The problem with shopping small…

Social media is full of posts about how we all need to carry our commerce out with small businesses, that they’re very important, and that they support the local community. All those things are possibly true, but at the same time I’ve been doing my level best to hire various small, local plumbing outfits for a job for the last six weeks. Some don’t pick up their phone. Others don’t return calls once they’ve talked to you or just don’t show up when they’re scheduled. One even when so far as drawing up the plans and then disappeared. 

By comparison, I called one of the big regional plumbing operations at 9:00 this morning and at approximately 10:45 I had in my hand three separate proposed set ups, had made a selection, confirmed the parts order, and scheduled the installation time for next week.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t support small business. Where you spend your money is a deeply personal decision. That said, I’m absolutely finished bending over backwards and practically begging them to take my money. If getting a decent level of service means dealing strictly with the big players – and paying the corresponding premium – that’s what it’s going to have to be from here on out.

My apologies to small business owners out there, who I’m sure work very hard, but honestly getting quality work done in a timely manner is far more important to me than either where the guy who owns the company lives or getting the rock bottom price. That won’t win me any friends from the Main Street Business Association, but I’m over here trying to run a household. I have neither the time not inclination to go on playing championship phone tag with companies that don’t seem to want to be bothered. 

Genny power…

If nothing else, the storm that went through last week was the sort that makes you understand why the lines are down. I ended up with a few small limbs in the yard and a few larger ones fallen in the woods, but other than a flag mounting bracket that sheered away from the house because I wasn’t quick enough hauling down the color, it doesn’t look like much in the way of damage befell us. With the cable and internet out, I didn’t see reports from elsewhere, but I suspect I came through the heavy weather well under the circumstances.

The power lines in the neighborhood are underground and considering where we are in the woods most of the way down the Elk Neck peninsula, it doesn’t go out very often. When it does go out, though, it tends to stay gone for a long time. This is the third time since I’ve been here that I’ve been cut off for 24 hours or longer. The Generac kicked on around six o’clock Tuesday night and ran straight through into the early hours of Thursday morning. By the time grid power was restored, she’d run steady for a little more than 30 hours.

A few other houses were showing lights that I could glimpse through the woods. I presume they were running on backup power too. The chugging of my own engine drowned out whatever sound they may have been making. Maybe the endless drone of my system is some small payback for the neighbors who enjoy their late-night firework displays. 

I very intentionally sized my genny to run it all. It’s absolutely overkill and well beyond simply powering “the essentials,” whatever that means. I can cook dinner, do laundry, keep the air conditioner humming, run the pumps, and have lights from stem to stern. Perhaps I can’t do all of those things simultaneously, but there’s always more than enough juice to manage whatever combination of them I need to do in any one moment. It’s the kind of thing you don’t fully appreciate until you’ve had it. Then it feels like it would be impossible to go back to doing without.

I’m told at its peak, 25% of the households in the county were without power. Fortress Jeff, though, was lit up like a beacon all through the long night. It’s not exactly a subtle look when much of the rest of the street is swallowed up in inky darkness. Even though I’m not generally a fan of drawing undue attention, I’ll make an exception when it involves matters of personal comfort and convenience. I’ll just try not to think about the $500 worth of propane I had to burn off to make it happen.

On movies, popcorn, and convenience…

I went to the movies this weekend. While at first blush there doesn’t feel like anything much unusual about that statement, it’s the first time I saw a movie in a theater since fall of 2019… so about two and a half years ago – in the Before Times. 

The good news is that the movie going experiences hasn’t changed much. The bad news, of course, is also that the movie going experience hasn’t changed much. The big pleather lay-z-boy style seating is a nice touch. The cost of popcorn and a Coke is still wildly overinflated. In a lot of ways it’s a bit of a time capsule to the way things used to be – something that hasn’t changed when so much else has done.

Watching Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen felt like a worthwhile reason to go back. It was exactly the flavor of 1980s nostalgia that I love. Plus, it’s every bit as good as (if not better, in some ways, than) the original. I guess you can do that when you’re not in a rush to turn out three or four sequels in as many years. In this case, 30+ years was not too long to wait.

Maybe the great and surprising disappointment was the popcorn. It was decidedly “flat.” That’s probably more my fault than Regal’s. I spent the two years of the Great Plague dialing in theater-style popcorn to exactly suit my taste. I’ve got it just about perfected now and as it turns out, my own concoction trumps the original inspiration rather than matching it exactly. I won’t claim to be too brokenhearted about that.

The other thing I learned from a two-year absence from the theater, is I really like being able to pause the film. I like being able to take a bathroom break, grab a refill, or top off the popcorn with a fresh batch without missing any of the story. The screen at home isn’t nearly as big, but the ease and convenience are hard to beat. I suspect that from here on out, seeing a movie in a building specifically designed for that activity is going to be reserved for those films that unabashedly take advantage of the full size of the screen. For everything else, the perks of watching from the comforts of my own living room outweigh whatever the theater provides.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.

2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.

3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.

On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”

Two out of three…

I have a standing order with Amazon to deliver dog food, cat food, and litter on a monthly basis. It hasn’t been an altogether satisfying relationship thus far. Two out of the last three orders have been what I’ll just call “defective.” Today’s order included a bag of cat food in fine shape, a box of cat litter in fine condition, and a bag of dog food with a blown out corner that emptied half the bag’s contents out into the shipping box.

