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April 7th, 2018

Boardwalk! Finally!

Woohoo! Just now bought points at Disney’s Boardwalk. It’s a big deal for me because this is the spot I want to have when I go to Walt Disney World. It’s perfect in so many ways. At least to me.

I’ve been going down to WDW at least twice a year ever since a certain someone coaxed me into a visit. It’s one of my favorite stories…the German classmate telling me over the phone after I expressed skepticism about theme parks, Come on man…it’s your heritage! Baseball, Mom, Apple Pie and Mickey Mouse. What’s wrong with you? So I went, mostly to see him again after 30+ years of searching for him, but also to finally get a taste of the Disney park thing. I was born in California, half my family tree is there, and I’ve never visited Disneyland. My thing was the cross country road trip. I had no time for theme parks. But I figured a drive down I-95 to Walt Disney World was do-able.

But I’m old enough to remember watching TV when Walt Disney was still alive, and I’d forgotten what a Mouseketeer I was. I decided to get a room at a middle tier park hotel, and chose Caribbean Beach since it was closest to Epcot where my classmate worked, and which I thought I’d like better than Magic Kingdom, which was as I understood it, just a restatement of Disneyland in California. I thought maybe I could just walk across the street and there would be a conveniently located park gate near the hotel…but no…not that hotel. I wrote about that first ever check in to a Disney Hotel here. It was ten years ago this November. What I missed jotting down was the experience of walking into Epcot for the first time, and that Disney kid I once was all coming back to me in an instant. I was hooked. From that moment on, WDW became a thing I had to have in my life.

Luckily I’m at a point in my life where I’m earning enough to do that. Disney is anything but cheap. That said, if you do the backstage tour you will come away from it wondering why the tickets aren’t twice as expensive. It is a massive operation to make it all work. Soon I got an annual pass, which made the visits less costly per day, and came with some useful spiffs like free parking at the parks and merchandise discounts. I’ve written before about how the annual pass keeps sucking you into renewing it every year Here. The dollar figures are from 2012 so ignor those…it’s way more expensive now, but if you go there regularly you are nuts if you just buy your tickets at the walk up counters. The annual pass saves you tons, especially on the renewals.

A co worker asked me on one of my trips to get one of the Christmas limited edition DVC (Disney Vacation Club) pins at Boardwalk, which is one of their upscale hotels, located around a small lake next to Epcot. There was a second guest entrance to the park that I’d thought only guests staying at those hotels (there are three…Boardwalk, Beach Club and Yacht Club) could use that entrance, but it turns out anyone can, and if they want go enjoy all the restaurants and shops along the early 20th century themed boardwalk. So I got my co worker their pins and did a little exploring and discovered there was a pathway that wound alongside a canal that led to Hollywood Studios, which was by then my second favorite WDW park. But those hotels were the top tier and horrifically expensive. Well out of reach so I thought, which was disheartening because what I was seeing was that staying at one of them meant I’d have walking distance to my two favorite WDW parks…Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

But Boardwalk and Beach Club were DVC which by then I knew was their thing for buying into staying at the upscale hotels on a regular basis. Digging into it a little further I discovered that the DVC rooms, unlike the regular hotel rooms, had complete kitchens…or in the case of the little studio rooms, nearly complete, but still much better than your usual hotel room. It looked very attractive, but I was skeptical about getting locked into something like that. The middle tier hotels like Caribbean Beach were just fine, and about as much as I could afford on a regular basis. 

One year a co worker who was already DVC offered to let me tag along on a DVC presentation for one of their new hotels, Bay Lake Towers which was being built next to the first hotel they built at WDW, the Contemporary. The Contemporary is the one the monorail goes right through and I’ve always found it’s futuristic architecture beautiful. I ran that by that certain someone who coaxed me into my first WDW visit and he told me never to go to a DVC presentation without first breaking both my hands so I couldn’t sign anything. But I pretty much had decided not to join. Too much money and I didn’t want to get locked in.

Then one year I discovered there are web sites that let you buy a stay at one of the DVC hotels using “points” that DVC members were willing to sell for that year. The DVC point system makes it different from what I understood your usual timeshare is. Instead of buying a slice of time at a particular hotel, you buy points you can use at any DVC resort in a given year. The more points you buy, the more time you can reserve. You buy into a “home” resort, but you can use your points at all of them; the only difference being you can reserve up to eleven months out at your home resort, but only seven at the others. You can bank up to two years worth of points, and borrow points from the next year. 

