"Night Sweats In Broad Daylight…"

April 4, 2011

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been contemplating making yet another career change, or if it was the spicy BBQ pork sammy for lunch today, but I have just woken from the Mother of All Waiter Nightmares.  Those of you that have had them will know what I’m talking about when I say they come from out of nowhere.  I know I’m still in the restaurant business and, granted, I have some waiters at work who ARE nightmares; but I haven’t worked a shift as a waiter in almost five years.  Waiter Nightmares?  After five years?

I’ve written about Waiter Nightmares before (click and read), and about how I had learned a kind of “Directed Dreaming” technique, ala “Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors”; so I can usually pretty much just sit back and enjoy the comic relief that comes with the absolute futility in most Waiter Nightmares, somehow knowing that this stuff could never really happen. But today’s was scarily different.

This one started at Chops in Atlanta, except that it wasn’t Chops.  In my dream I knew it was Chops, but the dining room had absolutely no resemblance.  Some of the waiters were guys that I worked with at Chops, as was the Manager, and the room was that kind of Boys Club Steak Housey kind of place with button-tuck booths, men in suits, cocktails clinking, etc.  I am back to work there, and it’s my first night back.  I don’t think I’d gone through any re-training, I think they just threw me out there.  I do remember being strangely happy to be back to work there.  Most therapists at this point would say, “Maybe you should look at that…”

I had just arrived at work, and was saying hello to some of “the guys”.  Everyone is shaking my hand and welcoming me back when The Manager tells me I’m working solo (Chops was team service with a partner, although I had some living Nightmare nights there when somebody no-showed and I DID work solo) but I will have a smaller station, over by the bar.  No prob, it’s my first night back and I’m feeling pretty bulletproof.

So, I’ve got my waiter jacket on, and my little metal badge with a number on it; I’ve got my notepad, my Cross Pens, corkscrew, crumber and all that crap.  I’m feeling good, cocky, ready to take some tables.  I had found my station in the gigantic restaurant (they’re usually gigantic in my nightmares), four deuces and one four top all in a neat little cluster near the end of this horseshoe shaped bar, and it all seems pretty manageable; after all, I’ve worked here before and know the drill.   Then I notice that the Host is walking away from seating a single diner at one of my tables, a professional looking woman in a business suit with briefcase.  I know what you’re thinking:  what kind of useless Shoe Clerk am I, to be having a Waiter Nightmare over a SINGLE!!??

Anyway, I greet madame, and get her a cocktail, a Manhattan or something I think.  She orders:  Spinach Salad to be followed by an 8oz. Filet, medium.  I don’t remeber ordering the salad, but after a couple of minutes I notice it’s on the table and, yikes, she’s almost done with it and I haven’t fired her steak yet.

I’m mildly panicked about the fire time on her Filet but, hey, it’s Chops.  They have about a billion 8oz. filets in the broiler at any one time on busy nights, and maybe I can use my one “New Guy Get Out Of Jail Free Card” to get them to rob another table so Milady won’t have too long of a wait.  But first I have to get to the POS and fire her order before I can go throw myself on the mercy (Ha!) of the Sous Chef.  And, as they say in the Circus, this is where the fun begins…

My cockiness and confidence is beginning to waver a little as I realize I don’t know where the POS is.  I walk out of the bar, into another gigantic dining room that is almost completely empty, and over against one wall is a POS touchscreen about the size of a 52″ plasma TV.  I make my way over to it and, of course, it’s a system I’ve never seen or used before.  I manage to log in, find a screen that looks like a table map, and double tap the icon for my single diner’s table (#63).  But instead of neat rows of buttons, or screens that have actual menu items, the screen looks more like a website; one of those really hard to read websites that was designed by some genius who thought red letters on a black background would be a good idea.  Almost all of the screen is taken up by pictures and advertisements for cars and other stuff.  Way down at the bottom are lines of uber-tiny type, hyperlinks to click on for menu stuff; but the type is the REALLY tiny stuff you get at the bottom of a company’s website where they put stuff like “Privacy Notice.  Site Map.  Contact Us.  Careers.”  And it’s a touchscreen, so every time I try to double tap a tiny link I get the wrong one, and some other gigantic window opens with more pictures and ads.

