Thursday, April 29, 2010

Small Things In The Road

Driving on 11th Street this morning, I waited at a light (I think near Irving). As the light changed, I got ready to move, put my car into gear, and heard a cry from a child on the side of 11th. I glanced to my right just in time to see a child no more than 2 feet tall stride directly in front of my car.

I could literally only just see his head above the hood of my car. He was no more than a foot in front of me. If I had a bigger car I might never have seen him at all. If I hadn't heard his friend calling for him, I might never have looked to my right before starting off when the light changed. He was marching directly across the road in front of a green light.

I don't know what made him decide to cross just as the light turned. There was no crossing guard. A few other kids were on either side of the road. I formed some theories in my head. Perhaps he had gotten in a fight with his friend, and broken ranks. I watched the child stride across the road with such determination and purpose. His head never moved from it's forward stance. He looked straight across, the traffic lights, cars, and other kids crying out for him to stop, ignored.

This was a solemn reminder of the importance of everyone on the road taking as much care as possible all the time. This child was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was lucky because I had my windows rolled down, heard his friend, saw him. He could have been unlucky. He would not have survived being driven over by something that had no idea he was there. A bicycle, too, could have caused him grave injury, so small was his size. Most people don't look for things that are about 2 feet tall in the road.

Take care out there no matter what the circumstances, no matter what you're riding in or on. Accidents don't just happen when you are speeding or running through red lights, they can happen when you are stopped too. Look out for things that haven't yet learned how to keep themselves safe.

Small Victories

asylum-lawnmowingWhat should my wondering eyes behold this morning, but the sound of a lawnmower at the Asylum! Could it be? It could. And it is. The grass was being cut this morning. Thanks to Jim Graham and DRES for following through. I'm hoping this won't be a one-time event, but it has been added to the schedule so it will continue to be maintained until the building's eventual fate is determined. The lights are still on. That's too bad, but at least it's no longer a blight and an eyesore.

I've been sick for almost a week. It wasn't that bad for the first few days, so I thought I would fight it off. Then I guess my body gave up the fight a couple days ago, because it got bad, but I think the worst is over now. I don't get sick very often, and as a result am typically a very cranky sick person. This spring I've gotten sick twice and that has not made me happy at all. I'm not sure if this is a result of age, lack of exercise (I haven't been running for almost a year because of various foot injuries), or just bad luck, but the novelty has worn off. I'm over it.

Roof CatsOther than that, life's good in the city. Winter seems to have returned, which the houseplants have been none too happy about since I moved them to the front porch. I brought the banana tree back inside since half of its leaves have turned brown... doh.

Grass is growing in the front yard, which is no small miracle since the soil around here is about 90% clay. The azaleas are blooming, and despite what the Washington Post says, they are gorgeous. "Time to dump azaleas?" Huh? Are you just being contrary for the sake of being contrary? What next, "We're over eating out?" "Sick of Monuments?" Jebus. It's a flowering shrub, not a fashion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Would The Last Person Please Turn Out The Lights?

No Mowing, Lots of LightsMy mother used to say that a lot. That was long before anyone ever heard of "global warming" and "multi-trillion dollar defecits." It was just basic, sound financial advice: don't waste electricity by leaving the lights on when you're not there.

The District of Columbia could really use a mother right now. This morning, while walking the dog in the dawn hours, I realized the lights were still on at 1125 Spring Road NW. This is the DC-owned facility which I wrote about about two weeks ago, that has been "permanently closed" since November. Though you wouldn't know that from DC's web site, or the DC Court System's web site.

In my previous post, I wondered why DC thought it was OK to shut down a city-owned facility spanning almost two blocks, and at the same time stop mowing the grass, picking up trash, or shoveling the sidewalks. See, when private property owners do the same, several bad things happen:

  • They start getting taxed at the "blighted property" rate of 10% annually
  • They get ticketed and fined for failing to maintain the grounds
  • If the building is big enough, they get a lot of heat because a lot of people complain about it

But it's good to be the king, isn't it? Because you can do all the same bad stuff, without repercussions, that you bust other people for doing.