Apparently some DVC members were willing to sell points for a year they could not stay, and Disney is fine with that. I looked at the cost and saw that it was about the same as staying at a middle tier hotel, the only drawback being once you reserved on those second hand points you couldn’t back out of it if something suddenly came up and you had to make a sudden change of plans. I decided to try it anyway, and queried one of the sites dealing in other people’s DVC points about buying a stay at either Beach Club (my preference then since it seemed to be nicer) or Boardwalk. Either one would get me walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios which was what I wanted most. Luckily as it turned out, there were no Beach Club points available for the days I wanted to stay (my birthday week in September). But there were Boardwalk points.

Boardwalk, as it turned out, was ideal. It seriously felt as if they’d built and themed it just for me. When I was a kid and mom had a couple weeks vacation we went to various beach towns along the Atlantic coast, so strolling a boardwalk tapped deep into childhood feelings of joy. And mom, being a depression/WWII era kid, grew up on big band music and so naturally so did I and Boardwalk was piping that stuff all through its in house music system. There was a 30s themed bar with the old leather chairs and radios playing the music and radio shows of the times and at the end of my day I’d take a book I was reading there, sit in one of the comfy leather chairs next to a radio, have a cocktail and read until I was ready for bed and then I’d just go to my room. In the mornings I would walk the path to Hollywood Studios and make a beeline for The Writers Stop and get my morning coffee and danish (alas The Writer’s Stop was taken down when Starbucks moved in. Foo!).

It was all too perfect. So before I left I stopped into the DVC kiosk and asked to talk about buying into the thing. I’m sure they saw me coming. Up to that point I’d been visiting WDW at least twice yearly, spending money with the Disney card my co workers talked me into, and using my hotel keys, and later the Magic Bands to buy things. They must have had my profile down pat because the offering they made me was for fewer points than I was told was the minimum to buy in, but right dead in the middle of my spending comfort zone. I looked at the numbers and they made sense if I was planning on visiting WDW at least once a year. If I did that my costs would end up being about what they would have been if I’d stayed at a middle tier hotel every year, but this was getting me a room at one of the top level hotels.

Preferably Boardwalk, which I asked for. But I was told they weren’t selling Boardwalk points just then and anyway I could use my points at Boardwalk if I wanted to. So I relented and bought what they were selling: Grand Floridian points. It was a mistake. Granted, being DVC gave me a bunch of handy new spiffs, the best of which was I could now renew my annual pass on the Florida resident discount since now that I have property in Florida (the state of Florida taxes me on it as if it’s actual feet on the ground property), plus, unless the republicans really did kill this, I get a tax break on the Florida state tax and the mortgage interest. I’ll find out if I still have those next year I reckon.

But I didn’t really want to stay at Grand Floridian. It was on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop and I wanted to be near Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Plus, I didn’t like it’s The Hotel In Death In Venice theming. It felt suffocating. But to get into Boardwalk with only a seven month window to reserve I discovered, was nearly impossible. By then so many of the rooms were already booked you could only get three or four days in a row. 

It was frustrating, and twice I took out that frustration on the poor DVC customer service folks. But eventually (I don’t know why this wasn’t made plain to me before) I was told I could be put on a waiting list for Boardwalk points, and it might only be a month or so I’d have to wait. It was what I should have done in the first place.

Just now they came through. I will sell the Grand Floridian points, either back to DVC (something else I was told before that I couldn’t do) or in the third party market. Then it’ll just be the Boardwalk points I’m paying off and I can easily sustain that. And with eleven months out that I can reserve it’ll be a snap to get my birthday week at Boardwalk every year now, though I did manage with lots of frustration, to get it this year too. As this post is already long enough I’ll go into that adventure some other time.

Right now I’m just…delighted.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Boardwalk! Finally!

February 3rd, 2018

Moving On…Letting Go…

When it began to look like I could never get the watch I’d worn all the way back to grade school fixed and ticking again…probably because the high end watch shops really don’t want to bother with the mass market watches the hoi polloi used to wear…I reluctantly began looking for a new one.