Now I’m really starting to freak because I know that spinach salad has been cleared and my single is sitting there, tapping her fingers, waiting for that Filet, and wondering where the hell her idiot waiter has gotten to.  In my panic state, and willing to try anything I can think of to navigate this behemoth screen, I decide that there’s not enough light in the room to see it properly, so I take it down off the wall and carry it over to another corner where some sconces are beaming spotlights down on the carpet, creating circles of light in the murky room.  Strangely, there are no wires; and, strangely, this doesn’t even factor into my thinking as I pick up this unusually light, strangely wireless, and utterly useless Piece Of Shit.  Under the glow of the spotlights on the other side of the room the screen is no more readable than it had been on the wall.  And I still haven’t fired her steak.  And, even with the panic really starting to set in, I’m thinking, “Shit, all these steaks are ala carte.  I didn’t ask her about sides!”  I figure I’ll deal with that after I get this DAMN STEAK FIRED!

Still tapping at links, still getting the wrong screens, I try turning the screen around, rotating it, thinking if I can get a closer look at these damn tiny hyperlinks, I would actually be able to read them.  I’m trying to hold it out in front of me, like some massive artist’s sketch pad, and the screen is rotating with the movements, like on my wife’s Droid; so every time I turn it to make the links closer, the screen changes and they move back to where they were before.  Now I’m totally sweating, full blown dread is setting, yet all Mr. Sensitve To The Needs Of Others here, can think about is “I wonder if someone else needs to use this terminal…”  This turns out to be an non-issue, as I look back across the room to see that the screen I have taken down has been replaced by an even LARGER one, about the size of a small billboard, a veritable  JumboTron of a POS.  In my panic I’m willing to try just about anything to get this one stupid, stinking steak fired, and I consider going over to the giant screen, thinking the type must surely be larger on that one, right?  Just as I’m putting my screen down I see the link for “Fire” at the bottom and hit it.  I set the screen down on the floor, and start sprinting back to my station.

As I approach my tables, I am mildly relieved to see that no one else has been seated in my section during my adventure in the Gigantic Room with the Gigantic POS Screen.  The only catch is that my station is now somehow outside, and it’s starting to rain.  Guests at other tables are being moved inside by their waiters, but my single is standing up and looking around.  She starts picking up all her stuff, briefcase, purse, and is grabbing the silverware and napkin off the table and walking off toward the inside area.  I catch her and relieve her of her burdens, and tell her I will usher her into one of my “Inside Tables”.  I don’t know why or how I knew I actually had inside tables, but I did.  Except I don’t know the table numbers, so I don’t know if I’m seating her at one of my tables or someone else’s.  It doesn’t seem to matter, and I’ve still got to get to the kitchen to tell them to hurry that 8oz. Filet which, despite my being out of my station for what seemed like an eternity, has not arrived.  And shit!  What about those side dishes?  I forgot to ask her.

I get my single diner situated at an inside table in a dining room that is now a gigantic white event tent, like they set up at wine auctions.  I know I still have to get to the kitchen, but I can’t stop myself from helping the Manager.  He’s trying desperately to get tables set up for all the people coming in from the rain.  The tables are all 72″ banquet rounds, with one flipped upside down on top of another, so I take my place on one side of the two tables to help him flip the inverted one off.  I’m waiting for him to flip the legs up and lock them into place when I notice a stack of 6 B&B plates sitting on table we are about to flip over.  The Manager has not seen the plates, has locked the legs on his side into place and flips the unusually light table off the other one, sending the stack of B&B’s flying.  Oddly, they all stay together in one stack and fly out onto a road that is outside an open flap of this massive circus tent of a dining room.  I’m waiting for the sickening crash of shattering china, but instead hear a metallic clang; and I realize the plates must have been sitting inside of one of those metal plate covers.  Huh.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Anyway, I still need to get to the kitchen, get that Filet on the fly, and then get back to my section where I still didn’t know what the fuck the table numbers are.  Shit!  And I need to ask her about those sides!  I contemplate just ordering her a baked potato.  I mean everybody likes those, right?  But that would entail a return to the JumboTron POS again.  It’s at this point I see a guy that I used to work with about 10 years ago at another restaurant, who is apparently now working here.  Nothing about this strikes me as the least bit strange, and I stop him to say hi; but he doesn’t know me from Adam.  He does know enough to remind me I’m covering his lunch shift tomorrow, though.   Even though I haven’t been back to check on my one and only guest, I somehow know with all certainty that 8oz. Filet is NOT on the table yet, and I am a total loser.  This is when I wake up to my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand and thank God for text messages!


"Is There Anyone Hiding Down There In The Dark?"

November 3, 2010

When I first started writing this blog, I went all over the web looking for advice on how to make it successful (honestly, how to make some money off it…).  One of the many sites I researched advised against making the blog too much about current events, as once the event is no longer current, the entries become dated; and outside of high school kids trolling the internet for a paper to plagiarize, those entries would ultimately go the way of the Dodo.  So I’ve always tried to put up posts that were timeless, stuff that would have some validity and meaning when read by people 200 years from now.  Posts that would continue to ring up that 37¢ per week in Google Adsense cash for years to come.  Yeah, right. My blog is about as “timeless” as Flava-Flav.

