Friday, July 18, 2014

Camels and Zebras and Llamas, Oh My!


According to a few short online news blurbs and a Facebook comment, a tractor trailer truck transporting circus animals was involved in an accident on Interstate 90 last Saturday. The camels, llamas, and zebras riding in the truck were part of a circus performing in a nearby town that weekend.

Although the driver of the second vehicle involved went to the hospital, apparently none of the animals were seriously hurt. I hope the injured driver is doing well and the animals have rejoined the circus. I never will know for sure though, because I can’t find a follow-up to this story, and I seriously suspect there wasn’t one.

Would you believe that reading about the mishap reminded me of something that happened way back when? (Of course you would.)

One winter evening in the late 90s, Other Half and I stopped for dinner at a Friendly’s restaurant. When we left the restaurant, he sprinted across the parking lot to our vehicle, eager to get out of the cold and light up a cigarette.

I was eager to get out of the cold, too, but I stopped in the middle of the parking lot and checked out a pickup truck that was parked at the edge of the lot. The truck had a camper shell, and the camper shell was occupied by an animal that, at first glance, looked like either a humongous dog or a small pony. Instead of heading to our vehicle, I moved closer to the truck to get a better view. That did not go over well with Other Half.

“Hey,” he hollered. “Get in the truck. Let’s go.”

“Not yet,” I said. “There’s a weird animal in the back of that truck. I’m trying to figure out what it is.”

“Never mind, it’s none of your business. Let’s go.”

“In a minute,” I said, moving closer to the pickup. At first, I thought the animal was a mutant form of Great Dane, but the neck was too long, and the head didn’t look like a Great Dane’s.

Between concentrating on getting a close look at the animal and trying to ignore Other Half’s grumbling, I failed to notice the man approaching the pickup.

Busted! The man did not look happy to see me sneaking up on his vehicle.

I’m sure he wondered why I was so interested in his, um, cargo. I was about to confess that I was just curious. However, I suddenly remembered some advice I’d heard somewhere (I forgot where): If caught in the act, play dumb.

“Um, what kind of dog is that?” I asked.

“It’s a llama.” He said.

O-kaaay.

I really wanted to ask more questions. For instance: How the heck did you convince that thing to hop into the back of a pickup?

But I didn’t. I took Other Half’s advice and minded my own business.

[Note: There were several llama farms operating in the area at that time. So it might not have been that unusual to haul small/young llamas around in pickup trucks. Still wonder how they got them in there, though.]

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Confessions of a Dollar Store Junkie


In 1989, super cheap discount stores were a fairly new concept in merchandising. One afternoon, during my lunch hour, I checked out the merchandise in a ninety-nine cent store that recently had opened in Escondido, California.

I wasn’t impressed. The store was messy, and most of the merchandise had been imported from China. The items I briefly considered buying looked as if they would fall apart about two minutes after I handed over my money.

Obviously, I thought, this type of store won’t be in business too long.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Ninety-nine cent stores didn’t go away. They just increased their prices by a penny and morphed into dollar stores. These days, dollar stores seem to be popping up all over the place, like dandelions in the spring. And most of the stores seem to be doing very well.

However, companies frequently have to fight uphill battles in order to get approval to locate in some municipalities.

Several city governments have passed regulations prohibiting dollar stores from locating in “prime” areas. People living in small towns (especially some people living in a certain small town) often are opposed to any form of dollar store locating anywhere within the town.

And although many individuals swear they would never shop at dollar stores, tens of thousands of other people do shop at them. Otherwise, companies wouldn’t be opening so many of them.

And yes, I am one of those other people.

I confess that I shop at dollar stores, mostly at the Dollar Tree stores that are everywhere in San Diego County. The county also has a variety of ninety-nine-cent-type stores. Oddly enough, all items in most of those ninety-nine-cent stores sell for a dollar each.

I don’t buy food products, makeup, medicine, or vitamins at the Dollar Tree. However, there are a lot of “basics” that I do buy there, including greeting cards, office supplies, and kitchen and cleaning supplies.

I refuse to pay four dollars or more for a greeting card. The Dollar Tree has a variety of very nice greeting cards that sell for a dollar each or two for a dollar. And I’m always able to find cards with verses that are appropriate for the intended recipient.

I do most of my writing and editing on the computer. However, I take notes, lots of notes, the old-fashioned way. I then enter my handwritten notes into the computer (well, I do if I can read my scribbling) and trash the paper copies.

I once spent way too much money on notebooks and other must-have office supplies at Staples and Office Depot. These days, I buy my notebooks, note pads, index cards, and most of my pens at the Dollar Tree.

Last, but definitely not least, it’s no secret that I’m domestically dysfunctional (and I do have published proof). I spend the fewest hours on housework that I can get away with, while still ensuring that the apartment is clean and presentable.

I dislike spending a small fortune on dishcloths, dish towels, sponges, brooms, mops, and dustpans. Paying only a dollar for each of these items suits me just fine. And I’m still using the dish towels, broom, mops, and dust pan I bought more than a year ago.