Anyways, I have a suggestion for DC. This is a win-win for everyone and it won't cost you a nickel.

Shut off the damn lights, and with the money you save, hire someone to mow the lawn every two weeks.

Given that about half the lights in this facility of at least 50,000 square feet are on, I'd say you'll have some money left over.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Social Marketing A Victory For All

On Friday, I went to a "brown bag" lunch in which a marketing firm gave us a presentation about new media marketing, that is, social marketing. Or "social" as the lingo appears to be when referring to outreach via facebook, blogs, twitter, and so on.

This is not a company logo. It is
a photograph of the coolest dog toy ever.
This was interesting and timely, given my last post which complained about a problem I had with PEPCO. A PEPCO rep responded to my post in the comments mere hours after I made the post. While I typically have a cycnical attitude about big-company marketing/public relations efforts, I left this presentation with a good feeling. Not so much about the marking firm (they seemed very knowledgable, though), but about the overall effects of social networking and marketing in terms of how consumers and big organizations interact.

Anyone who's been around more than ten or twenty years has probably witnessed the slow deterioration of this thing called "customer service" in favor of automation, outsourcing, deferring. Big companies seem to make it as hard as possible for an individual to communicate directly with someone, or at least someone knowledgable, when they have a problem. They shunt you through complex automated phone trees, web sites, and support systems, that place a huge burden on the end-user to solve the problem themselves.

Even though most consumers find this frustrating and mind-bogglingly difficult, there is some rationale for companies to do this. Even if it takes an average consumer 10 times as long to get through a support issue, and even if only 1 out of those 5 consumers can actually get their problem solved without speaking to a real person anyway, you've just saved 20% in labor costs. Because automated system cost virtually nothing to operate on a per-user basis, whereas people cost real dollars. You're shifting the cost of support to the end user.

But the advent of social networking, which has put a soapbax in the hands of everyman, and Google, which can turn a speck of dust on the Internet into a first-page search result when the right conditions are met, have changed all this. Companies can no longer afford to ignore their customers, because more and more, they will share their bad experiences. And this information gets attached to their name for a very long time online. Savvy companies are reacting by being more proactive, like PEPCO did to my blog post.

This is still just marketing. They are being driven by the bottom line - by doing a better job of managing their online "reputation" companies will sell more. The PR guy on Friday told us that stuides have shown that people who "like" something on Facebook are statistically more likely to buy that brand in the future. That's real money.

So money may still be at the bottom line, but this is America. There's nothing wrong with making money. It's nice to see a shift in the relationship between consumers and big business that is shifting the balance of power back to something more reasonable. Consumers have a voice online, and the evolving technology has made that voice one that can't be ignored. It's a win for consumers, and I think most companies will find that they benefit as organizatons by nurturing their customers this way, rather than doing their best to spend as little time as possible on them after the sale.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

PEPCO, Still For The Birds

Parrots 1PEPCO, why do you hate me so? I am, by all rights, one of your most loyal customers. I run a space heater well into the summertime. Sometimes even at the same time as an air conditioner. I have more computers in my house than IBM. Was it the compact flourescent light bulbs? The insulation? What did I do?

It has been a year since my last run-in with PEPCO, so I suppose it was just going too well.

I have had my electric bill set to "auto-pay" since I am incompetent when it comes to administrative matters. This ensures that the bill will be paid on time, and the power will keep flowing. A week ago, I noticed that the emails they send me, advising me how much was going to be automatically deducted, seemed to be getting larger and larger. How did I use $409.22 worth of electricity in March? I dutifully logged on to my PEPCO online account, only to discover that my bill was no longer being paid automatically.

PEPCO had revised their online account system, apparently, and turned off my auto-bill-pay. If they told me about this, I obviously missed it. I went through an annoying, painfully slow process to basically entirely re-register again and tried to pay my bill online.

The web site refused to accept my payment, simply saying "there was an error." I double-checked and triple-checked every detail. My bank account and routing numbers. Name and address. Everything was right to the last apostrophe.