Timeless. But with a clock, just in case you forget...

That being said, there was a current event this past month that I feel bears mentioning, as it could almost be considered timeless.  I’m talking, of course, about the Giants winning their first World Series in 58 years.

I spent many summers of my youth listening to games on my Dad’s little Motorola transistor radio in the backyard; and then listening to him curse at it when the voices of Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges relayed the bad news of yet another Giants’ disappointment.  Sometimes those curses and disappointments came as early as the last day of school, with the annual occurrence of the “June Swoon” wherein the Giants would drop precipitously in the standings for no apparent reason.  Some years the euphoria would last until late August; or in the very rare year, into a late-September first-round playoff loss.  After 40-plus years of this I think it’s safe to say that my Dad and I have more than paid our dues as loyal fans.   Many people would jump ship over to the A’s during those years, as they were the closest thing to a winner that could be found.  But for me, it was always the Giants.  They were like your family dog:  maybe he has gotten old, and a little fat; maybe he’s a flea-scratching, bag-o-bones that doesn’t see so good or fetch so good, and at times smells pretty bad.  But he’s YOUR dog, no matter what.  This year October brought the good times, finally, for we Orange and Black Faithful; and it was somewhat spooky that on the Orange and Black Holiday, the Orange and Black Team was still alive and kicking.

Halloween is my second favorite Holiday, after Thanksgiving.  Both have less societal pressure to consume (shop) attached, so you can enjoy yourself without going into debt for the first eight months of the coming year; and both have their observances centered around eating and partying.  Thanksgiving gets the 1st Place nod (tryptophan pun intended) in the Holiday Standings because of two things:  more food choices than just candy, and football.  Having the Giants still alive added a welcome, if somewhat disorienting and distracting, sports component to Halloween this year.

One other thing puts Halloween high on the list: spooky movies on TV, in abundance.  When I was a kid I was the first in line for the new Dr. Fibes movie, or any cheesy vampire flick with Christopher Lee; but these days, I’m not so big on the slasher-movies until Halloween.   Plus, I am a choosey about my gore. I am all about the Classics.

Scary cheese for a 10-year-old...

But this year, whenever I saw Halloween, Night of The Living Dead, or Psycho was on, I’d tune in, only to find the more recent, CGI-enhanced re-makes being shown instead of the originals.  It seems that about 20 years ago, Hollywood ran out of original ways to kill busty Co-Eds in cut-off jeans, so they just started making the old movies over again.  Technically perfect special-effects gore is just not the same as the terror that builds up while Mike Myers slowly shuffles toward Jamie Lee Curtis, hiding in the closet with that coat hanger, ready to skewer his eye like a Stay-Puft at a campfire.

Fortunately for me, this year Halloween was the premiere of “The Walking Dead” on AMC.  I am a huge fan of AMC:  Madmen, Breaking Bad, Rubicon, etc., all get Tivo-ed at our house.  The Walking Dead looked quite promising in its promos, and had the added interest of being filmed here in Atlanta (the running joke is that they didn’t need any Extras for the scenes of Zombies shuffling around Centennial Park downtown, they just used the crackheads already in residence); but due to the scheduling conflict presented by the once-in-a-lifetime World Series featuring Your San Francisco Giants, I would have to wait until Monday morning to see it.

So the next morning, after the wife and daughter head off for work and school at 7:30am, I grab my coffee and fire up the DVR.  Once again, AMC did not disappoint.  The excellent production values, acting, directing, and script made the first episode truly frightening.   If it hadn’t been for the full light of day outside, I would have been going through the house turning on every available light.  It was that good.

Trying to compose myself, I tuned off the TV and started going about my house-husband duties, when suddenly our dog starts barking at the front door.  This is a regular occurrence that usually solicits no more severe a response from me than a “Shut up”, as there is never anything to really be barking at.   Unless you count blowing leaves or the mailman arriving at the curb.  But Maya was insistent, standing by the door barking and snarling, so I started to get nervous. H-m-m-m…  I sidle silently up to our front door to investigate, halfway laughing at myself for being so spooked and halfway worried that the lack of lights on and no car in the driveway had someone seriously contemplating a daytime burglary.  As I neared the door, some motion near the front room windows caught my attention.  Someone was OUT THERE!!  Now I truly am frightened as nobody had knocked or rung the bell, and I can barely summon up the nerve to look out the small window in our door (cue the  music from Psycho:  “REE-REE-REE-REE!!”).  I look out, and nearly jump out of my skin when I see two people standing on the porch, looking back:  Jehovah’s Witnesses.  With copies of The Watchtower in hand, these two 70-something ladies had been waiting, contemplating a knock at a silent, apparently unoccupied house.  They took a last look, decided there was no one home, and shuffled off; and I collapsed onto the couch, trembling with the adrenalin rush of surviving a Zombie attack of a different sort.