This…go ahead and laugh…was very difficult. Oh yes…at different points in my life I’ve worn other watches, the most recent of those being a “skeleton” watch I bought online, only to discover when I got it that it was actually very hard to read: unlike in the catalogue photograph, the small blue tinted hour and minute hands just get lost in the background of the watch gears. Lately I’ve been wearing a Soviet Tank Commander’s watch I bought at a flea market ages ago from a gentleman who’d apparently fled the country with a bunch of watches. But that grade school wristwatch, an inexpensive Kingsmark, had a long history with me…more even than my Canon F1 and me…and I get attached to things that have traveled the earth with me for most of my life. But the Kingsmark came back from the last watch repair shop in even worse condition than when it went in, even allowing for the fact that the repairman actually did fix the time setting mechanism. It was like losing a long time friend. 

But I started looking. Is this how people feel when a long term relationship fails and they have to start dating again I wondered. The other two watches I had were okay, but neither one was Mr Right. I started with various Google image searches because what was important to me was the face. Some clock faces are too piss elegant for me, some way too artsy, some just off putting for reasons I can’t explain. When I saw a likely candidate I looked to see if it was a mechanical wind it up watch. That was equally important.

The only electronic watch I ever desired was the Pulsar [Edit…no the Accutron] way back when. But that watch was, of course, way beyond the means of young adult, let alone teenage me, even if the nerd in me thought its mechanism was so very cool. When the first digital display watches came out I bought one because I am of the techno geek tribe and I just had to have one. And it was kinda cool to have that empty black glass on my wrist that magically told me the time when I pressed a button. I even had a Casio calculator watch at one point. But they didn’t last. Setting the date on them at the start of a new month was an even more irritating procedure than setting it on a mechanical watch. And something about that nightly ritual of winding the Kingsmark before going to bed felt right deep down inside. I am not a daily ritual kinda guy by any means…which is why gym memberships never worked for me. But the nightly watch winding ritual feels grounding somehow.

So it had to be a wind up watch, and preferably not a self winding one either. A self winding watch just strikes me somehow as a lazy person’s thing, or something for people who can’t be bothered with the humdrum of life. Some years ago wandering through the web I chanced on a place selling on of those watch stands for self winding watches that slowly rotate and wind the self winding watch for you. It reminded me of an old family joke about one particularly lazy relative whose self winding watch was always stopping.

Eventually Google showed me one that seemed likely. It was a German make and had an odd layout with the minutes predominant and the hours subdued, which immediately attracted my attention. I’d never seen a design like it before and yet it seemed so right. When I read a watch most of the time I’m not wondering what the hour is but the part of the hour it is. Time and I have a tenuous relationship…just ask any of my managers at work. When I’m paying attention to time at all it’s the minutes that matter to me. How many minutes until that 2 o’clock meeting. The light rail comes every 20 minutes…is now a good time to catch one? Is it time to take the french fries out of the deep fryer? There’s a reason why the minute hand is bigger than the hour hand. This watch took that to the next logical step. There was no date window in it, another plus. The Kingsmark had a day window and if you’ve ever had to fuss with one of those on a mechanical watch you know why I just stopped setting mine and ignored what it was telling me. Comrade Soviet Watch also had one of those. I’d rather a watch not have that. And there was something non-verbal about the artwork, the beauty of the face, that just appealed to me.

So I did a little more digging. It was a Laco…a German make. I discovered that what I was looking at was a replica of ones the same company started making in 1925 for the German air force…a pilot’s watch. The company sold several variants of the watch at different price points. The least expensive was, of course, the one with the quartz movement. But they also sold several all mechanical versions. I immediately gravitated to the one that was made in a “distressed” finish to appear vintage…only to discover that one was 2300 bucks. Not nearly as bad as a Rolex I suppose, but still a bit too pricey. I could afford it, but I couldn’t justify the additional cost just for the vintage appearance. And seriously that was a thousand bucks over the same exact model with the German innards. Plus…there was the association, delicately omitted from the sales pitch. 

I had to give it some thought. Actually I had to give the entire line of watches some thought. That “vintage” aged watch looked absolutely lovely…but it was probably worn by pilots bombing the hell out of Poland, France and Britain. Once a friend of a friend I was driving to our weekly happy hour referred to my ‘C’ class as a Hitler Mobile and I almost told him to get out and walk. But that was more about the German someone I’d crushed on madly back in high school who I’d found again after years of searching for him, and probably I over reacted. German cameras, German lenses, beautiful mahogany German cabinet Hi Fi-stereo equipment, German automobiles…back in the 60s and 70s you knew they were high quality items. To buy something specifically for its association with the German air force in WWII seemed morally wrong. But I wasn’t buying it for that. Still…who buys a watch specifically aged to look like it was worn by the luftwaffe? So…a thousand bucks just to make it look vintage, plus the fact that it’s vintage fascist. Even More reason to give it a pass. But I gave it one more longing look anyway as I clicked off it. 

