Frightened by Allegiant – Oh, and Happy Halloween

It’s October 31st, do you know what day it is?  That’s right, the last day for me to get my blog quota in for the month.  Thankfully I had a long month or just might have missed it.  As a strange coincidence, there happens to be another event going on today so in that spirit Happy Halloween everyone.  I have to make this post short today due to a big decision that is pending regarding whether I want to take the effort to carve a new pumpkin this year, but first things first.

The topic today is actually a result of a recent trip to our local Peoria Airport to purchase some tickets to escape to our favorite warm, bright, gaudy and decadent place.  Yep, we’re heading back to Vegas for our fall trip.  To be more accurate, we are heading back to Vegas and then heading up to Zion National Park from there for a few days.  If there is one part of this that annoys me more than anything is the nickel and diming we have to through these days to actually get flight tickets.  First off, Allegiant (our local direct flight to Vegas carrier) charges you an additional 30 dollar per person to book online.  Can you believe that?  When did ordering stuff on the Internet become more pricey to a company than brick and mortar operations.  You would think the reduction in ticket order staff and the improved accuracy delivered by automated processing would drive incentives to use online options as opposed to bottling up their ticket counters.  We are 15 or so minutes from the airport so last Thursday we trekked out there to get our tickets.  Per their website, they do ticket sales for one hour after the flight leaves.  They had a flight going out at 7:55 so we got there ahead of that.  There were people checking in so we hung out to give them a chance to clear.  While sitting there, Linda noticed the flight had been delayed until 10pm.  Clearly waiting around  that long was not worth the $60 of savings, but we decided to see what they would do once everyone was checked through.  About 10  minutes later, the line was cleared (this included the now common scene “your carry on is too large and needs to be checked through for a one way $35 charge”).  We walked up to the counter and asked if we could purchase tickets.  The ticket lady mentioned they usually only sell tickets after the boarding, but quickly followed up that the plane was delayed anyway so agreed to process our order.  Finally, service with the customer or may be viewing it as a fish nibbling on the hook.

Now the price jab cycle started.  I don’t recall how the clerk initiated the conversation on checked luggage, but she expected us to say we didn’t need that charge.  Linda replied we don’t have a choice which was quickly countered by “you can take carry ons”.  This will not work because our carry on items will need to cover all of the photography equipment for the national park shoots.  Chalk up another $50 each round trip.  Note, this is $20 each cheaper than if you pay to check baggage the day of.  Then there are the seat assignment charges if you want to pick your spots.  For that pleasure it is 12 or so dollars per seat per way and if you want a good seat (read as exit row) you have to pay a couple dollars more.  About this time I’m feeling like a pin cushion.  We ended up having to go with standard reservations on the way out in order to get the 2 seat side, but were able to get the exits coming back.  The clerk completed the transaction and printed out the papers for us to sign.  The ever diligent Linda noticed our seat assignments didn’t come out on the papers.  Turns out the clerk screwed that up so we went back through that process.  This time we scored.  The software glitched (let’s hope it isn’t the same system controlling the flight controls) and it didn’t charge us for one of the expensive seat reservations on the way back.  It still showed we had reserved it and it printed out on the sheets so we’ll see how this turns out on travel day.  At that point I start scanning down the list of charges, curious as to the damage that had been inflicted.  It is at that moment my mouth dropped open.  One of the charges was for 9/11 Security.  I immediately asked Linda what that was for.  She didn’t know and really wasn’t eager to start an interrogation of the clerk – especially at an airport.  Probably a little too loud I asked why I was getting charged, “I didn’t do anything bad to cause 9/11”  At that point I think my loving wife shooed me out of the terminal.  This charge bugged the crap out of me aaaaalllll the way home.  I still have not discovered the purpose for this $10 charge.  As far as I can tell, it should be charged to TSA for their complete failure in keeping my travel experience safe and non-eventful.  In fact, due to their incompetence, they should be paying me $10 for completely ruining air-travel for the masses.  These days I feel like I’m putting people out for having the audacity to fly to my destinations.  My friend Skidmarks recently sent me a few articles on how I should expect a firm hand (literally) if I request a manual scan instead of going through the full body x-ray porn scanner.  At this point, if I have to pay $10 of my own money to protect myself while traveling… they can earn the money by having to staff someone for a pat down.  I guess the good part of all of this is for 8 hours of inconvenience I get to be in Vegas!

Happy Ghouling everyone – stay safe and be sure to give rocks to anyone with the nerve to dress up like a clown.  (oh, and this makes the 6th for the month – yeah!)