Gotta wrap up this tale of abject terror as the Giants Victory Parade is coming on TV, and I think I hear some Mormon Missionaries shuffling around in my basement.  REE-REE-REE-REE!!!

"The Accidental Tourist…"

October 25, 2010

Here’s a post I found, hiding out in my Drafts Folder.  It was trying to keep its head down, hoping I wouldn’t notice; but like that one big lobster hiding under the rock in the back of the tank, I spotted it. Still fresh, too…

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport here in Atlanta is, depending on what’s going on at Chicago’s O’Hare,  either the busiest or second busiest airport in the country.  It’s a hub for Delta, of course, but also a jumping off point for hundreds of flights from other airlines to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.   Its massive amount of connecting flights has allowed millions of people to be able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been to Atlanta…” even though they’ve never left the concourse; and with all that was going on here this past Holiday Weekend, it was surely at or near capacity.

Memorial Day Weekend is literally the kickoff of the College Football season, and here in The ATL we had Georgia State winning their inaugural game last Thursday, and Georgia Tech playing at home on Saturday.  LSU was meeting North Carolina in the annual Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome, while  The Dawgs were hosting their first drunk-fest of the season for sixty thousand up in Athens.  Add to all of that a NASCAR Race at Atlanta Motor Speedway half an hour south of here; Dragon-Con, the geek-fest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention (that’s not just for nerds anymore by the way), The Black Gay Pride Festival at Piedmont Park, plus various and sundry other neighborhood festivals, and you wind up with upwards of a couple hundred thousand people rolling through the airport over the weekend.  At least the Braves did the highway traffic the favor of leaving town for a series against the Marlins.  Amongst the throngs wandering the vast terminals at ATL this weekend, trying to make the best of things during a 20-hour layover on his way to a business/vacation excursion in Buenos Aires, was a great friend of ours from New Orleans, now living in exile in Indianapolis.

Glenn was one of those in attendance at “The Last Supper” at our house the Saturday before Katrina.  In true NOLA fashion, we decided to have a dinner party rather than do the sensible thing and prepare for evacuation the next day.  We cooked a grand Asian dinner with homemade potstickers, dumplings, and several other dishes, for a dozen guests.  Earlier that day, when we had ventured over to the West Bank to shop at a great Asian market in Algiers for supplies, was when we first noticed the lines of cars at all the gas stations, people preparing to evacuate.  I had seen the hurricane news on Thursday night after I’d gotten home from work (when I lived in California, I could never conceive of watching the Weather Channel for any reason; but down in the Gulf, people literally live by it during hurricane season).  That Thursday night, Katrina was beginning her march across south Florida and I figured it was hitting land and would lose steam and that would be that.  After our trip across the river on Saturday, we turned on the Weather Channel and saw Katrina filling the entire Gulf of Mexico; so we decided we would go ahead and fiddle while Rome burned, have our party, but pack the car and skee-daddle on Sunday morning, along with everyone else and their brother.  Glenn had left the next day, too, along with all the other party guests. So, long story not-so-short, we hadn’t seen him except during a brief visit he made to Napa over two years ago.  We just had to get together, airport crowds and traffic be damned.

So, after a quick excursion downtown to watch the Dragon-Con parade Saturday morning, it was off to the airport to pick up him and his new girlfriend.   We began making our list:  lunch at JCT on the Westside, then maybe on to King of Pops or Morelli’s for sweets.  Or should we hit Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland for brunch and then a visit to Green’s for some wine browsing?  We settled on JCT and two bottles of wine to go with lunch.  We had to pass on the frozen treats in favor of JCT’s irresistible Rum-Soaked Coconut Cake, followed by some lounging at home.

Except we didn’t have time for lounging, as my wife and daughter had pending appointments to get their hair done at a salon, half an hour north in Buckhead.  So, being a one-car family for now, the plan was for me to ferry the two of them North, then return to pick them up after I had gone back home, picked up Glenn and dropped him back at the airport, another fifteen minutes past our house to the South.

