What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.

2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.

3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.

Not in my backyard…

The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.

Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.

The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.

I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Doing it on the cheap. I’m assuming that the plastic mailbox pedestal you’ve installed proudly in the front yard is supposed to look like stone. I’m sure you’re trying hard to ape the style of the big houses up the hill. I’m sure someone in your house, maybe even you, thought it looked good. That assessment was incorrect. It’s tacky as hell.

2. Jet noise. Local news out of Anne Arundel County reports that residents near Baltimore-Washington International Airport are upset because they’re hearing jet noise. Let’s recap: 1) You bought a house near the airport; 2) Now you’re upset that airports are noisy and want the county to make the FAA do something about it. In summation: You’re an idiot.

3. Wind and the failure to plan for it. Every trash can in the neighborhood blew over last night. Since the weather reports were all calling for a dramatic change in weather following a fast moving system of thunder storms, high wind overnight shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But it did, because of course it did. Now, those overturned 60-gallon rolling trash barrels have spewed paper products and plastic bottles into every gutter and wood line, leaving our little corner of the county looking like some kind of 3rd world shithole. Somehow I don’t expect the doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs in my hood will bother themselves it make it right. All for the want of a few $2 bungee cords.

They’re not all shitbirds…

Temperatures are supposed to rise over the next few days. Even if it were going to stay cold,  firing up the snowblower for the two inches that fell yesterday would have been overkill. I was happy enough leaving things be and letting sun and warmth do their thing. 

Around 10:00 my doorbell rang, which is unusual enough in and of itself to be noteworthy. Standing on the front porch in all of 20 degree weather was a kid of about 12 wanting to know if I wanted the driveway shoveled. His partner, had already started pushing snow around the end of the driveway (which is a pretty shrewd sales tactic by the way). 

We always bitch about kids today who want something for nothing. But here, in a neighborhood where I would least expect it, were two kids looking to work for a little pocket money. It didn’t strictly need doing, but playing my part in this little life lesson felt like the right thing to do. My wallet is $20 lighter, but I feel like it means a hell of a lot more to them then it did to me. 

I won’t say My faith in humanity has been restored or anything… though I do now have some hope that they’re all not going to turn out to be shitbirds.

The hood life…

My neighborhood has an internal Facebook-style social media site that keeps homeowners apprised of the latest news of our small slice of Ceciltucky. The vast majority of updates are made when someone is having a yard sale, there’s going to be an association meeting, or some other important civic event. This past week, though, the whole feed has been given over to a recent spate of crimes that threaten to drag our quiet neighborhood down into the gutter with Baltimore or the unfortunate souls who live in Elkton proper.

You see, over the last three days there have been empty bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade found thrown into several yards. One of these bottles had the audacity to land in someone’s driveway and shatter. On another thread, there is news of an unnamed presidential candidate’s sign that was stolen from someone’s yard. The neighbors are up in arms over the effrontery of the vandals, thugs, and hoodlums plying their trade in our usually bucolic subdivision.

There’s wild talk in the hood about installing gates, and cameras, and streetlights and I love my neighborhood for having such a massive hissy fit of an overreaction to a $5 crime. It’s one of the ways I know I’m among good people. After spending a few years living in a suburban Memphis neighborhood where car windows were regularly smashed and at least one burglary was reported a month, I just kind of chuckle to myself. This is probably the safest neighborhood I’ve ever called home so I’m cautiously optimistic that cooler heads will prevail before someone calls an association meeting to approve a special assessment for security upgrades.

My guess, if only based on the type of bottles involved, is that it’s local neighborhood kids being stupid. Sure, you’ll want to stop that before it escalates beyond a few thrown bottles and a missing yard sign, but in the grand scheme I don’t think we’re seeing the birth of a new and terrible criminal enterprise along the banks of the Elk River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to living the hood life here on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore.

Starting at $500,000…

I’ve had several distinct experiences as a homebuyer. I’ve had the experience of buying into a brand new subdivision with streets still unpaved, a hundred lots still for sale, and the mixture of fear and curiosity in wondering if and when the project would ever be finished… and what kind of wackadoodle neighbors I’d end up with. More recently I bought into an established neighborhood whose tight restrictions and price of admission helped cut down on the wackadoodle, outwardly at least. Here in exurbia we seem to keep our crazy more inside the walls than up on blocks in the front yard.

Having been thoroughly scorched by the bursting bubble of 2008/9, two of my biggest priorities were finding an established neighborhood that would still be sought after when it came time to sell (as opposed to one that was still under construction, and suffering though several iterations of developer-gone-bankrupt) and driving down my offer price low enough to hopefully not lose my ass again. I won’t claim to have timed the market, but I feel good about how closely I was able to meet those goals.

I feel even better about it now that I’ve seen a sign going up just across the hill from my little cul-de-sac. It’s well out of my eye line, separated by a stream and a couple thousand yards of trees, but I heartily welcome any developer in the next neighborhood over who wants to list “3 to 10 Acre Estate Lots Starting at $500,000” in their promotional material. It’s good for property values and mercifully keeps that tract free from higher density projects. Since it’s the last stretch of land available for development in my immediate area, I was ecstatic to see it being chunked out in such big portions. Elitist? Yeah, maybe, but like it or not a house is as much an investment as it is a home and I’m in favor of just about anything that will help drive the value up – despite what it will inevitably do to my next property tax bill.

With the rest of the immediately surrounding land being state managed or otherwise being entangled by woodland protective covenants and restrictions, barring an unforeseen calamity prices only have one way to go… though given my decidedly mixed track record with real estate I could be absolutely and completely off the mark.

Neighborhood watch (or A healthy dose of paranoia)…

© 2015 Steel City Corp.

© 2015 Steel City Corp.

Picture it: Ceciltucky. Early Morning. The sun just kissing the tops of the stately oaks and maples lining our exurban streets…

Near the exit of our happy little subdivision, I passed a car coming inbound. That’s not so unusual in and of itself. Based on my observation of the neighborhood over the last six weeks, though, it’s the kind of beater that definitely didn’t look at home here. Still, there are plenty of those in the county. I’d be crazy to think one or two didn’t lurk on our streets. Despite that, it just didn’t feel right.

These are all snap judgements I’m making in the time it takes our two vehicles to close a 100 yard gap at 20 miles an hour. In passing, I may or may not have shot the opposing driver the stink eye, but for sure I made a mental note of the car’s tag number and then watched as it grew smaller in the distance.

For a moment at the intersection I pondered pulling a u-turn just to satisfy my own curiosity… and to be positioned to call the police when the driver sooner or later did something felonious.

At the last second, just before my tires brushed around the median, I saw the plastic wrapped newspaper sail out the car’s passenger window… and promptly felt like a horse’s ass for being a judgmental prick. And for mentally convicting the guy up before the crack of dawn delivering papers.

There’s a lesson there, somewhere. “See something, say something” is a good tag line – but given my experience it seems it could also be helpful to know what it is you’re looking at before firing off half cocked.