Slowing down…

November and December are officially noted as the “festive” season here in much of the western world. Now, I like the holidays well enough, but I don’t spend weeks or months preparing for them. I don’t try to drag them out to the point where Christmas becomes a holiday that consumes three weeks before the 25th of December and another week after it. Maybe I’m not in the minority there, but it seems that way based on the increasing number of people who are out, about, and meandering slowly through neighborhood shopping venues.

My response of choice in this scenario is to avoid those places as much as possible. It’s got the unintended side effect of having dramatically slowed down my pillaging of thrift shops and used book stores, In fact I’ve brought nothing into the inventory for the last three weeks and will probably go another five weeks before resuming the chase. Since most of the places I frequent share strip mall space with other stores, the volume of people is mostly enough to leave me uninterested… unless I know someone is hiding something uniquely interesting, in which case I’d likely make an exception.

The last months of the year are when I can make a little progress on churning through some of what I’ve already put into the holding pen. That feels good. Having lived with myself for so long, though, I also know the arrival of the holidays is also a bit of a warning sign… because it means ’round about New Years, I’ll be chomping at the bit to get back after it and have a budget line I haven’t touched in two months with which to indulge my favorite minor obsession.

There are worse things to do with your time and money, I suppose. Someday a bookcase may collapse and kill me, but hey, at least it’s not heroin.

National treasures…

There’s a local shop about five minutes drive from the house where you can get bread, milk, eggs, smokes, lottery tickets, a six pack of select domestic or import beer, a selection of $8 wines, and hot or cold made-in-front-of-you deli sandwiches. It’s plopped down at an intersection where two or three different deeply exurban neighborhoods come together. If you weren’t use to seeing it there, it might even look out of place.

The fact is, mom and pop shops like Cooper’s Market aren’t just a local resource – letting someone skip the drive all the way into town if they only need one or two things and don’t mind paying the premium – they’re also a national treasure. They’re the natural home for local news and gossip – and even though I’m nowhere near a local in these parts, if you keep your ears open you can always find out who got arrested, who’s kid is doing “the drugs” or got knocked up, what house burned, or what the useless county commissioners got wrong this time.

Maybe it’s the kind of place that’s nostalgic only if you grew up in small town America, where they were the rule rather than the exception. It’s nice to know that there are still a few of them around. I like having the option of the big chain stores when I’m already out in the more densely developed parts of the world, but here in my little section of it I much prefer the familiarity of the human being who knows what you’re going to order before you even get to the head of the line.

All things in Xs…

I’ve been uncharacteristically patient in waiting until reaching (just) my one year anniversary with the iPhone X. The phone is a workhorse that in truth is far more pocket computer/communications device than any average user could ever need. Workhorse though it is, my trusty X is no longer the flagship of Apple’s iPhone fleet.

With my eligibility for an upgrade confirmed, I’ll be off tomorrow to slip by my very favorite retailer and hand off my trusty phone for its slightly newer, sexier younger sibling. Apple was kind enough to email me a confirmation of the order which means it should be a fairly painless visit – well under 10 minutes awash in the great American retail habitat.

I’ll give the marketing and sales department great credit. The know their target audience and continue too come up with new and interesting ways to help us feed the madness. I mean if you can convince me that going to a mall on Saturday is worth doing you should consider a career selling ice in the arctic.

There are some things for which I am willing to gladly suffer the indignity of being inevitably surrounded by people. The Xs just happens to be one of those things. I’ll be very happy to bring her home tomorrow.

Just different…

I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of what could be called “local retail.” When I was a kid even our small town of a few hundred had what in generations past would have been called a dry good store. My home town wasn’t big enough to justify its own hardware store, but the next town of any size in either direction along the George’s Creek valley had one – Pritchard’s in Frostburg anchored the central stretch of Main Street, Ternent’s in Coney sat (where it still does business) at the center of town on Jackson Street. Ames provided a primitive “big box” style of retail while G.C. Murphy represented the last bastion of traditional American department stores. Murphy’s, though, was “in town” and usually involved a special trip. You didn’t end up there to pick something up on a whim.

There was a proper 1980’s mall, of course, decorated in shades of beige with it’s glass dome and sunken fountain centerpiece. It was anchored by JC Penny, The Bon Ton / Eyerly’s, K-mart, and Sears.

I’m taking this stroll down memory lane because of all these stores – many of them one-time giants of American retail, only a handful remain. Ternent’s lives still, I suspect as much due to the loyalty of the surrounding community (and inconvenience of making the 30 minute one-way drive to the next closest hardware store) as anything else. JC Penny creaks along providing the area with “something that isn’t Walmart. Now Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its lone store back home isn’t on the closure list this time, but I don’t think anyone really expects it will last forever or even that it will last long. It’s only a matter of time before Sears too becomes part of consumer history.

