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Television

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Smurf in the Waiting RoomWith our rapidly approaching vacation involving probably over 2k miles of driving, I thought it best to make an appointment to get an oil change and check-up on the car we’ll be taking on the voyage.

That appointment was scheduled for 7:30 am on Saturday this past weekend at the dealership. I arrived early, as I often do, by around 20 minutes. They weren’t open yet, so I parked in the first slot they have designated for service appointments and started to wait.

Not long after, a friendly looking 50 something woman in a Toyota SUV pulled up behind me in slot two, got out and tried to open the door — still locked. She smiled at me as she passed and then went back and sat in her car.

By now, I was getting a little antsy — it was 7:25 or so — I could see activity in the shop, but the doors were still locked. Sales associates were starting to roam the lots.

Then an old Toyota minivan pulled in, nearly sideswiped my car and the SUV behind me. He proceeded past my car and then stared backing up as if he were parallel parking in front of me — you know, where the HUGE no parking sign was.

Whatever. I was pretty sure he was cutting in line, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Then a younger woman appeared out of no where — didn’t see her pull in, didn’t even see her car.

The door to the service office opened and what do you know? The two of us that were there first weren’t the first two in line. Figures…

Makes me wonder if people even understand the concept of a line any more.

Related tangent, at the Cow Parade a few weeks ago, we set-out and took our place on the curb a good 45 minutes before the parade to ensure a nice front row seat.

Things were looking great, until 5 minutes before the start and multiple rows of people start setting up in front of us on the road… I guess next time I should show up late and then show up the people that got there before me… Grrrrr…

Anyway, we’re herded into a little office to sit down with a service advisor — you know, the guy you give the keys to and explain your problem. It isn’t a very private setting, so you can basically listen in on everyone else’s car troubles as you wait…

The young woman apparently was bringing in her Camry because the radio didn’t work. Not only rude enough to cut the entire line of people (obviously) waiting, she took it a step further by making a call on her cell phone as she was talking to the service advisor. No joke — she talked as she dialed. The call must’ve been important too — something about someone’s baby’s mama…

The other fellow, the guy from the minivan that nearly sideswiped us early birds had the other service advisor occupied. He spoke very broken English — if I had to guess I’d say he was from Southeast Asia — but I think it was partly an act just to get his way. Apparently his van had been there yesterday for service and he was told to bring it back on Monday.

Well, this was Saturday. Apparently he didn’t understand that.

His problem was that the van, in his words, wasn’t running properly because the “seat belt” light was on. Um, yeah. The advisor asked him if he meant to say “Check Engine” light.

Nope, it was the seat belt light.

The advisor told him that he had an appointment to come back on Monday for them to take a look at it. The man then pretended not to understand and got rather aggressive.

I exchanged a raised eyebrow glance of dismay with the woman in line behind me. She shook her head in silent agreement.

The advisor caved — went out with the man to his minivan to see the light he spoke of. Outside, they exchanged more words — we couldn’t hear them, but the little man with the van was *very* agitated.

I felt bad — what a horrible way for this poor customer service guy to start his workday. He came back in with the man’s keys and started to fill out paperwork.

Crap — now I was, at best, going to be the third car to be worked on. The benefit of getting here early was most certainly lost now.

Scion Xa Series 2.0The advisor then called me up and I let him know not to worry — mine was easy. He told me the minivan was easy too — the seat belt light was on because the guy in the minivan had cut the seatbelt out. Nice.

I handed him my keys and made my way to the waiting room. It was empty. And quiet. A little too quiet. I squeaked my sneakers on the floor.

A few moments later, my fellow early bird set herself up in a chair diagonal from me and started to read a book she had brought.

Did I mention that it was quiet? The only noise in the room was that of my stomach. I hadn’t eaten the night before — the Tim Russert thing the night before stole my appetite so I hadn’t really eaten much of anything for two days. I felt fine, but my stomach was definitely voicing its displeasure.

