Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Draft Appeal to Pennsylvania


We received this week notice of a toll and fine incurred when we entered and exited the Pennsylvania turnpike during a recent trip out east.  We wish to appeal this exorbitant and outrageous assessment ($75) which we were instructed in the letter that we can do without further penalty.

During our trip through Pennsylvania we encountered many tolls on the turnpike and dutifully paid for them all.  We had not intended to use toll roads however on our return trip west as we were running low on our cash.  However, when we drove off the expressway to find a cup of coffee, which we never did, our Garmin navigation device directed us onto the turnpike.

When we pulled up to the ticket booth, we discovered there was none, only lanes for EZ-Pass vehicles.  As we're from Michigan which has no toll roads, we do not carry EZ-Pass.  We felt, that since backing up on the turnpike might be dangerous, we had no choice but to exit at our next opportunity, which we did.

We could have tried to explain the situation to the toll collector at that exit but the turnpike was busy and I did not want to cause a traffic jam as we tried to explain what happened.  I was also worried that we would be assessed the maximum toll which we could not have paid.  If you have photographic evidence that we exited at that point, then you can verify similarly that we entered the turnpike at the junction directly to the south.

As senior citizens not accustomed to busy thoroughfares, we have missed tolls in the past and have paid the fine, toll or both but in Florida, Maryland and Illinois this only amounted to less than $20, not nearly the amount assessed by your state.  We don't feel we were severely miscreant in our driving decisions given our circumstances.  Since I believe our actions were prudent and understandable we're asking that the toll and fine be reduced or waived.

Sincerely . . .

P.S.  I blame Garmin.  See previous blog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Finding Roots

     During a trip out east this month to visit our son near Washington DC my wife and I made a side trip to the Philadelphia area where Wendy was born and grew up until she was about 13 when she moved to Michigan.  She was armed with maps and copies of documents found on the internet.  We were on a mission to find her ancestors.

     In particular, she was looking for the graves of her father, her grandparents on her mother’s side as well as the final resting place of her great-grandfather.  These were all located near Philadelphia.  She’d never been to visit them before. 

     We were putting a lot of trust in our ancestral internet research as well as in our Garmin to find these places.  I don’t trust Garmin all that much either as our navigational device sometimes wants us to go off-the-beaten track, once telling us to take the wrong exit when we were only miles from our house.

    “Where’s she going?” I asked.

    “She doesn’t know,” Wendy replied.

     Wonderful, as we’d be navigating through busy and crowded streets, highways and roads adjacent to Philadelphia.  We did find our first cemetery without issue, a sprawling property on a hill overlooking Philadelphia’s downtown skyline.   Finding the grave of her great-grandfather proved a tougher test.  So we checked at the office.

     Two matronly looking ladies looked up as we entered and stood at the counter then asked if they could help us.    “Is there any rhyme or reason to this place?” Wendy asked, causing them to flinch a bit.  Then Wendy pulled out her paper and the women began checking computers and pulling file drawers.  With their help, we found great-granddad, his headstone heralding his volunteer service in the Spanish American War.

     The next cemetery to visit was where Wendy’s father was buried.  He died when Wendy was still quite young and living with her mother as the two had divorced.  So she never knew his final resting place.  We had the name of the cemetery but not the address. 

     Could Garmin help us out?  As my three-year-old grandson often says, “Uhhhhhh, no.”  Very frustrating as our navigational device can give you the exact address of any Dunkin Donut within 70 miles (seriously, it did this once when we were looking for a bakery), but try searching for a prominent local cemetery and it comes up empty.  It did give us the church address, however.

      So we went there.  By the way, the neighborhoods where Wendy and her relatives lived have become quite run down and are now what could be called blighted urban districts.  Not places where you want to be at night.  Even in the daytime a local library even had a police guard at the check-out station.  And the church we located via Garmin had a parking lot surrounded by a ten-foot tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

     While I waited in the car, Wendy had to ring an intercom, then explain what she wanted before they would buzz her in.  But she did get in and we did get the cemetery address, arriving just before the office closed—good thing too since we would have never found her father’s grave on our own.  Wendy had me query the office lady for help this time since I complained she could have been more diplomatic on our first go-round.

     We did find her father’s grave, a serviceman’s grave as he served in the Navy during World War II.  Wendy called out who she was, introduced me, then we took some pictures before moving on.  Found the gate where we had come in was now locked.  And I knew the office was closed too.  We hadn’t seen another entrance but after driving to a dead end or two, pun not intended, we finally discovered a road to the main gate, still open.