Protected here by my walls of books and largely tucked away from people to the extent I can manage, it’s easy to dismiss just how much the world has changed in the last 30 or 40 years. A guy I use to work for was fond of saying that on average “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” It’s a nice sound bite and maybe it’s even true. But I can tell you without a moment’s shame that the older I get the less interest I have in “different” overall. Slowly, the words “different” and “worse” feel like they’re becoming synonymous.

I know intellectually that bankruptcy delivers creative destruction to the marketplace, but I’d consider it an awfully big favor if we could somehow avoid sweeping away all vestiges of the world that was.

Almost a fiasco…

Saturday morning I discovered that my local Apple Store had in stock availability of their new flagship, iPhone X. I wouldn’t usually venture anywhere near a mall two days after Thanksgiving, but the desire for new and shiny tech got the better of me. Stunningly, I arrived five minutes after the mall opened and parked within 20 yards of the door. It seems that their “holiday hours” are poorly advertised and almost no one realized they were opening an hour early. Fine by me.

I was an AT&T cellular customer since back in the mists of time when they were known as Cingular. I was generally a satisfied customer, too – until I moved to Fortress Jeff, which is located in a black hole of their coverage map. I could make and receive calls over wifi, but when wifi was down, my cell was pretty much an expensive paperweight. Unacceptable. With this change of phone, I wanted to make the jump to Verizon, who neighbors promised had at least a bar or two of coverage even the local power and cable is out. It happens more often than you’d imagine out here at the end of the transmission line.

Without going into details, I’ll just say that AT&T, Verizon, and Apple corporate policies all threw up roadblocks to converting from the Apple Upgrade Program under AT&T to the same program under Verizon. The guy I was working with, though, was an absolute bulldog and took the problems first to the floor manager, who was as confounded as we were. The floor manager then elevated the issues through two layers of management “in the back.” Finally they decided there was actually no way to get from Point A to Point B using existing policy and procedures. That’s they point where one of them decided “we’re going to break the rules” to make the sale.

I can’t say for sure if any rules were broken, but if the number of Apple employees standing around looking concerned while they fiddled with various entries on their tablet is any sign, they were certainly doing something unusual. In the end it took six people and almost an hour to make the sale.

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t seamless, but in the end I walked away with exactly what I wanted. I appreciate that level of tenacity when the easy answer was “we can’t.” I appreciate it even more when I’ve got two bars of service when the wifi’s off. Well done, Apple. It’s a wonderful lesson for other business out there that customer services really, truly doesn’t have to suck.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. iOS 7. I’m not the kind of guy who’s exactly comfortable with change… and for good or ill, iOS 7 represents a pretty radical level of change in the Apple ecosystem. Maybe not so much in how your device now behaves (most of the same old functions – and some new ones are right there), but it’s certainly looks different while it’s performing all of those magical functions. It looks different to the point where an explosion of the Crayola factory wouldn’t quite be out of place. Soon enough it’ll blend into the background and just be “what is,” but first impressions left me feeling like the new iOS was too bright, to candy colored, and just too un-Apple.

2. Television “experts.” If you want to be taken seriously as a professional commentator on issues that involve firearms, it’s best to actually have some experience with putting lead downrange. For instance when you’re a national news organization and report that a suspect is using an “AR15 shotgun,” well, you sound like an idiot to anyone who actually knows the difference between a suppressor and a stacking swivel. Maybe it’s best to report facts instead of random wild-ass theories, rumors, or things you just make up on the fly. When you don’t stick to the facts you lose credibility… which I suppose is only relevant if being a credible news source if important to you.

3. Knowing what I’m in for. Sometimes not know what’s about to happen is better. But knowing that you’re about to stand out in the cold, without enough caffeine, and needing to pee for at least several hours in the middle of the night is just one of those things you’re better off not knowing until you’re in the middle of doing it. I’m old enough to know a bad option when I see it heading in my direction… but I’m also geek enough to know that if I’ve got the opportunity to have the latest toy in my hand tomorrow morning and pass it up for the ease and comfort of sleeping until 5AM, I’ll regret it. And that would annoy me even more than getting up in the dead of night and standing in line.

P.S. And yes, I fully recognize the irony of waking up in the middle of the night to stand in line for a phone whose OS I’m not enamored with… Can’t a guy be conflicted?