Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Two Weeks on the Road in the Northeast

Well I survived my mid-winter visit to the Northeast and surprisingly it was pretty much the opposite of what I might have expected it to be.  It was warm in the Northernmost extreme of the itinerary and was positively frigid in Washington, the Southern end.

The first day I drove from Asheville (very warm. . .60ish the day I left) as far as Allentown, PA where I had already arranged to stop for the first night.  It took just about an hour less than Google maps had predicted so in some respects I was tempted to press on so my drive the next day to North Conway, NH would be shorter but I had booked a hotel on Priceline, which meant it was already paid for, and consequently the frugal side of me couldn't convince the convenience side to continue and blow off the cost of the room.

Allentown appears to be an old rust belt city in attractive countryside but a bit down on its heels.  The hotel I had booked was at the very center of downtown Allentown so I got to see what the drive in from the freeway looked like.  I passed all the standard Interstate-flanking hotels and fast food establishments, drove past various more urban looking commercial and residential neighborhoods and eventually got to downtown.  It was early evening but you could get a sense of what the place looked like and my reaction was that it had probably, at one time, been an attractive and thriving industrial city.  Now it is a tad run down but nothing like the dangerous war zone some of the people who had written about the hotel on TripAdvisor and Priceline had described.  One reviewer had talked about his/her fear of walking from the parking garage to the hotel entrance (50-feet maximum) at night and once I did it I had to laugh.  Besides everything else, the main police department for the city is about a block away.  If I were going to try to mug a hotel guest I would probably choose a hotel that wasn't quite so close to the center of police activity.

I had a quick, disappointing, and overpriced sushi dinner at a restaurant about a block from the hotel and then went back to my room where I watched the first episode of the new season of Downton Abbey.  Parenthetically I have to say, I am almost over this show.  It is just too soapy for my taste.  I know it is supposed to be but I think the writing, in some cases, is just too ridiculous and some of the story-lines are so preposterous that you wouldn't buy them on an afternoon soap on a US network soap so why should you at night on PBS.  Bad writing and overacting are the same no matter when or on what venue you see them.

In the morning I got an early start for my drive to North Conway.  This took me across the last few miles of Eastern Pennsylvania where I got to witness a semi-trailer fully engulfed in flames on the opposite side of the freeway.  Most entertaining.  Then onto New Jersey where I elected to take a route that pretty much skirted the major suburban areas of New York, took me across the Tappan Zee Bridge into Westchester, onto the Hutchinson River Parkway and from there into Connecticut and the always lovely Merritt Parkway.

It had been many years since I had driven these roads and either things have changed or I just didn't remember but the Merritt, which is an old, comparatively narrow 4-lane limited access parkway with difficult short entry ramps has always had fairly slow speed limits as it should.  Most of the way, the limits are in the 50-55 area and where there is construction on the shoulders or at the frequent bridges, it is all you can do to drive safely even at those speeds.  Connecticut drivers clearly do not agree.  I had my cruise control set at about 60ish most of the time and was incessantly passed by cars that flew by so quickly I could barely see what they were.  At one point I made the mistake of pulling into the left lane to allow a car getting on at a particularly short entry point only to have the woman who immediately pulled out behind me and tailgated mercilessly to flip me her upraised middle finger quite enthusiastically when I pulled back to the right so she could pass.  Not only were most of them severe speeders but quite a few were outright rude.  This became less true the further East I progressed.  The worst offenders were in the obscenely wealthy areas of Fairfield County around Greenwich and New Canaan.  Note to self:  even if I win the lottery and could afford to live in one of these communities, don't.

Once I was a bit South of Hartford and back on the Interstate system things did get pretty much back to normal.  Then I got onto I-84 which pointed me toward Boston and New England.  After a quick stop for lunch at a rest area almost on the Massachusetts border I continued on the route that took me through Worcester, Lowell, and Lawrence MA and then up to Portsmouth, NH where I got onto smaller local highways for the picturesque drive to North Conway.

Up to this point the weather was very warm for mid January.  It had been about 56 degrees when I stopped for lunch and it was still in the high 40s when I pulled into North Conway at around 3:30 in the afternoon.

