Sunday, May 31, 2009

Comparing Yearbooks

Craig has been pouring over his high school yearbook for the last several days. At dinner tonight he was showing off the notes from various girls who signed it which inspired Mary to break out her senior book and to start reading her notes from various boys. I dug out my senior yearbook, blew the dust off of it and with much trepidation and a feeling of an onset of PHSTSS (post high school traumatic stress syndrome) I opened my yearbook to read what was written there. Much to my surprise some girls actually signed it! That was the good news. The bad news was that each gushed that I was such a good friend to them one and all. as Kurt commented, when a girl writes that you are a 'good friend' you will never move up the relationship ladder. I guess that summarizes my high school experience. Reading the year book from 36 years ago brought back lots of memories, some good and seeing the hair and clothes, definitely bad! I did note that high school marching band uniforms haven't changed at all in 36 years. Much to Mary's surprise when she was looking at her yearbook she learned that her school had a rifle team! Since my school competed with all of the high schools with rifle teams in the area and I was on the rifle team that means that at some time our schools competed and maybe I was at her school and perhaps even saw her! Oh, for a time-o-scope to see into the past. It is funny, the feelings and memories that were awakened by briefly looking at that book. Who could imagine that this grouch was such a young guy once? A snapshot from my senior prom fell out of the book when I opened it. I looked like that?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The rewards of being nice

The other day Mary discovered a small pond under the kitchen sink. This was a surprise as we had not installed the pond feature under there in our recent memory. Granted we are getting old but we would remember a water feature in the kitchen. After draining the pond Mary said hopefully that perhaps the water had been spilled from something placed in the recycling bag under the sink. I was skeptical and a bit of sleuthing on my part revealed the source of the pond: the garbage disposal was leaking. By the way, in the interest of tracking regional colloquialisms like 'pop', 'sweeper' (i.e. vacuum), 'couch' , etc., raise your hand if you call the mechanical device that accepts your discarded food products and masticates them into tiny little bits of stuff to be washed down the drain a garbage disposal. If you call it anything else we don't want to hear from you. Back to the story. The disposal wasn't just leaking, it was raining water. I checked our file of warranties and receipts and what do you know but we actually kept everything for this contraption! Unfortunately the warranty expired 11 months ago. Not to be deterred, I called the 800 number to see if the thing was fixable by home fumble-fingers like me.
Day 1: Me: "Hello, my Badger 5 plus is leaking. I would like to know if it is repairable."
Them: (in a Philippine accent) "Sir we must know the model first."
Me: It says it is a Badger 5 plus."
Them: "Oh sir, that is not a model. You must get the model and serial number from the sticker on the machine."
Me: "ok."
That night I tried to read the sticker on the bottom of the infernal machine. My age and eyes betrayed me. I couldn't get the correct distance to read the tiny print. Mary's turn. She couldn't either. The call went out to Craig and his young eyes. He read the numbers off to me.
Day 2: Me: "Hello, I am calling back with the model number and serial number as you directed (followed by the information)."
Them (in a Philippine accent - by this time I determined I wasn't calling anywhere in the U.S. of A): "Oh sir, those aren't the model number and serial number. You must look for another sticker."
Me (wanting to switch into my Incredible Hulk mode but keeping the safety release valve firmly lashed down): "Hey, no problem. I will go back under the sink and try again."
Back at home that night. No sticker visible on the hull of the grinder. No room to get behind it to look. Kurt provide an anecdote from Iraq where he used his cell phone camera to locate a serial number on a piece of equipment that was in a tight spot. I try the same with the digital camera. Eureka! I have the model number and serial number.
Day 3: Me: "Hello, I am calling back with the correct model number and serial number as you directed me to do." It is......
Them: "Oh sir, that model is discontinued. It cannot be repaired. It is best if you throw it away. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Me: (I spent three days to get to this point?)" This model had a three year warranty. I know it is out by 11 months but (turning on the best friendly but sad and let down voice) I am really sad and let down that the machine did not last very long. You have been so very helpful to me today. Can you help me once more and give me a goodwill adjustment?" (Hold my breath)
Them: (long pause - in a Philippine accent - probably thinking This yankee was persistent enough to call us three days running. We had him get under the sink twice and we still couldn't get rid of him...hmmm) "Oh sir, just for you we will help you out. We will send you a replacement insinkerator (cute name!) for a nominal price. Will this help you?"
Me: (fist pumping in the air yes!!) "That will be satisfactory. Thank you for your kind assistance."