Ramming It

The good news is I’ve calmed down a bit.  The bad news is I’m still torqued (or maybe the word is shocked) over a recent service experience with my Ram 1500.  Let’s step back a tad shall we?  A couple of weeks ago, my garage was in disarray due to the all the projects that were in flight at the time.  This resulted in the need to keep the truck outside and for some reason it was not driven for a couple of days.  When it came time to move it into the garage, I noticed there was a grease spot left under the right (passenger side) of the engine.  An audible groan quickly made its way out.  A closer inspection identified it was a greasy substance.  Based on a quick inspection under the truck, it looked like it was coming from the passenger side shock.  It was time for an oil change anyway, so scheduled an appointment at a local Dodge dealer.  For those loyal followers out there, this particular Dodge is owned by the same person who owns the BMW dealership – Dun Dun Duuuuun.  The only other option was to take it to a dealership 50-60 minutes away.

I had to drop it off the day before due to other commitments.  While checking in, the service rep starts by writing some numbers down (year, VIN, etc.) and then proceeds to walk all around the car.  Back in the office, he takes his piece of paper and starts entering the data into the computer.  The guy still hasn’t said anything to me so I decide to break the silence and request that someone call me with an estimate before addressing the leak.  He acknowledges that and continues typing.  My patience level was starting to strain.  Giving my best Bender (BClub) effort, I tried to hold back, but eventually blurted out “Do you have my cell number?”  I received the following response “I’ll get it, I’m not there yet”  I almost lost it and told the dude to hurry the f* up I have better things to do than stand hear and listen to you finger peck, but the inner voice won out (and probably for the best).  Eventually he found all those tricky letters on the keyboard, entered my contact numbers and printed out some papers for me to sign.  But first, he circles the license plate on a vehicle diagram in a section of the papers and then gives me a pen to sign.  Concerned, I interrogated him as to the reason behind that marking.  “Oh, there were holes there and we don’t want you thinking we were shooting at your truck”  WHAT?  there are no holes in my truck – there are two cut outs in the plate holder area, but those were factor installed.  Bored of the whole experience I waved it off, signed the sheet and left.

Okay, so now it is the next day around 12:30pm.  The cell phone rings and sure enough, it is the finger pecker.  The diagnosis was my right front strut was leaking.  I asked him how much to fix and I hear the price of $120.  He followed up with the mechanic recommends replacing both at the same time to keep the balance right.   I was also in luck because they had the parts in stock.  I then asked him if the price he quoted me was for each or both.  Again I think I heard both but figured he meant both parts and labor for one was $120 (and not both strut replacements were a total of $120).  Lastly I verified that it was actually struts they were changing because it sure looked like shocks to me.  Struts it was and I gave the agreement to proceed.  A decision I’ve been kicking myself for ever since.

Around 4:30 we showed up at the dealership to retrieve the truck.  It was not ready so I took a seat in the waiting room for a very bearable 10 or so minutes.  The same service rep comes up and tells me it is all done, the oil, tire rotation and the two struts replaces.  Cha-ching went the inner voice.  He handed it to the clerk, thanked me and walked away (oddly somewhat faster than expected).  Out came the Discover card and started to hand it to the lady when all of a sudden the TOTAL line enters my view.  Any guesses what that little box had in it?  anyone?  Obviously I do not know what you said, but with confidence I’ll say you are WAAAAAY to low.  Try this on for size over $977.  That’s right folks, nearly a grand to get my truck back – oh, key piece of information – get my truck back that had only 46K miles on it.  Ever have a rage moment?  I politely asked the clerk if I could take the papers back to the service rep and hurried off.  I asked him if the price is right because I heard him say it was going to be $120 on the phone.  He denies he says that and claims he told me was $200 each for labor and over $200 each for the parts.   I’ve tried and tried to put those numbers together and see if any of it sounds like $120 with absolutely no luck.  With no evidence to back my position, the only option was to pay it and shop around to see if they pulled one over on me or not.  To their credit, the truck did ride better… not a “grand” better, but better.

I did end up calling the other Dodge dealer.  They did confirm there were struts on the front of that particular vehicle but his final quote came to $600 range.  Guessing their labor was cheaper so next issue that comes along I’ll take it to them or Midas.  I should probably clarify that a tad – if I keep this truck long enough to have another issue I’ll make the extra effort to drive it out to them.  I think my days with Dodge have come to their end.  Speaking of end, I did feel obligated to change their logo a tad.