I checked into the Kearsarge Inn a block off the main road in North Conway and contacted Rob to let him know I had arrived.  Before I had a chance to get my stuff out of the car and into my room he was there.  We hadn't seen each other since my trip to Seneca Rocks in early August and his surprise visit to Asheville the following week so it was a really welcome reunion.  He helped me get all my crap out of the car and into my commodious room at the Inn and then I gave him the various gifts I had brought from home.  I think the one he appreciated the most was a 12-pack of Highland Brewery's Cold Mountain Winter Ale.  This stuff is available in Asheville very briefly each winter and when I saw it at Earthfare I snagged a case knowing how much Rob loves the stuff.  Later I thought maybe I would go back and get some for myself even though I am not much of a beer drinker by a few days had passed and it was gone.

We hung out together for a few hours until Carolyn met up with us having finished her Wilderness First Responder recertification course that afternoon.  Then we climbed into my newly emptied car and drove to the White Mountain Cider Company for Burger Night (every Monday apparently).  We had a fun and yummy dinner after which we headed back to the Inn to sit around the gas fireplace and chat before Rob and Carolyn went to his apartment two blocks away for their last night and I crashed with the Sunday New York Times magazine and fell asleep.

In the morning I went over to Rob's with my hiking gear including my new boots rated for 40 degrees below zero and my waterproof outer layer in anticipation of deep snow.  We said goodbye to Carolyn and Rob and I headed off to our first hike of the trip.  It was warm but misty and occasionally drizzly so Rob had decided on a loop hike in an area of the White Mountains just west of Randolph.  Since it was a bit of a drive and we had to go through Pinkham Notch where he had worked several times, we stopped there so he could show me his old stomping grounds and then went onto the town of Gorham for an early lunch before commencing our hike.

The hike was beautiful.  I am not sure what the rise was and it probably was only about 3 miles in length but between the snow still on the trails, the rise, and the 4 lovely waterfalls all of which were partially frozen over and almost painfully beautiful, it took us about 2-1/2 hours of hiking to complete the route.  As usual I was over-dressed and was wet but entirely from perspiration rather than precipitation.  Rob, of course, probably still had a pulse of about 30 bpm because for him this hike was literally a walk in the woods.

These photos cannot really begin to capture how pretty this hike was but believe me I felt great and had no qualms about eating well that night.

After dinner was over comparatively early, Rob wanted to go to the wine section of a local supermarket to get a little input on some reasonably priced but dependable wines he and Carolyn could try when they are dining in so we spent some time going down the aisle and cherry picking the selection.  After that though, the night was still young so we walked to the adjacent movie theater to see if there was anything worth seeing and settled, with little thought, on The Wolf of Wall Street, which had just barely started.

I will not belabor my reaction to this film.  At three hours in length, much of which was spent in way-too-long scenes of Leonardo DiCaprio exhorting his fellow criminals into greater efforts and scamming their clients, I left wondering why Scorcese made this movie.  Although it had a few amusing moments, it would have been far better at about an hour and 40 minutes in length and frankly, in my opinion, would have been best not made at all.  I wasn't put off by the constant use of the all-purpose part of speech "fuck".  I am inured to that and most other words.  My problem was that it was, irrespective of its basis in fact, a story that didn't merit being told either for entertainment value or a moral lesson.  It was vivid and long but essentially boring and painful to watch.  Films where you have utterly no sympathy of any of the characters often are just too hard to stomach.

When, at last, it ended, all either of us wanted to do was crawl into bed in a fetal position and try to regain some sense of a reason to continue living.  Getting up the following morning to bright sunshine, blue skies and only moderately cold weather accomplished that.

The Wednesday morning was, in fact, so gorgeous that Rob developed a plan to really use the great weather to full advantage.  We got an early start at the coffee shop, Frontside Grind, where we have started the previous day.  I got a big coffee and a bagel so I would have some food in me to get going on and Rob went for an even more substantial meal.  Then we hit the road for The Highland Center run by AMC in the area of Crawford Notch.  In the parking lot I was instructed in the installation of micro-spikes on my boots and we quickly set off on the easy approach to the trailhead for Mt Willard.  The hike to the summit seems to be a rise of somewhere in the 1,000-1,200 foot range and is a very pleasant trail through stands of mostly conifers.  There was some snow on the ground but actually surprisingly little for mid-January in the Whites.  Still, I was glad to have both the micro-spikes on my boots, and my good old trusty ski poles which Rob had wisely advised me to bring.

We reached the summit in about an hour or so and paused at the spectacular open view on top.

I was quite taken by the beauty of this spot and convinced Rob, who has the opposite feeling about pictures of us on these hikes, to set up and take photos of us in this amazing spot.