So I wrote an email to their online service center with the following question:

I have tried to pay my bill using your new online system, and it will not accept my payment. After I enter my bank account and routing numbers, and click "pay," it says "there was an error and your payment could not be processed." Can you please help me? What might be causing this problem?

After receiving no response for two days, I paid PEPCO using the relatively archaic "online banking" method, in which my bank pushes a payment to them, instead of them retreiving one automatically. But I wept to myself slightly, as it meant I would now have to remember to do something each month. I secretly hoped PEPCO would respond and return me to the joy of automatic deduction.

Then today, eight (8) days after my original inquiry, PEPCO responded! I had the following message in my inbox.

Date: Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 8:03 AM
Subject: Pepco On-line - Contact Us

Thank you for contacting Pepco. I apologize for the delay in
our response and for the difficulty you have experienced with
our web site. I have requested the password for your Energy
Know How/Web Account to be reset. You will receive the information
via e-mail. When you get the e-mail, click the link in the e-mail
to re-enable the web account.

If further assistance is needed, please contact us again at


Internet Representative
Customer Care


Connie, I appreciate your response to my inquiry. But did you actually read it? Nowhere did I say I was having trouble logging in - in fact it should have been absurdly obvious that I could log in since I was trying (and failing) to pay my effing bill!

Ah, PEPCO, how do I hate thee.

Resolution: Pepco Telephone Support Is Actually Good

Obviously, at this point I had no choice but to call them or have my electric service terminated. I steeled myself for what I assumed would be a long and frustrating experience.

The opposite was true. After being on hold for a mere 3 minutes, I spoke to someone who was knowledgable and helpful. The nice woman did the following things:

  • Combined my two pepco accounts into a single log-in
  • Knew why the online payment wasn't working and told me what to do to fix it (use Internet Explorer... you'd think that if their system wasn't cross-browser compatible they would mention that somewhere on the site)
  • Walked me through the entire process to be sure everything was working
  • Waived the late fees

Honestly, that was one of the better customer-service experiences I've ever had. If only their Internet customer service (and IT department) was as good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Things: WARL and Old Timey Desserts

In continuing with my promise to post every day, or at least every weekday, I present you with two Good Things.

Teenage DogFirst is our dog. I have resisted the temptation to be that annoying new baby/ puppy/ iguana owner who subjects their friends to pictures of their new family member on a daily or hourly basis. But because I don't have any new incidents related to crime, my neighborhood, or drunken debauchery to report today, and I have sworn of bashing cyclists for good, I am succumbing to that desire and posting dog pictures.

WARL is awesome.

The first picture is Jumby, our six-month old terrier. Or "terrorist," as our dog training instructor says, might be more appropriate. We started "basic manners" class on Saturday morning at the Washington Animal Rescue League. I had never been to their Oglethorpe Street NW facility before, but I have never seen a nicer animal shelter. Actually, it's nicer than some Holday Inns I've stayed at. Our first session was without Jumby (it was an orientaton) and the instructor was funny and knowledgable. I have high hopes that we will be able to get the little spitfire in line. Jumby is badly behaved, so we have some concerns that we could get kicked out if he doesn't do well on leash around several other dogs. Luckily it sounds like many of the other participants also have small, smart, annoying terrier-mixes so hopefully we won't be the worst dog in the group. My plan is to run him for an hour before class so he's tired, and starve him so he's hungry and will do anything for treats.

Root Beer Floats are awesome.

Root Beer FloatI have suffered from a horrible sweet tooth lately. The result has been that I've reverted to making all sorts of crazy desserts and midnight snacks that seem more appropriate for a stoned college student. I am not stoned, I swear. But one of the things I had forgotten from my youth is root beer floats. Man are these things good. The vanilla ice cream seems to have some kind of chemical reaction with the soda that creates frothy, fizzy deliciousness of a most unique kind. Highly recommend picking up some root beer and ice cream if you haven't had one lately.

I have also been moderately obsessed with chocolate milkshakes. Just sayin'.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Larry King: One Ring To Rule Them All...

All seven of them, that is.

You know, you'd think by now that women would realize that swearing an oath on that ring doesn't come with any guarantees.