On the way to the salon, we get a phone call from another of the thousands landing at Hartsfield-Jackson over the weekend; our friend Jimmy from California had just arrived in town for a wedding.  We hadn’t seen Jim since we drove off from Napa last June, so we decided to try to work him into the schedule for a cocktail.  We arrive at the salon to find out that the hair appointments were two hours earlier and had been missed.  So, it was back into the car, back South for twenty minutes to pick up Glen; then another 15 minutes back down The 85 to the airport to drop them; and then back up to Buckhead to meet Jim.  Jimmy lived in Atlanta for about 8 years, so touring him around was not an issue.  We met him for drinks and appetizers on the patio at Nava, a Tex-Mex place that we discovered, on this visit, is decidedly a few years past its prime.  We had a great visit with Uncle Jimmy, though, and he went off to follow the rest of his agenda for the weekend, and we headed home.

It was on the final drive South and home that we began to realize our priorities as tour-guides are a little skewed.

My wife’s cousin and his wife have recently re-located to Atlanta for her internship at a local hospital; and when his mother-in-law visited from Mexico he took her, all in a single day, to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Stone Mountain, the Zoo and practically every other attraction known to man.  Now it’s not to say that we haven’t been to, and mostly enjoyed, many such places that are on the top of most tourists’ lists.  But Glenn and his new girlfriend are dedicated food and wine nuts like us; so our itinerary for  today had excluded the traditional spots in favor of those of a more culinary nature.  Asking us to show you around town is a little like asking the guy emerging from an AA meeting for directions:  “Go two blocks down, take a left at Joe’s Bar, head south until you pass two Package Stores, and turn right at the Irish Pub on the corner…”   We’ll take a pass on World of Coke in a hot second if it means we get some of that Coconut Cake.

"Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt…"

October 23, 2010

A few weeks back, I was able to cross another item off my “Living in The South Bucket List”.   Along with eating (and liking) grits, pimento cheese, and fried pickles, and attending (liking is not required) a NASCAR race, going to a bona-fide College Football Game was pretty high up there, so this was a biggie.

Some observations on College Football here in The South:

  • I come from California, where we don’t give a Rat’s Ass about College Football, unless Cal is playing Stanford, or USC is playing UCLA.  Nobody, graduate or not, flies a college flag from their front porch or the back of the pick-up truck on Saturdays, even when the aforementioned Big Game match-ups are imminent.  Not so, down here.  Any day of the year you can open up the Sports section of the AJC and find no fewer than three articles about UGA Football, maybe one or two about Georgia Tech and at least one about the SEC in general; and this includes months when school is not even in session.  During the season, check the front page masthead for coverage.
  • Why do the stadium music programmers at College Football games (or any sporting event, for that matter) think the only music white people like is Country-Western or AC/DC?
  • Do they ever play music (above genres excepted) that doesn’t involve Auto-Tune vocals?  I swear to God, if I hear “OMG” by Usher one more time, I’m going to open an artery.  The only non-Country, non-AC/DC song that didn’t have the Auto-Tune was the Star Spangled Banner; and I might even be wrong there as we were late and missed the Anthem.
  • Bud Light and Miller Lite, for $7 a pop as the only beer choices?  Really?
  • How hard is it to get face paint off?  Are there thousands of  kids attending classes on Monday morning in Athens with bright-pink skin after trying to scour off the red?
  • And why is it that only white folks paint themselves for sporting events?  Never mind.  I know.  We’re huge dorks.  That, and the alcohol.
  • Tailgating for six hours on a Thursday night?  And how much tuition did your parents fork out so you could blow off class?  Higher education, indeed.

And this is just for the pre-season...

"The First Taste Is Free…Tell Your Friends…"

June 28, 2010

We had set up a “bundled” service at our new house with AT&T because we love our Direct TV, and they own Direct TV.  The “bundling” package enables AT&T to fuck up all three services, TV, Internet, and home phone, in equally catastrophic fashion and, at the same time, hold you hostage and make you overpay for everything after the “Introductory Period” on the initial offer expires.  But having to deal with three separate, yet probably equally inept companies, all devoid of any semblance of customer service, was just too much to contemplate; so we sold our souls to the devil that is AT&T.  I mean, it was either that or we’d have to call Comcast.  There will be, unfortunately, more on that a bit later…

But, we have trees in our yard, and lots of them.  In this I am certain we are not alone here in Atlanta.  Flying into Atlanta, you can’t even see the City for the trees, or the forest, whatever.  Trees are nice and, and trees are pretty, and we have five majestic 60ft tall Southern Live Oaks in our backyard, effectively blocking the southwestern sky.  This is great at sunset, filtered light and all that, but pretty sucky when it comes to getting a straight shot at the Direct TV satellite that we need for reception.  The Direct TV guy came by, took one look and said “Uh-uh…” So we are now forced into an act of psychological prostitution:  we have to call Comcast.

