Monday, July 30, 2012

The Vacation That Keeps on Costing


A favorite part of our afternoon routine is Mail Call. Our mail is delivered late in the day; more than once it was delivered after 6:00 p.m., but usually arrives between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. It is thoughtful of our mail carrier to work until deliveries are completed. I just wonder if there should be additional carrier(s) assigned in our town. But I realize the postal service, like so many big bureaucracies and corporations, is in financial straits.

However I am getting off subject…so one day recently hub and I congregate in the kitchen to review the mail. Usually we receive all junk mail – catalogs, advertisements from area stores, tantalizing credit card offers from local and national banks, airlines, stores, etc. Occasionally a magazine arrives we actually subscribe to and want to read. Then there are bills. I have transitioned to the electronic age, so most bills arrive via e-mail. Once in a long while we receive an invitation, thank you note or some other piece of real correspondence.

The other day I opened a business size envelope that I immediately jumped to the conclusion was junk mail.

I was wrong.

I took out the letter and glanced at it. It was a ticket – a speeding ticket. What caught my eye immediately was the place the transgression occurred: The New England Highway. I looked at the date – April 26th.

Wait a minute. We were in Australia. We were not in New England…

Then it hit me. The New England Highway is in Australia. We drove the road from Brisbane to Sydney during our Australian vacation.

A camera caught our rental car in the act of speeding. The New England Highway meanders through rural countryside and small towns. There are signs announcing lower speed limits as drivers cruise into populated areas. Hub, who was driving, missed the sign as we entered this particular community.

We were not barreling through the neighborhood at 90 mph. The speed limit was equivalent to 30 mph; we were driving about 40 mph.

Apparently the local municipality traced our vehicle to the rental car agency. The company willingly supplied our information. Then it was just a matter of time before the ticket was issued and sent halfway around the world.

We could challenge the ticket – in person. We quickly decided it was not practical for a number of reasons:

·      The driver must appear in person to contest the ticket. It would cost thousands of dollars to fly to Australia and go to court.
·     
What would our defense be? We were speeding…
·     
Hub has just a couple of vacation days left this year. It would be impossible to fly across the Pacific, appear in court (on a week day) and fly home again without using his remaining vacation time plus a couple of additional days.
·     
We could ignore and not pay the fine, but I want to return to Australia someday. Hub has a vision of a large picture of himself with a line through it strategically placed at all Australian customs windows. He would be handcuffed and marched off, required to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines plus penalties and interest for being overdue by several years. And who knows about jail time?

·      The rental car company has our credit card information. If we do not pay, the charge may suddenly appear on our card anyway.
·    
  Our name may be given to Interpol. Who knows where or when our next encounter with foreign, military, police or other powers might occur.
·     
A black mark may be placed on hub’s permanent record.
  
So we paid the ticket - $215. Not exactly small change.

And so our Australian Adventure, in a way, continues…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Angry, Mad, Crazy Economic Times


Scandals here, scandals there, scandals everywhere!

It is hard to find a financial institution today untainted by scandal. I have to wonder if this is a modern phenomenon, or the continuance of a common thread in our society. In better economic times we do not pay a lot of attention to the shenanigans of the big financial guys. They do their thing and we go about our daily lives. 

It is easier to make a lot of money in good times than bad. Problems can more easily be swept under the rug, hidden, made to disappear when the economy is soaring. Bernie Madoff pulled the wool over investors’ eyes for years. As times got tough and tougher, his time and his options ran out. The list of investors willing and able to give him money so he could pay other investors shrank. His house of cards collapsed.

Difficult economic times make it harder for financial firms to make big bucks, opening the door to less oversight and a willingness to take more chances.

Economic Booms and Busts

During flush times everyone wants their piece of the pie, whether unions, public employees, politicians, workers or corporate big shots.

As the economy worsens the top guys make the big bucks as they attempt to maneuver their corporate ship through difficult waters. Usually, however, this is accomplished at the expense of employees performing the everyday work of running the company. Massive layoffs and givebacks do not result in positive employee morale.

The economic history of our country is one of economic booms followed by busts. Before the Depression of the 1930s there was a series of Panics in the 1800s. Some were short-lived, others lasted years.

Life Goes On…

Americans have short memories. The good times of the 1990s fed false promises of lasting good times. But the good times turned sour. Is there anyone unaffected by the financial crisis, Great Recession, dismal job market and mortgage and housing disaster of the past five plus years?

Financial corruption may continue, there will inevitably be another scandal, people may (or more likely will not) go to jail, but life goes on. At some point – we probably will not realize when – the economic picture in the country will change for the better. We will be able to pinpoint that time in hindsight.

The Political Perspective

I believe harsh political pressures over the past few years skew our view of what is really happening in the country. The opposition (a.k.a. Republicans) declares the situation absolutely horrible, refuses to concede an inch on any issue, and hammers the public continually with their mantra of doom.

Consumer attitudes, confidence, and sentiment play a big part in how we see our world, spend our money and plan our futures.

If we believe the housing crisis persists, we will not buy a home.

If we believe our job is in jeopardy we will not spend discretionary dollars. We may not go on vacation. We hoard our money in case it is needed.