We stayed at the summit long enough to really enjoy the view, the sun and just the pleasure of the day, and to get a few photos to satisfy my need for memories of the hike, and then headed back down along the same trail.

The round trip took about an hour and a half including the time at the top so we were just in time to head into the lodge building to get a rather hearty lunch of soup and sandwich so there was fuel for the afternoon's activities, about which I knew little.  Rob, however, knew what we would be up to.

The stop was brief although we did take in a wonderful photography exhibit in one of the AMC buildings before jumping back in the car and heading a bit farther Northwest to Zealand.

Once there, we togged up for the second ascent of the day.  This time the plan was to go to the summit of at least one, if not both, of the Sugarloaf peaks.  The approach was probably about a mile and a half or so but it is very easy hiking up a very gently sloping closed road so I was lulled into thinking this would be a cakewalk.  Once you get to the trail up to the summits though it does become a regular narrow trail through forest with lots of roots to pay attention to and the occasional spot where one could slip if not careful.  As a rule I would try to follow Rob's foot placement but sometimes he was far enough ahead of me that I had no idea how he had gone so I did make a few mistakes but didn't actually end up on my ass until the descent.

The trail also was steeper than I had expected.  From the distance at which I first saw these peaks they didn't look very high.  At a point of progress up the trail though where I would have thought we must have been 2/3 of the way to the top we stopped for me to rest for a couple seconds and Rob pointed up to what suddenly looked like a really big peak up to our left and asked if I was ready to go up there.  Suddenly this second summit started to feel daunting.

In fairness I have to say that he offered to alter the plan and take the Trestle Trail which would have involved a descent from where we were and a lot less climbing but I don't like giving up on things I start, so I agreed to forge on.  The trail did get a tad steeper but the distance up to the saddle between the two peaks really wasn't that bad.  Once we made that height I figured the last couple hundred feet to the peak would be easy.  We continued to the North Summit where once again I took in the view and took pictures.  This time Mount Washington, the legendary tallest peak in New Hampshire with what is purported to be the worst weather in the US was framed like a post card view.

We tried a few "selfies" in this location but with the brightness of the day and the limits of an iPhone's abilities to perform in cold temperatures, they weren't that great so I will neither bore you with more pictures of us in beautiful locations nor embarrass Rob.

After the appropriate time at the top to really take in the staggering beauty of the spot, we headed back down to the saddle.  At that point I was starting to show my age and fatigue and had decided that the South Sugarloaf probably wasn't in my future that afternoon so I suggested that since Rob wants to "Redline" all of these routes, he should go ahead and scoot up the second summit and back while I waited at the saddle.  That way he would be able to carve another notch on his belt and I wouldn't have to ascend another even small peak that day.

This is where I have to say, I was reminded of how seriously Rob takes wilderness hiking with clients and, in my case, old friends.  He refused to leave me alone for even the 30-40 minutes it would have taken him.  The credo of these people who guide and instruct others in enjoying the wilderness is to do nothing that risks the health or welfare of the person they are guiding, and that day, leaving me alone for 40 minutes was apparently going to cross that line.

So, down we climbed.  Part way down I did slip and fall flat on my ass but no real damage was done.  We made it back to the car with the sun still up but probably a bit after 4:00 PM and I was mightily tired.  It is odd for me, but at that moment the idea of sitting in a bar, preferably with a fireplace, and drinking a beer was really appealing and since Rob is a big beer fan, I thought it was a no-brainer but because his North Carolina drivers license no longer really has a recognizable photo on it and since he didn't hike with his passport, I would have been drinking alone, so that plan evaporated and we headed back to North Conway.

That night I took advantage of my deep tub and soaked my achy legs in hot water for a good half hour before getting dressed for my last dinner in New Hampshire.  We ate well, went back to my room where Rob put together a series of YouTube videos for me to listen too from musicians he thought I would like (and he was right in several cases).  It was a far more pleasant way to finish the night that suffering through the movie we had endured the night before. . . like having a private concert.

In the morning I picked him up to go have a fairly big breakfast.  I was driving to Boston and didn't really know if lunch was going to be an option, and he had a big day in the outdoors planned.  After that we headed back to Frontside Grind where he was going to check his email.  We said our goodbyes and I headed out of town toward Boston.