     The last cemetery we found quite quickly.  No, Garmin didn’t step up its game.  There was a sign on the main road that took us right to the cemetery.  Garmin was actually trying to take us down the road farther.  Maybe it just doesn’t like going to cemeteries.  Superstitious perhaps?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Now Here's Bounty!


Oh, it may look like a garden with its broad green leaves spreading out in all directions, but as far as a vegetable-producing garden, it’s woefully underproduced.  And the pun is intended.

One thing I was looking forward to in retirement is bragging about our garden.  That’s typical among seniors right?  We have the time, patience and knowledge to do it right.

I thought this was going to be my year.  I had time to water.  There would be no long vacations where my garden would feel abandoned.  I constructed an elevated planter box and loaded it up with premium soil.  I even fertilized occasionally.  So almost eight weeks later and what have I gotten?  A six-inch zucchini and two crookneck yellow squash that I had to convince my wife were edible despite their mutated appearance.  

The green peppers that started to grow called it quits and dropped off the vine.  Our radishes and onions have done even less.  They haven’t even started to grow.

And there does not appear to be anything happening in our elevated box garden to infuse us with any hope for the rest of this year.  There were blooms galore in our squash plants with bees apparently pollinating everything in sight.  At times it must have been a bee orgy behind all that green.  But then just the two squash and not even a ‘baby bump’ in the remaining plants.  Somebody was practicing safe pollination apparently.

I’m not ready to call it a total wash.  I have two plants that are producing numerous edible vegetables.  Except that one is producing jalapeño peppers while the other is producing even more potent bright red thai peppers.

If you’re not familiar with thai peppers, there’s a scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber where the protagonists stuff a fellow traveler’s burger with thai peppers while he is occupied elsewhere.  When the traveler returns and bites into the burger, peppers and all, it sets in place a tragic set of circumstances that results in the man’s death.  

So then, is my garden messing with me?  Is it saying, “C’mon Dave.  Lots of jalapeno and thai peppers to munch on” while inwardly the vegetables are all snickering to themselves. 

I feel like that character in Little Shop of Horrors who, after failing to get his plant to thrive, laments, “I’ve tried you at levels of moisture from desert to mud; I’ve given you grow lights and mineral supplements; what do you want from me, blood?”

Well, maybe, but I am going to have to draw a line somewhere.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Try To Help

     I really do.  It’s just that sometimes you know in your heart that what you did is not enough.  And it’s not a happy moment.

     One such incident occurred in our front yard.  Maybe it’s because I’m retired that I pay attention more to the drama that occurs in the yard.  I shoo squirrels from our bird feeder.  I give a shout out to the robins building nests in my trees and in the crook of a downspout.   Then one morning there was a flurry of activity near a maple out front.  My wife peeked through a window and cried out that there was a robin’s nest that had fallen to the sidewalk below.

     I went out to inspect.  There were three fledgling robins on the sidewalk around the remains of their nest.  They were far too small to survive on their own.  One seemed to have died in the fall; the other two were barely breathing.  I left thinking maybe the parent robins would somehow try to intervene and save the youngsters.  But they did not.

     Later I checked again to find only one robin alive, but trying to stand upright on the sidewalk.  Its two siblings were dead.  This robin was slumped over and I expected him to expire soon.  But hours later, he was still standing at the same place on the sidewalk.  So Wendy and I took a broom and shovel, got him onto the shovel and put him under a bush.  He tweeted loudly when he looked up and saw me.  No, I said to him.  I’m not your mother.

     That evening I checked underneath the bush and the baby robin was gone.  Had a predator found him?  Perhaps a neighborhood cat?  Then I heard a loud “tweet, tweet, tweet” and here comes this baby robin bounding in my direction.  “No, no, no—I said I wasn’t your mother,” I told him. I quickly left the area, hoping the mother would swoop in to assume her role.  I never saw her, but I also never saw the baby again. I searched the yard for him or her, dead or alive.  Nothing.  It’s possible that maybe it survived.  But I honestly doubt it.

      A second incident occurred just today when Wendy and I drove to downtown Ann Arbor shopping for a gift.  We weren't successful so we were getting ready to head out.  We were parked on the third level of a multi-level structure and as we got to our car, we could see this other car trying to pull into a spot next to a concrete stanchion.

     We both waved to get her attention because she had zero clearance between the concrete pillar and the passenger side of her car.  She stopped moving so I thought she was okay (I didn't know it was a she at the time; I just assumed).  Then we heard a kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  Oh, oh.  She must have hit it.  Then another kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  She seemed bound and determined that the concrete roof support was going to move.  It didn't.