It was pretty embarrassing. It’s not like I could blame it on some old guy in the room. I’m pretty sure she wanted to laugh. She had to have heard it.

I squeaked my sneakers on the floor some more, adjusting in my seat. The sound was piercing.

I looked at the magazine selection on the table next to me for something to flip through — you know, make a little noise. All golf and women’s interest magazines. That wouldn’t do.

There was a TV in the corner. I considered getting up and turning it on to break the silence (and cover up my stomach issues) but saw that the remote control was larger than a computer keyboard and thought better of it.

I’d tried to turn on this television in this waiting room before in the past, but getting the DirectTV (or whichever service they use) was too complicated to get going for me. I’d tried and failed. I wasn’t about to try again with an audience.

I just tapped my foot and cleared my throat every few minutes whenever I realized that I was nose whistling the Fugazi song appropriately titled “Waiting Room” as I often find myself doing in these situations.

Yes, this was the quietest waiting room ever.

By 8:00 am, thankfully, a father with two young children came in. I’d say the boy accompanying Dad was 6 or so and the girl was a couple of years younger. They were LOUD, but in this setting, that was a good thing.

The dad was obviously embarrassed and asked me, ignoring the woman — I guess I looked really bored or easily agitated in comparison, if cartoons were okay?

I said, “Yeah, sure!”

He corralled the two kids in the seats facing the television in front of me and picked up the oversized remote control. He couldn’t figure it out. Thankfully, the 6 year old boy had no problem — evidently familiar with the satellite service and how to turn it on.

Dad took over and settled on the first cartoon show he found, on channel 700 something, and get this, it was the Smurfs. Yes!

This kept the boy happy and quiet, but the girl was having a hard time sitting still. At the first commercial break, she whined, “Dad, I don’t like this show…”

Blasphemy!

Much to my dismay, Dad then went up a channel to “Pooh and Friends” which kept both children entertained — I mean, their eyes were glued to the set.

Apparently Rabbit lost his the wheel from his wheel barrow and had enlisted Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet to search for it. Fine, I admit it, my eyes were glued to the set too…

The show was 100% computer animated — nothing like the Winnie the Pooh I remembered. Tigger was wearing goggles for some reason that I wasn’t quite sure of either.

The one thing I did notice was his voice — Tigger’s, that is. I swear he sounds just like the singer for the 90’s band Cracker, David Lowery.

By this point, the waiting room was filling up. A few people, including the woman who arrived shortly after me, had even left already. The man with the kids left as well, but the television remained on.

I was the closest to the set, and I could tell that some in the room were annoyed by the Disney music videos that were playing at this point (one by my favorite band, They Might Be Giants).

Just then, the service room door opened and Glen, my assigned advisor, said, “Brainy?”

I gave him the head nod of acknowledgement and he came over like he was about to deliver some very dire news…

“Brainy, your front brakes are really worn down — no damage to the rotor yet, but…”

I cut him off, “Okay, do it. Go for it.” I mean, what choice did I have? Vacation is right around the corner…

He kept talking all soft like it was embarrassing personal information he was disclosing — I dunno, like he was going to inform me that they’d found a dead prostitute in the trunk or something — but instead, he was actually just saying that the bill would be around $250 or so and would take another hour and a half and blah, blah, blah…

“Yeah, sure, that’s not a problem…” and away he scurried before I could amusedly ask about my own seat belt light…

I adjusted in my seat again and then got up making it obvious that I wasn’t genuinely attached to what was on the television, you know, to give someone else a chance to make a move to turn it to another channel or off entirely.

I headed towards the coffee machine. Cool — it was the same one I have at work. I’m not really a big coffee fan, but I had another hour and a half to kill so why not spend it sipping outrageously hot liquid, right?

I grabbed a cup, inserted the k-cup of my favorite flavor, pulled the lever, and pushed the button. Like work, the machine made a wonky noise — likely the water pump — and then started to spew hot coffee into my waiting cup.

