July 23, 2014

Outsourcing and the Slippery Slope

Let me tell you a story. 

Once upon a time in 2013, I bought a printer and an extended warranty from a large company. Let's call that company The Three Little Pigs, Inc. because that company believes in a fairy-tale-like cloak of unaccountability. This company, that began at someone's home, became one of the world's largest manufacturers of electronics and made their investors fat profits. They all lived high on the hog, as it were, but the investors said, "We want more, more." 

So the pigs decided to move their business to all points of the globe. "Yes, yes, outsourcing is good," they all grunted. "Production costs are cheaper, we don't have to pay as many high taxes, and we can hire "Sue, Phil, Bill and Sean" to do our customer service for table scraps instead of what we pay in the USA now. Our huge profits will be even larger. What? No matter that the customer service technicians barely speak or understand English. What will customers do? Sue us?"

And all the pigs called out "Sooie" and investors waded in and were happy again. They were all in Hog Heaven. 

Then my printer broke. It just would not turn on. It sits as quiet as a corn crib in the winter. Ah ha! Extended warranty to the rescue and my first call to The Three Little Pigs, Inc. 

After five minutes of automated questions, I explained my problem to "Sean" and in his heavily accented English, he asked that I unplug and replug every combination of wires. While I was doing this, we were disconnected. 

I began again with "Bill" who had me repeat all the info and activity that Sean and I shared. Bill said that I would get a replacement computer and that his supervisor, "Phil" would help me from there on. More waiting for Phil. None of them could deviate from their scripted conversation and Phil was no better. 

Phil was so patronizing that I barely refrained from telling him that. We again reviewed all the info. He told me that I would get a new printer sent out the next day. But first, we needed to do one more thing -- this is Phil's raison d'etre. He guided me through taking out the print head and cartridges and reinstalling them. I was instructed to put them in a plastic bag for safe keeping and not to touch them. 

But, we needed to do one more thing. 

Phil needed a credit card number from me. Of course, I said, "No." I wasn't buying anything, remember? It seems that I only had 7 days to return the damaged computer to the company or they would charge me for the replacement. "No. I have an extended warranty, remember?" Phil had to check with his supervisor. 

"No problem -- not to worry." But, first -- well, you know. This one thing was that none of the equipment that might still work on the old computer would be replaced. No cartridges, no print head, no cords. But the new computer would be here the next day (now) and my warranty (Is that what this was?) would continue on the new computer parts until the term was up. 

At this point, I didn't care anymore. I knew I had been scammed and taken and, as a consumer, had no value to this company. Phil and his crew were the front men for a switch and switch again operation. 

But, there is one more thing....

The computer didn't arrive for several days and when it did? The shell that was to house all those parts I was to reinstall was broken!! Broken. And the next day brought yet another package with a print head and various cartridges with another "send old ones back pouch." Ah, the warnings over my accountability if I didn't return things as I was told were dire. 

I waited until my BP and voice calmed and called TLPigs again. I asked to speak with a supervisor in the US. The technician laughed and said, "Oh, I don't know." I finally hung up after five minutes on hold. I called back and got "Sue." I told her of my circumstance in a very mild manner and that I would return the shell to TLPigs but I am done. 

She said, "Oh, let me see how I can help you?" 

Steely calm, I told her that I didn't want any help -- there is nothing else I want from The Three Little Pigs. I am done. 

But, there is just one more thing: The return shipping is paid for by TLPigs but I have to deliver it to a FedEx store before my three days are up. 

Please keep in mind that my reputation for not suffering fools is well known among friends and acquaintances. Fools go right on being fools but I don't stick around. Sadly, my only recourse for my latest encounter is sarcastic humor so I hope my tirade entertained you a bit and that you laughed with me at the ridiculous world we live in and at the fools who prevail in spite of their obvious stupidity. Yes, I'm aware that I'm a gnat in the world of business ventures and have no pretensions about the importance of my experience. Sometimes things get so complicated, inconvenient and frustrating, I must simply take a step back, huff and puff a little and then write about it here. If I thought it would make any difference, I would copy this post to the WSJ Op-Ed page. It won't and I won't. 