The drive to Boston from North Conway is an easy one and the roads were in good shape due to the lack of anything remotely resembling New Hampshire winter weather.  Things went great along the way and it appeared that I would make the drive in less than three hours until I was somewhere near the Massachusetts border.  All of a sudden there was a bottleneck of epic proportions.  It seems that a bridge that normally has three lanes of traffic heading into I-95 had workers on it so two of its lanes were closed.  Worse still, there were two lanes of solid traffic on the highway I was approaching on and another two coming in from the right from some other source.  You get the picture.  4 lands suddenly had to turn into one.  This took about an extra half hour or so to get past but after that it really wasn't a bad drive.  Approaching central Boston from the North is a bit different from what I am accustomed to when driving into major cities.  The route is a tad convoluted and at times is surface streets that function almost like freeways.  Then there is the rather complex series of over/underpasses, bridges, spinny freeway exits and finally Storrow Drive, which curves and requires almost constant lane changes to get to Stuart Street, the location of the Revere Hotel.  

I did make it without a whole lot of pain and pulled into the hotel vehicular entry a bit after 2:00 in the afternoon.  After a brief and somewhat shocking exchange with the valet parker about my choices for parking ($46/night for valet, or $40 for self park in the same location) I opted to self park and he directed me to the ramp and floor level to drive to.  I ended up on the second floor of a very large garage with a desirable end slot, thus reducing the risk of door dings from adjacent cars.  From there I grabbed my day pack and the bag with my credit cards and other necessities and headed down to the lobby of the hotel (which requires a slightly indirect route through the garage).  Check-in was fairly uneventful although I was told that I should have dropped off my luggage before going up to the parking garage (a detail the valet had neglected to mention).  Consequently the plan was for me to go up to my room, make sure it was OK and drop the items I had with me, and then call to have a bellman meet me in the garage to help with the crap I needed for my two days in Boston.

This too didn't exactly go as planned but by 3:00 ish I was finally ensconced in a pleasant modern, very well priced room at the Revere Hotel about a block from Boston Common in the heart of the city.  

Boston is a city I haven't visited in decades but have always loved.  One of the principal reasons for this stop was to be able to spend time at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which I had seen 40 years earlier before the lavish addition and restoration work that was finished about two years ago.  Since my plan was to not be rushed in enjoying the place I didn't want to race over there for just an hour or two on my first afternoon, so I rested a bit and snacked on some of the food that was still in my ice chest from earlier in the trip.   I was not planning on going to dinner until sometime after 7:00 and while I had eaten a substantial breakfast, I did have some hunger pangs.

I had arranged to have a brief get-together with a friend of a friend over drinks or coffee or something but had no plans for the night so I spent the rest of my afternoon on Yelp and TripAdvisor (as well as chatting with the concierge) about great places to eat that were within walking distance.

My old favorite Boston restaurant from ages ago was Legal Seafood and most reviews as well as the opinion of the concierge indicated that while it is no longer in a single rather funky small location, the seafood is still great.  With a large room right across Stuart Street from the Revere it wasn't hard to decide where I was chowing down that evening.

I won't waste anyone's time with a review. . .I already did that on TripAdvisor, but suffice it to say, it is still great.  Try the Cioppino if you get a chance.  You will be neither hungry or disappointed when you are finished.

Friday in Boston consisted of lazing around the hotel until about 10:30 in the morning and then setting off on the T to the Gardner.  You aren't allowed to take pictures inside and sadly because of my eagerness to get in and the cold temperature, I didn't shoot the outside of the building.  Briefly though I will tell you that this place is very special.  The old building is a grand 4-story affair built more than a century ago to replicate the look of a Venetian palace and it succeeds.  When I last saw it that was all there was and it was in pretty run down condition.

Now a large modern wing has been added with administration offices, educational facilities and meeting rooms, a cafe, bookstore and some nice lounging space where you can just relax and peruse books and exhibits that are germane to the museum. 

The collection looks way better in the restored and better lit Palace than I remember it from before.  If you find yourself in Boston, do not miss out on a trip to the Gardner.

The rest of the afternoon was spent around Harvard.  I wanted to see the addition that hasn't opened yet at the Fogg Museum and to revisit Carpenter Center (the only building in the US designed by Le Corbusier) and was supposed to meet with a woman at the Harvard Graduate School of Design about their M-Arch program.  Because of the work I do for Cornell admissions I was hoping to get better informed about the differences between Harvard's program and ours.  I have found over the years that most of the applicants I interview are applying on about 6 other programs and I like to know as much about them as I can so I can speak intelligently about the differences.  Unfortunately there was some mix up and my contact was out of town so the conversation will have to wait for another time.

