Sunday, November 30, 2014

 Fall has been, as is usually the case, very pretty in and near Asheville.

 Someone tries to look innocent even when lying next to a toy he has eviscerated and on top of a bed he started to eat but then decided to save for later.

Asheville has arrived at that strange time of year when it seems the climate cannot decide what season it actually is.  Some days it is warm enough to hike in shorts and a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt at most and other days I have to bundle up in so many layers of insulation that I start to look like I am on a Polar Expedition.

Fall arrived in Asheville pretty much on schedule and while it was mild and beautiful through most of October it did, suddenly, get very cold just as Felix and I were heading north for some family visits.

I am hoping to be able to travel extensively with Felix as I was able to do with Abner so when he arrived at the ripe old age of 7 months I decided the time had come to try a road trip.  Going to Fort Wayne to see my parents is a bit of a long drive for Felix’s very first road trip so I decided to drive to the Cincinnati suburbs where one of my sisters lives with her husband and Labrador Retriever.  This is about a 6 hour drive with a natural stopping point in Berea Kentucky at roughly the half-way point.  In Berea right off the freeway is a visitor’s center that I found on another trip where we stopped to eat and pee (both of us) prior to driving the last couple hours to our hotel in Northern Kentucky.

As is almost always the case when I am doing this drive there was a traffic delay that added a bit more than an hour while we crawled along through 6 miles of stop and go backup.  I don’t know what it is about this section of I -75 but every time I have driven it there is some kind of traffic issue between the Tennessee border and Berea.  Nonetheless we made it to Florence KY where I had booked a room at the somewhat dismal LaQuinta Hotel.  This is a chain that, as far as I can tell, is pet tolerant in all their locations.  They aren’t fancy but never seem to have a pet fee nor do they have severe restrictions on size or what rooms are available to travelers with pets.  My sense now is that this was an unfortunate decision for Felix’s first experience of sleeping in a hotel since there was very little space for his bed.  The hotel also had terrible sound transmission issues so there were many disturbances during the night that concerned him and made sleep somewhat challenging for us both.

We had scheduled a meeting with Jan and a stockbroker with whom we both have dealings at a Starbucks in Fort Thomas which Felix and I made just in time.  The afternoon and evening were pleasant and uneventful.  Jan had arranged for a sitter to come to her house to stay with both dogs while we went to dinner.  Felix did fine and apparently enjoyed being around Jan’s Lab.  I am not sure how the Lab felt. . .puppies can be a bit much for adult dogs.

On Friday we got started early but still at a civilized hour and got across the Ohio River and on I-75 North with no delays.  I have found that in many cities, if you are willing to wait until about 9:30 in the morning most of the commuter traffic is gone and you can sail through what would otherwise be traffic-clogged freeways.  Cincinnati seems to have had the freeways under construction for the whole 10 years I have been driving through there to get to Fort Wayne and there was no sign of progress this time.  You have to bounce over uneven pavement, lane changes, deal with huge concrete barriers that barely allow the behemoth trucks that ply this route to get past without sideswiping vehicles on both sides.  I think Cairo is probably the only city I have ever been in that had worse infrastructure but probably some day Cincinnati will finish its endless project.

Dayton is little better.  The only difference is that the roadwork you have to get past to get through Dayton doesn’t cover as large an area, although it seems like it has been there just as long.  Now that I think about it, Jacksonville, FL suffers from this same problem. . .perpetual freeway construction.  I wonder what this is about.

We made it to Fort Wayne in good time and checked into our hotel there, which was a huge improvement over the LaQuinta from the night before.  We stayed at the Homewood Suites Hotel at  I-69 and West Jefferson Blvd.  This, as it turned out, was perfect.  The hotel was much nicer.  To begin with the staff offered to walk Felix to keep him busy while I moved all our crap to the room.  This was a huge help since otherwise he would have either had to wait in the car or the room, and in either case would have been confused and frustrated.

The Homewood Suites room was in fact a suite.  We had a small living room, nice well-equipped kitchen, and a large bedroom and bath.  There was plenty of room for my stuff and Felix’s.  He had a nice spot for his bed in the living room so we were both comfy and I didn’t have to worry about tripping over him if I had to get up in the middle of the night.

It was pretty cold in Fort Wayne while we were there but I had come with appropriate clothes and Felix has a permanent fur coat that keeps him comfortable.  We did a little walking in my old neighborhood and generally had an uneventful visit with my parents.  The couple times we dined out I had another sitter for Felix which worked out well again.  This is the biggest issue with traveling with a young dog.  You really can’t leave them alone.  As long as he has company he doesn’t seem to get into trouble.  He doesn’t bark or whine and isn’t busy devouring furniture or parts of the building in which he is left. 

