Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympic Thought for the Day

I was watching the live feed of the men's 4 x 100 freestyle relay, where the commentary is provided by folks who seem a lot less America-centric than the folks doing commentary on NBC's prime time coverage.  And as the teams came out, one of the commentators pointed out what was, when she mentioned it, kind of obvious:  Every other team came out and raised their hands together or did something else vaguely team-like, but the American team "looked like four individuals."

And they did.  They really did.  They didn't look at each other or do anything to indicate they were aware of each other's presence.  Just four guys who apparently don't get along too well, each engaged in his own pre-swimming ritual, with no speck of teamwork or camaraderie to be seen.

And I was reminded of the other big Olympics story from this morning -- that Jordyn Wieber failed to make the Olympic All-Around competition, because, although she did really well, two of her teammates did even better, and there's a "max of two athletes per country" rule.  The news stories helpfully tell us that Wieber burst into tears when she saw that the second of her teammates had outscored her, and the internet is covered with pictures confirming it.

And that seems to be the problem, really.  Look, I get that all the female gymnasts want to be the next Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson or Shannon Miller or Mary Lou Retton or whomever -- medalling in the Olympic All-Around is pretty much a write-your-own-ticket for an American gymnast.  And I also get that Jordyn is something like 17, and this is an awful lot of pressure for a kid in her position.  So, yeah, she's disappointed, I get it.  But I also get that (despite NBCOlympic's headline "Wieber's Olympic Dream Dashed,") this is not, in fact, the end of the world.  Wieber didn't get injured; she didn't have a questionable drug test; there was no family tragedy she had to run home for.  She's still in the Olympics.  Hell, the U.S. is still in good position to win a team medal, if not the gold.  Wieber, in fact, has also qualified for the event final in floor, so she's even got a shot at an individual medal.  Hardly a dream dashed. 

But bursting into tears because your teammate (and, supposedly, really good friend) had the qualification round of her life and now has a legitimate shot at the All-Around title herself?  Really?  Wieber should be Aly Raisman's biggest cheerleader, not crying over her friend's success.

There's a lesson for the U.S. Ladies' Gymnastics Team in the results of the 4 x 100 relay:  stop being five individuals and start being a damn team.*

*If you really want, you can stop being a team on Wednesday.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I wuv my car.

Oh, how I've missed my car.

It's so nice to have it back.  Now I'm thinking that maybe I don't need to go car shopping.  Maybe I need to run this thing into the ground because I really really enjoy driving it.

(Two and a half days in the wrong rental will do that to you.)

Amazingly, I have nothing but happy news to report.  Nelson (eventually) called me back to report that after $310 worth of electrical testing, they'd decided the problem was the battery.  (Never mind that this is what I thought it was when I first brought the car in.)  When he told me how much the new battery would cost, I pointed out that I'd just replaced the battery a year or two ago at the other Ford place.  Nelson called the other Ford place and discovered that, yes, my battery was, in fact, under warranty.  This meant I would not be charged for the new battery.

Or the $310 diagnostic.

Or the rental car.

The entire experience (save $15 worth of gas the Eclipse drank) was free, thanks to the battery still being under warranty.  Indeed, my crappy battery got me a free full electrical tune-up and a car wash.  I kind of stopped being annoyed at this point.

(I even let the rental car place off the hook.  I'd taken the rental agent's business card and she confirmed that the address on the card was where I was, as I figured I'd need to plug that into my gps to return the car.  Imagine my surprise when my gps guided me to ... the Fresh & Easy.  Luckily, I found the correct address on my rental contract and it was only a few minutes away.  Still, when rental car guy asked me if I was totally satisfied with my rental car experience, I said, "well, there was this one thing," and pointed out the agent's out-of-date cards, sitting in a stack on the desk.  Dude was mortified.  Totally apologetic and said he hoped this wouldn't stop me from saying I was "completely satisfied" when I get that "how did we do?" phone call from Enterprise.  I assured him that it wouldn't -- of everyone I've dealt with in the past few days (including Verizon, and this other business that will not return my damn phone calls) these guys were the only ones genuinely trying to deliver good customer service.  When I left, I'm pretty sure the guy started ordering new business cards for the agent.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fun Continues

About ten minutes after I posted the last, I was on the phone with Verizon customer service (don't ask), and the phone died.  So did the computer to which it was attached.  And everything else remotely electrical in the house.  Great.  Power failure.