If we believe things are improving, or at least not as bad as the doomsayers suggest, we breathe a sigh of relief and spend a bit more. Take that vacation. Go shopping. Plan ahead with a sense of optimism and not foreboding.

The situation is worse during election and campaign periods. And it seems Republicans have been campaigning for four very long years.

I expect if the Republicans win the White House, all their dire predictions about the sky falling will stop.

I hope if the Democrats win Republicans reconcile themselves to four more Democratic Presidential years and work for a better economic future for everyone – sooner rather than later. Blocking everything an opponent suggests, whether philosophically acceptable or not, results in gridlock, deadlock and a standstill – politically and economically.

Whoever wins it is time to move on and move forward.

Here is a wild idea. Require a quiet period after elections. No politicking. No talking heads ranting against everything the opposition suggests and vilifying politicians.

Because before you know it, election season arrives and the acrimony level quickly rises once again.

I will raise my glass on Election Eve and offer a toast to political sanity and economic resurgence.

I can dream, can’t I?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer at its Best


For at least one day the persistent, intense heat dissipated. The humidity dropped. The sky appeared a clear, bright blue and a slight breeze cooled the skin. The temperature hovered in the low 80s.

Sunday was a perfect summer day.

It is not often a beautiful, picture-perfect summer day aligns with the time, energy and ability to enjoy the day outdoors. Even less frequently are we able to experience such a day with friends. But that is what occurred Sunday.

Once the guys were done watching the culmination of the Tour de France cycling race, we loaded two cars with kayaks, water bottles, suntan lotion, paddles, life jackets and a small dry bag with cash and a cell phone.
All photos by J. Fava.
I am on the left, Jane on the right. I think my outfit deserves some kind of award for worst water sport outfit of the year, or decade - or ever. 
We launched from the closest boat ramp, about a mile away. It took a few minutes to unload all the gear and get organized. Then we paddled out and began our journey along the canals and channels comprising the intercoastal waterway, kayaking calm waters.
The journey begins.
We passed men crabbing in the bay and small fishing boats with some people fishing, but most along for the ride just hanging out, enjoying the day. We spotted folks sunbathing, men and women working up a sweat tending their garden, and kids of all ages swimming and carrying on in the water. We witnessed ducks and birds diving for their meal and watched osprey and other birds swoop over us.

Motorboats and skidoos whizzed by, creating a wake washing over our boats. We got soaked, but the water felt good.

Stopping to get out of our kayaks and stretch, we ate lunch on the deck of a bar/restaurant. The café provides a dock for hungry boaters and we took advantage of their hospitality.
Paddling the intercoastal, windmills in the background. 
Our day on the water ended about 5:30 p.m. We loaded the cars and drove home, exhausted but thrilled with our day together feasting on the glory that is summer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Summer Travel Days


Day One

Following a week with my son, his almost-one-year-old daughter (a.k.a. my granddaughter) and dog, it was time to say goodbye. But this would not be a quick farewell. I was accompanying them on their trip home.

Mom missed this vacation week at the shore. She had to work. No one wanted Jason to make the nine+ hours trip home accompanied only by baby and dog.  I volunteered to go along for the ride.

We left the house 9:30 a.m. Monday morning - naptime. Baby sleeps, dog sits quietly next to her in the back seat and Jason and I listen to podcasts (my son’s idea; I do not own an iPod or i-anything).

An hour later baby wakes and becomes restless. We pull into a rest stop and switch seats. Oliver (a.k.a. dog) jumps into the front passenger seat. I get in the back and entertain baby.

We stop at my sister’s for lunch. Baby plays and crawls around.

Afternoon naptime, about 3:30 p.m., everyone piles back in the car.

An hour later baby is once again awake and stirring. We pull into a rest stop. This time Dad gets in back, I get behind the wheel and Oliver gets the front passenger seat again. We drive another couple of hours.

Dinnertime! Restaurant stop. Baby enjoys dinner, a bottle and gets changed into PJs. Jason and I eat dinner. We climb back in the car.

Baby falls asleep and snoozes for the remainder of the trip, another three hours.

Our journey finally ends at 11:00 p.m. Nine hours of driving plus stops to care for baby and to feed adults, and father, daughter and dog reunite with Mom.

Day Two

My itinerary includes a flight from Columbus OH to La Guardia airport (NYC), another flight from La Guardia to Philadelphia, and a one hour drive home. The one stop trip was the cheapest available – a nonstop flight was costlier.

Everything went smoothly. I was leery of traveling via La Guardia, remembered as an antiquated airport. But things are looking up. I landed at Terminal C, a bright, clean, new facility. I then walked over to a bus departing for terminal D, an even newer terminal. The walkway between terminals is under construction.

Terminal D pioneers the future for air travelers. There are a variety of small shops and food vendors and an ample supply of high tables outfitted with iPods and electrical outlets scattered throughout the terminal. Travelers can also sit at a bar or restaurant table, enjoy drinks and food and surf on their own computer or the iPods.

The flight from La Guardia to Philly is short – you can drive the route in a couple of hours. Well, not really, because of traffic. Crows can do it in that time. Planes too. Not cars.