So…back to the base model. Do I spend 1300 bucks for the 100 percent German one or just less than 500 for the visibly identical model made with Japanese made mechanics (über alles!)? But the Japanese innards were self winding, which I didn’t want because it just strikes me as laziness. Then I saw that it could also be hand wound, though I wondered if doing that at the end of every day might not lead to over tightening the mainspring since it’s theoretically also winding itself throughout the day as I’m wearing it. But was just under 500 bucks and as I said, I’m at a stage in my life where frugality is becoming more important.

But also, I am not interested in a watch as a status symbol either. I needed a friend, not a trophy. So I decided to go with one made in Germany, from Japanese gears. If they make their watch parts in Japan like they make their automobiles and cameras I reckon we should walk together for a long time.

I’ve put the watch I wore in grade school away. It’s broken again…I’m pretty sure the last guy who worked on it damaged it, even though he did repair the broken time set mechanism. But setting its time was noticeably less smooth, almost as if the mechanism had grit in it now, and I wondered if he’d done something to further damage the timekeeping mechanism which was what he finally said he couldn’t repair. Shaking it to get it to tick caused it to run for almost a day, but when I wound it again it simply refused to tick at all no matter which way I shook it, and tapping it against my hand caused the second hand to come right off. I was heartbroken, but truth be told it also felt like something telling me to move on.

I like having solid things in my life, and even when I was living a severely low budget life I bought things on the basis of was it built to last. But even the Canon F1 I had in high school, though it still works mechanically, now has an intermittent light meter and I’m afraid to take it in for repairs because all the old skill sets are dying out and I don’t want anybody touching that camera if they don’t actually know how to fix one.

So I have a new watch now, which I’m wearing now. I had to take it to the shoe and leather repair shop down the street from me to get a couple more holes punched into the strap so it would fit on my scrawny little wrist. It feels exactly right being there on my wrist which is a good sign. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Moving On…Letting Go…

June 6th, 2017

Health Fair Notes

One of the nice spiffs of working in a place that actually cares about employee health and wellness is they have an annual Health Fair here, where they set up booths you can visit and get various simple but informative tests done. They had one today at work, and I went to some of the booths/tables. There was a new one that gave you an overall “inside the body” age, based on weight, body mass, body fat percentage, skeletal muscle percentage, visceral fat level and resting metabolism. It gave me an inside the body age of 49, which I’ll happily accept (I’m 63). Other tests were pretty good also, including happily the cardiac recovery test which had me doing vigorous step exercise for three minutes. I am not a high burn exercise kind of guy and was proud just to have finished the test (my knees aren’t shot yet), but they gave me a solid “normal” grade so there’s that too.

The general consensus was that even though I don’t do much formal exercising, the fact that I don’t smoke (cigarettes) and my day usually includes at least a couple miles or more of walking (back and forth to work when the weather is good, and an evening walk around the neighborhood before bed), that’s kept me in pretty good health despite the fact my job has me sitting down a lot. Also my vertical Baltimore rowhouse has me doing steps a lot. No…seriously…a Lot. Fact is, even at work I get up a lot and go talk to people rather than email or message them because I fidget too much if kept seated for too long and won’t sit still. Just ask any of my elementary school teachers. Plus I got a FitBit to remind me to get up and take a walk in case I get zoned out doing code work or documentation.

So I’m in pretty good health for my age. Which is something to think about whenever I get to fretting over it because it’s so horrible on mom’s side of my family tree.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Health Fair Notes

January 29th, 2017

Heaven Is…

I keep wanting to do a riff on those drawings that say “Heaven is where every (Dog/Cat/Pet) you ever loved comes to greet you”. But mine will say Heaven is where every car you ever loved lets you drive it again. And sign it with a nod to Seanan McGuire.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Heaven Is…

December 27th, 2016

FYI – A Coming Out Story Episode 20 Coming Soon

I’m on holiday vacation for the next couple weeks and I’m using my time at home to work on A Coming Out Story. Hoping to finish up the pencils and inks and scans on Episode 20 by the end of the day today. After that it’s mostly just adding the text and the texturing, getting the HTML pages made and uploading all of it. Probably get it all done by Friday

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on FYI – A Coming Out Story Episode 20 Coming Soon

September 10th, 2016

Politics Is One Thing, Decency Another…

I’ve seen some Facebook posts lately that friends should not “defriend” friends over mere political disagreements.  Well…okay… But mere political disagreements are not always as mere as they seem.