Dinner that night was at a sensational modern Italian place facing the Common called Teatro.  It was busy, loud, visually appealing, had great food, and was a fun place to finish up a short but pleasant visit to Boston.  I am definitely not waiting decades again to go back.  It is a really great city with so much to see and do, it deserves more attention than I could give it in a day and a half.

At this point, sadly, the trip took a turn for the worse.  There is a virus going around the country, seemingly everywhere, and my last night in Boston I was aware of the beginnings of a sore throat and runny nose, that I was hoping would just be a quick little cold and would go away.  It has been about two weeks now and I still have it so my wish was not granted.

I drove to New York the next day with the predictable traffic/road construction delays and finally arrived at my old friend Charles Klein's apartment on Central Park West at about 3:30 in the afternoon.  By then, frankly, I was feeling pretty lousy so we decided to keep things simple and local for dinner.  We ended up having drinks at the Leopard, a new place in the location of the old Cafe Des Artistes right across the street from Charles' building.  We met a friend of his there and then made our way a few blocks downtown to an Indian restaurant they like where we bumped into another friend of his.  The four of us ended up having a somewhat disappointing meal (I am a big fan of Indian food and this place just wasn't up to the standards to which i am accustomed) which was not helped by my progressively worse cold.

The remainder of my time in New York, sadly, wasn't much because of how sick I was.  This is a city I have loved since the first time I was there in the summer of 1964 and I have always enjoyed myself there, but I barely left Charles' apartment.  We joined a mutual old friend of ours from college days for a lunch on Sunday afternoon but other than that I spent most of the time hanging around the apartment blowing my nose and coughing.  Dinners ended up coming from Whole Foods a few blocks away so my big adventure each day was a walk 8 blocks to buy something to eat (soup seemed to make sense) and then back to the apartment.  I watched some TV and Charles and I got to sit around and talk about bunches of things, but I simply had nothing in me that would get me out to museums or shows.  

If you look out of the kitchen window from the apartment's upper floor, this is what you see across the street.  This is one of the things I love about some of these old New York apartment buildings, in particular those on the Upper West Side.  There is so much wonderful architectural detail that even with a building right across the street you have something wonderful to look at.

Then, to make things almost worse, on Tuesday, when I was starting to feel very slight improvement, I had scheduled the drive to Washington.  The plan was to leave at about 10:00 in the morning for what Google Maps estimated as a 3 and a half hour drive and arrive at my cousin Ricki's place in NW Washington early to mid-afternoon.  I had a dinner schedule that night at 6:30 so it seemed to be a plan with lots of flex built in.

I did leave, as planned, at almost exactly 10:00 in the morning.  From Charles' building at 67th and CPW the drive to the Lincoln Tunnel entrance should be about 10 minutes or so.  There was light snow falling so people were driving more slowly than normal on 9th Avenue heading downtown and things were quite slow.  Then of course on 39th street, where I had to make my way two blocks across town to reach the entry ramp to the tunnel, there was a huge DHL truck that was blocking the street while trying over and over to line up with a loading dock in a building he had to back into.  For 20 minutes he blocked traffic trying to get into the space, which in turn created a pure gridlock for several blocks in every direction.  People were getting out of cabs and walking out of frustration.  It was really bad and there was no way to get out of the mess.  Ultimately, the trip to the tunnel, which should have taken the 10 minutes, took 90.

Once in, traffic moved at about 35 MPH which I thought was decent and figured once I was on the NJ Turnpike things would get back to normal.  I will not make you go through the turn by turn nightmare that this drive turned into but it did take 8 hours and 15 minutes to make the 3-1/2 hour drive.  By the time I reached Washington I was already almost late for the scheduled dinner (we bumped it out an hour), tired, sick and frustrated.  My poor cousin was equally miserable recovering from a surgical procedure a week earlier so for the hour that I hung out with her we were quite the pair.  

I did have a lovely evening with my old friends Steven Mansbach and Julia Frane (Julia cooked. . .yum yum).  That night, armed with cough medicine, cold pills and several boxes of kleenex, I slept like a baby.