     She got out of her car, saw her predicament and became very  distraught.  Seemed about college age.  So we hurried over to see if we could help.  I was thinking we could guide her out of this mess but instead she handed her keys to me asking me to get it out.  Wonderful.

      So I tried going one way.  kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  Not the right way.  And I could see the side view mirror on the passenger side going next if I went any further.  With Wendy's help we got her out of her spot without more damage, which was already substantial.  I didn't see it myself but I could tell by the look on Wendy's face when she checked it herself after the car was free.  Made me wonder if we should have intervened sooner.   In hindsight, yes.  The young girl thanked me anyway before driving away.

     You just wish your good deeds could turn out a little better.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wily Grandsons

          I'm technically a year older than when I posted my last blog.  I celebrated birthday number sixty-three this week.  My grandson Grant helped me to open my gifts.  He’s the older one, pictured below with his younger brother Luke, hiding out with their flashlight in an improvised indoor fortress we built when they visited some time ago.

     So when Grant was opening one of my gifts, a midget tootsie roll fell out from the package.  I love midget tootsie rolls, so along with my gift, I got a handful of them thrown in the gift bag for good measure.  “Twistie roll,” Grant said to me excitedly.  I told him to go ahead and eat the one he’d found.  But the others I slipped into a bigger bag while he wasn’t watching.  So I thought anyway.

     The next day I was organizing my gifts and I found just one midget tootsie roll.  My wife Wendy told me that she believed Grant had taken the others home.  What?!  How did he find them?  And when??   I was robbed by my own grandson and didn’t even know it.  Though he didn’t ask me if he could take the tootsie rolls, funny that he DID ask if he could borrow one of my monster movie DVDs.  That wily kid.

     Brother Luke is no slouch when it comes to figuring things his way.  We watch him one day a week and I took him to the children’s section of the library about a week ago.  He doesn’t care much for the books there, but they have toys, games, displays, puppets and plenty other things to entertain.  And he almost had the children’s area to himself.  There was just one young girl there who actually looked close to Luke’s age.

      These  pre-school girls often take a shine to Luke.  Not sure why but they often come over to play near where Luke’s hanging out whether it’s the makeshift puppet theatre or the puzzle table.   But Luke shows no interest in them and, in fact, will often pick up and leave when they get too close.  That’s what happened this day.  That cute little girl came over and began working on puzzles at the same long table where Luke was trying his luck.

     Then Luke up and left.  I felt bad for the little girl, just looking for a little friend to play with, so I decided to try a little psychology and stayed at the table myself while she worked her puzzle.  I made a few comments as if praising her effort.  Her own mother’s attention was divided among the girl, another infant, and the mom's smart phone, with the phone appearing to be getting the lion’s share of focus.

      I was hoping that Luke would become a little jealous of the attention I was showing the little girl and I was right.  He returned and began working the puzzles again.  Score one for grandpa.  Now to get them to play together.  Suddenly the little girl fell off the end of her bench seat, the puzzle pieces flying in every direction.

     “Oh,” I called out loud, genuinely startled.  She was down on the floor, unhurt, but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for Luke to break the ice by coming over and gallantly inquiring if she was okay.
     Luke barely looked over.  “She’s fine,” he deadpanned, then turned back to his own puzzle.  I guess, score one for Luke.  It’ll probably take another decade or so before a damsel in distress can garner his attention. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Blog About The Blob

     On our cable television video recorder, we maintain a supply of movies and shows for our grandkids' entertainment.  There are Disney movies, Disney cartoons, animated features like Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 but the movie that has been watched the most is the 1958 Steve McQueen feature The Blob.

    We originally recorded the movie in October 2014 in the spirit of Halloween but both grandboys, ages five and three now, still ask to see it nearly every visit.  And I oblige, being the type of grandpa that enjoys spoiling them with scary movies before sending them back home to sleep in their own beds.  Our youngest grandson Luke now breaks into a dance every time he hears the movie's opening tune (written by then unknown Burt Bacharach who didn't even receive a screen credit).

    "Grandpa, wanna dance to the Blob?" he asks me excitedly.  I respond "no, but maybe grandma will."

    Older grandson Grant even likes to see the production still photos, a special feature of the DVD of The Blob that we occasionally check out from the library just for him.  But for some reason, the photo of a deflated weather balloon that doubled as the blob in the movie spooks him.  "When you get to the picture of the blob as the weather balloon, skip it," he says to me.  Funny how scenes of the Blob eating various townspeople alive in living color doesn't faze him, but a black-and-white photo of a deflated weather balloon prop does.