This company has now earned a place on The List. By the time an individual or a company or whatever gets on The List, they are well down the slippery slope to their demise. If The Three Little Pigs are well-scripted for customers like me, then there are many customers like me who are treated just like me. Sad, isn't it? When brand loyalty is the grease that makes the economy run well, why does a major company like this take short cuts? Why does the customer mean so little to them? I still have no computer printer but I do have choices and none of them will ever include Three Little Pigs again. TLP could be many or any American business. How far has America as a world market leader fallen in pursuit of shortcuts? When customers choose other companies and the Wolf comes to TLP's door, what will be their "one more thing" then?  

July 19, 2014

Saturday Serenity

This blog site has been silent for many weeks -- and the time to bring you up to date begins now. 

Inside, the dryer in the laundry room spins and buttons clank against the drum. Outside, interwoven Longleaf pines, yellow poplars, maples and sweet gum trees gently sway the humid July air near the lake. My center office window frames a young Bradford pear tree that sways in the breeze too. The other two office windows hold stained-glass suncatchers: a Tufted Titmouse and a montage of butterflies and tulips glisten at the end of sage grosgrain ribbons. I am completely unpacked. Ahhh. 

Finally, I admit I keep too many books. I move them from place to place like a security blanket for my what? My memory? My connectedness to the written word? Reference? At least a dozen outdated and unwanted ones landed in the recycling bin this week. I donated two shelves of fiction before I moved. Ha! Like that makes a difference. 

Casualties of this move to a small town near the big city? My printer remains unbootable, a hardwood deacon's bench from 1963 has a broken arm and one phone just flat out disappeared. A few large pictures and a mirror lean against a wall waiting for the maintenance crew's attention. Cable reliability is a concern of course; curtain rods await installation; and I never want to move again. But, I do love my view of the woods and my apartment is shaping up to be an uptown-type of place. 

Too personal, but hey.... Tonight I ate a hot meal on real dishes with flatware
 -- paper plates and plastic utensils are fine but they lose their charm after a bit. All the lifting and shoving injured my eye and now I have a red Grendel-eye which will heal in time. I have met two of my doctors and one neighbor. 

The month of July brought many insights and some of them are sharable in future blog posts. For now, I am content to listen to soft jazz on a Saturday evening and to feel the serenity that comes when most of the universe's gears clink into place. 

June 22, 2014

Pioneers Ho

Skies were clear and Wedgewood blue here in the River City by the Sea this morning. A tropical disturbance wiggles and swirls seventy miles south and offshore; it's trying to get organized but so far, it's unsuccessful like most. As I have written before, when a tropical system grows, the atmospheric energy around it rushes in to feed development. Voila, clear tropical blue skies remain behind until the heat and humidity of the day bloom into big heavy clouds and storms. Summer heat and lines of thunderstorms visit my new location, too, but don't linger. 

Moving chores continue. I spent more than an hour changing my address for medical insurance in the new location. In the middle of all that, the building maintenance people tested the fire alarm system, in every room, every apartment, every floor. Ringing ears are a special treat. Hints: Just grit your teeth, don't fight the system and tell them what they want to know. Double check everything, assume nothing, take copious notes and hope you don't need them; check details where you are going because people sometimes write things down wrong if at all. Messages can go awry, not get conveyed or become lost. Yes, paperwork is all fine now. 

Packers will arrive in a two days and I will be offline until I'm at the new location. Note to those who are making a move like this: allow at least one extra day for packing materials you must handle. Planning is great but this job is always bigger and takes more time and materials than you thought it would. Have plans B, C and D in place. 

I visited the orthopedist and received a great report -- x rays are fine and so is my gait. A return trip to RC will not be needed for my knee. Yea. I have an appointment with the new internist in the new city and need to arrange one more advance medical cog to make the wheels there turn smoothly. I read an article in a glossy magazine about RCBS that highlighted the city's best doctors -- I was delighted to find my allergist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist listed there. The orthopaedic practice is also stellar. I will miss their good care and hope the care in the new city will be reasonable. 