Operation: Break on Through

In a desperate attempt to get back ahead of schedule, here’s another operation that has been underway at my house. All of the land we purchased to build our house on had pretty much been untouched woods. As a result, it has basically grown into a tangled mess of rose brier, brush and untamed trees.

If you recall from a previous post, I had built a bridge to get past a stream that ran through the middle of the 15 acres.  Now that the bridge is done I can finally get access to the back 7 acres of the lot.  the problem is, it is difficult to navigate around back there because of the overgrowth and quite frankly impossible to keep out of the brier if you are going any distance.  Often times, Linda and I head out there on photo shoots, but it turns out being quite an effort to actually get a picture of any wildlife we find.  Here is another random picture of the woods.  Although you can’t tell, the stream is just to the left of the picture frame.

It was officially time to do something about this situation.  Hit the jump to see the results of Operation: Break on Through to the Other Side.

Continue reading Operation: Break on Through

Let the Ghoul Show You the Way

Let’s just keep the Halloween theme going.  The previous post was driven by our annual Halloween Cookout Party.  While I was gathering up the materials for the fire pit patio, I decided to go ahead and pick up some extra items in order to attempt a new decoration  idea that I had been kicking the tires on for some time.  Each year, we try to add one new decoration to the collection.  Typically these are the latest air blown offerings, but this year we went in a different direction.  Living out in the country, it can be difficult to actually navigate to the house.  This is even more difficult at dark since there is little ambient light in the area.  This makes for a great stargazing, but not so great on the driving.  Oh, and to top it off, the GPS directs everyone to my neighbor’s driveway which is a down the road a bit.  What started as a internal debate on how to ease the difficulty for our guests resulted in this new decoration:

This particular shot was taken before darkness fell making it look a tad less scarier than it did once the guests started arriving.  Not only did this fit the overall theme of the party, but due to the clever hand placement, it also provided a functional role since it was placed at the road as an indicator for drivers to turn left into the correct driveway.  I wanted it to last from year to year, be able to withstand various weather conditions and (most of all) be relatively easy to disassemble and store away.  I don’t know about you, but those types of conditions almost always lead me to PVC.  In the sharing spirit, hit the jump to see how it was built.

Continue reading Let the Ghoul Show You the Way

Operation: Party on the Patio [Block]

I’m slacking off this month for sure.  I need to get this kicked into gear soon or I’ll be cutting my quota close for the month.  The good news is the smug site is now uploaded with material for this post and a couple more while I was at it.  From my previous post, there was a foreshadowing of upcoming additions on new “operations” that were underway around the lot.  Well, one of those particular tasks was a transformation of this particular part of the lot:

This is a shot of an area of my backyard that happened to be where the builders shoved all the brush and trees during the clearing for the house building phase (about 4 years ago).  A lot of work went into getting it looking in this shape since all the trees were simply piled up with a dozer and excavator.  It took about 3 months to systematically cut free the tree logs (on the right) and deal with the leftover brush it came from on the left.  It reminded me of the old pickup-sticks game having to work my way through the mashed and twisted trees one exposed foot to the next with a chainsaw, loppers and a shovel.  One of the reasons for all this work was the desire to put in a bonfire area.  We put on an annual Halloween cookout party and enjoy starting a fire every once in awhile to roast some hot dogs and have some tasty s’mores (food of the gods by the way).  For the first few years, I simply dug a fairly big hole in the ground and lined it with some of the large logs saved from the clearing pile.  This worked great as long at the weather cooperated (fortunately, the grass finally came in), but the uneven ground wasn’t the ideal situation for chairs and standing around.

