Monday, November 10, 2008

Nice People? What The...?

I realize that many of my posts on this blog tend to be somewhat.. err.. negative. After all, this is my place to vent to my heart's content, right?
However, today was a day that partially restored my faith in humanity (all right, that's a little over-dramatic).
I was taking a vacation day today, to catch up on things and have a 'decompression day' after the trip to Boston. While running errands, I went to the dry cleaner and was treated very nicely (to be fair, this place is always great). Then I went to get my oil changed. I had to go to three places (Jiffy Lube - closed due to hurricane damage, sticker stop didn't have my filter) and ended up at the Detail/Lube center at the Mister Car Wash on Gessner near I-10. These people were amazing! I can't remember the last time folks were so polite and helpful. The guy came in to show me my filters, and when I opted to not have them replace my cabin filter (can get it a lot cheaper elsewhere) he not only didn't try to hard-sell me, he immediately said "OK, I'll put a note in the comments on your invoice so you'll have a reminder". Then once the oil change was done, the lady who rang me up carefully explained their coupon attached for a free car wash (did you know they do that? makes the cost of the oil change a lot more reasonable!). Oh, they also have some pretty high-quality leather couches/chairs in the waiting room (and the coffee actually tasted good). I have to say, I came out of that place smiling and shaking my head. I'm not used to actual customer service these days, ya know?
Later, stopping by Kroger for some groceries, the girl who was sort of supervising the self-check-out lane actually said "Have a great day, sir" as I was walking out (could have done without the 'sir', but I guess I am old). Again, unexpected and refreshing.
I also made a trip to Sam's Club to talk to their optical shop and to pick up a few items. The lady who rang me up and I had a fun conversation about the person behind me (who had about 300 things on 3 floats -- she wasn't looking forward to ringing it all up!). Then she actually used my name as she thanked me and wished me a good evening. I don't remember that happening before at Sam's.
However, lest you think my cynicism is completely on hold, I had a rather lackluster experience at TSO. I recently got my eye exam and, sadly, it is time for reading correction. Now, I have an optician in the family, but he's in Florida and it is very difficult to select/buy glasses long distance. My plan was to see if I could find a frame here in Houston that (a) I like and (b) Chuck can get at his store. There is also a possibility that I'll get something here locally, as I want to get a 'regular' pair and a sunglasses pair. Chuck's store is very upscale and even with the "family discount", 2 pairs would/will set me back! Upon entering TSO, I looked around at their haphazard displays, nothing labeled as far as whether they were men's or women's frames (hard to tell these days as many truly are "unisex") but I couldn't narrow down my search. There seemed to be no grouping of frames by any criteria. On top of that, NOTHING was priced. There was only one employee in the store and although she was dealing with another customer, she never even acknowledged my presence. So, I left and shall never return.
So, TSO was crap, but overall, I was impressed and surprised by my fellow humans today. Thought I should let folks know.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Shalom, Y'all!

I just attended the wedding of my step-niece up in the Boston area. For our family, this wedding was a bit different in a few ways! First off, it's an inter-faith marriage. So, although the wedding ceremony took place in a Lutheran church (where my sister, the stepmother of the bride, is organist and minister of music), there were Jewish elements involved along with the Christian traditions. That was a little strange. First of all, God was worshiped and prayed to, but Jesus was not mentioned. Along with the church's altar, there was a huppa, the open-topped 'tent' (made famous to us non-Jews in "Meet the Parents" where Owen Wilson, the perfect ex-boyfriend, carved one from a single piece of wood...). Hebrew readings/blessings were alternated with scripture readings in English. The Lutheran pastor presided (no Rabbi). No seven circles, no breaking glass, etc. Interesting, however, to be sure.

Anyway, after the ceremony, we traveled to a place called "The Red Lion Inn" for the reception in the "Lion's Hall" . Great place for a party! The original structure of the inn was built in 1704 and has a unique history. Really wonderful place. It was a sit-down dinner, and aside from the clam chowdah being a little tepid, the food was excellent! There was a typical wedding band (versed in everything from jazz standards to rock-n-roll oldies to disco) -- and (dare I say it) dancing! I have to say, this is where "Baptist" weddings fall down. Raised as a Southern Baptist, nearly every family wedding I've been to has had the reception in the fellowship hall of the church where there will be no alcohol or dancing. I have to tell you, although the ceremonies have always been beautiful (c'mon, it's your family member tying the knot, of course it's special!), the receptions are outright lame. People standing around nursing a cup of punch, waiting for the couple to cut the cake. This reception was more like the ones I've attended as a sound engineer (mixing for one of those tuxedoed bands) -- where people actually have fun and party! Here I was, seeing a lot of family I haven't seen in a long time, meeting "the other side" for the first time, and it was the most fun I've had in ages. Just being silly, dancing with my 12-year-old niece, all of us "screaming along" with the disco medley... and HISTORY WAS MADE on this date. My parents, in their 70's, ACTUALLY DANCED for what I believe is the very first time. Not a ballroom-style dance or even a slow dance, but just out there dancing around to some oldies. My brother ran for his camcorder, I veritably dove for my camera. I cannot put into words the joy you experience seeing something like that. I've watched plenty of septuagenarians hit the dance floor at wedding receptions, but MY FOLKS? I believe they were actually raised to think dancing is evil. Of course, over the years they've let a few of the more strident "no-nos" of the rural Southern Baptist tradition, such as card playing, lapse, but I NEVER thought I'd see them out on a dance floor. Where other people could see them? NO way. My dad has always had a silly streak and will do some pretty goofy stuff, but not in public. So perhaps it was a bit less astonishing to see him out there -- but my MOM?? Oh man. OH MAN. Just those 4 or 5 minutes were worth the trip. I really can't overstate this. Unbelievable.