This is my twenty-third move as an adult and I'm happy to be able to do this -- still. Friends from across my life remain friends and their uniqueness enriches my life -- I already wrote of them in the "Never Can Say Goodbye" post. If the roots of friendship are strong enough, our shared time will endure and grow. Location is not a determining factor between friends. When we find someone who shares our sense of humor, our sense of the world and whose uniqueness delights us? Life is short and friends need to make the rest of the journey with us.  

Over the years, I've joked about being a pioneer woman -- ha - I would have been left behind at the first river fording. In some ways, that pioneer spirit still lives in me. New city, new state, new experiences, new people, new life all wait to be discovered and explored. Let's load the wagons! Perhaps our trails will cross yet again. 

June 14, 2014

The Road to Costco

One of the cool things in my future is a discounted Costco membership – the new apartment complex made a great deal with them and I’m looking forward to this perk of my new location. But today, I turned on my TV to check the weather only to find Hillary Clinton at Costco in Arlington, Virginia holding a book signing for her new book, Hard Choices. One thousand stacked copies formed a little room while a huge queue of folks waited behind ropes for their fat, signed hardback copies. Security was so tight that while she waited backstage, “someone” who appeared very official carried the designated “author-chair” (a great looking Costco mesh office chair like I need) off the set, scanned under the table and then returned the chair. Do I think she’s running for president? No one cares what I think about anything political and this isn’t about that. Just wanted to check if you were paying attention.

Meanwhile, back to Costco. Yesterday, I said goodbye to a unique friend who really gets me – warts, hard choices and all. And it’s still okay. We have a mutual “warts and all” friendship. We could talk forever without being bored and we understand all the nuances. My friend believes that I will someday have a book signing of my own and he’ll be there to tell everyone, “Hey, that’s my friend over there signing books.” But today, only Hillary was at Costco signing books on TV and I am sad, so damn sad, to leave this dear friend who so believes in me. Like me, he’s a student of the human condition, very aware of the imperfections of humans be-ing but hopes the better angels of our spirit will guide our journeys. If only.

Like the traveler in Frost’s The Road Not Taken, I’m looking ahead at an unknown path, trying to see as far ahead as I can and hoping that all I value goes with me. Frost’s wayfarer laments, “knowing how way leads on to way/I doubt I’ll ever come back.” I sincerely doubt my future holds any Costco book signings but it makes my journey sweeter to know that someone I admire and respect thinks that’s possible. Just in case a book signing at Costco waits ahead, you’re all invited.  

June 8, 2014

Never Can Say Goodbye....

An old Jackson Five song that Clifton Davis wrote is on my mind today: "Never Can Say Goodbye." A song will just get in your head and play all day like a stuck record. So far, this month and for the next two weeks, my days are programmed for goodbyes. 

While I do want to share my relocation experience with you, I don't want to bog you down with the minutiae of the process. Moving requires detailed planning and follow through. If you are doing this, find out what you need to do from people who know, make a list, make several lists and do the work. I framed a very basic plan to launch my new life -- a residence, utilities, insurance, road trip preparation, packers and mover schedules, new items needed for the new residence, travel plans, medical transition here and there  -- and blah, blah lists in various stages of completion. When I get to the new location, a different set of lists will kick in. You get the idea -- my multi-tasking brain function flipped into overdrive handling 'stuff.' Moving is almost an automatic process for me after years of being a corporate wife. The difficult tasks of relocation lie in that song. All the goodbye parts. 

I made a point of revisiting former places I lived, sections of town with memories of note and favorite places I will miss. Saying goodbye is never easy and sometimes it's not even possible. A neighbor went into hospice care last weekend, slipped into a coma and left us too soon in a few days. Her family didn't share about her illness and her sudden absence is harsh and sad. My leaving the River City by the Sea mandates that future visits to family members who rest here will be few or none. Oh, sure, I said goodbye to them, but when is goodbye really over?