Now at work, you can hear it slowing down as it nears the rim of the cup. This one wasn’t slowing down. I hit the button again — which at work is kinda like an abort button.

On this machine, however, it fired up the pump again. Oh crap!

I filled two cups and eventually unplugged the machine from the wall with my foot. That stopped it. Finally.

Turning around, I surveyed the room. Apparently no one had noticed my heroic actions.

I cleaned up the mess I’d made — it wasn’t much — and went back to my seat. The TV was still on. And it was still tuned to the Disney channel. Sigh…

I sat back and sipped my hot coffee doing my best not to get caught looking at anyone in the room. It was an uncomfortable vibe in there — a bunch of grouchy people who weren’t real keen on being up this early on a Saturday.

People came and went. I finished my coffee. I twiddled my thumbs and finally Glen poked his head in again and said, “Brainy, you’re all set — just check out at the cashier…”

Now, according to the receipt, the brakes only cost $80. I’m sure that’s after around a 60% mark-up too. Still, not too bad. That much I can handle.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this now…

How on earth can they justify charging nearly $200 for labor? How?

My oil change was free — I opted in to pay for service like that up front when I bought the car — so you can take that out of the equation.

The brake issue — the one that would have required the labor — came up maybe 1 hour ago meaning they just charged me $200 for one hour!?

I’m sorry, but you’d think that if the service guys are actually earning that kind of money, they could at least show up to work in a clean shirt, right? They’d probably all drive a Prius instead of junkers too…. C’mon…

One guy is technically pulling in over $1600 per 8-hour day there. I know the actual workers aren’t bringing home even a quarter of that per day, but the dealerships are certainly making a killing in the service department…

In the end, the total bill came to $293.43 which I immediately put on a credit card and chalked up as another vacation expense…

What’s that bring the total to now? Oh, I’ll worry about it later…

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Parvati Shallow — Winner of SurvivorA guilty pleasure of mine is the television program Survivor.

This season I think I may have missed one episode — and it only snuck by me because of some wacky scheduling on CBS because of March Madness College Basketball.

Last night was the finale where they crowned the winner — Parvati outlasted Amanda to take the $1 million prize.

For those that aren’t familiar with the show, when the game gets down to the final two contestants, their peers (and former rival contestants) are permitted to directly ask them a question (or in some cases, just vent).

Based on the contestant’s answers, these eliminated players get to determine who wins the game. Usually it’s just a fluff/spite fest full of uncomfortable moments. If anything, the final episode of each season is usually the worst (not to mention the least climactic). It’s just not great television.

But on last night’s episode, one of the contestants, Eliza, really ripped into both of them by saying things that I think a lot of people feel, but rarely express.

For the record, Eliza was never a popular player (this was her second run on the show). She’s one of those people whose face can be read in an instant — she doesn’t seem to have the ability to be subtle, it’s all out there all the time. Not exactly a great character trait.

So when she gets her chance to speak to the remaining two players, she vocalizes her feelings. She calls Parvati a “mean person”. A person who very openly insulted her, put her down, talked behind her back, and was, in essence, downright rude for really no reason.

Essentially, this was the unpopular girl telling the popular girl, “You know what? You might think you’re so awesome, but you’re a real jerk. You hurt me, and I want you to know it.”

I know people like that. There was a guy in middle school, Rick, who would just walk right up to me and say out loud, “Why don’t you have any friends?” It was bizarre. I didn’t have a real answer, other than a befuddled, “What?” But he kept doing it. Day after day.

I was embarrassed.

Why was I his target? I mean, how do you answer that? I had friends. Did I have to justify it to him? Why should I have to justify anything to this prick?

At the time, I just couldn’t figure it out… He sat at a lunch table of sports losers. You know, the guys that could recite the 1927 NY Yankees batting order or tell you how much Charles Barkley weighed on any given day. Real important stuff.