Larry King's getting divorced again, and his wife claims that he slept with her little sister. That's just wrong, and as far as I'm concerned puts him in the Woody Allen category of hooking up with relatives of your partner. Of course Woody Allen actually married his girlfriend's daughter, so he still wins, but still.

Now that he's taken off the ring, we can finally see the invisible man as he really is.


Frodo: "You swore! You swore on the precious! Sméagol promised!"

Gollum: "Sméagol lied."

Grass, Weeds, Pork & Beans

Man, I love me some pork & beans. There's something about that delicious, sweet combination that is irresistable and delectable. Alone, beans are mere sustenance, a compact protein delivery system. But with a few hunks of pork fat, melted deliciously into the bowl of beans... is there anything that pork can't do?

Just wanted to share that with you.

Bad Grass.

There's this place we call "The Asylum" near where I live. It's at 1125 Spring Road NW, and until November 2009, was a DC mental health clinic of some kind. It was shut down as part of the privatization of DC's health services.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad generally, but specifically, it is bad. The is because DC apparently believes that when you close a facility, you are no longer responsible for its upkeep. This began in February, when the Asylum was no longer worthy of having its sidewalks plowed.

The below photograph is facing West from 10th and Spring. I am standing in the gloriously cleared sidewalk in front of the Raymond Elementary School. Ahead of me is the absolutely ignored sidewalk in front of the Asylum, and the attached Paul Robeson School, which has been closed much longer.


While I was happy that the children would be safe on the sidewalks in front of Raymond, I wondered how they would traverse the expanse from 13th Street to the school's entrance, since DC no longer saw fit to plow it.

Now, spring has come! Hooray! And man, does the grass grow fast. And the weeds. I love pork & beans - but I hate tall grass. There's all manner of dog poop, trash, and last time I was there, a dead pigeon. And nobody to take care of it.

I used to keep a pretty good handle on the trash there, because it's where I walked our dogs. Used to walk our dogs. Since the grass is now about a foot tall, it's not much of an option any more. Groundskeeper Willy seems to have moved on to greener pastures, and since it's not really safe to walk your dog through tall grass concealing all manner of unmentionables, I no longer pick up the trash there. It's getting pretty crazy, actually, and it's only halfway through April!

For shame, DC. If this was a privately owned building, the owner would undoubtedly have a collection of citations to show for it by now.

Considering how many schools have closed in recent years, can we expect that the same treatment has been given to every unoccupied, yet DC-owned, facility? This is bad for neighborhoods, bad for trash, bad for public health, bad for crime.

Good Grass!

On the positive side, I planted grass in my front yard a couple weeks ago, and it's started to sprout! Given the rocky, clay-like nature of the soil, this seems a small miracle. I hope to have a wonderful, Hank Hill-like yard soon, where I will relax, drink beer, and say "Yep." for no particular reason.

If it doesn't work out, I plan to cut sod from the front of the Asylum instead.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cycling Tragedy, and Moving Forward

Bike Red Light RunnerThis week has not been a good one for cyclists. A commuter was killed in an accident with a security vehicle realted to the nuclear summit that took place earlier this week. In New York, three cyclists were struck and one killed in separate incidents.

My sympathies go out to the victim and her family. I don't know anything about the circumstances of this accident, but it is my hope that as they emerge, we will take to heart the factors surrounding the security measures that may have led to the accident and do better next time.

I'm not writing today to make any judgments about what happened here since, like almost everyone else, I don't know.

But I do want to say something about life in the city. A lot of you probably think I hate all things cycling. That is not true. I hate bad cyclists. I also hate bad drivers, and bad people.

I hate bad things.

So when I say something about cyclists, I really don't mean all cyclists. I'm just talking about the bad ones that I saw. The problem is, I see a lot of bad cyclists. I also see a lot of bad drivers, and just plain bad people. I tend to single out the cyclists, though, because as a proportion of the number of cyclists out there, there are really quite a lot of bad ones.

There's a great blog called Bike Snob NYC written by a daily bike commuter in New York city. Today, he addressed the accidents in his blog, and his comments perfectly align with my opinion on the whole bicycle versus automobile thing.

