systems in 2006 and lost all old records).  Compounding the issue is that, for once, I cannot locate my original purchase receipt, rare for me, but true in this case.  Turns out that the manufacturer has no record of my warranty registration, either.  Strange.  The dealer just helped me get a replacement of the lumbar support, as they had a record of my purchase of that item, but the best they'll do is sell me the gas lift and waive the installation fee that would accompany it.  I am seriously considering buying the lift elsewhere and installing it myself.  More to come on that.

So out into the fog I go....

Friday, March 6, 2015


It's the day after round two here in central Kentucky, folks.  We had an official snowfall amount of 13 inches of snow.  Or 11.  Or 14, depending on who is asked for the info.

Doesn't matter, that's a LOT of snow, any way you stack it up.  So once again, central Kentucky is virtually paralyzed.  But that's OK with me, at least for the moment!

I was really in a quandary earlier in the week.  I had the misfortune of back-to-back trips this week, first to Martin, in southeastern Kentucky, and then to London and the surrounding area, which is closer to directly south of Lexington.  My Martin trip was a day trip, and I was able to get there and back without any issues.  I encountered some rain, but instead of the cold temperatures we've been experiencing, it reached 60 degrees on that day.  So the roads were messy from the melting of what was left of the snow, but that was about it.

The next day I left for London and an overnight stay there.  On my way there I began to try to sort out whether it would be possible to combine two days' meetings into a single, but long, day.  As it turned out, all were agreeable, so I arrived back home as the days torrential rains turned to sleep here in Lexington.  And not long after that was when the snow began to fall.

So I shoveled the driveway yesterday, and my very nice neighbor came over and helped with the last 20 percent.  I then made sure to clear his walk and helped a bit with his driveway, until his teenaged daughters emerged from their house and took over with their dad.  Nice guy, really good of him to help.

I need to shovel again, as the plow apparently came through, and left its usual residue across my driveway opening.  But it has to warm up first.

Here's a little followup on the doings around our place last week.....the carpet was installed in our bedroom and master closet Monday morning.  Only took a couple of hours, and it looks and feels great.  So the house is pretty much done, but we will have to paint trim and also continue to shop for rugs and such, now that we have hard surfaces in so many more places.  But my wife and I love a project!

Many such projects are informed by our extensive viewing of programs on HGTV, where we enjoy watching "House Hunters," "Property Brothers," "Fixer Upper" and numerous other programs.  Recently there was a short-run series called "Ellen's Design Challenge," produced by comedian Ellen DeGeneres and concerning a furniture design competition.  We watched the final two installments Monday and were disappointed that our favorite, a Colorado native named Tim McClellan, won but was later disqualified when producers received "an anonymous tip" that the final piece he produced closely resembled something that already existed.

OK, if you're like me, you know that a lot of different furniture winds up looking a lot alike.  No one has an absolute patent on a straight-backed wooden chair, for example, so there are a zillion variations on that.  Does not ever surprise me to see one manufacturer's headboard design be reminiscent of another that I may have seen somewhere else.  Regardless of how derivative the furniture business is, the judges elected to disqualify this guy (check him out online) in favor of a childlike "prodigy" whose designs were, frankly, a little strange.

This reminds me of viewers of TV golf broadcasts who call in about what they view as potential rules violations, often leading to disqualification of players, etc.  Talk about interactive media!

Anyway, Ellen had Tim on her main show yesterday and said that she felt terrible about what happened and planned to "work with" him in some way.  I'd say that they guy got so much exposure, even though some was not entirely positive, that it can only help his unique furniture design business.  Find him online, look at his site, and tell me that you wouldn't want some of those goods in your home, too.

Two friends and former colleagues got news that they were going to lose their jobs this week.  So disappointing that companies continue to devalue the work and worth of capable, hard-working people.  Rooting for both of them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must marshal my strength for another round of shoveling!