This brings us two about one month ago and more accurately, a Friday exactly 9 days before this year’s Halloween party.  The night before my inner voice convinced me to do something to improve this particular area – knowing full well this voice always gets me into trouble by convincing me to take on tasks that have impossible time frames to deliver on.  “Build it and they will come, build it and they will come” kept bouncing around in my head until I finally caved and decided to build a quick patio around the fire pit.  How hard can it be, go to store, get large patio blocks, throw them into place and be done – one day tops!  There is another thing my inner voice always does to me … LIE!  Except for that time when it tried to convinced me to NOT do something on my skateboard (for the record a skateboard given to me by my brother) because I would likely smack headfirst into a concrete stoop… at that particular time it was actually telling the truth ..but alas, I ended up ignoring it and chalked up another visit to the emergency room.  But I digress.    I had already invested in a bunch of 16×16 concrete patio block to help shore up the ground under the bridge so decided to go ahead and just get more of that.  I had a couple left over from that effort and figured if something went wrong I could use one of those.  So Friday after work I cleaned up the area where I wanted the patio to go and made sure the area was mowed and trimmed up.  I also tried to set the dimensions to get and estimate of the block count.   The next morning bright and early I headed off to Menards in the Ram1500.  The blocks were on sale but still came out to around $2.34 each.  I went out and checked the yard to make sure they had enough and then went inside and placed an order for 30 16x16x3 concrete blocks.  At the yard gate, I asked the attendant if he could get someone to lift the block palette up for easier loading..  A clerk eventually came, got the forklift and raised it up to the tailgate where we proceeded to load them into the truck.  While loading them it became apparent each block was running from 30-40 pounds each.  It was then stark reality set in remembering how far the fire pit was from the driveway.  The dude was not willing to come home with me to help on the unloading phase so that left me hauling the blocks out of the bed, putting them on a cart behind the ATV  (max 8 per load), driving out to the pit and unloading them.  I wanted to see how this was going to look so went ahead and placed them down in a loose approximation of where they would go.  As soon as they were all dropped into place, I repeated the entire process with a load of 40 more concrete blocks.

Hit the jump to see when things started going off-course and pictures of the finished product

Continue reading Operation: Party on the Patio [Block]

It’s So Big

It’s been awhile since new words made their way to the ol’ blog.  The two main reasons are due to being swamped with some new projects around the homestead (foreshadowing upcoming “operation” posts) and quite frankly there has not been a lot of interesting observations as of late.  I am not sure if that is because people are becoming boring, people are becoming more “normal” or my observation skills are on the fritz.  The jury is still out, but the current thinking is putting the blame on me.  The good news is the post processing work has been done on about 40 pictures which are now awaiting upload to our photography site.

But, it’s 10/10/10 (or the answer to the universe day – #42 for all you fellow geeks out there) and I didn’t want to miss a post on this special day.  One potential content option was a recent experience with a mole in my backyard.  Once again, they have breached the defenses and were wreaking havoc.  That is in the past tense due to a bizarre scene I stumbled upon.  Some small holes showed up one morning in and around a pretty large tunnel system one of those demon spawn had decided to taunt me with.  From the evidence, it looked like some animal with paws had engaged in a digging activity resulting in the holes ranging from 2 to 3 inches in diameter.  In all there were about 5 holes at various locations.  Following the line of holes, I eventually came to a dead mole laying on top of the ground.  It was very dead, but there was no obvious blood or physical trauma.  On closer inspection, there looked like tiny indentations in the fur around the head.  What animal has come to my aid?  Any opinions would be greatly appreciated… I might have to get a few to keep around the house!  The only guess at the moment is it was a cat.  One showed up the night of our Halloween Party and proceeded to settle in with the guests for the rest of the night.  This might have been a present for us much like the dead mice a neighbor’s cat (Arnold the female cat) used to leave on my doorstep back in my apartment days.  I had a bunch of stuff to do that day so didn’t bother heading back to get the camera.  I am sure you are disappointed not being able to see another dead mole on this blog!  Anyway, that mole had met its match.

However, the original intent of this blog was to comment on an experience a friend of mine had at a local Chinese restaurant.  Pakage is in his 40’s (think a year behind me) and definitely gives Techno-Bob a run for his money.  He is always showing up with the coolest technologies including the latest gaming units, mp3/video players, the geekiest toys off of ThinkGeek and nifty gadgets like network hotspots.    One day he was at the register of the restaurant and happened to put his Zen down on the counter.  This resulted in the following response from the Asian lady behind the counter, “It’s So HUGE”.  Now, in other circumstances this might actually be considered a flattering compliment (think about it..).  But in this particular situation, it had the exact opposite effect.  Essentially the woman was making fun of his “large electronics” in relationship to today’s sleek new gadgets.  I liken it to the transition days when the cool people had the smaller form cell phones while the not-so-cool people were still lugging around 5 pound bricks with antennas on their belts.  What made this so funny to me is Pakage is the exact opposite of her first impression.  He had been profiled based on an MP3/video player he was currently using while his sleek and techno-sexy-spectacular iTouch was getting fixed at the factory for about the FOURTH time.  To his credit, he did try to explain this to the lady, but I’m guessing he had already been labeled as techno-illiterate.  I forgot to ask him if he was going to put a bright red ‘A’ on all his shirts now to honor the “Analog” era.

Anyway, thanks to Pakage for letting me in on his experience… oh, and hand model I am NOT.