My wife makes the initial call and it all starts off uncharacteristically good.  She got a very nice lady (Southern accent, of course) who helps us out and even has an appointment open day after tomorrow.  Zounds!  The only SNAFU with this seemingly too-good-to-be-true scenario is that the landline phone number AT&T had assigned us was a 404 number and Comcast wants to give us a 678.  Having a 404 in Atlanta signifies, generally, that you are ITP, Inside The Perimeter of Interstate 285, which makes a ring around the City.  ITP is cool.  678 is definitely OTP, and OTP is not cool.  Being OTP is the equivalent of listening to your team win the Super Bowl on the radio in the parking lot of the stadium.  You are still there, but just not there…  So to keep our Uber-cool 404 number, we will have to wait for Comcast to “port” it over, which means another 4 days of waiting for the appointment.  See!!  Too good to be true is truly Comcastic.

So it’s now Thursday, and we are entering our 11am to 2pm three-hour window for service, and we are waiting for the Comcasteers to show.  After about 2 hours and still nobody here, we decide to call the “Customer Service” line.  After an appropriate amount of time on hold, we are told that our appointment has been canceled.  That’s right, canceled.  No call, no notice, no opportunity to reschedule; just canceled.  And fortunately for me, the account is in my wife’s name, so the conversation that ensued between her and the Comcastaways went like this:

Wife:  “Our appointment was cancelled?  Wasn’t anyone going to call us, and let us know?”

Comcaster:  “We had to reschedule because AT&T disconnected the 404 number you wanted ported over, so we had to assign a different phone number to your account.”

Wife: “The AT&T number was never even connected, so how could it be disconnected?”

Comcastidor:  “Well, the number was disconnected and we can’t port over a disconnected number, so we’ve rescheduled your appointment for next Monday…”

Wife:  “Well, if that’s the case, why didn’t you just assign a new phone number and send it out with the guys today?

Comcastidero:  “Well, to do that we would need your approval.”

Wife:  “And for that you’d need to do what?  Maybe, call me?”

The irony of the situation totally escaped Ms. Comcastic and, just like with the Borg, resistance is futile with them.

"You will be assimilated...next Thursday, sometime between the hours of 1 and 5pm..."

So we agreed grudgingly to another 4-day wait.  We were, of course, bitterly disappointed and dreading that the neighbor whose unprotected wireless network we had been pirating would get wise and slam a password on it, leaving my wife unable to work, and me unable to dick around on the internet all day.   So after bitching about things amongst ourselves for an hour or so and trying to reconcile ourselves to the idiocy, I realized that this was a situation that called for a really stupid, yet probably futile, gesture on someone’s part.  And I was just the guy to do it.

“Let me call them, Honey.”  Heroes are not born, they just are.

I got on the phone and, after being first connected to someone at a call center in California, who was nice enough to give me the number for the one here in Georgia, I was in the queue.  When dealing with Phone Tree Bureaucracies like the DMV, the IRS, or Comcast, I use the same tactic I used to employ when trying to score dope back in the 80’s.   No matter how gigantic an asshole my dealer was, and he was Guiness Book material in that regard, he was my dealer; and he had to be dealt with, as it were.  He was the one and only person I knew who could fulfill a pressing need for a product or service which only he could provide; and, as such, had a monopoly on my situation. I would laugh at any stupid, off-color jokes, and I would be courteous; I would agree to whatever outrageous demands he might have, be where I needed to be at whatever time I needed to be there, and I would bring only large bills.  Accommodating and nice will get you further, and much more quickly, than asshole. So calling Comcast was just a little bit too much like calling the Dope Man.

I got lucky, for once, because when I called, and got an older-sounding, sympathetic ear on the other end of the line; and I didn’t miss the opportunity to lay it on thick.  This is one time where the ineptitude and lack of communication on their end can be used to your advantage.  No one at Comcast seems to talk to anyone else; so you have to go through the same song and dance with each and every person you talk to.  In our situation this worked out well, as the nice lady that I got on the line this time had no idea we had just talked to someone else seconds earlier.  I told her (again) the details of our plight.  It’s very important, if you want any results from a Phone-Tree Bureaucracy,  to explain your situation without assigning any blame, lest you risk alienation right from the get-go.  How our appointment had been canceled with no notice; how no one had called, and how we would not have even known, had we not called them; and how not having our install done today was costing us money and risking my wife’s job security as her accounts and bosses were expecting her to be connected and available today (I did embellish a bit here).