...while we undoubtedly need safer drivers, we also cannot drive people's cars for them, and so the most important thing by far is to operate the vehicle over which we do have complete control as expertly as possible.

This is not to imply in any way that any of these victims were at fault. However, from what I do see on a daily basis, there are a lot of riders who seem to want to completely outsource responsibility for their own well-being to the world at large.

My problem with the conduct of many cyclists is the attiude that because they are more vulnerable than cars, that they no longer bear any responsibility for their own safety.

Every time I get into a debate about a bike vs. car situation, some cyclist will just say that since drivers are surrounded by 2,500 tons of steel and cyclists are not, that it is, necessarily, up to the driver to ensure the safety of everyone else on the road.

This is, quite simply, an unacceptable mindset for a class of road users to live with. It recuses them of any responsibility for their own actions. It does not account for all things that might make it impossible for a driver to be aware 100% of the time that a cyclist (or pedestrian, or roller-blader, to be fair) may be crossing their path.

Everyone should drive with the utmost of care. Bad drivers should be dealt with harshly, and it is a failing of our local police department that traffic laws are enforced rarely (and, mostly, though automated cameras that really have no bearing on pedestrian and bicycle safety). But cyclists and pedestrians cannot expect to ride or walk anwhere they want without accounting for cars that can kill them in the road. Apart from the obvious, which is that some people are just bad drivers and may hit you no matter how righteous you are, bicyles are small, move much more erratically, and can be legally (or illegally) present in places that cars cannot.

If you ride on a sidewalk through a green light, and a car happens to be turning right at the same time, how would you have expected him to see you? Even if he did everything right, a cyclist could still be cut off through no fault of the driver. There might have been no way for the car to see him if he was obstructed by parked cars, or simply didn't look well outside the roadway for something approaching much faster than a pedestrian. Neither person, technically, would have violated the law. But only the cyclist could have prevented the accident in that situation.

The right to use the road comes with responsbility as well. Many cyclists I see in DC do not operate with the goal of being as predictable and visible to other road users as possible. To fail to act this way is to place a disproportionate burden of ensuring their safety on other road users.

All road users need to accept an equal share of this reponsibility. Drivers need to use greater care and accept that cyclists have a right to be there. They need to learn new driving habits when bike lanes are present. They need to be cautious at intersections.

But cyclists need to accept that drivers, too, are humans. They can only be looking in one direction at any given time. If a driver looks right, then left, then goes forward, and a cyclist comes from his right at 15 MPH, the cyclist may not be seen. As much as cars need to be wary of bikes and pedestrains in the roadway, cyclists need to share that burden and aware that cars they are approaching may not have been able to see them.

The debate rages on in blogs every time there is an incident. I am as guilty as anyone of fanning the flames, and I am going to do my best in the future to avoid divisive rhetoric. It's time to stop the vitriole. Its time for everyone to accept their responsibilities as road users if we want a safer city with better transportation options for all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lock Those Doors! or, How To Foil Car Theives in DC

One of my favorite mailing lists, the 3D Substation Mailing list, shared with me a video on the subject of "Vehicle Burglary known as Theft from Auto Crimes" from the "Crime Prevention Series." I eagerly clicked the link, bubbling with anticipation about the helpful information I would receive.

The 52 second video features Cpl. Marcino of the Collier County Sherrif's Office, and a spiffy, upbeat soundtrack. I was hoping for something a little more, er, local, but hey, crime is crime, right? My enthusiasm unabated, I watched on.

In case you don't have the 52 seconds to watch these important tips, I'm going to detail them here for you.

1. Safeguard those belongings before you get to your destination.

What does that mean, exactly? The stern Corporal didn't elaborate. Given that this is Florida, I expect this might include things like:

  • Hide your beer in the way-back, or behind the front seats

  • Secure all alligators with leather belts or tie-downs, and lock them in the trunk. This will ensure other poachers don't steal them from you.

  • Return your rifles to your concealed, seat-back gun rack.

None of these seem particularly applicable to DC, though, so perhaps they just want you to finish snorting the blow off your dashboard.