Friends in this city are varied and few know each other. I have a special kind of connection to each one -- some deeper than others, some longer than others and all singular and important to me. Friends add unique individual dimension to my life like an aviary of songbirds. These special friends will join the long list of other friends in far away places. Emails, Skype and phone calls facilitate continued connections now that in the past were impossible. Each day until I leave, I have meetings with friends to make that "just one more time memory." Tough and sweet at the same time.  I can't make a new life and hold too tightly to the old one.

People I care about have a habit of popping up later in my life. Maybe they never leave but just take a quieter place for awhile. A romantic notion of that? Perhaps your name is written on my heart. A realistic view? In matters of friendship, I listen to my heart. But until the universe sorts out our futures, I must give credence to goodbyes. But, the more you mean to me, the closer we are? Never can say goodbye. 

June 2, 2014

Taking the Long Way Home

I am again in the River City by the Sea but not for long. So how does this go? A senior woman starting over again in yet another place? With a nod to old TSE, let us begin, you and I.

In the Country near the Big City (CNC), I planted seedlings for my transplanted life. My location offers convenience and privacy with French hydrangeas blooming near the building's entrance. Inside, nine-foot ceilings invite light to bounce against them all through the day and extra large windows create a frame for chestnut and yellow poplar trees. When the leaves fall, a stream-fed lake will be more visible. Year round, from the front of my space, I can see a favorite mountain, the one where "Emily" sought solace near the end of Unfinished Conversations. A university campus is a few miles away, a quality hospital a few miles in another direction and world class shopping a few miles in yet another direction. Perhaps we could name my new place -- Polestar in the Country near the Big City (PCNC). 

Besides finding a charming place to live, this successful trip included securing future medical care, booking a moving date, flying back with chatty passengers and a crying baby on a very bumpy flight. 

The journey to a new life with meaning in a place that whispers my name has just begun. It's a long way home yet.  


June 1, 2014

"Also Recommended..."

I discovered that Kirkus Review features Unfinished Conversations as an Indie pick on the same page one of my favorite writers of all time, Abraham Verghese. I am humbled and honored to be on the same page. For those who may not know Dr. Verghese's work as a writer, he wrote Cutting for Stone and other quality books. 

My writer's FB page still works! Yet another reason never to give up or give it. Step, step.  Check out this link to that page --

May 31, 2014

Dog Tags

When I fly anywhere, I try to bury my nose in a thick book in the airport and on the plane. I'm not usually interested in "strangers on a plane conversation." Sometimes I get lucky, the wait at the gate is short, the flight leaves early and all is well. I have shared some flight events with you over the past few years. Most of the time, I don't. My recent flight to the Country near the City (CNC) offered several pleasant surprises. 

I saw him enter the gate area right away. Who could miss him? His coat was golden with just a whisper of gray over his ears and muzzle. His Kevlar vest had Marine insignia and a saddle bag on each side; it also read "Service Dog Working." Soldiers are always attached to a unit. This Labrador Retriever's unit was a sturdy young man in a red Marines' shirt. A long, broad leather strap stretched from the two collars around the dog's neck to and across the Marine's chest and under his muscular arm. The notion of "Whither thou goest, I will go" in action at so many levels. They sat near me and the man read a paper. The other Marine lay down on the adjacent seat and his body made a tiny curl. He scanned the area occasionally after searching his fellow Marine's face first and after. The man drank Starbuck's coffee. His companion slept, but lightly. I had to watch them but didn't dare approach or talk with the young Marine. He clearly wanted to be left alone with his thoughts -- I respected that. They took a short walk around the terminal and one older man stopped to talk to the Marine. The dog lay on his Marine's feet. He touched him all the time. I believe he would have done that without the stout strap. A larger bond held them together. 

We boarded the flight and our seats were in the same row but mine was a window seat and theirs was on the opposite side. The Service dog sat facing his Marine who rubbed his ear nubs and held his gaze until the flight took off. As soon as we were in the air, the four-legged Marine curled up in a tight ball under the seat in front of them. After we climbed to altitude, he soundlessly took the empty middle seat after one look from his Marine. The dog was long but his body and training responded to the requirements of a situation like any good Marine. I wondered where they had been and what requirements they had responded to as a team? Where were they going now? Maybe it was better that I not know. 

