Friday, October 30, 2009

Ahh Memories

I took my car to get inspected today. (You are thinking - "What a boring post..." Remember this is ME...)

My sticker expires tomorrow so I am down to the wire. I had a momentary freak out when I remember last year’s inspection debacle.

Scene: Crisp October Morning, leaves falling lazily to the ground, smell of fall in the air.

Image of me at that exact moment - What a perfect day!

I walk out to my car. Where is my car? Hmm, lemme stroll around the parking lots to look...Still no car...A neighbor sees me standing there with my keys dangling and a confused look on my face and says "They were towing last night." Yea, well thanks, but I live here and have a resident sticker so why would they tow me?

I am about to call the police to report my car stolen but I decide to call the Condo Association (which resides somewhere in Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell)

"Um, my car is gone and I heard y'all were towing last night"

Evil Secretary - "Yes we towed all cars with an expired inspection sticker."

Image of what I felt like at that exact moment -

After much swearing in my head and asking "You mean to tell me I can’t park my own car in my own condo lot where pay you a condo fee of $250 a month to keep my car safe and happy without the threat of being towed!?"

Oh, before I go on I should explain why I was walking out to my car - I WAS TAKING IT TO BE INSPECTED! It was supposed to be inspected the prior week while I was getting some repairs (I ran over a boulder that fell off a landscaping truck in front of me on the highway and my wheels came out looking like PacMan - it never ends for me) but the mechanic forgot to do it so I was scheduled to bring it back that day.

Yes, I really did get my car towed for not being inspected the day I was bringing it to be inspected.

Anyway, once I calmed myself and convinced myself that calling the cops to report my car stolen wasn’t the right recourse nor would throwing rocks thru the Condo Association office window do much to get my car back, I sighed and went to sign posted outside the condo lot and called the tow truck number. Yes, they had my car. They are in fact legally allowed to enter private association property and tow your car if your stickers are expired.

Having been towed when first I moved in as a "Welcome to the Association" gesture (I misunderstood the confusing treasure map they gave me of where I was allowed to park when I first moved in), I knew where to go. I called a cab and paid my $20 and got out.

I approached the doorway and saw broken glass everywhere (is that a bullet hole?). I opened the unlocked door and the tow office was deserted...I went running after the cab driver but he was gone and this was in a scary warehouse area with not another visible soul anywhere.

I called the number on the scrawled sign that said they had moved and was told to walk down a deserted old highway for a mile and a half to get to the new location.

The new location was a little fenced in lot with a guy sitting in a tow truck. No office even. I didn’t see my car...Er? I ask the friendly, I mean surly, driver where my car is and he told me they didn’t have it...BUT I JUST CALLED YOU AND YOU SAID YOU HAD IT! I realized that this man surely had a weapon under the seat so I just backed away a tried to hitchhike a ride back to civilization from an elderly couple that had just picked up their car. They said no.

I called the condo association with a few choice words and was informed that they had changed tow truck companies. So the number on the sign in the lot that I had called was correct but it was different company and location from the one I went to last year. I suppose I should have asked for the address when I had initially called but since I had visited that same location at least twice in the last year, I just assumed it would be at the same place. (I also managed to get a friend's car towed by not understanding the archaic parking rules - a spot that doesn’t say reserved is, in fact, under our condo rules reserved, dummy.)

Since the old people thought I would kidnap them and refused me a ride (love thy neighbor? not in DC) I now have to walk back down the deserted old highway for about 45 minutes to get to the metro and then walk another mile and a half to the other tow truck place across town.

Me at this point:

I get there, slam $100 on the counter and get my little Chevy back.

The next day I noticed the Condo Association office sent all owners a flyer that read "Residents please note that a new Tow Truck company was hired 6 months ago". Thanks.

So that is why I got my car inspected today - one day before the deadline...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hello US Airways Customer Service, how may I hurt you today?

This Thanksgiving I only need a one way ticket home because I will be traveling on to the old corporate HQ in Cincinnati the following week.

I decided to avoid traveling on “Amateur Days” at the airport on the Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week ("What do you MEEEEAN I have to take off my shoes and put my toiletries in a baggie?") I'd fly in early in the week and leave on Monday to cut down on unnecessary flying and also maximize the motherly smothering and feeding time.

One Way Flight - DCA to SYR = $564!!!!
(Not even on Wednesday this was for Monday or Tuesday)

Round Trip Flight DCA to SYR = $100 each way or $200 total

Sucker and glutton for punishment that I am...I just HAD to call US Airways and ask a pitiful and futile "Why?"

"Hello US Airways Customer Service, how may I help you?"

I explain the situation

USACS: "Hem, Haw, um, er, well that’s just how it works. I can book the ticket for you for a $25 charge."

She who just can't let it go (me) "Well, I don't get it, the same exact seat is either $100 or $564 right?"

USACS: "Yes."

SWJCLIG: "Well, I am just gonna buy the roundtrip ticket and not use the return seat."

USACS " Ok, would you like me to book it for the $25 fee?"

SWJCLIG counts to 10 so as not say something that would be used in a future airline customer service training session in the “Dealing with Wackjobs" session.