When it comes to buying certain items, frugal me will continue to buy them at the Dollar Tree and other dollar stores (sorry, Cheshire). I’ve found that most of the present day dollar stores are cleaner and better organized than the first one I walked into 25 years ago. And they offer better quality merchandise today, even though most of that merchandise is still imported from China.

And just for the record, I am neither employed by nor do I own stock in Dollar Tree, Inc.
 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

No More NOOK Tablets for Me


I own a NOOK Tablet and a NOOK Color. Nice devices, but both were a tad bit pricey. I decided they were not things I wanted to haul around in my backpack on a daily basis.
 
So about a year ago, I bought a Kindle Paperwhite. I can’t check my email or update my Facebook status on this device. I can use it only to download and read eBooks from Amazon. Yes, my options are limited; however, I really like the small, easy-to-navigate Paperwhite. Until the beginning of May, I had been using it exclusively for six months, mostly to download and read freebies I found advertised on BookBub.
 
But then, I began feeling guilty about “abandoning” my NOOKS. After all, I had spent money on them, but I wasn’t getting any use from them. I decided it was time to buy another eBook from Barnes & Noble.
 
When I attempted to access the B&N website using the NOOK Tablet, I couldn’t connect to the Internet. Instead, a message popped up informing me that the failure to connect was due to a Wi-Fi error.
 
Okay. But what kind of an error. I hadn’t a clue, but I really needed to find out.
 
I had chatted online with a B&N tech two years ago when I had a different problem with the NOOK Color. That cyber conversation didn’t go well, and I wasn’t going to do it again. So I stuffed the NOOK Tablet into my backpack and took it to the nearest B&N store.
 
An associate in the music and DVD section spent 20 minutes attempting to restore the Wi-Fi connection without success. And then he made a phone call. After he hung up, he handed the Tablet to me. “I can’t help you,” he said with a smirk on his face. “It’s out of warranty.”
 
Well, duh, I could have told him that. When I bought the  Tablet, I also bought an extended warranty. All warranties on that device had expired about six months ago.
 
I've owned the Tablet for two and a half years. I think the Wi-Fi capability should have lasted longer than that. I was willing to pay a reasonable amount to have it fixed. However, the associate told me that was not an option. The Wi-Fi connection couldn’t be fixed.
 
Well, at least I still can read the eBooks I previously downloaded to the Tablet; I just can’t download new ones. And the Wi-Fi connection on the NOOK Color seems to be in good working order, at least for now. When both NOOKs conk out permanently, I'll have to buy another NOOK product in order to access my online library.
 
When that happens, I won't buy another pricey NOOK. I'll buy a dedicated eReader, the B&N version of the Kindle Paperwhite.
 
 

Friday, June 06, 2014

A Couple of Things That Annoy Me



Although I can’t imagine life without it, I’m trying to limit my time on the Internet because, well, it's addictive. I need to get other things done, things such as writing, editing, running errands, or maybe actually doing some housework.

And I will not “share” any posts that appear on my newsfeed if the sole purpose for posting or sharing that information seems to be an opportunity to spew nasty, even cruel, remarks about someone or something and/or to deliberately (yes, I split an infinitive) encourage people to snark at each other over some controversial or pseudo-controversial issue.

Likewise, I am beyond tired of logging into Facebook only to find ads from companies or nonprofit organizations popping up all over my newsfeed. The people posting these ads are directly invading my cyberspace. Their posts are not something that FB friends have shared.

These maverick ads are obnoxious intrusions that clutter my newsfeed. They include pitches for mobile pet grooming, online classes, pork chops (yes, really) and many other products or services that I’m not even remotely interested in. I didn’t “like” these pages. I have never heard of most of these businesses, and I don’t want to see their ads on my newsfeed. And, yes, I know how to get rid of them, and I do.

But they are sooooo annoying.

[Note: This blog post was written in basic html. Hope it looks presentable on various browsers.]

Friday, May 30, 2014

That Bracelet Was Definitely Overpriced


A few months ago, I gave away some jewelry making supplies. I guess I didn’t give away enough of them. I still have too many beads and findings, but I don’t have enough space to store them.

I usually pack surplus supplies in a gallon-size Ziploc bag and drop them off at a Goodwill store. I really would like to give them to someone, but I don’t know anyone in North County who could use them. On second thought, maybe that’s just as well.

About twenty years ago, I gave a small stash of beads and findings to a twelve-year-old girl. I don’t remember her name, so I’ll call her “Nicole.”

Back then, I worked part time in the fabrics and crafts department of a big box store. One Monday evening when customers were few and far between, I spent ten or fifteen minutes hanging out at the cutting table, discussing the pros and cons of polymer clay with Nicole and her grandmother. I’ll call the grandmother “Ellen.”

When Nicole wandered off to explore the crafts area, Ellen confided that she had temporary custody of Nicole and her thirteen-year-old sister. I won’t share the details here; however, Ellen did share them with me that evening.

The girls’ immediate family was, to say the least, dysfunctional. The parents were divorced, and the sisters had a really contentious relationship. Ellen claimed that the girls couldn’t stand being in the same room with each other.