At the same time, these were also the guys who always wore sweatpants in gym class and never actually participated in any of the “sports” we were forced to play. To them, talking about sports was what mattered, not actually participating in them.

They threw like girls. The kicked with their toes. They couldn’t sink a foul shot.

In the grand hierarchy of social order in our school, I was easily 200 seats ahead of this guy. What was his problem?

Plain and simple, he was a prime example of a mean person. He carried it into high school even — at which point we were segregated and herded like cattle based on our academic, athletic, and artistic talents so thankfully we never really crossed paths again.

Back to Survivor — for the second remaining contestant, Amanda, Eliza calls her really disingenuous. You know, the type that smiles at you, moves in for a hug, and says something like “Oh, it’s so great to see you!” with a slightly ‘off’ tone of voice.

There’s being polite, and then there’s going over the top, and that’s called insincere. Amanda was the type that would turn on the tears to get a reaction. She’d bat her eyelashes and frown. On a genuine person, both would be very meaningful expressions, but on her, it was so openly fabricated. And Eliza called her on it.

Relating, again, to my own experiences, I can’t stand when kids say “thank you” like robots. You know what, if you don’t mean it, don’t bother saying it. I’ll be a lot less offended — and I don’t think I’m alone.

Even better, most cashiers these days… I know that they have a “script” to stick to, but please, don’t bother saying “Have a nice day” if you’re going to say it like you really couldn’t give a crap how the remainder of my day goes. Just don’t bother.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find it more polite to say nothing rather than saying something I don’t actually feel. A slight smile will do. No, not a smirk. A smile. Thanks. Oh yeah, no eye rolling either…

In the end, it was Eliza’s vote that determined the winner of this season. I’m sure the show was edited heavily to make it look like Eliza debated longer and harder than she actually did on whom to award with the million dollar prize — the mean girl or the phony girl — but in the end, she chose Parvati (the mean one) to be the winner.

In the same situation, I think I would have done the same. Rick, from my middle school days, certainly wasn’t fake. He was just a mean-spirited loser. Sad that someone like that could be rewarded for it. Society… ugh.

That’s the part that sucks about many of these reality elimination shows… When you get right down to the end, you’re left with two people who don’t really deserve it. Erik and Cirie should have been the final two, at least I like to think so, but between them, there wasn’t enough meanness or fakeness to get it done… Hey, even Eliza would have been more deserving…

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FREE Credit Report dot COMTonight I stopped by the bank on the way home from work — you know, the drive up ATM…

Well the car in front of me was one of those beat-up used sub-compacts like in the catchy FREE CREDIT REPORT .COM commercials.

Seriously, it was even the same color.

I didn’t pay them too much attention until they peeled out after completeing their transaction… Real winners, let me tell you.

I mean, the squealing tires immediately solidified their “coolness” in my eyes.

So I pull up to the ATM and their receipt is still in the machine. Now usually when this sort of thing happens at a gas pump or something, I just grab it, crumple it, and tuck it into my pocket.

But due to their obnoxious behaviour, I took at look at the receipt.

Bank of America ATM Receipt

Wow.

Can you imagine? I had to look at it twice to make sure I was reading it correctly. Yep, 95 cents.

I mean, I’ve run my checking account down pretty low, but never this low.

I also thought it was kinda funny how the little advertisement up top is for “Debt Consolidation”. My receipt advertisements are never for stuff like that — usually it’s BoA’s “Keep the Change” program.

I wonder what the balance threshold is to get the “Debt Consolidation” header… Under $1 perhaps?

Anyway, little things like this make me feel even better about my current financial standing.

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    Papa Smurf?Last night while watching, um, American Gladiators on NBC, I saw a promo for a fluff-piece on the Today show about a blue man that would have aired this morning.

    I’m at work when the Today show is on, but I looked the story up and it stems from a December 19th story out of Oregon:

    It’s not makeup or paint that makes Paul Karason’s skin a bluish color.