After three nights I had one more broker meeting on Monday morning in Fort Wayne and then headed to Indianapolis to spend a half day and an evening with my sister Lisa and her husband.  The final drive home on Tuesday turned out to be easier and quicker than I had thought.  Again, part of the trick is avoiding commuter traffic in all cities through which one must pass.  We got around Indianapolis on 465 (which is often no mean feat) and made it onto the surprisingly lightly traveled I-74 heading Southeast toward Cincinnati.  There are two routes from Indianapolis to Asheville that are almost identical in length and over the years I have always gone the way Google maps told me to.  This route has you taking I-65 to Louisville where you then head East to Lexington and then pickup I-75 toward Knoxville.  This time I used my GPS which preferred the route that takes you around Cincinnati and then onto 75 once you have crossed over into Kentucky.  As it turned out, I think this is a better route.  The Louisville route has you crossing the Ohio River on an old bridge that deposits you right in the middle of downtown Louisville.  In my experience, no matter what time you do this you will have traffic issues.  Again there are a lot of trucks to deal with and the infrastructure is old and just not sized for the load currently on it.  Going around (and not through) Cincinnati avoided almost all the urban traffic there and put us on the familiar road South very quickly without delays. 

What was even more significant about this drive was that this time there were no catastrophes to deal with between Berea and the Tennessee border.  I swear this is the first time I have ever done this drive without a single delay.  It was election day and I guess everyone stayed home.

We are now settled into our Fall/Winter existence in Asheville.  Most days the weather is good enough that Felix and I spend a few hours hiking.  On the weekends we try to connect with Matt and his and Amy’s two new dogs Chachi and Joanie.  Those of you who are old enough will know where those names came from.  Felix and I also try to get Bruce and Nora out most weekends with Beckley who is tolerating Felix’s exuberance quite well.  He also calms down more quickly now after the unavoidable explosive first encounter each time we get together.  I live for the day that he doesn’t get excited when he sees people or dogs he wants to see.

Ben Fowler and Ben Zonnevylle will both be in town in the next two weeks and that will be nice.  It will be particularly amusing for Ben F to see Felix.  He was with me on May 23rd the morning I picked Felix up at the Atlanta airport and hasn’t seen him since.  I suspect he will be a little surprised at the size of the puppy now.

So, at this point, I have no travel plans set for this winter and no guests planned after the two Bens.  Could be a quiet season. . .lots of opportunity for work on our obedience training.

November 23rd marked 5 months with Felix and I can say without equivocation that I am glad he is here.  Puppy frustrations notwithstanding, I have to say that the amount of joy I get from having this big sweet affectionate pup around balances out the damage he does to my house and me.  The truth is that I had forgotten some of the details of the difficulties of raising a puppy.  People have always said that the only reason women ever have a second child is that they forget the pain of childbirth.  I think puppyhood is similar.  You have this vague recollection that it is difficult and trying but you tend to forget the details.  We will both get past this period.  Fortunately he is lovable enough that I will, once again, end up forgetting all that he put me through.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Occasionally I feel the need to rant about some perceived injustice or failure that is inflicted on me in daily life and this morning I had another humdinger.  I think it is typical of the reason people hate their cable companies and the reason I hate the very oddly named Charter Communications.  The reason I think the name is odd is that the one thing they consistently fail to be able to do is communicate.

This morning I logged into my account online to pay my monthly bill as I always do but the system wouldn't allow me to get to the online bill pay page.  Each time I tried the link to that page I was returned to the log in page again and again.

Initially I tried to resolve this with an online chat agent who, after 20 minutes had not grasped what the problem was at which time as she was asking me for my service address, the chat session froze and would take no more input.

Then I called customer service.  This is something I have learned to dread because it is so consistently awful but I could see no other choice unless I was willing to drive to their office and stand in line with a bunch of people who were there to argue about why their service was cut off when they hadn't paid their bills in months.  I think they should have a special line for people who aren't deadbeats.

The shockingly condescending Customer Service Agent took quite awhile but eventually said that the system was being "upgraded" and that some things weren't working at this time.  No shit!  Since my bill is due tomorrow and they would charge me a late fee if I didn't pay by then I asked her what she suggested.  She offered that I could go to the office and pay there, pay with their automated system for free, or pay and extra $5 to talk to an operator.  I opted for the free automated system with some dread.

Charter's voice recognition system is one of the worst in the industry from my experience and it took endless repetitions of information and answers to finally get through the process but eventually the credit card I offered was accepted.  Once a confirmation number was given the automated voice asked if there was anything else I needed.  I said no and was transferred to a customer satisfaction survey consisting of 5 questions.

This was my favorite part.  Here I was almost an hour into trying to pay my bill and the first question asked was about the degree of competence and professionalism of the agent.  You are given the choice of 1-5 with 5 excellent and 1 awful.  I chose 1 and the system immediately want to the old rapid busy signal.  "Perfect", I thought.