Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Death Valley 2012 part 1

So, the Grouch family minus two decided to go with some friends to Death Valley national park over  the President's day long weekend.  Surprisingly, this holiday weekend is one of the busiest for the park, most likely because the weather is mild and a person doesn't melt to a grease spot under the scorching sun of the summer.  Also suprisingly the summer is the most popular time for foreign visitors to the park.  The only foreign looking guy we saw there was someone who looked like Junior Samples complete with bib overalls and tractor baseball cap.

We took the trusty Jeep due to promises of off roading in the park.  The passengers in the back complained about the noise and drafty conditions but only when we stopped.  When we were driving it was too noisy to hear what they were saying.

We headed up Califronia route 14 through Red Rock state park.  Truly some impressive rock formations to be seen from the highway.

From highway 14 we took U.S. 395 through some spectacular scenery.  This is where we stopped for a roadside lunch picnic.  When my family drove to Florida each summer when I was a kid we'd do the same; stop along the highway at picnic tables set in turnouts for roadside meals.  We'd eat with the semi trucks hurtling by on one side and cows with their heads over the barb wire fence on the other watching us as we ate.  No picnic tables here.
Our lunch spot.  It was so quiet and calm with hardly any traffic that it seemed like we were the only people around.  The stillness was amazing.
We made it to Death Valley and we were on our way to our first sight - the sand dunes.  As we climbed a long and steep grade we came across these cyclists who had pooped out.  They couldn't make it any further and they had a long way to go.  Our friends took one bike, we took the other and the cyclists rode in the pickup.  they are from Cleveland and had flown to San Luis Obispo and were cycling to Las Vegas.  We were glad to give them a hand up the hill.  When they got to the top they unloaded and rode down the long grade to the motel where we were also staying.

The sand dunes near Stove Pipe wells.  Young son looking for Lawrence of Arabia in the dunes.  Later on he re-enacted the scene from "The Princess Bride" and threw himself off a dune, rolling down the hill and crying "as you wish!"  We appreciated it since it is one of our favorite movies.
The altitude limbo.  How low can you go?  We started at about 6,000 ft before coming into the park.
Lowest!  282 ft below sea level!

The young daughter and friend at Badwater basin.  About half  way up the rockface is a sign that indicates sea level.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just back from Death Valley!

The Grouch, the Missus and 2 of the 4 Grouch offspring just spent a fantastic long weekend in Death Valley. Much more to come on this trip and no time to write about it now so I will just post a  picture taken by young son on the trip.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things I hate to buy

I really hate to buy two things: shoes and eye glasses.  I was going to write that I hate to buy shoes and glasses but then someone might think I had an aversion to buying dinner glasses which would be pretty weird.  Having a hatred of buying shoes and eye glasses is actually pretty reasonable all things considered.  Both items can be expensive, both must fit just right or they will cause discomfort and sometimes even pain, and both are usually with the purchaser for at least a year if not longer, so you darn well better get it right.

I haven't picked out any eye glasses recently (I sure hate the part where the doc says "does this look better or this?" as he flicks the lenses back and forth in the giant lens holder over my face.  Usually the choice he gives me are the same.  I'll shout out "that one!" in desparation to get the ordeal over.  Then I have blurry vision for a year.  But I digress.) but I did buy a pair of boots. As usual it didn't go well.  This time the boots that fit so well in the store were like clown shoes on my feet once I got home.  After gamely trying to make them work for a week I took them back to Sports Chalet where I was able to exhange them for a pair of regular width boots that fit fine in the store.

 Now they're cramping my toes.  Sigh.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's a Trap! Insurance Company Style

When the Missus and I became engaged I was a pauper and as such had no money.  Alas and alack, the diamond that I could afford for the engagement ring was bigger than a grain of sand, but not by much.  The Missus has been a good sport about it all these years so on our 25th anniversary we picked out  a ring that better suited her.  We got it at a place where one could negotiate and I'm not saying that I'm the world's greatest negotiator but when we were done the appraisal that they gave us on the ring was over twice the cost of what we paid.  The Missus had it insured and the person she talked with would only insure it for what we paid and not what it appraised for.  Ok.