I once had someone in my friends list over there who I’d known for many years. We worked together back in the day and then went our separate ways, only to find each other once again on the social media pastures. I’d always thought of him as a nice guy, basically decent, thoughtful, intelligent, even though his taste in newspapers tilted toward the Murdoch zone.  I felt it was something I could just let slide.  It lasted all the way up to the riots in Baltimore over the Freddy Gray verdict, when I saw him venting that maybe closing the city food banks would teach them a lesson. And in the next instant he was off my friends list. No warning, no theatrical unfriending announcement given. I pushed the button and that was that.

I appreciate that we Americans need to talk to each other about the issues. I appreciate that if we can’t talk to each other nothing can get done. But there are limits to the scope of that discussion. If your idea of justice is taking food out of the mouths of poor people and their families well then I hope the ghosts come to visit you Mr. Scrooge and I hope you learn from the lessons they teach, but I want nothing more to do with you.  Because “friend” is more than a line item on a social media list of names, it’s a connection…between mutual souls of a kind, birds of a feather, cut from the same cloth, comrades…and you just told me we are not that at all.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Politics Is One Thing, Decency Another…

August 22nd, 2016

Mercedes Love

…still in it.

mercedes_love-8-16-sm

 

Took a wee day trip into Pennsylvania to wander around a bit with my cameras, finish off the roll of color film I started on the road trip last June, and hopefully clear my head so I can get back to work on A Coming Out Story. On the way home I saw a signpost advertising a scenic overlook beside the Susquehanna river and I turned off and started climbing. You really notice how nicely a diesel engine’s torque helps navigating a little twisty state park road when the switchback curves don’t even bother trying to smooth out the elevation gain. The car simply did not care how steep it got. 

The view at the top was lovely. In retrospect I should have brought out the color film camera, and I did consider it, but then I thought of the millions of other photos everyone had probably taken at that same spot and I figured I couldn’t add anything to it so I didn’t. But I did snap off a few with the iPhone for memory’s sake that I might post later. Then as I turned back to the car I saw the sky doodling all over Spirit and I had to snap a shot of it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

August 3rd, 2016

The Best Exercise Machine Is Your Own Body

So if you read a previous post here, you know I bought a Fitbit. It’s one of the new Alta models. I like it’s slim profile; it rests easily on my wrist and I don’t even notice it’s there until it vibrates to get my attention. But I bought it for two features I figured would help me out. On thing is it monitors my sleep patterns so I can have a record of how well I’m sleeping…or not as the case may be.  But more importantly, it monitors my periods of inactivity and alerts me when it figures I need to get up and move around. I have a desk job. Worse, I’m a software engineer. Hours can go by and I’m in a kind of trance like state working on computer software, or working out some configuration problem or design issue, or I’m writing documentation, and I don’t even notice the time going by. Then when I do finally get up out of my chair I’m stiff all over. I’m 62 years old, going on 63, and this is not a good lifestyle for someone my age.  

The Fitbit wants at least 250 steps an hour. The daily goal is 10k steps, which isn’t all that hard for a walker like myself. Recall, I grew up in a household that didn’t have a car until I was 15. Walking as part of my daily life is so hardwired into me that the first thing I did when I got the job at Space Telescope was look for a place to live within walking distance. This has been my main form of exercise and activity lately. When I can walk to work I feel better and my weight stays consistently in what I regard as the good zone. But it’s not every day the weather is that good and when we get a string of rainy or excessively hot days I drive in and my energy levels go in the tank. And it’s because I almost never get out of my chair while I’m at work. I fall into that programmer’s trance and next thing I know several hours have passed and I haven’t moved.

Until now. Every day I’ve worn the Fitbit so far I’ve been able to easily get to 10k, and I usually go a few thousand beyond that. It’s easy walking around the neighborhood, to get groceries or go to The Avenue for dinner and drinks and back. Today for the first time since I got it, the weather forecast was good enough I could walk to work and already I’m almost halfway to 10k and I haven’t even taken my lunchtime walk around campus yet. But most importantly, it alerts me when I’ve sat for too long, asks me to take 250 steps and congratulates me when I make it. That I am convinced now, is the single most important thing it’s doing for me, and it’s made a big difference in my overall energy levels.