The days in Washington essentially consisted of going from meal to meal, cousin to cousin, and friend to friend.  On Wednesday night there was a big dinner at my cousin Jim's house which was prepared mostly by his wife Peggy.  It was also great.  At the end of a trip where most meals have been in restaurants, it can really be a treat to sit down to home cooked food in someone's dining room.

My last day included about a two hour coffee with one of my oldest friends, Sandy Rothberg who lives in Mason's Neck Virginia.  We have known each other for probably more than 60 years and I still enjoy his company and his sense of humor.

Last Friday, I departed Washington for home.  The drive back was truly uneventful.  The weather while still cold, was crystal clear.  Once out of Washington on I-66 and eventually I-81 and I-26 back to Asheville, there was virtually no traffic.  I was home 7 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Ricki's apartment and that included one stop for fuel and one for lunch.  Thank God.

So after 5 days back I am finishing up the planning for my departure on Saturday for Puerto Rico where I will meet up with my parents for a week.  The last three days will also include my youngest sister and her husband, and on my last day I will even overlap with my sister Jan, so aside from my brother, I will see my whole immediate family in a warm sunny place in February.  It sounds good to me.

No news on the dog search yet but I am hopeful I will hear something soon.  When I do it will be announced on these pages.  Abner will never be equalled or replaced but I am ready for another companion.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Recently the North Carolina Arboretum showed a collection of Lego Sculptures from an artist named Sean Kenney.  He is apparently one of the few people the Lego company has named as a Lego Certified Professional.  I don't know if the collection of pieces is going to be displayed elsewhere but if you get a chance to see them, they are pretty great.  These are a few photos I took on an overcast day when I went to see them here in Asheville.  Don't forget to click on the individual images to view them full size on your computer screen.

Why I Hate Yahoo

I usually don't use this blog to rant but every once in awhile something is so incredibly irritating that I feel a compulsion to vent a little, and also to warn any readers who stumble onto my blog about a company or agency that I think is grossly negligent or abusive.

Yahoo now qualifies.

For a long time Yahoo was the provider of two email addresses I used including my my old business domain name.  In the years since I largely shut down my practice the domain name became less and less important but partly out of laziness and partly out of general satisfaction with the service I never dropped either Yahoo Business (where the domain name was hosted) nor Yahoo Plus premium email service.

Last summer though things changed.  For a period of almost a month, nothing worked properly with my email accounts and I discovered that there was essentially no way to contact Yahoo to get things reported, explained or fixed.  I eventually tracked down a way to contact Yahoo Business but they told me that had no way to communicate with other parts of the Yahoo family and consequently could not or would not help me. 

I had just been billed $40 for their hosting the domain name and decided that this was a complete waste since I really didn't need to use it any longer so I terminated that service.  I was assured that the bulk of that money would be refunded since only about 1 week of the year they had charge me for had elapsed.  Needless to say, I never saw a penny of the promised refund.  

Recently I got a notification from Yahoo Mail Plus that they would be billing the annual charge for that service to my CapitalOne account.  I attempted to terminate the service using their online link but it didn't work.  Each time I tried to click on "Cancel Service" all that happened was that a new blank webpage opened but the service was still shown as active on my account page.

As most people who have dealt with Yahoo (and in fairness, many other big Internet companies) know, there no longer is really any way to reach customer service.  All they provide is a link to user forums where you are supposed to be able to get all the help you need.  

Eventually I succeeded in finding a phone number for Yahoo.  I spent 45 minutes on hold before a woman named
Christina answered.  She was very polite but figured out pretty quickly that I needed to talk to someone in the billing department to terminate my service and said she was transferring me.  Another 30 minutes passed with my having to listen to endless recordings of insipid music and promotions for Yahoo's website where they are deluded into thinking that all your problems can be solved.

Eventually a man named Fred came on and after going through the same information I had discussed with Christina he informed me that I needed to be transferred to the billing department.  I explained that this was precisely what Christina was supposed to have done but Fred said that somehow I had ended up back in the same general assistance section as before but said that he would transfer me.  He also gave me a direct phone number (866-562-7228) for the billings department in case I got cut off in the transfer (which I did).  When I called back I once again ended up on hold but gave up after a bit more than 30 minutes.  I had started the process of trying to terminate the service at 8:45 in the morning, had made the first call at 9:00 and gave up at 11:15 having never successfully canceled the service.