Lesson to all: Persistence pays off and being reasonable but disappointed and let down helps even more! Never give in, never surrender! Oh sorry, that was from Galaxy Quest. I meant to say: Be persistent but don't be a jerk. Even a grouch knows that.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The desert trip, Citizen Grouch style

About 19 or so years ago Marla and I traveled the length of the Old Mojave road, a 19th century wagon trail that runs from the Arizona border to (originally) Los Angeles and now to near Barstow. This trail traverses desert, mountains, sand, a dry (sometimes) lake bed and the mostly dry Mojave river bottom. We did the trip in the Samurai towing a small trailer behind us carrying our camping gear. I did it again several years later without Marla but with the same friend that went with us the first time. This past weekend I did the trip again with the same friend and also with another friend and off road enthusiast but this time in a 4 door Jeep with air conditioning, power steering, satellite radio and plenty of engine power. Ahh, luxury! Unfortunately due to a major test on Friday which is the day we left for the desert Craig could not go. What teacher schedules a huge test the day before a three day weekend?

click on the pictures for a full size view!

We drove to Needles (the home of Snoopy's brother Spike) fueled up and then set off for the beginning of the Mojave road. Our first point of interest was Ft. Piute, a cavalry post from the 1860s. The outline of the fort is still visible and the foundation is still in place. In years past we camped next to the stream by the fort but now that the Mojave preserve has been created the park service has been busy fencing off and closing just about everything in sight. No camping here for us. It was 4 p.m. and we had to try to find somewhere to camp for the night.
The story of Ft. Piute.

Many barrel cactus grow in the area of Ft. Piute. We saw other cactus with pretty yellow flowers in bloom elsewhere.

We drove until about 7:30 p.m. and managed to locate an unimproved campsite on a map and got to it before it was completely dark. The stars were amazing that night but as we were at 4,400 ft it got cold! The low was about 45F and I wasn't prepared for that temperature. I was shivering all night.

The next day we encountered an infamous Mojave Green rattle snake of legendary lethality. Fortunately this one seemed to have recently feasted and wasn't interested in us.

We traveled to Government Springs, one of the few sources of water available all year round. Another location now barricaded by the park service.

The Rock House near Government springs.

The operating windmill and water tank are all that remains of a ranch that was the site of the last old west gunfight in California. Two gun hands killed each other at this ranch in 1925. They were notorious killers from the 19th century that found themselves an anachronism in the roaring 20s.

Roughly half way along the trail is the log book that gives travelers an opportunity to record their impressions of the trip. I have a picture of me from the early 90s at the same site and the same pose. I'll have to find the picture someday and compare them!

This is our second night camp. I slept in the Jeep on an air mattress. I was very comfortable even when we got hit with 40 mph winds that night. Our biggest problem was bees. As soon as we opened anything with water we were swarmed by bees desperate for moisture. They 'bugged' us until it got dark. Again an amazing display of stars, shooting stars and even several satellites arcing across the sky.

Day three found us crossing Soda lake, a dry alkaline lake bed almost like a miniature Bonneville salt flats. When it rains (and it does rain in this desert) the lake bed turns into a muddy quagmire but the rainy season was finished and all we got was heat and dust. Hard to imagine what it was like for travelers in their prairie schooners crossing this place. The picture shows my friend Rick. My Jeep is in the middle.

We stopped for a rest and a snack under a railroad bridge for the shade. Shortly after settling in we heard a train approaching which came over us on the bridge. It was noisy and impressive! Another two hours brought us to the exit point of the trail, unfortunately a significant portion of the trail from this point is closed by the BLM and the trail routed to follow the train right of way. I guess the government is saving us from ourselves. Leaving the trail we had to pass through a rather deep water crossing. We liked it so much we did it twice more! An hour back to Barstow, lunch at Long John Silver's and then the three hour drive in high winds back to Santa Clarita. It was a great time and despite the closures left us wanting to return to the area to explore many sites we didn't have time to stop and see.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Grouch goes missing!

I'm off to Wilmington, Delaware on company business for three days. Then, on Friday Craig and I are off on a three day adventure through the Mojave desert in company with two other intrepid explorers driving the old Mojave road from the Colorado river to Barstow. I've done this trip twice before in the tiny Suzuki Samurai towing a small trailer. Marla went with me both times. The Samurai had no air conditioning, no power steering, actually no power at all! We had a great time. Fast forward some 15 years or so. Craig and I will do it in the 4 door Jeep with air conditioning, satellite radio and many other creature comforts. We will be going a bit later in the season so it will be hotter (downside) but Soda Lake which is considered a dry lake but isn't really won't be near impassible with gumbo alkaline mud as it is earlier in the spring (upside). We will take lots of pictures and file a full report when we return.

All of this is to let you Citizen Grouch fans know that there is no real point in checking the blog this week unless you wish to read older postings for a 'Best of the Grouch' experience.

See you next week!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Memorial Service Part 3: Touring the 'burgh

Saturday was our tour day. Mary's sister Anne graciously offered to be our tour guide and to take us to several interesting places in the Pittsburgh area. Yes, I grew up in the area but there are places that even I have not seen.