When you first set up the Fitbit it asks you your age, your sex, height and weight. So I’m guessing the default goals it sets for you are related to all that. They’re adjustable, but I’m going to stick with the defaults and wait and see if the Fitbit decides to ask more of me later on. I’m already noticing a big difference. For the first time in months I’m not going home after work, and the first thing I want to do is go to bed and nap for a few hours. Those naps never were refreshing and I felt like I was physically spiraling downward. I’m active now all day long and that’s a big improvement. I’ve tried this and that to stay active at work and this little Fitbit is the only thing that’s worked, but it is working magnificently. I feel noticeably better throughout the day and it’s only been two weeks.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

June 6th, 2016

The Rite Of Spring

My spring into summer diet has become such an annual routine now that I can mark the stations along the way. First comes getting past that initial sugar withdrawal. Then the day that eating the bland food I grew up on stops feeling so damn boring and more like an echo of a happy boyhood. Then comes the day I can switch back to my 31″ jeans. That’s when I can look in the mirror and really start feeling good about how I look. At least from the waist down anyway. Too many old man lines in my face now to convince myself I’m still dating material.

But the glory day comes later. I have a nice beam balance scale in the upstairs bathroom. I bought it mail order after I became serious about wanting to get my weight down (which was after I reconnected with a certain someone from my past…at least I can still thank him for this). A morning eventually comes when I am back under 150 and I can move the larger of the two weights on the scale back a notch. That morning happened two days ago.

And now I can look in the mirror and see I have my hourglass back and I can feel comfortable in my low risers and swim trunks and the nice lite summer shirts I haven’t been able to wear since the end of last winter’s holiday feasting. Also I feel better all around, though having weather now that allows me to be more active outdoors is probably a big part of that too.

My ideal weight is between 146 and 148. I should be there by the time I go on my road trip later this month. Then the diet is officially over. I can maintain because my sugar cravings are gone and once the stomach is used to smaller portions I don’t need to stick to the bland food because I feel full sooner. This will last until the temptations of Thanksgiving arrive once more and by December and Christmas feasting I’ll be wearing the flannel shirts and taking the 32″ jeans back out of the cedar chest and putting the 31″s back in.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Rite Of Spring

June 5th, 2016

The Rainy Day That Came…

I have a habit of tossing my loose change into a box on my dresser at the end of every day. The box, which I bought at a Hopkins Spring Fair, looks a tad like an old pirate chest. Even more so when I have it filled with silver coins. I put the pennies in a glass jar next to it that I won from McDonald’s Monopoly game years ago with Mr. Moneybags stenciled on it. When the Mr. Moneybags jar gets full I take it to the coin machine at the grocery store and use the receipt for my groceries. When the pirate chest gets full I transfer some of it to a cigar box and put it away. I also take some money from the ATM out of each paycheck and put it in my safe. It’s good to have a cash reserve on hand in case…for example…you lose your ATM card, like I did last year. When the cash reserve goes above a certain amount I take it to my credit union and put it into my savings account there.

The cash on hand amounts to a “rainy day” fund. Something for unexpected emergencies (like a lost ATM card). But more insidious are the routine expenses that all phase together and turn in to a monster wave of expenses. This happened to me this quarter and my upcoming vacation was suddenly at risk of being cancelled.

There was the thousand bucks spent on the Mercedes since it needed an ATF flush which was $450 in addition to the $500 90k Service. Then there was the $1400 flat roof maintenance on Casa del Garrett. There was the $860 for six months of car insurance (NOT State Farm anymore!). I spent $500 for and eye exam and new glasses. Then my next door neighbor insisted we finally get the ivy off the space between her sidewalk and mine and my share of it was $400. The gardener did a really nice job and at some point I’d like him to finish the rest of my front. But I hadn’t planned that one and I’d have wished the others came a tad further apart.

So yesterday I took the two cigar boxes I’d filled since the last time I needed to raid the cigar boxes to my bank. There was about two years I think of loose change there.

How many people can say they love their bank? I love mine, which was founded by Quakers in the 1800s. They like to boast that during the Great Depression when the Feds declared a four day bank holiday they were allowed to reopen after only one day because they were so secure and solvent. I can believe it. You get a sense of how companies are by how they treat their customers and how happy their employees are. And after how the big megabanks behaved during the Bush economic collapse I came to love my local regional bank all the more…and especially that they have not allowed themselves to be gobbled up.