Ellen supported and encouraged her younger granddaughter’s interest in making jewelry using a variety of materials. She said the hobby distracted Nicole from fretting about family problems and the impending permanent custody hearing.

Nicole had just started making polymer clay beads. She also had created a large inventory of earrings using glass beads. Nicole had sold several pairs of those earrings to a local woman who owned a store.

I told Ellen I planned to sort through my beads and findings and give some away. I asked her if she thought Nicole would like to have them. Ellen gave me her phone number and told me to call her when the supplies were ready to be picked up.

Later that week, I went through my stash and came across a sad looking beaded bracelet I had made a few years before. I had strung the beads on tigertail (inexpensive beading wire) and finished it with the cheapest crimps and clasp I could find. The tigertail had kinked, and the base metal crimps had split.

The bracelet was unwearable, but the small glass pony beads were salvageable. I thought about taking the bracelet apart, but decided to just toss it into the bag as is. When Ellen picked up the supplies, I handed her the bag saying, “There’s a really ugly bracelet in the bag. Nicole can take it apart and use the beads to make something else.”

I never saw Ellen or Nicole again. However, several weeks later, I visited a local consignment store. Upon entering the store, I noticed an earring display with a sign that read, this jewelry was made by Nicole, a twelve-year-old [name of town] resident. I don’t remember how much the earrings were selling for, but that ugly bracelet hanging in the middle of the display had a price tag of $1.50.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Sprinter: Back on Track


[This is the long-delayed "sequel" to an earlier post, Introducing the Sprinter, published on July 3, 2013.]

A year ago at this time, I was impatiently anticipating the return of commuter train service to North County. I missed the convenience of riding the Sprinter when I traveled between cities. I especially hated riding a much too overcrowded bus to Escondido at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday.

Why was I anticipating the return of the Sprinter?

On March 8, 2013, North County Transit District (NCTD) shut down the trains due to a problem with the braking system. The shutdown caused serious transportation problems for thousands of people (including me), many of whom (but not including me) depend on the train to get to work or school every day.

Of course The-Powers-That-Be (TPTB) still had to move all those people.

In order to do that, TPTB leased luxury commercial coaches that ran about every fifteen minutes during peak periods. The plush buses really didn’t have much leg room, but the seats were comfortable. And passengers didn’t risk life and limb stumbling over baby carriages, walkers, and personal shopping carts on the way to their seats because those items were stored in a separate compartment under the passenger section.

About a month into the shutdown, TPTB phased out the use of the commercial coaches. For a short time, several rickety buses brought in from Los Angeles helped to move commuters. A fellow passenger claimed that the L.A. buses dated back to the sixties. I didn't doubt it. Every time the drivers hit the brakes, something fell off those buses.

And then the L.A. buses disappeared. After that, what seemed like a half-zillion passengers were stuffed into NCTD buses operating on the most popular regular routes and two newly created Sprinter Shuttle express bus routes. Riding on one of those shuttle buses was like being trapped in a traveling sardine can.

The system remained shut down for over two months. After the repairs were completed, several agencies had to inspect the braking system, the tracks, the signals, and who knows what else before the Sprinter could start hauling people again.

On May 17, 2013, I noticed that the yellow boarding platforms were down. They had been pulled up when the Sprinter shut down. I figured that was a good sign. And it was. The Sprinter was back on track the next day.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Screaming Preschoolers and Dismembered Dummies



A few weeks ago, a little boy, who was probably about three years old, had a major meltdown at the library. You had to be there to believe how bad it was. He carried on for what seemed like forever, but was probably only six or seven minutes. His mother either didn’t know how to deal with his tantrum or chose to ignore it.
After a few minutes of listening to his screaming and sobbing, other patrons began making snarky comments about the woman’s parenting skills. The security officer finally told her to take her son outside until he calmed down.
Witnessing that little boy’s meltdown dredged up a memory from my own childhood. Actually, it isn’t my memory; I was too young to remember. It’s a family story I had heard ever since I was in elementary school.
When I was about two years old, my aunt worked at a dry goods store. If my mother took me into the store on the day the clerks were changing the clothing displays, everyone on the sales floor held her (yes, her) breath. As soon as I spotted a mannequin without an arm or leg or, better yet, a head, I’d throw myself on the floor and commence screaming and sobbing. According to Mom, my histrionics were something that had to be seen to be believed.
I’m fairly certain that shoppers who witnessed my meltdown made snarky remarks about my mother’s parenting skills. And my aunt probably fled to the back office and hoped nobody realized we were related. Not a chance. We lived in a small town where everybody really did know everybody—well, mostly everybody.
One day, when I was in the middle of freaking out, the store owner emerged from his office and walked over to Mom. Trying to keep a straight face, he said, “Take her out of here. She’s ruining my business.”
Returning to the present day, I eventually learned that the little boy who freaked out at the library was upset because his mother had turned in a video he thought was his to keep. And, no, no one every figured out why I went ballistic over dismembered dummies. That forever will remain another personal unsolved mystery.