2. Lock Those Doors!

Sage advice from the earnest Corporal. But I must disagree. Quite the opposite, I have found that "door locking" is one of the best ways to ensure you get a broken window in DC. While the "Talahassee Lock" pictured at left might provide some relief from car thieves (to the extent that in DC, nobody would even bother stealing a car that looked that crappy), not so here.

Quite the opposite, most of us in DC who have been the victims of frequent car break-ins leave their doors unlocked. Since DC car-thieves are notorious for not actually stealing anything, trying to prevent them from getting into your 1992 Toyota Corolla is pretty silly. They're getting in if they feel like it, it's just a question of whether or not you buy a new window after they do.

Not that leaving your doors unlocked guarantees that you won't get a broken window, since many DC car thieves seem to be unfamiliar with the operation of the handle on a car door. But it does increase your chances.

DC advice: Don't lock those doors. Unless you keep a burmese python in your car.

But on the the final piece of advice, the real kicker:

3. Most importantly, roll those windows up.

This is because, as Cpl. Marcino says, "the average thief can take that opportunity to reach right in, and grab your belongings."

Honestly, I am struggling with this one. First of all, it assumes that anyone in DC has any "belongings" in their car. Most of us are so used to having our cars broken into, that we often don't even leave our floormats in the cars.

While rolling up your windows is good advice in terms of keeping rain, raccoons and other wildlife out, it really has no bearing on the ease with which someone will access your belongings. As we established above, in DC, access to your car is only a brick away.

I do recommend following this advice in general, since it will make your car less likely to be the temporary napping spot for a passing homeless person, but it won't help keep your valuables safe.

... and that's it.

Apparently, these important measures are all that is required to remain car-break-in-free in Collier County. Unfortunately, here in DC, they don't cut the mustard. If you want to remain break-in free, simply follow these rules:

  • Leave your car empty and unlocked.

  • Don't own a Honda Civic or any car newer than 1996.

  • Don't ever park in DC.

It's really that simple!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fenty Gives The Finger to The Anacostia

Adrian Fenty, our esteemed mayor, is trying to appropriate the revenue from the bag tax to go to the general fund.


To quote myself, July 8, 2009:

"The chances of the revenue from this actually going to clean up the Anacostia river, instead of paying for trips to Dubai and fur coats for OTR employees, is probably about zero. Do you really think that this "fund" will go to pick up trash in the river when we can't make the annual budget ends meet? Yeah, right."

As my numerous rants on the subject should make painfully clear, getting rid of bags might help a little, but what the river really needs is money. Goodbye, money.

How come if we have a bag tax, we're still left holding the bag?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Toyota, I Still Love You

Toyota's been having a rough time of it lately. The Japanese auto giant which not long ago enjoyed an untouchable reputation for quality, durability and value, has been plagued by safety problems which have utimately led to massive recalls.

And lawsuits. Because if there's one thing that holds true, it's that the moment you admit there's a possible serious safety problem with something, the number of accidents related to that problem suddenly multiply like tribbles. This isn't to say that some of these aren't legitimate, but for every legitimate claim based on a safety defect in a product, you've got 10 more shysters lining up to sue some big corporation, on the hopes that they'll just throw a couple hundred large at them to go away.

Like this guy, who called 911 beacause his Prius was accelerating out of control. Police were dispatched somehow to save him and talk him down. Since all we'd heard on the news at the time was about sticky accelerators and failing brakes, it might sound plausible.

I, being an incredible skeptic, didn't believe it for a second. I pretty much expected stuff like this as soon as the Toyota problems made news. And as it turns out, his story is almost certainly a load of manure, of the sort I might carry in the back of my Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.

The obvious questions arise when thinking about someone who says they can't slow their car down. Like, did you try turning off the ignition? Did you try to use the brake? Or, assuming your brain is not complely siezed, did you try putting it in neutral? No, instead of using any of these obvious methods of slowing down your car in an emergency, you somehow manage to call 911 instead. Isn't that what everyone does when their car is careening out of control? Obviously, this man is of stout mind and spirit, because he was able to keep his juggernaut, throttle fully opened, in control with one hand on the wheel, while making phone calls with the other.