They give great customer service…including letting me bring my cigar boxes full of coins to them occasionally and handing me back a deposit slip without taking a fee or demanding I roll all the coins first and write my account number on the rolls…like one bank I used to be with ages ago (it was one of the locals that allowed itself to be gobbled up into one of the megabanks). One time I took 13 cigar boxes to my bank and got a slip back for just over three grand. This time, bringing them two, it came to just over $450.

That, plus the cash from my safe, basically saved my vacation. Oh I could have just shrugged and put it all on the card, but I’m at a point in my life I want to be paying down debt, not adding more. And besides, I can’t enjoy a vacation if I’m worrying about what I’m spending all the time.

Rainy day money is good to have. Even better is a habit of putting money aside, even if all it is, is just some random loose change. If you put it away and forget about it it’ll be there for you when you need it. I don’t think I’ve ever dropped more than a dollar in change into the pirate box at the end of a day. But one day I took 13 cigar boxes to the bank and got a deposit slip back for just over three grand. That was probably something like ten years of loose change, but it came in handy when I needed it.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

May 9th, 2016

Trying Something Different For A Coming Out Story Episode 20

It’s been slow going getting these episodes out. In part that’s because I have a job that uses up a lot of my daily reserves of concentration. In part it’s the roller coaster from hell I’ve been put on since I re-connected with the object of my affections back then. And truthfully, in part because I never really know exactly how I’m going to do an episode until I’ve finished it. Many of the episodes I’ve finished in the past few years have had bits tacked on the front and back, and some dialogue reworked, as I’ve come to understand the material better.

I want to try something different with episodes 20 and 21. Instead of doing all the pencils and inks and finishing up the entire episode before posting it. Hopefully it will seem like installments of a weekly (or semi weekly) comic strip until each episode is complete. I think given the scripts for these two episodes that’ll work.

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Trying Something Different For A Coming Out Story Episode 20

March 23rd, 2016

Baltimore Orioles! No…Not Those…The Other Ones…

The Baltimore Oriole is the state bird of Maryland. I’ve only seen one in my entire life. Until just a few moments ago.

I was walking across campus to go get lunch. I was crossing a pedestrian bridge over San Martin Drive when I heard something moving in the undergrowth below me. I looked down and saw something move. It was a bird. At first I thought it was a robin, but something didn’t look right. It was a close match for a robin, but noticeably smaller, and with bright white blazes on wings that were much Much darker than a robin. Then I saw two more. They were digging through patches of old dead leaf on the ground by the university president’s house, looking for their own lunch I suppose.

No..it can’t be, thinks I. So I watch carefully. There could be no mistake. Oh my God, thinks I, three Baltimore Orioles! Those are three Baltimore Orioles! I’m looking at three Baltimore Orioles! In Baltimore!

What a Baltimore Oriole might look like:

baltimore-oriole-c-kimberly-king
Photo by Kimberly King from the Massachusetts Audubon Society page

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Baltimore Orioles! No…Not Those…The Other Ones…

November 22nd, 2015

Sneak Peek. . .

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 3.21.55 PM

 

Here’s a sneak peek at something I’m still working on for A Coming Out Story. Only the line art is finished now…and I’ve added the text but not the speech balloon arrows or any of the thought balloons (I really need to figure out a better, faster way of doing the thought balloons in Photoshop…). I still need to add the shadows and texturing and maybe tweak a few things here and there.

But I wanted to show this to you before I disappear for a while during the Thanksgiving week. I’ll finish it when I get back and add it properly to the menu on the ACOS main page.

Read it Here.

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Sneak Peek. . .

July 6th, 2015

Coming Soon To This Blog…

Spam on my personal email account has reached epic proportions. Part of the reason for that is surely that spammers have harvested the email link on this page and my cartoon pages and photo galleries.  So I’m in the process of activating a “white list”.  This will mean only addresses on that list will be able to send me email that actually gets through to me.

I’m working on a solution that will allow me to display a message to anyone not on the white list wanting to send me email, giving them instructions for how to get on the white list.  The email links will eventually disappear. In the meantime if you decide to use the link below and you think you’re probably not on my white list yet, add “addmebruce” (without the quotes) to your subject line and the spam trap will let it pass and I will add you.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Coming Soon To This Blog…

January 11th, 2015

You Promised…

I’m spending the weekend here at Casa del Garrett with a loaner car from Valley Motors, a Very Nice new model Mercedes-Benz ‘C’ class, while Spirit is once again having a check engine light issue worked on, that dogged me back and forth across the country last month. That was a road trip I took to the ancestral Garrett lands in Oceano California, to spend the holidays with my empty nest brother.  Check Engine in Spirit, my Mercedes, means there is a problem with the emissions control system.  Thing is, that should have been fixed a couple months ago when my dealer installed a new NOx detector after the last Check Engine light event.