At that point I contacted CapitalOne where the charge was going to appear and attempted to dispute it but learned that you cannot dispute a charge until it has been posted.  It appeared today on my account so I called again to try to dispute the now visible charge.  At this point I can't do it because it is only a pending transaction and not an actually posted payment.  Some merchants and providers can be blocked from billing an account but due to agreements with MasterCard, some cannot.  The people at CapitalOne won't know until the bill is actually posted whether they can do anything about it although the customer service woman there had the gall to suggest that if MasterCard wouldn't allow blocking all charges from Yahoo I would have to provide proof that I had canceled the service.

This almost sent me over the edge.  I repeated, for what seemed like the thousandth time, that there is simply no way to get in contact with Yahoo and that there is no way for me to provide proof that I have canceled when Yahoo won't let me cancel.

We all deal with these horrible corporate behemoths almost daily in our lives.  I suspect long time readers of this blog remember my huge battle with Sears from a few years back that resulted in their providing me with a new $3,500 range because they couldn't come up with a part worth about 50 cents that was in the new range they delivered.  

I believe that at some level these giant corporations make a decision.  They decide that the vast majority of American consumers have no time to deal with the unending barriers to getting the products and services we pay for properly delivered to our homes either physically or electronically. 

They realize most people will just accept getting screwed by corporate America because it is so hard to avoid.  It is clear to me that Yahoo made this same decision and as a consequence I will stop paying them.  Maybe they can prevent me from canceling my service but they cannot make me pay for something I don't want.  In the end, I can terminate the only credit card account for which they have billing information and then they will have to sue me for the money they will, no doubt, continue to try to collect.  

Good luck Yahoo.  This is why I hate your company and will not be surprised a few years out when I read that you are going bankrupt.  You will have earned it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Pictures will follow soon but this is what I felt compelled to write tonight as we enter the new year.

It’s New Years Eve, December 31st, 2013 and as arbitrary as it is, this is the kind of milepost that causes humans (or maybe just me) to look at the past and try to organize it in our minds so we can understand what all has happened.

For me the year began in California where I was essentially hiding from my pain.  Abner had died in late September of 2012 and two weeks later I found myself waking up from 6 hours of spinal surgery.  I had a piece of crap trailer that I had bought with high hopes of traveling all over North America accompanied by my best friend and companion. 

Dealing with recovery from the surgery was probably a blessing because for a while at least it took my mind off of how badly things were turning out for me.  But the physical aspects of recovery were relatively quick and by the beginning of December I was off to California to divert myself with a couple months surrounded by my old friends.  This worked well while it lasted and on New Years Day of 2013 I was busy and reasonably happy, all things considered.  The surgery I had feared had passed although my pain had not.  I was missing Abner’s companionship but being busy with so many people who were important to me allowed me to feel the loss less acutely.

Eventually though, I had to go home. . .back to my real life.   As short a month as February is, it was a long one for me.  Suddenly, after two months away, finding myself in a home that was as silent and still as any tomb could ever be, I had to come to grips with how big a piece of my life Abner had been, and believe me, this was a shock.  I had lost dogs before, and each time I thought there could be nothing worse, but actually losing Abner was worse, and eventually I figured out why.

When Arlo died I was buried in a struggling architectural practice (1992 was a bad year for architects), had decided with my usual flawless timing to build a house for myself just when my business (and the income it had been producing) vanished almost completely, and soon after was dealing with serious health issues as well as the return of what would be fatal cancer to my friend Bernice.  Then in early 1993 my father was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer (he is quite healthy today, 21 years later) just as business was starting to come back.  In short, there were so many other things going on in my life, as well as having a couple decades worth of close friends all around me with whom I had entered adulthood, that painful though the loss of Arlo was, I did get past it.

In 2002 when Harvey died the opposite conditions were present, business wise.  I was as buried in work as I had ever been, was working hard on Design Review, and had another decade’s worth of relationships surrounding my daily life, so while the pain was intense and the house was frighteningly empty, there was a lot for me to focus on.  Jonathan and Dan jolted me out of my introspective grief by taking me climbing outdoors for the first time, and in relatively short order, I decided to get another dog, which was how Abner came into my life in October of 2002.