    Having seen The Blob so many times, my wife Wendy and I decided we might as well take it to another level.  So we decided on our most recent trip out east to visit some of the shooting locations for The Blob, outside Philadephia.   Though the movie was filmed over 50 years ago and new construction, fire and demolitions have made most settings today unrecognizable from the original film, you can still find traces.

    For example, there is the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  This is the same theatre where in the movie, the blob runs (or rolls) amok, sending scores of moviegoers screaming into the streets.  The theatre has a "Blobfest" each summer where this scene is re-created, with today's fans screaming and running just as the extras did in the original flick.

    We also ate breakfast at the nearby Downington Diner where the blob trapped McQueen and others in the final climactic scene.  The original diner is long gone, but the menu of the diner on the same spot now maintains that it's the "home of the blob."  Well, maybe a different blob perhaps as on the menu it's green and just a splotch whereas the original was dark red and more of a mass.

     I wonder whether there were trademark repercussions to trying to market on the original Blob.  Despite our efforts, we could not find "Blob" t-shirts or any other paraphernalia associated with the original film.  So I decided to create my own, buying a jar of black slime and putting it into a mason jar I labeled "Blob, Danger."

    Next time the grandboys visited, I showed them "The Blob."  Luke said, "Ooooh, that's scary."  Did he want to touch it though.  "Mmmmmmmmm, no," he said definitively.  Older brother Grant was skittish about it at first, but eventually he and the blob were inseparable.  His dad Greg reported that Grant even took it to t-ball practice though it stayed in the car.  Eventually, after playing with the black slime so much his fingers were turning dark, Greg had to take it away from Grant and put it up.

    "It's a nice addition to the hutch in the kitchen," he added to me in an e-mail.

    Very true.  How many people can boast of having a jar of The Blob on a shelf in their kitchen.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Want My Opinion?

     I don’t mind giving my opinion.  Usually that just means heaving unkind words at the news guy on TV.  But occasionally I’ll do one of those telephone surveys.  Or even an on-line survey.  Somehow I even subscribed to e-rewards which I get if I complete on-line questionnaires on various topics. 

    So I’ve taken a number of those surveys on various topics from brands of whiskey I might drink to what I think of various political advertisements.  For all of that, I’ve accumulated $46 in e- rewards, enough for a free subscription to Time magazine.  I still haven’t cashed in any of my e-rewards.

     Sometimes these surveys appear to be veiled pitches for products of some kind.  For example, I received an e-survey on automobile brands.  When I said I wasn’t going to be purchasing a new car in the next 24 months, suddenly I didn’t qualify for the survey.  Hmmm, do you think if I had taken the survey and expressed an interest in buying a particular car brand that I might have been subject to multiple internet ads featuring that vehicle brand?

    Doesn’t it seem at times that anything that originates on the internet is a scam of some sort?   I wish some survey would propose that particular question to me some day.

    Though I haven’t received any e-rewards, I did get paid a hundred bucks recently for rendering judgment in a taste test involving a fast food product.  Since I signed a confidentiality agreement, I don’t want to be more specific.

    I was recruited by phone and since I had the time (retired), I thought, “Why not?”  So I went at my appointed time and found myself among a group of serious-looking folks all there for the same purpose.  The guy next to me wondered how so many of us could fit into one conference room but one of the organizers soon announced that they had deliberately overbooked.  Those whose names were not called would still get the hundred bucks.

    My name was called fifth.  Darn.  But I still had an out.  Another supervisor announced that anyone not comfortable working on a computer would be excused also (with pay), since we had to make our responses on a laptop.  I almost chimed in, “What’s a computer?”

    Anyway, I felt as if I were taking a college exam or something.  Everything went by so fast and there were so many questions to answer.  I’d be answering one set of questions and a supervisor would be discussing the next set.  I assumed they wanted honest answers, so I told them how my wife factors into my choices of what fast foods we consume in our household.  That took some explaining.

    Since I figured those reading the comments might get bored from time to time as well, I tried to be creative with my answers as well, one time quoting a line from a Wallace and Grommit movie.  Don’t know why but it was the first thing that popped into my mind.  If they’d given me more time, I could have been more original.

     Well, I hope they realize that my answers couldn’t be perfect.  But then neither was the outfit that was in charge of all this.  They misspelled my name on the check.   Well, anyway, even if it bounces at my bank, I got free pizza out of the deal.