Back home, surfing the web and Facebook, I chanced across the following article…

Why Does Mercedes-Benz Require OEM?

Mercedes-Benz wants to ensure that your car is operating in as close to ideal circumstances as possible, and that means using the parts your car was built with. Mercedes-Benz is famous for its engineering for excellent reason, but that means they have to design custom parts or engineer seemingly-common parts to very specific tolerances, or it will affect the performance of the car.

Even seemingly-generic parts are built to a much, much higher standard than many other brands on the market. Thus, Mercedes-Benz builds their own parts, engineers them to an exacting degree, and carefully inspects them, selling them with a warranty that ensures any certified Mercedes-Benz repair facility can replace the part free of charge if a defect escapes their inspection.

The work currently being done on Spirit is completely covered…which is good considering it would cost me about a thousand bucks total if it wasn’t. Add that to the $950 the last NOx detector work would have cost.  But this is what you are paying for when you get that work done at an authorized factory trained service center. These cars are Not Cheap, not simply because they are luxury cars but because they are engineered to a higher standard, and that costs money.

The article I linked to is mostly about body work, but it really applies to everything about cost of maintenance and repair for a Mercedes-Benz: the parts are expensive, because Daimler specifications are higher, tolerances lower. Even down to the wiper blades and oil and air filters. I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of Mercedes OEM parts and good quality third party parts and it really leaps out at you. It’s not even close. Everything about these cars is more substantial. Everything. This means maintenance and repairs can seem atrociously expensive.  But it isn’t just throwing money at it for the sake of showing off how much money you have to throw:

The essential idea behind the Mercedes-Benz philosophy is this: if the car is properly cared for, it will work out to be cheaper in the long run. While Mercedes-Benz is rightly associated with luxury, its cars are also built to stay on the road for as long as you care to drive them.

This is what we who love these cars value them for. This is what was true back in 1971 when my uncle drove to visit us in his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D, and it’s what I’m counting on being true now: that spending money on this car is a long term investment in a vehicle engineered like no other, that is solid and substantial, safe and utterly reliable, that I can drive to and from the grocery store or to and from California whenever I want to and not worry about it falling apart because it was made to fall apart so you’d have to go buy another.  That was Detroit’s model. That is not the Mercedes way.  The Mercedes way is to build a better car first, then add the bells and whistles on top of that. And that is how it feels to drive Spirit.  I read a user on one of the Mercedes-Benz forums I frequent, describe his ‘E’ class diesel as feeling as solid as a locomotive, yet nimble and sure footed on the curves.  That’s it. That’s the experience you get driving one of these cars.

But… They really screwed it up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I would not own any Mercedes-Benz product made between 1997 and 2007. It’s the worst of both worlds: expensive cars that break down more than they should and require expensive parts to repair. I’ll give them this: it seems every German car maker had the same problems during that time frame.  So every time a problem arises, you wonder if this is just a random event, or the beginning of a downhill slide. And I can’t afford a downhill slide on a car that’s this expensive to repair.

I have two years and 20k left on the warranty. I bought an extended warranty…which I’m grateful for now given the cost of the work that’s suddenly had to be done.  Figure by the end of this year I’ll be over the 100k mark given how many miles I put on a car. So this second Check Engine fail is worrisome enough that I’m considering ditching the car if it needs another 1k+ repair before the warranty runs out, and just go with a cheaper ride.  I’m fast approaching a time in my life when living on retirement funds and social security makes any sort of high dollar spending very problematic.  I don’t mind paying a premium for regular maintenance, so long as that buys me a car I don’t have to worry about between maintenance. But it has to do that or I can’t justify it…

…even to own the car of my dreams, the car I’ve wanted ever since I was a teenager.

In 2008, when the new models designed under then new CEO Dieter Zetsche (one of the few CEOs today who I greatly admire) started hitting the showrooms, Daimler began running a series of ads, admitting to past failures to live up to the standard they’d set for themselves, and promising to do better. The slogan was, “Because we promised you a Mercedes-Benz”. I’m holding them to that promise.  So is the kid I once was, and he does not forget a broken promise.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Promised…

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    This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

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