What was different when he died was everything.  I found myself living in Asheville, where I had come just under 8 years before.  Since I retired before moving here I had no work issues (too much, or to little) to distract me and everyone I knew here knew me as half of a couple, albeit an unconventional one.  Abner and I had spent almost every waking moment together the whole time we were living here.  Most of the people I knew I had met because I was always accompanied by this extraordinary dog, and most of the activities that brought me joy involved him.  February made me start to recognize that there was very little left.  It was a hard month although I had begun the process of weaning myself from the medications that I had been on for almost a year to control my pain so I had that one glimmer of hope that things were improving.

In March I made a trip to Massachusetts to visit Nicole Blum and her family, and on to Vermont to see my friend Rob Rives and his girlfriend Carolyn Loeb who was a few months into her apprenticeship year at Merck Forest and Farmland Center.  The trip was wonderful and diverting and once again allowed me some time away from the still oppressive silence of my home and the feeling of emptiness in my day to day life.

Shortly after my return from that trip I drove down to Florida and visited my friends Ann and Bowers at the beach for a bit less than a week and had a great time there as well.  Ann and I have been friends since 1974.  We have so much shared history it doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed since we were together.  We are always able to start up like we had seen each other the previous week.

Spring then hit Asheville and I was happily inundated by a series of guest visits that started when I returned from Florida and continued until the crowd that arrived for my nephew Jonathon’s birthday all went home in June.  July came and went with little drama aside from my abysmal failure as a tomato grower, details of which readers of this blog already know.  In August I drove up to see Rob in Seneca Rocks, WV where he was teaching and guiding climbing for the season, and then went to Radford, VA to meet a couple of Pyrenees breeders who had been recommended to me as possible sources for a new pup.

This visit was a turning point because, as related earlier, I found myself surrounded by 14 of these glorious, beautiful, sweet-natured calm animals and was jolted into the realization that after almost a year without Abner, whether or not I was over his loss (or ever would be), the time had come to get a puppy and start a new relationship.  By the time I left Radford I was officially first in line for a male puppy from a litter Janet and Joan had planned to breed with a young female of theirs in September.

Soon after I found myself back in California for a couple weeks and then on to Denver for my nephew Ben’s wedding.  The trip went quite well aside from getting a crappy cold the day before I headed home.  Shortly after getting back though I started getting nervous waiting to hear from Janet about her pregnant Pyr mom.  Unfortunately it didn’t happen and I was without a plan to once again have a significant other upon whom to shower my affection.  It hadn’t occurred to me that every time dogs breed they don’t necessarily succeed in becoming pregnant.

Finding out that I could not transport a puppy from the breeders in Southern California from whom I had gotten Abner threw a wrench into plans to get a puppy from their kennel, and yet another breeding I had hoped to benefit from in Salem Oregon also failed to produce a pregnancy.

So now I find myself in the odd situation of having lived 15 months without the companionship of a dog.  That is, I believe, the longest I have gone since getting Arlo in early 1978 and it hasn’t been easy.  At this point there are probably a half dozen breeders all of whom know that I am anxiously looking for the right puppy so, no doubt, one of these days something will transpire and the pages of this blog will once again be filled with too many pictures of a big fluffy white dog.

I did survive the year, and have to admit that things are probably better than this time last year.  I don’t have my dog yet but I know that getting one is the right thing for me.  I am having nerve pain problems again but had an MRI yesterday so I will probably know soon what can or cannot be done about it and that is better than not knowing.  Besides, I am now on Medicare so even if I need more surgery, at least this time I won’t be hit so hard financially.

Late in 2012 someone bought my rolling turd of a trailer so I will never have to deal with that disaster again.  I am getting ready to travel to New Hampshire, Boston, New York, and Washington for almost two weeks (yeah, I know. . .no one does this in the dead of winter but who every claimed that I do things other people do?).  Then I will be home for a week before I head off for a week in Puerto Rico to hang out with my parents.  In mid-March my good friends Faye and Jay are coming for yet another visit and this time I am planning on showing them the area around Beaufort, SC and Savannah. 

I also have joined the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute at UNC Asheville where I having gotten into playing bridge with a bunch of other geezers twice a week, and believe it or not that is proving to be an entertaining pastime. 

The summary then is this.  There are still some pretty big things missing in my life and I certainly don’t know how my nerve pain will be resolved, but I go into 2014 in what I think is a better situation than the one in which I entered 2013.

I hope my friends who read this blog, as well as all the strangers who stumble upon it for reasons that remain a mystery to me, have a wonderful New Year filled with health and happiness.  And to my friends, all I can say is that the last couple of years have taught me to value you even more than I did before.

Happy New Year.