SWJCLIG: "Um, nooo, but you will have sold a seat that is technically worth $564 to me for $100 and I am not going to use it so you could just sell me the one way ticket and leave that seat open and someone else (obviously a moron) might buy it for $564 so you end up making more for the company!"

USACS: "It doesn’t work that way." And she actually giggled.

SWJCLIG sputtering: "It makes no sense, don’t you want to attempt to try to be profitab...oh forget it..."


US Airways lost almost TWO BILLION dollars in 2008. Sigh.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paging the American President? Where are you?

To understand why Obama received the Nobel Peace prize you have to understand the differences between Europe and the USA when it comes to war, peace and government

Europe had two brutal wars in two generations fought on their soil - they were under siege in their cities, millions were killed in their countryside. After the destruction and violence of WWI, the orphaned sons of the millions who died in that war went off to die in WWII. Peace is not some abstract ideal to Europeans.

This is very different from the American perspective during those two wars - we flew our troops over, did what was needed and got out when we were done. There was more bravado to it versus the desperation in Europe. Beyond Pearl Harbor our cities weren’t attacked and devastated by these two wars.

When it comes to the role of government, Europe subscribes in the power of institutions, not that of the individual. Walk down the street in Geneva or Brussels and you will see an alphabet soup of international institutions designed mostly to keep the peace and harmony and avoid another world conflict fought in the European countryside.

Here are some examples – Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines, European Audiovisual Observatory, Eurocorps , The European Parliament , European Ombudsman of the European Union. Those 8 organizations are just the ones located in one city - Strasburg, France. I didn’t go thru Geneva, Oslo, Paris, Rome, etc…

In contrast, the US was founded by people who said "I don’t need some institution (King) to tell me what I can do, we are out of here, buhbye!". For the next few hundred years, when people found themselves oppressed or without work, they got on a boat, plane, or hidden path thru the dessert to come live here because they weren’t the kinds people who meekly accepted their fates. Built from this individualism and action – we evolved into a very different country and culture from Europe.

(If you don’t believe me, then go to Italy or France or Spain and ask one of the 25 year olds sitting in a cafĂ© during the middle of the day without a job what its like to still live at home and spend the last 7 years looking for a job. I spent 2 weeks in a small village in Italy with my relatives last summer – I was struck by the complete utter lack of desire or will to even attempt to better oneself by all the young people. Why bother? – the government checks come and its enough to eat, pay for a car, buy clothes and even go on some vacations – what’s better than this? Who needs a job and an education?)

Europe didn’t understand why we went to war twice after Sept 11th. It is not European to go on the offensive. They would have had meetings in Geneva and Oslo and Paris and talked about sanctions and decrees etc...(It didn’t seem to bother Europe very much when we mobilized our soldiers to France and Germany in 1917 and 1941 without too much debate.)

This is why a European Institution gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize - because he acts like a European and Europe wants to reward and encourage this behavior. He gives flowery speeches and speaks of ideals but hasn’t followed-up with decisive action. I am sure France will give him citizenship in a few years if he asked nicely and he can go be the President of Europe if he wants to. He is much more suited for that job.

The problem is - if our leader is going to act European and we are going to become more like Europe with more government and more talk than action – well, then who is going to play the part of the US and be the decisive leader who will go on the offensive to make things right next time the world needs fixing?

Er, did I say next time? I mean NOW – send more troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Peace Prize, our soldiers are in far more danger from the fact we don’t go to war at 100% anymore for political reasons than from the Taliban. War is bad and peace is good but when you are already in a war the point is to work towards an honorable end that leaves our country and the country we invaded better off, and not do it halfway. It’s not popular, but its what an American leader would do.

(yes, I'm aware some of this post was based on broad generalizations about our cross-Atlantic neighbors, but its my blog, start your own if you don't like it)

(*your hero, the author, was an idealistic 19-year old college student studying in Europe and visited most of these institutions – the highlight being having a martini in the NATO headquarters officer’s club)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Please Exercise Regularly !

That was the kindly message printed at the bottom of my Sbarro receipt.

I am fast-food free in 2009 but my airport choices were limited to to McDonald's (ew) and one of those chinese buffets (double ew) so I went with a slice of cheese pizza and told myself I could still hold myself to my no-fast food in 2009 pledge since I didn't go for the mystery meat General Tso or the combo meal #4.

All the fast food chains' half-assed attempts at nutrition and health and trying to look like they are contributing to helping us halve our asses are just silly.

I checked out Sbarro's nutrition info since they seemed to care so much about my well-being. I clicked the nutrition tab and got a "Page under Construction" message.

Hmm, after some more research I found out from a few other sites that the cheese slice at Sbarro contains:

460 Calories & 13 grams of Fat

That is about the same amount as:

KFC Fried Chicken - 1 piece (Kentucky Grilled Chicken? Good luck with that re-branding campaign)
Taco Bell Nacho Supreme
Big Mac (540 Calories)

(found at:

and almost double the amount of fat and calories in any other pizza chains slices
(I checked here:

What the heck do they put in their pizza? Lard?

Hmmm, so thanks so much for the tip to exercise regularly since you have the least healthy pizza offering on the market.

To burn off that one slice would require at least an hour of most activities from basketball to running etc. and TWO HOURS of moderately fast walking.

And I may or may not have had a second slice....eeeep.

I'm packing granola bars next time.