The thing is, even if your accelerator was glued to the floor, there are any number of ways that you could stop your car from moving. Unless, of course, you goal is to take advantage of a well-publicized safety problem for the purpose of extorting money from a large corporation. And this guy had about $700,000 good reasons to try a desperate stunt like this. Oh yes - and his car loan for the Prius was in default, too.

But moving on to my own Totota. The fine vehicle pictured here rolled off the assembly line in 1995 and began it's life in the harsh environs of Maine. It passed through to another sibling's stewardship briefly, and then ended up in my posession in 1998. I have taken rather poor care of it ever since.

1200 lbs of gravelThis nearly 16-year old vehicle has about 86,000 miles on it. That's not much for a vehicle of this age. But far from being a garage queen, she has paid dearly for every mile. Her trips generally involve: hauling trash to the dump, moving furniture, dirt, rocks, tiles, bricks. You get the idea. In fact, about the only time this truck has the rare privilege of a trip without a bunch of crap in the back, is when there's a foot of snow on the ground, and it's used in 4WD to get around when other vehicles cannot.

And yet in the 12 or so years I've owned this car, exactly two things have gone wrong that are not "routine" -- that is, brakes, oil changes, tires, and exhaust. The first was that the starter motor failed. This was the only time it hasn't started in 15 years. I replaced it myself in about an hour, the new part was $100.

The other time, one of the leaf springs on the rear suspension cracked. I can't imagine how something like that could have happened. This was the time that she's actually been to an auto repair shop. The one time. I had the leaf springs upgraded at the time so I could haul even heavier crap around.

This weekend, I decided it was time for her annual check-up. I had bought rear brake shoes a year ago and never got around to installing them. I took the brakes apart and as it turned out, they were fine. I've never changed the brake shoes in the last 10 years so that surprised me. But since the parts I bought a year ago turned out to be wrong, it's just as well.

I also flushed the cooling system, something you're supposed to do every few years, and I had also never done. The coolant, typically flourscent green, looked like dirty motor oil. That was probably good to take care of.

Finally, I crawled around under the car and cleaned up some rusty areas of the frame and sprayed it with rust neutralizing paint. The new exhaust pipe I put on five years ago was also rusted through near the end and about to fall off, so I clamped it back together with an extra exhaust clamp I had lying around. That will probably hold it for another year or so until the pipe rusts through completely.

I probably spend a total of about 6 hours a year maintaining this car. Sunday's four-hour session was the most time I've spent in three years. I think it's the only thing I've done other than change the oil. I may have washed it three times in 12 years.

I have a dozen stories about how that truck has saved my butt over the years, but this post has already grown way too long in exactly the way that I recently said my posts would not. So I will close here. Toyota haters, feel free to go buy a GMC or a Honda or an Audi or whatever you want. But when the warranty expires, I bet you'll wish you hadn't.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Get Your Future In The Bag!

costco_bagsMany people are concerned about the "bag tax" in DC. This communist program is a scourge that shackles us all, but what can we do about it?

I have both the answers to the "bag problem," and your financial security. I know you're wondering, how is this possible? How can you be your own boss, earn as much money as you want, and at the same time save the Anacostia River?

With your help, we can accomplish all these goals:

  • Clean up the Anacostia River

  • Liberate the residents of DC from the tyranny of the bag tax

  • Assure your financial security forever

Sounds crazy, right? But just give me a few minutes of your time, and I bet you'll be convinced.

Join my winning sales team!

For only $39.95, you can become an Associate in my unique Bag Upsell Program. Your starting packet includes 1,000 bags, with a street value of $50.00 (at 5 cents a bag), and promotional materials to help build your downline.

For each new bag sales associate you recruit into the program, you will receive $10.00, plus 10% of their downline sales. In no time at all, you will be receiving residual checks and living the American dream! Imagine working from home, as much or as little as you want, smiling all the while because plastic bags are working for you.

But how does this clean up the river?