While I sat awed by this pair, a flight attendant ushered another young soldier in uniform from a back row seat up to first class. His bulky backpack lead the way. I smiled to myself and looked out the window at the ever-smaller landscape below. The extremely full flight caught a tailwind and arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. No one, not one person around me talked to anyone. That voiceless flight said more than I could have imagined. 

May 30, 2014

The Game's Afoot...

It's the eye of the tiger
it's the thrill of the fight
rising up to the challenge of our rival....

Well okay, am I committing hyperbole or litotes with quotes from Willie's little play, "Henry V," and the theme from the first "Rocky" film to introduce my new adventure? Smirk if you must, but what I am doing is a huge deal to me!! And my rival? The rival of every senior? That pesky nonrenewable resource, Time. I may not be going to war with France or training for a championship boxing match, but nevertheless, like all seniors, my fight with Time is real. I feel as though Time behaves like the "eye of the tiger" in that song. Google it and listen to Survivor sing it -- see what you think. 

A few months ago, I decided that I need a new place -- in every sense of that word. A sense of place, like the notion of Time, is central to my life, to my poetry, my prose, all my comings and goings and my be-ing. Twenty nine years ago, I moved to the River City by the Sea and not willingly. Although I understand Florida's sense of place, I'm not a water baby; I'm not a beachcomber, don't like water sports, hate hot weather -- you get the idea. I'm a mountain person. I grew up cradled by the enigmatic, unyielding Appalachians defining my native sense of place and subtly influencing who I became.  

In that new place, I want the time to make a new home and to foster a new life with meaning. And yes, senior women who won't quit think like this. If you are a friend or a reader of my work, you know that about me already. Making a new life for myself which includes a comforting sense of place requires that I summon up some of that grit, that will to survive, that courage many used to overcome the limitations of mountain culture or geography (you know who you are) to build a meaningful life of be-ing wherever they are. 

This is yet another personal journey. This time, I'm inviting you to come along as I undergo major life changes and challenges that may await you too. 

Next post: "Dog Tags."

May 29, 2014

Men and Boys on a Lemonade Day

Today was the kind of hot summer day that makes people want to sit in the shade with a big pitcher of tea or lemonade nearby that sweats like they do. The searing heat and the storms that ride in on afternoon sea-breeze-fronts trap us in the middle and we must maintain our be-ing, our comings and goings between them. In the middle of the day, I headed out to replenish badly needed household supplies. I filled up the gas tank at the first stop and two different men came over to inform me that I was getting a flat tire or now had a flat tire. I drove my car near the front of the building, called AAA and went inside to get a bottle of cold water -- that pitcher of anything was out of the question. 

I waited about forty minutes for Sean to arrive in his oversize pickup with AAA all over it and drank all my water. Working men of many ages came and went from the convenience store with lunches in paper cups and paper tubs. Everyone bought big cans of tea or jugs of Gatorade or something else cold. Four of them made real effort to let me know that my right rear tire was flat. Two asked if they could help me. One enterprising 18-20 year old drove up beside me, indicated I should roll down my window and flat-out offered to change my tire. He said, "I thought I'd help you out, ma'am." He seemed disappointed when I declined his offer. All of these men received, "Thanks, but no, AAA is already on the way." In all seriousness, the appearance of chivalrous offers of assistance surprised me. Maybe it's a guy thing with attention to all kinds of cars?  

Right before Sean arrived, a red van filled with twenty-something 'boys and girls' parked by me. They seemed to think my situation was funny and they laughed and pointed. The driver called out to me through his laughter, "Hey, did you know you've got a flat?" I resisted, didn't say "Duh" but that I was waiting (etc...).

It was hot, damn hot. I was inconvenienced. But, Babies, there was something affirming about that experience. Men sincerely offered to help a senior woman with no condescension, no patronizing (except from the 'boys and girls'). My hope for future real be-ings went from not much to possibly -- but I'll keep my AAA coverage.