(On the plus side, I can't exercise!  No getting on the Elliptical when it isn't plugged in.)

I think the very first thing I ought to do is take a shower while there's still some hot water left in the pipes.

This, in fact, is an absolutely brilliant thought -- unless you, like me, have a tankless water heater.  There is just enough hot water left in the pipes to convince you to get yourself wet (and covered with soap and shampoo) before the icy cold water comes in and mocks you.  

"Why," I wondered "would I be perfectly happy jumping into a cold swimming pool, but my entire body rebels at the ice cold shower?"  I wondered this a lot.  I continued wondering it until I was shivering, wrapped in a towel, and not using a hair dryer.

Figured I might as well get a start on the day.  Test drive a Prius and all that.  The Eclipse was in my garage -- I know the garage door opener won't work, but it has a manual override.  I pull the tab to manually override, and haul the door open.  It rolls partway back down.  I haul it open and push upward as hard as I can.  It rolls partway down again.  

Maybe I'm not pushing it hard enough.  I get a ladder outside (as the door is partway open), stand on the ladder, and push the bottom of the door as hard as I can up onto the track.  It goes as far as it can (I hear a thud) and then rolls partway down again.  This is not good.

I call the garage door customer service people.  They actually have a live human being answering the phone, but all she can tell me is that she can put me down for a service call tomorrow.  Her door, she cheerfully reports, stays up when she manually shoves it up there.  I thank her and hang up.  I dig up my owner's manual to make sure I'm not doing anything wrong.  Nope.  Door should stay up.  Door won't stay up.

(I am now sweaty and greasy from all this door shoving, but if you think I'm taking another shower, you're f*cking crazy.)

I consider asking a neighbor to help me hold the door up while I back the Eclipse out of there, but nobody is in their yards and I'd feel like a moron knocking on a door for this.  I consider the ladder.  I push the door up and then let it fall lightly on the top of the ladder.  The ladder appears to hold it.  Of course, the ladder is in the center and I'll need to put it off to one side if I want to back the car out, but the experiment looks positive.  I pull the ladder back into the garage and make sure it is, in fact, taller than the car.  It is.  By at least a foot.  I am, for what is probably the one and only time in my life, grateful that I've rented this stupid Eclipse, as I don't think any other car would have been short enough to get out of my ladder-propped garage door.

I place the ladder in its position and crank up the Eclipse -- I have visions of catastrophic ladder failure and the garage door smashing down on the top of the rental car on which I declined the damage coverage -- and back the damn thing out of there as fast as possible.  Victory is mine!  I quickly remove the ladder and close up the garage.

Off to the Toyota dealer, where the salesdude lost interest in me in record time....

Salesdude:  Can I help you?
Me:  Just looking today.  Wanted to take a look at the Prius V.
Salesdude:  Looking to buy or lease?
Me:  Buy, but not right now.
Salesdude:  Will you have a car to trade in?
Me:  Yes.
Salesdude:  What kind?
Me:  Ford Escape Hybrid.
Salesdude:  Is it here?
Me:  No.
Salesdude:  Do you want to go get it so we can get started?
Me:  Not today.
Salesdude:  [disappears into a puff of smoke]

There was, obviously, no test drive.  I can give you impressions of the car's interior (seat is lower than the Escape, and higher than the Eclipse -- but what isn't?) but that's about it.