Every bag we sell is impregnated with our patented BagEater nanotechnology. When a bag is exposed to water for an extended period of time, the bags break down, and releases the BagEaters. These amazing little guys then seek out and attack other plastic bags, reducing them to pieces of plastic small enough to be eaten by blue crabs. The more bags that end up in the river, the cleaner it gets! Honest! It's the future... today.

Why not just switch to reusable bags?

Because bags aren't just for carrying groceries!

Bags are sexy. You wouldn't like it if Big Brother took away your designer jeans, would you? Well, how come you'll stand for him taking away your bags? We should all be free to carry around any kind of bag we want. Don't let government tell you what's fashionable and what's not!

Bags help the homeless! Bags provide vital clothing and can-carrying services to DC's large homeless population. At five cents a bag, how could this man have possibly afforded to clothe himeself? Fight this discrimination against the homeless by ensuring that bags are available to all.

Bags for personal freedom! By building your network of Bag Sales Associates on sidewalks in front of grocery, liquor and Chinese/Italian/Mexican/Southern carry-outs throughout DC, you will be building your own financial security, while ensuring justice and liberty for all residents of DC.

Take the first step - join my program today. Only you can save the Anacostia. Only you can ensure your financial security in these uncertain times. Join today.

Visa, Mastercard, and Paypal accepted. No checks. No refunds. Estimates of future revenue streams do not constitue a guarantee. BagEaters may be unsafe for some or all organic life.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


In day 1 of year 2, I have resolved to listen to my readers. I don't mean the ones who shouldn't be readers. N. asked that I post at least three times a day. While that is not practical, I am going to try to post every day for a little while. At least every day that I have fifteen minutes to write something that will hopefully garner a chuckle from someone, or at a minimum, make me chuckle to myself. (As long as I make myself laugh, even a little, it was worth the time.)

There will be two important consequences to this pledge.

Blog Preview Warning1. The quality of each post is likely to decline. I will repost the Reader Warning Label periodically in case you are unsure how to handle yourself as a result of this.

2. The length of each post is likely to decline. I expect this will mean that the chance of anyone getting to the end of each post increases above 12%.

Today's post was mostly an excuse to share the cartoon you see above, which so perfectly sums up my life with N. that it is, in fact, the only thing on my refrigerator. The fridge is stainless steel, which means that securing things to it cannot be accomplished with a magnet. No, it's a major commitment involving laminate and tape. So far, this is the only thing that has made the cut.

Even though I find I rarely have time to read the New Yorker these days, I am going to renew my subscription, just because of this cartoon.

Anyway, in order that those out there can have some glimpse of what life in a fixer-upper is like, here's a summary of my home improvement projects to date. I am approaching the 3-year anniversary of owning this home.

Kitchen: I like to describe it as "the death star from Return of the Jedi." That is, even though it looks like a major construction zone, it's fully operational. I can't blow up medium-sized planets with it -- yet -- but I can make awesome pizza from scratch.

Bathroom: 99.5% finished. Total time from start to 99.5% finished: seven months.

Roof CatBasement: Minor improvements in terms of removing unwanted walls, unfortunately including the one around the basement toilet. Added a washer and dryer, the latter free from Craig's List and still working fine 3 years later.

Bedrooms: Partly done renovating one of three bedrooms, project temporarily delayed due to deprioritization. Now looks like a diaorama of a painting project, frozen in time. Other bedrooms mostly untouched.

Floors/woodwork/windows/finish work: You're kidding, right? Actually this stuff ain't so bad, it's kind of why I bought the house. It all needs some attention, but compared to most everything else, it's the nicest stuff in the house. The only painted door was the one on the bathroom, which is now stripped and refinished. Given that I hate nothing more than stripping paint, this is a major milestone.

Back yard: Still looks very much as it did the day I moved in. That is, no organic life except the invasive kind, impassable for several days after each rainstorm, no fence, several pieces of old hand-me-down lawn furniture, and more bugs than the Amazon river basin.

Front yard: Removed unidentifiable, mismatched hedge things and replaced with azaleas last summer. Said azaleas killed by snowstorm and new puppy early this year. Added french drain and new azaleas last weekend, attempting to grow grass. Will report back. Signs point to "iffy at best."

So much for short posts.... until tomorrow.