Miracle of miracles, the nice lady (Southern accent, again) said she would pencil us in for this coming Sunday, which was only 24 hours sooner than the Comsast-hole we had dealt with earlier, but she would also try to get a hold of dispatch and put us on an “Escalated Installation Schedule”.  She was going to Escalate!  She said she would contact dispatch, and she would call us back within two hours.  And amazingly enough, we got the call and an appointment for the very next day. Another window of opportunity had opened.  We might score yet…

Much like the situation with the Dope Man, as the appointed time arrived we were at the windows peering out, waiting and watching, fingers drumming on the tabletop as the three-hour window opened.  Should we call them again?  When will they be here?  Did they forget?  Did we miss their phone call?  Do they know where we live?  Will they bring the right stuff with them?  Will it be, you know, The Good Stuff?  The 80’s flashbacks were coming hot and heavy as finally, not one, but two Comcast vans pulled up.  Damn!  She did escalate!

So the Comcast guys were hailed as conquering heroes.  They did their installation thing, and had to actually run a wire from the pole to our house.  The wire was hanging a little low, and my wife says, “Are they going to leave it like that?  It looks so bad…”

Honey, just let it go.  You don’t complain when Dope Man gives you a used baggie, you just smile, and pay the man…

"Playin' Catch-Up…"

June 23, 2010

Some random notes I couldn’t post last week due to the fact that I was wiped out, drawn, and quartered from moving/traveling.  Plus we have some connectivity issues such as we have no internet at out house yet; so we be Internet Connection Pirates, Mateys, plundering the unprotected networks from our neighbors…Arrrggghh.

During the last 24-hour period of our cross-country drive,

  • I had some great BBQ and some Sweet Potato Pie from a place that had a family living in the back room…
  • We drove through a thunder and lightning storm that was a nine on a ten scale…
  • I had Chicken biscuits for breakfast from Chick Fil-A…
  • I had a grocery clerk in Alabama tell me “Y’all come back…”
  • We crossed the Tallahatchee Bridge, although we saw nothing of a certain Billy Jo MacCallister, and whatever it was he was supposed to have tossed over the side.
  • We drove through Tupelo, Mississippi as we were listening to the soundtrack from “O Brother Where Art Thou.”  It just seemed to fit.

We are finally settling into our new home a bit.  The issues with the AC that I mentioned previously are resolved; our washer and dryer are installed; and cable/internet comes tomorrow.

Without the Boob Toob to distract us we have had some great family time and have enjoyed a couple of nights out.  Last night we went to Little Five Points, which is like Telegraph Avenue in Berkely in 1979, condensed into three blocks.  It really is a toilet, with cranksters, hipsters, yuppies, guppies and families all stepping over the same cigarette butts and sleeping homeless people; but it has some of the coolest shops, retro-clothing stores, and galleries around, as well as a bunch of restaurants.  We went to listen to a local band on the verge of making it, a group called The Constellations.  And even though I felt like the Den-Dad, standing with the hordes of hairy youngsters in the aisles of Criminal Records where they were performing, I did have a good time.  Even bought the CD.

Here are some observations from our first few days in town, in no particular order of relevance or importance:

In Atlanta you can:

  • Go to a package store and have the clerk tell you how he just helped pull a customer’s tooth, inside the store, that morning.   Now that’s what I call Customer Service…buy a bottle, get an extraction…
  • Run a yellow/red light at the last possible second, and think to yourself, “Oh My God, I just barely made that.”  You are feeling like you just risked certain death and are just getting over it, only to look in your rearview mirror and see three other cars behind you coming through the same light…
  • Depend on the fact that, at every restaurant, you will have to unroll your silverware from inside your napkin…
  • Get panhandled twice by the same guy (with two different sob stories) while you are filling your gas tank…
  • See trees covered with so much Kudzu they look like giant cartoon characters…
  • See up to three major local sports teams lose, all on the same night…
  • Have some of the best Fried Chicken of your life, from a Publix Supermarket Deli…
  • See people sitting outside at lunchtime in 90º heat, and 70% humidity, pretending like they’re enjoying it…
  • Eat ice cream from Morelli’s.  Salted Caramel is all I have to say about that…
  • Have a guy named Gargoyle come over and install the electrical for your new washer which you thought was a 110 volt, but is really 240…
  • Have a girl named Quanticia check your groceries at the Krogers…

It is really great to be back in an urban environment again; and I am willing to put up with a little funkiness, in favor of variety.  Local color abounds.

"In The Heat Of The Night…"

June 19, 2010

I am more hot, tired, and sore than I think I have ever been in my life.  One thing I would like to note right off the bat:  whomever it was that coined the phrase “A good kind of tired” was an asshole.  There is no such thing, and if there was, we shot right past it on the Tired Scale so quickly we completely missed the exhilaration part, and proceeded directly to the utter and complete exhaustion part.