I took a car service from the Philly airport back home. I could have taken two trains and a bus, but after two days of traveling, well, enough is enough.

I detoured to my favorite pizza etcetera store on my way home and bought some wings for dinner. I walked home, cut up some tomatoes and cucumbers, sat down with my computer, wings, veggies and dip and enjoyed. Or indulged might be a better word. Actually both.

So now all is quiet on the home front, at least temporarily. I am home alone for an evening. Hub is on a business trip and returns tomorrow.

I will spend some time helping the house recover from a week of family, friends and assorted others.

Friends arrive this weekend for a concert and kayaking.

The Colorado Crew descends in two and a half weeks.

I will enjoy the calm before the tumult begins – again.

And I cannot wait.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Plane Travel and What Not to Wear


It is important to dress comfortably for plane travel. Nowadays one never knows when hours might be spent hunched in airline terminal seats, waiting for your plane to finally load and take off.

Or you might nestle yourself comfortably in a tight plane seat, only to find yourself looking out the window at the runway for what seems like an interminable amount of time as mechanical problems or other delays force your plane to remain on the ground for an extended period of time.

Or you could find yourself stranded in a city between flights. The initial flight was cancelled/delayed/aborted/hijacked/hit by a strike – whatever – and you must find a semi-comfortable place to lay your weary head and the rest of your body until you can either reach your destination or return home.

Or you can be subject to a TSA pat down.

This past weekend I took a one-hour flight to Boston. I dressed for travel and wore what I thought was a very comfortable, practical outfit - a pair of loose fitting capris, matching T shirt and long-sleeved top. I usually get cold on planes.

The outfit had small rivets/snaps/studs (I am not sure what they are called) on the pants and blouse. It never occurred to me these small objects would set off a state-of-the-art security system.
My travel outfit 
But they did.

The airport security line was short and moved quickly. After taking off my sandals, belt, long-sleeved shirt and a couple of bracelets, I put my backpack on the conveyor belt and entered the human scanning machine.

I set my feet on the yellow footpads, placed my hands over my head, and a couple of seconds later walked out.

The TSA guy strode forward and told me to stand on a second set of footpads.

Then another TSA guy said I would need a pat down. 

I had set off the TSA alarm system. 

A woman employee walked over and gathered my belongings – backpack, belt, jewelry, shirt, and sandals. Then we moved over to the side of the room. I could have a private pat down, but decided it was unnecessary.

The TSA woman explained exactly what was going to happen. She would pat down my entire body, including my breasts and inside my thighs. She donned gloves and told me what she was going to do, then proceeded to do the pat down, one section of my body after another.

It did not take long.

I was not hiding any contraband - no drugs, bombs, books (luckily I left my recently acquired copy of Fifty Shades of Grey home) or other stuff. Nothing (except fat cells) was hidden in my undergarments. Nothing was sewn into my clothes (the last time I sewed anything I was pregnant with my first child. He is now 36).

After we were done the woman explained that, in the future, to avoid another similar episode, I should wear the ‘in’ outfit for today’s savvy traveler:

”…Stretch pants and a plain T shirt.”

The T-shirt I can wear.

Stretch pants in public, I don’t think so. 


Ever.


I'll take my chances with the TSA crowd.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Storms, Summer Heat, No Electricity – Again


A powerful thunderstorm ripped through our area in the dark hours early Saturday morning. Everyone heard it – the thunder, the wind whipping through the trees, the heavy rain on the roof. It did not last long, however, and we rolled over and went back to sleep.

Morning light revealed the real picture of the storm’s devastation. There was no electricity. The digital clock was dark. The TV did not operate. The lights did not work.

The entire block was electricity-less. It quickly became apparent most of our town and large swaths of the county were not only without electricity, but severe wind damage had downed huge trees, clogging roads and causing wide-ranging havoc. We had a few tiles ripped from our roof, but no major damage.

A large tree at the end of our block fell. Here are a couple of pictures as the clean up crew cut down the tree, opening the street for traffic and removing broken limbs from power lines.


The sidewalk was completely upended; homeowners are now responsible for fixing the damaged walkway.
Apparently out of 150,000 customers in our county, 130,000 were without electricity immediately after the storm. Four days later many customers remain in the dark.

Our power returned 8:00 p.m. Sunday night. It was a momentous occasion. Word quickly spread a power truck was working at the end of the street. Everyone came out on the sidewalk, watching, hopeful. Suddenly, in the evening dusk, lights came on. A collective cheer went up.  A few moments later a girl ran out of one of the houses yelling, “I have wifi!” Life was good again.

Luckily I had not restocked the freezer from our last electricity outage less than three weeks earlier. We bought bags of ice to keep food cold. Sunday night we invited friends over and grilled chicken, burgers, and vegetables, recognizing the food was not going to keep long-term. It was difficult to continue obtaining ice – everyone needed it.

Today all is back to normal, almost, in our little part of the world. The recreation center where I exercise remains closed and powerless. The day camp closed yesterday (Monday), but the staff managed to find alternate off-site locations and activities, and camp opened today.

Hopefully everyone has electricity restored by the holiday tomorrow. 

Happy Fourth of July!