Claire, Marla and I started the day with a quick jog (I walked) on the Montour trail that runs by the Killmeyer house. The quick excursion on the trail turned into a couple of hours for Marla and I and we were late returning to the house and confirmed to Anne who was waiting for us that people from Los Angeles are slothful and indolent.

First Anne and her friend Phill took Claire, Laura, Marla and I to Permani's, a local sandwich shop for a unique Pittsburgh construct which stacks the sandwich with everything you've ordered including the fries, adds an egg to the masterpiece and puts it between two pieces of bread. You can guess that I passed opportunity and just had a chicken sandwich. I guess I am no longer a native Pittsburgher.

Then we were ready to head to Pittsburgh.

First stop was 'the bluff' which overlooks Pittsburgh. I don't remember being there before but Mary said later that I had been, just not in the daylight and probably didn't recognize it in the light of day. I don't know what she would be talking about.
This is the intrepid group of tourists and the native guides on the bluff with the steel city in the background.

Next we went to Oakland to the scene of many of my crimes from my youth. I had never been inside the Soldiers and Sailors memorial hall in all the time that I lived in Pittsburgh. Anne knew that there is a museum inside and also knew that I would like to see it so off we went.

Once we were inside I noticed that there are bronze regimental plaques for each of the Pennsylvania units that served in the Civil War. Knowing that my great uncle Thomas Vogeley served in the 74th PA Volunteer Infantry I kept my eyes open and sure enough found the regimental plaque

And there he is! CPL Thomas Vogeley, veteran of the Civil War who fought at Gettysburg. Some day I will contact the National Archives to get his service record. It is interesting that Thomas and my Dad were both Corporals separated by 80 years. This is the time to point out that Marla and Kurt are 5th generation Vogeley citizen soldiers:
Thomas, Civil war; Howard, WW1; Dad, WW2, Ed, Vietnam era; me, cold war era (same generation); Marla and Kurt post 911 war on terror.

Now it was time to go to the Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh. We rode the creaking, shaking elevator to the top of the building for the view (yet another place I had never been to) and saw some of the nationality rooms. We saw the commons room where I used to meet Mary between classes. It was all very nostalgic for me. Anne's sons also attended Pitt so she also enjoyed reminiscing about visiting the school.
Phill got us all back to the Killmeyer compound in time to make evening mass. We had a great time touring around and Anne and Phill were great guides. My girls really seemed to enjoy seeing the sights that meant so much to me from my younger days. Thanks Anne, thanks Phill!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dad's Memorial Service Part 2 : The Day

(click on the photos for a larger image)

Friday arrived and time to leave for the memorial service but the suit and uniform were still missing in action so we went with what we had. The weather was beautiful and the service was perfect. Each of us kids (hard to imagine us as kids!) spoke about Dad and what he meant to us. I thought that I would not have trouble when my turn came but I got emotional and could barely speak. Who would think that a grouch like me would be so weepy?

After the service we adjourned to the corner restaurant that Dad enjoyed going to. Ed arranged everything and it was perfect. We reminisced and caught up on what has been going on in each others lives. Julianna Haag, Mary's friend from high school came to the service and to the lunch. Claire, Laura, Marla, Julianna Haag and Louise Vogeley all sat at with me.

We went to the house on Barclay avenue for one last look at the Vogeley homestead. The fellow who lives across the street reworked the interior and completely modernized it. It will be a great house for a new family. The nieces and nephew could not believe that Ed and I shared a room that is approximately the size of a walk in closet for many years. Tough times makes for tough people. Or something like that.

Then, off to Ed and Louise's house for a family gathering. The rain held off and we spent many hours visiting and watching home movies that Ed recorded of us over the years. My only regrets were that Dad was not there and that Mary couldn't make the trip. Thanks to Marla for these pictures and more to follow!

Next: Part 3; touring the 'burgh.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dad's Memorial Service - Part 1: The Journey

I'm assuming all who read this (it is a pretty limited audience) know about the death of my father in January and for the family's plans for a memorial service in Pittsburgh this past Friday. Being the clever and frugal grouch that I am, I purchased my tickets a couple months in advance via to get a good price. Unfortunately due to Mary's scheduled trip to Sacramento with her 5th grade class which she was leading she was unable to go to Pittsburgh. Craig and Kurt are both in school and couldn't get away. Marla flew with me and Claire and Laura drove.