Also during this trip I got my first taste of Rock Band the video game. They have it at my sister's house. So my 12-yr-old niece, my 18-yr-old nephew and I fumbled our way through some classics (well, Dallas and I stumbled. Erika was always playing on the "hard" setting and was killing!). I tried both guitar and drums, Dallas sang when all three of us were playing and Erika alternated instruments with me. NOW I see why this thing, and Guitar Hero, are so stinkin' popular! ADDICTIVE is definitely the operative word here. I'd really never had a good description of how it all works, and won't attempt to describe it to you either (it's kind of hard to do). I had been told that if you really do know how to play the guitar, it doesn't help you -- and that is TRUE. As a matter of fact, it's a hindrance, as your fingers will invariably revert to actually trying to hit a correct fret instead of just pressing the button of the correct color. Playing the 'drums' is a little closer to reality, as your task does require some rhythm -- but the bottom line is that it's all eye-hand coordination like most video games. It also helps if you know the songs you are "playing", but it's not of major importance unless you are the singer (the game tracks the accuracy of your pitch, and provides the lyrics, so for a 'singer' it's karaoke-like, but you will fail if you can't carry a tune). You do have things to do during instrumental portions of the song, usually tapping the mic on beat, that sort of thing. Anyway, that's just crazy fun. Everyone should have one.

My littlest nephew, Nash, was pretty well-behaved and charming for the majority of the trip -- and he is now in that three-year-old thing where they just talk a blue streak. One quick anecdote: My brother-in-law Tim (father of the bride) is having continuing (and worsening! please pray!!) health problems and as a result is currently walking with a cane. Nash came up to him and said "I like your cane, Uncle Tim!" Then, "Maybe Santa can bring me a cane like that for Christmas, but maybe a little shorter." Kids. Gotta love 'em. Oh, and he had decided that he was going to call me "Cheese Crackers" for most of the weekend.

It seems like whenever our family gets together, someone will, in the attempt to be funny, just stick their foot way down their throat. It was my turn this time. We'd been kind of kidding about some things Jewish, and I was teasing my sister Dawne about something... anyway, she'd said something about lox or some such other thing and I said "You trying to be Jewish? Well you've got the schnoz for it" (we've always given her a hard time about her nose). HOWEVER, the word that came out in place of "schnoz" was... "schlong". It was just my siblings, Dallas and I in the room at the moment, thank goodness. That was one of several laugh-until-you-cry-and-cannot-breathe moments of the weekend. yikes.

All in all, this weekend was just insanely enjoyable. However, my reign as
The Flat Tire King continues. This morning at 6:30 AM as I went out to my rental car with my luggage (getting ready to take my Floridian sister and myself to the airport for our respective flights), the left rear tire was flat. There was a nail, in its usual spot (too close to the sidewall to plug -- a ruined tire!). Thankfully, the lug nuts were not air-hammered on for all time by a sadistic mechanic, so I was able to get them loose with the 12" toy lug wrench provided in the "kit" and got the donut on in just a few minutes. Also thankfully, it wasn't very cold and the drizzle had abated. We got to the airport in plenty of time, where my flight to Houston was delayed nearly an hour due to -- no kidding -- a flat tire.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Careful What You Hope For

Well, I just finished watching Obama's acceptance speech. We've got us a new President!
I'm certainly not surprised.

So, we've just elected a guy who, on the positive side, is the first mixed-race President.
However, this is also a guy who has stated that he felt that the Warren court wasn't radical enough, didn't address the subject of wealth redistribution. It's a guy who, in a rare moment of candor, told a guy that "spreading the wealth around" was his intention. A guy who has said we need a civilian national security force equal to the military. A guy who has lined up behind gun ban legislation at every turn. A guy who thinks sitting down and having conversations with lunatic dictators is the right way to pursue diplomacy. A guy who intends (in his own words) to bankrupt the coal industry. A guy who expects us to believe that he sat in the pew of an anti-american, anti-white church for over 20 years but doesn't embrace the theology of its pastor (a man so inspiring to him that the title of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" is from one of Wright's sermons). A guy who cozied up to a well known 60's radical terrorist to launch his own political ambitions, trying to say that somehow he really had nothing to do with the guy.

Oh, "change". "Hope".

Well, as he said tonight, "Change has come to America". I pray that it's not what he actually says he wants to do, because even you kool-aid drinkers will be horrified if and when he shuts down talk radio, silences opposition, takes guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, reaches DEEP into your pocket to "spread the wealth around", and forms his own private army to enforce whatever he deems necessary.

Do I think he'll actually be able to pull all of that off? Well, I would love to say "of course not". After all, the President can't just do what he wants. There's always congress... Oh wait... it's in Democrat hands as well. Not to mention that we could see two more Supreme Court justices retire very soon, as they are ancient. You think Obama will put in strict constructionists? Judges who won't impose their agenda via their decisions?

When your taxes go up, when you have to turn in your gun, when you have to look over your shoulder before having a candid conversation lest you break speech codes, when the government (imagine the horror) takes over the health care industry, when your electricity bill skyrockets, when you start having to pay carbon offset taxes...

Maybe then you'll wonder "what was I thinking?". Of course, by then it will be too late.