Off to a traditional barbecue with friends, which I left early on account of having emailed my next-door neighbor to see if the power was back on, and received a reply that their power never went off.  Afraid the problem was isolated to my house (weird, as I had checked the electrical panel), I drove home to check things out, and happily discovered my power had come back on.  (And based on the wrong time the clock was blinking, the power had come back on about 15 minutes after I'd left the house.)  Fed the cat and went to see Spider-Man, a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Car Trouble

Generally, when I lock my car with the key fob, the car sounds like this:  thunk (doors locking), hmm (alarm system doing its thing), arf (horn sounding).

The other day, when I locked my car with the key fob, it went:  thunk, hum, hum, hum.

I thought, "That's odd."  I locked and unlocked it a few times.  I opened the car door and sounded the horn to make sure that was working.  Eventually, locking the car, I got:  thunk, hmm, hmm, tiny arf.

I resolved to take the car in, but since this was just the alarm, I figured it could wait.  Until maybe next weekend.  Indeed, the next day, when I locked it after driving to work, it went thunk, hmm, arf, just like the good old days.

The following day -- yesterday -- I get in the car to drive to work.  Upon turning the key in the ignition, the car (which usually goes click click click VROOM), went click click click click click click vroom??  This was not good.  Realizing the stupidity of the move while I did it, I turned the car off and restarted.  Again, click click click click click click vroom??  

Shit.  I had to take the car in.

I called the one Ford dealer which had replaced the battery before, but their service department didn't even answer the phone.  I called the other one where I had previously serviced my car, and Nelson over there told me to bring the car right in.  I did.  The car seemed oddly sluggish on the drive, but that could have been my imagination.

Drove the car in.  Pulled up in the line at service, where one Tommy asked me what was wrong with the car.  I explained the situation with the alarm and the starting.  Tommy told me to turn off the car and restart it.  I did.  Car went click click click click click click vroom??   Tommy said, "Starts fine."

I decided Tommy was a moron.  I said, "I hope you're kidding."

Tommy walks me inside and starts to write up a service ticket.  It'll take him an hour and $27 to run a diagnostic on the car.  OK.  When Tommy puts me in the computer, he realizes that I have an appointment with Nelson.  He now no longer has any interest in me or my car.  (Do they pay the service guys on commission?)  He tells me to wait in the lounge.  (The "lounge" is six chairs facing a wall-mounted TV, and a coffee maker sitting atop a small fridge with water bottles.)  I ask Tommy if I'm going to get a copy of the service order.  He says Nelson will bring it to me and to go to the lounge.

I go to the lounge.  Time passes.  A lot of it.  More than an hour, in fact.  I go back to the service desk, say I'd like to know what's up with my car, and why didn't I even get a copy of my paperwork.

Tommy comes out to see what the trouble is, and then says I'm Nelson's customer.

Nelson comes out (hooray!) and I tell him what's going on.  He apologizes, makes a note to yell at Tommy for not even giving me a copy of the service order (which Nelson finally does -- and I note it says nothing about the problem with the alarm) and says the tech has finished with my car so let's ask him what's up.

(I tell Nelson that I'm not at all amused that, if I hadn't taken the initiative to find him, I would still be sitting in the lounge for HOURS with nobody bothering to alert me to the status of my car.  Nelson half apologizes (and calls me "mija") and talks to the tech.)

The tech says he's decided the problem is electrical.  He knows this because the lights dim when he starts the car.  Beyond that, he can't find it.  He needs to do a full electric investigation of the car -- tear the car down and check out every connection (did I mention it's a hybrid? -- so I expect it has more electrical connections than your standard vehicle).  This will take three to four hours and cost over $300.  And he doesn't even know if he'll be able to fix the problem today -- as it could be something for which he'd have to order a part.  Nelson asks if I want a ride home a rental car.

Rental car please.

Nelson calls Enterprise and says they'll send someone right over.