Day 2 of the Moving Truck Unload starts soon, and I am just a couple of Advil away from total paralysis.  After so many years in the restaurant business, clutching knives, pans, trays, and carrying plates and such, I have more than a mild case of Carpal Tunnel in my wrists; and after yesterday, my hands are swollen like a couple of Catcher’s Mitts.  The last time I was this exhausted, both physically and mentally was five years ago when we drove a rental truck to New Orleans, packed up our house one day, drove back to Atlanta the next, and immediately jumped into several months of a 16-hour-a-day work schedule, as we took over operations of a restaurant we were thinking of buying.  Then, like now, if someone were to have uttered the phrase,  “but, it’s a good kind of tired”, I would probably have punched them in the nose, real hard.

We have had seven days of cross country car travel with a dog, a cat, and our daughter, along with all the obligatory equipment, suitcases, litter boxes, etc, that needed to be unloaded and reloaded every damn day.  This was book-ended by three long days of loading a moving truck and cleaning a three bedroom house on one end, and now the unloading and unpacking over the next few days on this end.

The moving truck arrived on our tiny little street yesterday morning.  After doing a nice job of tree trimming on its way down our block, the driver managed to dock it right in front of the house, and we were able to begin our excavation and damage assessments.  Much like the overhead bins on the airlines, some shifting of contents had occurred, requiring us to remove items layer by layer, box by box, sometimes using the ladder which we had serendipitously packed onto the truck last, to climb up and over larger items, so we could gain access to the toppled mass of boxes and bins behind them.  Despite years of seeing (and largely ignoring) all those safety videos at work, “Back straight, and use your legs” was just not a viable option.

And the cherry on top of all this back and forth carrying, twisting, reaching, clutching, lifting, unpacking and hand-trucking (the word for “hand truck” in Spanish is “Diablo” and now I know why) is not the 90° heat and 70% humidity.  No, that much was expected.  The real topper is that the air conditioning in our newly gutted and remodeled house is non-functional.  Somehow our Home Inspection Guy missed the fact that our brand new heat pump was not hooked up to any viable source of electricity; so our house, which has been locked up tight for about 3 months, is roughly the same temperature as those little iron boxes they used to put POW’s in during the Civil War.  And just for added fun, all the screens for our freshly painted windows are in a little storage room off the carport, not on the windows.  So, unless we want to be the Noah’s Arc of flying insects, and have at least two of every one of the dozens of species that live here in the South, buzzing around every light in our house, the windows and doors have to stay closed.  Plus we have a cat that needs to stay inside, lest he freak out even more than he did riding in a car and prowling strange hotel rooms every night over the last week.  So, after a quick trip to Lowe’s for some screen installation materials, we managed to get a little airflow happening, albeit some very hot and humid airflow.

Being a huge believer in Extended Service Contracts, I do have a Home Warranty that, unbelievably, includes the air conditioning system.   So the Air Conditioning Dude was called but, of course,  cannot come out until the next day within the standard “One PM to Five PM” window.  We gratefully accept our friends offer to sleep in the air-conditioned bliss of their house, so our first night in our new home is postponed.

The next day we begin the slow trudge of unpacking several dozen more boxes of crap than we actually have space for, get the beds set up, rugs unrolled, etc.  The Air Conditioning Dude arrives to much fanfare and celebration, and proceeds to crawl around under the house connecting the connections and makes the pronouncement the AC  is now live.  He is thanked as the conquering hero, showered with rose petals, tipped accordingly, and then leaves.  A couple of sweaty hours of box and furniture moving later, the system is not exactly roaring to life. If you put your hand directly in front of one of the vents, a mild, cool breeze is evident; move it 10 inches away, bupkus.  The thermostat says it’s still 82 in the house and my body temp is about 102.  So another call is made, another four-hour window is established, and we attempt to get some sleep in our steamy, new casa.

So, last night, as I was lying in bed wearing only my shorts and wife-beater and sweating bullets, I am listening to an approaching thunderstorm, anticipating its clearing of the air and the much-needed drop in temperature it will bring.  I am gazing through our open bedroom window into the darkness, listening to owls and Cicadas, and watching the Lightning Bugs flit around in our back yard, flashing like Christmas Tree lights up in the oaks.  I am feeling very much like Paul Newman in “The Long, Hot Summer”, remembering my love-hate relationship with this environment, and silently vowing to never, ever move anywhere again.

Yes, I've sweated so much this is what I look like now...