Thursday May 7th: Marla and I depart Santa Clarita at 5 a.m. for a 8 a.m. flight. You never know what traffic will be like on the 405 headed to LAX. In this case there was no traffic so we were to the airport and ready to check in by 6:15. Feeling a bit smug at our planning and travel efficiency we walked into terminal 4 to check in with Delta. Ooops! Turns out the flight was listed as Delta but actually flown by Northwest. We were told the flight was delayed but no worries since we had about a two hour layover in Minneapolis. We were told to take our bags to the TSA kiosk to have our bags X-rayed and then proceed to terminal 2. The officious TSA lady told us to not even stop there, proceed to the next kiosk (and she wasn't even nice about it). Ok, no problem, off to the next kiosk. The guy there told us to turn right around and go back to the first place with our bags. I told him we were directed to his place. 'Doesn't matter. Go back and tell her that she has to take the bags. Go on, get out of here.' So back we went. The lady started yelling at us to go back to the other place. 'I don't care what he said, don't you dare leave the bags here!' I started to get mad when Marla repeated several times that the bags were NW Airlines which was the magic words. Another TSA agent quietly took the bags. I was so mad I found a supervisor, ratted out all of the employees and told him that the last time I was run back and forth like that was in 1975 at basic training and I wasn't in the mood for it anymore. He claimed that he would handle it. I'm guessing they all had a good laugh about it when we left.

On to terminal 2, blood pressure returning to normal. The Northwest counter had a line at it for our flight. We weren't going to make our connection. No worries, they gave us tickets on US Air in terminal 1. We proceeded to terminal 1 to exchange our vouchers for boarding passes. The ticket lady looked at our paperwork and told us that what we had was essentially trash. 'Go back to Northwest and make them give you tickets!' she demanded. At that point I could feel the pressure release safety valve in me just about ready to explode. She looked at me and decided that she'd try 'one more thing' to see if she could issue our tickets. What a surprise, she could!

We arrived in Pittsburgh and Claire and Laura met us. Two of our three bags showed up. No sign of the garment bag with my suit or Marla's Air Force class A blue uniform she wanted to wear to honor my father, a WW2 Air Force veteran. We filled out the claim form and headed to the Killmeyer compound in Imperial.

Next: The memorial service

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kamikazi bicyclists

So there I was biking to work through Griffith park this morning. The road through the park divides about half way through and is one-way in each direction as is the bike lane that runs alongside the vehicle lane. It was a nice morning, the sun was shining and the air was pleasant. I was just starting up the hill in low gear when the sun glinted on metal at the top of the hill. What is this? a dark shape hurtling towards me? Oh no, a kamikaze bicyclist! This cycling maniac was rushing towards me going the wrong way just about as fast as humanly possible on a bike. I thought fast. If I dodged to the left and he dodged to the right we'd collide. So if I go to the, right....visions of the captain of the Andrea Doria confronted with the looming hull of the M.S. Stockholm just before the two ships managed to collide flashed through my brain. He hurled past me squeezing between me and the curb. He yelled 'sorry' as he rushed by. Sorry? That he was going the wrong way? That he missed running into me? That his bike's engine was out of control and he was unable to slow his speeding bike? What a maroon. Last night on the way home I spied a cyclist pedaling along towards me in my lane. I figured at some point he'd move over and pass on the left as all civilized people do. At about 25 ft from me I shouted at him. He suddenly lifted his head and almost tumbled off his bike and dodged back into his lane. Sheesh! This bicycling gig is just about as dangerous as driving.

This speaks for itself:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bummed out

I had some interesting things to write about and in a couple of days I'm sure I will feel like writing them but right now I am as it used to be said 'bummed out'. Driving to drill on Saturday the dreaded check engine light came on while I was sitting at a red light in the Jeep. 'Drat and annoyance' I thought because I would have to take it to the dealer to have whatever it is corrected under warranty. Imagine my shock today when the dealership called to say that a wire to an oxygen sensor was cut and the repair was not under warranty. The repair cost? $290!!!!!!!!!!! Needless to say I was not happy. In fact I was steaming. I went to the place after work and kept my best concerned yet not crazy psycho face on while I talked to the service writer and mechanic. Yes the wire was cut (but not all the way through). No, they had no idea how it could happen but it wasn't under warranty. No, they have never seen this before and doubt they will ever see it again. Yes, the wire does look funny even if you leave the cut out of the discussion, in fact the replacement wire was not the same as the original wire. No, we can't do anything else for you. After much discussion the service writer agreed to show the part to the manager and see what he says which was a way to get me to leave. I looked at the Jeep tonight when I got home and the placement of everything and there is no way in creation that any rock or road debris could reach the wire. My theory is that the wire was bad when I bought the vehicle and has been waiting for the opportune time to fail.

So, after I got home I turned on the TV to catch the evening news only to see that the picture was pixelated and freezing up. A call to ATT brought an acknowledgment that there are major problems with our digital frammis which is attached to the holoscopic flux capacitor. Too bad for us because a technician will have to come between 4 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday to look at it.