    The 57-year-old started making the transition from fair skin and freckles to what he looks like today 14 years ago.

    “The change was so gradual that I didn’t perceive it and for people around me, likewise,” Karason said. “It was just so gradual that no one really noticed. It wasn’t until a friend that I hadn’t seen in several months came by my parents’ place to see me and he asked me ‘what did you do?'”

    What Karason did was use a substance called colloidal silver, which is made by extracting silver from metal. It goes into water with an electrical current and then you drink it. Colloidal silver is billed as something that will cure just about everything that ails you and Karason swears by it.

    Karason does not believe drinking the potion is what caused his discoloration. He believes it happened because he rubbed it on his face to treat a skin problem. A medical condition called Argyria has been linked to such discoloration since the days when silver solutions were used as antibiotics.

    Whatever the cause, Karason said it is not easy living life as a blue man.

    Interesting stuff. I’d actually heard of this condition before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. Makes you wonder if he grew the beard to look like Papa Smurf?

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    2007 Utility CostsYep, another “end of the the year” post.

    In the last few months of 2007, we actively started trying to cut down on our utility expeneses, but for

    comparison’s sake for 2008, last year’s totals are to the right.

    With the cost of everything seemingly going up each year, it will be interesting to see if we are able to cut these costs any…

    It’s a bit of an eye opener to see that the cable bill adds up to so much — eclipsing the phone (which is more important) and the internet (which we use a lot more than the tv). I’m not about to drop cable though — the History Channel comes in mighty handy when the networks are all showing infomercials. And my wife is addicted to the Food Network…

    Is it worth almost $700? Well, I’m not so sure now…

    One value I know will drop in 2008 is the cell phone expenses. I dropped Verizon Wireless in favor of a pre-paid plan with Virgin Mobile in the Fall and that could lower my yearly costs to under $100.

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      Yes… that’s my final answer.Last week, my wife and I were discussing the aspects of falling into a large sum of money while watching one of the ridiculous new prime time game shows that seem to taking over network television. This particular one was on ABC and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel — the name escapes me. Yes, the show really was that forgettable.

      Anyway, the topic was really, “How much would it take to make us happy and change our lives for the better?

      Would something like $10k do it? What would we do if, tomorrow, we received a check for $10k?

      We’d throw it 100% at our credit card debt. Sadly, though, $10k isn’t enough to wipe it out — and realistically, it wouldn’t change our life one way or the other. Not one bit.

      How about $20k?

      Now we’re talking… Right now, $20k would wipe out all of the credit card debt and take a large chunk out of our auto loan. Would that be life altering?

      Honestly?

      Yes! The added savings that would result from not having those debts would accelerate our payments on the mortgage and our contributions to savings greatly.

      A quick $20k boost would, no question, alter our bottom line for the rest of our lives — I’d even go so far as to say it would guarantee us hitting the million dollar mark at a relatively young age.

      Sadly, in today’s society, you can’t walk from one of these game shows on television with a mere $20k without being boo’ed. And to me, it’s scary that many people don’t realize that a sum as small as $20k can be life altering. (I know, I know, this coming from the guy who just said that $10k is essentially nothing.)

      For us, right around the $20k mark (after taxes) is “our” number. For someone else, it just might be the $10k I consider useless. Everyone is different, obviously.

      With that in mind, it’s frightening to see some of folks on these game shows with admittedly modest incomes having ten times that amount coming to them, guaranteed, but they feel the need to risk going home with nothing just for the chance of making it 20 times larger.

      If I were fortunate enough to be on one of these game shows, I’d likely push the stop button, or pull the magic lever, or hang up on the banker once I hit “my” number… but that’s probably why I’m not likely to be invited to be on one of the gameshows… I wouldn’t make for entertaining television.

      “Jimmy, I’m going to take the money and run.”

      “But Brainy, you’ve only answered one question?!”

      Just something to think about — what’s your magic number?

      Can You Dig It?

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