I realize there's stuff I'll need from my car.  Nelson escorts me over to my car (where it is waiting with six other cars, on which nobody is working), and I take out the car cradle for my cell phone. (Mandatory so I can use the phone's gps).  I go back and wait for Enterprise.  Then I realize that I'm going to drive to work, and I'll need my parking garage card.  I go back into the service bay and retrieve the parking garage card.  Realizing, also, that they might have the car for a couple days (what with it being July 3), I also take the remote for my garage at home.  I am very proud of myself for this.

Enterprise eventually comes (about 25 minutes after they've been called).  She doesn't so much apologize as explain that they've only got two people working and they're slammed.  She drives me over to the place, fills out my paperwork, and offers me a choice of cars.

They're out of compacts and subcompacts, so they'll offer me a "free upgrade" to a Mitsubishi Eclipse.  That's a sports coupe.  I normally drive a small SUV, because I like the height of it, and they're offering me a car that's about three feet tall.  My other option (since she knows I like to drive "a taller car") is a Ford F-150.  It's rather large -- taking up a parking space and a half in the Enterprise lot.

Thinking I would never be able to park the F-150, I take the Eclipse.  I crank the seat up all the way in it, and I still can't see over the hood as much as I'd like.  I very nearly ask the Enterprise woman for a phone book to sit on, but eventually just roll up my jacket underneath me.  I can see out this thing, but I'm so low, I'm actually looking up at VW Beetles.

It as at this point that I realize -- despite my two trips to take necessary contents out of my car -- that the mechanic still has my entire key ring, and wouldn't it be nice to have my house keys?  So, I drive the Eclipse (which I desperately want to call a Mitsubishi POS, but having previously rented a Diamante, I know that name is already taken) back to the Ford dealer, and reclaim my keys.  I note that they still haven't started on my car.

I drive the Eclipse to work (on a freeway! the damn thing does 0-60 in about ... a week, and it corners so badly I nearly flew off a cloverleaf, which I was taking at speeds slower than I usually do.  Think about that -- this thing has a center of gravity outrageously low to the ground, but an SUV can handle corners better.)  Anyway, I get to the office (it is so low that, in order to get into the parking garage, I have to hold the parking card out the window straight up in the air) and put in a few hours of work.  (Before that, I got in the elevator to get out of the parking garage.  The elevator went all the way down to the first floor exit, but the doors didn't open, and it then decided to turn around and take me for an unplanned ride to the top floor.  This seemed representative of the way the day was going.)

Around 4:00, I call Nelson to get a status update on my car.  He isn't in, so I leave a message.  About a half hour later, he calls me back -- saying it's a "courtesy call" to let me know how my car is.  (Dude, when I called you a half hour ago asking the question, calling me back isn't a courtesy; it's your damn job.)  And, my car is, as yet, still undiagnosed.  I am told the tech is still checking it over one connection at a time, and he hasn't found the problem.  (I'm guessing this is probably because he just started.)  So Nelson will get back to me Thursday morning.  Happy Fourth of July.  Enjoy the Eclipse.

The funny thing is, I'd just been investigating replacing my car.  I drive an Escape hybrid, which Ford has discontinued.  In Ford's infinite wisdom, they are replacing it with their C-Max Energi, which hasn't been released yet.  So, I mean, while I'm used to service departments telling me to go stroll around the showroom while I'm waiting for my car, there's no point in Ford doing this, because they really have no car to sell me, and they know it.  (I can't tell you how stupid Ford is being with discontinuing the Eclipse hybrid -- because, honestly, there is NO compact hybrid SUV in that price range in the market now.)  It sounds like the best bet out there for me is the Prius V (the "crossover" Prius -- the actual sticker refers to it as a "wagon," but the advertising avoids the word).  I'm not entirely sure it's tall enough for me, though.  I'm thinking of taking one on a test drive today, but since I'll be coming from the Eclipse, I imagine I'll love anything I don't need a ladder to climb out of.