Sometime in October the Missus realized the center diamond was gone from the ring.  Two of the prongs were broken that held the diamond.   A frantic search of the school grounds turned up nothing.  Her co-workers were horrified but the Missus was serene.  It's insured she assured them, nothing to worry about. Of course she was sad and a bit worried but knew in her heart that the insurance company would protect us and fix this toot-sweet.  Maybe a couple weeks or so and all would be well.  Try four months!

I called the insurance company.  The lady on the phone was sympathetic.  She took our information and told us she'd get back to us.   A week or so went by and nothing.  I called.  They said they'd check into our claim and call back.  A week or so went by and nothing.  I called.   This time they suggested I send the ring to them so their in house gem specialist could examine it and pick out a nice stone for it.  We'd get a replacement diamond and they'd save some money so everyone would win.  Sure I said.  (STOP RIGHT HERE!  In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar It's a trap!  Don't ever fall for this ploy).  I sent them the ring.  A week went by and nothing.  I called.  They said they thought they had the ring and they'd be in touch.  Two weeks went by and nothing.  I called.   I talked to the go between who spoke with the shadowy gem expert.  The gem expert told the go between that in examining the remaining stones the ring was seriously under insured.  Wow I thought, I was a good negotiator!  Ok then, let's replace the stone.  Send us the appraisal I was told, so I did.  A couple weeks went by and nothing.  I called.  I was told that the stones in the ring didn't match the appraisal, not even close. And with that in mind the center (and largest stone) couldn't have be as appraised.   It may have even been one step up from beach glass. Obviously the diamond that would be procured for the ring would not be anywhere close to the value of what the ring was insured for.  And, just what kind of game was I playing anyway?   I was almost speechless.  We have been with this well known military orientated non profit insurance company for over three decades.   They said they would get back with me on what they were willing to do.   A week went by and nothing.  

That did it.  I  called up and chewed them out but good.  I started by telling them just who I was.  I then moved into the fact that I had attempted to help out the company by being a good Joe and sending them the ring.  I pointed out that we could've never sent the ring to them and they would have had to gone with the appraisal.  I finished by asking what makes them think that their expert was any more correct than my expert?   I post scripted with the reminder that a couple calls ago they told me the ring was under insured and now it is undervalued?   There was a moment's silence and the agent said that she would cut me a check for the full insured value of the ring.  Then, get this, she told me that I could never find a diamond for the ring for the amount that she was sending me even at the low grade that they claimed that the diamond was.  And, she was sending a message to someone that the ring shouldn't be insured any more by them. 

I kept my cool, thanked her, hung up, and sent a ballistic email to their customer service section.

A couple weeks later we went to a couple jewelry stores, found the grade of diamond that was in the ring to begin with and the same size, negotiated a price to have it installed in the same setting and repaired, all for just about the amount of the check that they sent me.  The ring is back on the Missus' finger, looks so sparkly that I have to wear shades when I'm around it and she is happy.

I received a call from a V.P. from the insurance company several days after we received the check apologizing for how the whole thing was handled.  I wasn't there but the Missus was and she was charmed by him and said it was all good.  Oh, and they are more than happy to insure the ring for the new appraised value.

Moral of the story?  Don't be a chump with your insurance company no matter how long you've been with them.  Remember that they aren't working for you, they are working for them.  It was a sad lesson for me to learn after all of these years.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sailor's delight

Seen on our walk tonight at sundown, taken by the Missus.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The Family Poet

Young son knocked out this poem for his AP English lit class.  I think it is pretty good:

July 20, 1969

1961, our leader made a promise to our nation,
He had an idea for a new type of exploration.
Made us a goal with a different type of motivation,
To send a man to a new far off destination.
Send a man to the moon was the innovation,
Beat the Soviets was the inspiration.
Now the nation had to maintain its reputation,
No easy task  would be this operation.
After years of tests, trials, errors and altercations,
Our people cried in their jubilation.
The goal was met and we completed our obligation,
On the satellite our men saw the Earth spinning like a top in its rotation,
For the first time they showed the world our true isolation,
That while beautiful, our world was only a marble at this elevation.