Look, the dogs loved the fact that I schlepped this 50 pound box through the middle of the house trailing kibble behind me, but it wasn’t the kind of experience I’d have paid for if given the opportunity. I’m a simple guy who just wants things to arrive undamaged. I don’t feel like that’s really an unreasonable position on my part as the consumer.

I dutifully fired up Amazon’s customer service chat and to their credit they immediately offered to ship out another bag of food or give me a refund. The Amazon business model is a real wonder of the modern – as it seems it’s cheaper for them to replace every fourth or fifth thing I buy than it is to spend a few extra cents on proper packaging for their products.

Amazon isn’t the only game in town, but they are generally the most convenient for setting up recurring orders so I’ll keep using them. They’ll keep sending out items in piss poor packaging. I’ll keep sending for replacements. And the whole machine will keep on working. Somehow, though, it feels like there could be a better way.

Spiked…

I like to know numbers when it comes to household operations. I track metrics on utilities because I like knowing how and why the bills are what they are. I’ve seen something on my utility statement that’s always kind of bothered me, but that I’d never bothered to investigate in detail.

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You see, every 7-8 days I have a surge in the amount of electricity that I use. For a long time I wrote it off as the increased demand caused by my being home on the weekend. I took a closer look, though, and realized that the spikes in use don’t exactly correspond to the days when I just happen to be home all day. If they did, I should see three columns out of every seven standing out instead of just the periodic one day spike. I thought briefly that the spikes might be tracking the day I work from home – when I tend to have two or three computers fired up, the furnace running, and maybe a load or two of laundry snuck in to the mix. Those are all things that logically I understand consume electricity.

The problem is, that none of the usage spikes corresponded to anything like that. Some hit days when I was here. Some didn’t. Being slightly obsessive, I still wanted to know why.

I wish I could tell you I slipped off the toilet while standing on it to hang a picture and had a vision of the Flux Capacitor, but alas that isn’t the case. The culprit showed himself when I was laying out a couple of chicken breasts for a long cook. It turns out every spike in electrical draw showing on my most recent bill actually corresponds to a day when I had dinner cooking away in the crock pot.

I just assumed that the little fella sat there on the counter and cooked up a nice hot meal without drawing off as much power as I use to tend to every other electrical appliance and device operated in this house on any given day. I feel like this is something I should have known kind of intuitively since by definition the thing is sitting there drawing power for eight or more hours at a time, but honestly I’d never given it much thought.

If I were all green and earthy I might consider altering some of my crock pot recipes for oven-based cooking… but as in most things, there’s a prince to pay in terms of convenience. As it turns out it’s a price I’m happily willing to pay. I’m just glad that I now know I’m paying it… though it might just be time to go out and see if I can upgrade my 15 year old slow cooker to something newer and (maybe) more efficient.

What Annoys Jeff this Week? The

1. Water and ice. I had to pull the refrigerator out for the first time since I moved in to Fortress Jeff. It’s a nice enough refrigerator and it came with the house, but I’ve always been a little annoyed that it didn’t have an ice maker – or better yet, water and ice through the door. After almost three years of living here I’ve now officially discovered that the place is actually plumbed for a refrigerator that could make all the cold water and ice I could ever want. And now I’m even more annoyed by the people who made the conscious decision not to buy a fridge that takes advantage of it. Seriously. Who does that?

2. Republicans. I remember when one of the central planks of the Republican Party was controlling the deficit and reducing the national debt. The “budget bill” now before Congress is something that would make any decent Reagan-era Republican choke. I miss real Republicans.

3. Democrats. I remember when one of the central planks of the Democratic Party platform was building up social programs that benefited America’s most needy citizens. Based on the fight being put up in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party now seems more concerned with securing rights for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally than they are taking care of business for actual United States citizens. I miss real Democrats.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bagged salad. I need a steady supply of fresh “exotic” greens to keep the resident tortoise healthy and happy. The most convenient way to procure these greens is usually by picking up a bag-o-salad since I’m more focused on variety than buying in bulk. What I end up with half the time, though is a slimy gelatinous mass in my crisper drawer – often before I’ve even opened the bag. There’s got to be a better way to package this stuff that doesn’t leave it turned into a bag of green, foul smelling water the minute it leaves the supermarket.

2. The next question. Most people are OK at asking the question. What they generally suck at is asking the next question or the one after that. Most people are crap when it comes to really drilling down through an issue and getting at real causes. The surface answer is usually the easy one – the one that doesn’t offend anyone or hurt any feelings. Drilling down into the what and why tends to be invasive and means putting more noses out of joint and occasionally making life uncomfortable. Go ahead and be the person who make things uncomfortable now and then. You’ll be amazed at what you can find out.

3. Leftovers. I usually like leftovers but I’m in a rut at the moment. The last few weeks I’ve made my traditional big Sunday dinner and then a pot of soup on Monday. My logic was that it would give me plenty enough to ensure non-sandwich lunches and minimal cooking the rest of the week. I’m coming to the unhappy realization that even as much of a creature of habit as I am, I can’t eat the same two meals four four days in a row. It’s really kind of a disappointment, because it was a wonderful time saving plan… which seems to have lots a lot of points in execution.

Momentary inconvenience…

As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.

It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.